Building Power and Safety Through Solidarity–DRUM

DRUM IS AN INTERGENERATIONAL South Asian and Indo- Caribbean membership-based organization in New York City. Our members are working-class youth and adults whose lives have been upended by the coronavirus pandemic. As our neighborhoods transformed into COVID-19 hotspots, DRUM reimagined how to build power and organize in the absence of in-person meetings, rallies or outreach. 

We pivoted our work to meet people’s realities and began a new campaign, Building Power and Safety through Solidarity (PaSS), in which we established a framework on how to organize over the phone and online. Organizers and members conducted phone calls with community members to ensure they had access to food as well as essential information about the virus and safety protocols. We engaged with them on why the richest country in the world was unable to support working-class communities amidst a crisis. The campaign built a culture of mutuality and collective care, pushing individuals to think about the needs of other community members not solely themselves. 

Through the PaSS campaign we made over 12,075+ calls to build working class power. We connected individuals to ongoing campaigns and efforts such as organizing rent strikes, building women’s power to end gender based violence, advocating for an excluded worker’s fund in New York State, criminal justice reform, and the cancellation of rent. Amidst isolation and uncertainty, the PaSS campaign allowed us to bring new people into our movements to prepare larger forces to fight upcoming struggles. 

At every level, the government has spent decades slashing funding for public programs and benefits that our lives depend on while expanding police and military budgets. The pandemic has laid bare the consequences of these policies as the number of COVID-19 deaths continue to rise across the country. 

New York has garnered national praise for drastically lowering the rate of COVID-19 infections. While we welcome this shift, we recognize that this so-called “success” rests upon the graves of the city’s most marginalized residents. The low death toll in nations such as Vietnam demonstrates that the deaths of low-income residents of color, particularly Black and Latinx residents, could and should have been prevented. 

During the peak of the pandemic, our relatives, friends and community died in overwhelmed hospitals or at their homes because their case was not severe enough to merit hospitalization. Our communities (and even more so Black and Latinx communities) paid the price for austerity measures. For example, in the last two decades in New York City, 18 hospitals have closed. These closures created the conditions for hospitals in low-income communities of color to become overwhelmed when COVID-19 infections first spiked. 91% of DRUM members live in neighborhoods impacted by hospital closures. 

Crises transform society. But first we need to transform as a people. The pandemic represents an opening to bring more people into our movements so we can fight for the world we’re trying to build on the other side of the pandemic. For those wondering whether their loved ones would have survived COVID-19 had their local hospital not been overwhelmed, the thwarted priorities of the state are clearer than ever. We’ve seen community members who would normally not support defunding the police now respond to the national uprisings in agreement that the state is far too invested in locking certain groups up in cages than they are in keeping them safe and healthy. 

The bereaved relatives, the family forced to the street in the middle of the pandemic, the unemployed, the hungry, the struggling masses have to be organized together to build the power we need. As movements, we must invest in their political education and leadership development to transform their anger and consciousness, to abolish the systems that do not serve us, and to build the world we need and deserve.