Statement by Olivia Gamboa
I see that this proposal was written in response to a real problem: DSA is not very diverse, and particularly lacks representation from communities of color. F4S plans to teach people of color ‘about socialism,’ as if the reason they don’t engage in DSA is that they just don’t know about socialism. First of all, South LA (where the plans seem focused) already has plenty of its own leftist/socialist organizations operating parallel to DSA, so the idea that people have never heard of leftist politics is a bit condescending. Even if it were true, no one becomes a socialist by ‘hearing about it.’ Think of what made you become a socialist- it’s always a campaign. Maybe it was the campaign for universal healthcare, or homeless rights, or life experiences with union activity, but very few people seem to become socialists just by reading or hearing about the ideas. Assuming people have no contact with left politics, and reaching out by telling them about what we do is not an effective or respectful way to engage.
Instead: Let’s work in solidarity around real campaigns
Now I realize that I can’t bash on F4S’s idea to fix this real problem in DSA if I don't have an alternative. Rather than ‘teaching about socialism,’ I believe that people are won to socialism by witnessing the power of working class politics in real campaigns. To win people of color to socialist politics, we need to recognize the existing groups in South LA and work in solidarity with them (as opposed to preaching) around campaigns that affect their lives. The reason we belong to a socialist organization is we know individual donations and small acts--like free food--are not enough to undo the structural wrongs of capitalism. So let’s focus on structural issues where we can work in solidarity with the already existing organizations in South LA. For example, rent control would benefit most communities a lot more than occasional access to free food. With Prop 10, communities across LA can create an actual structural change rather than just DSA doling out small charity. We already canvass door-to-door, making conversations about rent control more convenient than forced ones over free food. But most importantly, when we canvass, we ask people to join our fight as equal participants with power to organize others.
Let’s continue to foster local organizing around real structural issues like rent control. Let’s continue to canvass in areas that are not represented well in DSA, and let’s canvass in partnership and solidarity with local organizations. Lets focus on building respectful relationships with communities, rather than hoping to talk a couple people into the organization in exchange for free food.
One last point: DSA already does the free food thing! Free food at meetings does make things easier! Otherwise, I would have to cook dinner super early and pack it, or buy food after the meeting. So DSA does a nice job of removing the barrier of food-insecurity for people attending the meetings. We’re literally already having ‘free food meetings.’
So let’s picture we do the F4S proposal: we continue to have our own free-food meetings, but now also give free-food lectures in South LA. Here’s a table to explain:
DSA free food meetings at UTLA
- members continue to make decisions and plan together
- it is assumed that members ‘know enough’ about socialism DSA Free Food lectures in South LA
- people of color get lectured about socialism
- it is assumed that they know less, or aren’t as interested in making decisions as the people at the actual meetings
- if, as F4S hopes, there start to be regular participants, they get the joy of regular lectures