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It’s hard to believe it’s been a little over a year since our lives — the life of our chapter — were so jarringly disrupted by the pandemic. At the start of last year, we were just gearing up to throw our chapter’s weight behind our recently selected External Organizing Priorities before our activity crashed to a halt. But over the past year, our chapter has more than recovered: we’ve grown enormously, adding over a thousand new members (and you may well be one of them — in which case, welcome to the chapter!) and deepening our connections to each other.
Now that we’ve selected new Chapter Priorities for 2021, we’re more ready than ever to show what our 3,000-strong member base can accomplish when we work together. We are still facing the crisis of the pandemic, but the nation’s changed political climate provides us with new challenges and new opportunities in our response and in the pressure we can bring to bear on politicians and corporate interests alike as we assert our unified power.
The two Sanders campaigns, and the enormous popular response to them (including the huge upswell in our own ranks within DSA) have shown us how useful political candidates can be at focusing and inciting the energy of a mass movement. And DSA’s recent repeated electoral successes in New York City prove that local elections are winnable and powerful at deepening a mass base for the policies we want. Now, it’s our turn to build a DSA power base in our own cities.
In Somerville, we have endorsed a whopping six DSA members for city council, including new candidates Eve Seitchik; Willie Burnley, Jr.; Becca Miller; Tessa Bridge; and Charlotte Kelly, as well as our own incumbent City Councilor J. T. Scott. These candidates have already given so much to our DSA chapter, and now they’re putting themselves forward for the next step in their organizing work, using the ballot box as a key tool to push our program, grow our movement, and prove that the DSA-to-municipal-government pipeline is real!
If we can win these elections in Somerville, we can see a majority-DSA city council — the first of its kind in the country, and a model for any city that wants to put the needs of renters, workers, and the unhoused ahead of the needs of developers and big business. And these elections are winnable: DSA members make up 1% of the population of Somerville, which means capacity to knock on a lot of doors. (If we made up 1% of the population in America, that would mean 3 million DSA members!) With those kinds of numbers, it would be foolish not to take the initiative to push for a city government that works for the people.
In Boston, we don’t have the same DSA density as we do in Somerville — yet! This election is our opportunity to prove what a united base of working people can accomplish in Boston, and there’s no one better to lead this fight than the two DSA members we’ve endorsed for Boston city council: BPS teacher and union organizer Joel Richards in District 4 (western Dorchester and Mattapan), and artist and community organizer Kendra Hicks in District 6 (West Roxbury and Jamaica Plain) are longtime fighters for equitable education, affordable housing, and vibrant community culture, and we can work together with them to bring those fights to the next level.
But we know that winning isn’t going to be easy. We aim to knock hundreds of thousands of doors this election cycle, and we are all going to need to pitch in. Fill out this form to get involved! And don’t forget to donate to these candidates too, and share both these links with all your friends in Boston and Somerville!
Our other external priority continues BDSA’s long-running work in tenant organizing. We significantly grew our activity here over the past year, responding to the eviction crisis caused by the pandemic. The Housing Working Group has had great success in organizing with the Greater Boston Tenants Union and has helped organize 10 separate tenants unions throughout the Boston Metro Area. The actions of these tenants unions, helping renters join together to fight back against predatory landlords and poor living conditions, made front page news in the Boston Globe last week.
This is a good start, but our chapter’s selection of the Tenant Organizing Priority will help us expand our efforts throughout the Boston Metro Area and build the political power to make housing a prominent issue in Massachusetts politics. As our chapter focuses on this priority, we’re going to grow those 10 tenants unions to 25 by coordinating with members who live in neighborhoods where we are aware of housing inequity and the need to organize tenants in specific properties. With your help, we can start challenging developers in neighborhoods they previously thought secure.
A large part of our priority is a course of political education meant to teach members the skills needed to organize these unions themselves. We will provide real in-the-field experience canvassing buildings and participating in actions, and we’ll host political education events to help you develop your skills and knowledge. This is a great opportunity to develop as an organizer and help the chapter make progress toward its new priority. Sign up here to attend the first round of training!
