What To Do When The System Fails You (Or: A Guide To Local Community Building Work)

Sandy Pug Games
11 min readMar 11, 2020

Lemme guess, your progressive candidate had the knives put to them by the establishment, and you’re angry as hell. You’re on twitter seething about how blatantly they’re cheating, about how fucked up it is that the other progressives in the race are rallying around a racist shitheel who is openly contemptuous of you and yours.

And you’re right.

But listen

Elections are bullshit.

Electoralism is only one method of social change, and historically it’s not really been a very good one. It inherently favours a status quo, it’s incredibly susceptible to fuckery (especially in the US where much of the fuckery is engrained in the system and considered Good for us), and it’s only ever going to get you like 20% of what you need at the best of times.

Maybe you should try something else. Maybe you should try…


For the last 4 years, my group, the Socialist Snack Squad, was present at dozens of rallies and marches, including the terrifying events in Charlottesville. We fed thousands of homeless people, we provided winter relief clothing and supplies, we waved a big ole flag around, played a bunch of union tunes, and provided a low-barrier entry to get people into the socialist movement. A TON of people get their start in organizing through SSS. We were also a convenient central point for other groups in the area to plug into each other and work together.

So how’d we do it?

We just got some friends together, made sandwiches, and gave them to hungry people.

How can you do it too?


Step One

Find a Need

Somewhere in your community, there’s a need. It might be a homelessness problem, it might be a school supplies problem, it might be a potholes problem, it might be a seniors heating problem. There’s an issue, somewhere. Identify it, and figure out if it’s something you can imagine a solution to, one that only needs some hands and maybe a very small amount of cash. It’s always best for the issue to be something fundamental — food, water, shelter — but you can do a lot of good with basic supply issues or infrastructure, you’re just gonna have a bit of a harder road, so to speak.

With the socialist snack squad, we obviously focused on food relief. DC has a huge homeless population, and it was also the center for a lot of the post-2016 election protest energy. For a lot of people, attending a protest means skipping meals or spending money to get there, and we wanted to try to lower that barrier and be a force multiplier while spreading The Good Word. Food was easy and cheap too, so it seemed like an obvious place to start.

Supplies for our very first action

Once you have a Need, and once you’ve kinda thought through a solution, find an opportunity to flex that solution on a small scale and make a plan. Get the dates and times squared away, cause you’ll need them for step two.

Sidenote: This is also when I designed a logo. I kinda believe that having an image is important because you want people to see you and know who you are and it’s an easy way to get recognized by the local organizing groups in your area quickly.

Doublesidenote: Just to be 100% clear, you should be planning on doing this for free. You’re doing propaganda of the deed, not starting a small, underfunded, illegal business.

Step Two

Get Help

You’re gonna need help. For the work we did, we had to make hundreds of sandwiches and transport them into DC proper, then hand them out in parks and protests everywhere, absolutely impossible for one person. Reach out to your pals and tell them what you plan to do. Preferably have a specific place and time ready, and make sure you hype up the “We’re doing something positive”. You can convince a lot more people to join in the work than you think, even your apolitical, or, shock, conservative, friends will occasionally offer to chip in.

Sidenote: It’s good to have apolitical and conservative people helping you out. It is much much easier to radicalize them and make them leftists while you’re feeding the hungry or w/e than it is over a dinner table. Actual contact with the problems you’re trying to solve through your politics tends to have that effect on people.

Bread is what the revolution craves!

If you really can’t get ANYONE to help, scale down for now. Put as many water bottles as you can in a backpack and go hand them out, buy a couple sets of pencils, pens, and notebooks and donate them to your local under-funded school. Be loud about this work, post about it on facebook or twitter or w/e, and you’ll see interest rise. Sooner or later you’ll find comrades, and then you can scale up.

This is also where your budget is going to come up. For the Snack Squad, our budget per action was just “however much everyone in the group can spare, plus donations from previous actions, plus donations from anyone outside the group”. Keeping your budget on a Per Event scale at first is helpful, because you’re not worried about making it last, and you can scale events to the cash. If you’re one person with no following and few friends, $20 might be all you can spare and that’s fine. $20 gets you a lot of water bottles, potatoes, or coffee. As you grow, your budget is gonna grow, and your ability to solicit from your community is going to grow too.

Step Three

Do The Thing

Do the thing as soon as you possibly can. People are inherently kinda resistant to going out into the cold and handing out food that rarely gets them a “thank you”. You want to preserve all the momentum you possibly can, so get started quickly. You probably have a lot of concerns about messaging, local ordinance, how long term this will be, etc etc. Those are important concerns, and you should definitely take steps to make sure you’re safe, as a group, but prioritize getting asses out in the streets and working.

For the Snack Squad, we just picked the very next protest that was happening that week, and made the food the night before. It worked great, we got a ton of people hyped and a bunch of photos to post on social media, which attracted a ton more people to the group and suddenly we went from feeding 50 people to feeding 150 at the next event.

