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November 2, 2021 38 mins

Genean and Abrar from Common Humanity Collective join us to discuss the history of their mutual aid work, building communities through organizing, and how studying the history of struggles in the Spanish Civil War and beyond helped expand and transform their work.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:04):
Welcome to it could happen here a podcast about well,
mostly it's about how things are bad, but it is
also sometimes about what you can do about it. And
today we have two people who are in fact doing
things about it. So with me we have a bar
and Shanine who are part of the Common Humanity Collective,
which is a mutual a group out of California, um

(00:26):
clogen B. How how are how are you tally doing today?
Doing well? Thank you? Doing pretty good? Thank you? So yeah,
we wanted to have you two on to talk about
basically your mutual aid work and then also the sort
of political aspect of that because I know about something
YouTube and wanting to talk about that. I've read the
media coverage of it in it does not ever make

(00:49):
it into the interviews. So yeah, and I guess I
guess to start. So you two started doing mutual aid
stuff with with this group, specifically around the beginning of
the pandemic, as I understand you know what, can you
walk us through how it started and what you guys
are up to? Absolutely, and I think it's interesting to
trace out the different stages of this work because it's

(01:10):
very much been a kind of evolution. So let me
go back to the very very early days, and this
is really the first day of lockdown UM in the
Bay Area where we live. I'm a PhD student at
UC Berkeley and UM. As COVID was spreading from the
east coast to the west, we knew that things would
quickly get shut down in California. UM. And there was

(01:33):
someone in my lab, a good friend named Yvonne, and
she and I just quickly realized that this pandemic was
going to hit UM. Given the sort of crumbling public
health infrastructure, the poorest among us, the elderly dispossessed UM,
these people would be vulnerable. And as p PPE just

(01:56):
completely disappeared from store shelves, these people UM, especially those
living in cramped housing conditions, those with essential work UH,
those in nursing homes just would not have access to
UM the tools they needed to protect themselves from this disease. UM.
And in the very early days, when we thought that

(02:17):
the stuff was transmitted via surfaces, UM, all of the
attention was focused on hand washing, hand sanitizer. The problem
was you couldn't even find hand sanitizer anywhere. So here
we were in our labs and UM, you know, our
few months weren't being used and everyone was getting sent home.
UM and uh, we realized that we could pull ethanol

(02:41):
from the scientific re agent supply chains and stir up
some hand sanitizer ourselves in lab and distribute it UM
just to homeless shelters, to people who needed it in
the city, etcetera. UM. So this began as a very
sort of low key, quiet under the cover UM effort.

(03:02):
And UM. You know, we didn't have a name. We
didn't even know what mutual aid was. I think we
were just following our basic instincts UM. And fast forward
a week or two and suddenly a whole lot of
people got involved. UM. We had this elaborate distribution infrastructure
which started sort of self assembling. UM. Lots of people

(03:25):
came to find ways of getting the sanitizer to everyone
who needed it. In the meantime, we realized that as
the demand was enormous, we need to come up with
ways of procuring the supplies UM and mixing it at
scales that we didn't have to turn anyone down. So
we called upon lots of different labs on campus and
asked them if they could do this, if they could

(03:45):
shift some of their discretionary funds towards getting these chemicals. UM.
And you know again, within a few weeks after that,
we were mixing hundreds of gallons of hand sanitizer and
delivering it to absolutely everyone who needed it. My phone
was just getting UH called NonStop from the moment I

(04:07):
woke up to when I went to sleep, I was
forgetting to eat, I was barely sleeping. UM. Just responding
to these cries for help from all over the Bay area. UM.
And in that time we met so many people UM
and we figured out how to do this work efficiently
and effectively. But also UM, as the attention shifted from

(04:29):
surface transmission to aerosol transmission UM, everyone started realizing that,
in fact, masks were probably the primary way in which
we protect ourselves from the coronavirus UM. And that's when
a good friend of ours, Chris, who was a PhD
student and he's now a post do brilliant, brilliant creative guy,
came up with ways of actually making sub micron masks

(04:53):
out of just UH supply chains that weren't getting tapped UM.
So initially these were shop towels. Then he started looking
at Nani fiber material UM and he found ways of
for around sixty cents making a mass that was basically
the quality of an N ninety five mass that could
be made in just a few minutes at home. UM.
And so we suddenly just integrated that whole effort into

(05:17):
our own and started just recruiting volunteers, sharing all of
our resources, and UM this large assembly network of these
little pods situated all across the Bay Area, each of
them with a team lead, with a little army, a
battalion of assembly volunteers and dedicated drivers were just making

