AN OPEN LETTER RE: ATLANTA DSA FROM DARC’S FOUNDERS
This is an open letter to Atlanta DSA, and more specifically, Kelsea, Shafeka, Nora and all other members of the Steering Committee and former DARC leadership who have actively facilitated the theft and cooptation of the abolitionist group, Defund APD, Refund Communities (DARC). This is in direct response to Kelsea locking DARC organizers out of the campaign’s Gmail, Instagram, and Twitter accounts by changing all of the passwords and linking them to their personal email and phone number without any warning. This letter is also being written to rebuke and hold to public account Atlanta DSA’s continued attempts to take credit for the work of the DARC campaign, as a means of gaining additional clout and membership. Most importantly, this letter seeks to make public the ways in which Atlanta DSA leadership, and white organizers, continue to practice white supremacy, capitalism, and authoritarianism in its programming and decision-making processes at the direct expense of Black organizers.
As Black women founders and former active members of DARC, it is appalling to us how Atlanta DSA, a primarily white and non-Black POC organization, has weaponized white supremacy, white power, capitalism and clout to assume control of this campaign.
When Jasmine first came up with the idea to start a campaign to defund the Atlanta Police Department, she was not even familiar with the Atlanta DSA chapter. After a comrade recommended she combine her efforts with a newly formed Atlanta DSA working group, Jasmine agreed to collaborate. With this, DARC’s founding group was composed of two Black women, a Latinx man, and two white people. Early on, we all came to a shared agreement that, while we would be affiliated with Atlanta DSA, we would not be controlled, influenced, or directed by them, as the Atlanta DSA Steering Committee had a history of infiltrating and causing dysfunction within internal campaigns and being anti-Black. Collectively, the DARC core organizers did not want to be deeply associated with an organization that excluded and harmed Black people. For instance, the AfroSocialists working group in Atlanta DSA had only a single Black member for quite some time; the rest were other people of color and white people. Additionally, former Black leaders of Atlanta DSA have publicly had issues with the organization and its leadership. We didn’t want our work associated with Atlanta DSA particularly because it was not actively working to repair its negative behaviors and poor reputation.
For these reasons, the DARC founding core organizers agreed that the purpose of our relationship to Atlanta DSA was tactical. We wanted to focus on producing real work and results and recognized that utilizing DSA’s existing technical infrastructure (e.g. Zoom accounts and web development support) would allow us to more quickly pursue our mission to defund the Atlanta Police Department. Our decision to distance ourselves from the organization was validated by the fact that several DARC active members explicitly explained that they joined DARC because they were energized by the opportunity to abolish policing in Atlanta through sustained action, not because of any desire to join — and certainly not to endorse — the work of Atlanta DSA, mostly due to the reputation described above. Though we knew we still had more work to do to effectively bring more Black Atlantans into the campaign, DARC’s ability to operate autonomously resulted in successful coalition building with other groups; sustained education & outreach through our website, panel series and canvasses; and our first major campaign this summer — #NotOurBudget.
For the most part, this understanding of DARC’s autonomy was maintained and respected until this past July, when we formed the Stop Cop City (SCC) coalition, a campaign voted on and initiated by DARC’s active members. A few months before this, Kelsea, a white core organizer for DARC, joined the Atlanta DSA Steering Committee. During the SCC campaign, they began using their new authority to entrench the DARC campaign into Atlanta DSA at the active exclusion of DARC members. They made this decision despite clear working agreements within DARC that emphasized collective decision making and explicitly opposed a more prominent relationship with DSA. Throughout the SCC campaign, Kelsea repeatedly offered Atlanta DSA media opportunities to take credit for DARC’s work in the coalition and used DARC’s members as tools rather than partners. Instead of DARC members designing and planning community outreach strategies, canvasses, and flyering events, Kelsea invited DSA steering committee members to take on these roles and treated DARC members simply as bodies to show up at these events. Once involved, Atlanta DSA introduced a completely new top-down organizational structure that prized DSA’s “success” (metrics and efficiency), over the more elusive, but important work of building people power rooted within Black and impacted communities. These tactics not only eroded DARC active members’ trust, but also damaged the relationships DARC built over the past year with other organizations and organizers who were already wary of DSA’s involvement in radical spaces, particularly those dealing with issues directly impacting Black communities.
The rest of DARC’s core team was not initially privy to DSA’s expanded involvement in DARC’s work on the campaign, as we were focused on pushing the Stop Cop City work forward and were consistently misled by Kelsea. During our weekly core team calls, Kelsea never mentioned their intentions to have DARC work more closely with Atlanta DSA and actively lied when questioned by other core organizers. The campaign to Stop Copy City required us to organize very quickly, and thus, we were constantly busy and unable to provide Kelsea with the necessary oversight they apparently required in order to maintain their integrity.
