Statement by David Paesani
Statements were posted in opposition to F4S becoming a working group as of July 18, 2018, from comrades Kyle Scott, Bryan McKay, Nathan Fisher, and Matthew Taylor. Please see the following responses and rebuttals to the points they raised.
I and the rest of F4S welcome any further suggestions on how to improve the program to accomplish our chapter and project goals. Apologies in advance for the length!
We very much agree with the notion we must be careful and intentional when engaging with communities in which we currently do not have members. Indeed, our experience w/ Serve the People taught us this. That’s why our proposal is predicated in cooperation with existing groups already active in their communities who invite us in and introduce us to the local community.
Some key organizations that we would work with right off the bat would be LACAN and the LA Tenants Union, though they are not specific to any one community, they provide an excellent way to partner with other orgs and local communities strategically on issues that we care about and could bring to our food distribution areas as well. I think we do meaningfully address interaction with the local community by local cooperation, for one, and secondly, the more important part of this is how we engage with the community both before and after distributing food. We envision sitting with our comrades from the community and hearing out their issues, learning from their experiences, and sharing areas where DSA-LA might have experience or capacity relevant to their organizing goals. I think that this focus on the people and not the act of giving food is both what distinguishes us from charity objectively, but will also change the perception of what we are and what we are doing. People are smart and will know that this is not what charities do - they don’t sit around and ask people what their issues are and ask what they can do to help. They don’t always plug people in with other orgs doing different work. We can and we will, and that will make our perception different.
Some will still think of us as a charity, but this is a common approach from the right wing to apply to all of socialism. If we are serious about combating this narrative, we need to think creatively about how we can aid people while breaking down the transactionality of the nonprofit industrial complex. Deep engagement with the community seems to be a key way we do so.
We will not ask the chapter nor members for money. If we fail to raise the money as set forth in our proposal, we will shutter the project.
We are not aiming to raise money solely from the left. We are aiming to raise money from primarily from the community in which we are operating, irrespective of politics, and from other who are sympathetic to the food aspect of our program. As this money will go directly and only to food, we expect a far more positive response than we receive through strictly leftist fundraising. I myself have had personal experience fundraising for a number of nonprofits, and I think our goal is imminently doable.
In addition, our fundraising for Brake Lights, which raised over $2k in a matter of days from the general population, is exactly the kind of strategy that makes me confident we can achieve our goal. People will give to food orgs far more readily than to DSA as such, as we have seen. In addition, DSA-LA has had numerous other successful issue based fundraisers, as set forth in Steve Ducey’s statement, which indicates the pool that we have to draw from is quite large.
We won’t even try to raise from other left orgs.
We disagree that there are major optical issues risking the chapter. Brake lights is the instructive example here. When we structure a program to appeal to a broad base across the political spectrum, we got a broad base of financial support. This is exactly what we found with Brake Lights. Because we are also focusing on raising money from the same community in which we are hoping to help jump-start self-organizing, this seems to be totally consistent with revolutionary ground-up base building. We all know there is no ethical consumption under capitalism. I think an important corollary is there is no ethical fundraising too; all the money we and any other socialist or revolutionary org gets is stained with the blood let by capitalism’s predations.
With Brake Lights, people simply gave money without expectation because they liked the tactic.
If people want to get organized, we would welcome them to DSA, and if that’s not their politics, they don’t have to join.
We are premising any organizing on finding a local community partner who invites us into the area. We are NOT doing this solo or alone. We learned this lesson from Serve the People / Red Guards LA.
I am also concerned that the logical outcome of your argument, that we cannot organize communities in which we currently don’t have a presence, precludes any outreach into those communities whatsoever. It forms a catch-22 whereby we can never organize where we don’t have members, which means some areas will never know who we are or see our presence. I think this is counter to our existing practices, and shortsighted in terms of building a broader mass left grassroots movement.
Our experience with Brake Lights is instructive. People knew we were not from the area, but because we partnered with local institutions, we were not viewed as colonizers or charities. Instead, people saw the action for what it was: an attempt to alleviate the hardships of capitalism for the most vulnerable. F4S goes even further by explicitly incorporating community self-organizing as the reason-for-being of this project.
We did develop this program through both MA and IJC initially. Because of its scope, it was determined it was better to organize separately to not bog down those comms with single issues. Indeed, a core group of 8-12 or so members have been devoting many hours to this work to plan it and respond to and coordinate with DSA National’s Fund.
