Posts tagged Mutual aid

Toward A Really Social Safety Net

These are consolidated from a pair of comments that I made in a thread back around last November on Thaddeus Russell’s Facebook wall. The thread was originally about some silly noise that comes up about once every four years, but it branched out into some interesting discussions about the left, individualist and libertarian perspectives, and so on. My interlocutor’s questions unfortunately seem to have disappeared from the thread, and I hate leaving writing locked up in a web silo, especially in the middle of a big, gradually composting discussion thread, so I’ve tried to condense it into a post here.

I’ve often been asked — by friendly-but-skeptical leftists, and even sometimes by fellow anti-capitalist anarchists — why market libertarians — who may be opposed to the government war machine, police, prisons, and all the other obviously destructive and repressive and regressive things done by the state, for fairly obvious reasons — are also so opposed to, and so hard on, social programs, like TANF, food stamps, WIC, Medicaid, Social Security, etcetera. (The question is usually posed in terms of contrasting government programs that hurt and kill people with government programs that, at least in principle, are supposed to be helping people.) And there are different ways to think about this. To a great extent, left-wing market anarchists don’t spend a lot of time focusing on social programs, and generally insist on prioritizing the core state violence and primary interventions of war, police, prisons, prohibitions, borders, and bail-outs as categorically more important than, say, opposing Medicaid or complaining about government spending on food stamps. And as a matter of strategic priorities, I agree — opposing the crowbars will always be more important to my idea of liberation than imposing the crutches. But I don’t think that means that there is nothing to say about problems that are inherent to the welfare state and government social programs, or that they ought to be considered as neutral or benign. Left-wing market anarchists have important reasons to oppose them — reasons to oppose governmental social programs, not from the economic Right, but from the radical Left.

So when I am asked, what I can say is that this doesn’t have all of the reasons, but it does have some of them:

. . . The key to an understanding of relief-giving is in the functions it serves for the larger economic and political order, for relief is a secondary and supportive institution. Historical evidence suggests that relief arrangements are initiated or expanded during the occasional outbreaks of civil disorder produced by mass unemployment, and are then abolished or contracted when political stability is restored. We shall argue that expansive relief policies are designed to mute civil disorder, and restrictive ones to reinforce work norms. In other words, relief policies are cyclical—liberal or restrictive depending on the problems of regulation in the larger society with which government must contend. Since this view clearly belies the popular supposition that government social policies, including relief policies, are becoming progressively more responsible, humane, and generous, a few words about this popular supposition and its applicability to relief are in order.

There is no gainsaying that the role of government has expanded in those domestic matters called social welfare. One has only to look at the steadily increasing expenditures by local, state, and national governments for programs in housing, health care, education, and the like. . . . But most such social welfare activity has not greatly aided the poor, precisely because the poor ordinarily have little influence on government. Indeed, social welfare programs designed for other groups frequently ride roughshod over the poor, as when New Deal agricultural subsidies resulted in the displacement of great numbers of tenant farmers and sharecroppers, or when urban renewal schemes deprived blacks of their urban neighborhoods. . . . As for relief programs themselves, the historical pattern is clearly not one of progressive liberalization; it is rather a record of periodically expanding and contracting relief rolls as the system performs its two main functions: maintaining civil order and enforcing work. . . . But much more should be understood of this mechanism than merely that it reinforces work norms. It also goes far toward defining and enforcing the terms on which different classes of people are made to do different kinds of work; relief arrangements, in other words, have a great deal to do with maintaining social and economic inequities. The indignities and cruelties of the dole are no deterrent to indolence among the rich; but for the poor person, the specter of ending up on the welfare or in the poorhouse makes any job at any wage a preferable alternative. And so the issue is not the relative merit of work itself; it is rather how some people are made to do the harshest work for the least reward.

