The people of Washington, D.C. need a functioning and lively Communist Party; there is no question about that. The recent attacks on democracy, in particular D.C.’s home rule, show the necessity of a working-class-led people’s movement to not only defend democracy but to create the conditions in order to be on the offensive and expand democracy. That looks like the full enfranchisement of the 700,000+ residents of the District of Columbia, incorporated as a federated state within the United States.
The lack of democracy for a “city” with more residents than Wyoming and Vermont, shows that the United States government has no right to tell other sovereign countries throughout the world what democracy is, and what it should look like. We know why D.C. is not a state though. It is because it is historically a majority-Black city that would give Congress an additional democratic force, with likely Black political representatives from the state of the Douglass Commonwealth.
This is why we signed on to the #HandsOffDC coalition immediately when the call went out from our coalition partners, Harriet’s Wildest Dreams and DC 4 Democracy. The call was issued in response to the decision from the Republican-led House and the Democrats that capitulated to them (including the President) to overturn one of our democratically-passed laws. This not only exposed, but sharpened the contradiction of home rule — which allows the district to have its own governing structure, but requires all of its laws to be approved by Congress. This is a colonial-like structure. The people must recognize this, and fight for statehood in the here and now.
On the topic of crime, given the recent hysteria in the Washington Post and from various corporate-backed media pundits who do not live in D.C., it is true that while carjackings and some gun violence has persisted coming out of the pandemic, violent crime is still on the decline in the district. The media hysteria, which is a reactionary response to the George Floyd Rebellion of 2020, is creating the conditions for fear and anti-Black policy, such as increasing the level of policing — a capitulation to the fascist-led Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), and the cutting of funding for people’s needs such as housing, healthcare, and education. This is clear from Mayor Muriel Bowser’s current budget proposal.
We must be honest, and not monolithically paint all of the D.C. city politicians and political institutions with a broad brush. The D.C. Council in the past year has passed some very progressive legislation, ahead of many metropolitan areas in the country, for which our party and mass organizations have played a leading role. An example is the passage of the Local Resident Voting Rights Act of 2021, which expands voting rights in the district to its noncitizen residents. This legislation may tip the balance of forces in our favor, and the main point of contention right now is getting it fully funded by the local government. After this, it will be up to our leading cadre and coalition partners to lead a mass GOTV field campaign to register these now 50,000 newly enfranchised residents. This may build the party in the process.
Fighting police repression
We must also look to guidance from other people struggling around the country that are either in the party or in our orbit. This includes the work of the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, who in Chicago recently passed legislation to enact (for the first time in U.S. history) police district councilors who will have significant say over police policy in the major metropolitan city. They recently elected pro-accountability and first-time officials from the communities that are affected by police violence in the majority of the police districts, leading to a sound defeat of the fascist FOP. They also helped elect a Black labor leader as Mayor, Brandon Johnson, who will be an ally to their struggle.
We need to learn the lessons from Chicago, apply what we can to D.C., and fight for a civilian police accountability council so that district residents can be more empowered when it comes to police policy and accountability. The families and victims of police crimes need justice and we need to be leading in that fight as Communists. This is clear in the recent police murders of Dalaneo Martin and countless others by not only MPD, but federal police departments like the Park Police that shot Martin in the back six times while waking him from his sleep. We also need to wholeheartedly support groups like Harriet’s Wildest Dreams and the DC Safety Squad, who are day in and day out fighting against these police murders. Our duty must be to build the DC Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression to support their work and build a mass movement in D.C. against police crimes.
Building the housing movement
Housing is still a very serious crisis in the district, leading to the displacement of countless families and the deaths of unhoused residents evicted from their encampments. Recent studies also came out saying that by 2028, encampment evictions could increase deaths among people experiencing homelessness by 25%. The local D.C. government has worked in lock-step with the Biden Administration to clear encampments at federal parks without finding any housing for those who were evicted. Mayor Bowser also eliminated signing bonuses for case managers that help to end homelessness, in order to pay for signing bonuses for police officers in the district.
The Mayor, in tandem with real estate and other big business interests, is continuing to sell off land and new housing development to big corporate landlords for very little, while these developers are able to create super-profits by completely controlling the rental market. A recent example is the Mayor creating incentives for developers to turn downtown D.C. into new housing developments. In parallel, rent-controlled housing in the district is about to see a historic 8-9% increase in rents starting this summer. The emergency legislation that Housing Committee Chair, Robert White, introduced was blocked by the Mayor’s office. Many D.C. residents will suffer from this attack on the poor.
