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A Conversation with Scott Crow, Part 2: Mutual Aid

7:05 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Previously: Part 1, Occupy & Activism

Banner on Occupy Sandy relief site: "Occupy Sandy, Mutual Aid Not Charity" with Circle A

Radical activist networks are powerful sources of mutual aid during disasters. But what comes after?

One reason I wanted to chat with Scott Crow was his experience with Common Ground Collective in New Orleans. In recent years, we’ve seen similar collectives spring out of the activist networks formed by Occupy Wall Street — projects like Occupy Sandy. Late last year, alongside key Common Ground Collective organizer Lisa Fithian and many others, I organized Austin Common Ground Relief to respond to a record-breaking flood on Halloween. As the group’s dispatcher, I relied on the networks and skills formed during Occupy Austin.

Kit O’Connell, Firedoglake: You mentioned projects that appear during lulls. I see Occupy Sandy, or the Common Ground Relief work we did here recently and all that ties into what you were doing at Common Ground Collective. 

Scott Crow: Right.

FDL: Mutual aid is good for its own sake, but how do we connect that politically? We don’t want to turn anyone off. We don’t want to politicize our aid but our aid is political. How do we make that connection? What happens next after an Occupy Sandy?

SC: I think it only is what it is. You can only ‘politicize’ it as much as you can. I think what’s really important is the culture we create internally within our political movements and social movements and also the way we engage outwardly with other people — though it’s more permeable than that. We’re not trying to convert people to anarchy or to communism or whatever it is — although communists did try to convert people just like religious wingnuts. Really what we do is you just make it make sense to people.

FDL: Sure!

SC: When you go to help someone and you name it mutual aid, people see that in real life and real time. Unfortunately, that’s the only way to do it. There is no conversion.

“It’s the idea of attraction, not the idea of conversion.” That actually comes out of Alcoholics Anonymous, I didn’t make that up. The aid work is something which just emerges sort of by accident out of all these projects. Like at Common Ground Collective in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, we were able to pull from the alternative globalization movement: street medics, indy media, and Food Not Bombs and all these things which had been going on.

FDL: These were networks built through activism that then were pulled in for aid.

SC: We didn’t consciously say, ‘Hey, we’re going to do this for aid!’ Now we’re starting to see that this has become a newer model, another point of intersection against the crisis of capitalism.

Make it as political as possible without drawing fake lines: like “we’re anarchist and you’re not.” Or, “this is radical and you’re not.” And also just being honest about who we are. I don’t want to convert anyone.

FDL: But you’re honest about where you’re coming from.

SC: Absolutely! I told people I was an anarchist from the beginning in New Orleans. And these are people, in some communities, who had hardly ever seen white people. I’m literally serious about that. They’d say “I’ve barely seen white people except on TV. You’re an anarchist, what is that? And why are you here?”

Now they’ll tell you, “The anarchists came. No one else showed up, but the anarchists came.” I’m sure your experience with Austin Common Ground was maybe not as extreme, but similar.

FDL: Sure, I had some people who took me aside who were like “I get what you guys are doing here.” We didn’t avoid talking about our politics, people knew we were organizers but it was never about that, obviously. It was about “here’s a meal.”

SC: Right.

FDL: During some of the later events in December, people told me, “We will remember you and what you did.”

SC: It’s also about connecting things. So when you’re gutting somebody’s house, you can come in like a service organization and say, “Yeah, we’re going to gut your house. Then we’re going to go on to do something else.” That’s the charity model. But if you come in with the solidarity model, it’s like, “We’re doing this because we want you to get back on your feet, because we want you to build your own community power the way you see fit.” It’s a different way to approach it.

FDL: We’ve been able to pass the work off to the new Onion Creek Park Neighborhood Alliance, which we helped them form. 

SC: That’s what I’m talking about! These things happen all the time, and I don’t care if we name them as anarchy or not. It’s not a brand. There’s no gain in it. It’s just a point of reference, at least to me.

FDL: I feel the same way about Occupy. Some people want to fly that banner and it’s really powerful to them, and other people don’t want anything to do with it. At the end of the day, I don’t care as long as they’re doing something.

SC: Right, right.

In Part 3: Technology and intersectionality.

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Food Sunday: Eating Shoots (Not Leaves)

1:37 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Garlic, onions and shallots, oh my!

