Hydra House: Holdin’ it Down for One Year Today!

Photo taken at a solidarity action opposing the Rote Flora eviction last year.

I’m glad to be able to write that I’m in Oakland for the one year anniversary of the Hydra House’s being cracked open as a squat. Tomorrow I should be leaving for Sacto one way or another then hopefully heading back north.

Though there’s a great deal of noteworthy things going on in the Bay Area, I don’t feel like my presence is necessary at all. I know I’ve written about stopping using this blog before but right now is a good time because I’ve got all of the articles I’ve written for the last three or so years posted, so anything new I start can be a fresh break with the past.

If I come back I’m going to relate to things and people in a very different way.  I’ve already stopped checking my last two e-mail addresses in preparation for this.

Out like spandex,

Alex Iwasa

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The Luddite Worker

An oldie but goodie I forgot about, this is a Travel story I originally printed in The Luddite Worker #3.  I’ve lost most of that material since zinelibrary.info went down for what seems like the count at this point.  Luckily I posted this on Squat the Planet when I was briefly addicted to that website.

Courtship Luddite-Hobo Style

In the fall of 2008 I was smitten by a crush I had on a Fellow Traveler I met while WWOOFing on a seed farm in Virginia.

One night she was spinning yarn with short fibered, colored cotton we were removing seeds from, with a drop spindle she had made with a potato and a chopstick. Need I write more?

Being mostly a hobo from the midwest, I started talking with her about wool and flax, the two locally produced fibers I had experience with. I lent her a ‘zine on growing flax and processing it into linen, and offered to send her a sheep’s fleece next time I was back in the midwest.

Fast forward about a month and a half. While taking a break from husteling up a grub steak in Des Moines, I went to a New Years Eve party in the southern part of Iowa. There I met up with a friend from the Little Farm, and swapped To Inherit the Earth, a book about Brazil’s Landless Workers’ Movement and some packets of seeds for a sheep’s fleece. The only problem now was that it was filthy! I liked my crush enough to send her the fleece without asking for anything in return, but I didn’t like her enough to clean it myself.

I took my chances and went to a UPS store back in Des Moines with the fleece in a garbage bag. As my luck would turn out, I was stuck in line behind an atractive female, and the smell of wool and sheep crap coming from the fleece was punishing! I was worried she might think the smell was coming from my body, but she never even made eye contact with me, so it didn’t really matter, I guess.

I finally got up to the counter, and started lazily chewing the fat with the worker as they struggled to get the garbage bag into a box. After a few tries, what I was worried about happened. The worker started screaming, “What is this!?” as clumps of wool, sheep crap, dirt and straw literally poured out of the bag and all over the counter. Having been worried this would happen, I was prepared to act like I thought what I was doing was some how normal and/or okay.

“Wool! I told you it’s a sheep’s fleece!” I yelled back, motioning with my right hand like it was a pair of sheep shears. “It’s wool right off of the sheep!”

The worker regained their composure, and after helping clean up the mess, it was shipped off to Indiana, where my crush was staying with her sister. Later she sent me a thank you e-mail, while taking a break from cooking a pig’s head. The next time I had a steady mailing address, she followed up by sending my a bottle of ginseng tincture she had made, from the root of a plant she had grown while I was lumberjacking in the Missouri Ozarks, and she was working on a sheep dairy in Washington. She included a thank you note that said the fleece was beautiful, after it was washed.

Other things of interest:  cover art, and The Chiapas Project from The Luddite Worker #2worm bin composting tutorial from The Luddite Worker #3 Carlos Cortez reproductions silk screened from The Luddite Worker #4.

The Redemptive Power of Music (2014 Remix)

I’ve been thinking of digging this article up for some months now and editing and adding to it.  There’s a few things the editors changed that I was unhappy with back in the day that I’ve put back in.  At the end of the original I also wrote Amerika, meaning AmeriKKKa, which I guess because they were Canadian they changed to America… which is one of the reasons I pretty much always write U$ now instead.

Anyways, I finally dug this up after reading the Greyscale: A fanzine for POC in the Punk Scene call for submissions the other day.  I orignially wrote this after watching the Integrity video above with the token Latina at Twin Oaks, Diana, and she compared it to some sort of pentecostal church service.  It appeared in the Christian Radical 3.9, November 2008.

