In Response to Crisis: A Proposal For A Neighborhood Solidarity Program by DSA-LA
Proposed by: Arielle S., Courtney Q., Janet H., Kati S., Kellen D, Peter P., Willie W.
The severity of this moment cannot be overstated. Two months after the initial stay-at-home order in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, mass uprisings (catalyzed by the horrific murder of George Floyd) grew into a militant rebellion for Black lives and Black liberation. The Covid-19 pandemic has only accelerated the predictable economic downturn of capitalism and the suffering of the working class — to say nothing of the 150 thousand deaths nationally and 10 thousand state-wide (a death toll that is disproportionately poor, Black, and Brown). At their peak, a record 51 million people were unemployed and in LA, the unemployment rate is nearly 20% — a level that approximates unemployment during the Great Depression, with no tangible signs of improvement on the horizon. In a country where 8 out of 10 people live paycheck to paycheck – nearly 40% of low-wage workers lost their jobs in March. Poor workers—disproportionately Black, Latino and young—have borne the heaviest losses, while entering the pandemic without savings, with heavy rent and debt burdens. Heaping more fuel on the fire, as many as 120,000 renter households in Los Angeles County are facing a wave of evictions in the very near term with a national total approaching 30 million individuals. In July, ⅓ of US households missed their housing payment with estimates expecting that number to continue into August. Public sector layoffs and austerity measures (already in place in some geographies) should be expected to accelerate, threatening more jobs and an already insufficient social safety net.
Responses at all levels of government to the health and economic crises have been characterized by inadequacy and disregard for working people. While initial government relief (one-time stimulus and time-limited increases in UI payments) was credited for keeping many families afloat, it excluded about 15 million people in immigrant families and expired without a replacement at the end of July. Mass evictions are expected in coming weeks and months and instead of extending relief for renters, government has extended landlords a lifeline in the one-time federal stipend and, locally, a bizarre housing voucher through lottery. At the same time, we’ve seen the state has swiftly and decisively greeted uprisings against racist police killings with harsh violence, repression, and recrimination (a response that continues unabated despite ample documentation).
As organized socialists, it’s our responsibility to work to build a powerful working class movement in the midst of crisis and loss of state legitimacy as the contradictions of capitalism are laid bare. We must acknowledge that as socialists we do, in fact, have a role to play in the current and upcoming waves of mass protest and rebellion. By organizing and building neighborhood-based solidarity, we can strengthen and grow our organization, wage a coherent, militant fight for economic relief — and through the struggle for necessities, undermine the conditions of capitalism’s possibility. Adopting this resolution will give DSA-LA a roadmap for rationalizing existing Chapter structures to strengthen our organization, organize the unorganized, and strategically engage (amidst the convergence of multiple crises) in what may be the most politically decisive moment of our time.
Description of the Chapter Resolution, including a timeline, considerations of how this work will be organized, and Local resources required. Local resources include, but are not limited to: chapter’s monetary resources, members’ monetary resources, member mobilization and time, political capital, and production of materials.
- Amidst ongoing health and economic crisis, the necessary open rebellion in service of Black lives has exacerbated & heightened the contradictions of capitalism and broadly eroded the legitimacy of the state among the poor, unemployed, underemployed, and precariously employed;
- Hyper-local and geography-specific organizing work has the potential to build a united, multi-racial working class during this economic crisis—by both supporting members’ material needs on a hyper-local basis and simultaneously advancing ambitious, coordinated political demands for relief across LA County and beyond;
- Our organization has dedicated time and energy to support more geography-focused organizing in the form of branches and neighborhood-based organizing;
- Chapter-wide struggles and decision-making have yet to be strongly articulated at the branch and neighborhood-level in a way that builds members’ knowledge of and ownership of our movement.
Be it resolved that the chapter leadership of DSA-LA:
- Expands Neighborhood-focused Organizing: DSA-LA will organize all current and future Neighborhood Organizers under the direction and oversight of the Branch Coordinators.