Shallot and garlic shoots in a garden

Shallot and garlic shoots at Avocasa gardens

Spring comes early here in Texas, and for months now, even during the end of our winter, I’ve been harvesting and cooking with shoots. There are varieties of wild onion in many parts of the world, including this one here in Texas and the plants come up all through my back yard both wild and in places we cultivated them last year after collecting their seeds. The onions they form are tiny but pungent and almost the whole plant is edible. In addition, I’ve planted shallots and garlic in their own bed and the spaces in cinder blocks. The green shoots of all these plants, as well as the baby onions and bulbs themselves, are all delicious in your cooking.

As warm as it’s become in Texas, it’s still a while until we have a lot of basil. Even so, our fridge always has delicious home made pesto. Here’s a simple recipe, but you essentially substitute tasty Allium greens for basil and leave out the extra garlic:

  • About 2 cups of onion, garlic, or shallot shoots
  • 1/3 cup almonds or walnuts
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan or other hard cheese
  • 2/3 cup olive oil

Chop the shoots a little little so they don’t tangle in your food processor, then blend them with the nuts. After everything is broken down, blend in the olive oil and Parmesan.

Depending on the texture of the pesto you’d like, add a little less oil or leave the pieces of nuts and onion a little bigger; I like my pesto a bit ‘rough’ in texture versus the perfectly blended, mass-produced pestos you buy in the store. You can mix it with pasta, or just spread it on a piece of toast.

Kit with a big spoonful of onion pesto.

Yeah, it's that good.

You can harvest the shoots and they’ll grow back again and again until it’s time to harvest the bulbs. There’s so much of these green onions and shoots we’ve been trading them with other gardeners and freezing them. After being chopped in the processor they go into the freezer and become delicious cubes of flavor for future sauces and soups. We’ve got four ice cube trays full.

Here’s a simple recipe for white bean hummus with shoots:

  • 1 can of cannellini or great northern beans, or equivalent cooked dried beans
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup tahini
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • a generous amount of chopped garlic or shallot shoots or wild green onions, about 1/2 – 1 cup
  • salt & pepper to taste

In a food processor, chop up the beans a little, then blend in your shoots, seasonings, tahini, and lemon juice, then pour in the olive oil while the food processor is running. Blend until it looks delicious.


Wild onions on a cutting board

Freshly harvested wild onions in the kitchen, with the bulbs separated from the greens.

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Watercooler: Mildew

6:00 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell

Hi, y’all.

My garden has come under attack lately. Our yard is full of members of the squash/melon family, but they have become infected with a particular variety of powdery mildew, which fortunately seems only to affect these plants.

The leaves get white spots, and then after a while turn yellow and wither away,  as if they are burning up very slowly. I tried a few different treatments, and I’ve got a call into the local master gardeners at the agricultural extension, but the only thing that seems to work (since we don’t wish to use harsh poisons on our food) is to drastically cut away foliage and even whole plants, while keeping the other leaves moist to prevent more spores from taking hold.

One garden patch was full from end to end with beautiful, sprawling green spaghetti squash plants rich with orange blossoms is now devastated, and we fight to keep the mildew from our other remaining plants elsewhere in our garden beds. I was so proud of our garden. I still am — the tomato plants are doing great; someday soon I should be able to pick fresh edamame. But it also shows I have a lot to learn, and that our back yard food supply is more vulnerable than I thought.

Many of the most devoted activists I know believe that our national food supply is at great risk. The supermarket agriculture we’re used too, dependent as it is on the oil supply and genetically modified organisms and pesticides, could collapse even within my lifetime they suggest. It’s a sobering thought to have while watching the leaves turn yellow and die.

What’s on your mind today? This is the latest open thread.

Watercooler: Kripz

6:00 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell

Hi, y’all.

Today I attended the first meeting of the Occupy Austin OccuKripz, a new working group for disabled occupiers and their allies. Austin is home to a very active ADAPT office and a couple of their activists have been occupiers since the start. It’s a natural match — both groups are radical nonviolent activists in love with direct action (the ADAPT office features framed portraits of some of their most memorable arrests) and disabled people have a lot of reasons to Occupy.

Members of ADAPT were the only activists arrested on the floor of the Texas legislature during its last session. The formation of the group seems like a natural way to formalize the connections we’ve already been making and a way to strengthen us both. The main goals currently are to ensure that Occupy events are accessible and to encourage occupiers to support Medicaid, which is under attack nationwide.

After the meeting, my allies introduced me to their favorite Mexican restaurant (jokingly called the ADAPT cafeteria). I’d never been before, and it may be my new favorite East Side Austin tex-mex. Gotta love a working group that meets blocks from my house!

That’s what’s on my mind tonight. What about you? This is today’s open thread.