Why Not Copy the Black Panther Breakfast Program?

On the US left, the free breakfast program carried out by the Black Panther Party for Self Defense is legendary, and there are almost constant attempts to imitate it.

And why shouldn't people want to copy it? It filled a tremendous need in the community, and embarrassed the state enough to where today most US school children have access to a similar program through the state. It also did a great deal to build support for the Panthers in the community.

But no one ever really manages it, though God knows plenty have tried. The short answer to why it hasn't been matched is that it takes a tremendous amount of resources, and the left in the US doesn't have those resources right now.

Most of the time people set out to imitate it, they hold a big community feed. A LOT of times, this is anarchists doing it, so in addition to the other problems, they're serving people vegan soup, which isn't necessarily the most popular thing they could put out.

But whatever food they serve, what they don't do is feed hundreds of children every day for literally years, as the Panthers did in Oakland and other towns. People aim at weekly feeds, but hardly ever really manage that.

As a result, they connect to very few people, and they don't connect all that strongly to those. Recruitment really is a numbers game. You've got to sift through a lot of people to find a handful that are really going to go all in for the revolution. And feeding five or ten people isn't going to get you very far.

Even if you serve plenty of food, as anybody that has run a business knows, you've got to be out there and consistent for a while before you build up a clientele. The first time you do it, if you've got food for a hundred people, you're probably going to end up throwing a lot of it out.

And if you're thinking, well, my idea is clothes, or legal help, or whatever, that's fine, and one or another alternative may be a better idea than food in your town, but I don't see where that changes the basic math.

There are groups that build up a strong working class constituency through service programs, and turn that into some political mobilizing power. But these aren't revolutionary groups. These are pretty consistently NGOs, and they can do it because they have full time staff whose job it is to do the work, and usually a brick and mortar office to work out of.

So, if you're a revolutionary and you want to do this, then I think there's a few things you're going to have to do to really get traction.

One, you're going to have to raise money and other resources, so you have a place to work out of and you have things to distribute. You're going to have to do this in a serious, consistent way, and to the tune of probably thousands per month. And no, you may not have to buy the food. The Panthers didn't. But it's work to guilt people into donating it, it's work to collect, and it's work to prepare and distribute it. To do that on a large scale you will need a large number of people each one putting in a large number of hours.

Two, you're going to have to dedicate yourself to it, and probably live without working, or anyway while only half-working. That's quite a position to put yourself in, for a lot of reasons. First is that you're going to be relying on the generosity of others to live, and if that dries up, you're going to be kind of screwed. Second is what happens if you get sick or disabled. And third is it's going to be difficult or impossible to maintain a family life.

Three, you're going to need a strong organization to back you. And very few organizations in the US are really strong enough to consistently back anything at this time. Almost all of them still have terrible internal contradictions... But that's a different topic.

Otherwise, this is a kind of organizing that the left is not going to do very much with for a while yet.