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Are You a Missionary or a Revolutionary?

A People's Program member at the People's Breakfast in Oakland, an example of a revolutionary as opposed to missionary program.

In a recent panel, Delency posed the question to his fellow panelists: “are you a missionary or a revolutionary?” The question naturally arose since the panel featured groups and people who are actively participating in food and community programs. Over the course of the discussion, it became clear that folks are engaged in the work for different reasons. Two members of People’s Programs (Yemi & Delency) participated in the panel and it was their goal to have an honest conversation with the other panelists (and themselves) about why they are doing this work: to make themselves feel good, or to actually create real and lasting structural change in their locales. For the poor and houseless people we serve at People’s Programs, that change would equate to the dismantling of racist systems (education, healthcare, housing, police, etc.) and the empowering of our people through decolonization programs that meet their everyday needs, such as food, clothes, healthcare, childcare, and education.

To be clear: People’s Programs’ work is for revolutionary purposes. And it is our duty as revolutionaries to encourage those who may wish to serve their fellow humans for altruistic or moral reasons, to shift to the highest form of altruism and morality: REVOLUTION! For our organization, revolution means putting an end to capitalism, and governing society with the socioeconomic and political system of SOCIALISM, where the means of production (raw materials, labor, machines, land, factories) and distribution of wealth are owned by the masses of people. No more working 40+ hours a week and barely making ends meet. No more overpriced healthcare premiums. No more food deserts. No more environmental racism. In this new socialist society, all of our basic needs and human rights are met, and our labor is no longer exploited for the benefit of the rich.

“Marx and Engles did not discover socialism, they simply observed it.”- Kwame Ture

Socialism is not a new idea to Black people. Many would like you to believe that socialism derives from 19th century european school of thought. That Karl Marx and his understanding of equality is what birthed the system. This is false. Communalism and egalitarianism (the pillars of socialism) date back to the origins of African society. While pretty much all of Europe was subjecting its people to some form of feudalism or slavery, in Africa, our empire, nations, and tribes [on average] were more interested in developing all of our people- as opposed to the strengthening of class gaps. Yes, there was slavery and feudalism in Africa prior to contact with europe, but unlike europe- that was not the norm for the continent. Africans are naturally communal and egalitarian. And to make the connection of socialism to the communal and egalitarian ways of Africa, we can simply turn to the words of Julius Nyerere: “Socialism is communalism in the industrial age.”

Now you’re probably wondering: what does socialism have to do with food and community programs? Free food and grocery programs, free health clinics, — these programs give the people a material look at what social services aimed at meeting the needs of the people — as opposed to profit — look like. It shows the people in real time that a consolidation of power, with an egalitarian and communal purpose, can lead to a shift in the quality of life for themselves and their community. But it is not simply the act of the program- it is the purpose driving them. Hence the question: are you a missionary or a revolutionary?

Missionaries (not to be confused with religious missionaries- it’s being used here as a practical identifier) drop in and out of communities, providing resources sporadically. They rarely take the time to analyze if they’re providing resources that the community has asked for and needs. They don’t examine if they are as efficient with their distribution as they can be. When you move with the intention of a savior, you tend not to analyze the material but focus solely on the metaphysical- the feelings of the work. Missionaries also fail to address the root problems. They either provide help and resources with a false understanding of what created these conditions, or haven’t taken the time to even ponder these deep-seated problems. As a result, they hardly ever name white supremacist capitalism as the driving force of the conditions of the poor and houseless. Revolutionaries, on the other hand, do the opposite. Hence the question: Are you a missionary or a revolutionary?

Revolutionaries who launch [decolonization] programs understand that they are a pivotal part of the process to complete liberation, sovereignty, and empowerment for the poor, oppressed, and houseless. Each hygiene pack, each meal, every free grocery box is distributed with this future vision in mind.

Revolutionaries distribute and run their programs with scientific socialism as the foundation. This encompasses socialist programs that are governed by reason, logic, and analysis. We fervently believe that when dealing with systemic issues, we have to have systemic solutions. When 28 million people in the United States report not having health coverage, we can’t use good intentions to govern our health clinic. When Black folks make up 18.7% of the amerikkkan impoverished population, it’s not enough to let feelings guide our grocery programs. When more than 50% of Oakland’s houseless population is Black, altruism just simply isn’t enough. We have to combat these numbers with scientific processes. Which is why at People’s Programs we are constantly assessing our distribution routes, and our packaging systems. We’re asking the people about their needs, not providing them with what we think they need. We ask if they need bar soap or liquid soap? Do they prefer kale or mixed greens in their free grocery boxes?

If the people in Oakland (or anywhere else for that matter) wish to see real change, we have to approach our work with a scientific mind, and understand the deeply broken system that results in people sleeping on sidewalks, under freeways, in cars, and in parks. We have to understand the political and economic context that forces people to work 40+ hours a day and then still not have enough money to afford groceries. We must understand housing, education, food, and healthcare as basic human rights!

At one point in the panel, Yemi and Delency made the point that there are a number of different groups running hot meal distribution programs in Oakland. They said that a consolidation of power between the groups in collaboration with the shelters would result in quality meals 2–3 times a day for houseless folks. That is the scientific socialism speaking. An organized and calculated effort. We at People’s Programs believe that if we truly wish to maximize our love for ourselves, our fellow people, animals and the planet, and to see a world where all can thrive- we must organize our efforts and make them efficient and effective. It’s clear to us that there is only one thing that could prevent other groups from joining with our efforts to provide resources with the aim of addressing the root problems of racism and capitalism; they actually don’t care about the underlying systemic issues. They prefer to do the work for personal reasons. Hence the question: Are you a missionary or a revolutionary?

Free The People!
Free The Land!


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People's Programs is an Oakland-based, Black-socialist organization dedicated to the liberation of ALL Afrikan people through scientific socialism. We are guided by the practices and theories of Revolutionary Nationalists and Pan-Africanists, and we are aiming to do our part in the unification and liberation of Afrikans across the diaspora.

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