Food for Solidarity Presents Enormous Risks and Unreliable Rewards

Statement by Stevie Morelock, Healthcare Committee Co-chair, Labor Committee Member, Housing and Homelessness Committee Member
Position: Opposed

While well-intentioned, Food for Solidarity is deeply flawed and could be disastrous for our organization.

I agree with the authors and supporters of the Food for Solidarity proposal on many issues. That members of our community in the richest society to ever exist suffer from food insecurity is both a grave injustice and a scathing indictment of the capitalist system. I believe that good praxis involves “raising the floor” and focusing on materially improving the lives of those who suffer the greatest. And I think that if DSA as an organization is to accomplish our larger goals, we must engage and elevate the members of our community who are most marginalized by this system, namely the poor and people of color. While I have many criticisms of this proposal, it is on this last point that I believe it falls catastrophically short of and will likely run in opposition to its goals.

I’ll start with one of the opening statements of the proposal:

“Someone struggling under capitalism to meet their basic material needs has no time for leisure, education, or socializing.”

The implication that the poor cannot or do not make time to educate themselves, or to take part in social interaction in their communities is not only a grave misunderstanding of how poor communities survive, it is a paternalistic and condescending assumption to make your starting point, and disregards how many successful movements in the past have begun. I grew up in a poor communities for the majority of my youth and, in my experience, education, socializing and solidarity are primary survival mechanisms of marginalized communities.

I reject the idea that residents of struggling communities don’t have their own ideas as to how we can best support their communities nor the education to become leaders themselves. In fact, supporting natural leaders and letting them take the lead in campaigns is a primary tenet of effective organizing, while top-down approaches have historically led to either shallow mobilization if not outright failure.

“We aim to imitate the example of leftist organizations like the Black Panthers in the US who used many of the methods and practices of charities to great success in the 1970’s and 2010’s, respectively, leading to an explosion in their growth and popularity.”

I take great issue with the idea that this proposal is faithfully “imitating the example” of the movements they are inspired by. I think one of the primary reasons that organizations like the Black Panthers were successful is because they were initiated by members of their own community. While Black Panther leaders didn’t always agree on everything politically and also evolved their political line over time, there was a consistency to their socialist analysis that was rooted in their own understanding of the issues their communities faced. DSA, as a “big tent” org with a wide range of tendencies cannot offer either the understanding of the needs and values of the communities which this proposal wishes to aid, nor the ideological consistency to offer a coherent political education program for this purpose.

“The purpose is not just to give food away, but to give food away while being DSA.”

If this is the primary purpose, I firmly believe that supporting existing organizations as DSA members, wearing our colors, building one-on-one relationships with community members and possibly distributing DSA and LATU materials to those interested would be far more effective and less risky. Once we already had personal relationships built within these communities and identified natural leaders (employing tried and tested organizing methods), we could then set up forums and events led by members of the communities. Not only do I think this would be far more effective from an organizing standpoint, it would also be completely free and not potentially cost from $12,000-$30,000+.

I don’t think that there is much to be gained by starting a DSA-led org that duplicates work already being done in these communities, and there is an awful lot to lose. Besides the risk of financial misallocation, if we do not approach these communities in a thoughtful and respectful way, we could burn bridges with potential allies and alienate ourselves from potential comrades. I strongly encourage a no vote on this proposal.