Upon reflection I got where she was coming from, and she inspired me to finally write about why I quit making music, and how I started listening to it again with at least some passion.  A great deal has happened since then, so I’ve got a lot to add about dropping out of the largely Latin Punk scene I was a part of in Chi, and becoming a part of largely indigenous and Latin scenes in Arizona.  I’m posting this here because it’s old material, though edited and added to.  I still consider myself to be in kind of a huge state of transition that I can’t really articulate now, but I will probably make one more post of here of an old article of mine I’ve been thinking of editing and adding to.  This version was written for The Inner Condition.

The Redemptive Power of Music
I am a recovering musician. I got my first guitar when I was 12, and played on and off until I was 17 and bought a four string electric bass. The failed guitarist turned bassist, I knew the vacuum all to well of that avoided position in a band, after singing for a metalcore and a death metal band.I first got into hardcore and metal as an outlet of frustrations. I was also initially mostly into bands from northeast Ohio where I lived at the time, such as the Spudmonsters, Ringworm and Integrity, excited by the fact that they were just as good if not better than the national and international acts that were so much more popular. Plus I had a step cousin who played guitar in Face Value.My first metal show was Rollins Band, Helmet and Sausage, in Seattle, Washington in 1994. I was 14 years old, and pretty much sold on the genre by then. I went to my first local show in January the next year, at a bowling alley called the Redeye Rock Club, in North Royalton, Ohio. I went to see a hardcore band, Procrustus, and caught a death metal act, Infested. I actually had a foot print on me from falling in the pit during Infested, and this set the tone for years of dancing to vent frustrations at shows.

My first band was a metalcore band called Rancor. No, not the hardcore band from Pennsylvania nor the noise outfit from Germany. We started as a garage band in Parma, Ohio in 1995, cut two demos, only one of which was released, “No Time For Religion” in 1995, and played a couple Sweet 16 parties that year and one bar show in Cleveland’s Flats at the old Peabody’s Downunder in May 1996. We also appeared on a Gogmagod Records compilation, Gogmacomp II, under the name Baptized in Excrement, with a song from our second demo, “Evil Thoughts.”

My other bands were never much more successful, but I used to think if it wasn’t for having the hardcore, punk and metal scenes to vent my frustrations, I’m not exactly sure if I’d be alive right now.  Though on further reflection, participation in the scene caused me just us much pain as life did in general.  It was a very racist and xenophobic scene, and I am a person of color.  It was also a very homophobic scene and some people seemed to think I was gay as if there’s something wrong with that.  Interestingly at least three of them have come out since then, though they very much put my life at risk on occasion.  From January 1995-January 2000, for all intents and purposes, the scene was my life. Things came crashing to an end for me the day I quit my last metal band, Netherborn.  And I wouldn’t do any of it over again.

I’d reached a point in my life where I felt it was no longer acceptable to complain about alienation, misery and the state of the world, things had to change. I tried to shift the band’s message, making all of the songs I wrote lyrics for about things like how it can be fatal to drink and drive, and about how pollution was killing the earth. I started talking at our first show about the School of the Americas (SOA) and got into a shouting match with a number of people in the crowd. Later a band-mate and out guitar tech confronted me about it, and it was the beginning of the end. I started a ‘zine, “Outlet,” and instead of talking about the SOA, I distributed it at our next two shows.

I had actually been published in a poetry and artwork ‘zine during the beginning of my first freshman year of high school, over a year before I ever made my first recording with a band.  I have written almost continuously since then and wish I had kept that as my focus along with visual arts and crafts instead of pursuing music as I did for so long.

