It’s a tall order trying to build a more humane world and save ourselves from ecological collapse. In the Olympia chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), we know that the solutions to our biggest problems must come in the form of working people organizing from the bottom-up, to protect and build power for ourselves.
Looking to 2021 and beyond, the Olympia DSA is working on several concrete ways to accomplish these goals:
Supporting workers at Providence
Right now, Providence St. Pete’s workers from nine technical units—the people who give us ultrasounds, our CAT scans and our EKGs; who hand us our medication, who help us breathe and so much else—are fighting for their first contract. Their employer does not want them to have the same sick-leave bank that is given to all other units in the hospital, and cannot promise them enough time to rest, even during a pandemic.
OlyDSA will be in the fight with those workers until they have their just contract, because every group of workers who organize to win their rights brings us closer to the power we need to make a better world.
Electoral organizing at the local level
In 2021, four seats on the Olympia City Council will be up for election, including some of the strongest progressive voices on the council. This off-year election has the potential to shape our City Council and determine its path into the future. Will our City attempt to simply manage the status quo in an increasingly unmanageable world? Or will our approach be to assert popular interests and make the effort to build a more caring and democratic alternative at the local level?
We…can put forward winning candidates…in every town and district…ready to enact transformational policies.
We look forward to waging this campaign by doing what we did to support Bernie, Mary Ellen Biggerstaff (LD-22), and Marianna Everson (LD-19)—talking with ordinary people about what matters in their lives—whether on their doorstep, over the phone, or via Zoom.
Redefining public safety for Olympia
Whatever the composition of the City Council, Olympia DSA will continue to assert the need for a community that ensures safety for its residents through care, not cops. The current moment has placed the role of police in the public eye in a new way, and Olympia as a whole needs to decide what we want to build our community around. Do we want to be a city that regulates public order through handcuffs, mace, and guns? Or can we create a city that is livable for everyone, where we are all safer because none of our neighbors suffer the deprivations of homelessness, isolation and social neglect?
Olympia’s spending on police has nearly doubled over the last decade, yet our city is neither twice as large nor twice as safe. We must ask what this money is going towards, and what it could be better spent on. We throw millions of dollars to the police department, while hundreds of our neighbors are evicted to sleep in tents. Our social care infrastructure is grossly underfunded. We believe our City can create better public safety by helping people stay in their homes and supporting them through difficult times, rather than expanding policing, which always falls on the most vulnerable members of our community.
Implementing a new public housing strategy
At the county level, Olympia DSA is excited for the prospect of working with a new County Commission to implement a visionary social housing plan. Currently, the Housing Authority of Thurston County only builds public housing for the poorest residents of the county, leading to income segregation and lower housing quality (the old problem of programs for the poor being poor programs). We can do better.
By investing in housing across large sections of the market where anyone would want to live, we can create public housing that is truly for everyone. Vienna, Austria is the shining example of this approach, with the majority of the city’s residents living in public housing.
But we don’t have to look that far away. Vancouver, WA, has high-quality apartments appropriate for anyone earning a typical worker’s income. And even better: proper public investment in housing can be revenue positive, even with subsidized rents for the poorest residents, providing a surplus that can fund further social housing development. We do not need to trade away our city to private high-end developers to increase density with modern, and attractive housing. We can do it ourselves and build housing that belongs to all of us and serves all of us.
Strengthening rank-and-file unions
To win these and other demands, we must do more than simply protest. We believe in winning political power for the working class. We can do this through an expanded and rejuvenated labor movement that can enable workers to stand up to their bosses (and the capitalist class as a whole).
We can do it through a new political organization that is truly democratic and can put forward winning candidates like Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Mary Ellen Biggerstaff in every town and district, ready to enact transformational policies. Through this kind of popular organizing, from grassroots campaigns to strengthening rank-and-file unions, we can make meaningful progress on issues like reallocating resources from policing to fund social programs, creating a robust social housing system, and meaningfully addressing climate change.
Member-based, democratic and ready to work
We have the ability to take on these fights because DSA is a member-based, democratic organization. Everyone in DSA from the local level to the National Political Committee is an equal member. We don’t rely on funding grants or NGOs to pressure politicians. We contribute our time and resources through dues that fund campaign logistics, tech tools like VAN and staff to support campaigns across the country.
The power of DSA comes from members’ willingness to step up, take responsibility, and assume leadership on these issues. And our power is growing. In Thurston County, our Local has grown from a few dozen members in 2016 to over 200. This year alone we welcomed over 90 new members.
Understanding where we come from and the work that led up to this point is essential. Members new and old can develop their understanding of politics, economics and strategy through political education events like our Socialist Night School and regular discussion events on topics ranging from the Presidential race to progressive tax policy, and what solidarity truly means.
We have a world to win!
Anyone interested in joining should drop in at a general membership meeting (every 3rd Saturday at 4pm), or visit www.olydsa.org to arrange a one-on-one meeting with an organizer. Or, become a full member.
Riley Woodward-Pratt is co-chair of the Olympia Local DSA and co-chair of the DSA National Political Education Committee.