A letter on organizational practices, direction and democracy
Recently our organization pulled back from a lot of the court-case outreach we had been doing; this was a decision made because with the moratorium’s expiration and with our organizational growth, conditions were new enough that we needed to pause and reset. That is to say, we were reaching more tenants and yet finding ourselves less capable of winning any particular fight.
We’ve seen legal tactics — that for the past year and a half have been relatively trusty tools to stop or at least delay evictions — prove ineffective: judges are routinely tossing out ERAP’s and rejecting OSC’s. This also comes along with more intra-organizational discussions about losing — about attuning ourselves to defeats, as we are a small organization in comparison to a world-historic project: overcoming — abolishing — private property.
During the moratorium, which was in place for the first year and change of our organization’s existence, we routinely won. We were fighting mostly illegal evictions and through organization, direct action and collective power we were able to stop many. And we continue to do this, as illegal evictions are attempted daily in Brooklyn.
That said, as the moratorium has expired, and we are now daily facing and struggling against and witnessing waves of displacement cycle through the eviction mill, we are attuning ourselves as an organization to these dire prospects, to these new conditions . This means sober and frank conversations and analyses about the nature of our work, the program we are enacting, the terrain into which we are intervening and the forces we are confronting. What all this is saying, is that we are now regularly, even daily, fielding calls from tenants who are soon to be or already evicted and often we have no sustainable recourse, no practical and employable answers. At our current capacity and level of self-organization we have no way of sustainably, and without prejudice, stopping these legal evictions. If we tried our numbers would slowly fill up the precincts and our organization as it stands would be ground to dust. This is not an admittance of failure, but a recognition of reality and present circumstances.
So what are we doing now?
We’re still doing thorough intake of folks calling our hotline, emailing us and DM’ing us. We’re constantly working with tenants across Brooklyn and strategizing with them against both legal and illegal eviction-attempts, doing guerilla repairs and restoring the home to apartments. We’re waging public/smear campaigns against shithead landlords. We’re organizing buildings. Through this this we’re also frequently doing stoopwatches.
Stoopwatches have been a hallmark of our organization. A beautiful show of community and solidarity, a stoopwatch is a form of direct action wherein we as organizers and tenants pull up a seat in front of a neighbors’ apartment or home and we keep watch. We deter harassment and illegal lockchanges. We make a material intervention into a cyclical conflict. We turn the lights on. We ensure that the abusive landlords know that they are on watch.
A whole host of new organizers have joined BED since 964 Park Place; 964 Park Place, among so many other things, was a historic stoopwatch. At 964 the stoop blossomed in so many ways: it was a space of political education, a space of social reproduction, a spiritual space, a tactical place; a place of hurt and conflict. It was where we met and broke bread. We got attacked on the stoop and we held strong.
This is all to say that what we’re doing now is, among other things, a lot of stoopwatches. A lot of stoopwatching. This isn’t to critique any specific stoopwatch that is ongoing or being planned, rather to identify a sort of reflex that’s emerging or showing itself. In part, context and new conditions are driving this: we can’t just file an ERAP and expect an eviction process to be paused, but we definitely can hold a stoopwatch. It behooves us now to consider exactly why we do stoopwatches and to consider how they fit into our program.
Most simply, stoopwatches are a form of direct action eviction defense. As we understand and recognize harassment to be a form of eviction-attempt — and we are aware of the prevalence of self-eviction and informal eviction — stoopwatches are explicit defensive deployments. Stoopwatches stop harassment, they keep people in their homes. We Keep Us Safe etc.
What does a stoopwatch require? What does a stoopwatch cost? Anywhere from three to twelve 2-hour shifts, usually at least three heads a shift. On top of this, the logistics of filling shifts and maintaining communication. Notwithstanding the routinely-materialized threat of landlord and pig harassment and the sort of subsequent navigating that ensues. This altogether requires immense effort, time and resources.
How best can we allocate our labor, how can we best direct the energy of our dedicated and revolutionary organizers?
Our [as of yet internal] Points of Unity puts forth a fairly explicit program to which this organization attends. Highlights include communism, the abolition of private property, working class-controlled communities, the end of evictions, tenant power, democratic organization and praxis. How do stoopwatches fit into this program? For one, the stopping of any kind of evictions, and this means evictions of all kind, is an absolute requirement to building working class power. We cannot build our class’ strength if our class is defenseless to the violences of capital, and of our class antagonists.
For another, and I might be called an idealist for this, stoopwatches hold for us immense symbolic weight — they perform the mythos of the organization! They are symbols of dedication, and an expression that we would rather sit in the fucking snow and protect our neighbors than be out at a bar (you could be anywhere in the world right now). And more so, they are evidence of the fact that we as tenants are aware of our own precarity. They are expressions of our reconciling with that precarity. They are expressions of self-preservation.
