Organizing Atlanta Neighborhoods during Covid-19

Like many of our comrades around the country, we socialists in Atlanta have been confronted with the immediate task of organizing our communities in the face of the combined catastrophes of the coronavirus pandemic and, perhaps more importantly, the rapidly developing global economic crisis. I am a recent graduate from the Georgia Institute of Technology; and many of my comrades from YDSA GT and I have been coordinating with Metro Atlanta DSA and other community organizations during this situation to establish mutual-aid efforts in the city. It is crucial that we position ourselves to respond effectively not only to the immediate circumstances that people find themselves in as a result of quarantine, but also to what will be, as the global economy further worsens. The lessons from the coming weeks will be instructive.

Living in Atlanta presents many challenges for working-class people during the best of times. Our city is rapidly gentrifying, driving up rent for those already struggling to make ends meet, as well as displacing the homeless to make space for real estate development projects. Atlanta is also a black-majority city, so many of its citizens face the challenges of institutionalized white supremacy compounded with economic concerns. This situation has certainly worsened in recent days. The perpetually looming threat of rent, the overburdened medical services, and the stresses of sheltering-in-place have taxed already-stressed communities to the breaking point—and things are likely to get even worse.

These are the many problems with which socialists have had to contend, but we are already beginning to act, and this is cause for some hope. Currently, we are aiding and organizing our immediate communities in three crucial areas: rent and landlord concerns, grocery support, and community gardening.

The perennial problem of rent poses an immediate threat for most of us. April 1st was bad, to be sure—but May 1st will be even worse. In response, it is crucial for socialists to begin organizing their neighborhoods and apartment blocks as much as possible. Talk of a rent strike has been floating around on social media, and while the general applicability of such a tactic is dubious at best given the current circumstances, we must take advantage of the class consciousness developing around the issue. As the concerns of eviction, impoverishment, and starvation become more widely felt among working-class people, we socialists must engage with our neighbors, reaching out within our communities to those in need. 

We have engaged our neighbors, asking if they need help navigating their leases and to approach their landlords over rent concerns. While our success on this particular issue has been limited thus far, there are many potential ways to agitate and organize our communities in the future. In our particular circumstances, this means distributing flyers and propaganda alerting landlords and tenants in the neighborhood that an organized body is beginning to form. While we wait on the results of this campaign, we are also providing other aid to our neighbors.

During this pandemic, getting groceries is an acute concern for many. This problem is aggravated by panic-buying, shortages of supplies, and potential exposure to the virus itself. We have attempted to alleviate these problems by forming a simple and accessible mutual aid network. 

For all those who need help getting groceries, our system has a group of drivers who collect lists of groceries needed from those in our neighborhood, which they then buy and deliver. Given the number of drivers in our group, each driver needs only to drive for groceries once every two weeks. This means a limited amount of exposure for the drivers, as well as fairly frequent grocery deliveries for everyone, without the extra delivery fees of other services. Coordinators are in place to make sure that drivers are compensated for the upfront costs of the groceries. 

We aim to integrate this system with other ongoing efforts in the city to address the needs of working people around Atlanta. Currently, we are coordinating with the Atlanta Survival Program; however, we remain independent to ensure that we are able to ensure the correct socialist organizational tactics are present. We are grateful for the work that many organizations like ASP are doing, however it is essential that we serve as a spark for growing class consciousness, not simple charity alone. Our ultimate goal is to integrate with the efforts of MADSA, not only to serve as widely as possible now, but to more effectively organize communities in the future. 

The other main way we have organized Atlanta throughout this crisis involves community gardening efforts. While certainly not a short-term response to food concerns, given the various challenges of gardening for any large group of people, this type of mutual aid is important for introducing the concept of direct action to working class people in a tangible, pragmatic way. Comrades have taken open plots of land nearby, and over the past weeks have cultivated a large variety of foods and herbs for our group. 

The scale of this project will depend on our ability to reach out to the whole community, but this is the kind of hands-on action that we will require when our capacity to challenge capitalism itself becomes much more possible. This action is beginning to foster a sense of dependence on each other and a connection to our fellow laborers, as well as our work that happens outside of capital. By addressing the immediate needs of fellow workers, we lay the groundwork for a world beyond capitalism.

Our current situation, the compound crisis that we face, presents many challenges that American socialists, particularly young socialists, have never faced in their lives as activists. However, we must be bold in our confrontation with the pressures of capital. What we face today is a real chance to flex our muscles as anti-capitalists, a chance to forge a society that is free from the crises of our current system. As somber as our present seems, it is out of such circumstances that we must build our future. 

Kat is a member of Metro Atlanta DSA and a recent graduate of YDSA at Georgia Tech.

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