Prioritize Street Watch

Lead Contact: Members of the Housing & Homelessness Committee

Summary: The adoption of a chapter-wide focus on Street Watch, an initiative started in September 2017 by the Housing and Homelessness Committee to monitor and document the city’s human and civil rights violations of the unhoused, raise awareness to the struggles of the unhoused, and support their political empowerment in the fight for housing as a human right. In the short term, this resolution is intended to hold the city accountable to the changes they have agreed to implement this year based on our previous Street Watch organizing work, with the long term goal of supporting and connecting the voices and struggles of the unhoused to the growing Tenants movement via consistent on the ground organizing, and the ongoing goal of building working class power and local socialist capacity through anti-gentrification and ‘right to the city’ work including (but not limited to) tenant organizing, police monitoring, de-criminalizing poverty, eviction defense, ending vacancy, increasing public health infrastructure, fighting the privatization of public space, and building a movement for universal public housing.

Whereas:

  1. Our Street Watch organizing has significantly contributed to a legal challenge that has forced an agreement from the mayor’s office to implement positive, fundamental changes to homeless encampment sweep policy and protocols. Street Watch will require expansion to ensure that these changes are put into practice in 2019 -- and to build pressure and momentum for further changes moving forward.
  2. Amidst this historic housing crisis, these changes will give DSA-LA a platform to articulate and amplify our demands for the further diversion of resources from policing and prisons to healthcare and public housing, the repeal of Prop 13 and Article 34, and how this aligns with our broader transformative political goal of a socialist future.
  3. This work is required on a city wide neighborhood basis, thus supporting the continued development of strong and consistent neighborhood organizing. Signal threads used for local Street Watch teams will also be used for organizing around other local housing work such as rent strike actions, vacancy actions, and eviction defense.
  4. The rights of the unhoused in Los Angeles could be expanded in 2019, and thus will necessitate the need for “Know Your Rights” workshops across the city.
  5. Given that both homeless encampments and Tenants Union Locals exist in close proximity to nearly every neighborhood in LA, this gives our members the ability to intentionally connect with both communities on a regular basis and find ways to bridge them, such as through combined “Know Your Rights” workshops for both housed and unhoused tenants.
  6. This strategy can increase member activity and present an opportunity to recruit more members to engage in DSA-LA work in communities with low chapter membership, such as in South Central and East Los Angeles.
  7. This strategy can facilitate the political development and education of our membership via forums, teach-ins, trainings, and on the ground experience.
  8. This strategy can push our membership to engage, support, and build relationships with those most negatively impacted by the capitalist system we seek to dismantle.
  9. This strategy can put DSA-LA in a position to expand the Street Watch LA Coalition, which currently includes the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN), K-Town For All, Homeless Healthcare and LA Community Health Project.
  10. The struggles of the unhoused tie into every committee and working group in DSA-LA.
  11. The (at least) 54,000 currently unhoused Angelenos are extremely vulnerable Working Class Angelenos who lack city wide organizational support. This also includes over 15,000 unhoused LAUSD students.
  12. Street Watch is an organizing model that can be replicated by DSA Chapters nationwide.

Be it resolved that:

  1. DSA-LA will focus its organizing efforts on expanding Street Watch capacity, activity, and momentum across Los Angeles.
  2. DSA-LA will continue prioritizing tenant organizing (both housed and unhoused tenants), eviction defense, ending homelessness, and the fight against criminalization, privatization, and displacement.
  3. By 2020, DSA-LA will have established Street Watch in more locals across Los Angeles, including neighborhoods where DSA-LA membership and/or activity is scarce or non existent.

I. RESOLUTION DESCRIPTION & TIMELINE

Los Angeles continues to face a brutal wave of austerity urbanism. Towering cranes building market rate housing, hotels and stadiums, along with the increasing privatization of public spaces and services have pushed LA to the brink of becoming exclusive for the wealthy, profit-seeking global elite. Longtime working class Angelenos, primarily people of color, continue to be priced out of their communities and traumatically displaced further to the margins, often with nowhere to live but the streets. At least 54,000 Angelenos are currently unhoused, while over a million Angelenos are rent burdened. 917 unhoused people died on the streets of LA in 2018, mostly due to treatable medical conditions. Arrests of the unhoused continue to rise.

