Since the All African People's Revolutionary Party (A-APRP) in Portland, Oregon, made a decision to initiate a community defense project in 2014, we thought long and hard about how to introduce our work to the community. We of course had the Panthers front and center to our thought process, but we also had the benefit of other African organizations such as the Convention People's Party of Ghana and their positive action campaign. We knew of the Democratic Party of Guinea and their local councils. The Committees in Defense of the Revolution in Cuba. The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee's door to door organizing model. We discussed how the Panthers received criticism from the left for the breakfast program. Even some inside of the Panther Party - Eldridge Cleaver in particular - were very critical of the breakfast program as a reformist and bourgeois element of the party's work. We understood those critiques, but we felt that we had a revolutionary vision for the work we wanted to do. We did our research. We discovered that the New Columbia neighborhood in North Portland was a good fit for our focused work. Since Oregon has a long history of racist policies that excluded and encouraged Africans to avoid living in this state, and these policies are continued today through the systematic land grab known as gentrification, we didn't have many options. New Columbia is the highest concentration of African people in Oregon. It has a high percentage of federally subsidized housing and all the other social identities that made it perfect for us to focus our work. Our intention was to use the breakfast program as an entry into the neighborhood. We would be able to meet people. If we were consistent, we would win the respect of the community. This would enable us to add other pieces of the work that would help us get to our ultimate goal - raising the political consciousness of the community to embrace our revolutionary Pan-African program and work. Similar to the logic used by the Panthers, we felt that if we fed children that could serve as a socialist model for the community. We could help people see that we as a community can take care of our own needs and we can build up the institutions that will create self-sufficiency for our people. We envisioned having parents and community people become involved with the breakfast program, take more active roles within it, and become stakeholders in the work. We believed this would lead to more projects of a similar nature in that neighborhood. This would continue to create collective self-determination, positive socialist ideals, and a positive sense of organization and African community. Also, it would develop a positive perspective of the A-APRP which would help create the conditions for recruitment of people into the party.
After almost a year of maintaining the breakfast program twice a week, here are some thoughts on what we have experienced. First, if the work is done e.g. going door to door, talking to people, letting them know we are there, and being consistent at being there, people will send their children to participate. We currently serve approximately 100 meals per month. Second, people in the community will provide material support for this type of work. This is essential since in order for this work to be productive, it must remain independent and community based. This means it cannot be overrun by the non-profit industrial complex. No system steering grants for our program. We will build it slowly, but surely. That is and was our pledge. So, the children come and they come often. There have been major challenges. There is the constant pressure on the coffee shop owner of the Columbia International Cup to meet the challenge of staying open in a low income neighborhood. At this point, it's no stretch to say that the owner's commitment to providing services to the community are as much his priority as selling coffee. For all the "buy Black" advocates who truly believe capitalism can be given a face lift, the Columbia Cup is a business, unlike most of them, that is well worth supporting since he is giving back to the community in a significant way. Other challenges have been related to us making a ton of errors and when I say that, I place myself at the front of the list. Errors in planning. Errors in expectations. Errors in handling problems with each other. We've made a lot of mistakes. Plus, the fact this is a new chapter for the A-APRP meaning people who have joined are often very new to political work, organizing work in particular. They are often unprepared to meet the challenges of this work, especially that of a revolutionary independent nature. The daily challenges of building relationships, working through problems, and staying focused and committed, often prove to daunting for many people. A lot of folks come into the work with a bourgeois sense of how institutions are built and progress is made. We are taught to see the finished product. We don't understand the sweat, blood, and tears, that goes into producing anything worthwhile. Plus, many of us see conflict as something to avoid at all costs and/or something to embrace as a religion instead of understanding conflict is simply a part of life. If we don't learn how to work through it, we can't get stronger and make progress. So, besides a couple of people, we have struggled to maintain and develop organizers to consistently do the work. Most leave the minute there is a challenge. That has impacted and delayed our ability to develop a consistent political education program for the children.
The good news is that even with just a couple of dedicated people, including one comrade, a sister of course, who gets up at 4:30 or 5am to ride her bike, regardless of the Oregon weather, to the breakfast program on a consistent basis, we have developed a core political education program so that we are focusing on the children's self esteem on Mondays, while providing them with information and education on Fridays. Another positive is the consistency of support from community members. There are a core of people who continue to provide food and monetary donations. You know who you are. We love you for your support! There are others who provide ideological support through making sure we get coverage in alternative media sources that positively uplift the work. This is inspiring for us because it shows that people are paying attention. Finally, the excitement and energy of the children, who continue to show up, is the best reward. The children show a commitment to what we are teaching them. They remember the Akan greetings they learn and the historical examples we provide. They participate in our discussions around women, organization, and history, with enthusiasm and hunger. In fact, the children provide all the motivation we need to figure out ways to navigate around any of the the challenges we face.
After 10 months of struggling to maintain the program, as was stated, we are starting to institutionalize aspects of the program. We are still looking for committed organizers who understand our Pan-African mission. This has been another challenge because when you are faced with the children at 7am, you learn quickly that all the initial energy will need to be generated by you. This has proven challenging for some who revert back to what they know, and this is usually not the revolutionary Pan-African ideology/analysis of the A-APRP. So, we need and want people who have some sense of balance in their lives. People who have the ability to understand that they are needed to shoulder a part of this work and make a contribution to it. People who can follow through without being told to do so every time. If we had all the wrinkles worked out, we wouldn't need you. So, we continue to recruit. We also will always need donations to supplement the extent to which we run the program out of our pockets. This is stressful, but desirable at the end of the day because we are independent and only need answer to ourselves. The other phases of our original community defense focus are coming together. Many of the local parents, we hope and believe partially inspired by our example, have decided they want a Saturday school in New Columbia. So, the parents have invited us to begin organizing with them to plan out the development of that project. We are currently participating and helping build that next level of work in that community.
So, the Panthers called the breakfast program "survival pending revolution", but we see pancakes and eggs as political education tools. While the children are eating, we are talking to them about how columbite tantilite, or coltan, is the mineral ore needed to power the cell phones they are looking at along with the computers they spend much time working and playing on. We have discussions about how coltan is stolen daily from Africa at a rate of $400 U.S.D. per day. We explain that is true for rubber, diamonds, gold, cocoa, uranium, bauxite, etc. and this is the reason Africa remains poor and the masses of African people, including those living in New Columbia, remain poor and oppressed. This is our message about why we need Pan-Africanism and we have observed that these children have absolutely no problem grasping all of that while they sip apple juice. We hear the parents telling us that they want their children with us because we feed them better food and we value their children. We delight in listening to parents express that our revolutionary socialist message is healthy and desirable for their children. And don't think the enemy isn't noticing. We have managed our way through a number of sabotage efforts and as we grow, those efforts will also grow, but we have paid close attention to the groundwork the Panthers have laid out for us. We know that the best weapon against our enemies is the political education of our cadre and thus, our people. That's why we don't want just anybody in the A-APRP right now. We want the most dedicated, committed, and selfless people to do this work. We need people who don't expect us to do everything without errors because that's unrealistic. We need persons with a level of maturity who can stomach our errors and work with us to eliminate them. We want people who can pick themselves up and keep coming after being knocked down. People who understand that the work isn't perfect and the people doing the work aren't perfect, but we won't stop supporting each other. We won't stop trying. Understand something. We respect the example our elders have provided for us. We are convinced that we are going to build and develop the organizers we need and more importantly, we are going to organize our people for revolutionary Pan-Africanism (one unified, socialist Africa), one waffle at a time.