CHAPTER AND VERSE

What’s the most exciting work your chapter is doing?

Democratic Left wants to spread the word about the most interesting and impactful work DSA’s local chapters are doing. No matter how big or small your chapter is, if it is unifying around an important campaign or has had a success worth sharing with the rest of DSA, let us know at dlchapternews@dsausa.org.

Preparing for the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee

When the 3,979 delegates to the Democratic National Convention gather July 13-16 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to select a presidential nominee, Bernie Sanders will be there, and so will hundreds of DSA members from around the country, hosted by the Milwaukee and Madison chapters of DSA. It’s too soon to know what’s going to happen at the convention, but inside, some DSA members will be serving as official Bernie delegates following their state party conventions, while outside, others will take part in civil society activity to show the world that the agenda Bernie wants to take to the White House has overwhelming public support. If you’re a DSA member and you’re headed to Milwaukee, keep an eye out for email dispatches from DSA national director Maria Svart, and look to the Summer issue of Democratic Left (out in early June) for details about how to connect with your comrades for coordinated action and socialist meetups.

Campaigning to legalize rent control in Chicago

Today, at least 26 states ban local rent control ordinances, but battles to beat back the bans have begun. In Illinois, Chicago DSA is part of a statewide Lift The Ban Coalition that includes the Chicago Teachers Union, SEIU, and 20 community organizations. Over the course of three elections in 2018 and 2019, coalition supporters in Chicago gathered signatures to put a non-binding advisory question on the ballot in dozens of precincts: “Should Illinois lift the ban on rent control?” In every precinct, voters said “yes” by more than two-to-one — unmistakable proof to local politicians that the rent control ban is broadly opposed by their constituents. Now the coalition is ramping up pressure on lawmakers to support House Bill 255, which would lift the ban. State representative Ann Williams sits on a committee that the bill must pass through. After she declined an invitation to a Chicago town hall meeting on rent control, coalition members pulled up outside her office the week before Christmas with a U-Haul truck, unloaded furniture into the street for a brief occupation and taped a giant “eviction” notice to her office window. The coalition followed up by mobilizing supporters to ask questions at a January 25 town hall she held for constituents. J.B. Pritzker, the billionaire Democrat who’s governor of Illinois, said during his 2018 campaign that he’d support lifting the ban. With Senate president (and real estate lawyer) John Cullerton having resigned in January, rent control advocates see an opportunity to get it on the governor’s desk. The bill has 14 cosponsors, and hearings on it are scheduled for March.

Fighting for worker safety in New Orleans

A video captures the horror: On the corner of Canal and Rampart—in a crowded tourist area in downtown New Orleans— construction workers run for their lives as an 18-story under-construction Hard Rock Hotel collapses. Three construction workers were killed that day, October 12, 2019, and dozens of others were injured. The cause is still under investigation, but gross negligence and a nonunion contractor culture indifferent to safety played a part. Immigrant workers, some undocumented, paid the price. Hospitalized workers weren’t covered by workers compensation, because their employers had classified them as independent contractors. One undocumented Honduran immigrant—who survived the collapse but was injured—had repeatedly complained to supervisors about safety issues, and the day before the collapse had noticed the floor beneath him moving. Two days after the collapse, he was detained by ICE, and over the protest of Louisiana investigators, was deported. Meanwhile, the bodies of two workers remain in the unstable building. After the collapse, DSA New Orleans reached out to allies such as the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice to see how the chapter could play a supportive role. Since then, chapter members have helped organize vigils and protests, and mobilize community support for a responsible-bidder ordinance, a law requiring that city contracts and subsidies go only to employers who respect labor and safety laws. In the course of that campaign, they’ve phone banked, talked with workers at construction sites, and built a relationship of trust with local building trades unions.

