This proposal misunderstands solidarity

Statement by Peishi Cheng, Caltech YDSA co-chair; Vasilije Dobrosavljevic, Caltech YDSA co-chair; Charles Xu; Roman Corfas; Kate Leitch; Francesca Ponce; Jane Panangaden; Sean Pike. All the above are Caltech YDSA members
Position: Opposed

We hope to portray what solidarity looks like in a very concrete way to convince you that this proposal misunderstands the term.

Solidarity means sharing in a struggle. It’s a safe bet that nearly all of us are renters. We are struggling together against the oppressive nature of housing as a commodity which bars us from having an affordable roof over our heads. Part of the subtext of this proposal is that housing canvassing is not engaging the working class, but we have seen firsthand that it does. Caltech YDSA members have been working with the Pasadena Tenant’s Union (PTU). When PTU asked us this past week to show up to city hall to support 54 long time tenants being evicted for no reason (other than greed), we saw these tenants exercising their agency by determining how they struggle. We are there to support them because we are also tenants in the same precarious position. We show up for our neighbors because we hope they will show up for us when we fight our landlord raising the rent next year. This process of walking together, and fighting for one another is solidarity. These social bonds of mutual support (not just one sided support) are what will make our organization strong. These are ties with the working class in Pasadena, a renowned wealthy neighborhood. Let us not forget that our neighborhoods are not monoliths, and that the demographic problem within our chapter reflects the fact that we have not even thoroughly reached out near our own homes.

When our tenants union meets, we share stories of our housing situation and we recognize that we are on the same side. If we hand out food to these communities, can we honestly say that we are also digging through mailboxes to find more coupons or add water to our orange juice to make it last longer? Are you going to watch the bean stew and make sure it doesn’t burn while your neighbor goes to pick up kids? No because we are not neighbors and this program, regardless of whether or not we choose to call it charity, inherently contains the disempowering dynamic of giving and receiving, rather than the very different dynamic of recognizing one another as political equals.

Solidarity also means emphasizing our agency in choosing how to live, how to struggle. In follow up statements to criticisms, there have been clarifications that the food distribution is simply to build goodwill so that we can host meetings to “hear out concerns” from the community. And that if community members are struggling with rent, they will be connected with DSA resources. As if these meetings aren’t already happening! These communities have already convened, cohered, and decided how they want to fight to improve their lives. Why is food distribution a precondition for listening? If we want to listen, then let us go to these meetings and listen, just as a member suggested during the comment period for the proposal presentation at chapter meeting. If people are asking for solidarity in housing struggles, then aren’t we failing to listen by spending so much effort on food charity? Maybe housing is not the primary concern for some. But that’s why when we canvass, we hope to use housing as the start of a conversation and build rapport, not by jumping down people's’ throats about Prop 10. Food For Solidarity has already presumed the solution (food insecurity) before anyone has even been heard, a total inversion of how it ought to be.

Finally solidarity is about recognizing the power of groups in collective action, not from an acquiescence to extant structures of power. Many of us came to socialism because hegemonic notions of social change like simply raising taxes to soften the blow of profit seeking enterprise fail to address questions of how to achieve pro-social transformation that can last long term. Socialists recognize the importance of taking and building power that can be wielded by people, for people. To us, Food For Solidarity does not seem to fully grasp this framework. The proposal talks about establishing long term ties with “businesses who wish to give back” to make the program self-sustainable. A reliance on the goodwill of businesses tied to the the pursuit of profit under private ownership sounds about as reasonable as pundits who beg for “corporate social responsibility” or “corporate citizenship.” This proposal perpetuates the dependence of community members on the same capitalist structures that have been exploiting them for decades instead of developing organized resistance and community agency. Let us, then, renew our efforts for housing justice by building solidarity with our neighbors (paying more attention to neighbors we’ve overlooked before), so that in our shared recognition of class struggle we may build the roots for our collective liberation.