— Francis Fox Piven & Richard A. Clower (1970)
Introduction to Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare

The left-wing market anarchist addition to this leftist analysis is, first, to point out the extent to which the forms of structural poverty, deprivation, marginalization, concentrations of wealth and ultimately the desperation and civil unrest that social programs are designed to mute, are not simple or inevitable offshoots of market profit-taking, but rather themselves manufactured by the political entrenchment of capitalism and constantly reinforced and sustained through precisely the core state violence and primary interventions — the war, police, prisons, prohibitions, borders, bail-outs, military-industrial complex, monopolies, and other regressive and repressive functions of government — that we prioritize. (On which, see Markets Not Capitalism, etc.) And, second, to insist on the essential importance of positive grassroots, community-based alternatives rather than trying to save or liberalize institutionalized government programs.

Social programs administered by government are a weak and alienating substitute for the grassroots, working-class institutions of mutual aid, labor solidarity and fighting unions that they were largely designed to crowd out, replace, or domesticate. Grassroots social movements aimed to provide relief and person-to-person solidarity by creating alternative institutions that would be in the hands of workers themselves, so that they could better take control of the conditions of their own lives and labor. Government social programs have systematically aimed to monopolize the relief while abandoning any effort at worker control, instead transferring power into the hands of a politically appointed bureaucracy, and largely leaving working folks’ interests at the mercy of party politics. See, for examples, David Beito’s From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State and Paul Buhle’s Taking Care of Business, or, more recently, scott crow’s Black Flags and Windmills or Occupy Sandy, etc.

So (as a left-wing market anarchist) I am all for social programs and a social safety net — but I should like them to be really genuinely social, rather than governmental. So in my view, a libertarian view on markets needn’t, and shouldn’t, have anything to do with economic Rightism or corporate power; it can just as easily mean advocating militant industrial unions, strikes, sit-ins, Food Not Bombs, neighborhood mutual aid, lodge practice contracts, Panther breakfasts, women’s self-help clinics, Common Ground, Occupy Sandy, etc. as models of grassroots social change. And — holding that these are models that are preferable to the politically-controlled, professional-class-dominated and highly paternalistic bureaucracies — OSHA, TANF, WIC, EEOC, Medicare, PPACA, FEMA, etc. — that political progressives are too often inclined to treat as the non-negotiable defining commitments of the economic Left.

* * *

In the original conversation that inspired this note, a friendly-but-skeptical progressive said that she appreciated the focus on grassroots, community-based forms of mutual aid, labor solidarity, and participatory safety nets; but wanted to know whether government programs might have a role to play given that grassroots organizing is always going to demand a very high level of social participation, and sometimes people might be looking for institutions that can handle some problems without everyone in the community constantly having to be constantly involved in everything that anyone might need. It was a good question, and I definitely understand the desire to be able to take a step back in some cases. (It’s certainly something I’ve often felt, as I’m sure anyone who’s ever done a lot of participating in a community effort or an activist project eventually does feel.) But what I’d want to say is that the important thing about grassroots, non-governmental group is not so much the fact of constant participation (I sure hope I don’t have to do that!) as the constant possibility of participation. And the possibility of withdrawal is if anything just as important (so if the local Food Not Bombs or Common Ground clinic becomes completely dysfunctional you can always leave and start devoting your efforts to something else more worthwhile. But if a county social-services office becomes completely dysfunctional, they typically stay paid regardless, since you don’t have any way to redirect how your personal tax dollars are allocated. That’s controlled by a political process and a fairly elaborate set of rules for evaluating civil-service performance, which are an awful lot of degrees removed from the people most aware of and directly affected by the dysfunction.)

In any case, as far as participation goes, sometimes you want to take a step back and let others do a lot of the work, and of course that can happen. (The lodges had officers and divided up organizational work among the members, Panther breakfasts and FNBs and free clinics served a lot of people in the community, some of whom volunteered to help out, lots of whom didn’t, and lots of whom would spend some time on and some time off.) But all of this is an important difference from the politically controlled programs, where there’s no opportunity to step up and take a participatory role, even if you want to; where if they are seriously underserving or misserving or treating their clients in manipulative or exploitative ways, there isn’t any real remedy because they hold all the power in the relationship and the only voice you have in the proceedings, if any at all, are the incredibly attenuated processes of trying to vote in different political parties, etc.

I don’t know how much that answered the question, in the end; but I hope it at least points in a fruitful direction for thinking about what an answer would look like.

Also.

