Painting the town red

In March, when Kiara Bouyea walked into her first DSA meeting in Augusta, Georgia, she wasn’t sure what to suspect. Would there be other young, Black, queer people there? Bouyea first learned about DSA from her partner, but neither of them had previously attended a meeting. However, Bouyea’s involvement with politics and activism started much earlier. “I’ve been going to protests since I was about 14. When Trayvon Martin died, I remember protesting about that in downtown Atlanta,” Bouyea says.

Bouyea is one of the more than 12,000 new members who have joined DSA in the past few months. “There were a lot of people there that had been canvassing for Bernie,” she says. Bouyea was happy to see that the meeting was full of a diverse group of people. She was able to meet her new comrades in person, just before the COVID-19 pandemic would affect how chapters and organizing committees across the country could organize safely, and she became an official dues-paying member this September. It was at this meeting that the organizing committee (OC) had the idea for the Food Desert Relief Mutual Aid Project.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its related economic fallout made the Food Desert Relief Mutual Aid Project an immediate priority. The program donates food to people living in food deserts throughout Augusta.

“People think that food deserts just mean that there aren’t grocery stores in the area, but it’s more than that,” says Bouyea. She points out that some residents don’t have access or time to go to grocery stores. They might have to rely on public transportation, work long shifts, or take on multiple jobs to make ends meet. Just going across town for a shopping trip becomes a major effort. The food donation project, which began in the summer, has increased access to food throughout Augusta; Bouyea’s OC donates about 60 to 70 large paper bags of food a month. Bouyea and her comrades have also packed special large paper bags that, along with food, include eating utensils, can openers, and toiletries— items that are often needed by those without permanent housing. While the Food Desert Relief Mutual Aid Project currently only involves the Augusta OC, Bouyea hopes that she can expand the project by working with activist groups and local nonprofits.

When they bring bags to apartments around Augusta, Bouyea and her comrades meet tenants whose rent has been raised to unaffordable rates. These visits open up conversations about the benefits of a tenant union, something that many tenants had never considered. “It’s about more than just charity,” Bouyea tells Democratic Left. “It is about mutual aid.”

In another project, the Augusta OC has bought newspaper and magazine stands from a now-defunct newspaper and plans to put them in various locations around the city. “We think that these stands, or racks, can help spread the word about DSA,” she says. The stands will hold issues of Democratic Left alongside pamphlets focused on political education. The project feels right at home for Bouyea, who had worked in the publishing industry before beginning a credential program at the Western Governors University’s Teachers College. OC members plan to paint the stands a DSA red and spray paint a QR code on the side of each box that, when scanned, can take someone directly to some web resources about DSA. Nowadays, newspaper stands are mainly for free neighborhood papers, and the OC hopes that potential users will be drawn to the bright-red containers even if they haven’t heard of DSA before.

As the COVID-19 pandemic changes how chapters and organizing committees function, Bouyea’s work shows just how much a new DSA member can contribute, from creating new projects to helping strengthen already existing projects or campaigns. She is already trying to recruit new members. “There’s one person I have discussed recruiting with. She works with the Democratic Party in a nearby county, but she’s been to a lot of recent protests and she’s really interested in DSA,” Bouyea says. “She’s more interested in socialism, but she thought that working with the Democratic Party was the best she could do.”