- Neighborhood Captains lead Neighborhood Groups (which will form subgroups of each Branch). Neighborhood Captains support Neighborhood Organizers in their 1-on-1 organizing with their dedicated contact lists. Branch Coordinators are ultimately responsible for appointing Captains and making sure Captains and Organizers are supported with resources and training across the Branch.
- Boundaries of each Group will be determined by the Branch Coordinators with consultation with members at Branch meetings, and implemented in cooperation with Neighborhood Captains. Branch Coordinators may undertake these responsibilities with the support of Branch Organizing Committees.
- Neighborhood Groups will meet regularly in order to implement DSA-LA’s Neighborhood Solidarity Program, along with other chapter priority campaigns.
- Ensures Committees develop resources for Neighborhood Organizers: DSA-LA will intentionally build the knowledge and political development of all Neighborhood Organizers by supplying them with trainings and toolkits developed by key DSA-LA Committees (Housing & Homelessness, Mutual Aid, and Political Education). These trainings and toolkits will support organizers with the resources and skills to engage all members in our struggle in tangible ways that match the crisis and build solidarity with the unorganized by:
- Addressing the immediate needs of Neighborhood Group members through mutual aid, e.g. shared child watch, accessing government benefits, food aid, maintaining power-up and hand-washing stations in coordination with StreetWatch, in-kind resources and skills sharing;
- Engaging in regular political agitation and consciousness-raising, with the explicit purpose to build solidarity and a socialist understanding of shared class struggle as related to our current crisis;
- Organizing neighbors at the building level and into these neighborhood spaces, with the ultimate goal of recruiting them into DSA;
- Identifying opportunities for direct action, solidarity across campaigns, or other proposals that emerge, to be brought to regular Branch meetings to coordinate and vote on matters of strategy, demands, and tactics – with support from Issue-based Committees;
- Implementing campaign tactics as decided at the branch level, e.g. eviction defense, protests of social security offices, courthouse blockades, attendance at strategic labor strikes, and other direct action support.
- Commits to a Coordinated County-Wide Campaign: Leveraging this more coordinated infrastructure, the chapter will develop and implement the “Neighborhood Solidarity Program” across the Local. This external-facing campaign will primarily foreground demands to cancel rent and expand government benefits to all people within Los Angeles regardless of employment status, but with special attention given to the poor, unemployed, underemployed, precariously employed and those excluded from the formal employment pool. This campaign should serve as a communication tool to recruit and engage unorganized members of our communities in our work, and connect hyper-local activities to ambitious political demands.
- Debating and/or deciding on direct, disruptive actions that build working class solidarity, consciousness and power for the Branch to engage in (within the Branch geography), with regards to the Neighborhood Solidarity Program;
- Coordinating tactics and sharing experiences between the neighborhood level formations;
- Conducting training for members to prepare for direct actions, organizing the unorganized, and other relevant skills and political education with regards to the Neighborhood Solidarity Program.
- Campaign should focus on direct action and disruptive power as primary strategies for achieving demands, with specifics to be debated and decided at the branch level. Branch Coordinators should also coordinate with one another on tactics in order to utilize the strength of our full chapter membership across Los Angeles.
- Emphasis will be placed on cultivating relationships with other tenant and community organizations across Los Angeles, both to collaborate on work and to build DSA-LA’s membership.
- Campaign will also pay special attention to the recruitment of those most vulnerable to the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak and the resulting economic fallout, making clear that dues waivers are available at the local and national level for those who need it. Chapter leadership, including the DSA-LA finance committee will coordinate a monthly dues drive, and other fundraisers as needed to support these members. The Chapter will also work with the Language Justice Committee to increase the availability of Spanish language materials, starting with the DSA-LA website, to make the barrier to entry as low as possible.
