Everywhere you look, the climate crisis has arrived. Heat waves are sweeping Australia, India, Mexico, and the US. Wildfires are spreading unhindered within every province of Canada, spreading massive plumes of smoke across the globe. Ocean temperatures rise and rise. Deregulation is leading to train derailments, oil spills, and deaths. Workers are forced to toil in deadly heat and toxic air while capitalist politicians work hand in hand with our bosses to pocket as much wealth as they possibly can. This isn’t “business as usual” for them. This is the unfolding of green capitalism–the new trappings of the same old greedy system, this time fully aware of and happily profiting off of their own solutions to a problem capitalism started, all while further disempowering the working class. For every new electric vehicle plant that crops up, another deal to build new pipelines is pushed forward. For every crumb passed to public transit, there’s further moves to expand our highways and interstates. For any new green jobs, few of them are ever actually unionized.
At the same time, the working class is fighting back to not only defend our planet but take back our future. As the blackish-orange mass of wildfire smoke choked the East Coast, NYC-DSA members rolled out emergency organizing to get workers the masks they needed to protect themselves while still forced to work. While Atlanta politicians and police move hand-in-hand to destroy the Welaunee Forest–the largest public forest, home, and respite for many people and creatures in the city–Atlanta DSA has mobilized to help stop the development of Cop City by packing public hearings and getting signatures for a referendum. DSA-Los Angeles has continued to fight for and win demands that make the city’s schools safer and more accessible for all Angelenos, like the expansion of electric buses for students. We aren’t giving up. DSA is not only adapting to our shifting political and environmental landscapes, but challenging them. We’re amassing more and more power in our school boards, city councils, and state assemblies. We’re making stronger and broader connections with our neighbors and fellow workers. We’re standing up and demanding control of our power grids, our cities, our working conditions, and our future.
The shifting terrain before us demands that our organization not only continue to think strategically and creatively about how and where we organize, but that we begin to move in greater lock-step as a national whole: local chapters, elected officials and electoral organizers, union members, tenants, ecosocialists. We cannot weaken ourselves by leaving our work in disunity. Our national bodies need to recognize the necessity of healthy local chapters and the role we can play in training up and strategizing with our comrades across the country. Our members need to experience the revolutionary potential of organizing their workplaces and their fellow workers towards fights that expand the horizon of our collective futures beyond key increases in wages and benefits. Our electeds must work with us to craft legislation that takes advantage of recent, positive shifts in the landscape like the Inflation Reduction Act – making bold transformations of our literal, material infrastructure a real possibility. All these elements of our organizing work can and must be interwoven into the fabric of our socialist vision for the future.
That’s why, over the past year, the Green New Deal Campaign Commission (GNDCC) has developed and launched a political program to address these challenges, called Building for Power (B4P for short). B4P is a coordinated set of chapter-level campaigns which aim to reclaim, deepen, and green our public services across the country. These campaigns focus on four services core to working class needs, relaxation, and aspirations: housing, transit, electricity, and schools. B4P-style demands build out these services under the public sector with strong labor standards which create the conditions for workers to more easily organize—whether that means forming new unions or reinvigorating existing ones. That’s why our consensus resolution for the 2023 convention plans to not only continue, but expand this work.
We need to fight to not only preserve what few public spaces and goods we have left, but dramatically expand them to meet the needs of the working class and the threats of the climate crisis. Each of these four areas helps us put our power back in the hands of the people, letting our communities and our fellow workers decide what our cities should look like – not capitalist interests. A “green” capitalist world is one where we are all still exploited, still unable to assert the working and living conditions we deserve, and are still powering the imperial machine of heavily polluting countries like our own – now just with a few extra solar panels and super quiet electric vehicles. That’s not the world we want, nor the world we deserve!
We as socialists refuse to settle for anything less than a full transformation of our world that protects both working people and the planet. What does a path to that look like? It looks like Philly DSA fighting alongside the teachers union and school board members to give students classrooms that aren’t polluted and overheating. It looks like Louisville DSA moving with the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1447 in Louisville to develop a campaign that can win a public transit system that protects workers and reliably keeps people moving. It looks like Milwaukee DSA and Maine DSA crafting referendums along with local electeds to ditch private fossil fuel companies controlling our grids. Electoral, labor, and climate organizing – together – give us the strong foundation we need for a beautiful future for all.
