The Democratic Socialists of America, or DSA, is a nationwide, membership-based political organization that aims to build working class power by employing a variety of different tactics, from electoral organizing to workplace organizing and direct service. DSA is an organization comprised of dozens of local chapters, whose projects, aims, and strategies vary widely from chapter to chapter. Every two years, representatives from DSA chapters gather to participate in a national convention and vote on three priority issues. Last year, the membership voted to center three priorities: electoral strategy, labor organizing, and campaigning for Medicare for All, or M4A.
Medicare for All is a policy that would create universal healthcare, free at the point of service with no co-pays or premiums, for all U.S. residents.
As a socialist organization, we know why we have to take on the fight for M4A. We can name the enemy. High uninsured rates, billing bureaucracy, high pharmaceutical costs, and unevenly distributed health care resources are not individual problems that can be tackled individually. They are interconnected symptoms of a larger problem: a health care system that is designed for a few to get rich when others fall ill.
Read more about DSA New Orleans’ fight for healthcare justice in this month’s issue of Anti-Gravity.
“Hey, y’all changing brake lights?” a man called out to us as we were setting up in the morning. “Yeah!” an organizer called back.
The man, sitting out on his balcony patio further down the block toward Esplanade Avenue, turned to the woman sitting next to him for a moment and then called back out again: “She didn’t believe me!”
On the first anniversary of the Brake Light Clinic, our mutual aid program has begun to become a monthly fixture in Kruttschnitt Park in the 7th Ward. People in the neighborhood know we’re here every month, plenty of people have come by because a friend or a family member told them about it, and some who’ve come back for a second time. At this particular clinic on August 25th, 19 people signed waivers, meaning we had organizers looking at least that many cars, working to solve issues from a simple broken bulb to a broken tailgate. Of those, nine signed up for more information and will be contacted by an organizer.
This speaks to the organizing power of this mutual aid program. Neighbors who’ve had in-depth conversations with our organizers instantly understand why we do this work and why it’s important work, and organizers gain experience in engaging others to want to know more about what we do and maybe even want to get involved.
This clinic had 14 volunteers, and we needed them. There were a number of times where we had up to 4 cars getting lights changed by organizers. One organizer spoke with a community member who had been stopped by the same police officer three nights in a row, on the same stretch of road. The clinic was an opportunity for our organizers to share with folks in the community about how common behavior like this from law enforcement fits into a larger pattern of harassment tactics.
We, the Local Council of the New Orleans Chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, have voted to endorse the Nationwide Prison Strike. The strike will begin on August 21st and end on September 9th, the anniversary of the Attica Prison uprising. The call to strike has, so far, been taken up in almost two dozen states across the nation.
We stand in solidarity with the strikers and with all those incarcerated in the United States and beyond, and we support the demands of the strikers, which can be found in full here.
This strike was declared in response to an uprising in Lee Correctional Institute in South Carolina, during which seven people lost their lives fighting for an end to the inhumane conditions and prison slavery that comprise the American carceral state.
There are numerous ways that those on the outside can support the incarcerated strikers, including:
- Contacting your local, state, and federal representatives to ask where they stand on the demands being made by the strikers.
- Spreading word of the strike and remaining informed about the strike by keeping in contact with people you know who are in prison or who have family in prison.
- Reading the Prison Strike Zine.
- Donating to the strike’s official fundraising page
- Amplify the strike using #August21 and #prisonstrike hashtags
Louisiana has one of the highest incarceration rates in the United States and thus, the world. Tens of thousands of Louisianans are currently behind bars and subject to horrifying conditions. Mass incarceration uses the tools of the state–from a violent and utterly unaccountable police force to a legal system in which justice is only granted to those who can afford it–to divide and oppress working people, and especially black, Latinx and indigenous people.The Local Council of DSA New Orleans is proud to endorse the Nationwide Prison Strike of 2018 and to stand in solidarity with the prisoners demanding humane living conditions, access to rehabilitation, sentencing reform, the end of prison slavery, and the reinstatement of all incarcerated and formerly incarcerated citizens’ right to vote.
