#WhyDSA - Renée P - Electoral Lawyer Extraordinaire

The website for attorney and NYC-DSA dynamo Renée Paradis reads, “Creative and Conscientious Legal Services.” She might add “& Passionately Political” to that logo. Her passion for social justice — and fury at the debacle that was the 2016 Presidential Election — are what led Paradis to the Democratic Socialists of America.

To look at her history or hear her speak, her arrival is no surprise. Her path took detours, but, as Paradis laughs, “There was no ‘road to Damascus’ moment—it was more of a process. But I came to DSA as someone who already thought socialism was the answer.”

In a phone interview, Paradis, 41, who served as National Voter Protection Director for “Bernie 2016,” recalls she found her way to DSA through an evolving series of events and policies. “I had felt such disgust after the election of Trump, concurring with the experience of seeing Bernie Sanders candidacy energize so many people to believe a better way was possible. I had a real sense of urgency and a need to organize outside of my day to day legal work.”

Paradis started going to DSA meetings, where, she said, she found people discussing “local issues … that are part of the larger fight against injustice. They were working to put action behind their words.”

This was sovereign to her journey: Paradis, who is an eloquent speaker and writer, noted her long “discomfort at the elided narratives” common to mainstream publishing, law, and politics: “I hated being in publishing (where she worked at a secondary retailer of education materials) . We never overtly lied about any product — we didn’t do that — but there were elisions, omissions, shading that were all intended to sell the product, to create a profit for my employer. I thought at the time that I didn’t like my job; it’s become clear over the years that what I didn’t like was capitalism.”

Her sense of urgency was reinforced in January 2017, when Donald Trump signed executive orders to ban citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries — even those who were en route with visas — from entering the United States. Outraged, Paradis joined lawyers from around the country to block the ban and counsel the hundreds of affected persons already jamming airports coming into the United States. The spontaneous action was quickly dubbed “No Ban JFK.” Given the shock of Trump’s flaunting a bevy of laws, the attorneys’ success was remarkable. They cleared hundreds of the travelers through customs, while the ACLU contested the order.

At the time, Paradis had already joined the Brooklyn Electoral Working Group. Last year, she worked to elect City Council candidates Reverend Khader el-Yateem, a Palestinian-American Lutheran minister, and Jabari Brisport, an actor and activist. Both Brooklyn leftists lost their elections, but the margins stunned pundits and mainstream Democrats.

Paradis helped to organize the May 2017 NYC-DSA Convention at Judson Memorial. Her combined expertise — from working on the federal appeals court, advocacy at both the state and federal levels on electoral, reproductive, and drug reform, in combination with community organizing, and electoral politics — meant Paradis could move fluidly around a host of subjects. She worked on DSA’s National Electoral Strategy too.

Paradis has a formidable resume. An award-winning graduate of Columbia University Law School, she clerked for the U.S. Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit, a plum vantage point on federal and state laws. In 2005, Californian Paradis returned to New York to serve as Counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. Her remit: expand the franchise through automatic voter registration and voting rights for people with felony convictions and students. Paradis also worked at the ACLU, first as a fellow on drug law reform and later as a senior staff attorney on reproductive freedom. In 2008, she joined the Obama campaign as director for Michigan state voter protection. Eight years later, she was national director for voter protection for “Bernie 2016.”

Renée Paradis is currently applying her conscientious creativity to the candidacy of Julia Salazar, a police reform and tenant rights organizer, who is running for the NY State Senate against eight-term Brooklyn incumbent Martin Dilan and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

No One Should Hold More than One Elected Position

By Jazz H. and Holly W.

NYC-DSA is, by far, the largest single chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. With well over 3,000 dues paying members, our citywide membership alone is larger than that of many other socialist organizations. Nonetheless, a small group of core members often take on multiple elected leadership positions.

While this practice was understandable during the massive membership surge after November 2016, we believe its persistence will hobble our chapter going forward. Everyone in DSA should be encouraged to take on the responsibilities of elected office. When a core group of organizers run for multiple elected positions year after year, they reduce the opportunities for other members to gain the skills and experience of leading a democratic organization.

If we care about organizing effectively against systemic oppression, we must be diligent in training as many members as possible to take on leadership. If we want to call ourselves a democratic organization, our leaders must step back and provide the support, training and guidance that others may need when taking their turns at the helm. This is not only good socialist praxis, it helps build working class power.

Holding a leadership position in DSA is no small task. We make heavy demands of our leaders. While a few people may be able to fulfill the obligations of two roles at once, many or most people cannot. As a result, some of their responsibilities fall unexpectedly on the shoulders of others--or the tasks don’t get done. We believe that we can most fairly resolve this problem by formally discouraging overcommitment in our bylaws.

Lastly, members can contribute to the success of the chapter, a branch, working group or campaign without holding an elected position in it. Holding elected office is but one aspect of what makes a socialist activist a great organizer and many of our most effective comrades have never needed to hold an elected office in our chapter to contribute in significant ways to the overall success of our movement. Our chapter will benefit if we formally recognize that being a good comrade often means making the space for other stars to shine--and that many of our best comrades do this not from above, but from below.

Making a better world is a marathon, not a sprint. Broadening our leadership will make NYC DSA more resilient. We can accomplish this by refining our organizational practice, so that we train our members in a variety of organizational skills and roles so that we can absorb whatever shocks the ruling class throws at us. As stewards of the socialist movement, we have a collective responsibility to ensure that our membership is as skilled, disciplined and militant as possible.

Branch Updates

Bronx/Upper Manhattan

BUM members have been fighting hard to elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, by organizing canvases and phone banking across the Bronx. On Sunday, the Racial Justice working group and Queer Caucus members turned up at Bronx Pride to table and canvas for postal banking. In the Allen Psychiatric Hospital fight, dozens turned out Thursday in the pouring rain in solidarity with nurses and mental health advocates continuing to pressure New York Presbyterian not to close a crucial mental health ward.