Grassroots Expansion for Red Emma’s in Baltimore

In Baltimore, Red Emma’s has some big plans, and they are looking for some grassroots support to build out their worker-owned radical bookstore, café and community space.

Here’s more from the Red Emma’s collective, via IndieGogo. As you may know, one of the harshest restraints on most worker-owned shops, co-ops and radical spaces are the extreme difficulties they have in paying for maintenance and expansions — you need resources to expand but you need to expand to get access to resources, and it’s hard to get bank loans, credit, or any other form of capitalization when you don’t look like a traditional corporate capitalist enterprise. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done but it does mean if it’s going to happen it largely depends on us and our networks to step up and put up the mutual support for the kinds of radical spaces that we want to see, that their institutions won’t fund. Anyway, the campaign is running now over at IndieGoGo, and any support you can send their way will really help with what sounds like some really awesome plans.

After 8 years in the storefront at 800 Saint Paul, Red Emma’s has decided it’s time to move: our current space just isn’t big enough to hold all the things we want to collectively make it do.

Over the past eight years, we’ve hosted a thousand public events, created two new radical spaces (2640 and the Baltimore Free School), organized international conferences, built an amazing annual radical bookfair, and served as a hub knitting together Baltimore’s different politically engaged communities, all the while keeping a collectively-owned and operated business open just about 365 days a year.

… We’ve just signed a lease for the fall of 2013; located at 30 West North Avenue, next door to Liam Flynn’s Ale House (itself started by founding Red Emma’s collective members!), the new space will be over five times the size of our current location.

We’ll be expanding our food operation to a full kitchen, moving beyond our current limited cafe menu to really let some of the culinary talent we’ve got in the collective shine. And we’ll be doing this in a way that makes extensive use of locally sourced agricultural products while keeping prices affordable: healthy, sustainable food should be the norm, not a luxury. We’ll be increasing the footprint of our bookstore sixfold—space constraints alone have prevented us from building the world class selection we’ve dreamed of, and the new space will make it possible to really build the kind of radical bookstore Baltimore deserves.

… The space is going to be far more welcoming; not only are we going to vastly expand the number of seats, we’ll also be full-accessible in the new space … And most importantly, scaling up is going to let us do something we’ve always dreamt of: pay the people working on the project a living wage. Our current storefront has never been big enough to reach the economies of scale we would have needed to keep funding our political mission and also pay ourselves something sustainable for the long-term; most of us work on a volunteer basis right now, and those of us who do get paid don’t get much. With the new space, our plan is to start with a living wage and work our way up from there.

Our plan and your help

Between renovations, equipment purchases, licensing, and other fees, we need roughly $250,000 to open this new space; we’re hoping to raise at least $50,000 through crowdfunding on this site, but the more we can raise here the less debt we will start off with in the new space. While the funds we raise here and elsewhere are crucial, there’s going to be all sorts of opportunities to pitch in to help us get the new space off the ground in other ways as we get closer to opening. Keep up with the status of the project by following us on Twitter, liking us on Facebook, or subscribing to our mailing list.

The Red & Black is surviving. Help them flourish.

So a couple months ago I put up a note about the emergency fundraising campaign for The Red & Black in Portland, Oregon:

If you’re not familiar, the Red & Black is a worker-owned co-operative restaurant in Portland, Oregon. The food’s all vegan; the ingredients are mostly organic, and either locally sourced or Fair Trade. The worker-owners are organized as an IWW shop, and directly manage their own workplace. It’s also an important hub for the anarchist community in Portland, providing a venue for regular talks, films, and other community events. I just sent $50; which is more than I can really afford right now, but the Red & Black, and places like it, matter. A lot. Any mutual aid you can send their way — or anyone you can tell about this situation — will really help.

As a follow-up, here is a note that the folks at Red & Black posted a few days ago to their website and to their Facebook page. I’d link directly, but it appears that the permalinking on their website is broken; so instead:

A little over a month ago we alerted our friends and allies that the Red & Black Cafe was in trouble. We had reached a crisis point, were unable to pay our mortgage, and we made the difficult decision to stop paying ourselves. We’re happy to say, that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. At this point we’re treading water and are figuring out when we can pay ourselves again.