- The Neighborhood Solidarity Program will be implemented as branch business for the duration of the campaign (1 year), while the Neighborhood Group formations may continue to function past the period of the campaign. At the expiration of the initial campaign, Branch Coordinators will organize an assessment of the Neighborhood Solidarity Program’s success, with the option to extend the campaign. During the campaign, Branch business will include, but not be limited to:
- Connects all rank and file members to ongoing organizing work: Neighborhood Organizers will be responsible for ensuring all DSA-LA members on their lists are both engaged in neighborhood-based solidarity building through their Neighborhood Group (which includes hyperlocal mutual aid and tenant organizing) and connected to at least one of relevant various committee organizing circles the chapter is engaged in mass work in (including but not limited to existing labor circles and immigrant circles).
More details on the proposed Neighborhood Solidarity Program: Drawing from historical efforts like the unemployment councils of the CPUSA in the 1930s and contemporary autonomous projects like the Los Angeles Tenants’ Union (LATU) and the Bay Area’s Tenant and Neighborhood Councils (TANC), this proposal is designed to center the neighborhood as a critical area of struggle as a means to advance the socialist project under a common programme during crisis. To meet the moment, this resolution centers:
- Identifying unemployment & tenant movements as strategic terrains of struggle;
- The role of direct action and disruptive power as a primary tactic;
- Integration of resolution campaigns in chapter structure to strengthen coordination and member participation.
This campaign is designed to extend organizers the following tools:
- Housing and Homelessness trainings and resources to prepare all members for struggle and organizing against landlords and the police where they live;
- Mutual Aid trainings to build community members capacity to share skills and build solidarity with nonmembers in our communities with the aim of bringing them into our movement;
- Political Education resources to build members’ knowledge of and ownership of our struggle;
- Access to a mass, coordinated, campaign where individual struggles and mutual aid work is connected to a set of militant political demands that build on their individual struggles.
A Note on Fundraising for Resources
Ambitious goals require ambitious strategies and may necessitate substantial resources. Fundraising through the finance committee will support the material resources required and set up a drive for the Comrades For Comrades program. Note that all Mutual Aid at the neighborhood level should not feature fundraising, and any requests for monetary support should be coordinated with the Branch Coordinators and Steering Committee via the chapter’s existing proposal structure.
Anticipated timeline following resolution passage:
- Following Annual Convention; Current leadership of the Neighborhood Organizing project transitions membership information, contacts, and responsibilities to the Branch Coordinators
- Branch Coordinators set up a regular reporting and accountability channels with all Neighborhood Organizers and Captains (recruiting and training more members into these roles as appropriate)
- Branch Coordinators will articulate a maximum number of contacts to ensure Neighborhood Organizing roles are accessible for all members (and not only those with an abundance of free time)
- Branch Coordinators may undertake these responsibilities in collaboration with Branch Organizing Committees.
- All Neighborhood Organizers are trained by and in regular contact with their Captain (who in turn report to Branch Coordinators)
- Branch decision-making
- In consultation with branch members, Branch Coordinators assign and organize lists of members to maintain contact with Neighborhood Organizers based on geographic proximity, or other preferred criteria (such as Neighborhood Council jurisdictions)
- Via democratic vote, each Branch votes to prioritize 2 initial topics for political study. The Political Education Committee will provide a list of initial suggestions but will develop study guides and offer facilitation trainings aligned with whatever initial topics each Branch votes to prioritize.Branches can vote to prioritize future, additional topics for structured resources in 4 months
- Housing and Homeless Committee refines assigned trainings and toolkits. (detailed on pg. 8-9).