North Brooklyn

North Brooklyn DSA and the Housing Working Group co-hosted a Tenants Town Hall that included a rent laws workshop, an organizing training, and a speech by Julia Salazar. NBK-DSA also worked with the Housing Working Group to help NYC-DSA meet its goal of turning out more than 200 members to the Tenants March on June 14. Additionally, NBK-DSA members, in collaboration with the Service Industry and Labor & Strike Solidarity working groups, assisted workers at House of Kava in organizing a union in the face of abuse and wage theft by ownership. Members will be joining the workers for ongoing pickets.

South Brooklyn

All elections this month for South Brooklyn!

Here's the new SBK OC:  Chi Anunwa, Jared Watson, Joseph Thornhill, Katie Needle, Katy Lasell, Noah Weston, and Paul Horowitz
New SBK delegation to the CLC is: Evan Grupsmith, Tascha Van Auken
 

Central Brooklyn

Central Brooklyn updated their branch bylaws and elected a new Organizing Committee, representative to the Steering Committee, and delegation to the Citywide Leadership Committee.

The new CBK Organizing Committee is: Brad Menchl, Danya Lagos (Steering Comm Rep), Holly Wood, James Thacher, Jordan Brown, Sara Hinkley

The new CBK Delegation to the CLC is: Annalisa Wilde, Dan La Botz, Danya Lagos, Madi Mornhinweg, Neal Meyer, Sam Lewis, Yasmina Price

Labor

The new Labor Branch OC is as follows: Laura Gabby is the new Labor Branch Chair, Rosy Clark is the new Labor Branch Secretary, and Zelig Stern is the new Labor Branch Representative to the Citywide Steering Committee.

The new OC is excited to get to work, especially on Resolution 33 that was voted in at the 2018 Convention, which resolved that NYC-DSA will actively recruit members to get Rank and File jobs.

Queens

In May, the Queens branch elected members Miriam Bensman (co-chair), José Cabrera (co-chair, Andrea Guinn (steering committee representative), Leslie Guthrie (membership coordinator), Alex Kingsepp (working group coordinator), and Frank Llewleyn (treasurer) to its organizing committee, and members Vigie Ramos Rios and Susan Kang as representatives to the Citywide Leadership Committee.


The branch has been working hard to elect nationally-endorsed candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in her improbable bid to unseat the chair of the House Democratic Caucus and the boss of the Queens political machine, canvassing almost daily and leading phonebanks. In recent weeks, the grassroots campaign has picked up significant media coverage. Help the Queens branch to get out the vote and build socialism in Queens and the Bronx on Election Day, June 26, by signing up here.

Working Group Updates

Anti-War is holding its next meeting on Wednesday, July 11, 2018 at the Catholic Worker Mary House (55 East 3rd Street, New York). It is also planning a Yemen fundraiser, with details TBA. Email Anti-War to learn more about its recent projects and to get involved.

B-UM Housing is continuing to support tenants’ associations. Members attended a major tenants’ march on June 14, 2018, and also phonebanked and made signs for the march. Read more in the “Why we organize tenants” piece about what the Housing working-groups are doing city-wide

Labor & Strike Solidarity held its June meeting, featuring a discussion on a city-wide DSA resolution encouraging members to get rank-and-file union jobs. Attendees also discussed the history of rank-and-file strategy, its relation to the recent successful teachers’ strike in West Virginia, and the urgent need to revitalize the labor movement from the ground up. Additionally, the meeting passed amendments to the working group’s bylaws.

Labor & Strike Solidarity is also supporting the Laundry Worker’s Center in its new campaign against employer abuses in Harlem laundromats. The campaign is holding an event at Thomas Jefferson Park at 114th Street and 1st Ave in Harlem on Thursday, June 28, 2018. Contact Labor & Strike Solidarity for further details.

Racial Justice is currently working on three campaigns that focus on Postal Banking, the Elected Civilian Review Board (ECRB) and Court Watching. The Postal Banking campaign is a petition to provide low- to no-cost check cashing and ATM services at U.S. Post Offices, in an effort to combat predatory lending services and powerful banking institutions. The ECRB campaign is pursuing New York City Council legislation to create a police oversight committee with the power to enforce disciplinary measures against the NYPD and, if necessary, appoint special prosecutors. The court watching programs based in Queens and the Bronx are designed to expose inequities in the way the judicial system arraigns and sentences. The Postal Banking and ECRB campaigns are actively canvassing and petitioning. The Postal Banking campaign is canvassing from 12 – 3 p.m. on Friday, June 23, 2018, location TBD, check the NYC-DSA facebook page.

Religion + Socialism is continuing its participation with the Poor People’s Campaign (PPC) and its work on immigration justice. Several Religion + Socialism members were arrested during a PPC rally in Albany earlier this month. The next meeting will be held in July 2018; further details TBD.

Tech Action is hosting a discussion on surveillance capitalism with writers Ingrid Burrington and Rob Horning (who is also an editor at The New Inquiry) at 114 West 26th Street from 7 – 9 p.m. on Thursday, June 21, 2018. The panel will discuss the societal effects of for-profit data collection and analysis, the practice’s future trajectory, and what a left alternative might look like.

Steering Committee Update

Coming off the heels of the Chapter's annual convention, NYC-DSA's Steering Committee is welcoming new Administrative Committee officers and branch reps! Here are a few of the things the Steering Committee has been up to this month:

Training for Chapter Leadership

Leadership elections are taking place in many areas of our Chapter, including Branches and Working Groups. That makes for a great opportunity to give new and continuing leaders the opportunity to get into a room together, set goals, and build skills! The incoming Steering Committee and Membership Development Working Group are putting on the first of many training opportunities on June 30th - this one on base-building in our organization.

Accessibility Guidelines

At its June 5th meeting, the Steering Committee unanimously passed the Accessibility Guidelines document put forward by NYC-DSA's Disability Caucus, including its recommendation that Branch and Working Group begin by implementing several of its suggestions as soon as possible. This is a living document that is meant to challenge our organization to be more accessible in our work.

Campaign Meetings with Working Groups and Branches

One of the major roles of the Steering Committee is to support and help develop the organizing work of the Chapter, and one of the major places this happens is through Working Group and Branch campaigns. Members of the Steering Committee have been meeting with representatives of these groups and helping to facilitate city-wide discussions around campaigns so that we can better coordinate our efforts and develop winning strategies.
 