When we (the only Black core organizers) brought up these violations, along with other grievances, to the rest of the campaign’s core team (who at this point were all white), we were met with a barrage of apologies and excuses. In addition to calling out Kelsea’s exclusion of DARC members from the campaign and their unilateral decision to embed DSA’s Steering Committee into our work, we also surfaced the ways in which further entrenching DARC into DSA made it harder for us to engage Black people — the people most impacted by the carceral systems we were working to dismantle — in the campaign. We named the ways in which DARC had, during the previous six months, transitioned from a Black-founded, POC-led campaign, to a white working group, and how this made us both feel less safe and unwilling to invite other Black people into this space. We explained that it was unacceptable for Atlanta DSA to take credit for our work and use DARC as a recruitment tool — especially without consent from the DARC members working on the campaign. We also surfaced personal instances of racism we’d experienced from some of the white people on the core team. Specifically, we addressed the ways in which Nora, another white core organizer, weaponized her white womanhood to create false narratives about other Black organizers. She fabricated numerous lies about Kat and another Black organizer outside of DARC, and when confronted, admitted that she had no basis for her claims. Instead, she created false realities based on her feelings, a dangerous and harmful practice. Her attempted apologies for these actions were hollow, as she continued to distort the truth about her interactions with Kat about and confuse DARC Black women organizers with each other.
Feeling unsatisfied by the various discussions, Jasmine decided to leave the campaign she founded to organize elsewhere, while Kat, as an active member of DSA, remained committed to rectifying the challenges we’d exposed. After these conversations, we were both met with a flurry of emails and messages from Kelsea, Shafeka and others, both apologizing and making excuses for their behaviors. None of the apologies were sincere, as we both quickly learned that Atlanta DSA, and Kelsea in particular, were continuing to violate our agreements to keep DARC autonomous from Atlanta DSA, and to make that separation clear to Atlanta DSA.
Despite numerous attempts to rectify these challenges, Atlanta DSA ignored calls for accountability from DARC’s membership and refused to discuss DARC’s official separation from the organization. It became clear that the organization, and particularly its Steering Committee, were committed to self-preservation and self-interest, not abolition, restoration, or integrity. As a result, most DARC members left the campaign.
Since then, Atlanta DSA has continued to take credit for DARC’s #NotOurBudget and Stop Cop City work. It has attempted to take control of the campaign, a maneuver best exemplified by Kelsea’s decision to change the passwords for all of the DARC email and social media accounts to ensure that nobody else has access. Once again, they seized an opportunity to consolidate power for themselves and Atlanta DSA, while DARC members, present and former, were attempting to restore relationships and repair harm. Atlanta DSA Steering Committee defended this action, claiming that they “owned” DARC’s email and social media accounts because they provided minimal funding to the campaign (i.e. printed flyers for canvassing and Zoom links). Over the span of a year, Atlanta DSA likely spent no more than $2,000 on DARC’s campaigns — and the vast majority of that money was used to print literature and flyers that also included their own logo. This was a clear example of how Atlanta DSA has weaponized its budget against DARC when confronted about its actions, a particularly egregious defense coming from an alleged socialist organization.
Similarly, when a DARC member, who designed all of DARC and Atlanta DSA’s Stop Cop City graphics, expressed that they no longer wanted DSA to use their work, given how the organization has continuously disrespected DARC organizers, Shafeka again asserted that Atlanta DSA “owned” that work. She argued that Atlanta DSA has a claim to any and all of DARC’s content, as if the organizers who created it are not autonomous human beings with rights to their intellectual property. After Jasmine explained that without a contract or agreement, Shafeka’s words were simply a reflection of her feelings and not a legally enforceable claim, Shafeka agreed to cease usage of the graphics and associated content. Once again, this demonstrates how Atlanta DSA, a predominately white organization is continuing to claim ownership over a campaign directly tied to a Black liberation struggle, and founded and accelerated by Black organizers, because they spent a little money. That’s not socialism.
Shafeka has attempted to boil this conflict down to a miscommunication between Atlanta DSA Steering Committee and DARC. We want to reiterate, publicly, that this is not an issue of poor communication. This is the result of clear institutional racism within Atlanta DSA, underscored by its longstanding inability to work with Black communities and Black organizers. It is the result of the Steering Committee’s prioritization of maintaining power and authority over taking accountability for harm. We have experienced how they resort to gaslighting and blatantly lying instead of owning up to their clear problems and poor decisions.
This conflict is a direct reflection of how Atlanta DSA’s leadership purports to hold socialist principles, but in practice, abandons that theory in favor of seizing control and resources. Rather than actually doing work that meets the material, social and political needs of impacted communities, Atlanta DSA leadership destroys functional campaigns if its organizers are unwilling to submit to their attempts to control and co-opt the work. Though we have since pressured the Steering Committee to close out existing DARC social media accounts, they were only willing to do so if DARC members also lost access to the accounts. As such, all of the work that DARC organizers created is no longer accessible to us due to Kelsea’s initial theft of our passwords and intellectual property.
Because of these ongoing violations, we could no longer be silent while DARC’s work — largely driven by Black women’s labor — was being used to empower and expand Atlanta DSA’s profile at the expense of the campaign and its organizers. We could not passively allow the theft of our intellectual property by a white organizer who betrayed our trust. As such, we are asking that our comrades help us hold Atlanta DSA accountable and correct the public record by sharing this letter and refusing to collaborate with the organization on future campaigns. We are also demanding Atlanta DSA leadership, and specifically the parties named in this letter, publicly state how they, and the organization, plan to address the harms outlined above.
Thank you for reading,
Jasmine (DARC co-founder)
Kat (DARC co-founder)