Our external priorities are pretty ambitious, and knocking so many doors and organizing so many tenants is going to take a lot of socialist-hours. We can’t win these things unless we bring to bear a sizeable contingent of our 3,000 (and growing!) members. That means both engaging members who are currently inactive and making sure, as our numbers continue to swell, that every single new member of Boston DSA is welcomed and helped to figure out the best ways that they can contribute to our chapter.
In order to accomplish this, the Membership committee needs your help! The more people we have phonebanking new members, facilitating new member orientations, and mentoring, the more we grow our chapter’s strength. This is some of the most fun and rewarding work you can do as a DSA member: everyone you talk to is excited about socialism, and you can see the impact you make as you help them find their place in the chapter. And we can help you develop skills like 1-on-1 conversations that are the bread and butter of every experienced organizer. Sign up here to start helping out with onboarding new members, and see the list here of all our upcoming member onboarding activities. And remember: having an engaged member base depends on you!
To make our dream of an engaged member base and a thriving chapter a reality, we also need to be mindful about building a healthy internal culture in the chapter, and that’s where our second internal priority comes in. The new Transformative Justice Committee (TJC) is ready to start figuring out how to make Boston DSA, and all of us as members, better at dealing with conflict, abuse, and other harm among comrades. If confronted with courage, care, and thoughtfulness, these painful episodes don’t have to weaken our movement or wound our comrades. Transformative justice (TJ) provides an anti-carceral, survivor-centered framework to respond to harm without creating more, and teaches us to forge deeper solidarity from moments of friction. Integrating TJ principles into our approach to conflict and harm will equip us to bridge gaps between opposing groups before they become insurmountable and prevent the loss of our comrades to unresolved strife and disregarded abuse.
Over the next year, TJC will draw on TJ principles and practices to create a proposed redesign of the chapter’s approach to addressing conflict, abuse, and other harm. We will also offer skill-building training, discussions, and workshops to interested comrades. If you want to learn more, participate in a training, and help update our chapter policies, please reach out by completing this form or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. We are not (only) looking for experts in related issues to join this work: we are all pretty new to transformative justice as a framework ourselves, and we believe that anyone who is excited to do this work has something to contribute!
Other projects and campaigns
As we gear up for municipal elections, sometimes it’s useful to take a step back and ask ourselves, “What do elections have to do with building a mass socialist movement?” Our Cambridge neighborhood branch provides us with an excellent example. Our members on the city council, Quinton Zondervan and Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler, have been working closely with the neighborhood branch to advocate for our goals with a unified voice.
When Jivan and Quinton pushed for bills inventorying the police arsenal or banning tear gas, Cambridge DSA turned out its members to support them in City Council meetings. And as Cambridge DSA continues and expands its work in Project Right to Housing, fighting for the rights of the unhoused, Jivan and Quinton have been playing a key role in keeping these questions on the agenda so that Cambridge DSA members can turn out to push for our program of housing for all.
If we can pick up more city council seats in Somerville and Boston, this sort of inside-outside organizing will play a bigger role in our work. Come to a meeting of your local neighborhood branch to find out how you can get involved in local issues — and look out for updates on other neighborhood branches in future newsletters.
Utility Debt Relief for All
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated a growing problem in the Boston area: high — and increasing — rates of utility debts. As households experienced layoffs, furloughs, and other lost income, their electric, heat, and water bills only increased. Now, more than 1 in 5 households in Massachusetts have fallen behind on their utility bills, and the average low-income household owes over $2000 in utility debt. That’s why the Ecosocialism Working Group and Take Back the Grid (TBTG) teams are working with Boston DSA Member and State Representative Erika Uyterhoeven of Somerville to introduce a Utility Debt Relief for All bill, HD.3313. Their bill would relieve all household utility debt, expand underused debt management plans to all eligible customers, lock utility rates at the February 2020 levels through 2022, and create a new clean energy fund to pay 50% of all households’ utility bills until 2025.