The Steering Committee officers elected at May's convention are:

2 Co-chairs - Abdullah Younus and Bianca Cunningham

Treasurer - Tiffany Gong

Secretary - Joe DeManuelle-Hall

Membership Coordinator - Leslie Fine

Working Group Coordinator - Cea Weaver

In addition to those 6 officers, the steering committee has a branch representative from each of the 8 branches, plus a YDSA representative. These representatives are elected by their respective branches in the time following the convention. All branches will have completed their elections by the end of June.

DSA Lobbies for NY Health Act

By Chi A

NYC-DSA members headed to Albany on June 5 for the annual Lobby Day in support of the NY Health Act. If passed, this bill would create a single-payer healthcare system in New York State, outlawing private health insurance. All state residents, including undocumented residents, would be able to access healthcare without the co-pays, premiums, deductibles and other costs associated with our for-profit healthcare system.

The lobby day in Albany is one of the largest events organized by the Campaign for New York Health, a coalition of over 100 organizations, including DSA chapters throughout the state, that have pledged support for the NY Health Act. Over 500 people from nearly every region of the state participated, making it the biggest lobby day in the Campaign’s history. About 30 DSA members from the NYC, Rochester, and Hudson Valley chapters attended.

The day started with a rally in front of the State Capitol, followed by over 80 lobby meetings with both Democratic and Republican state senators, including members of the notorious Independent Democratic Conference (IDC). One group of activists rode their bikes from Brooklyn to Albany to speak at the rally in honor of their friend, a bike messenger who died from a preventable health condition that could have been treated if he had had access to healthcare.

For the last 15 months, NYC-DSA has been holding canvassing events, town halls, panels, and trainings in support of the NY Health Act, first as part of Socialist Feminist Working Group’s universal healthcare campaign, and now as part of the citywide campaign for healthcare justice. After all the hard work we’ve been doing, it was great to meet other coalition partners, exchange ideas, and see how much momentum is growing for universal healthcare. A few of us were able to confront our own State Senators who have yet to endorse the bill. It was gratifying to hold them to account for their lack of leadership on universal healthcare, arguably one of the defining issues in American politics today.

Achieving healthcare justice in New York and nationwide will take more than just lobby days. By building on the work our chapter has been doing in New York City and developing better relationships with our diverse coalition partners, we can build our organizing capacity, mobilize working class folks in our communities, and ultimately achieve a more just healthcare system.

How to Get More Involved in DSA

By Daniel B

Becoming a member of DSA is easy. After hearing about some cool project we're working on, you go to the website and fill out the form with your debit card number. Then comes the hard part - figuring out how to actually get involved. Can you just go to a meeting? Join a working group? Are people going to quiz you on the Kronstadt Rebellion or laugh at you if you listen to the wrong podcast? I was lucky, in that the newly formed Immigrant Justice Working Group spoke at my first branch meeting. I joined immediately, and through that working group I met the comrades who have encouraged me, supported me, and made me feel at home in NYC-DSA.

Generally, the easiest place to find work to do in the chapter is within the working groups.

Through my time in IJWG I have learned that there is always work to do in DSA if you're willing to do it, from knocking on doors to setting up tables at meetings, from filling out spreadsheets to printing flyers. While serving in elected bodies and making strategic decisions is valuable, this everyday work is what keeps the organization running and growing. Our campaigns need feet on the ground and administrative work, and our members need support to avoid burnout, find direction, and avoid frustration. If you just joined, or are a current member trying to get more involved, I encourage you to seek out the day to day, unglamorous, essential work: printing sign-up sheets or flyers, showing up to canvasses or phone-banks, keeping track of time at meetings. Ask how you can help, or better yet, recognize a weakness - something needs to be done - and volunteer to do it. When I joined DSA I hadn’t memorized any pithy quotes by famous revolutionaries, didn’t know anything about local politics, and had never canvassed for a candidate. But I knew how to show up, how to set up chairs and hand out flyers, and how to listen to what people have to say.

One of the most satisfying ways I have found to do this kind of essential, sustaining work is the Central Brooklyn Mobilizer program. Mobilizers are meant to form long-term supportive relationships with members, starting from when they join DSA, in order to increase our capacity. When we build relationships and learn we can rely on each other, we are more willing to contribute our labor to the organization, and thus are stronger. As a mobilizer I was given a list of new CBK-DSA members to get in touch with, and then contacted them to set up a meeting. Not all of the members I contacted responded to me, but each of the conversations I had was fruitful and interesting. Calling people to ask them to do things is hard, and keeping it up month after month is really tough-- but as we all work together the mobilizer program will continue to integrate members into the organization and connect them to meaningful work.

This kind of sustaining work for our branches and working groups should not fall entirely on elected officers. In the spirit of the society we want to build, we should value everyday tasks and share the burden of the less pleasant ones. I have proposed that we develop a rotation of members who have agreed to do things like phone banking, meeting setup, etc. Members of the list would indicate which jobs they were willing/able to do, and how often they are available to do them. Formlessness and voluntarism only reinforce the power dynamics of our current society, where some stand up and talk at meetings and others fill the snack bowls. The alternative-- a spreadsheet telling people what to do-- sounds a little weird, but it’s really about members agreeing that nobody in DSA should be up all night doing data entry, skipping their lunch break to print flyers, or running a meeting alone just because nobody else signed up to help

Why NYC-DSA is Organizing Tenants

By Jennifer L. and Cea W.

New York City is overwhelmingly made up of tenants. It’s no surprise, then, that New York has been the epicenter of tenant struggles for a century. We have the strongest renter protections in the country. But at the same time, our city is also the international center of real estate power, gentrification, and unaffordable housing.

Over the next year, NYC-DSA is developing a strong tenant organizing program that aims to win material improvements in our buildings, fight rising rents, displacement, and eviction, and pass laws that strengthen and expand renters’ rights across the state.

What are we fighting for?