Moreover, stoopwatches are sites of incredible organization-building. The stoop is where significant organizational social reproduction occurs. ‘Organizational social reproduction’ refers to how the organization and its programs and principles are reproduced through our behavior and relations with each other. What I mean is that the stoop is where we get to know each other and to struggle with each other and learn to build with each other; ideas fly around real fast on the stoop; thinking can be very collaborative.
This isn’t to advocate for this unstructured organization-building or to say that it doesn’t happen elsewhere (as it does, and does so consciously), but to identify this space as one where the intangibles of community, organization and culture are fostered.
That said, we cannot delude ourselves into thinking that atomized or one-off eviction defenses or stoopwatches will naturally, or ever, just cohere into the historical agent of change — an organized working class. We cannot delude ourselves into thinking that each eviction defense is a spreading of the seeds of socialism. This is idealistic and serves our emotions and egos more than it does the working class. On the other hand, this does not mean that the spectacles of a defense and of a stoopwatch do not have material effect including and beyond the tenant whose home is being defended. Stoopwatches intervene into the day-to-day culture: the value of a neighbor seeing a stoopwatch and asking what the fuck is this is important and is not to be diminished. But socialism it does not make.
So why the reflex to stoopwatches? Because they’re familiar. Because they are tried and true. Because, given new conditions, the urgency is high, the velocity of dispossession intense. Because we seem to be low on options sometimes. Because we’ve been overwhelmed by the avalanche of evictions and we haven’t sat down to reassess, let alone catch our breath. Because a stoopwatch is something we can consider, do and then have done. Because tenants like the sound of them. Because they give tenants peace of mind. Because we can do a stoopwatch and then see in a tenant’s eyes the sort of meaning it has – the affective realization of collective power. I want to recognize and uphold the importance of these beautiful moments while imploring us to not get lost in the liberal pursuit of good feelings.
We must consciously avoid the savior-adjacent ethos of, in the face of inevitable losses, becoming a cushion to the soon-dispossessed. Making evictions less awful. We cannot confront the fact of immense displacement purely reactively, as if every eviction is an organizational crisis, though we recognize each eviction to be in its own a crisis. Immense displacement — primitive accumulation we could call it—is the precedent and continuing logic at the heart of the capitalist regime. Just because we have formed an organization to confront dispossession does not mean that dispossession will stop or even slow or even not speed up.
We talk a lot about winning and losing — about what a win or a loss looks like in any given campaign — but I’m interested in talking about how wins and losses fit into our program. Are all losses the same? Can we predict them? What other analysis do we need here?
We cannot chase the high of defeating the bad guy: rather we must commit to the revolutionary project of building working class power — which is not synonymous with, but is inseparable from, the stopping of evictions. Working class power is the only means to a complete end to evictions. That means: more deep and enduring organizing; organizing tenant associations; and organizing our own buildings.
And for BED, I think this means an organizational reconciling with the role of stoopwatches specifically and spectacle/barricades/adventurism generally. This might mean a conscious reorientation towards organizing and campaigns that are less immediately gratifying, that are more coherently about building power. We need to combat every drop of saviorism in this organization. This means not an abandonment of the stoopwatch as a practice, but a conscious and constant connecting of this practice to our program. This means not an abandonment of direct action — because direct action so often does get the goods—but a conscious and democratic and careful approach to direct action.
This means, even more so, a diversifying of our tactics. How can we use the successes of past stoopwatches to replicate their effect without necessarily replicating their organizational cost, without draining ourselves so quickly. Can we set up rapid-response networks and plant BED flags, cover a neighborhood or a block or even a building in our propaganda so that a landlord knows that we are on watch? Can we do a one-day stoopwatch and canvas the neighborhood/block so that all the neighbors know what’s going on? Can we project a video of comrade Fidele’s militant speech onto an adjacent wall so that nearby landlords hesitate before changing a tenant’s locks?
How can we make stoopwatches more reciprocal?
How can we integrate different movement organizations and different communities into the practice of stoopwatching? How can we, more so, connect disparate stoopwatches into a network, into a more cohesive program?
Or, pivoting a bit, how can we make stoopwatches more consciously attend to our program? How can we make stoopwatches a locus from which we can build working class power, aside from the intra-organizational characteristics mentioned above? (How can we make the split between stoopwatches and building power false?)
I think maybe we could institute (more) organizing drives from each stoopwatch. We could canvas for new BED-members from each stoopwatch. We could integrate organized tenant associations into our stoopwatches. Of course, we must hold onto the important organization and culture-building that occurs at a stoopwatch, that brings in new organizers — but should do so without draining our organizational battery. Without, maybe more importantly than “capacity,” perpetuating a project wherein it is individual or select BEDmembers who feel pressure to make sure a stoopwatch is carried through!
What do we do from here?
I think we rely on what we’ve built to reassess, to soberly consider our strengths and successes, these conditions and their precedents to continue fighting evictions, stopping displacement and building power.
Solidarity and care
– comrade on the stoop