- Mutual Aid Committee refines assigned trainings and toolkits.(detailed on pg 9)
November 2020 – March 2021
- On a schedule organized by Branch Coordinators, a sequence of trainings and toolkits developed by Housing and Homeless & Mutual Aid are rolled out and shared with with all Neighborhood Organizers: At least one training should be offered per month, and all Neighborhood Organizers will follow-up with members and non-members after training and events to offer support
- Political study aligned with topics prioritized by Branch vote will be ongoing, on schedules coordinated by Neighborhood Organizers
- Each month, Neighborhood Organizers report progress and conversations to Neighborhood Captains and ultimately the Branch Coordinator (via call and/or written report), as prescribed by Branch Coordinators
- Time at all Branch Meetings is dedicated to topics informed by ongoing neighborhood-based work and an assessment of the Neighborhood Solidarity Program against its stated goals
March 2021: Mid-point check in:
- Informed by ongoing conversation at Branch Meetings and with Neighborhood Organizers, all Branch Coordinators and Steering Committee will convene a formal meeting to assess goals of the proposal against progress (assessing member activity, chapter growth and development, coordination between Committees and Branch Coordinators, and other relevant dimensions)
- Branch Coordinators share assessment and and recommendations coming out of the meeting with Branch membership
- As determined by Branches; other trainings and resources aligned with the goals of this resolution shall be developed by DSA-LA Committees at the service of the continued implementation of this resolution
Two months before the 2021 Annual Convention
- Chapter-wide reflection and assessment of neighborhood-based work, trainings, and overall implementation of this resolution
- Branch Coordinators will publish a report on implementation of the resolution for membership. Report should include metrics of attendance, skill-building, and engagement as well as lessons learned and recommendations, particularly in regards to the extension of the campaign
Organizational Priorities with which this proposed resolution is aligned and motivation for the resolution.
“We will organize with ambitious and emancipatory ends in mind, such as raising the collective consciousness of all people’s struggles and normalizing guaranteed rights that have been denatured under capitalism, while seeking concrete material wins and outcomes at every opportunity.”
The political education component of this proposal is essential to its strategy of popularizing socialist solutions to the contradictions and brutality of the capitalist system. Deliberate political education efforts both attract new members, and deepen existing members’ commitment and ownership of our socialist project. Consciousness-raising will be embedded within local meetings (as opposed to being offered electively) with the express purpose to contextualize the struggles of both DSA and non-DSA members as exploitation under capital, with the emphasis on shared class struggle. In doing so we hope to make clear the importance of solidarity and action to achieve concrete material wins, and to emphasize the importance of joining the movement via membership to DSA. The dual focus of political education/agitation and direct action serves to galvanize a stronger, self-conscious working class movement that builds on LA’s own radical tradition.
“Our goals encompass our participation in rebuilding a strong Left for everyone, not just members of our organization, and we do not wish to become a totalizing force or offer a singular solution to organizing on the Left. Instead, we aspire to build strength through solidarity, and offer a challenging alternative to capitalism for everyone.”
We want to build a strong Left for everyone, and this means working in solidarity with those in the working class who are not yet ready to call themselves socialists. This does not mean that we are content for them to remain outside our membership, and through a stronger political education component and Comrades for Comrades, we hope to enroll everyone involved on the group level with DSA. However, it is necessary that we work in alliance with the working class as it is, not as we want it to be. This means building the capacity of our own membership to work as organizers and agitators. This campaign will provide many new opportunities for new and existing but as-yet uninvolved DSA members to work as organizers at the neighborhood level, recruiting participants who would benefit from the development of community resources (shared child watch, food aid, support with internet-based applications, etc.), or want to fight for better protections, from their apartment buildings and neighborhood blocks. With DSA members on the ground all across the city, recruiting non-DSA working class to engage in mutual aid, socialist political education, and participate in direct action, we are not only building strong relationships with the working class all over LA, but we are growing the capacity of our current membership to organize effectively with the working class.
Outline the ways this resolution would offer opportunities to engage new and active members, and intentionally build a broader base of engagement and membership in our organization throughout Los Angeles County.
A central thrust of this campaign is to recruit, engage and retain new DSA members, and the best way to engage new members across racial and socioeconomic divisions of Los Angeles is to approach recruitment on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis. Los Angeles is a profoundly stratified city, but as DSA membership grows, so does our ability to organize hyper-locally, by supporting all of our members with the skills and tools to confidently engage their neighbors. The newly-formed Eastside/SGV branch as well as the future South Central branch indicate the potential of DSA’s reach, and we must meet our expansion with efforts on the ground to engage with our communities. Beyond that, this campaign provides opportunities for our hundreds of new members to directly engage with the work of DSA that meets the political moment, plugging members into the organization with the goal of retention via meaningful involvement for everyone.
