Statement by Mutual Aid Committee (Majority)
After a meeting and period of online voting, the Mutual Aid Committee has voted to oppose the “Food For Solidarity” proposal. This is the majority position within the committee. A minority statement will also be posted.
Of the many reasons committee members put forward, the question of whether or not the proposal is mutual aid or charity was paramount. Quoting from the Mutual Aid Committee platform: “Mutual aid is a voluntary exchange of resources and services for the mutual benefit of all people involved. … Mutual Aid projects come from, and are run by, the community rather than nonprofit workers, foundations, or charity programs… everyone provides what they can rather than separating [people] into ‘givers’ and ‘receivers’.” Given that definition of mutual aid, it’s clear that the proposal falls out of the scope of mutual aid and into another category, most likely charitable work. If the proposal were to, say, work with community groups to establish food collectives, where members could purchase or receive food at discounted bulk prices, that would be more in line with the spirit of mutual aid. The distinction may not be significant to everyone, but engaging in charity work without a cutting political component, like “Brake Lights” had, leaves DSA-LA vulnerable to the criticism that it is merely replicating the structures of hierarchy and oppression found in neoliberal capitalism, rather than supplanting them.
The proposal also disappointed the committee in its lack of attention to DSA-LA comrades who lack food security. This was, unfortunately, intentionally done by the authors of the proposal to avoid legal roadblocks that prevent 501(c)(3) organizations from giving to projects run by other organizations (ie the proposed Food for Solidarity organization) that prioritize members when distributing benefits. The authors did not try to conduct a survey of DSA-LA members about food security or work with the Steering Committee / Mutual Aid Committee in its “Comrades For Comrades” program, which has already started to accomplish some of the same goals as the “Food For Solidarity” proposal, with far less fanfare or potential risk for the chapter. The proposal would ask food insecure comrades to likely travel far from where they live, to receive a benefit that they are directly or indirectly paying for.
The committee also took issue with the planned rollout of the program, in full view of the public. DSA-LA is part of a 501(c)(4) organization, which does not have the same legal barrier to membership benefits. DSA-LA has full legal rights to provide members with services. Had the proposal been tested internally and gradually expanded and refined, the proposal could have had input from the entire chapter along the way. It could have run into its bumps and shortcomings on friendly ground, rather than promising something to a community and possibly failing in its delivery.