Mass poverty and homelessness have always been systemic issues, but ones that for decades have been successfully masked by the racist neoliberal narrative of ‘personal choice,’ creating further class and racial tension while justifying punitive, dehumanizing, and costly measures of criminalization.

That mask is crumbling fast -- as rents continue to skyrocket and wages stagnate, working class Angelenos are building a tenant-led movement for rent control.

It is crucial that the struggles and voices of the unhoused be supported and heard in this moment. While some of the particulars of their struggle may differ from renters, all tenants—housed and unhoused—share the same class enemies: landlords, property owners, developers, global private equity, and the publicly funded police force that protects them all.

As Socialists, we cannot sit idly by while our city continues to prioritize the construction of vacant luxury apartments and hotels over desperately needed permanent supportive housing. We cannot allow the continued normalization and practice of rent hikes, eviction, banishment, criminalization, apartheid, and genocide. DSA-LA is well positioned to significantly contribute to these fights across Los Angeles in 2019.

Under the guidance of LA CAN, who for decades have been fighting for the low income and unhoused community in Skid Row, DSA-LA formed its Street Watch initiative in the fall of 2017 to engage with the thousands of forgotten unhoused Angelenos in neighborhoods across LA, and to film and document the systemic human and civil rights violations committed upon them by the city. This work led to a legal challenge in the fall of 2018 that has forced the city to engage in substantial conversations and agreements to implement policy changes that could greatly improve the lives of the unhoused in 2019. Now we must continue this work to ensure these policies are put into practice, and use this moment to expand our on the ground capacity, community engagement, and political consciousness.

A chapter-wide resolution to prioritize Street Watch would request the following resources:

  • Monthly trainings for members
  • Street Watch Coordination with Branch Coordinators and Neighborhood Hangouts
  • Monthly Street Watch updates at branch meetings
  • Monthly Know Your Rights workshops for the unhoused
  • Compensation for personal Google Drive upload costs (for footage and photos)
  • Informational and testimonial videos to spread the message and engage the public
  • Strategic engagement with local and national media to shape narratives
  • Know Your Rights fliers and other means of printing and paper costs
  • Access to membership data for purposes of recruiting and turning out members to Streewatch initiatives

Timeline:

May 2019: The resolution will kick off with a teach-in on Street Watch at each branch meeting in May presented by experienced members of DSA Street Watch, LA Community Action Network, and LA Community Health Project. This teach-in will include an overview and history of this work, Know Your Rights and best practices for outreach and filming/monitoring the city, how it ties to our previous chapter resolution on Prop 10 and housing justice, and how it ties into our broader organizational goal of building socialist power. On the ground trainings with experienced SW members will begin after the May branch meetings and will continue to be ongoing across the city.

June-July 2019: A brand new “Know Your Rights” flyer for the unhoused will be produced and distributed by Street Watch teams, in consultation with Communications, AgitProp, and Housing and Homelessness. The first of ongoing “Know Your Rights” workshops will take place in July, possibly in conjunction with the LA Tenants Union KYR workshops for housed tenants. This is in addition to the monthly Know Your Rights workshops we recently began organizing for unhoused folks who attend LA Community Health Project’s needle exchange in Hollywood. Agit Prop media campaign begins.

July-December 2019: In addition to the ongoing training and formation of Street Watch teams across the city, DSA-LA will work with coalition partners to organize direct actions targeting Business Improvement Districts, Vacant buildings and unpermitted hostile landscaping in LA. We will encourage and support our unhoused comrades to speak out at actions, press conferences, and take part in Street Watch updates at branch meetings.

January 2020: The establishment of functional neighborhood Street Watch teams evenly spanning the area of Los Angeles.

II. ALIGNED ORGANIZATIONAL PRIORITIES

Organizational Priorities with which this proposed resolution is aligned and motivation for the resolution.

