Neighborhood Solidarity Program FAQs


How do we cancel rent? 

As a policy, “Cancel Rent” means canceling the rent for all kinds of rental housing — not to be owed later, and without any late fees or punitive action allowed against tenants. This is coupled with freezes on rent increases and other rent control policies during the crisis and after. This would likely include forbearance on mortgage payments to support struggling homeowners as well — not corporate landlords and private equity firms. Ultimately, rent cancellation is the strongest kind of eviction moratorium, forgiving tenants for missed payments during the crisis with no repercussions. Legally, housing justice lawyers say it is completely feasible, as it’s not an unconstitutional “taking”  of private property for public use without compensation, and it’s within the scope of governmental emergency powers. 

We can pressure local, state, and federal governments to pass such a rent cancellation policy, but we’re unlikely to win just by calling our legislators or protesting outside their homes and offices. A necessary component of the fight to cancel rent is tenant organizing and the rent strike as a tactic — putting collective pressure on landlords one by one to cancel the rent themselves. A rent strike is different from simply the inability to pay rent — it necessitates coordination, or the will to go public and make the action a collective one. This kind of radical collective action can force the hands of landlords, courts, and politicians to create the conditions and political will to cancel rent.

What about demanding rent relief instead?

Rent-relief would be a means-tested program, forcing tenants to prove they’re eligible, with relief going directly to property owners who are better equipped to survive the crisis, and may already be receiving mortgage forbearance. It doesn’t help tenants pay for other necessities like food, medicine, or childcare. This doesn’t mean that we are necessarily opposed to rent relief, but that as socialists, we believe it is inherently insufficient. 

Tenants need all the help they can get, but rent relief is limited to only the most needy, or in the case of Los Angeles, distributed through a nonsensical lottery system. Means-tested and bizzare lottery systems mean that  most struggling renters fall through the cracks. Undocumented immigrants and people working in the informal economy are often excluded  as well. 

Aren’t these demands unrealistic? Should we demand something more likely to pass quickly? 

Do we want to achieve big demands like Cancel Rent? Yes! In order to win big demands we need a mass organized working class movement. The purpose of the Neighborhood Solidarity Program is to strengthen organizational structures and deepen DSA membership in the multi-raical working class in order to build the base we need to win big. And given the crisis conditions of the Covid-19 pandemic where many are seeing the contradictions of capitalism laid bare, we have an opportunity to take advantage of a political moment where emergency orders are the norm and make some big demands that shift collective understanding of what is possible when we act together.

How does tenant organizing and mutual aid connect to these demands?

Workers will not necessarily win wage increases by lobbying the government — they do so through collective action against the boss: the strike, or the threat of strike. Likewise, tenants will not have the power to cancel rent unless they organize collectively against their landlords, building by building. A necessary component of the fight to cancel rent is tenant organizing and the rent strike as a tactic — putting collective pressure on landlords one by one to cancel the rent themselves. A rent strike is different from simply the inability to pay rent — it necessitates coordination, or the will to go public and make the action a collective one. This kind of radical collective action can force the hands of landlords, courts, and politicians to create the conditions and political will to cancel rent.

A major goal of DSA-LA’s Neighborhood Solidarity Program is to grow and strengthen our organization. Mutual aid projects can serve as an important pathway to radicalization and organization — as long as we are careful to connect them to the larger movement, and we aren’t falling into the trappings of charity. Mutual aid can help raise class consciousness and solidarity among workers, as it helps to demonstrate the profound failures of the system we live in and builds community and systems of care outside of capitalism. Meeting certain material needs of workers can also build the capacity to organize; for example, providing childcare may allow someone to attend a meeting they otherwise couldn’t, and distributing food to someone on rent strike can help them continue to fight. 

What happens at neighborhood meetings, and how do they fit into the Neighborhood Solidarity Program?

Neighborhood meetings are hyper-local socialist meetings led by DSA-LA organizers across Los Angeles County. These meetings are organized to include both political study and campaign work — they are open to both DSA-LA members and their non-member neighbors.

Neighborhood meetings are organized to engage all comrades in the Neighborhood Solidarity Program in tangible ways that match the crisis and build solidarity with our unorganized neighbors by: 

  • building organizing around rent, habitability, and housing justice issues;
  • addressing immediate needs through mutual aid work (e.g. shared child watch, accessing government benefits, food aid, maintaining power-up and hand-washing stations in coordination with Street Watch, in-kind resource and skill sharing);
  • engaging in regular political agitation and consciousness-raising, with the explicit purpose to build working class solidarity and a socialist understanding of shared class struggle as related to our current crisis.

 

How is a Neighborhood meeting different from a DSA-LA Committee meeting or a neighborhood hangout? 

While non-members sometimes come to DSA-LA Committee meetings or chapter-wide events, Neighborhood meetings are specifically organized to be welcoming to non-members who live in a specific neighborhood. This means that they aren’t run by Roberts Rules, and don’t require a deep knowledge of the organization to participate in. Unlike Committee meetings, Neighborhood meetings aren’t a place to make organizational policy decisions. 

Neighborhood hangouts are organized periodically as an informal space for members to socialize. While Neighborhood meetings include community-building and interactive discussion, all Neighborhood meetings are more structured than hangouts, and all meetings include organizing objectives, study and work.

How do the demands of the Neighborhood Solidarity Program undermine the conditions of capitalism? 

Socialists fight for a radically transformed society structured around human need instead of the private profits of a few. Realizing the Neighborhood Solidarity Program demands to cancel rent and expand government benefits and relief would mitigate the depredations of this crisis for working people, while waging a common struggle that advances our broader political project in strategic ways.

