A Misguided Approach to Base-Building

Statement by Bryan McKay, Member
Position: Oppose

We are not currently in a position as an organization to undertake the type of base-building through direct service that Food 4 Solidarity proposes to expand our chapter.

I’m grateful to our Food 4 Solidarity comrades for opening up this debate and raising these issues of significant relevance to our chapter. Ultimately, however I must object to the Food 4 Solidarity program on the grounds that it will not only fail to accomplish the base-building goals it sets out to achieve, but may actively undermine those efforts. F4S seeks to build connections with marginalized communities in Los Angeles in which DSA-LA does not currently have an established membership. I’m in full agreement with the organizers of this group that this is an issue our chapter must reckon with seriously if we truly aim to build dual power in Los Angeles and beyond and I sincerely applaud the thought and consideration that went into this proposal. However, I strongly believe that F4S is the wrong approach to this problem, and I would strongly recommend that the chapter vote against the proposal for the reasons outlined here.

My primary concern is one that has already been articulated by several comrades who have spoken out against this proposal on the basis that it establishes a paternalistic relationship toward the very people it aims to recruit. While the F4S organizers have presented this project as akin to the Black Panthers’ Free Breakfast Program, it’s essential to recognize that the Panthers’ service work was born from within the communities they served and their own struggles. The arguments F4S has made regarding food insecurity are compelling, but I believe that the best approach to address the needs of any community is to work directly with residents in solidarity around issues they themselves have prioritized.

I’m not opposed to any mutual aid projects that directly or indirectly serve to grow our organization and strengthen our communities. To best meet those goals, however, this project should be developed out of an established neighborhood organization, perhaps as a component of future branch building work, and should not be used as a tool to enter communities in which we have no existing membership presence. In this current presentation, the project hews too closely to direct service or charity rather than the principles of mutual aid that our chapter should adhere to. The fact that this program necessitates an entirely new working group and has not been developed under our existing Mutual Aid committee certainly supports that notion.

When entering these communities as outsiders who aim to “educate” the recipients of our services, we not only run the risk of alienating potential comrades and allies through the paternalistic nature of this program, we also take on the substantial burden of ensuring this program remains scalable to the needs of the community once established. What happens to the families we’re forced to turn away because we’re unable to feed them? In the worst possible scenario, what happens should the program collapse entirely and we’re forced to withdraw? Without any other current means of organizing within those communities, this strategy places the burden of building and expanding our base outside of existing DSA-LA neighborhoods entirely on the success or failure of a small working group – one that is ultimately reliant on charitable donations from our membership and maintains no direct attachment to the community it serves. While I have no doubts that the F4S organizers are committed and determined to realizing their vision, the potential risks of failure are too great without first building other inroads into the target communities to establish goodwill and a mutual working relationship, a task our chapter has not yet figured out how to undertake in any meaningful way.

Ultimately, the strategy of how to engage communities that exist outside of our existing membership is something that we must grapple with, and I’m grateful that the F4S proposal has brought those concerns to the forefront of our chapter. These are clearly passionate and dedicated organizers and I’m proud to call them comrades. However, to build long-lasting relationships and engage in deep organizing, we should seek to establish stronger connections with existing community organizations and develop those into meaningful relationships that can drive recruitment and help expand and support our base. For these reasons, once again, I would urge my comrades to vote against the creation of the Food 4 Solidarity working group.