Street watch addresses many key aspects of DSA-LA’s organizational priorities, namely:

  • “Build an organizational culture that embodies our socialist ideals, and a welcoming community that supports all members to engage in collective work to dismantle systems of oppression, in accordance with our shared values.”
  • “Build respectful relationships which allow DSA members to both contribute to the broader movement as leaders, and as allies, as appropriate.”

With its focus on regular activity, we believe Street Watch will not only contribute to an increase in participation within the chapter, but also keep those who join in consistently engaged. The work naturally crosses racial and class divides, helping necessarily broaden the voices within the chapter that speak with the power to affect DSA-LA’s direction.

  • “Develop internal capacity to recruit, engage and retain our members across the racial and socioeconomic divisions of Los Angeles, and connect members to each other regionally, while also challenging instead of reifying those divisions.”

As a coalition, Street Watch has not only already forged bonds between DSA-LA and other organizations, such as Los Angeles Community Action Network, LA Tenants Union and K-Town For All, but expects to continue building more support to our work, and help pave the way to a unified network of resistance within Los Angeles.

  • “Forge and maintain intentional, deliberate and reciprocal relationships as well as share resources with other organizations who share our broad political goals. This includes other explicitly socialist and anti-capitalist organizations, as well as non-socialist organizations whose politics and values align with ours and are working towards similarly defined ends, while working to avoid duplication of efforts.”

The housing and homelessness crisis is a nationwide, profit-driven crisis. DSA chapters from across the country have already inquired about Street Watch and how it can be implemented in their cities and towns.

  • “Undertake to exchange resources, build solidarity, and engage in campaigns with other DSA chapters regionally, and nationally.”

III. MOBILIZATION AND MEMBER CAPACITY

Outline the ways this resolution would offer opportunities to engage new and active members, and intentionally build a broader base of engagement and membership in our organization throughout Los Angeles County.

Since Street Watch began in September 2017, over a hundred DSA-LA members have contributed to this work. Currently there are roughly thirty members who are regularly engaged in Street Watch outreach and monitoring via established teams in Hollywood,

Echo Park, Koreatown, Van Nuys, Venice, Highland Park, Chinatown, and the Historic El Pueblo section of Downtown. We hope to expand to even more in the year ahead by recruiting and reaching out to members in more neighborhoods across LA.

For this resolution, experienced DSA Street Watch members would be designated as neighborhood coordinators and new member liaisons. This would entail consistent participation in both neighborhood hangouts and branch meetings to present Street Watch, give neighborhood updates on this work, organize local Street Watch trainings for new members, answer questions, and encourage members to join their Street Watch local in some capacity. Coordinators would also keep track of attendance at trainings, outreach, monitoring, or any other planned Street Watch actions and events. Since Street Watch requires regular activity, this gives members an opportunity to stay engaged and contribute to on the ground organizing work on a regular basis.

Street Watch participation is also open to non-DSA members. There are many community members and members of grassroots organizations who have inquired about participating in Street Watch, and in the process have learned more about DSA and why our explicitly anti-capitalist approach to this work is crucial. This includes members of K Town For All, Black Lives Matter, White People For Black Lives, Venice Justice Committee, and the LA Tenants Union -- several of whom have since joined DSA-LA.

It is our hope that we can also provide more resources and support for unhoused community members to participate in Street Watch organizing if they are able, attend DSA meetings, Know Your Rights workshops, and potentially become DSA members. We recently inspired our first unhoused community member to become a dues paying member of DSA-LA, and while we know that most unhoused community members do not have the means to pay dues on their own, we will try to offer assistance via our Comrades for Comrades program.

IV. COMMITTEE AND WORKING GROUP COOPERATION

Across all applicable Committee and Working Group platforms, identify relevant goals which this resolution supports and advances.

We believe Street Watch has synergy with most organizing efforts within the chapter, in the following ways:

Housing & Homelessness — Street Watch was started within the Housing and Homelessness Committee, and continues to be one of its more high-profile focuses.