Universal rent control. This means tenant power over where we live and an end to evictions and displacement. We can win it by expanding rent stabilization, NYC’s framework of renters’ rights, to the entire state. Currently, rent stabilization affects 2.5 million renters (about 40%) of New York City. It guarantees (with some exceptions) leaseholders the right to renew lease at a rent increase set by a local rent guidelines board.

This system of rent controls was won by a militant, diverse, and socialist tenant movement in 1969, but it has been gradually weakened as landlords have gained more and more political power. In the last 10 years, we have lost over 100,000 rent stabilized apartment units. The system is designed to disappear, and is filled with loopholes that cause major rent increases even in rent-stabilized apartments.

What’s our target?

Cuomo. The state rent laws are decided in Albany – a notoriously corrupt place. Our campaign for universal rent control targets both the neoliberal state government (Andrew Cuomo) and the landlords who enable and benefit from it. Just as Cuomo relies on the real estate industry that put him in office, the real estate industry depends on (along with our rent checks!) Cuomo’s corporate subsidies to profit. They are the biggest lobby state and city-wide.

A militant tenant movement can break this power by weakening the real estate industry’s bottom line, and loosening its iron grip on New York politics. By doing so, a successful push for universal rent control would upend the very foundations of New York's political establishment.

How will we win?

Talking to our neighbors. In 2019, the state legislature will debate whether to continue rent regulation. This is a crucial moment of leverage, where both tenants and landlords will fight for their self-interest in Albany. It is critical that NYC-DSA join the fight – as tenants, neighbors, and socialists.

In order to campaign effectively, NYC-DSA is engaging in a broad tenant organizing program in our existing buildings, deeply connected to our demands to end eviction, harassment, and for a human right to housing.

Half of NYC-DSA members live in rent-stabilized buildings. (That number is even higher depending on your branch!) If we are serious about fighting gentrification and fighting for affordable housing, the most natural place to start organizing is where you are now: alongside your neighbors in your building. The material and political conditions that we share with our neighbors as tenants are a powerful basis for building relationships and solidarity with longer-term tenants rooted in working-class communities of color.

Tenant organizing is personally and politically transformative. It will allow us to test some of our strategic and tactical debates and adjust to the results. For example, in your tenant association, you can test mutual aid tactics, such as going with your neighbors to Housing Court to demand basic repairs. We can powermap our neighborhoods, identify the worst landlords to focus on, and hone our strategic and campaigning skills. In the process, we will build power for NYC-DSA, for our neighbors, and for New York’s renters.

Read about our campaign, check out our Tenant Organizing Manual, and join the Housing Working Group. Email tenants@socialists.nyc to learn more and get involved.

A Tale of Three Campaigns

By Miriam B

You can tell a lot about a campaign and a candidate by the nature of their events: how many volunteers show up, what are the speakers saying, the focus (or lack thereof) on voter turnout. The office openings in May for Julia Salazar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s insurgent campaigns differed sharply from the opening for US Rep. Joe Crowley, boss of the Queens Democratic machine.

Julia Salazar’s office opening in Bushwick launched an issues-based and people-powered campaign to unseat State Senator Martin Malave Dilan in the Democratic primary in September. More than 70 DSA members and friends filed into May Day Space on May 19. They were named to one of 12 teams, trained on canvassing skills, and sent out into the rain to knock on doors. Salazar went out with them. Afterwards, they gathered for a festive backyard BBQ behind the campaign’s new office on Central Avenue.

Because of housing legislation that Dilan voted for, people are being forced out of their homes, and neighborhoods are being torn apart. Non-union developers building in the area donate heavily to Dilan. Salazar is not taking money from developers or other corporations; she’s relying on small donors. As a result, she explained to one voter that afternoon, she can be counted on to strengthen the rent laws when they expire in 2019. The voter nodded in agreement.

Salazar is also fighting for the New York Health Act and to end cash bail and mass incarceration. “A better world is possible,” she declared to volunteers. “It’s on us to win it.”  

Earlier the same day, a smattering of “Women for Joe” volunteers gathered for muffins and coffee in Rep. Crowley’s new Jackson Heights office. Then, the room filled up with elected officials and their staffers. A mostly female lineup of elected officials spoke warmly about Crowley’s defense of abortion rights and Social Security and the need to fight Trump, and Crowley presented himself as the anti-Trump candidate. But as one female district leader smoking outside said about the elected officials , “They had no choice [about showing up]. He’s the Democratic County leader.” This was a command performance.

When it was over, big black SUVs spirited away the elected officials and their staffers, leaving about a dozen volunteers to knock on doors, including several from the National Abortion Rights Action League
(NARAL). The NARAL Political Director said privately that Crowley’s opponent, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is also great; NARAL tends to endorse incumbents who have stood by them.

If Crowley himself went out to campaign, it wasn’t visible. Perhaps he worked the phone. He’s famous for hitting up real estate and Wall Street firms for major donations—the main source of his campaign’s $1.4 million war chest.

Ocasio-Cortez’s office opening in Elmhurst the next week was yet another story. Fifty-plus volunteers enjoyed tacos and guacamole, and then moved outside to rally in a mini park beside the elevated train. On foot and in camp chairs, they cheered lustily as Ocasio-Cortez called, “This won’t be an easy election. There’s only one way to get it done. By rejecting corporate money and getting everyone out to vote."

“This campaign started in living rooms. In five weeks with five snow storms in March and April, we got more than 5,000 petition signatures” to get on the ballot,  Ocasio-Cortez shouted over the rumble of a passing train. While Crowley got on the ballot with signatures gathered by paid staff, hundreds of volunteers for Ocasio-Cortez gathered in this Bronx/Queens Congressional district, because they want reproductive healthcare within Medicare for All, a federal jobs guarantee at a living wage with childcare, free tuition at public colleges, and abolition of ICE.

There’s still lots of work to do, to get out the vote. “We’ve got to make primary day a party,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “The most joyous day of the year.”

Ocasio-Cortez and Salazar are both DSA members and endorsed by DSA. Primary day for Ocasio-Cortez’s Congressional race is June 26. DSA has been canvassing almost every day in Queens and twice weekly in the Bronx, and phone banking from various locations. Sign up here to help in the final Get Out the Vote effort.

