Building the Revolutionary Housing Movement Through Mutual Aid  

Interview with General Dogon of the LA Community Action Network

by Cathleen Williams, Homeward Street Journal

General Dogon is an organizer at the Los Angeles Community Action Network, or LA CAN. This interview took place on April 13, 2024, at the headquarters of the organization, where visitors  are greeted by a sunny reception area with comfortable chairs. 

LA CAN’s sturdy cement block building is set back from East Sixth Street in the heart of Skid Row, where over 4,400 unhoused residents live on its streets, its shelters, and its single-room only hotels. Its meeting rooms, offices and gathering spaces are open to the community for organizing work. 

Dogon told Street Sheet about the work of LA CAN and its campaign to repeal the city’s infamous “sit-lie” ban, which makes it a crime to sit or lie on the sidewalk. 

“We have a lot of next steps—planning the overall campaign,” Dogon said. “End game is abolition. It’s a long road, it’s a fight, it’s a war. You have to face the city that don’t give a damn about people.” 

LA CAN takes a militant stance in the struggle for housing. To put its strategy in motion, LA CAN uses a variety of tactics, Dogon said.  

“That’s what we are fighting against: we are educating folks, doing delegations, writing reports, getting the word out.” he said. “They know we are coming for them: There are tens of thousands of us—our goal is to organize every homeless person for the fight back.” 

“We aren’t going anywhere without house keys,” Dogon continued. “We need to shut the whole city down. Get rid of these laws. It’s a desegregation of LA—one humanity, one people, one fight.” 

Dogon described LA CAN’s function in the community as “a bulwark—an organizing base and strategy center—for the unhoused people of Los Angeles, officially counted at over 75,000 in January 2023. Three-quarters live outside, enduring both the extremes of the desert climate and the unrelenting hostility of City Hall and the private real estate interests that dominate it. Almost a third of the unhoused population is African American—although they are only 8% of the city’s people.”

In the following interview, General Dogon describes the importance and role of mutual aid in building a revolutionary movement. As Wikipedia defines it, mutual aid is “an organizational model where voluntary, collaborative exchanges of resources and services for common benefit take place amongst community members to overcome social, economic, and political barriers to meeting common needs.” As opposed to charity work, mutual aid projects grow solidarity and meet needs by mobilizing people rather than hoping for so-called saviors.

In the following exchange, Dogon elaborated on the role mutual aid plays in community organizing.

Street Sheet: How do we grow our campaign of mutual aid into a strategy to defeat the sweeps that are being undertaken by our cities today?

General Dogon: Revolutionary greetings, first of all!

Yeah, and thank you for that. And that’s a good question. How do we do that? A lot of folks, first of all, when they do think of mutual aid, right, what do they think of? They think of just coming out to help be their brother’s and sister’s keeper, which ain’t nothing wrong with that. That’s a good thing, we encourage people to get involved.

But in doing that, you understand me, we all got limits. There’s only so much that you can give out, because the resources are going to run out. Unless you got a well that never runs dry.

So what do you do? There’s only so much you can do because people are just going to take the resources—“thank you, thank you, thank you” – and they’re gone. People appreciate it, right, but that is not solving the problem.

Because the issue is what’s pushing the oppression to the point that we gotta give my brother sleeping bags, right, that we gotta come out here and give people survival gear—they are being hit that hard, they are losing tents, they are being swept off the street, losing everything they got. How can we just keep doing that? We can’t keep doing that.

Mutual aid, in a sense, is how you grow it—you gotta organize the brother that you’re giving that tent to, you gotta let them know what the fight is all about, what it takes to get that tent. You know, that tent didn’t come easy, it didn’t come from a well that don’t run dry.

And so we need to let people know, “You need to become involved in the fight, basically. If we gotta come out here and give you a tent, under these conditions, you already know you need to get involved in the fight.” 

Because that’s what’s going to change it, because we need to stand up, come together, and fight back against what’s causing the oppression—to where this brother is even getting this tent and the sweeps are even happening—from the beginning.

So that’s how you grow mutual aid: It’s getting the people involved. Look at the Christians: The church has some good organizers, you know, you understand me?

They are going to come out there, they are going to feed you, but then, they going to tell you about Jesus, too! They going to slide up under you with the Bible, and they going to tell you all about John 3:16, and “Come on,” try to get you on your knees, “Come on, accept the Lord, come on, get him now, right now, it ain’t going to happen every day, you better get him right now!”

So that’s what we need to do in the revolution, you understand me. We come out there, we gotta give the brother food, a plate, a tent, [and] we say, “Hey, come on, these are your rights, know your rights!”—“When you see them doing this, then this is what you gotta do!” —educate our people.

“Where are you going to be this time tomorrow? We want you to come to this meeting,” and then we come out and we gonna be our brother’s keeper and we gonna start doing some Street Watch, we gonna do some mutual aid, and we gonna do some revolutionary theater. We are gonna get out here, we gonna do some art and culture, we gonna decorate the place. That’s what mutual aid is, when taken to the next level.

Mutual aid reminds me also of, when you look at any war, you see the Red Cross. They are right there with their tent with the little red cross on it. They are doing mutual aid, but at the same time they got their helmet on, they’re telling people, “Do this, do that”—they doing the same thing [like us, they’re in the fight]. So that’s what it’s really about.

We gotta understand we are out on the battlefield, too. So we want to be able to take mutual aid to the level of revolution.