  • Demanding rent cancellation challenges hegemonic private property relations that takes for granted that the state prioritizes landlords’ drive for profits over Angelenos’ right to safe, stable, and dignified housing — and this demand ultimately advances conditions to realize socialists’ call for decommodified public goods of all kinds
  • Demanding expanded government relief and benefits underscores and popularizes an understanding of government as a body that acts in the public good (not in the good of the stock market). Pairing this demand with neighborhood-based mutual aid work can provide working class Angelenos with a solid political expression of how the state fails workers, while building solidarity for struggles to wrest necessary material concessions from and ultimately transform the state.
  • The Neighborhood Solidarity Campaign directly speaks to the material interests of LA’s multi-racial working class; by successfully waging this campaign, we can deepen our organization’s base and expand our membership to represent the full diversity of LA’s working class. By growing and strengthening DSA-LA through struggle, we are actively building a more united, militant working class basis from which we can engage in politics in Los Angeles on our own terms.  



Why and how are we recruiting new working class members to this campaign? 

While DSA-LA is more than 4,500 members strong, our organization is not yet deeply embedded in multi-racial, working class communities and struggles all across Los Angeles County. To strengthen and grow our organization in order to advance our liberatory politics, DSA-LA is pairing ongoing workplace-focused organizing with intentional efforts to organize alongside poor, unemployed, underemployed, and precariously employed Angelenos across the County.

We saw the power of intentionally reaching out to the diverse Angelenos who Bernie’s candidacy spoke to. The Neighborhood Solidarity Program is designed to prepare our members with the organizing skills and support they need to organize the unorganized and build solidarity through a campaign that speaks to the immediate conditions of crisis and the material needs of our neighbors.

 

I’m a member of DSA-LA, how can I get involved? 

If you’re a member of DSA-LA, you can get involved right now!

You can be…

A Neighborhood Organizer

…talking to your neighbors about how they’ve been impacted by the pandemic

…leading neighborhood group meetings around mutual aid, political study, and tenant organizing with DSA members and non-DSA neighbors 

…collaborating with other neighborhood organizers and captains on shared projects in your area!

A Neighborhood Captain 

More experienced organizers can take on important work as Captains, who will

…organize lists of  neighborhood contacts with  Branch Coordinators

…train Neighborhood Organizers in mutual aid, political education, and tenant organizing; ensuring they have the resources necessary to recruit and organize

…liaise between Neighborhood Organizers and Branch Coordinators for collaboration on larger actions

OR you can start attending Neighborhood Meetings in your area!

…participating in mutual aid on the neighborhood level

…learning and discussing socialist strategy

…organizing with DSA members who live near you and getting to know your non-DSA neighbors, too!

The first step is determining which DSA-LA branch you live in. Look up your location within this branch map! (link here)

The next step is contacting your Branch Coordinators and let them know you’d like to get involved!

  • Central Branch: central@dsa-la.org
  • Eastside / San Gabriel Valley Branch: eastsidesgv@dsa-la.org
  • San Fernando Valley Branch: sfv@dsa-la.org
  • South Central / Inglewood Branch: southcentralinglewood@dsa-la.org
  • Westside Branch: westside@dsa-la.org

I’m not a member of DSA-LA, but I want to support this campaignhow can I get involved? 

If you’re not a member of DSA-LA, you can still join up with a Neighborhood Group to participate in mutual aid, political study, and tenant organizing!

The first step is determining which DSA-LA branch you live in. Look up your location within this branch map! (link here)

The next step is contacting the Branch Coordinator from that branch and let them know you’d like to get involved!

  • Central Branch: central@dsa-la.org
  • Eastside / San Gabriel Valley Branch: eastsidesgv@dsa-la.org
  • San Fernando Valley Branch: sfv@dsa-la.org
  • South Central / Inglewood Branch: southcentralinglewood@dsa-la.org
  • Westside Branch: westside@dsa-la.org

 

How do I ask a neighbor to a meeting who isn’t a socialist or really very interested in politics? 

Start with a conversation! It can be as simple as starting with a question about how long your neighbor has lived in your building, and what their experience has been like.

After building some rapport, you can ask your neighbor how the pandemic has affected them, and what sorts of issues they’ve been dealing with. Ask if they need any help with anything—dealing with a landlord, buying groceries, childcare. Listen more than talk, but share your experience too! Let them know that DSA is starting to host Neighborhood Meetings for neighbors to get together to talk about the issues they are facing during the pandemic, with the idea being that we are stronger together. We will be helping each other with mutual aid and discussing the kinds of things we want to change: we want to see rent cancelled, we want unemployment insurance expanded, and we want healthcare that’s not tied to employment. If those are things they’re interested in discussing, invite them to a meeting!

 

How do I connect with my neighbors who speak a different language?

The goal of this program is to bring our neighbors into the organization and the fight for a socialist future. That means Neighborhood meetings should be accessible to all members of the multiracial working class, including people who are monolingual speakers in Spanish, Korean, Chinese, and more. This is what we call “language justice.” Main components of language justice are: translation of all event materials (flyers, agendas, presentations, etc) and simultaneous interpretation in meetings so participants can speak in whatever language they feel most comfortable. True language justice requires both of these components. It is not enough just to translate a flyer, if interpretation in that language won’t be provided in the meeting. It also isn’t useful to provide interpretation if the event is not promoted to people speaking languages other than English. 

Language justice can be challenging work to get off the ground with limited capacity, so organizers must make it happen by growing and working with more bilingual members. The DSA-LA chapter can provide language justice support at chapter-wide events, but with limited capacity it should be the goal of each neighborhood to support this work on their own. Organizers of neighborhood meetings should assess their membership, identify potential language justice needs, identify  bilingual speakers, and work with them to support language justice initiatives in the group. If there are no bilingual members, it should be a priority to recruit comrades fluent in more than one language, and make sure they have the support they need.