Anyways, it was too little too late. When a subculture does nothing but re-create the same forms of oppression and exploitation of the larger culture, it has negated its point. The fighting, racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia and elitism in the scene all became too much for me, and I dropped out of musicianship. I had also converted to Christianity, and no one I knew for the scene was supporting me in the ways I was trying to change personally, except some straight edge youth who supported my abstaining from drugs, alcohol and sex. But that was a tiny minority.  I started to have some peripheral involvement in music as a fan in Ohio since then, even briefly playing in a contemporary worship band at a pentecostal church in the summer and fall of 2000, but musicianship could never mean much to me personally again.  I supported the few friends’ bands I maintained relationships with, but haven’t been to any shows in that area since early 2003, shortly after I moved to Chicago.
Just as I was completely dropping out of the underground music scene in northeastern Ohio For The Last Time, I was starting to get involved with a largely Latin and Anarchist Hardcore Punk Scene in Chicago.  The first couple of shows I went to in Chi are only noteworthy to me because a kid from the South Side Punk House played at one, and another was in the basement of the Autonomous Zone Infoshop (A-Zone) when it was in Bucktown.
Perhaps three’s the charm, since the next one I went to was the first time I saw Tras De Nada, which was in the backyard of a house in La Villita in April 2003.  It was the first time I’d ever been to a Punk Show where roughly half the crowd and most of the musicians were people of color.  With all the anger I felt about our inability to stop the recent invasion of Iraq, and my lost faith in God, I raged harder than I had in years.  This show set the stage for my next seven years of involvement with music in town, to the month, which ended with a Sin Orden show, also in a backyard in La Villita.
Initially what came to be was what I used to call my Pilsen Hardcore Summer.  Most of the shows I went to were either at the Swayze Compound, or a storefront next door to Radio Arte, both in Pilsen.  I saw Tras De Nada two more times, and many other bands such as Non-Fiktion Nois, Reaccion, Human Order, and Los PKDores.  Usually after the shows a bunch of us would go back to the South Side Punk House in West Lawn, or the Anarchist Skins and Punx Unity Crew (ASAP) House which was also in Pilsen.  We’d joke around, listen to music, and talk politics.  Most of us were street level militants continuing to take part in actions against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and U$ support of Israel.  Many of us were also involved with the A-Zone and/or other radical projects in town such as the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).  Up to that point, it was the best part of my life!
Tras De Nada, with songs such as Con Frente en Alto (With Head Held High) is a perfect example of how after being part of a scene in and around Clevo where I was considered only a good person in so far as I acted white, the Punk, Hardcore and Ska scene I got into in Chi was affirming and along with the radical politics I was involved with, especially the A-Zone then and much later the third Anarchist/Autonomist/Anti-Authoritarian People of Color (APOC) group, the scene gave me the confidence and self respect I was always denied living amongst white people.
As summer became fall and my living and work situations changed, I wasn’t able to go to many shows.  Eventually I began to see my membership in the IWW as pointless and the A-Zone closed both in December ’03.  I was asked to join the ASAP Crew and declined, then started to drift away from them after moving into the South Side Crew’s South Side Punk House.The South Side Punk House became one of my worst living situations ever, and I started to Travel around the Upper Midwest visiting a number of cooperatives and collectives in Minneapolis, Minnesota (MPLS) and and Anarchist Bookfair and Soccer Tournament called Pencils and Pandemonium in Madison, Wisconsin (Madcity).  I also started to do prairie restoration and organic farming.
I saw some great bands with right on politics such as Ass and Murder of Crows, but neither MPLS nor Madcity worked out for me, nor were any of the land projects an all year opportunity for me.
I started branching further and further out, checking out radical projects and bands as I went.  I visited some great spaces such as Laughing Horse Books in Portland, Oregon (PDX) where I saw Riot Cop a couple of times, and Millions of Dead Cops once.  Food Not Bombs was serving five days a week when I hit PDX in November of 2005, and I started cooking twice a week.  For the next year and a half that’s where I spent the most time.  But it never really clicked for me, and like many radicals roughly my age I went to New Orleans, Louisiana to volunteer a couple of times after Hurricane Katrina and continued to do seasonal farm labor in the midwest.
I had one last serious run with Punk in Chi which started with an Everything Is Ruined basement show at Ranchos Juevos in McKinley Park in the fall of ’09 and ended with the Sin Orden show already mentioned.  It was a very intense time in the radical community that largely revolved around the Lichen Lending Library/Biblioteca Popular, an Infoshop in Pilsen, and a number of collective houses largely in Pilsen and La Villita.  There was a lot of strife about the gentrification of those communities along with Logan Square, Humboldt Park and Bucktown, where there were a number of other collective houses and/or spaces.  There was also a lot of conflict around sexual assault and accountability, or lack there of.  Eventually I decided to leave since I felt like I had no real comrades in most of these situations.  Too much dishonesty, hypocrisy and entitlement and their natural outgrowths in misogyny, white supremacy, domestic violence , etc.I’ve only been back in the area once, though I was living and working in the southwest suburbs as part of a union organizing campaign only occasionally going to Chi.  I have kept in touch with a tiny handful of comrades and friends, but not many.  Again, when a subculture does nothing but re-create the same forms of oppression and exploitation of the larger culture, it has negated its point.
After farming for about five months in Iowa from April to September ’10 I came back to my home state of California.  I farmed, taught weaving workshops, gardened and connected with some radicals in the Bay Area that have gone on to become good comrades since then and started re-connecting with good comrades from Illinois.
I re-visited Tucson, Arizona in March and April 2011 for the first time in over five years and became in involved with No More Deaths doing food and water drops on the Migrants’ Trail from Mexico into the U$ and the Dry River Radical Resource Center, which was an Infoshop in the Dunbar Spring neighborhood.  Through Dry River I got re-involved with Punk Houses, my personal favorite having been the Vegan Straight Edge (XVX) Punk House.  I also started steadily writing political prisoners again, and caught some amazing shows.  The best of which was when I saw the indigenous metal bands Towardis and Let The World Die.  Marc from the Taala Hooghan Infoshop in Flagstaff is in both bands, and invited me to Flag to teach a weaving workshop!  I didn’t do it then, but after about another five months farming in Iowa I did.
Over my last farm season in Iowa, I steadily wrote political prisoners and prisoners of war, gaining new political insights and direction, and realized my bosses were terribly xenophobic from the their absolute refusal to allow me to invite Mexicans over to our city for a series of events we did about No More Deaths and immigration in general.  As soon as I could I left for Flagstaff and never looked back.