Education is probably not the best word to describe what we are doing, and, seeing the confusion this has caused, if we had to do it again, I’d argue for calling it something else like “institutional resource and organizational experience sharing” (just that sounds better in fewer words ><). The idea is NOT to didactically and pedantically preach about Marx or theory, or toot our own horn about how great we are. The idea is instead to allow folks to engage and ask questions on their own terms for people that likely come at the issue of politics from a myriad of perspectives. What is paternalistic about coming to a community to talk to them, hear out their concerns, and offer ways to help? Isn’t that exactly what we should be doing to build a mass base?
Regarding families we can’t feed, this is a great question, and, frankly, the kind of problem we hope to to have due to our success. If we do not have enough food boxes in any one distribution for the number of people who are there, we will have to create a mechanism to distribute (open to ideas! What do you think?) such as giving priority to families who have not received food before, OR, to those who are already participating in the program first. We would then take the new information and use it to prepare better for the next distribution event. We could of course operate as first-come, first-served, as many existing food distribution orgs do.
If F4S, DSA-LA, or any other project we are pursuing fails its aims, that does not mean the work was not worthwhile. We did only 2 Brake Lights events in the past year. Does that mean that we have failed? I don’t think so as those events were hugely successful ways to engage with the community and build awareness for DSA-LA. If we do not stop the Olympics from coming to LA, does that mean NOlympics was wasted energy? I think the answer must be no. We must not be afraid to fail so much that it prevents us from starting to reach out to begin with.
In addition, F4S would NOT rely “on charitable donations from our membership” as we are not aiming to raising money from it, nor will we have “ no direct attachment to the community it serves” because we will only be working with willing and established local community partners who have invited us in.
Nathan’s statement needs some correction. F4S, when active, would provide an excellent opportunity to perform tenants organizing in a location where we currently don’t reach, nor do we canvass.
F4S requires only about 15 dedicated comrades to work on it to fulfill 95% of its activities. There are plenty of DSA-LA initiatives that take far more that we undergo, which do not take us away from our priorities. For a Chapter with over 1000 members, this seems eminently doable.
Finally, it would advance our organizational priorities by helping us build strategic partnerships with local orgs where we do not currently have strong membership. It would also help form bases for possible nascent potential branches. Lastly, it would provide a ready-made platform to engage with people on tenants organizing in their communities-communities where we currently don’t canvass.
We do not assume lack of intellectual capacity by the working class. We are simply saying that a an effective way to talk about socialism is by showing people what it could do, by presenting an example of the horizon of the possible, rather than by preaching with literature. We fully know the working class is fully intellectually capable of engaging with socialism. However, we are working against decades, if not centuries, of right wing, centrist and even liberal propaganda about what socialism is or isn't. We can’t just tell, we must also show.
Our “loaf of bread” comment is an example. We could have said: “a loaf of bread, like a picture, is worth more than 1000 words on a pamphlet.” The idea here is show and illustrate, not preach and bury someone in literature. This is not to say that pamphlets are not valuable, they clearly are. This is simply to say this is not and should not be the be-all-end-all of our outreach.
We do not approach the left as some abstract concept. I am not sure where this comes from. I just think of my own situation and that of my family. When my dad was working in the steel mill and organizing steel workers in the 80s, what would have been the best ways to engage with that community? When my mom and my siblings and I were nearly evicted when I was a teenager, would we have been more engaged by someone telling what I should think about our landlord, or would I have been more engaged with someone showing me what resistance could look like?
We explicitly say throughout the presentation that the food aspect is nothing without the self-organization aspect, which is the primary goal of the project. If socialism were self evident, we’d all be socialists, and we wouldn’t need to recruit or engage in any base building. We’d already have our mass movement. Unfortunately, this is not the world we lie in, and we need to be out there charting our own narrative. If we do not, the right, middle and the liberals will do so for us. We don’t want that.
See the comments to Bryan on education. In short, we are not trying to teach anyone any sort of line or theory, but to listen to and learn from the skills and experiences within the community to see how we as DSA-LA could help them self-organize around issues that are important. It is not about classes, but it is about sharing and mutual learning.
We see F4S as hand-in-glove and complementary to tenants organizing. Indeed, it would provide a platform for tenants organizing with other organizations and in communities in which we currently don’t canvass and don’t reach. We are not “putting on a program that we designed for them yet without,” rather we are seeking to demonstrate our solidarity with the working class, similar to how we do Street Watch outreach or canvass in neighborhoods we don’t live in, while hearing out their issues and offering ways we could help. The programs they want to see would be driven by them as community members.
Struggling with other communities in solidarity with our shared struggle is exactly what we hope to do with F4S: to engage more people as equals and comrades, and to learn from them and share our knowledge. In short, to put socialism into practice.