In solidarity with Charlottesville DSA as well as all impacted by the fascist violence one year ago — and in remembrance of Heather Heyer — New Orleans DSA is using this Medicare for All Weekend of Action to host a Protest Health & Safety Training with the help of our local street medic collective.
For those at that protest who suffered injuries and trauma, health injustice is an urgent, concrete, and ongoing crisis. Even with single-payer, we will need to know how to take care of ourselves and each other. We’ll need to know how to offer healing and wellness to our communities in times of trouble.
Today, we’ll be learning skills to keep each other as safe as possible in compromising situations, and we’ll discuss how to support one another’s wellness on an ongoing basis. We’ll be thinking of Heather and Charlottesville as we do so, and will collect money for the Charlottesville Resilience Fund.
Allison Tebbe and Frances Gill, New Orleans DSA
Our Immigration Working Group formed in mid June to provide support for the Abolish ICE march lead by Congreso and People’s Assembly. Its current purpose is to develop our members’ capacity to support immigrant communities and stand in opposition to borders, police violence, and mass incarceration. At Immigration WG meetings, we focus on educating ourselves through a socialist framework, discussing different tactics of resistance, and how we can plug into active support roles.
The next Immigration WG meeting will be Sunday, August 12th at 5:30 PM, 2022 St. Bernard Ave.
The New Orleans DSA’s monthly Gimme A Brake (Light) event on Saturday, July 28, drew a grateful crowd eager to talk about over-policing in the community and get free brake lights.
The clinic drew a wide array of participants, from a Tulane law student working on criminal justice reform who said, “Socialism is great,” to a pregnant hairdressing business owner and her fiancé, who both needed bulbs replaced. One man was moving to Atlanta with his wife to be closer to his children and needed his brake light fixed so he wouldn’t be pulled over on the long drive.
The New Orleans Democratic Socialists of America stands strongly opposed to the Sewerage and Water Board’s decision to resume water utility shutoffs for accounts the board considers “delinquent.” We believe every person has a right to clean water, a basic human need, and that all utility shutoffs are a violation of this right. These resumed shutoffs will do little to resolve the budget problems that the utility claims prompted this decision. Instead, they will impose needless harm and hardship on the poor and working class people of New Orleans.
The S&WB claims that over 12% of the residences and businesses in New Orleans are currently more than 60 days overdue on paying their bills and that this is causing the utility to run out of money. However, the financial difficulties at S&WB are, by the utility’s own admission, a result of its own mismanagement. The utility acknowledges that the bills people have received are wildly inaccurate due to the utility’s own mishandling of a switch to a new billing software system. In fact, shutoffs were suspended because S&WB was aware of how widespread this problem was and that it was their responsibility. The billing problems have not been resolved. If S&WB acknowledges the widespread inaccuracies of the bills, they have no authority to collect on these inaccurate and inflated bills.
Following are Candidate Statements from the four members running for election as Councilmembers At-large of DSA New Orleans for the ’18-’19 term. Per our Bylaws, two members will be elected. The election will be held Monday August 6th, at 6:30PM at 2022 St. Bernard Ave. All members in good standing will be eligible to vote and are strongly encouraged to attend. In alphabetical order:
As at-large member of local council I will focus in two areas: building the strength of membership and committee programming. Membership strength comes from size, skills, and connection to the New Orleans working class. I will work with committees to design programming that builds members’ skills and working class power simultaneously. This way our chapter will build horizontal leadership. I will work to build programming capacity between committees: sharing work, resources, best practices, and feedback. Our chapter has grown dramatically over the past year. To build a strong chapter for the future we need to focus on membership and programming impact.
