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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: East Bay | U.S. | Health, Housing, and Public Services
Starve Them Out: Attacks on Food Stamps are an Attack on the People of Oakland
Food Stamp benefits will be cut on November 1st when a federal stimulus runs out - but politicians are pushing for much deeper attacks.
At a time of record unemployment, rising hunger and poverty, job layoffs, wage freezes, and government cut backs to basic services, those in the two ruling parties have pushed to slash millions of dollars for food stamps. Recently, food stamp benefits will be scaled back in a 13% reduction as the 2009 stimulus package boost to the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) expires. This reduction will hit hard: a family of four will lose $36 worth of food per month. But this could just be the start. Up to 4 million Americas will face even stiffer cuts if a bill pushed forward by the Republicans in the House of Representatives is passed into law. The bill proposes to slash $40 billion from SNAP over the next ten years.
Many Americans would also become ineligible to receive food stamps in the first place as millions of poor and underemployed adults, the unemployed, low-income families, seniors, and veterans would all be taken off of benefits. Hundreds of thousands of children would also lose free school lunches and unemployed people that are unable to find jobs would lose them as well. While Democrats have stated they will block such a bill from passing in the Senate, in June of 2013 they agreed to cuts of $400 million in the next five years. In the bay area, Oakland has the highest percentage of people on federal food assistance programs in Alameda County. With 26% of Oaklanders receiving food stamps, that’s 61,869 people, a vast majority people of color. Nationally, the number of people receiving aid is staggering. Up to 47.76 million are on food stamps, climbing from 26 million around 2007 when the recession hit, with half of those receiving benefits being children and teenagers in low-income families.
This is not the first time that Food Stamps have come under attack by those in power. It was Bill Clinton that took migrant workers off food stamps and also restricted the welfare system. The current attacks by Republicans mirror this same assault. Both parties are united in attacking both workers and the poor, while demonizing certain groups as an enemy to either. The politicians tell us that our enemies are the immigrant, the unemployed, the homeless, and the poor in general. This is the same demonization of various sections of the poor and working class that the media has tried to push in the BART strike, as we have been told that transit workers are the enemy while those in the real positions of power are our friends. At a time when the Obama administration is gearing up for a continued assault in the Middle East, either in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, or Syria, we can also see how the system is designed to take our money and funnel it into war, surveillance, prisons, police, and domestic spying, while leaving us with nothing. As 2pac said, “They got money for wars, but can’t feed the poor.”
Controlling people’s most basic biological needs in times of social unrest can either add to or relieve the tension that exists between the rich and the poor. The question of more or less government benefits is irrelevant; we deserve everything that our class creates. The government has always been an obstacle to this end, to the free fulfillment of our most basic needs. This doesn’t mean that austerity gives us no strategic advantages to exploit; we must turn the management of social tension into a full-blown insurrection.
History of Food Stamps
During the Great Depression, the mass movements of the 1930’s pushed the government to release food and money to those without work. This resistance took many forms. Millions of everyday Americans, out of work and without opportunities, took over and lived in vacant homes, occupied workplaces and went on strike, and disrupted welfare centers and demanded benefits. In the 1960’s, millions of people revolted against racism, poverty, and the war in Vietnam. Poor and working class African-Americans took to the streets en mass, bringing many urban centers to a state of insurrection as they faced off against the National Guard and racist police. The government passed the Food Stamps Act in 1964, as an attempt to pacify the poor population, especially people of color in the US.
In Oakland, the state aimed itself especially at the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense using the COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program), which used assassinations, police violence, infiltration, and imprisonment to disrupt revolutionary groups. By the 1980’s, the government had succeeded in disrupting the group’s organizing efforts and moved to flood the streets with crack-cocaine as a means of destabilizing the black community and funding a proxy war in Latin America. This project of counter-insurgency continues to this day. Attacks on benefit programs continue this assault on poor and working class people and in a period when many people are often not organized to fight back. At a time when we are weak, those in power move to take even more away from us.
Effects in the Bay Area
In the coming years, city planners, politicians, and developers want to add over 200 hundred thousand more people to San Francisco – although they know full-well that many of the poor and working class residents will be forced out. This ongoing gentrification of San Francisco is adding to the ongoing gentrification of the East Bay. As foreclosure has pushed many out of their homes, real estate agents have snapped them up, transforming entire neighborhoods. As developers make millions, what better way to push out the poor from their neighborhoods than to literally starve them out. With benefits being cut, many people will continue to find the rising cost of living in the bay area to be unbearable and they will be forced to leave.
In order to not merely just survive, but to sever the hand that feeds us and win our freedom, we must lend our actions toward making visible the contradictions within capitalism. It is the system that has forced us into poverty, not us. But it is the struggles and revolts of those before us that won us the crumbs that we depend on now. But we must break out of this cycle of constant crisis. Confrontations with capital have and will continue to occur, from building occupations, defense from eviction of foreclosed homes, going out on strike against poor wages and conditions, and organizing against police terror.
In Oakland’s rich history of resistance, people undertook a general strike in 1946 in solidarity with other workers and against poor conditions. The Black Panthers formed community programs to feed children, treat the sick, and deal with community problems. The Occupy Oakland camp fed thousands, provided free health-care, and held a space against the police and the government. Occupy the Farm on UC Berkeley property planted and reared crops in the face of government repression. Across Oakland, people have squatted and taken homes abandoned by landlords and banks. We must find other collective ways to meet our needs against the daily realities of poverty and a rising cost of living.
-Some East Bay Anarchists