Learning from History: Freedom Summer, Current Summer

two things have been on my mind a lot lately.

one, the US Social Forum- particularly the conversations, workshops, and organizing around funding and being in the movement as someone with money, white skin, and class privilege.

two, the reading  i’ve been doing lately on the mississippi freedom summer of 1964. i’m connecting a lot of dots in my mind as i read about history and previous movement moments, and reflect on the “movement moment” we are in right now.

i recently read two books on the freedom summer — both accounts are super raw, detailed and honest about the relationships, dynamics, and tensions between the SNCC workers (the student non-violent coordinating committee- aka, the organizers) and the summertime volunteers. what both breaks my heart and makes me excited is how so much is still the same. (more…)

USSF and Biking

I stepped off the plane from the US Social Forum (USSF) in Detroit, and onto a luxury bicycle tour with my family.  I never expected I’d hear the words, “luxury” and “bicycle” in the same sentence.  But here I am, scribbling in my journal, from my room, a French Country style turret tucked into feathers of wisteria vines, at the MacArthur Place Hotel in Sonoma.

Most of the other people on our trip came in couples; we’re the only family here, introducing ourselves over and over.  Hi, I’m Cara.  I live in Seattle, and I’m a young person with wealth.  Only I don’t say that last part, because it’s implied.  These trips cost a few thousand for five days of bike riding and wine drinking.  What do we pay for (or should I say, what do my parents pay for)?  Well, two full time guides, for one thing.  Brand new Fuji bikes, a van that follows us in case we don’t feel like biking the day’s 20-40 miles, and hotel stays for all five nights.  Continental breakfast comes with the price of admission, as well as select other meals.  Ironically, I had all these things at the Social Forum: through Couch Surfing.com, my friend, S., and I had two local guides; we rented old mountain bikes from folks in the apartment building across the street; and we had the front room of our hosts’ place all to ourselves, the pull-out mattress off of the couch and onto the floor for added comfort.  (Full disclosure: we did buy breakfast every morning, and there was never a van following us to and from the forum, although there were city buses.) Somehow, I don’t think my other family members would call couch surfing, or riding whiny bikes where the chains threaten to snap on every turn, or going to inner city Detroit, a vacation, despite the similarities. (more…)

Introducing Spaulding Court

I was reading over the notes from Resource Generation’s final delegation meeting at the US Social Forum 2010 this morning and one question seemed apropos to this posting, “How can we leverage our privilege to support Detroit?” This is one example.

It started with liquidating some of the community investment notes I had with the Calvert Fund that were supporting affordable housing and economic development in the southeastern region of the states.  I was only working part-time and wanted to be sure I had access to some cash, so I deposited about $8,000 I had mentally earmarked for community investing in my credit union savings account in Chicago… just in case.

I thankfully got a full-time job and so I made a loan to a friend, gave $25 and $50 donations here and there, but kept the bulk of it in my savings account.  US Social Forum plans stated getting underway and there was an idea on the table for some Chicagoans to potentially buy a super-affordable house in Detroit.  Chicago organizers would live there for the months of May / June to assist efforts on the ground, and then detroit community organizers (or an organization) would become collective owners (renting-to-own or something similar) post-forum. In reality,  speculators were buying up houses fast and Detroit organizers needed to focus more on the “now” than commit to thinking through such a project. Besides, did Detroit organizers really need outsiders to buy a building for them?  During the process, I spoke with some community development corporations and property managers, and after talking to Deborah Olson, lawyer with the Center for Community Based Enterprise, I got a call from Jon Koller, an engineer student turned-community builder, who is leading a 10-member community resident owned project called Spaulding Court.

Jhonathan Gomez, chicago cultural organizer in the kitchen of rehabbed unit of Spaulding Court

Spaulding Court is a series of stone row houses with 3 small BDR units originally constructed as a motel in 1918. It stood abandoned and blighted for many years until Friends of Spaulding Court – the newly formed non-profit – bought the row houses from the city in February 2010 for $1,000. You can read about its history here.

What Jon proposed to me sounded more like a solidarity community investing idea than buying property from a city over 280 miles away. I would within weeks write a check with my ‘earmarked money’ as a $6,000 construction loan to Spaulding Court. I did this, pretty impromptu, for several reasons. 1. I’m attracted to risk. My SRI portfolio is medium-risk. This real estate loan was going to be high risk (think possible natural disasters, flood, tornados, etc.) And then the giving circle I’m a part of could be characterized as ‘risky.’ We’re independent, don’t ask for much by way of documentation or reporting, and stretch the bounds by granting to individuals.

2. Spaudling Court was a potential symbol of hope, regeneration and community pride for the lively, central Corktown neighborhood along Rosa Park Boulevard.  Neighbors commune with each other, swap tools, grow produce, and share a wireless hot mesh. However, the row houses needed serious work (new roof, rehabbing throughout, plumbing, electric, etc.) and no bank was going to lend them money without being up to code. Only one unit was more-or less livable with Joe and his family only paying $100 in exchange for handy-man help.

3. My money would serve as a seed loan for local laborers to rehab one unit in the hopes to begin renting the unit and bringing in some income in August.  In exchnage, for the month of June, three Chicago organizers would live and work in the rehabbed unit (free-of-charge) to help assist Detroit in getting ready for the social forum.

Airstream "pink flamingo"