Showing up in solidarity with anti-colonial struggle in Hawaii

Measured from its underwater base, Maunakea on the island of Hawaii is the world’s tallest mountain. For many Native Hawaiians the dormant volcano is also the most sacred place on the island chain, a burial site with over 100 ancient shrines that plays a central role in traditional religious practice. Yet over their objections, 13 gigantic telescopes have been constructed on the summit since 1964. Now there are plans to build a 14th, the largest yet. The $1.4-billion Thirty Meter Telescope would rise 18 stories and occupy five acres on the mountain’s northern plateau, take most of a decade to construct, and require more than 2,000 truck trips up the mountain. Many in the Native Hawaiian community view it as one more act of desecration. On July 13, 2019, community leaders began an ongoing encampment to block the access road and stop construction from beginning. A delegation from DSA’s Honolulu chapter traveled to Maunakea to express solidarity and take part in the encampment, bringing donations and preparing food. On July 17, a large force of police arrived and arrested 38 Native Hawaiian elders. But the blockade continued. DSA members organized fundraisers and collected $6,000 toward the Hawaii Community Bail Fund, a project of the chapter, which can be used to bail out mountain protectors. A video produced by chapter co-chair Mikey Inouye about the arrests—retweeted by AOC, Bernie, and others—went viral with over 1.5 million views, and helped bring in over $100,000 more. Chapter members spread the word about calls to action. For chapter members, the campaign is a stand against settler colonialism and empire. Maunakea, now claimed as state land, once belonged to the Hawaiian monarchy, which was overthrown by an 1893 coup d’état led by U.S. sugar planters. Five years later, the islands were annexed as a possession of the United States. Hawaii became a state in 1959. In light of Hawaii’s status as a settler colony, DSA members voted in June 2018 to remove “America” from the name of the chapter, which is now officially Democratic Socialists of Honolulu.

Watch a powerful 15-minute video about the Maunakea campaign here.

Organizing tenants in Columbus

Columbus, Ohio, the 14th-largest city in the United States, is one of the nation’s fastest growing metro areas. But that growth has meant rising rents and displacement for poor and working-class residents. What if tenants organized? To talk about that, Columbus DSA members have been going door-to-door at two of the most complaint-ridden low-income complexes in the Columbus metro area. Located in Whitehall, a town of 19,000 east of Columbus, complexes totaling 1,160 units are owned and managed by 5812 Investment Group, a limited liability corporation based in Minneapolis. Rents keep going up at the complexes, but conditions are poor. In some units, tenants leave lights on all night to keep cockroaches from coming out. In November 2018, faulty wiring contributed to a fire that displaced about 60. Canvassers invite residents to monthly tenants union meetings where they learn their rights as tenants, get phone numbers to call for legal aid, and talk about the possibility of collective action. The response has been almost uniformly positive from the tenants, many of them low-income women of color. If they succeed in building a tenants organization, that could lay the groundwork to pressure the Whitehall city council for reforms like just-cause eviction, rent control, or a better response than condemnation when units are poorly maintained.

Leading a wildcat university strike in Santa Cruz

A remarkable wildcat strike began in December among graduate teaching faculty at University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC), and members of DSA Santa Cruz are involved at every level—as strikers and strike leaders, and as faculty, staff, students, and community members supporting the strikers. It began as a grade strike, a refusal to release fall term grades until the university increased their stipend: In the shadow of Silicon Valley, rent in Santa Cruz has become increasingly unaffordable. On February 10, the struggle escalated, and many graduate union members stopped teaching classes. Strikers also took to the streets daily and occupied intersections in protest, facing arrests and physical force from police in riot gear. The university began disciplinary proceedings, and on February 28 terminated as many as 80 graduate student teachers from their spring term appointments. More than 500 other grad students have pledged to refuse appointments to replace the strikers. The strike is termed a “wildcat” because it isn’t sanctioned by the grad workers’ official union, United Auto Workers Local 2865. A statewide collective bargaining agreement negotiated by the union was approved by members only narrowly, and was rejected by 83% of union members at UCSC. Now the strike is spreading, starting with rallies on nine other UC campuses. On February 27, grad faculty began a full teaching strike at UC Santa Barbara and announced a grading strike at UC Davis. UC President Janet Napolitano—former Obama Secretary of Homeland Security—has so far refused to bargain.