Beyond the Red Service Clinic

Statement by René Christian Moya
Position: Opposed

Food 4 Solidarity is flawed, inefficient and divisive—it must be opposed.

I welcome the debate Food 4 Solidarity (F4S) has elicited in our Chapter, even if I must stand in strong and unwavering opposition to it. The proposal is founded on an inelegant confusion between organizing and service, while baking in a series of implicit commitments that the DSA would struggle to fulfill. Fatally, the programme’s proposed implantation in a community from which it did not emerge will open our Chapter to severe, if deserved criticism.

ORGANISING PRIORITIES

While it is true that there is an unmistakable link between food insecurity and housing precarity, we invert the direction of causality to the detriment of our analysis and our strategy. Housing is the biggest expense in the budgets of many working-class families in Los Angeles. This is especially pronounced in our most vulnerable communities. Over ¾ of the poorest 20% of LA renters are severely rent burdened, meaning they pay an obscene 50% or more of their income into housing. Black and Latinx renters must set aside 63% of their income on average to keep a roof over their head. It isn’t difficult to see how the spiralling cost of housing might play a determining factor in the food insecurity in our communities, above and beyond the relative cost or access to food.

It isn’t, of course, that families facing acute food insecurity don’t require assistance. They do. It is my contention, however, that the DSA is ill-placed to provide that security safely, efficiently and effectively in communities of colour from which it is both totally absent and distant. Still worse, I remain fundamentally unconvinced that DSA will be able to embed itself in the community as anything more than a severely limited food service. (I wonder, as does my comrade Johan, why we shouldn’t instead redouble our efforts to organise working class persons of colour closer to home, where they still make up a plurality of our rapidly gentrifying communities?) It is difficult to conceive how the complexity of F4S, requiring enormous amounts of energy to operationalize from across town, will leave much room to meaningfully organise these communities with our strictly volunteer base. The costs associated with its maintenance is out of all proportion to F4S's likely impact.

ON STRUGGLE & SERVICE

A fortnight out from our Chapter meeting, I have yet to hear compelling responses to some of the questions I put before its proponents when I spoke in opposition to the proposal. Why has there been no serious attempt to address the precarity of the members in our ranks first before embarking on an expensive and extensive logistical enterprise? (Aside from the unacceptable excuse that F4S would be barred from doing so thanks to a legal fiction.) Why, given the proposed non-profit structure, isn’t this organised outside of the DSA? What lessons did they glean—if any—not just from the withdrawal of a similar programme by Serve the People but also from their continued opposition to DSA’s? Are we not drawing unhelpful lessons from historical examples that the proponents seem to misunderstand—as with the Black Panther Party’s breakfast programme, quite aside from the glaring timeline inaccuracies—or decontextualise—as with SYRIZA’s desperate palliative to an unprecedented social crisis its own policies hardly failed to correct?

Beyond the failure to respond adequately to these criticisms lie even more glaring problems—chief among them the proponents’ muddled understanding of organising, solidarity and struggle. We cannot confuse service-oriented work with the struggle around concrete goals. We show empathy with the former; we exercise solidarity through the latter. This distinction is central to the organising model of the Los Angeles Tenants Union. Through service, we might keep some people in their homes. Many non-profits do this fairly well. Through struggle, however, we lay the foundations for a movement to abolish the present state of things.

The struggle moreover, cannot be premised on a unidirectional acquisition of knowledge. (Political struggle is always the best education for the self-appointed ‘educators.’) I see little acknowledgement in the proposal that the DSA is still as of yet incapable of providing answers to questions it cannot yet answer for itself. Unfortunately, Food 4 Solidarity—premised on a conflation of service and organising—ends up amounting to nothing more than a Red non-profit clinic.

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I want to close by reflecting on today’s events. As a member of the LA Tenants Union and the School of Echoes, I firmly reject the haughty and dismissive attitude of some of the proponents towards Serve the People, an organization that has stood in decisive solidarity with my comrades and which has taken a lead in the anti-gentrification struggle in Boyle Heights. I have heard very pointed and thoughtful criticisms of the Food 4 Solidarity proposal from POC organisers both within and outside DSA, and many of these criticisms find echoes in the strident opposition to the proposal emanating from Boyle Heights. That these criticisms have often been waved away by some of the proponents only serves to strengthen my conviction that this is the wrong approach prosecuted in the least helpful manner possible.

The lack of consensus on the merits of so expensive and taxing a proposal alone should give us pause. It is for this reason among many that I urge our members to vote against it.