Credit: <br/>Photo by Ariel Thomas

Adam Gogola, 35, sings and plays guitar for Chicago punk band Blind Adam & the Federal League. He believes that music and social action can and should mix, and during the pandemic he and his bandmates have helped run a series of streaming benefit concerts and launched a mutual-aid program for their unhoused neighbors called the People’s Pizza Party. Donations can be made via Venmo at @peoplespizzaparty.

As told to Jamie Ludwig

Growing up with punk rock music, there would always be a table at the shows for organizations like Anti-Racist Action or Food Not Bombs. I was in a band called Article 57, and we’d try to do our own version of that. We were involved in the antiwar movement and grew up playing at Fireside.

We always try to incorporate something into whatever we do that’s bigger than just our band. When the pandemic hit in March, we were getting ready to release our second full-length, which we’d recorded back in October with Chris No. 2 from Anti-Flag. Those guys kind of took me under their wing when I was maybe 15 years old and showed me that there’s not as many barriers to activism as people think there are. It’s as easy as finding people who are doing the work and giving them a few minutes to speak onstage, or donating some money from merch or ticket sales and finding ethical companies to print your T-shirts.

Our record was going to come out on A-F Records, probably in June. We were supposed to play the Fest in Gainesville and tour all over the country, but when those plans got put on hold we immediately tried to figure out what we could do.

I reached out to my friend Joe Tessone, who owns Mystery Street recording studio in Lincoln Park, and my friends at the Night Ministry. We set up a livestream series from Mystery Street with a few other local artists. That was really successful; we raised over $1,000.

We decided to make it a weekly thing. We did that for nine weeks. We raised money for the Night Ministry for three episodes, and then for an independent science lab in Virginia called Indie Lab, which was one of the first nonprofits to make rapid-result test kits that they could widely distribute for free. And they were also making PPE for frontline workers who couldn’t afford their own.

After we finished the last few episodes at the end of May, raising money for Brave Space Alliance, I needed to take a break because I’m still working a full-time job. About a week later, George Floyd was murdered. I don’t even know how many protests I went to over the summer—it was almost every day for two months. And we saw so many opportunities for community building.

The People’s Pizza Party started because Brave Space Alliance was asking for supplies, and we have our 15-passenger tour van. We put out on social media, “Hey, our friends at Brave Space were asking for supplies. If anybody wants to send us some money, we’ll post the receipt, and we’ll go to Costco and try and get as much of this stuff as we can fit in the van.” We raised over $2,000 in a couple of days.

A lot of mutual-aid supplies will fit in a 15-passenger tour van.
A lot of mutual-aid supplies will fit in a 15-passenger tour van.Credit: Courtesy Adam Gogola

One person who replied was my buddy Jeff Schaller, who plays in another local band [Jeff Schaller & the Long Way Home]. Another buddy who replied was Mike Popek, the general manager at Dante’s Tavern in Humboldt Park. After the supply run, we had a few hundred dollars left over. Dante’s gave us a discount, so we ordered a ton of pizzas. We dropped a few off at the Night Ministry and a few of the houseless encampments around the northwest side. That was in mid-July, and we’ve done it every single Sunday since.

We’re not an official 501(c)(3). We want people to know that a lot of people who are helping are the same people who are demonized in the media as being socialists or antifa or whatever—and we are antifascist. So it’s about helping people and having fun, but it’s not disconnected from the politics.

In a typical week, we’ll make a few social media posts encouraging people to donate or share the posts. There’s a rotating group of people that will help us out. We’ll get the supplies, and then on Sunday, we’ll place an order at Dante’s—usually 15 to 20 pizzas total. We’ll start at the Night Ministry, and hit up maybe six of the encampments from there. We try to feed between 40 and 80 people a week.

The whole thing takes about two hours, but we’ll stay and hang out and talk to people. A lot of these folks now have our phone numbers, and they’ll ask us for supplies. Most of the people that we serve are already connected with organizations like the Night Ministry or Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, but we get requests for bus passes, socks, jackets, and blankets. We’ve also seen a dozen or so people transition into stable housing in the four or five months that we’ve been doing this.

  • Blind Adam & the Federal League released this single in October.

Donations have kind of slowed down after the CARES Act expired, but they’re consistent. Dante’s does a Sunday Solidarity Slice at their Humboldt Park location, and they try to work with other folks in the community, like Alex Palermo from the band Typesetter, who started making vegan sausages and pepperoni. Dante’s isn’t giving us a discount anymore, because they’re kind of struggling too, but the donations from the Solidarity Slices end up paying for two or three of the pizzas. And our weekly order helps to sustain them. Another way people can help is to call Dante’s and pre-purchase a pizza so we can distribute it.

We’ve had a lot of people reach out and be like, “How do you guys do this?” When you turn on TV and you’re watching whoever is explaining what horrible things the Trump administration is doing to subvert democracy and continue to kill people with the coronavirus, it can feel like, “Oh my God, what do I do? This is daunting. The police are killing people, and if I go outside, I’m gonna catch this virus.”

Sometimes it’s really overwhelming. But when you step away from that a bit and look around your community, it’s easy to help the people around you. And once you start doing that, it’s easier to understand how we can effect change, whether or not another relief package is coming from Washington, D.C.  v

Update on Monday, December 14: Because Dante’s Tavern is closed, the People’s Pizza Party is now working with the Dante’s Pizzeria at 3028 W. Armitage.