Since then I’ve been able to get very involved, not only attending Punk and Hardcore shows with many Latin and indigenous kids and musicians, I’ve been able to even book a couple shows and road trip to Prescott with Let the World Die for a house show with Windmill of Corpses and Requiem!  I’ve stayed in more Punk Houses, a couple squats, been involved with other land projects and struggles, participated in the Infoshop Movement, hitch hiked all over Arizona and the west coast, and hopped a couple freight trains.  I’ve continued to struggle against oppressive politics and exploitive economics, even participating in support work for a couple different tree sits and have continued to be a part of a number of street demonstrations and vigils.

Music has helped a great deal, though rather than being my life, it has improved it greatly and been a huge part of it.  The summer of 2012 which I spent in Flag was the first time since the summer of 2003 that I felt my life was getting consistently better, and as I write this in January 2014 at the Taala Hooghan Infoshop, I feel like my life in struggle for a better world, and to be a less fucked up person continues to improve because of the camaraderie in action, studies, reflection and art.

‘Zine Reviews

MalintZINE #1

malintzine.com

A ‘zine by radical women involved with the struggle for Mexican American Studies (MAS) in Tucson, Arizona.  Mostly prose, there’s a lyrical sense in most of the writing that gives the whole ‘zine flow along with the poetry, and creative formatting from page to page similarly interacts with with the art.  Sexual assault, a gay bashing, and fat phobia are confronted within communities of color and the struggles against racism and for MAS.  Suggested listening through a mix tape page and suggested reading are also included.

kids

Kids of the Black Hole:  Perspectives On The North American Punk House

edited by Bryan May

Mostly dealing with Punk Houses in Portland, Oregon and Santa Cruz, California where the editor has lived, there’s also one article about an old Punk House in Portland, Maine, the Coyle St. House.  This is a long overdue contribution to the body of literature dealing with different forms of collective living.  Articles, artwork and photography are mixed well, though the tone is largely negative.  It’s far better than the fluff pieces that usually circulate that make out collective living to be the be all and end all with little or no imperfections, it’s largely a synopsis of everything that can go wrong with living in a Punk House, with little of what makes it one of my favorite forms of collective living.

Copies can be ordered at http://blackmold.storenvy.com/products/1524502-kids-of-the-black-hole-perspectives-on-the-north-american-punk-house-zine or write brybry at riseup dot net to see about ordering with cash.

Radical Writing Circle with Mary Sojourner

Saturday at the A Fire at the Mountain Anti-Colonial and Anarchist Bookfair I participated in a writing circle with Mary Sojourner and a number of my comrades from town.  After talking a bit, she got us started on our first exercise.  She gave us a sentence to start with, and told us to write until she told us to stop.  This is what I wrote:

I can’t stop it pouring from my heart.  When I left Tucson the last time in July I knew I had to leave.  The last night I slept at the Halfway House I kept second guessing myself, thinking of every possible reason why leaving made little to no sense but knew I had to leave.