This is probably the scariest step for a lot of people. Interacting with the public can be nerve wracking, especially given the kind of people you’re probably assuming will want to talk to you — and I’m not gonna lie to you, you’re eventually gonna have to deal with some shitheads trying to start static. It’s cool, that’s why you stayed small at first, then brought a lot of friends to the bigger events. Assign jobs to everyone based on what they’re good at — One of you is gonna be a good media face, one of you is gonna be good at physical space management, etc. This is long term anyway, your first event is going to be chill, and for many of these works, you’re not gonna have to stress about it one way or another. Not a lot of right wing gotcha journos show up to poorly stocked schools or homeless camps.

Actually on that note, when picking your need, consider the optics. What would you say about your group if you were, I dunno, one of those defunct right wing youtubers? Optimally you want to make your work almost impossible to critique to any rational thinking person. The right wing dickbag that comes yelling at someone feeding homeless people is gonna look like the right wing dickbag they are.

Remember that your goal here is to inspire people, and people are more inspired if they see you smiling than scowling. Play music, make up chants, be playful and have fun. You’re fighting for a better future, look like you’re excited for it.

One thing of vital, vital importance here though. Never stop making your politics a part of the action. Make the name of your group something that is undeniably political. Talk about your politics to anyone who will listen. Sing songs of your movement. Be inescapably political. The work you’re doing is supposed to be a demonstration of the power of your personal ideology, make it so, even when it makes your liberal or conservative friends a little uncomfortable, you can not compromise on this, otherwise you join the ranks of a million other apolitical charities. You’re not forming a charity, you’re building a political movement.

Step Four

Debrief. Then get back to it.

Feel good after your first action? I know I did. But even if you didn’t, repetition is the secret sauce here. First, get all your cohorts together and discuss what went well, what didn’t. Don’t make this a huge thing, just chat over lunch or something. Talk about how you could make it a lil bigger maybe. Find the next opportunity to fill that need. Maybe try and do things a little better, a little bigger, but don’t sweat it too much. The only important thing is that you keep doing it. Stay active as best you can, stay visible. Sooner or later you’ll make contacts, friends, and comrades in your local organizing area. People will notice you, especially if you get a big fuck off flag like we did

Dog Optional

And that’s about all the general information I can give. What comes after this will largely revolve around the material conditions surrounding your particular Need of choice, and the group you form. I’ll follow this with specific advice for food relief organizing, but do not feel like that’s the only need worth filling. It’s just the one we picked, and probably the easiest one I can imagine.

This is also the time to start getting your message straight. Find out stats and build a rhetoric around the action you’re doing. For us, I always talked about the enormous food waste grocery stores have, how there is enough food produced every year to feed the globe twice over, and how cheap and easy it was for us to feed hundreds of people that day. Find your story and work on it. Say it whenever you can. Sooner or later you’ll end up on talking to someone with a mic, and you’ll want to be practiced when you explain what you’re doing.

Keep doing the work, say hello to everyone you can, be publicly and openly political, stay safe, and keep looking for chances to do more. What “more” means there is going to be up to you and your friends. Maybe it means more food, or expanding your pothole network further afield. Maybe it means starting splinter orgs in other cities. Maybe it means filling a seperate need. Maybe More isn’t helpful to you at all, and you wanna stay small. That’s fine too.

Food Relief Hints And Tips

Bread, meat, and cheese, can be got very very cheaply at almost any grocery store, and even cheaper at costco/Sams club if you can get it

Stick to basic food that you can prepare a lot of very quickly. Potatoes are great, lots of calories and easy to season with salt and butter packets. Sandwiches are obvious. Avoid granola bars and the like, they’re very expensive.

People are gonna offer you money. Explain that the food is free, and if they insist take it. Spend it on more food for next time.

Have a sign. A big sign that says exactly what you’re doing. See the pic above with the dog.

Social media is a weapon you should wield like a rifle. Assign someone on your group as the photographer, get really good shots of you looking cool feeding people at rallies. Post them. Have a hashtag and an account on all the major sites. This is how people will find you.

Talk to the people you feed, especially the homeless people if you go that route. The homeless community knows where help is needed and what exactly is needed more than anyone else in your city. Ask them.

Bring water. Water goes very fast. It’s heavy, so you’ll need help, but it’s the no.1 requested thing.

You can cook 50 potatoes in a home oven in like 3 hours. Set your oven to cook them the night before the op and then wrap in foil before you leave. They’re gonna drip so be careful about that.

Bring trash bags to rallies. Clean up after yourself.

When you’re ready, buy badges with your logo. They’re cheap, and people love badges, and it helps get your image and message out there. Also print leaflets that outline your ideology and give people your @

Support your local leftist events, but don’t go overboard. The people running them are gonna overestimate attendance, and no one’s gonna eat everything. At least once we had a group book 3 food relief orgs at once. Tons of wasted food.

Label and seperate your vegetarian food from your meat ones.

We accepted food from people to redistributed, as long as it was packaged like granola bars and stuff.

Stay mobile. There are lots of laws against giving free food to people, and staying mobile with carts, wheeled suitcases, and backpacks, will dramatically cut down on your arrest rate, as well as general police harassment.

It is often useful to have a base of operations closer to the event or place you’re feeding that you can get back to quickly — a car, or a friend’s house, etc.

Be respectful of the space you’re in. Don’t be shouting when people are giving speeches.

A tactic we found very helpful was to have a central point where people would stay with most of the supplies, then have groups of two roam through crowds with backpacks and bins of food. Direct people back to the center while giving people food where they are.