Primary day for Salazar’s State Senate race is September 13, with petition signatures due by July 10. To help, contact the campaign here.

May Branch Updates

Queens DSA has been canvassing for Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and for Medicare for All, and has formed housing committees in Ridgewood and Astoria.

Bronx/Upper Manhattan kicked off canvassing in the Bronx for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's congressional campaign in Parkchester, having door-to-door conversations about socialism. Meanwhile, the BUM Housing working group has been ruining landlords lives, setting up tenant organizations and helping raise turnout for the June 14 Upstate/Downstate Tenant Alliance March against Cuomo.

Lower Manhattan met on May 13 to discuss New York's rent regulation history and plan the Doctor Jay's boycott, and on May 15 to organize for the Ocasio-Cortez campaign.

CUNY has been active in opposing the attempt by the board of trustees to take control of club funds away from students.

Central Brooklyn organized and turned out for May Day, held a workshop for members running for leadership positions in the branch (run for organizing committee, steering committee representative, and citywide leadership committee here!) and has been working on its tenant organizing campaign: running two housing canvasses over the last month and recruiting 15 new DSA tenant organizers during a phone bank last week.

North Brooklyn held a Healthcare Community Fair, with workshops on consent-based sex ed, narcan, and first aid, as well as a panel with Tim Faust, Emma Caterine, and State Senate candidate Julia Salazar. Next up, North Brooklyn will be mobilizing members for the March for Universal Rent Control on June 14.

#WhyDSA - Interview With a Columbia Striker

By Marian J

Last month, graduate students workers at Columbia University went on a one week strike after two years of fighting for union recognition. At large private universities, graduate students manage and operate most functions of the institution, yet Columbia has refused to bargain with or recognize the students’ union. I interviewed DSA and Graduate Workers of Columbia organizer Tyler Curtis to hear his take on this labor battle.

What are the graduate workers’ grievances?

For one thing, there’s no real recourse for gender-based misconduct on campus, which is something we could rectify with a contract. We want a contractually-obligated grievance procedure and a neutral third-party arbitrator, because right now it’s really just the university overseeing the process. Another big issue is late pay. Ultimately what a lot of this comes down to, whether it’s late pay, or sexual harassment, health or dental insurance, is that, without a union,we have no say in our working conditions.

What are your thoughts on the excuses the university has given for not wanting to recognize the union? The first being that graduate students are students, not workers, and therefore don't have legal standing to unionize.

I don’t wholly believe they are making these arguments in good faith. These are serious intellectuals who have somehow risen to the ranks of administrators, and they really can’t hold two thoughts in their head at the same time? Yeah I’m a student but I also receive a taxed salary from Columbia who is also my employer. One can do both: I was a preceptor for an undergraduate fiction course, I go to class, I produce research, I go to work everyday, and grade papers, in exchange for a modest taxed salary. Without our work, without our labor - this university could not function and that was the point of the strike. Some programs all but shut down completely without our work.

They have also argued that unionizing would undermine the advisor-advisee relationship between graduate students and professors.

There's a lot of posture over the ‘sanctity’ of the advisor-advisee relationship. The administration talks up this sacred relationship but, as we’ve seen, when workers experience sexual harassment, when they’re paid late, when their advisors decide they don’t want to work with them anymore, or get a job elsewhere and suddenly the graduate workers are without funding, the university hasn’t sufficiently stepped in or cited the sanctity of this relationship in defense of the workers. If this relationship was so sacred to the Columbia administration, they would welcome a union contract to improve the conditions of graduate workers, so  that they could better participate in this relationship.

The university appears to be using the election of Trump and the conservative commissioners he appointed to the NLRB in order to invalidate GWC’s 2016 victory. Have they responded to the allegation that they’re aligning themselves with the right?

It’s not something they want to dignify with an answer and I think their lack of response is an admission of their cynicism in this regard.

What are the next steps and how has the university responded? Was this strike a success?

Yes I think it was a resounding success, we had massive picket lines every day. In this process tons of new leadership emerged, tons of enthusiasm was generated. The union for a lot of people really feels like this tangible material thing, not this abstract idea. It’s out there and our power is real... I think it’s clear that we’re winning. As for next steps, keep an ear out!

As a final question, what have you personally learned from this?

One thing I’ve taken from this is - log-off. Get offline, have one-on-one conversations with your fellow workers and listen. It’s so crucial not to proselytize and to really hear the material concerns of your colleagues. We're workers not in an abstract sense, but in a very material way, and we need to engage each other on that same level.

NYC-DSA Should Wait on Supporting Sanders 2020

By Charlotte A

“Prepare for a Sanders 2020 Campaign” was just two votes shy of passing at the convention. The resolution asked NYC-DSA to take immediate steps to prepare for Sanders’ campaign, so that we would be ready to play a leading role if he announces and we decide to endorse. It tasked our Citywide Leadership Committee with developing a plan and asked DSA’s National Political Committee to do the same, closing by saying that “NYC-DSA enthusiastically calls on Bernie Sanders” to run. Though it wasn’t meant to be an endorsement, it read like one to me and I couldn’t vote for it.

Just weeks before the convention, Sanders voted for SESTA-FOSTA, a bill that not only deprives sex workers of their livelihoods and violates their privacy, but also directly endangers their lives. My first thought was, how would it look if we passed “Sanders 2020” a month after SESTA-FOSTA was signed into law? It might look like the largest chapter of a prominent US socialist organization cares more about a hypothetical presidential candidate than it does about sex workers’ rights. Beyond this one vote, it just goes to show that we don’t know what will happen during the next year or how Sanders will further betray our beliefs as an unapologetically socialist organization.

Naturally, debate over this resolution has opened up a larger conversation about how and if,  we should engage with a potential Sanders campaign in 2020. It’s a conversation I’m grateful we’re having, so I’ll be honest: while I might support an endorsement from national, I’m against endorsing Sanders as NYC-DSA.

