When We Organize, We Win: A plan for the American left


Opposition leaders sign an agreement to choose an interim president in place of President Jovenel Moise, before a protest to demand the resignation of President Moise, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019.  Photo by Dieu Nalio Chery/AP

Opposition leaders sign an agreement to choose an interim president in place of President Jovenel Moise, before a protest to demand the resignation of President Moise, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. Photo by Dieu Nalio Chery/AP

The common people of the world are in open revolt. 

In Ecuador, millions took to the streets to protest the end of fuel subsidies, the country’s centrist streak and austerity measures imposed by the notorious International Monetary Fund (IMF). Their raw passion and organizing spirit won the day, as the austerity measures were repealed and the fuel subsidies were reinstated. 

In Haiti, hundreds of thousands of citizens have protested for months, demanding expanded social programs and the prosecution of corrupt government officials.  

In Iraq, tens of thousands have risen up against the post-U.S.-invasion regime. The protestors are calling for an expansion of public services, an end to corruption and increased job opportunities.  

Protests in Chile, Egypt, Mexico and France have echoed similar concerns about rising inequality, inefficient social services and government corruption. 

In America, we face many of the same problems. Housing is unaffordable to vast swathes of the country. Public transit is woefully inadequate, even in cities. Young people have to mortgage their future to get an education. Quality childcare is inaccessible and unaffordable for most. And our government’s failure to act on climate change hangs over all of these social ills like a dark thunder cloud. 

The rising American left — through formal organizations like the Democratic Socialists of America and informal organizations like local tenants unions — has been building momentum for some time now. Socialists have won elected office across the country, including this week, when Kshama Sawant won a city council seat in Seattle, beating the opposition — a Democrat funded by corporate conglomerate Amazon. 

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has openly run as a democratic socialist, promising to be the “organizer in chief” if elected. 

But outside of Puerto Rico our nation hasn’t risen up in force like the rest of the world. 

Much of the organizing energy in the United States is zapped by campaigns which seek to increase voter turnout and participation through the demonstrably flawed American political process. But the ballot box won’t save us. We will only win through a social uprising of the common folk. 

How do we build the momentum necessary to inspire widespread, sustained protest? While it may seem contradictory to the goal of a mass uprising, we need to begin by building local community organizing capacity.  

Thousands of community organizers across the country do amazing, vital work every day. The young people of the left should follow suit. Specifically, we must bolster community power by building and creating community institutions which embrace collective bargaining in every phase of life. 

Tenants’ unions, for instance, allow renters to band together and demand better living conditions, rent control and community ownership. When labor unions desire a new contract, they strike by withholding their labor. Tenants unions strike by withholding their rent and leveraging their collective economic power. 

Community land trusts are community organizations which own large parcels of land, and grant  low-income families opportunities to own affordable homes on that land. Across the country, community land trusts have secured perpetually affordable housing for tens of thousands of community members. 

Energy collectives are groups of energy consumers who band together to collectively bargain for lower energy prices. Energy collectives can also demand renewable sources of energy, and in some cases, can buy community solar arrays.  

These institutions won’t solve the crises of late-stage capitalism. But they can shift power in our communities to low-income folks and build hope for a better world. Every time a tenants union wins a rent freeze, it’s a positive step in the direction of a nationwide class consciousness and eventually, a nationwide uprising.  

Local community institution building is the key to both short term quality of life — and the long term success of leftism in the United States.  

When we organize, we win.  

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual writers in the opinion section do not reflect the views and opinions of The Daily Campus or other staff members. Only articles labeled “Editorial” are the official opinions of The Daily Campus.

Harry Zehner is the opinion editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at harry.zehner@uconn.edu. 

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