Build Peoples’ Power and Let’s Get Free!
Community Services Unlimited Inc.
Serving the People Body and Soul!
Build Peoples’ Power and Let’s Get Free!
A Message from CSU’s Executive Director on Behalf of Our Staff and Board
The election of Donald Trump as the President of the United States has thrown many of us into great distress. In this moment, we at CSU remember the words of our former Executive Director, Black Panther, B. Kwaku Duren. He told us that “freedom is not free”. It is a state we have to work to arrive at, and then work to maintain. This means asking questions, sometimes difficult ones and engaging in study and action to uncover the answers for ourselves. Why was Trump’s victory such a shock? How was he able to win? What does this mean for us?
At CSU we know that being an engaged citizen is about much more than just voting. In our day to day work, we don’t as an organization participate in electoral politics. We assert that good food is a basic human right, we make the connections between food and everything else that impacts our lives, and we use that as a catalyst to facilitate critical thinking skills amongst young people in South LA (see this video GGTrailer), as we build access to good affordable food (read this article LAWeekly). This is crucial work because our education system, the media, everything we experience lulls us into accepting assumptions about the nature of this country. The election outcome caused a deep level of distress because so many of us simply did not think it was possible.
Trump’s election victory is an outrage and should disgust and anger any decent person. It is a reminder that misogyny and racism still run rampant around us. In its aftermath, it has been an absolute inspiration to see the immediate and visceral response that has emerged in the form of protests and demonstrations, and especially to see the large numbers of young people who are leading and organizing these collective actions. This was the sight that brought tears of joy to my eyes.
These are the young people CSU works with (see this video YouthLedUrbanAgTour), black and brown youth at the cutting edge of this society’s neglect and oppression. They have the most to lose with Trump’s election. The construction of an anti immigrant wall and cuts to safety net programs will decimate many of their families who are already on the brink of survival.
This all feels familiar to me. I was in High School when Thatcher was first elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and I remember very well how the atmosphere changed literally over night. I grew up in a majority people of color part of London, and yet even there the few white racists who were around were suddenly emboldened, and racial outrages both verbal and physical began to occur all too frequently, not to mention the devastating economic consequences for poor people.
Trump in power has real repercussions. The righteous response to this election is driven by this understanding and by the shock at his victory that has jolted many Americans out of their “manufactured consent”, like when Neo takes the red pill in the Matrix; an awakening that has led many to their first experience of the potential power of people when we come together.
Huey P. Newton defined power as “the ability to define phenomena and make it act in a desired manner”. When we look to the road ahead under a Trump presidency, we know that we need to work even harder to build our own power, power that works from the bottom up, power that uncompromisingly serves the communities we represent and builds crucial alliances toward a movement that is ready for whatever lies ahead. We need to define for ourselves the phenomena that determine our lives and livelihoods.
Since the night of the election the dominant view in public discourse has been that racist white people are responsible for Trump’s election victory. There are still millions of votes left to count. However, examining the current election results it is clear that at least a very large minority, just under 50 percent of eligible voters did not vote. And, according to some of the latest numbers, that was a growth in this election of several million eligible voters, who did not vote. There was no massive turn amongst voters toward Trump, in fact 2 million fewer voted for him than for Mitt Romney in the last Presidential election. There was however, a turn away from the Democratic Party, which was deserted by 7 million voters! And while the overall numbers voting went down, of those who did vote, exit polls show about 29% of Latinos and 8% of Blacks cast their votes for Trump. Furthermore, of those who did vote, the move to the Republicans was 1% amongst whites, 7% amongst Blacks, 8% amongst Latinos and 11% amongst Asian Americans.
While anti-Black racism and anti-immigrant sentiment undoubtedly drove a portion of Trump voters, blaming Trumps victory solely on white racism does not explain the whole picture. Especially when we consider that at least in part the same whites being blamed for Trumps victory in this election, voted in 2008 for Obama. People voted for Obama then because they wanted something different. In this election with no alternative to business as usual, voters went for the candidate that seemed the most different from the regular offering. In a very skewered way, this election result was a vote for change.