I like the way our chapter approaches electoral politics. An NYC-DSA endorsement is not just a rubber stamp. We provide material support to campaigns that actually need it, in exchange for influence over those campaigns. We choose work that aligns with our democratically-chosen priorities and helps build working class power. Our electoral team is influential in NYC politics because they’re more than just another canvassing arm of the political machine: they run our own trainings, keep their own data, create their own internal structures. I don’t know how we’d preserve that kind of autonomy and control while working on a Sanders campaign.

NYC’s Electoral Working Group has created a democratic, multi-tiered endorsement process. Candidates fill out questionnaires, demonstrate their commitment to socialist ideals, and visit branches directly to ask for our support. Shouldn’t Bernie have to come prove himself to us too? One resolution that passed at the convention, “Create Standards for Electoral Work,” includes a line that “elected officials supported by NYC-DSA must be held accountable to our principles and policies while in office.” The truth is, Sanders doesn’t need us to win and we have no way of holding him accountable if he does.

I also worry that throwing all of our weight behind Sanders would detract from the organizing priorities we’ve already voted on as a chapter. There’s just so much work to do and we’re already stretched thin as it is. That said, I think there will be plenty of ways for our members to support his run without a citywide endorsement. If Sanders runs, his agenda and goals will likely line up with ours, so I’m sure we could use his candidacy to strengthen our existing campaigns and vice-versa.

If we do endorse Sanders, it must be democratically, it must be preceded by chapter-wide discussion, and it must come with qualifications. Qualifications about the policies we want to push him “left” on, yes. But more broadly, we must acknowledge that all US Presidents are class enemies and imperialists by virtue of office, and Bernie Sanders would be no exception.

DSA should plan for a 2020 Sanders Presidential Campaign

By Neal M

At NYC-DSA’s Convention on May 5, a resolution to begin planning how to respond if Bernie Sander’s decides to run for President in 2020 narrowly failed. While the resolution received a majority of votes cast (there were 96 votes for, 84 against, and 10 abstentions), the convention rules required resolutions to receive a majority of votes from seated delegates (in this case 98).

As the main sponsor of the resolution, I argued that DSA should plan for the likelihood that Bernie Sanders will run for president again in 2020, probably entering the race early in 2019. Preparing ahead would position DSA to play a leading role in a grassroots campaign for Sanders from the beginning. Not preparing could mean getting bogged down in debate about what to do for months after the campaign gets underway.

The purpose of the resolution was not to endorse Bernie (that would be premature), but debate at the convention hinged on that question anyway. So, let’s talk about whether we should endorse Sanders.

I believe that if and when Sanders declares he’s running for president in 2020, DSA should endorse him and actively participate in his campaign. A Sanders 2020 campaign would be our next great opportunity to build support for Medicare for All, free college education, stronger union rights ー and democratic socialism.

DSA benefited hugely from being the only socialist organization to actively endorse Sanders in 2016. If we enthusiastically support Sanders in 2020, DSA could become a 100,000 member organization, with significantly greater capacity and resources.

The number one lesson we should learn from 2016 is that small socialist organizations must participate in the big movements that dominate national politics. In 2020, as in 2016, millions of working-class people will have to choose between neoliberal Democrats, a democratic socialist, and a right-wing Republican. Any organization that wants to play a leading role in socialist and progressive politics will have to choose sides. This shouldn’t be a hard choice for us.

Opponents of the resolution argued that Bernie is more moderate politically than DSA. They rightly noted, for example, that DSA supports sex workers’ rights and opposes the SESTA/FOSTA bill, while Bernie voted for it. In my opinion, such disagreements are a big reason to start planning to play a leading role in the grassroots campaign. I think we can push the campaign’s demands and messaging to the left, at least at the grassroots, if we plan ahead and get involved early. While we may not succeed in pushing the campaign left on every point, we should not make 100% agreement a condition for entering into alliances or endorsing a candidate. Such a policy would isolate us from broader movements.

While the Convention didn’t vote to begin a formal organizational discussion about this question in 2018, I am eager to begin planning informally for Bernie 2020 with anyone who is interested. I also look forward to comradely discussions with everyone about why endorsing Bernie is important.

The socialist left faces a real political opportunity for the first time in generations. Let’s think strategically and plan our next steps together!

Working Group Updates

Anti-War  is working with Jewish Voice for Peace to demand that Senator Chuck Schumer condemn Israel’s actions and violence in Gaza. Anti-War led a demonstration at Schumer’s office on May 11 and petitioned in Union Square on May 12. You can add your name to the petition and follow Anti-War on Twitter for the latest actions.

Bronx–Upper Manhattan Housing is providing ongoing support to tenant associations, including support for Northern Manhattan is Not 4 Sale (NMN4S) in its fight against the Inwood rezoning plan. The next NMN4S general meeting is May 22, 2018 at 1815 Riverside Drive.

On June 14, 2018, Citywide Housing is planning a large-scale “Housing Justice for All” march on Governor Andrew Cuomo, with a turnout goal of 200. The march begins at 5 p.m. starting at Bryant Park to Gov. Cuomo’s office. RSVP here.

Brooklyn Electoral is preparing for Julia Salazar’s campaign kick-off at 1 p.m. on Saturday, May 19 at the Mayday Space. Julia is running for the NY State Senate in District 18. Sign up via the link above to receive the latest details.

Climate Justice is intensifying campaigns to influence state and federal legislation and has adopted a city-wide campaign for mutual aid. As a member of the NY Renews Coalition, Climate Justice is pressuring Governor Cuomo and State Senate leaders to pass the Climate and Community Protection and Investment Acts (CCPA and CCIA). It also participated in the A23 Albany protests and civil disobedience, alongside gubernatorial candidates Howie Hawkins and Cynthia Nixon.

Climate Justice is hosting a forum at the 6th St. Community Center, from 7 to 9 pm Tuesday, May 22, 2018. The panel will discuss anti-capitalist strategy and educational campaigning about the just energy transition, including how that transition can guarantee good clean energy jobs and infrastructure in working class and minority neighborhoods vulnerable to extreme weather events.