Climate Justice — It is proven that air pollution disproportionately affects low income communities of color and the unhoused in LA. This is the result of capitalist banishment and apartheid zoning that has forced these communities into high risk pollutant areas in close proximity to freeways and/or industrial zones. Gentrification displaces working class communities to these locations and to the margins of the city which means longer commutes and further carbon emissions. If we are fighting for equitable, sustainable and eco friendly public housing in a radically democratic LA, our fight should be lead by the voices of Angelenos most impacted by this climate crisis.

Immigration Justice — Street Watch would succeed in putting the organizers of Immigration Justice in contact with those on the street living in the peril of deportation, and those who must skirt around the system due to lack of proper identification.

Healthcare — The Healthcare committee will continue to lead the fight for Medicare For All -- and that includes the unhoused who desperately need it. In Los Angeles, first responders to unhoused people in health crises are police and sanitation workers, who most often have zero training or knowledge in health services, creating a hazard for vulnerable Angelenos. The severe lack of basic public health infrastructure like toilets, trash cans, and drinking fountains further endanger the lives of those living on the street. The City also treats Unhoused Angelenos who engage in drug use as criminals. We know that substance abuse should be treated as a healthcare issue — not a law enforcement one. Street Watch will continue to grow and expand its collaboration with LA Community Health Project in 2019.

Mutual Aid — Street Watch explicitly distances itself from the charity model commonly associated with many Non-Profits, as we see this work not as a band-aid to temporarily mitigate Capitalist harms, but an effort to force fundamental, systemic changes. This requires the empowerment of those most affected by Capitalism, and by being in direct contact with some of the most affected people in Los Angeles, there is potential for mutual aid projects such as driving community members to meetings, ticket clinics, Know Your Rights workshops, and watching their belongings while they attend these events.

Prison Abolition — The criminalization, harassment, and incarceration of the unhoused by law enforcement continues to increase in Los Angeles — while arrests for other offenses are going down. The mass incarceration of working class communities of color traps masses of people in a criminal injustice system that prevents them from getting jobs, housing, or other services, leaving them in a cycle of jail-to street-to jail. Street Watch demands House Keys Not Handcuffs, Homes Not Jails.

Agit-Prop — Part of the mission statement of Street Watch is to raise awareness through media, and develop accessible, attractive resources for housed and unhoused tenants,

such as KYR flyers, Good Neighbor Guides, and other handouts, stickers, zines, and brochures. There is also potential for a Streewatch “logo,” to be produced, e.g., printed on pins to identify Streetwatch participants when they do their work. There is great potential for ongoing projects such as weekly or monthly blog posts and videos featuring the voices of our unhoused neighbors. All of this would necessarily require the assistance of the Agit-Prop Committee.

Electoral Politics — Street Watch puts folks on the ground, working in tandem with Electoral Politics can link organizers with voters on the street, giving them the opportunity to both get public opinion and spread information between canvases. We can also organize efforts to register unhoused community members to vote.

NOlympics LA — Chief among the many goals of NOlympics is to stop the gentrification, displacement and the increased policing that the Olympics will bring, directly affecting working class and unhoused communities.

Labor — The unhoused residents of Los Angeles, who the work of Street Watch is most notably focused on, are working class people. Some have full time jobs in addition to the full time job that is surviving in the streets. They are always in dire need of knowledge those who organize in Labor can provide. Street Watch will also monitor the treatment of Street Vendors by our city to ensure they maintain their hard earned right to work in public space. Additionally, the city employs young, working class sanitation crews to conduct their dehumanizing encampment sweeps. There is potential for the labor committee to engage with the sanitation union on this issue.

Political Education — Street Watch will require internal trainings, teach-ins, Know Your Rights workshops and power mapping on housing and homelessness issues. Engaging with unhoused tenants and learning about their struggles will sharpen the political consciousness of our members.

Membership — Street Watch provides new members an opportunity to engage in work with more experienced members, as well as an incentive for people to join DSA by clearly showing them we do work on the ground. A large amount of consultative work with MemCom to to organize events such as trainings will be highly necessary.

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