Critical Capacity: How Regional Organizations Will Help Comrades Deal with Climate Disaster

Jordan Falciani and Cate Root argue in favor of building strong Regional Organizations to sustain our organizing and our communities along the Gulf Coast in the face of climate crisis.


DSA is organizing throughout crisis; in a hostile political moment, we organize to meet the acute threats of state violence and authoritarianism while working to address the chronic injustices of capitalism. We need to commit to priorities and building up justice everywhere, and we need strong, democratic organizations to marshal the collective will of socialists. The capitalists are out-organizing us, and they are winning. If we have any hope of victory, we must cohere into a strong, member-led mass organization. We cannot be 55,000 individuals and win. We cannot be 200 chapters and win. We have to be one organization, an organization that is both powerful and deeply accountable to the source of its power: the members.

Since the incredible membership growth post-2016, organizers and workers have faced near-constant states of emergency. Whether we are discussing Gulf Coast chapters contending with the annual threat of hurricane season with no federal support, Rio Grande Valley witnessing the immediate human, political, and ecological realities of racist immigration policies and The Wall, or California chapters contending with the entrenched power of landlords in a manufactured “housing crisis,” everyone has been dealing with stunningly normalized levels of “emergency.” To combat these challenges, DSA needs strong, democratically elected and accountable regional organizations, and we need them now to be able to organize for a better world through the realities of these ongoing crises. 

We believe in collective power and that means the ability to leverage the capacity of an entire region to give small chapters the strength of large ones because the climate catastrophe will continue to unfold unevenly. We need regional organizations to reach across geographies from the places where immigrants are targeted to the places where people are held, tried, and deported (practices that will only increase if unimpeded as climate-change refugees increase in number). We need regional organizations to coordinate quickly and coherently with every chapter in a state to support legislative and electoral work in a fast-moving political environment. 

We must create structures that can respond, not based on informal networks, but formal processes. The work must live where everyone can grow it, and everyone can use it. 

We need regional organizations that can coordinate resources. A major event will upend resources in the organization quickly. A small chapter might need to quickly get incorporated after a disaster event, or perhaps use a lot of capacity to manage and coordinate massive donations flowing in. This can either dramatically grow a small chapter’s work or completely sap a chapter’s capacity. A regional organization with a plan is needed to spread the response evenly throughout locals based on their capacity. We should be able to leverage the capacity and response of the entire region or entire country if needed and if the affected area is the home of a smaller chapter, they’ll need support to scale this response quickly.

CLIMATE DISASTER DOESN’T HIT CHAPTERS: IT HITS REGIONS

We know that we can’t risk the collapse of the strongest left organizing in the South in a generation because of a single disaster event. We also know that capital sees these events as an opportunity. Capital knows that there’ll be little pushback from the community when everyone is displaced and trying to rebuild, and they’ll be able to reshape our communities however they want. 

In New Orleans, we organize in a city that was deliberately and dramatically reshaped to be smaller, whiter, and wealthier after a catastrophic government failure. An entire union of teachers was fired at once, and there has been no recourse. The city lost a two hundred and fifty-year-old public teaching hospital, the safety net of our community, so that the state could profit off of building a new one on land seized from working-class Black residents. Thousands of people lost their homes, and public housing in the city was permanently and strategically destroyed. We do not have to guess at what will happen when cities face catastrophe. We know. 

Without a strong infrastructure to support organized resistance to disaster capitalism, we will lose again. But we have the people and we know we can stop capital from doing this. We know that the impacts of climate change will continue to be broad; regional, national and international and we know that if we’re serious about this political project we need work collectively so that our organizing reflects that reality. We need to take the work of chapters who’ve experienced this and have organized through it and document and institutionalize that work, like that of Houston DSA, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars and mucking and gutting after Harvey. In New Orleans, we started an informal network with other chapters to check in on members after storms and provide solidarity housing for evacuating members. But it won’t be enough. We can’t rely on these informal connections.

Try to remember how many disasters have happened in just the past two years: fires, floods, and storms, mass shootings, and state terror. We need to organize for our survival, and there is no time to waste. We need a regional organization that can get immediately to work when forecasts are made. We need a plan where coordinators in each chapter in the region can activate region-wide communication networks to offer considerable aid like solidarity housing and carpooling to evacuation points in 24-hour turnarounds or less. Before people decide whether to evacuate or not, we need a network capable of quickly communicating exactly what aid and housing are available and coordinate that housing smoothly across a thousand members and hundreds of miles. We need a network capable of knowing where members are in an event and checking and responding to them quickly.

We need this work to exist in regional organizations because every organizer must be fundamentally interchangeable. No one person should hold the contacts, credentials, supplies and resources to keep a community safe. We need to create democratic organizations that can execute replicable work while keeping members and their information safe. A regional plan also allows work to shift out of most-affected areas without a loss of critical institutional knowledge.  We may need ways of maintaining custody of chapter credentials and membership lists within regional organizations during these events so that chapters can continue to communicate their members, even with power loss. In addition, we’ll need a regional organization that can coordinate the response through consistent communications with the chapters themselves. It is vital that the construction of these networks not be based on informal networks, but formal structures and processes of response. Afterward, we need reflection and analysis to be able to improve on future iterations of the work so that everyone can grow it, and everyone can use it. 

If we do not act we will face situations where dramatic climate events, an event that leaves vast portions of the region underwater, critical infrastructure out of service for months, and displaces massive portions of the population will effectively end our organizing without a collective approach that doesn’t rely on the strength of one chapter in a region or informal relationships between individuals. We need regional organizations able to coordinate among all the chapters in a region to build things like geographic member maps, phone trees, carpool plans. Members will be democratically elected from all the chapters in a region into these regional organizations, so they’ll often be experienced organizers, emerging from existing chapter leadership of both large and small chapters. In the process, new leaders in those chapters will learn the organizing skills and any technical expertise needed without disrupting their existing organizing. 

Everyone living in New Orleans and the Gulf South lives in the shadow of the reality that this will happen eventually. If we are serious about this political project and the relationships that we’ve built with our comrades, we must build our organization as a sober reflection of this reality. Our organizations must be strong enough to not only survive these events but bring more people into our work and strengthen the movement. We need a way to give any chapter in the south the resources, knowledge, organizing experience, and strength of our largest chapters. Because we don’t know where these disasters will happen, but they’ll happen unevenly: they’ll hurt our working class, poor, black and brown communities the hardest. Just as likely in cities as small towns and vast rural areas, but as socialists, we believe our organizing response needs to be the same if we are going to build the kind of solidarity we need to directly confront this crisis and capital.