With the new formation of the Neighborhood Groups under the direction and guidance of Branches, we anticipate members will begin to see themselves not just as participants in DSA’s isolated projects, but organizers building and executing a campaign together. This strengthens the organization by building up membership and developing skills within membership needed to sustain a movement of our anticipated size.
We know that this work will require strong relationships with other organizations, and we are excited by those opportunities to build stronger ties with those organizations. Working collaboratively with the LA Tenants Union Locals will be integral to this campaign, as their expertise in tenant organizing will be essential to those at the local level seeking assistance as evictions for nonpayment due to pandemic unemployment become commonplace and more socialists are supported in organizing their own buildings.
We aim for this campaign to embed DSA within the fabric of local communities, bringing a firmly socialist perspective to community organizing.
Across all applicable Committee and Working Group platforms, identify relevant work that supports and advances the goals of this resolution.
Guided by the stated foci of this resolution, its implementation (i.e. tactics and related ongoing work we engage in as a chapter) should be informed and decided by the local membership in regular branch meetings. Branches Coordinators will work with Committees (as specified below) to offer members ongoing opportunities for training and skillbuilding, coordinating with relevant committees on tools to be developed. Potential work to be developed is as followed:
Housing & Homelessness
- Demands for housing justice and against the criminalization of poverty are central demands of this campaign. In addition, the Neighborhood Groups will complement the work already started by StreetWatch and NOlympics, and these groups should be in contact with one another in regards to tactics and targets.
- The committee will:
- Use existing connections and contacts to help build strong relationships between the Neighborhood Groups and LATU;
- Share trainings based off of branch requests for materials, but at minimum along the following topics:
- Tenant Organizing: Guidelines to conversations with fellow tenants
- Rapid Response Networking for Eviction Defense
- Where there are identified needs; coordinate expanded power-up and sanitation resources to be maintained by members of Neighborhood Groups in coordination with StreetWatch
- Mutual aid is a central component of this campaign. Without the funding of the private or state sectors, our ability to organize as a collective is one of our greatest assets. Through the Neighborhood Solidarity Program, there is an opportunity to meet the needs of the membership and the community that the establishment will not.
- While the committee should make their best effort be responsive to needs articulated by Branch Coordinators, at minimum they will develop and share materials along the following lines at the outset of this Resolution:
- Community Child Watch training for members and non-members
- First Aid trainings that build up to a Street Medic program
- Marshalling, Direct Action and De-escalation training that build our membership
- Skill building will be done with the Mutual Aid Living Under Capitalism, including but not limited to UI, SNAP, Medi-Cal, WIC, and others. This could be done with one-on-ones, video presentations, group classes, power up tables, and distributed in educational zines written by DSA-LA for the specific conditions and programs relevant to California & Los Angeles.
- The committee’s goals should be built up to the point where the training therein can be offered to other organizations and our basis for expanding the countywide campaign is expanded out to community partners, allowing the building of broad-based coalitions to do the work.
- Political Education is a central component of this campaign. The Neighborhood Groups will incorporate political education as a regular component of meetings to deepen members’ socialist analysis of the current crisis and develop skills as organizers.
- The committee will:
- Develop a special event related to the current capitalist crisis and its relationship to unemployment to inform and shape the chapter’s strategy/tactics in this stage of capitalism. This event should take up the question: Why — in this moment — should we dedicate organizing efforts in solidarity with the poor, unemployed, underemployed, and precariously employed, and what opportunities does this present for the organized Left?
- Continue running regular chapter orientations (DSA 101), facilitation and organizer training for members to take on leadership roles within their neighborhood.
