Monday, April 6, 2009

The People's Potluck

Last summer a solid union friend of mine named Gene Vanderport got together some people he knew to talk about ways that communities could address the economic crisis.

This was well before the financial sector locked up and job losses really spiked in October and November. Of course the economists-that-be now admit that the recession started last year (at least), but at that time they had not admitted anything. What Paul Krugman tells us is a "liquidity crisis" some of us - including Gene's members - were already experiencing as a big fat "cash flow" problem, a housing problem, a job problem, a wages and benefits and paying-the-bills sort of problem. Of course it means the same thing.

The idea hatched at Gene's house was to hold a "People's Thanksgiving" just before the holiday of a similar name, and bring together activists and service providers from across the community with people who need food and housing and jobs, and put our heads together and see how we could help one another. The assumption was that we cannot rely on the government, certainly not on capitalism, to rescue our communities.

It was prescient.

The first potluck supper, which actually happened the weekend after Thanksgiving, turned into regularly monthly get-togethers - and spun off working subgroups focused on various aspects of the problem, and built ties to other local movements with potential for what my old hippy editor at the Buffalo Alternative Press used to call synergy: housing, food, jobs, union rights, health care, veterans' benefits and war, urban justice and racism, immigration and migrant farm work in the area.

One group is planning community gardens and teach-ins on container gardening, cooking on a low budget, canning what you grow, working with food pantries, etc. The Catholic Worker in town is involved and already fighting evictions in a nearby town, presenting ideas on how to put "stimulus money" to good use. A couple groups are collaborating on compiling a directory of services, discussing ways to fill the void left by our town's sudden loss of its Urban League, which had provided so many services and referrals.

Homeless participants are taking an active and integral role. Felons are telling their stories. Unionists and Greens and tenants' union advocates are working together, talking about nationalizing banks, collecting clothes for abused women and children, eating together and talking and sharing ideas on a "People's Bailout" or "Social Monetary Fund" and demands to make on elected officials as well as direct actions and organizing for mutual aid.

At first we talked about building towards a "Central Illinois Social Forum" in May. Now that event promises to bring in such new energy, so many exciting new ideas and connections, such excellent new community, that it will ikely be just the beginning.

I recommend the model. Highly.

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