It took a whole day to make sure I took care of everything I needed to before leaving, but I moved like on autopilot and was done doubting.

I did get stuck in Marana for a day which was sort of nightmarish and had some creeping doubts, but just couldn’t turn around.  Once I really started rolling, I was in Tempe, then Indio, California by the end of my second day On The Road and knew I’d be fine.

There were a few moments when I felt how completely out of control my situation was, but it was actually a good feeling.  I imagined that it was what it felt like to be in the womb of a Loving mother or in a cocoon, an autonomous creature in transformation though temporarily stuck in one place.

I spent far too much time thinking about Tucson, but was totally at peace with the lack of solid direction that I had.  Direction, quit literally was all I felt.  I wanted to go west on the 10 from Tucson, then north on the 5 from LA.

I wasn’t sure what else I was doing, but I was sure of the direction I was heading.  It took me two weeks to the day to reach Olympia, and after about 24 hours, the same uncontrollable feelings had me headed back south, getting to Eugene the same day I left.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————————

For the second exercise, Mary gave us some words to think about such as colors, smell/scent, light, weather, dark, blood.  Then again she gave us another sentence asking us to write non-stop what came to mind though to keep away from polemics this time.  This is what I wrote:

I couldn’t believe my eyes.  Someone stumbled back inside the Halfway House from fighting outside and I thought he was going to die.  His temple was bulged out so far I thought it had to be his brains coming out and there was nothing we could do about it, he had to go to a hospital.

There was blood and beer all over the floor but he laid down anyways.  For someone to be hurt so bad that they lay down on that floor you know there’s big trouble.

His friends help him into a car and the rest of the fighting has stopped.  People left or calmed down but many of us stand around in the relative cool of a Tucson night in June, long after the sun has set, before the monsoons make town muggy.

The front yard is mostly lit by the yellow haze of a street light, and there’s still a lot of angst in the air as people talk about what happened and why.  The police show up long after the fighting stops for the second time that day, and are luckily reasonable and leave.  There’s a little chaos anyways, and the House finally mostly clears out for the night and I try to sweep and mop at least the places there are blood.

As two women walk out, one says to the other, “People live here,” and I smirk because I am one of them.  I live in the laundry room, or at least for about another month.

Punk Houses

The first few Punk Houses that I hung out at were in Chicago, two in particular.  The oldest, the South Side Punk House, was started around the time of Operation Desert Storm in West Lawn near W. 67th Place and Pulaski before it was a barrio from what I understand.  I first came there during the events against the TransAtlantic Business Dialouge (TABD) in November 2002.  The House had an interesting oral history, but I’m not sure how much of it I believe!  Last time I was in Chi I heard that it had burned down, which I had considered historically inevitable.  From what I understand, no one was hurt.

The next summer I had started hanging out at the first ASAP House, which was started by the Anarchist Skins and Punx Unity Crew (ASAP) in el barrio Pilsen.  I would frequently go to one or the other House after shows and/or parties.  There was a hall in Pilsen called the Swazey Compund where there were frequent shows, and a store front next to Radio Arte was another regular venue at the time.  I also saw a couple House shows in the South Side and bar shows in the North Side at the time getting into some of who came to be my favorite bands for years like Reaccion and Tras De Nada.  Later living in the South Side Punk House turned into one of my worst experiences with communal living.  I also started to drift apart from ASAP as their Crew grew pretty large quickly, then fell a part even faster.

Aside from a visit to a second ASAP House also in Pilsen in early ’05, and a brief stay at the Punk House in Tulsa, Oklahoma in early ’06 on my way from Tucson back to Chi, I rarely even heard about people still living in Punk Houses much less starting them.

The next time I came to Tucson in the spring of ’11 I was pleasantly surprised to find a number of Punk Houses whose dwellers were involved with the two reasons I came back to town:  No More Deaths doing, amongst other things, food and water drops on the Migrants’ Trail from Mexico into the U$ in the Sonoran Desert, and the Dry River Radical Resource Center, an Infoshop in the Dunbar Spring neighborhood where I taught a series of weaving workshops, and in turn started writing political prisoners again and caught a handful of great shows.

