A survival program is an organized grassroots effort that offers an oppressed community basic needs for their survival. Where ever the top-down social welfare programs initiated by an oppressive regime fail, the survival program is there to fill in the void, ensuring that the people are fed, clothed, and have the necessary resources essential to their survival. More than charity or community service, a survival program is the revolutionary act of the people providing for themselves and is specifically designed to undermine the state and break dependence from it.
The Black Panther Party for Self Defense was well known for its survival programs, so much so that J. Edgar Hoover identified the Free Breakfast program as the most dangerous and subversive of all the Party's activities. He claimed that the programs were really for indoctrinating kids into Black revolutionary ideology. He was partly right, for the survival programs exposed many poor Black people to revolutionary ideas they would not normally be exposed to. The survival programs became the platform for politicizing the people and proved to be an effective tool for mobilizing popular support. Furthermore, they cemented the Party's position in the Black community and won the trust of the Black poor and working class.
In the most concrete sense, the survival programs help place the people in a better position to wage revolutionary struggle, since one cannot fight oppression on an empty stomach or without decent clothing.
Step One: Establish Yourself In The Community
Before you begin anything you must first establish yourself in the community you are working with. It is very important that you are a resident or a native of that community or else it cannot be said that your programs are grassroots. The true power of the survival programs come from the self-determination of the people who already live there and know their community and needs. Get to know your neighbors and talk with them about their needs and struggles. Familiarize yourself with social spaces such as community centers, churches, and soup kitchens. Scout out possible spaces in the community that would be available for you to have your programming.
Step Two: Form A List Of Needs
After collecting feedback from neighbors and other residence, start out by jotting down a list of all of the needs you can think of. Keep in mind some of the most basic needs such as food, clothing, housing, child care, health care, employment, and safety. You might even consider transportation and education. Maybe residents need repairs done to their homes. As a resident you should also be asking the question "what do I need?". Look at state welfare programs functioning in the community. Where they are lacking? Where are people being under-served? Your list should be as exhaustive as possible.
Step Three: Outline The Survival Program
Choose a need from the list and brainstorm how you might go about serving that need. If the need is food for example, maybe you want to start a breakfast program or a food drive. Organize a rough outline of what the program will entail and how it will function. The outline should not be too rigid and must leave space for modifications as the people see fit.
Step Four: Make A Political Education Plan
Your survival program will get people through the door. Once they are there it is crucial that you provide exposure to revolutionary ideology and political education. This can be as simple as handing out political pamphlets with a meal, or putting up revolutionary posters and art in your spaces. Your approach should not be preachy, condescending, or paternalistic. Instead, respect the people as humans and make an effort to level with them about oppression. Every person who receives services from your program should know what your movement is about, in the same way everyone who receives services from Salvation Army knows what they are about. Your message should be clear and accessible to the people. Everyone who receives services from your program must leave with something in their hands that explains the movement and its politics.
Step Five: Setting Up The Survival Program
Make a map of the resources at your disposal, including money, possible volunteers, local donors, and venues. You will want to have a separate revenue stream in place to fund the project. Avoid grants. Venues can be a public space or someones home. When you have secured adequate funding for your program and have a venue you are ready to begin your program. Be aware that the program may be infiltrated and plan accordingly.