NYC DSA Responds to a Climate Crisis by Organizing Labor

How NYC-DSA mobilized a chapter during a smog crisis when the city did not take care of its people, and stayed true to socialist priorities and messaging throughout.

This article first appeared in the Summer 2023 Print Issue, which can be found here.


Hazardous levels of smog from Canadian wildfires enveloped New York in early June, and while the state and city administrations had ample notice to provide help to its constituents, it was a few committed socialists from the Lower Manhattan branch that kickstarted a citywide rapid response mask distribution effort for essential workers. This mobilization tied directly into our priority campaigns and brought the chapter together in a strong display of solidarity. 

After a few Signal messages on the morning of June 7, dozens of volunteers, including YDSA members, descended on the NYC-DSA office to donate masks and send them to nearby businesses. Comms folks fired off short links, reels, and graphics — translated to Mandarin and Spanish as well. Remote organizers tracked resources on spreadsheets and made calls to local businesses — also in multiple languages — so that volunteers in person could deliver the requested masks. By that evening, the chapter pulled together labor, climate, and housing organizers and hosted a mass call to engage people in fighting back. 

The next day, members with vehicles transported masks from sources like a firm in Mt. Vernon to UPS and Amazon facilities as we received requests from the workers that regularly organize with DSA. We provided thousands of masks to Los Deliveristas, Worker Justice Project, Trader Joe’s United, Starbucks Workers United, and many more. These actions strengthened our relationships with organized labor, aligning with the Union Power priority campaign that seeks to support workers, such as in the UPS contract fight.  

While interviewed about our efforts, our messaging stayed strictly political, and laid responsibility with corporate interests that are destroying our climate and endangering workers. Our focus on masks for essential workers served to represent the commitment to labor solidarity we have been building, especially as workers who couldn’t stay home were affected more by the lack of direction and resources from governments and bosses. On June 8, Governor Hochul eventually announced mask distribution at some city centers and police stations, but those were inaccessible for workers who couldn’t step away from the job or stop the vehicle outside of their route. Instead, we brought the masks where workers needed them. We also tied in the fight against Mayor Adams’ city budget, which pulls millions in funding out of schools, libraries, social services, and more. Workers in the gig economy making unlivable wages are forced to continue working during unsafe conditions like wildfire smog, and then suffer consequences that are left untreated due to lack of healthcare. Adams’ budget, representing his administration, ignores New York City constituents, and NYC-DSA stepped up to fill the void. 

Just the month before in May, NYC-DSA Ecosocialists won the long campaign to include the Build Public Renewables Act in the state budget. During the smog week, EcoSoc was in the middle of the #DumpDriscoll campaign to prevent Hochul’s corporate pick from heading the New York Power Authority, and asked folks on the mass call to tell their state senators to say no to Justin Driscoll. On June 9, news broke that Driscoll’s nomination had been pulled, clinching yet another win for EcoSoc. 

During this smog crisis, the intertwined nature of our work as socialists across different working groups and campaigns was the reason for our successful rapid response. This mobilization happened because we had the connections and skills to take collective action, pull those resources together and distribute them where necessary. As we live through a climate crisis, labor crisis, and public health crisis all manufactured by capitalism which is choking out the air we breathe, we still cannot let hopelessness creep in. We can continue to organize against the corporations and their profit motive that would see the planet burn for an extra dollar. NYC-DSA pulled through for the city because we keep us safe, and walked away with even stronger campaigns and dedicated organizers across the board.