Friday, December 2, 2011

Who Are RAC-LA, and What Are They Doing in MacArthur Park?

by John A Imani
This piece by John, an active member of the organization he’s writing about, is a partisan look at work happening in underserved communities on the grassroots level. This has gone on years before the Occupy movement arrived, and is characteristic of various like efforts that often go unheralded.
— The Editors
It’s Sunday. Any Sunday. Any Sunday for the last four years. Alongside the sidewalk sit crates of fruit, vegetables and breads. Taking portions from the foodstuffs and placing these in tote bags and boxes, workers take care to ensure that each is as any other. Farther back, on a slight hillside, people—in the main, older people—sit and chat in a variety of languages: Spanish and Korean sometimes crowds out the English. Children help out, putting together the parcels, or play games, or both, often at the same time. Two women have cooked and offer the workers traditional Mexican and/or Central American dishes. There is even a vegan option. Another man has mixed fruits and water to form agua de frutas with which he fills cups. Sunday. Any Sunday.
Revolutionary Autonomous Communities-Los Angeles (RAC-LAwas created in the aftermath of the police riot in MacArthur Park on May Day 2007. On that day the LAPD targeted migrant workers who had used their Constitutional right of assembly to stand up for all our human rights. To demonstrate our support of the right of migrant workers to go and stay wherever there is work, residents of the MacArthur Park area and others joined together to support those with no papers and those with no means. RAC-LA came forward to aid the community in self-organizing—seminars on renters’ rights, and other issues—so that, with the help of each other, we might make this inhuman way of living a bit more bearable while at the same time acquiring the means and the consciousness to one day transform this beastly system into an image of our own humanity.
Since the beginning, the RAC-LA food program, La Programa de Comida, has given out baskets of food to an average of over 100 persons each Sunday. In total, more than 20,000 such baskets of vegetables and staples such as rice and beans have been passed on to those in need.
From 10 a.m. to mid-afternoon every Sunday, rain or shine, we organize ourselves to distribute these foodstuffs to some of the area’s many needy. Sunshine or rain, summer’s heat or winter’s cold, the members of RAC-LA are at our posts every Sunday near the southeast corner of Wilshire and Parkview, MacArthur Park in central Los Angeles. Our food program is our base for launching other projects like our garden, our exercise program, our soap- and T-shirt-making efforts. This is the hard work, the real work, of readying ourselves, our comrades and our neighbors to take up the struggle for and the building of a new way of life: new vistas, new horizons, new visions made manifest. RAC-LA was thus founded and constituted as a long-term project—not as a quick, easy “solution.”
If this were the tale of an ideologically disciplined organization “serving the people” as the heroic Black Panther’s “Free Breakfast for Children” programs did in the 1960s, then it would be classified as an outstanding venture. What is remarkable, however, is that RAC-LA is no longer a group of mainly youthful anarcho-communists setting out to serve the people but is now composed of the people serving themselves. Ninety percent of RAC-LA’s membership initially came to La Programa Comida because they needed what we were offering. They saw what we were doing. They liked what we were doing. They said to themselves “If those guys can do it, why can’t I?”
In our methods of production, the first order of business is the unloading of the vehicles bringing the raw materials of RAC-LA’s production—fruits and veggies, beans and rice—to our location. In this task, regular RAC-LA members and sympathizers are almost always joined by some of those waiting to receive the foodstuffs. It is not a requirement, but it almost always occurs.
Next comes the triaging of the food, whereby the items are shorn of wilted outer leaves, etc. Again, comrades (and sometimes bystanders) take up these duties on their own volition. Separately, a group of 4-6 companera(o)smeasure and package quart-bag-size packets of rice and beans. And in a third sector, comrades tend to both the disposal of trash and the breaking down of the cardboard containers that the fruits and vegetables have arrived in. Almost all of our vegetable waste is composted. The cartons themselves in which the fruit arrive are also recycled. No one assigns anyone to any sector. Anyone can do any job.
This voluntary work sans the incentive of payment—though most workers also opt to receive baskets at end—gives evidence that the mode of cooperative production (i.e. where one works for the benefit of all and is, in turn, benefited by the work of all) is no “pie-in-the-sky,” is no hallucination spawned by the nightmare of an economic system that demeans and devalues human beings into faceless mindless beasts of burden activated only by the “carrot” (pay) or the “stick” (the threat of firing). The false dichotomy of capitalism is overturned.
As there is no “typical” RAC-LA member, let me introduce you to Gabriella. Gabby is a bright and beautiful 13-year-old. Her valiant mother—who speaks little English and reads no language—worked as a domestic, saved, and then wired the money to Chiapas for Gabby’s passage north, which she made in the company of an uncle at the age of nine. Now she is as any other member of RAC-LA with ideas that she will share, with a voice that will be heard.
She says “We left because there was no work and we needed to send money back to my grandmother and the rest of our family.” Of RAC-LA’s efforts and her participation in it, she notes, “We save people money and show them that they are not alone.”
We are young, we are old. We are from south of what they call the border, we are from south of what we call the “cotton curtain.” We are primarily people of color, we are all people who seek the end of “color.” What we have done—and are continuing to do—can be done by anyone in any community, can be done by you in your community. All that it takes is an example. Set it.
John A Imani is a long-time revolutionary living and working in Los Angeles. Under the name S John Daniels, he has written and produced six plays and is the author of three novels. He has a short story in the recently released incendiary anthology Send My Love and a Molotov Cocktail!

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