This is due to our own grit and determination to survive and because of the outpouring of support in the form of donations and increased business. But also in the form of help. Help with things like design work, cutting our ingredient costs, & setting up amazing events…

The Red & Black clearly matters to a lot of folks!

We’re a quarter of the way to our goal of $20,000. So we’re kicking up our fundraising drive and we need even more help to reach outside of our immediate communities. We also have some awesome project ideas and could use help getting them off the ground. If you’ve got some skills, and/or know of someone who can help us out, contact us! Spread the word.

Tell your friends, family, co-workers, and that person you just met why you think we’re special!

Here are some suggestions but please do add your own:

  • 100% vegan food & drink. We are a space that is unapologetically for animal liberation. We regularly host fundraisers, prisoner letter writing nights and animal lib speakers and workshops. We’re also friendly to omnivores and, we hope, informative and not preachy on the subject.
  • Safer space: We’re committed to supporting survivors of sexual assault and relationship abuse. We are also committed to confronting and disrupting oppressive language and behavior in the cafe and we encourage the same from you or anyone else who sees it.
  • The Red & Black is welcoming to folks who are houseless. Whether or not you have an address you are welcome to: use the bathroom w/o buying something first, have free wifi, charge your phone, use the free computer terminals, get hot water, come to events or meet your friend. We are working with Sisters of the Road to explore the possibility of accepting EBT (foodstamps/snap) from houseless folks, people over 60 and people on SSI! It’s not a sure thing but we’re making every effort to figure this out.
  • Environmental stuff: We pick up coffee and supplies by massive, amazing bike trailer. Our produce is local, organic and bike delivered! We serve food from the lowest trophic level!
  • Labor movement & co-op stuff: We’re an Industrial Workers of the World closed shop (100% union members), we’re worker owned, there’s no boss and we’re all paid the same wage for the same work. Every participates in the day to day restaurant work as well as the behind the scenes work. We act in solidarity with labor every chance we get. This includes buying authentically fair trade coffee from Equal Exchange, another worker owned co-op. We participate in regional and national worker co-op efforts through the USFederation of Worker Co-ops.

Thank you so much for your support! <3

Please donate if you can (anything helps), and share widely! If the “DONATE” button below does not take you directly to the Red & Black’s PayPal page, please log in and enter “general@redandblackcafe.com” as the recipient.

Follow us on Twitter @redandblackcafe & ‘Like’ us on Facebook and get regular updates at facebook.com/redandblackcafe (please also hover over the ‘Like’ button on our page & check “show in news feed”)

Stay tuned: we’re organizing a volunteer days to make major improvements to our space.

Book your event with us! This is huge; we need your awesome events! Keep in mind that we do music, film, workshops, fundraisers for cool groups, game nights, art openings etc. For selected events, we will stay open til Midnight! It’s easy just go here: redandblackcafe.com/event-booking.

Support needed for The Red & Black in Portland

I just read this note from the Red & Black Cafe’s page on Facebook. If you’re not familiar, the Red & Black is a worker-owned co-operative restaurant in Portland, Oregon. The food’s all vegan; the ingredients are mostly organic, and either locally sourced or Fair Trade. The worker-owners are organized as an IWW shop, and directly manage their own workplace. It’s also an important hub for the anarchist community in Portland, providing a venue for regular talks, films, and other community events. I just sent $50; which is more than I can really afford right now, but the Red & Black, and places like it, matter. A lot. Any mutual aid you can send their way — or anyone you can tell about this situation — will really help. (The website doesn’t seem to have a post about the current situation yet; but you should be able to use the PayPal donation buttons in this post. I just attached a note to the donation asking them to put it to use wherever it would be most helpful.)

From the Red & Black collective, via Facebook:

The Red & Black is in trouble. Our finances have reached a crisis point. This situation has been brewing for many months as our cash flow slowly dried up. To be blunt: we are unable to make our mortgage payment on time and we’ve bounced checks to some of our vendors and staff. A couple of days ago at our collective meeting we contemplated shutting our doors for good.

