Statement by Blaine D. Pope
Position: Tentative support
This is a proposal that I **tentatively** support. The five programmatic objectives seem to fit; and these seem to play into DSA’s general strengths.
However, while I am reading/seeing a lot about what DSA-LA would be willing and able to do; I am seeing less about what the community is able to do. From a community-centered perspective, I feel like I am reading these very fine goals in a bit of a vacuum.
Many of my “comments” here are simply posed in the form of questions to consider. They have a recurring theme: “Is the perspective or orientation one of standing inside the community looking out, or is it one of standing outside the community looking in? That perspective will help determine the types of issues that are addressed, and how they are addressed.
Disclaimer: In addition to being an academic, I lived in New York City for a number of years, so please don’t mind my sometimes blunt style of writing. Behind these comments is much love and passion (plus a fair amount of international working experience) regarding these issues.
“We seek to create a food distribution program that will both nourish the community and create the material security necessary for people to be able to engage in politics”
Q: Is this something THE COMMUNITY has asked DSA-LA to do, or is this what DSA-LA would like to do in the community? [Deeper issue: is there already buy-in for this activity from within the community?]
“We aim to also provide on-site education . . .”
Okay, just beware of providing answers before you’ve heard enough of the key questions.
“They may need us to help them address immigrant, housing, or labor justice issues. They may even want to join our ranks . . . “
Do a good enough job in helping the community with its stated challenges and goals, and they will come to you. But DSA-LA has probably got to “put some points on the board,” first. That comes from the community seeing successful program implementation; and the community having a sense that you will be with it for the long term. The history of SoLA is replete with examples of “saviors” who were here-today-and-gone-tomorrow. Repeated experiences like this can engrain a type of cynicism within communities, over time.
“The end goal of DSA-LA’s F4S is to shed a light on the profound failures of capitalism”
Fair enough, as far as DSA-LA is concerned; but what are the stated end goals of the community itself? Has anyone within DSA-LA asked any community reps about this? What does the community actually want?
I tend to think folks in SoLA would initially be more concerned about things like health, education, housing, their working conditions, etc. Ergo, I tend to think an end goal should be the establishment of a long-term relationship with the people of SoLA. Movement toward such a relationship enables trust. Trust, in turn, enables more substantive discussions around things like the prevailing political-economic system (“capitalism”), or any other such intellectual or philosophical topic.
“We will collectively organize a secondary structure for meeting their needs . . . “
Why is meeting the needs of the community not “primary?” Think long and hard on this, please. You don’t want to be perceived as yet another group parachuting into SoLA, with yet another internally-driven political-economic agenda, only to leave once your internal needs have been satisfied. Again, I emphasize the concept of “perception” here.
“This will lead to the creation of a sustainable node of dual power that will fill in the gaps where the state fails . . . . Ultimately, this campaign seeks to empower people by encouraging solidarity . . . . We don’t want to become a permanent, unchanging presence in the selected community, rather we will will (sic.) establish a self-sustaining effort . . . .”
1) “Sustainable node of dual power”: I am not really getting the meaning of this, here. How could you re-state that more simply or clearly?
2) “Campaign seeks to empower people”: With all due respect, DSA-LA won’t be “empowering” anyone. That’s something people can only do for themselves. DSA-LA can assist in that process; but empowerment cannot not be “bestowed” from an external source, as if from on high. In my opinion, the language in this project proposal should be altered accordingly.
3) “Solidarity”: what leads you to believe there is insufficient solidarity? I ask because my impression is that there are some extremely tight networks, especially among immigrant communities. Please clarify.
4) “We don’t want to become a permanent, unchanging presence in the selected community”: Why doesn’t DSA want to become a “permanent” presence in the community? It seems to me that should be the whole idea. Please clarify.
“Objectives”: These definitely seem like noble objectives, but DSA-LA should probably have a place for a 6th potential objective which simply remains blank for now. That blank space can be filled in as needed, if/when the community discovers new priorities and/or needs, after preliminary work has commenced.
Said another way . . .
Don’t try to front-load everything into the program at once! Be flexible!
Get to know the people you’ll be working with. Share a few meals together!
Initially, have the discipline to do much more listening and much less talking!
Graphically document the history, geography, and demography of the community in some detail. Review this social data with community members/leaders for accuracy. It’s time consuming, but well worth it! The process of doing this jointly can also be quite transformative. [See the PRA/RRA approach for some specific details on this. See also Paolo Freire’s classic book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed.]
And always seek (and incorporate) input from the community when teaming with them to do any community-based activities!