Statement by Alexander Billet
I am new to the Los Angeles area and therefore to DSA-LA’s work as a whole. I am, by my own admission, still getting the lay of the land. But I am acquainted with the national debates in DSA about the different potential characters of mutual aid programs and base building, and thus these thoughts are not coming entirely from nowhere.
I am also well acquainted with food insecurity. For the first few years after the Great Recession, when I felt lucky to have even the most unsteady or part-time work, I relied on food stamps and pantries to ensure I didn’t starve. After the food stamps were revoked, I was reliant entirely on the food pantry. It was not an empowering experience. Not because I thought myself “above it” or thought my dignity was being stolen from me, but because the whole dynamic of charity -- particularly when said charity is the only thing that stands between you and starvation -- is one of precarity and profound anxiety.
Food packages never gave me a sense of autonomy or power. In fact they reminded me of my own sense of powerlessness. On the other hand, when people are actively fighting, catching a glimpse of how their environment begins to shift when they collectively contest the encroachments of power, then their ideas of possibility also begin to shift.
The key question here is one that every single socialist should be asking themselves every step of the way: How does this program or action heighten the subjectivity of working, poor and oppressed people? This seems to be a question that Food 4 Solidarity is attempting to at least tentatively wrestle with, but it doesn’t appear to be fully integrated into the substance of the proposal. It seems to gloss over the fact that people who live on the edge of precarity and insecurity have time and again shown an ability to fight and raise basic if contradictory conclusions about the world around them. Some of the trans and queer people who participated in the Stonewall uprising and thus touched off the modern LGBT movement were themselves experiencing homelessness. Large portions of Ferguson, Missouri are for all intents and purposes food deserts. And yet this is where Black Lives Matter was ignited.
This is not to say that we should be dismissive of the fact that poor and working people are food-or-housing-insecure. But it has always seemed to me that our ideas of what is possible only start to change when we contend with the possible. From what I’ve seen of the debates online and from speaking with several DSA-LA members since arriving, it sounds like the chapter has voted to commit itself to housing struggles. This sounds to me like the right decision given that housing is a key site of contention in the context of rising rents and now a ballot measure that could make rent control a possibility. What’s more, organizations like the LA Tenants Union are already struggling around issues directly related and adjacent to matters of housing, including aiding self-organized tenants facing rising rents and evictions across the city. Given these factors, it would seem that there is a great amount of rewarding work to be done from which we can learn and also show those who don’t yet know us that we can be relied to support, solidarize and fight alongside them. That socialists are the best fighters when a fight is to be had.
This is intended also as an aim of F4S. But why reinvent the wheel when the cart is already moving? Why, when there is dynamism and a quickly shifting terrain around housing, when there are people already actively fighting for their basic needs in that realm, and when there is the political possibility to spread that fight, do we not pour everything we have into that no matter the working group or committee? Why try to create another center of gravity that seems to be set apart from where people’s ideas are likely already rapidly changing? It has been said by proponents of F4S that we could reach out to the Tenants Union to root F4S in communities we aren’t in already. But why do that with a food program when we already have made a commitment to aid a struggle they are tailored to engage with and are already organizing around? Why are we not talking to the Tenant’s Union about teaming up for canvassing around Prop 10 in these communities? That would seem to make far more sense given the voted on priorities of the district and broad lay of the land politically.
In other words, I have a lot of questions about how this makes sense in the context of what this chapter has voted for and what appears to be a primary area of struggle in Los Angeles. I invite the comrades in favor of F4S to answer them. Until they do then I cannot say I’m convinced to vote in favor.