To the former members of Street Watch LA,
As of Sunday, August 21st, 2022, members of Democratic Socialists of Los Angeles (DSA-LA), led by the “elected Housing and Homelessness Committee chair”, and with support from members of Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN), enacted a forced “pause” of the organization, after ongoing internal dissonance.
In a Zoom meeting that was scheduled without group consensus and facilitated with forced censorship (limited chat feature, people being muted and booted), Street Watch members were told we had 30 days to submit reimbursements and requests for social media posts — after which the organization would be paused indefinitely, funds would no longer be accessible, and social media accounts would no longer be active.
This turn of events comes on the heels of ongoing and increasingly escalated repression, dismissal, erasure, and gaslighting of Street Watch members who are Unhoused, Disabled, Black, Indigenous, queer, trans, women, and femmes of color. There are specific examples and instances of harm inflicted then denied, of support asked for and not given, and of powerful organizing work being invalidated and dismissed as “mission drift”. These individual accounts, however, are representative of deep-seeded institutional rot within the organization. The tree does not produce poisonous fruit on its own; it is tainted by toxic roots.
Others have attempted, and will continue to attempt, to make the narrative seem like it is about "interpersonal conflict". They will try to say that "individual beef" became "conflated and blown out of proportion".
We have already been told by a white affiliate of LA CAN that we “have been dealing with one (Black) man’s problems, and he’s been gaslighting you into thinking you have problems that don’t exist.” He went on to say that “one man” is not a Street Watch member, despite his long and well-documented history with the organization. This is one of many flagrant attempts to dismiss the consistent criticism that characteristics of white supremacy culture are within Street Watch, by trying to minimize the dynamic to a simple disagreement. This person continued on, in the same meeting, to further individualize collective group work as a “separate” project of another person of color.
In this instance, a non-Street Watch member felt empowered to define whose work was or was not considered to be a part of Street Watch and who was or was not considered a member. He did so with confidence, and without objection from any of the DSA-LA or LA CAN contingents.
Which leads us to some of the main aspects of the organization’s failure: an intentional lack of transparency regarding decision-making processes, “leadership” roles, and the influence of the so-called “parent organizations”, DSA-LA and LA CAN, over the “political project” that they collectively founded.
This letter has been drafted by a group of former Street Watch members with a rich array of intersecting identities who have been actively organizing direct actions, mutual aid and outreach efforts, social media campaigns, archival and research projects, as well as providing emotional support to other BIPOC members of the organization. Our time with Street Watch ranges, although the majority of us have joined in the past 2 years, and since joining, have dedicated much of our lives to growing and supporting what we know to be crucial, on-the-ground work.
We provide this context to say that at least within the past 2 years, Street Watch has never had a clear theory of change, organizational structure, accountability process to deal with harm and conflict, trauma informed practices, trainings about white supremacy culture (given the majority of members are white), disability justice, a clear definition of its material relationship to Abolition, nor an idea of whether its base was non-Unhoused or Unhoused people (e.g. if the base is Unhoused, why are most members not Unhoused?).
In the past 2 years, there has been little to no support for Street Watch from DSA-LA. In fact, DSA’s affiliation has often been a hindrance (as was the case when access to funds raised by Street Watch was blocked and delayed by DSA treasurers). The reality is that a majority of active Street Watch members left DSA once they realized it was not a requirement to be a member or outright refused to join DSA in the first place because of disagreements along political lines.
Street Watch, many of us believed, had become its own entity in practice, given the lack of any substantial influence or support from DSA.
Despite this material reality, once a group of active Street Watch members took decisive action to address white supremacy culture within the org, a group of primarily housed and white DSA-LA Street Watch members coordinated aggressive counteraction that has led us to the current dissolvement. White “founders” and members who had not been actively organizing with the group in over a year began showing up to meeting spaces, arguing against the existence of white supremacy culture in the org. Other people of color were weaponized to back-up this denial. So-called policies of "consensus" were wielded selectively — implemented when convenient for white non-Unhoused members, but ignored when challenged by Unhoused members.