We know we can’t do this alone. That’s why B4P campaigns follow a particular coalitional logic. This logic reflects lessons learned by Green New Deal organizing in DSA over the past seven years. The green capitalist transition threatens to further weaken the already-fragmented US and international working class by pitting us against each other: building trades against environmentalists, transit workers against riders, parents against teachers. B4P campaigns counteract these divisions by foregrounding the common stake all of these groups have in well-funded, high-quality, and democratically-controlled public services, whether they build those services (construction workers), run them (teachers, power workers, transit workers), or rely on them (riders, ratepayers, parents). They pick open fights with the capitalist class, which wants to privatize and profit off of these services at the expense of all three groups.
The labor organizing element of B4P is critical to any chapter work we do. The two types of unionized workers that B4P most directly engages with—those in the building trades and public sector—understand well the connections between political battles and their jobs. Yet, in practice, these workers are too often disengaged from legislative campaigns their union leadership runs—that is, if their leadership is politically engaged at all. This is why B4P aims to develop relationships between union workers, not just standing meetings with union leadership. By growing and strengthening cross-membership in these unions, DSA chapters running B4P campaigns can mobilize the rank-and-file behind an expansive view of their interests, as seen in the UTLA campaign. The organizing value of the campaign will come just as much if not more from this process as any gains won through changes to labor law through the implementation of B4P projects.
Additionally, we can see an early glimpse of B4P’s legislative potential can be seen in New York, where a group of chapters recently organized and won the landmark Build Public Renewables Act, and in Detroit, where the DSA chapter helped spearhead a successful transit ballot measure, and in Seattle, where DSA provided a large share of the field operation which helped win the establishment a new public housing developer. On the labor front, strike support and coordination with DSA electeds on the school board and city council helped the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) win groundbreaking green bargaining for the common good demands in their most recent contract negotiations. Notably, these demands received the support of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 11, whose members now stand to benefit from the electrification projects implied by the UTLA contract. Without intensive coordination between the labor and electoral arms of DSA-LA, it is unlikely that this budding coalition would have gotten off the ground.
We know chapters don’t just come ready to win a BPRA-sized demand out of nowhere. The GNDCC is ready to help train up our chapters in the next years to be ready to not only dream big but also win big. That’s why the existing version of B4P, which launched in April of this year, also involves a critical move to broaden and deepen chapter organizing. Chapters planning or currently running a B4P campaign are provided a coach with relevant organizing experience and encouraged to attend regular cross-campaign huddles where they can discuss strategy and tactics with comrades across the country, gaining insight from each others’ experiences. This model has the potential to sharpen our organizing skills while building solidarity across chapters, something that has been sorely lacking in DSA. In addition to coaching and facilitating cross-chapter engagement, we have already invested in capacity and leadership development alongside the Growth and Development Committee through a series of trainings for first-time campaigners. We’ve also provided B4P chapters with written resources on how to meaningfully engage existing labor unions—rank -and-file and leadership alike. B4P is the track that takes us towards fully appreciating that what we’re building within DSA isn’t just in our working groups or our chapters or our states – we’re building towards socialism for all of us.
While the nascent campaigns taking root under the banner of B4P are exciting, they will need further soil, water, and sun to grow. The GNDCC’s consensus resolution helps begin this process by re-authorizing the campaign, endowing it with more members (increasing from eleven to fifteen), funding, and staff support. These resources will help grow and maintain the coaching and training infrastructure of the committee so that it can support chapters at all stages, most importantly the initial internal organizing phase. Since capacity is currently highly uneven across chapters, fundraising and fund-sharing is a critical task. So is maintaining a
regimen of mass calls and cross-chapter events to maintain a shared sense of collective struggle and identity despite running separate chapter campaigns.
Comrades, if you’re ready to build something bigger than any one of us, if you’re ready to renew the fight against the destruction of both people and planet, if you’re ready to win, then please lend your support to our consensus resolution at our 2023 convention. Talk to your chapter delegates (or fellow delegates) about what B4P can mean for a stronger DSA and reach out to your comrades about how your own chapter can get involved in this crucial ecosocialist work.