At the time, my favorite Punk House in Tucson was The Vegan Straight Edge (XVX) Punk House.  It was the first House that welcomed me in, and the place I stayed the most that visit.  Though most of the people who stayed there weren’t involved with Dry River anymore and no one was involved with No More Deaths, they all supported the work I was doing and were glad to have me around.  I went on to stay with a couple of the kids from there at other Punk Houses such as The Barnyard (also known as The Slaves’ Quarters and Fresh Country) and Havoc House (not much havoc there).   The XVX Punk House shut down the summer of 2011, about two years after it started.

When Dry River was still going, two of the bands I saw there, Towardis and Let The World Die, were from Flagstaff and had members who were involved with the Taala Hooghan Infoshop there, one of which invited me to town to teach a weaving workshop.  It would be about six months before I did go, but I ended up catching shows at a couple of Punk Houses there too, The Big House and Cottage House.  There wasn’t too much cross over between the Punk Houses and the Taala Hooghan, but people were still friendly and receptive to radical literature and what not at the House shows.

In the spring of ’12 I ended up spending a great deal of time at the Barnyard, which was the original work site of the Autonomous Community Sustainability Project.  I went back out to the desert with No More Deaths a couple of times then, and like before, though no one else from the house was involved, everyone supported the work I was doing.  Sadly the house shut down in the fall of ’12, also about two years after it started.

In late February ’13 I went to Tucson for what I thought was going to be a brief visit, largely because my two favorite Punk Houses were closed and I didn’t really fit in at the ones that were still going or started more recently from what I knew.  I ran into a couple comrades from the old Sunday Food Not Bombs at a Blackbird Raum and Ramshackle Glory house show and ended up staying with them at a new Punk House they had just started with a couple of their friends, which was being named The Halfway House about then.  I ended up staying for about four and a half months, long after I ran out of money.

This was our first House show.

The Tucson stop of this tour was our first House show.

We started having House shows in April with both touring and local bands.  We had shows about twice a month and was the first and so far only place I ever booked a show.  This was the month I basically ran out of cash and could no longer pay rent or buy food.  But I did get a great deal of the old silk screening equipment from Dry River, organized people to go to bum feeds, shared my food from them, and recycled many of the beer cans mostly to keep toilet paper in the House.

This show was my idea, though our friend Sam booked the bands.

This show was my idea, though our friend Sam booked the bands.

While I was there, we weren’t able to get the silk screening equipment going, but the work I put towards that end was the sort of unwaged labor/useful unemployment the people who wanted me there and I considered worthwhile. I also did a great deal of reading and writing, most of which was for book reviews that were posted on People of Color Organize!

windmill

Blacklidge at the Halfway House, Tucson with me in the background next to the "extra door" whole in the wall.

Blacklidge at the Halfway House, with me in the background next to the “extra door” hole in the wall.

I left after having a falling out with a few of my housemates over a show I was trying to help them book.  The details aren’t important, it wasn’t a huge deal.  I had felt I wasn’t being as productive there as I could have been somewhere else and I was having a hard time finding a job.

I hitch hiked to California then Oregon and Washington before eventually coming back to the San Francisco Bay Area where amongst other things I was able to get involved with a couple of different squats.  One whose media name is The Church of Carl Sagan and reminds me a great deal of many of the Punk Houses that I’ve enjoyed so it has been a good fit for me.

Collective Living

I’m going to add a “collective living” tag to this journal.   It’s hard to believe how much squatting has changed my life in a very short period of time, much like visiting my first urban commune then starting to Travel mostly by myself and living communally later on.

I’ve decided to re-post an old article of mine about communal living and working in Chi.  There are some things I regret about this article such as being mostly uncritical of the communities I wrote about.  There were other drafts where I wrote a bit about the short comings of both communities, but when pressed by an editor from Area Chicago for more details I decided to cut the material, that there was enough negative information about both communities already floating around of varying levels of truth so I decided to not play a part in that.  I regret this now, mostly because I never went back to St. Francis House.  Those people never had any similar respect for me, I was always just someone they were using, just like the Jesus People.

Collective Living & Work Spaces

http://areachicago.org/collective-living-work-spaces/

One of the main reasons I moved to Chicago in February 2003 was to experiment with communal living. One of the reasons that I am regularly drawn back to the city are the friends I know through collective houses and the opportunities these spaces create.

Two of the oldest intentional communities in town, the St. Francis Catholic Worker House and Jesus People USA (JPUSA, pronounced “jah-POO-zah”), have put up thousands of people since their respective starts in the 1970s. I spent most of my first two and a half months in Chicago living and working with some 499 other people at JPUSA in Uptown.