Read Jordan F’s Full Candidate Statement
As an at-large member, I want to work on building regional capacity. The small chapters that surround us here in Louisiana, in Mississippi and Alabama, they face unique challenges of geography, ideology, and capacity. Our experience has been quite different, but what makes New Orleans DSA well positioned to help these chapters grow is our vision. We know that the south is diverse, and there are people in urban, suburban, and rural areas who are willing to fight for a better world. This can be hard to remember that we can win when you are working in what feels like a suffocatingly conservative political atmosphere. I want to work to strengthen our ties with these chapters and organizers. I want our chapter to help develop organizing efforts beyond urban areas and start understanding how to organize in rural areas. A medium-term goal of mine is for us to build a socialist movement in the Gulf South that is so strong and so powerful that it’s confusing to the rest of the country. They won’t see it coming, but we already do. I believe that we can help other chapters overcome challenges that we don’t even necessarily have blueprints for by supporting them, offering guidance when we can, and reminding them and ourselves always, always, always, always, always: we can win.
Read Kaitlin M’s Full Candidate Statement
Over the past year, New Orleans DSA has grown tremendously, taken on new projects and programs, and thoroughly earned our reputation as “a chapter full of badasses.” Looking forward, there’s so much potential for more growth and for our organization to be a strong voice for socialist ideas and analysis in our city and region. I’m running for At-Large because I want to work with all of you to support that potential: to build systems and capacity for our organization, to expand our reach into our working class base, and to help strengthen our collective voice by supporting new leaders. I’ve spent two decades organizing, mobilizing, and advocating with New Orleans groups and organizations, and I’m genuinely excited by what I see in our chapter, and eager to help build even stronger going forward!
Read Sue M’s Full Candidate Statement
I work in environmental education, where I develop new projects, coordinate resources, and interpret quirks of energy policy for actual human consumption. As this chapter of the DSA has flourished, we’re shifting to fewer general meetings, mobilizing our membership through committees and projects. Our committees will consequently bare a heavier load, as they play a larger role of the laboratories which concentrate the diverse interests of the chapter into action.
I would use the At-Large position to offer institutional support and logistical coordination for committee and chapter leaders, facilitating the synthesis of a cohesive chapter. As our membership’s positions are realized across the chapter, the at-large council members can assist committees in articulating those interests through practice. Each of our meetings is an opportunity for recruitment, agitation, and to surface the “everyday communism” that nourishes us. I’m seeking an At-Large Council seat to make this period of expansion distinct and cogent within and without.
Read Logan Y’s Full Candidate Statement
On June 16, the New Orleans chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America put on their 6th (!) Gimme a Brake Light event. We had a dozen volunteers and 19 community members who got their brake lights changed and talked to us about their lives and experiences with police. We also partnered with a comrade from Debt Collective who was available to talk to people about how to renegotiate and resist debt.
Why do we change brake lights? By changing brake lights for free, we aim to take small but significant action to protect one another from state-sanctioned violence at the hands of the police. We want the brake light clinics to open conversations in our communities about our police and prison systems and to get us thinking and organizing together for a different kind of system.
Some of the people we spoke with had recent direct experiences with the police because of broken taillights, including one who received a full dressing down by an officer simply for having a newer car with a non-functioning light. The officer then preceded to chide the man and that he’d “better have a job” to pay the ticket.
Another attendee was a construction worker from across the river who had had a taillight out for weeks but was too busy to change it, while simultaneously saying he was frequently worried about getting stopped for it. He did not know about the event in advance but saw our sign-holders and his wife convinced him to pull in and get his light changed.
We also did one headlight change, for a participant who was on a fixed income and had the headlight but couldn’t afford to take into the shop to change it. Headlights aren’t typically our purview, but we got it done thanks to the tireless efforts of a comrade.
As we come up to the one-year anniversary of the very first brake light change event, we’ve learned a lot. It was never enough to just change brake lights. This isn’t a charity project, but a way to highlight the contradictions between the capitalist police state and socialist equity. As such, we’ve worked hard to become more intentional about the ways in which we interact with people at the events – basic stuff in terms of having real conversations, inquiring and listening to other community needs and opportunities, encouraging people to learn more about democratic socialism, and making them feel welcome at our table.
We have a long way to go, but with each clinic, we become better organizers – and perhaps more importantly – better members of our communities.