Labor & Strike Solidarity (L&SS) mobilized for May Day/International Workers’ Day (May 1), bringing people out in the streets to rally and march. May Day’s focus was on immigration justice, highlighting the common demands of workers worldwide for immigrant and labor protections. The L&SS May general meeting on May 9 included a presentation and discussion on organizing sex workers, with sex workers, organizers, and journalists speaking on the challenges of organizing, running successful campaigns, and the ongoing struggle after SESTA-FOSTA.

Religion & Socialism chose June 4, 2018 for a mass mobilization of DSA members to Albany as part of the Poor People’s Campaign. The campaign’s theme for the week of June 4 is: “Clean Air, Clean Water, and Healthcare for All.” All DSA members and others are encouraged to join the action. You don’t have to commit to doing civil disobedience: your showing up in solidarity is enough. Sign up for the bus to Albany!

Tech Action launched its own website at techaction.nyc, with design by Media Working Group’s Sam Hardenburgh and development by Tech Action’s Sean Scanlan. The punchy new website sets out Tech Action’s mission statement and hosts materials from past meetings (including readings and discussion questions), a blog documenting its actions and events, and a sign up form.

Ocasio and DSA Take on the Democratic Machine

By Aaron T

From the moment I first saw Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speak at a Queens house party this past February, I knew that she was someone we needed to get behind. At our 2018 NYC-DSA Convention, delegates got a glimpse of the candidate our electoral working groups have been buzzing about for months, and that our Citywide Leadership Council had voted to endorse for U.S. Congress three weeks prior.

In her rousing convention speech, Alexandria earned a standing ovation with her fiery takedown of machine politics, her enthusiasm for DSA priorities like Medicare for All and, perhaps most memorably, her thoughtful and charming political analysis of Star Trek. Indeed, Alexandria’s deeply felt commitment to social justice comes through in every word she says. When she talks about the issues she cares about, such as like solving the affordable housing crisis, protecting immigrant families or dismantling mass incarceration, it’s clear that she is ready to fight tooth-and-nail for the working people of New York’s 14th Congressional district, which spans western Queens and the eastern Bronx.

The same cannot not be said of her opponent, Joe Crowley, a 19-year-incumbent and the boss of the Queens Democratic Party machine. Crowley was handed the Democratic line for his House seat 20 years ago when U.S. Rep. Tom Manton announced that he wasn’t running for re-election after the nominating process was closed. (That’s how things are done in Queens.) Since then, he’s voted for the Iraq War, the repeal of Glass-Steagall and the bank bailout, all while raising gobs of money from real estate developers and Wall Street firms. Combined with his deft use of patronage, this fundraising prowess has protected Crowley from facing a primary challenger since 2004.

DSA held a kickoff canvassing event on April 28. Nearly 40 volunteers, including several from Manhattan and Brooklyn, went door to door in Astoria. Julia Salazar, a Brooklyn DSA member who the Convention endorsed for NY State Senate District 18, campaigned with Alexandria that day. Alexandria plans to campaign with Julia in return.

Queens DSA is canvassing almost every day now in Astoria and occasionally in Jackson Heights. BUM members have been canvassing in the Bronx.

Best of all, voters are responding. A recently unemployed woman I met said Alexandria’s universal jobs guarantee spoke to her. Another voter said her number one political issue was keeping Millennials (that is, people like me) out of Astoria. When told Alexandria won’t take money from real estate developers, however, the voter agreed to vote for our candidate.

We’re under no illusions. Defeating one of New York’s most powerful politicians will be an uphill climb. But in a low-turnout district like NY CD-14, we only need to identify and turn out 15,000 people in the Democratic primary on June 26. Justice Democrats, NY People’s Action Network and many small neighborhood groups have joined this impressively people-powered campaign.

Every volunteer hour helps. Join us in knocking on doors, talking to our neighbors, phone banking and raising campaign funds, so we can elect a Democratic Socialist to Congress.


To campaign for Ocasio-Cortez with Queens DSA, click here. To campaign for her with BUM DSA, click here.

85 Bowery - 100 days and counting

By Andrew H

Tenants evicted from 85 Bowery more than 100 days ago will rally on the steps of City Hall May 30 to demand that Mayor de Blasio guarantee a date they can return to their homes. DSA has co-sponsored the rally, which will deliver this petition. Join us there to tell the city to stand up for tenants, not luxury developers!

Developer Joseph Betesh bought 11 buildings along the rapidly gentrifying Bowery for $62 million in 2013, betting that he could push out long-term, low-income tenants and hike rents. Tenants in two of the buildings, 83 and 85 Bowery, have made it difficult for him to cash in on his bet. Working closely with the Chinese Staff and Workers Association in Chinatown, they organized a tenants’ association and have successfully defeated numerous eviction attempts.

The tenants, mostly immigrants from Fujian Province in China, have also become strong allies in the zoning struggles against luxury development and displacement in the neighborhood. DSA became involved in the tenants’ struggle last fall by helping to organize a boycott of Betesh’s clothing store chain, Dr. Jay’s, and supporting protests outside outlets in Brooklyn and the Bronx.

Early this year, it became clear that the tenants were likely to win a major ruling in their favor from the State Supreme Court, so Betesh got the Department of Buildings to declare 85 Bowery unsafe. The building had been deteriorating for years, as the city failed to enforce court orders for the landlord to make repairs. Though the city had responded sluggishly to tenant complaints of harassment, it acted with lightning speed when the landlord expressed concern over unsafe conditions he himself had created.

On January 18, an emergency vacate order was issued for 85 Bowery. About 75 tenants—including seniors and infants—were thrown out within a couple of hours. (Tenants of 83 Bowery remain in their homes, though harassment continues.) Tenants in 85 Bowery were told they’d be able to move home when repairs were completed, in about two weeks.

Two weeks came and went. When it became clear the city wouldn’t get them home quickly, eight tenants staged a five-day hunger strike in front of the Department. of Housing, Preservation and Development. Members of DSA worked with the Chinese Staff and Workers Association and other neighborhood groups to coordinate support and publicize the action.

Mayor de Blasio has appointed his Commissioner of Community Affairs to oversee the landlord’s repair process, but city agencies still refuse to guarantee a date for the tenants’ return. The tenants haven’t been allowed inside to collect their belongings, and in April, workers employed by Betesh threw bags of tenant possessions—including jewelry, family portraits and money—into a dumpster. Tenants had to sift through trash to recover what they could.

