A Member Spotlight
Born in New Jersey and raised in New York City, Avi Garelick spent time in California and Illinois before returning to New York City in 2010. He currently lives in Washington Heights, is an active member of the Uptown Manhattan/Bronx (BUM) chapter, the NYC-DSA housing working group, and the community organization Northern Manhattan is Not For Sale. He is the director of a Hebrew School in Manhattan.
How did you first discover DSA? Right after the election. A couple friends of mine, Michael Kinnucan and Danya Lagos, were promoting it. They also joined right after the election, and played a big role in getting me interested.
What was it about DSA that appealed to you? It’s funny, because we didn’t know that much about the organization going in. But I had a sense, which has been born out, that it’s a group of people with radical beliefs who are ready to take action within the framework that exists.
You have been involved in community housing issues well before you joined DSA, correct? Yeah that’s right. Basically my involvement in community organizing really started there. It was around the summer of 2016.
What drew you to issues related to housing, gentrification, and rezoning? Part of what draws me to it is the kind of moral complexity and doubt I’ve heard from people in my demographic – that sense of dreadful inevitability that white, professional-class people are contributing to gentrification and segregation no matter what they do. So I really felt motivated to do something to counteract the ennui.
So what advice do you have for those professional-class, white people moving into a new neighborhood? Well, I have a whole list of stuff. First and foremost, you have to come in with a sense of awareness, responsibility, and understanding that if you are in a transient position in a neighborhood, you are more likely than not being used by the forces of gentrification and displacement without your knowledge.
The first thing to do is to be a good neighbor, in a basic way. Treat the people around you like you would treat a cousin. Don’t be obnoxious, don’t take advantage of your situation, and don’t take advantage of your privilege. It can be small stuff. You know, smile at people. Little stuff you think is structurally unimportant – it is structurally unimportant, but it is how you have to start.
Once you’ve made that sort of attitude commitment, you should get your rent history. There’s details about how to do that online. That’s important because in New York there’s a whole edifice of rent stabilization which is not known about, especially by people that are coming to New York for the first time. And if you don’t know about it, you can actually contribute to its decay. So you have to get your history to learn if you should be rent stabilized, and you have to learn your rights.
If there is a tenant association in your building, or in your neighborhood, you should join it.
#WhyDSA? Because organizing actually works. There’s a lot of forces in our ideology that make us think that it doesn’t, that it’s pointless. But getting together with other people to build power and to demand change – it actually works, and you will see its effects faster than you expect. Over the long term, our power is really going to be awesome. So you have to start working together with people. Don’t pour your energies into useless thinking. Don’t pour your energies into arguing or fighting with your enemies. Pour your energies into building a lasting power with your allies and friends.