JPUSA was started in 1972, and according to their website, http://www.jpusa.org, “[t]he community is primarily self-supporting, generating about 90% of our income from a variety of community-owned and operated businesses. These include a roofing supply house, t-shirt printers, and a sheet metal shop.” When I was there, they also had a woodworking shop and a print shop.

Their ministries in Uptown include a women’s and children’s shelter; Cornerstone Community Outreach, to aid the homeless; a senior citizens’ home called Friendly Towers; and Brothas and Sistas United, an outreach program for neighborhood youth. Their outreach also includes Cornerstone magazine, “a quarterly journal of culture, politics and faith,” and, since 1984, the Cornerstone Festival, an annual music and arts festival held in Central Illinois that draws 20,000 people from around the world. I was introduced to their community through the festival in 2000.

Soon after my arrival at JPUSA I started hanging out at Francis House, also in Uptown, and became part of its extended, non-live-in community. In fact, so many people both before and after me have fled JPUSA for Francis House that we are called “refugees.”

Francis House was started in 1974. A chapter in the book Voices From the Catholic Worker, edited by Rosalie Riegle Troester, documents the house’s unfettered hospitality within the framework of Uptown in the 70s, when the neighborhood was “the national home of arson for profit” and “the white supremacists in the neighborhood would write threatening notes and paint swastikas on the house.” The start of the gentrification of Uptown is also mentioned. “This handful of owners had a block club type thing and they were pushing to sweep the poor out. The worker was there years before these yuppies with their attaché cases wanted to move in. And then they want us to keep from blighting their neighborhood,” recalled one Francis House resident.

As a house of hospitality Francis House provides food, shelter, a safer space, and clothes for single adults. As a part of the Catholic Worker Movement, which sometimes has very little or nothing to do with being Catholic or having a job, it is part of an informal network of some 200 houses and farms all over the world. Having been a part of the extended community of another Catholic Worker House in Ohio City, Cleveland, I made a point of looking them up shortly after getting to town.

Besides the live-in guests and drop ins who come for the hospitality, Francis House offers work for room and board for people interested in participating in the Catholic Worker Movement, Round Table Discussions on topics of interest to the community, Reading Amoebas to share whatever people are reading about, and sometimes is a sort of Movement Hotel for activists briefly coming to town or passing though.

Collective living and workplaces have many flaws. In many ways they are microcosms of the greater society with all of its flaws. Sometimes conflicts can seem more intense since you live and work with the person. Personally, dry houses are important to me. Shared food has also become a requirement for me from having bad experiences with lazy, shady housemates who repeatedly ate all or most of my food and then had the nerve to criticize me for not buying better food!

Zero tolerance for violence and sexual assaults in both theory and practice is also something I think a community needs. From my experiences, it seems like “accountability processes” have sometimes only enabled certain people to become repeat offenders in the same places, even equipping them with a rhetoric to hide behind so that “non-violent communication” becomes just a way to be verbally abusive without swearing and/or yelling.

If you are interested in living in a collective community I strongly recommend visiting one or as many as possible before moving in. Especially in urban areas, it is usually possible to just hang around and to see if you can fit in. For better or for worse, I think there is an intentional community out there for pretty much everyone, and it’s just a matter of finding where you are comfortable, and where people are comfortable with you.

Frequently when I leave town, one of the first things I will do is check to see if there is a Catholic Worker Community in the area where I am headed. “The Catholic Worker” prints a directory about every other year, which can also be found online at http://www.catholicworker.org. I’ll also check the Intentional Communities Directory to see what other kinds of collective living spaces there might be. It’s a wonderful textbook-sized book that can also be found online at http://www.ic.org. I also check Slingshot Organizers to see what kind of radical spaces I could get involved with in an area. I had an absolute blast slumming around Minneapolis in 2004 with one as my guide. Other ways I have been able to get involved in the various areas I travel to include http://www.foodnotbombs.net, to find local servings and get involved; local indymedia.org affiliates to find out about events; and hostels.

If it wasn’t for collective living and working spaces I don’t know how people without extensive resources like myself would make it. Collective living and work spaces have been invaluable institutions and infrastructures for many people around the world, and despite their flaws, they should be seen as a basic part of the fight for a world based on mutual aid, not competition.