We need to support tenants where we can, whether it be in purchasing buildings and converting them into cooperatives, fighting for an expansion of affordable housing, and fighting for true housing solutions, like social housing.
Strengthening political independence
We have to recognize these fights happening within the government and the social forces on the ground that are pushing for political change. It is great that we have one self-described democratic socialist sitting in the council, Janeese Lewis George of Ward 4, who is strong on many issues regarding labor, women’s rights and environmental justice. We must also recognize the progressive character of some other council members like Robert White, who put up a decent challenge to the Mayor in last year’s Democratic Party primary election. We must take advantage of the progressive tilt of the council at this very moment while we have the opportunity. Grassroots groups like Vendedores Unidos and Beloved Community Incubator were recently able to expand the rights of street vendors with a historic bill being passed in the council to decriminalize street vending in D.C. We can and must do more to push through progressive policy. Our current sights are on getting the normalization of U.S.–Cuba relations resolution passed in the council within these next few months.
These conditions can make the case for a true working-class and labor-led third-party. Notwithstanding, the D.C. Statehood Green Party still has ballot access and some popularity among segments of the population, particularly the older generation that had relations with the old Statehood Party, and with the popular third-party Presidential campaign of Ralph Nader in the year 2000. Our own party chair, Arturo Griffiths, ran for office on the Green Party ticket during this period, and almost won a seat on the council as an at-large council member.
The younger generation is looking for major changes electorally coming out of the Bernie Sanders campaigns. Some are maintaining working within the Democratic Party and running more progressive candidates that will be endorsed and supported by groups like the Democratic Socialists of America and the Working Families Party. The Working Families Party of D.C. participates in the Democratic Party primary and we should not be afraid of participating in this party to help develop political independence. D.C.’s home rule prohibits a single party from nominating all of the council’s at-large members, which improves the possibility of winning for independent candidates. A strong third-party could begin to build a higher level of independent infrastructure and organization for progressive and democratic forces that want to move away from the monopoly of the Democratic Party in the district. This is a component of our CPUSA Program.
Organizing for peace
What D.C. is lacking right now is a strong peace movement. A majority of the left and progressive peace forces are all fractured up and divided, primarily due to sectarian errors and low capacity to do much. We have a responsibility to not only the working class of our country but to humanity generally to prevent WWIII and a nuclear conflict. Being in Washington, D.C., the belly of the beast, we have a special responsibility to organize the D.C. community to show the federal institutions pushing for more conflict and war that the D.C. community does not support this! We must continue to work to unite the broad sections of the peace and solidarity movements in D.C., and try our best to organize a branch of the U.S. Peace Council. We must have a mass approach to peace and unite people on basic issues. This is not about Russia or Ukraine or Putin or any particular individual; it is about fighting to free the U.S. and world’s people from U.S. imperialism. We need to be as disciplined as possible so that we are not leading our class into frustration. It is our duty to lead them out of it.
D.C.’s labor movement
One also cannot forget about the labor movement in the district and the metropolitan area. ATU workers in Loudoun County in Virginia have been on strike against Keolis transit company for over 50 days. Keolis was a protagonist in the Holocaust, transporting victims in their trains to concentration camps, a history the company doesn’t want people to know.
The recent labor union victories at the Starbucks on P St. and La Colombe in Chinatown are major advances for barista workers, which helps build the momentum of the national Starbucks workers’ movement.
After 468 days at the bargaining table and a one-week strike in August, staffers at American University finalized a contract. We were active in this struggle.
We have also been in the fight to get the Burger King workers compensation for being unjustly fired on New Year’s Eve 2022 at the Connecticut Ave location.
In addition, it was a major victory to see Initiative 82 become law, and for tipped workers to finally see an increase in their minimum wage.
The Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights becoming law was another major victory that we played a role in. This will ultimately create protections for domestic workers in the city who are predominantly women, and many of whom are immigrants.
We also need to engage in the 2024 elections. The Ward 8 election is heating up with multiple candidates running for Trayon White’s seat. Two at-large seats will be up for grabs, as well as Wards 2, 4, and 7. State Board of Education and Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners will also hold elections. Not only must we participate in major voter registration campaigns for noncitizen voters, but we must consider running Communist candidates at the ANC level or otherwise.