Racial politics is one of the most important issues facing us in our struggle for freedom. One of the only examples I know of democracy actually working in America was in the South during the period known as reconstruction. Poor whites and African Americans just out of slavery were elected with the popular vote to state legislatures and demonstrated their ability to find common ground and govern. This situation was not tolerated and was repressed with violence by former slave holders while the Northern Capitalists sat by and watched. The developing solidarity between poor whites African Americans was brutally disrupted, leading to the Jim Crow era. We need to know and remember this history; race is a powerful tool against any peoples movement.
When I first began doing this work with CSU in South LA, our creation by the Black Panther Party in 1977 was something that I was often advised to be quiet about; nobody would want to work with or support such an organization. In recent years, the Panthers have become widely talked about and even a symbol used in popular culture. More people, especially young people have become familiar with the Black Panther Party. Does this awareness include a knowledge of what the party stood for, of its political writings and disagreements? The Panthers were declared the number one threat to the internal security of the United States. They were hunted down and imprisoned, killed or forced into exile. Why? What was it about what they were doing that was seen as so dangerous? There were after all other groups organizing amongst Blacks in America who were not treated the same way.
The Black Panthers were uncompromisingly about their people, they never bowed down to the white left or put the interests of Blacks in America secondary to anyone. However, they also clearly understood the need for building strategic alliances and were the first to create rainbow coalitions. They openly engaged in dialogue with other sectors of the movement and saw this as a crucial part of their work. They moved many within and beyond the Black community into action and inspired support across many sectors of American society, amongst the brown community, amongst whites and even in entrenched sectors of the state like the military. This is why they were so feared by the government. We have to know our history. We need to understand that while it feels good when we are angry, the argument that white racism got Trump elected does not explain the complexity of the situation we are in and is ultimately not in our interests.
Another favorite phrase of Kwaku Duren’s was “be grateful to people when they reveal themselves to you”. Trump’s election as President has pulled back the curtain to reveal the reality we live in, and for this we should be grateful. Now we need to define this reality and we need to have some idea of what we want it to become. No, freedom is not free, it is work, hard work. And real freedom, real change is not generalized or academic, it is deeply personal. Read this Zocalo SLA and Donate Now
Since its inception, CSU has been involved in creating projects that build people’s power. We pay youth to work for us and train them to analyze and organize; we grow and provide healthy food in South LA, which has been notorious as a “food desert” for decades; we start from people’s immediate needs to build the structures that communities need to survive and thrive. Rather than despair at all the crises from which we have suffered, long before the present one, we have taken them as a challenge to shape our own alternatives. See this video EarthDayEveryDay and Donate Now
We are grateful for those who have been with us all along, but NOW is the time for everyone to get involved in creating something real, permanent, and community-owned in South Los Angeles. We are turning a 10,000 square foot lot on Vermont and 66th Street that we purchased in July ’15 (see this video EPICPreLaunch and Donate Now) into the Paul Robeson Community Wellness Center. It will house South LA’s first organic market and café, a commercial kitchen, an on-site urban farm and community gathering and organizing space.
This center will be a resource for the whole community, as Paul Robeson himself might have envisaged. We are launching our capital campaign to raise the funds that will make this vision a reality and we need your support. Even as we react and protest, lets be proactive and help to create change! Below are details about how you can get Involved NOW and make the change personal.
Executive Director, Community Services Unlimited Inc.
On behalf of the staff and board of CSU Inc.
*Attend our first Paul Robeson Community Wellness Center Construction Fundraiser!
Dec 4th – 11am to 2.30pm – 6569 South Vermont, Los Angeles CA 90044
*Purchase a tile with your family name to be displayed in the new building!
Purchase more than one for each family member.
$250.00 per tile; be part of creating this community space and see your name each time you visit
*Come out and volunteer at the EXPO Farm
*Make a donation for your end of year giving
*Donate your services
Have a skill that may be useful as we construct the new site? Can you help with our social media campaign? Got fundraising skills?
*Organize a meet and greet of people you know, we can come and talk to about what we do Email Heather@csuinc.org