Charity Is Not Solidarity: A Constructive Critique

Statement by Jed Parriott, Housing & Homelessness Committee Co-Chair
Position: Opposed

Power and Solidarity should be built without a flawed and costly non profit.

As we organize to build a mass movement to abolish Capitalism, it’s important to remind ourselves that true power lies in the self determined political development of those communities most oppressed -- a development free from outside influence. It is my belief that DSA should engage with these communities by listening, learning, and offering volunteer labor and support to community led efforts, if and when needed.

While I greatly appreciate the time and effort put into this proposal, and believe my comrades are well intentioned, Food for Solidarity seeks to bring a predetermined, outside agenda into a working class community of color in which no F4S members reside in an attempt to establish -- in their words -- a “foothold.” This proposal to start what looks like a costly non profit charity as a way to promote underdeveloped DSA politics comes off as patronizing and missionary, especially in a city with so many communities threatened by violent gentrification and displacement.

It is also disappointing to see some F4S supporters wrongfully suggest that our chapter is not engaging with marginalized communities in LA, and that their flawed food program is the ideal entrypoint for DSA committees to engage in said communities. Repealing Costa Hawkins to expand rent control has huge material implications for the poor and working class across California, and the tenants movement which connects us all. We will continue to expand our support to these communities across Los Angeles via our Housing Justice Resolution and other vital DSA-LA committee work. Just the other day, for example, a resident of the Chesapeake Apartments who spoke at our first Community Forum reached out to us about helping their community register to vote, distribute Prop 10 materials, and organize a community picnic with DSA and the South LA Tenants Union.

I have other issues with the F4S proposal that have already been discussed at length in the many other statements of opposition, so I’d like to use the rest of this space to suggest a different approach that the F4S organizers could take moving forward, one that our Housing and Homelessness Committee took last year in engaging with one of the most oppressed and marginalized communities of color in the world, Skid Row.

We did not enter the Skid Row community with the intention of bringing a program or promoting DSA. We engaged because we wanted to offer whatever support, if needed, for their own grassroots effort to create a Neighborhood Council. Though initially and rightfully wary of our intentions, the members of the Skid Row Neighborhood Council Formation Committee were ultimately thrilled to accept our capacity and labor for canvassing, flyering, and raising awareness to their campaign via agit prop videos and social media. We even suggested not including a DSA logo in the videos we made for them. We made it clear this is about supporting their struggle, not pushing our brand.

Through these efforts we slowly developed trust with Skid Row community members, including many from the Los Angeles Community Action Network who invited us to attend their meetings, and become members. I can say that I’ve learned more about class struggle listening to the voices of formerly evicted, homeless, undocumented and incarcerated LA CAN members than I have from anyone in DSA. They certainly don’t need one of our pamphlets to understand what needs to be done.

Because of the trust we had built, LA CAN agreed to form a partnership with DSA to create our Street Watch Initiative, which continues to develop and expand citywide. Our work together has given DSA members the first hand experience and credibility to stand with other community organizations in demanding that our city change policy, defund law enforcement and put more public resources into housing, education and healthcare. LA CAN has since offered their space for our HnH Committee and the NOlympics working group to hold meetings. Several Skid Row residents have even joined DSA. Maybe others will eventually join, but many won’t and that’s ok. Building a mass movement isn’t just about recruiting members -- it’s about forging thoughtful and meaningful relationships in struggle.

I can tell you that after learning about F4S, LA CAN has expressed the same points of opposition I laid out earlier, and agree with my suggestion: If F4S members insist on engaging with communities outside of DSA via food based mutual aid, they should offer their labor to an already existing food program within the community -- if it is needed -- with no intention of starting a DSA non profit. Perhaps we can help connect community led programs with tenants rights information via our Housing Justice Resolution, as was suggested in the F4S proposal. Maybe a partnership on a new idea will develop over time.

Power and Solidarity should be built without the creation of a flawed and costly food program. I urge my DSA-LA comrades to vote against this proposal.