By Cea Weaver
Over the last year, NYC-DSA has had three priority campaigns: #UniversalRentControl, Health Care for All, and Defeat Amazon. In addition, our working groups fought to end school suspensions, protect our courts and pass the Climate and Community Protection Act — the strongest climate justice bill in the nation. And of course we also worked on Tiffany Cabán borough-wide campaign for District Attorney.
We didn’t win everything we fought for, but this year demonstrated the power of the socialist movement that strengthened our ability to organize and win reach victories for people, not profit.
The election of Senator Julia Salazar in 2018 sent the first socialist to Albany in decades. Albany is a notoriously corrupt Statehouse, where real estate money has long ruled the day. But this year, NYC-DSA was there too. Not just in the office of State Senator, but also on every #TenantTuesday, on climate days of action, fighting for ICE out of the Courts, and demanding healthcare justice.
As the legislative session wrapped up in the State Capitol, real estate lobbyist Jay Martin told the New York Times: “It seems to be that the democratic socialist wing of the Democratic Party is in full control of the state government.
Here’s our take:
This year, state legislators passed a landmark rent reform package, confronting decades of real estate control over politics in Albany. The legislation will make major changes to the state’s tenant protections: it ends deregulation of rent stabilized apartments; it limits rent increases for building and apartment renovations; and perhaps most significantly, it expands the regulatory framework so that any locality in New York State can opt into rent stabilization.
Tenant protections in New York are stronger than they have been in generations. The law passed this spring will not only help people stay in their homes, undermine the hold the financial industry has on our neighborhoods, and fight speculation-driven displacement; it will bring tenants new freedom to organize and to fight for even more radical reforms. Tenant organizing to build socialist power across New York State is more achievable than it has ever been before.
NYC-DSA was part of a diverse coalition of tenants and homeless New Yorkers, the Upstate Downstate Housing Alliance, which marched in the streets, organized in their buildings, spoke out at hearings and town halls, and even faced arrest in the halls of the State Capitol. Together, we have worked tirelessly to defend renters’ rights and challenge one of New York’s most powerful industries.
But despite the historic progress this law represents, we have much more to win. The most notable absence from the package is Julia Salazar’s good cause eviction bill, which would have extended protections to millions of unregulated tenants. This, along with the watered-down reforms to Major Capital Improvements and Individual Apartment Improvements, and the lack of a reregulation mechanism for already deregulated units, are a testament to the enormous powers of capital we are up against.
We can’t not remind you about this important win. They tried to come to New York! We built coalition with working class residents in Queens, we canvassed, we protested. They were dragged through the press. They changed their mind and didn’t come to New York!
New York Health Act
Despite majority support in the State Legislature, the New York Health Act — a single payer system for New York — did not pass this legislative session.
The failure of this legislation demonstrates some of the challenges facing socialists as we pursue profound social transformation. While progressive legislators are willing to commit to healthcare-as-human-right in principle, when it comes to legislation that would abolish a major industry (and major employer) in the State of New York, they balk at the task.
The New York Health Act was primarily a budget demand; during the budget process Governor Cuomo has an outsized influence. The State Legislature, despite its support of the bill, was reluctant to pass a major spending item without the Governor weighing in. The governor, needless to say, is not a supporter.
Not just overcoming but actually eliminating a major industry would be a tremendous challenge under the best of circumstances, but with New York’s labor movement almost unanimously opposed to this legislation, progress was impossible.
This fight highlights the continued need for vocal, principled socialists within and outside of the labor movement. Winning Medicare for All, in New York and across the nation, will require all the tools at our disposal: direct action, electoral victories, and cohering the broadest possible coalition around a transformational demand.
A Green New Deal for New York?
The state legislature passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act: a watered-down version of the Climate and Community Protection Act — a bill that NYRenews, a coalition of which NYC-DSA is a member, fought for years. This represents a missed opportunity for New York to be a ground-breaking climate leader. “While taking action on energy for the first time in decades, the legislature largely just put into law the Governor’s existing climate policies,” said Mark Dunlea, chair of the Green Education and Legal Fund (GELF).
The final deal struck out provisions added by the Senate for short-term targets as the state seeks to get to 70% of its state’s electricity from renewables by 2030 — the demands by the NYRenews coalition included 100% by 2030 and currently the electric grid is at only 5% wind and solar. Also struck were strong, high-road labor standards to maximize good, union jobs and community-level hiring, as well as large investments into low-income and communities of color. Not only was the target of 40% investments into impacted communities reduced to 35%, but the scope of funds covered was reduced, limited to only future funds not already committed, and the communities eligible for such funding was significantly expanded.
Furthermore, large new fracked gas power plants and pipelines are still under construction or on the drawing board and the CLCPA did not make it clear that we have to halt any new fossil fuel infrastructure or end the use of fossil fuels as soon as possible. While the campaign to stop the Williams pipeline saw a temporary victory, the company, which has direct ties to Cuomo’s administration, has already reapplied for a permit to continue transporting fracked gas through the state of New York. And despite the 2017 announcement that New York City will be divesting its pension funds from fossil fuels, the legislature also failed this session to divest the state’s pension funds from fossil fuel.
In looking ahead, state divestment with reinvestment into low-income communities of color, stopping all fossil fuel projects, and for NYC-DSA’s Ecosocialist working group, public ownership of energy will be the top priorities of the New York climate movement.
Cabán for District Attorney
Much more will be written about the work that we did on this campaign, but what we will say here is that we won this race with skill and a something that is foreign in the corrupt land of machine politics, people-power. Up against a democratic machine that was on alert after the stinging bruise of the Ocasio-Cortez victory, this race was always going to be hard-won. Hundreds strong, we turned out to knock on tens of thousands of doors to get the word out about Cabán. The campaign’s message against mass incarceration and prosecution of poverty resonated with the people we talked to. It appears as though our people-driven politics can beat the hundreds of thousands they spent on TV ads. This work is not over yet, however. As our members are, at this very moment, observing the recanvass of the votes to make sure that our victory is protected.
Next Steps and Lessons:
In the past year, we learned lessons about issue-based pressure campaigns, coalition building, organizing neighbors in our buildings, and more.
A good example of response to our targeted pressure is our work to protect our courts from ICE. While the Protect our Courts Act didn’t pass, the Office of Courts Administration (OCA) announced in April they would prohibit ICE from arresting people in courts without a warrant. This was after a campaign specifically targeting the OCA with a petition and public petition deliveries.
Beyond the work that we did at the state level, our Racial Justice Working Group had an enormous victory: working with the Organizing for Equity NY campaign, we pressured decision-makers in the Department of Education to address the school-to-prison pipeline by implementing a 20-day cap on school suspensions. We won! Prior to this victory, New York had the longest allowable suspension days in the nation. We will continue to fight to eliminate suspensions, period, and to win comprehensive funding for implementing alternative de-escalation practices that support teachers and students, rather than asking teachers to criminalize students.
We have a long way to go until every tenant in the state can live free from the fear of a rent hike or an eviction. Private insurance companies are still extracting wealth from and refusing care to millions of New Yorkers. People are isolated in solitary confinement and ICE is still terrorizing people outside our courts. If we don’t take swift action, our city will flood.
To all who helped us in these efforts—thank you! Whether you’re new to this campaign or have been part of it for months, however, the fight is not over. These reforms will significantly change the terrain on which we organize. But they will not change our need to organize. In fact, they will make our work more urgent and important than ever. We stand ready to seize and build upon this political moment. There is still a world to win!