Currently, TBTG and Rep. Uyterhoeven are recruiting more legislative co-sponsors. This is where you come in: Use this call and email script to contact your state reps, and tag your reps on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook using this social media kit. If you live in the 29th or 32nd Middlesex House Districts, your calls are especially important, as representatives from your districts work on the Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy Committee. Email Take Back the Grid at takebackthegrid.boston@gmail.
com to learn more about how to get involved, and follow them on Twitter @GridTakers for updates.
The Labor Working Group (LWG) has had a very busy start to 2021. Alongside Worcester DSA, Labor is still coordinating strike support efforts for 800 MNA nurses at St. Vincent Hospital who began a strike over dangerous staffing levels and worker and patient safety almost one month ago. DSA members from all over the state have showed up on the picket lines every week, and we’ve also raised almost $6,000 in donations to their strike fund! Nurses remain determined to win patient safety at St. Vincent’s, but are feeling the financial impact of struggle as the hospital continues to spend millions of dollars to keep nurses out on strike. We are continuing to ask DSA members in Massachusetts to donate to the strike fund via Venmo or PayPal, and to sign up to join us on the picket line when they are available. For more background, please read this solidarity letter signed by DSA chapters across MA.
Alongside many other members of Boston DSA, members of the Labor Working Group are also organizing to pass the PRO Act, the most sweeping pro-worker legislation in a century. On March 28, we organized a Boston DSA phone bank with over 70 participants and we made over 25,000 calls, helping DSA surpass its national goal of 500,000 calls that week! There will be escalating actions throughout April, leading up to a big day of action on May 1.
LWG is also participating in Emergency Worker Organizing Committee (EWOC) trainings, and putting up EWOC flyers to promote worker organizing in Cambridge and East Boston. We have published a dozen new articles on our blog, Working Mass, including on cannabis worker organizing and on how to support fired immigrant restaurant workers at Hoff’s Bakery in Malden. We are implementing tactics of the rank and file strategy, and have launched a new Boston DSA Healthcare Workers Group, in collaboration with the Healthcare Working Group. And we had our highest-ever attendance at a meeting when members of the new Alphabet Workers Union came to speak to us in January.
Last but not least, LWG voted to restructure our internal leadership to create new positions for solidarity work, rank-and-file work, internal organizing, communications, and political education. This new structure will undergird our intensified organizing activities through 2021 and beyond. To get involved with the Labor Working Group, email us at email@example.com.
Our Political Education Working Group (PEWG) is continuing its successful program of socialist night schools — an event series designed to introduce important socialist ideas in a way that’s fun and accessible for everyone. In our second socialist night school in early March, guest speaker Richard Rubin gave a talk on how we can understand the concept of historical materialism. With over 50 attendees, the event had lively discussion on how we can understand our existing situation from a socialist and historical perspective. The next night school promises to be an equally exciting journey as it tackles the question, “What is socialism?” Don’t miss it!
PEWG is also continuing its debate series, including a late-March debate on the balance between centralization and autonomy in socialist organizations, featuring speakers recommended by the Forward Caucus and Libertarian Socialist Caucus to represent two currents of thought in the chapter. Thanks to the preparation of PEWG and the debaters, the debate was thoughtful and engaging, and the audience found both the debate and the post-debate discussions helpful in refining their views on the subject. These debates are a great way to work through questions of interest to members in this chapter — stay tuned for more information about future debates!
Correction: The previous newsletter erroneously stated that the Labor Working Group helped to create the Harvard Graduate Students Union (HGSU). While there is some overlap in membership between the Labor Working Group and HGSU, and many more HGSU members are also Boston DSA members, HGSU was not actually an explicit organizing project of the Labor Working Group. Also, the union was formed in 2015 and won its unionization election in 2018; the success this summer was the ratification of its first contract. We apologize for the errors.