DSA and LA CAN must be accountable to the many people whose energy and labor built up this “project” — and more so to the Unhoused people with whom they purport to be in solidarity, not the other way around. There has been continued obstruction to establish a process of redressing harms and arbitrary judgments as to who is worthy of holding membership and whose work is deemed valid or part of the organization. Despite their entitlement and attempts to hoard power, neither DSA or LA CAN members carry the authority to make unilateral decisions for Street Watch. Street Watch is supposed to be non-hierarchical, meaning we are accountable to each other, not any individual who declares executive decision making. When the majority of your active membership base did not vote on your “chairheads” or “bylaws”, then it’s time to abolish your fucking chairheads and bylaws. If LA CAN and DSA demand the membership of Street Watch be accountable to them, those orgs better start providing a lot more value here. DSA and LA CAN benefit greatly from the efforts of Street Watch organizers, particularly BIPOC and houseless people, but they will punish, ostracize, gaslight, and bully anyone who tries to hold them accountable until they leave.
Over the last several months, we have repeatedly witnessed: willful ignorance and "confusion,” dismissiveness, centering of white feelings, reversals in narratives of victimhood (not unlike DSA-LA’s claims of “reverse racism” in its own organization), tantrums and white fragility, intimidation tactics and manipulation, a sense of entitlement to the traumatizing labor of explanations from BIPOC who’ve been harmed, resistance to the identification and disruption of white supremacy, and a complete disregard for the pain, harm, agony, and exhaustion these behaviors cause BIPOC members. Amidst this toxicity and abuse, members of color showed patience and restraint, over months, in a sincere attempt to take every measure to restore relationships. People were invited to discussions in an effort to educate, but they chose to continue their abuse through deflection and denial because that education did not happen on their terms.
The culture of this organization is extractive, individualized, and steeped in white supremacy. It is rigid when convenient for said white “leaders” yet flexible when it suits them–as exhibited by the sudden reappearance of long inactive members and the platforming of non-members. There are no strict guidelines for who may speak as a member of Street Watch, but when members of color express harms they’ve experienced, they are invalidated. Street Watch’s toxic culture of white supremacy results in constant and repeated harm to Black people, people of color in general, women, and femmes of color in particular. These same folks are further traumatized by a complete lack of acknowledgement of — let alone accountability from — those causing harm.
Street Watch should have been a supportive place to grow and to empower each other in our growth. The fact that it is not, however, doesn't mean the work ends. We will continue to do the work of revolution in spaces where our lived experience is not only believed, but prioritized, and where we don’t have the constant and crushing distraction of having to justify our experiences, our efforts, or ourselves.
We call for the relinquishment of remaining Street Watch funds from DSA-LA to Street Watch and the restoration of access to Street Watch social media accounts.
We insist on LA CAN openly denouncing DSA-LA and committing to invest in education to address toxic masculinity, as well as taking tangible steps toward the active inclusion of trans people in their organization.
They must provide a public apology for siding with problematic white people from DSA and SW.
The violence of white supremacy, toxic masculinity, and cisheteropatriarchy is ingrained in each of us. It is reflected back in our spaces and all aspects of our lives; fighting these oppressive systems demands that we be militant in our refusal to accept these power dynamics and harms as immutable. Our collective liberation must be rooted in the intersectionality of our struggles. We cannot fight the causes or conditions of houselessness without fighting white supremacy culture.
"All too often folks show up with an, 'I am here to support you!' attitude that they wear like a badge. Ultimately making struggles out to feel like an extracurricular activity that they are getting “ally points” for. Self-asserted allies may even have anti-oppression principles and values as window dressing. Perhaps you’ve seen this quote by Lilla Watson on their materials: “If you come here to help me, you’re wasting your time. If you come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” They are keen to posture, but their actions are inconsistent with their assertions.
Meaningful alliances aren’t imposed, they are consented upon. The self-proclaimed allies have no intention to abolish the entitlement that compelled them to impose their relationship upon those they claim to ally with."
— Accomplices Not Allies: Abolishing the Ally Industrial Complex, on IndigenousAction.org