To help the tenants and fight gentrification and displacement, contact the Lower Manhattan branch at lower.manhattan@socialists.nyc.

Reporting from the 2018 Convention

By Daniel L   

    On Saturday May 5th, NYC-DSA held its citywide Convention in the apse of the Judson Memorial Church. The event began with laughter and conversation as volunteers set up tables and lined up chairs, joking about “left-right” seating arrangements and whether they should block sightlines for obstructionists. At 9 AM the doors opened for delegates, further adding to the energy and anticipation filling the room. Giant images of past DSA actions were projected behind the altar as members, adorned in DSA buttons and red clothes, filled up seats. At 10:04, the meeting was called to order to loud applause.

    The first order of business was the unanimous approval of the proposed convention agenda, to the joy (and relief) of delegates. Following stirring remarks by the outgoing Steering Committee and the approval of two sets of consent agendas, the co-chairs brought the delegation to the first stand-alone proposal on the agenda. At issue was whether NYC-DSA should limit the number of leadership positions held by its members. Delegates lined up at the front of the hall behind “pro” and “con” signs and argued passionately the merits and demerits of the issue. Nervous laughter attended the final voting tally: defeated, 90 to 92.

    It became clear over the course of several additional debates and close decisions that there were divisions among the delegates on a number of issues. A debate over whether a citywide platform should be adopted was contested heavily (it was ultimately defeated), as was a resolution called Mass Action to clarify the political work of the chapter (it was passed, with amendments). A resolution on whether to prepare for a Bernie 2020 run was particularly heated in light of Bernie’s recent support of FOSTA-SESTA (the measure was defeated in a close vote).

    The atmosphere noticeably lightened as the agenda moved to electing officers for the Steering Committee. While there seemed to be little that fundamentally divided the candidates in their speeches, their bold proposals for the organization re-ignited the enthusiasm and esprit de corps of the delegates. Following a nearly unanimous vote to endorse Julia Salazar, as well as a speech by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, convention delegates sang a rousing chorus of “Solidarity Forever” and streamed outside to march to the New School Occupation, thus carrying on the work that brings us together – fighting for working class power in New York City.

    Over the next several days, the NYC-DSA Member Discussion group on Facebook remained active, debating the nature of the divisions that had been revealed during the convention. Was it between the old and new guard of the organization? Electoral versus labor? Brooklyn versus everybody else? Whatever the source and nature of the divisions, many members expressed a desire to create additional forums where DSA members could debate politics and strategy beyond the high-stakes, time-compressed atmosphere of the Convention. If the chapter can build on the comradely debate before and after May 5th, it will be one of the most important legacies of the 2018 NYC-DSA Convention.

 

Citizen Journalism - Tips and Tricks for Documenting Actions

By J K

There is no shortage of important things to report on/document as a socialist in present day New York City. At last month’s Media Working Group meeting, we heard from a few comrades about how to safely and effectively record video evidence and report on mass actions and protests. Whether you want to record a Nazi who has walked into a bar filled with socialists, or you want to share the stories of people protesting for the Bowery tenants’ right to return to their homes, we picked up some tips to share.

Keep these tips in mind when recording at a protest:

  1.  Don’t hold your phone out in front of you like a weapon, but closer to your body in order to avoid escalation with police. Landscape videos are always better.
  2. When photographing and taking video of fellow protesters be sure to get consent - but ...
  3. Don’t hesitate to record the cops. Always prepare to be arrested. While you are legally allowed to film cops, they do not like being subjected to surveillance and will intimidate you. If you are a white man, remember your privilege and consider those around you when escalating any situation involving police.  If you are risking arrest at a protest, you are coming from a position where you can afford to be arrested.
  4. Be sure to stay on public property (the sidewalk/street) while filming police so they cannot arrest you on trespassing charges.
  5. Since getting arrested is possible, be prepared by remembering these two things: do not bring anything with you that you cannot be arrested with (such as drugs or knives) and turn off any face or fingerprint unlocking on your phone (the police are permitted to physically force you to unlock your phone but cannot demand you enter your password).
  6. Consider the implications of your footage before uploading it to social media. Sometimes it is better to keep footage private until it can be reviewed by legal council, especially if it is documenting someone getting arrested.
  7. If a confrontation with the police begins to escalate, try to document the confrontation from as early on as possible. The more context available in the recording the better, including things like surrounding location and people.

When acting as a citizen journalist to document and amplify a message at a march or rally, here are a few things to consider:

  1. Instead of documenting an event entirely from your perspective, you can interview those around you with the simple question, “what brings you here.” Obviously, get consent (as best you can) before photographing or recording someone. We aren’t out here to doxx each other! Post documentation to your personal accounts in order to amplify the overall discussion.

  2. Mix up your content with quotes, photos, videos and other context for the march (what, where, why & when all in a single tweet), plus relevant historical facts and statistics. All this together is a “tweet storm”. Sharing a wide range of information at one event helps provide context and gives a stronger voice to the overall mission.

  3. Don’t be afraid of not having the prettiest photos or videos. Documentation of the event from the “everyday” attendees is in many ways way more convincing to other people and more interesting than the sleek, cut content of the organizations involved.

  4. Respond to your own tweets with updates to boost the whole chain.

  5. Sign roundups are popular and fun to put together.

  6. Be aware of the tone of the event (a vigil vs a march) and adjust your actions as needed. Always consider the question: “am I uplifting the voice or exploiting the image?”

  7. If your video goes viral and a licensing company reaches out to you about licensing your footage for news outlets, you have a right to ask them who their clients are and “blacklist” usage by specific outlets (e.g. Fox News ).

If you’re uncomfortable posting to your own account, send images and videos to a central one like NYC-DSA so they can share your documentation anonymously. You can DM the account or send your pictures and video to social@socialists.nyc.

So pick up those phones (and pitchforks) and let’s make Nazis scared again! With effective citizen journalism and smart reporting by members and comrades at large, we can take down this fascist, oppressive system.