So what happened? Like many other local restaurants after 4+ years of recession (depression?): we need more business. In this economy many people have less money to eat out. Our situation is compounded by the fact that we have never had anything near a comfortable amount of working capital. We attempted to raise sufficient capital during the fundraising drive we held when we decided to buy our building. While we did raise enough money to make our down payment, we were far from our goal. This left the collective financially vulnerable to the point that a slow month could bankrupt us. . . .

While there are several things we do that don’t make a lot of business sense, financially, they are things we refuse to compromise on. We are welcoming to unhoused folks who often can’t afford to spend money at the cafe. We make most of our food from scratch which is labor intensive and because our ingredients are (mostly) organic, they are more expensive.

We are also much more than just a restaurant. We are a community space; specifically we are a radical, queer-positive safer space; an important hub for many overlapping grassroots political projects, a cop-free zone, an amazing vegan restaurant, a music venue, a hangout and meeting space for Industrial Workers of the World union members, a low income collective household upstairs— the list goes on.

In order to meet this challenge head on we’re making changes that we believe will not only avert catastrophe, but put us on a path of financial sustainability. The most dramatic and immediate change is that we’ve decided to work without pay until we can turn this situation around. This decision is both difficult and easy to make. Difficult because we, as individuals, can’t afford it for long and because we are a closed union shop with the goal of paying ourselves a living wage. But the decision is also easy because the alternative is something none of us want: losing the Red and Black.

So we are fundraising $20,000 in donations, gift certificates and merchandise sales. This amount would not only cover our current obligations, it would mean having an adequate amount of working capital for the first time. We would be able to afford to go back to a paid wage, to purchase adequate equipment, fix the window, and keep the building. This is a crucial time for the Red and Black and we need your help! . . .

Please visit our website www.redandblackcafe.com to donate and Twitter @redandblackcafe for updates on our hours and menu. . . .

Monday Lazy Linking

  • Mutual aid opportunity. Shawn P. Wilbur, Two-Gun Mutualism & the Golden Rule (2011-05-06). You'll find a new ChipIn widget in the sidebar of the blog (or on ChipIn), to support Laughing Horse Books, one of Portland, Oregon's few remaining independent bookstores, and a radical, collective-run bookstore/music venue/meeting space for 25 years now. All the little things that tend to snowball when a business... (Linked Saturday 2011-05-07.)

  • In Defense of Flogging - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education. chronicle.com (2011-05-07). "Certainly my defense of flogging is more thought experiment than policy proposal. I do not expect to see flogging reinstated any time soon. And deep down, I wouldn't want to see it. And yet, in the course of writing what is, at its core, a quaintly retro abolish-prison book, I've come to see the benefits of wrapping a liberal argument in a conservative facade. If the notion of tying people to a rack and caning them on their behinds à la Singapore disturbs you, if it takes contemplating whipping to wake you up and to see prison for what it is, so be it! The passive moral high ground has gotten us nowhere." - Peter Moskos (Linked Saturday 2011-05-07.)

  • Marie Curie. xkcd.com (2011-05-08). (Linked Monday 2011-05-09.)

  • Bin Laden reaction roundup. John, Blagnet.net (2011-05-08). I have been much more interested in the various and sundry reactions, mainly from Americans, to Osama bin Laden’s killing than to the news itself. The whole situation ought to inspire quite a bit of mixed feelings from any libertarian, and even from any sensible, sympathetic human being. Notwithstanding the... (Linked Monday 2011-05-09.)

  • Urban Airport of the Future (1926) Matt Novak, Paleofuture Blog (2011-05-07). The fine people at Popular Mechanics recently published a book that deserves a prominent place on every retrofuturist's bookshelf. The Wonderful Future That Never Was by Gregory Benford looks at technological predictions that appeared in the pages of Popular Mechanics from 1903 until 1969. The prediction below was an attempt to... (Linked Monday 2011-05-09.)

  • No Laissez Faire There. Sheldon Richman, The Freeman | Ideas On Liberty (2011-05-06). (This article is based on remarks delivered at the meeting of the Association of Private Enterprise Education in April.) Friends of the free market tend to see the Gilded Age, roughly 1870-1890, as the closest thing in history to a laissez-faire economy. In some respects that is true — but... (Linked Monday 2011-05-09.)