- While the committee should be responsive to needs articulated by Branch Coordinators, at minimum they will develop and share materials along the following lines at the outset of this Resolution, as prioritized by Branch votes:
- Regional Leftist Labor Histories
- The Intersection of Race and Class: The Racialization of the Working Class and Anti-Racist Organizing Today
- Against Patriarchy: Towards a Socialist Feminist Politics
- Class Struggle and Political Struggle
- Production Disruption: Socialist Workplace Organizing
- Surplus Value & Exploitation: Marxist Economics 101
- Prison Abolition: Theory and Practice
- Ecosocialism or Barbarism: The Fight for Energy Democracy
Agitation & Propaganda / Communications Committee
- Agit-Prop and the Communications Committee would share responsibility for the imagery and public face of the Neighborhood Solidarity Program, as aligned with their goals as an internal resource and standing committee to support chapter priority work.
- The committees will:
- Work on graphic design for the above mentioned training materials, easily accessible to and understood by members;
- Coordinate with Branches and relevant committees to produce materials for a cancel rent campaign and educational events.
- As Covid-19 is a direct result of the ongoing climate catastrophe, work in response to this crisis aligns with Climate Justice’s mission.
- The campaign will rely on input and cooperation with the Transit Committee as Metro saw a huge drop in ridership since March and many Angelinos will not be able to keep up with car payments.
- Transit Committee will consult on the skill-building materials associated with navigating means-tested programs, sharing info on applying for reduced-fare/voucher programs, cash-for-clunkers trade in programs, and low income auto insurance.
- This committee will also keep pressure on Metro to expand their light rail, heavy rail, & commuter lines to provide alternatives to the freeways.
- While this campaign is primarily focused on direct action, action can be in the service of specific legislative campaigns that will ameliorate the worst effects of the Covid 19 crisis and fallout.
- The committee will work with Branch Coordinators to integrate democratically decided electoral priorities into Neighborhood Group work.
- The demands of the campaign focus on pressuring the government to assist with unemployment benefits, healthcare, and to support frontline workers, all aligned with the goals of the Healthcare Justice Committee.
- The committee will work in conjunction with Mutual Aid to develop potential trainings related to healthcare justice, e.g. medic training, kit building, helping people navigate Medi-Cal, Medicare, & Covered California during and after open enrollment.
- As it is very likely undocumented people will continue to be left out of any stimulus payments and unemployment insurance, the Neighborhood Solidarity Program’s demands to cancel rent and provide mutual aid will provide immediate relief for these Angelinos. Additionally, immigrants who enter the organization through the Neighborhood Group will be connected to IJC work by their Neighborhood Organizer.
- The campaign will rely on input and cooperation with the Language Justice Committee to develop multilingual membership materials, such as trainings and the website, as well as help immigrants, especially non-English speakers, in the Neighborhood Groups fill out paperwork to receive state benefits.
- The Labor Committee will continue its successful work in organizing the Workers’ Circles on the terrain of industry, complementary to the work the Neighborhood Solidarity Campaign is organizing by geography. While this resolution is focused on organizing at the neighborhood level, we know building power at the workplace remains critical.
- Neighborhood Organizers will be tasked with connecting people in their Neighborhood Group to ongoing Labor Committee work in the relevant circle, or in solidarity with local labor projects. Additionally, Neighborhood Groups can support strategic labor strikes.
- The Neighborhood Solidarity Campaign’s demands are abolitionist in nature and align with the goals of the Prison Abolition Committee. It is well known that formerly incarcerated people under the best of circumstances experience chronic unemployment, so they will need support now more than ever, something that will be done through Neighborhood Groups. Protections against the pandemic for prisoners and people held in ICE detention have been near nonexistent and cruel; this is an injustice that the campaign can highlight and agitate against.
- This resolution aims to contribute to the building of community alternatives to policing and to developing relationships and communication between community members, in part through the above mentioned de-escalation trainings meant to give people alternatives to calling the police for wellness checks, noise complaints, and other disturbances in a neighborhood.