Organizing to Tax the Rich in California

Soak the rich! California DSA and YDSA chapters are working with unions and other partners to win “Proposition 15″ and transfer money from corporations to schools.


“Go big or go home” may as well have become Californian DSA chapters’ unofficial motto this election cycle.

More than a dozen DSA and YDSA chapters up and down the coast are working with unions and other partners to win “Proposition 15: The Schools and Communities First Act,” a ballot initiative that would tax wealthy corporations like Disney and reclaim about $12 billion dollars a year for working-class communities. With chapters coordinating phonebanks, rallies, banner drops, and sharing resources, this network is the first attempt in California to organize local DSA and YDSA efforts into a statewide initiative. Following our commitment to building strong relationships with labor unions, this effort is also already making promising strides in expanding socialists’ ability to identify, mobilize, and develop workers’ capacity to move their co-workers towards political action through the language of class struggle.

For over 40 years, funding for California’s public schools has been decimated and community services have been gutted and privatized. Meanwhile, financial backers of “No on Prop 15” like Chevron and Bay Area real-estate empire Sares Regis have lined their shareholders’ pockets at the expense of the working class, destroying our planet, gentrifying our cities, and profiting off tax loopholes sold as protections for middle-class homeowners.

This is class struggle, and it’s time we win a transformative battle. That has been our message to Californians in over 16,000 calls made to voters about Prop 15. Rather than dilute this struggle through progressive rhetoric, socialists across the state are naming our class enemies, making it clear that capitalists have been using every instrument of power at their disposal to ensure that the wealth we create stays concentrated in their hands.

Through the effort, hundreds of socialists are learning how to have one-on-one conversations with voters, and dozens more are being trained on how to host phonebanks, cut VAN lists, coordinate direct-action events, speak with the media, work with coalition partners, and develop a socialist vision for Prop 15 while ensuring a path to electoral success. Here in Yolo and Sacramento, our joint phonebanking efforts have helped encourage newer socialist organizers to take on leadership roles by rotating responsibilities in each event.

Using lists built through Bernie work, our members are also learning to identify potential DSA recruits and Prop 15 volunteers. Thanks to these efforts, we have seen incredible growth in the internal capacity of our own chapters, not to mention the expansion of DSA-LA’s membership and the development of a new cohort of YDSA leaders in the Bay Area. This will all culminate in our collaborative 15 for 15 event, during which chapters will host 15 straight days of phonebanks leading up to Election Day.

Perhaps most exciting of all, however, is the Labor for Prop 15 effort. Socialists and their co-workers are dialing Californians arm-in-arm at a scale we have not yet seen in our organization. DSA and local unions, primarily led by the academic student employees at the University of California (UC) and including the Oakland and Los Angeles teachers locals, technical workers at UC, service employees with Service Employees (SEIU) Local 1021, and postdocs at UC, are co-hosting statewide phonebanks, putting class struggle at the center of our conversations with voters. Comrades are also phonebanking about Labor for Prop 15 within their own unions and have taken important steps towards identifying, mobilizing, and developing at times inactive union members. In doing so, we and comrades in Labor for Prop 15 hope to strengthen and grow our own unions while building a militant core group of socialist unionists.

Lastly, DSA for Prop 15 has bolstered class-struggle election work in California while tying these campaigns’ visions to our broader socialist fight against austerity. State senate candidate and DSA member Jackie Fielder rallied our statewide team at our Prop 15 kick-off event, speaking about the need to tax the rich and reverse decades of underfunding of our schools and other community efforts. Based in San Francisco, Fielder has tied Yes on Prop 15 to her anti-real estate developer messaging as she takes on the most real-estate funded state senator in California, Scott Wiener. In Alameda County, Jovanka Beckles’ campaign for AC Transit Board has repeatedly called for taxing the wealthiest to provide a much-needed robust public transit system for the predominantly POC ridership of AC Transit, a message Beckles brought to one of our Prop 15 phonebanks.

By working alongside democratic socialist candidates and labor unions, DSA for Prop 15’s statewide campaign promises to construct a strong, sustainable movement for democratic socialism in California.

Morganne B.-M. is a member of Yolo DSA. Seth S. is the co-chair of Sacramento DSA’s Elections Committee. Both are members of DSA’s Bread & Roses caucus.