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By Simon V
Marin is a unique site of struggle for those looking to build a liberated world. It has the highest wealth gap in the state of California: some of the United States’ richest people own vacation homes here, while some of our country’s most disenfranchised live in what are little better than slums owned by corporate landlords headquartered far away. This all plays out along very clear race lines.
Our county’s progressives focus on issues outside of Marin – in the American “south” – or are tied by foundation funding or liberal norms. Marin has an incredible quantity of not-for-profits dedicated to all sorts of causes, yet these have not been able to affect real meaningful change. Some institutions do amazing work, scraping by with barely enough funding to make their services available, often kept running by volunteers. Changes like the just-cause eviction and minimum wage clauses – pushed through electorally – have been piecemeal and crumbs, largely superseded by state-wide laws. Supervisors, the sheriff, and city councilors are happy to sit through 11 hour public comment sessions and ignore everything that was said by the public because they know that when elections roll around, they can rely on the status quo to keep their seats, or appoint their replacements.
Why is that? What is it about not-for-profits and the legislative strategy that has been incapable of affecting real long-lasting systemic change in our county, towns, and cities? Must we continue to wait on the state of California to enact laws that our county’s landlords and business owners can continue to ignore? Why do we let our housing prices soar, pushing those of us who mow the lawns, make the coffees, and staff our hospitals further and further out of the county?
For too long Marinites have focused on liberal technocratic solutions. Knowing the right things and the right people will get things done. A committee or a task force will come up with the right fix. If we just make them hear and understand, they’ll do what we ask. They see the county’s poor and working class as victims of a system without agency to create their own solutions. This is reflected in the Housing Authority’s attitude towards residents of public housing, advocacy group’s attitudes towards building actual tenant power, in actions that mobilize already convinced people for one-off events, and calls to the police and sheriff’s department to “deal with” someone who looks out of place in our neighborhood.
This model of activism is appealing because it supposes a “quick fix”. It avoids the hard work of actually organizing a base, of building engaged and empowered citizens who can confront power in their homes, in their workplaces, and in their public life.
There is no quick fix to the multiple systems that oppress us. We need a strategy.
What is to be done?
We must confront patriarchy, colonialism, racism, and ableism wherever we find them. We must bring those struggles together to demand an end to all institutions that oppress us. While we can press forward with short term demands, we must do more. We must build our base.
We must do the hard work. We must learn how to organize in our workplaces. We must learn how to confront our landlords and make demands as groups of tenants. We must focus on our block, our neighborhood, and our town. Talk to our neighbors and find out what is important to them. Talk to our co-workers and find the shared oppressions we can organize around.
We must look to models of organizing – theory and praxis – that are rooted in feminism, communities of color, and working class resistance to white supremacy and colonialism. We must build our own directly-democratic spaces and institutions that we can leverage against the capitalist and ruling classes when the time is right.
Industrial and workplace struggles
In Marin service workers can organize to demand a larger share of the corporate profits. Day labourers can organize for a living wage and better work days. They can organize for more time off and better working conditions. Care workers can organize around their work hours and their pay, as well as their patients’ health. Office workers must organize in their own workspaces while organizing in solidarity with the service workers that cater to their work environments. Teachers can organize to demand better funding for our schools, and students can organize for a better curriculum and liberated learning environments.
We must learn that we are the ones doing the work, and together we are the ones who have power over how it gets done, when it gets done, and how much we get paid for it.
We must learn that our bosses and those that oppress us are already organized. They have wealthy associations and meetings that argue for their needs. They operate within the halls of power, which is what keeps us out of them.
We must start building the institutions that lift each other up. We can look to networks of worker-owned cooperatives like Arizmendi here in San Rafael and Cooperation Jackson in Mississippi that provide good working class jobs while building housing and liberated spaces for their employees and their neighbours. These cooperatives are unique because they support each other, funding the creation of new cooperatives in a network that challenges capitalist and patriarchal notions of hierarchy and agency.
Cooperatives on their own are not enough. We must bring education into these spaces to ensure that they continue to strive against oppression and towards liberation. As Fred Hampton said – without education, you just have neo-colonialism. But cooperatives can provide good paying jobs where the workers retain control over their work environment, while giving them the breathing space to build the communities that they want to see.
But we don’t have to focus on just workplaces. A solidarity economy relies on community gardening efforts to supply us with food, it relies on rapid response and mutual aid to build resilient communities. All these efforts have long histories of being rooted in the struggles of people of color.
Tenant and neighborhood councils
Forty percent of Marin’s residents are tenants, while a large chunk of the remainder pay off mortgages on homes they can barely afford.
We must fight rising rents, evictions, and harassment at the hands of landlords. We must fight the system that gives some of us no option but to live unsheltered and at constant risk of police harassment. We need to confront landlords, developers, and cops when they loot our communities on the path to gentrification.
Housing communities in Marin are already organized and we must join in their struggle against corrupt public housing agencies, while initiating tenant councils in our own buildings and rental units.
We must come together in block and neighborhood assemblies. We can look to the block organizations in Detroit for models of organizing around hyper local issues, while looking just across the bay in Oakland for models of organizing tenants in corporate buildings.
A liberated press
Marin’s news sources are beholden to liberal politics at best and corporate coffers at worst. We need news outlets that don’t hide behind curtains of apoliticallness and reporting on the status quo. We need space that gives voice to citizens, controlled by citizens. We need a forum of debate and conversation that moves beyond the norms set by Marin’s elites.
Solidarity is how we win
This is not the first crisis that has been dumped upon us by a system that thrives off of crises, and as the climate disaster deepens, it will not be the last. If we do the hard work of real organizing now, we will be better prepared to handle the next one.
When we all contribute to the hard work, we give voice to struggles of marginalized people.
Let’s build the new world in the shell of the old.