(05:38):
thousands of these mass every week, which we were then
distributing through the the distribution infrastructure that we had UH
sort of put together earlier on in the pandemic. And
so we found ourselves and this was still very much
in a time when you couldn't even find cloth masks
or surgical masks and shops, we found ourselves astonishingly being

(05:59):
the primary source of this essential ppe for tens and
tens of thousands of people in the Bay Area. And
as we were covered in the early days by the
Chronicle in the l A Times, loads of people started
joining the volunteer network. We started getting donations, and UH
that was the earlier stage of what we did, and

(06:20):
I'll pass it on to Jinine to talk about what
we did next. Yeah. So, kind of as UM Common
Humanity Collective was working on this project, UM up Bar,
myself and a couple other folks started adopting kind of
a Democratic Socialists of America or East by d S
a side of what was happening UM and through this project,
our intent was to UM have a little bit more

(06:44):
political education and think really critically about how we could
make this true mutual aid, which a Bar and I
have learned is really really difficult to do of actually
under capitalism. UM. And so because we started this project
around December, so kind of the height of the pandemic,
we wanted to make it accessible for people who were
really COVID cautious UM. And so we would assemble kits

(07:06):
of masks in a park with a couple of folks outside,
and then we would drive these kits to people's homes
and get on zoom UM and we would have a
breakout room for people to learn how to make masks. UM.
People oftentimes people who had only come to the build
a couple of times started teaching new folks how to
build these masks, and in the other room we were

(07:27):
doing readings. UM. We were reading you know, Panna Cook
and Jane mclewy b side by side talking about you know,
trade unions and solidarity unionism. We were reading about tenant
organizing UM aboard. Do you want to talk about Rosa
Luxemburg a little bit? Yeah? I mean it was an
amazing thing. We were trying to sort of expand our

(07:47):
own political consciousness and we did things like host to
three part series just discussing, examining, analyzing the political theory
of Rose of Luxembourg. UM. And we had huge participation.
And this was at a time where in our d
SA chapter UM and many of the different committees people

(08:08):
were panicking because no one was showing up UM. And
yet we found an enormous number of people joining our
effort in these discussions were so energetic and so enthusiastic UM.
And you know, this was a lonely time. It was
a difficult time, and people seemed to find something and
what we were doing. What do you think about that, Jennie, Yeah,

(08:29):
and I think you know, not only were people coming
and participating, right, we had high school students, We had
people who had dedicated the pandemic to reading political theory right,
and so we have this huge breath of knowledge. We
have more liberal people joining, We have like anarchists and
communists right like, all in this space that are actually
talking together. And what was so empowering to me was

(08:50):
everyone felt like they could speak. We had people that
were really introverted um then in the beginning didn't talk
at all, slowly start to open up. We had high
schoolers asking really incredible questions, is right, like is revolution
even possible right now? Um? And kind of getting into
some of this. And I think one of the most
impactful things was that we had these calls from seven
to nine at night, and after that we had what

(09:12):
we called late night, where folks would stay on till
like twelve at night and talk to each other. And
in this time of like isolation and depression, I don't
think anyone that I know at least was having a
good time in December, January, February, right people were coming
together on Zoom and actually staying on Zoom after what
we were doing to feel some type of camaraderie, to

(09:33):
feel like they were part of a community. UM. And
we were able to actually create that space and I
think that that was something that to me was really incredible.
UM And I think, you know, framing this also from
the George Floyd protests that happened over the summer and
thinking you know more about abolition, right, thinking more about
community building. I don't think you can truly or I
can't imagine the future without the prison industrial complex, that

(09:57):
doesn't involve communities of care, that doesn't involve give and
people both the resources and the like love that they
need to be able to not be pushed into situations
where they have to commit crimes and also having accountability
amongst each other. Um. Not to mention right, this work
is really really hard. People burn out, Like we are
exhausted to be able to create a space where everyone

(10:17):
cares for each other or we're checking in with each
other where you know, in the beginning of this virtual
mask builds, I think, you know, a bar, myself and
a couple other folks were doing the majority of the work,
and by the end we were doing none of it.
We had like been able to reallocate those tasks, we
had been able to develop leaders, and we had essentially
organized ourselves out of a job, which to me is

(10:37):
like the organizer's dream, right, Like, that's what you really
want to see happen. UM. And so that's kind of
what was happening on the production side of the mask builds.
On the distribution side again, we're thinking, how can we
actually make this true mutual aid UM And so we
started to partner with Tank Tenant and Neighborhood Councils, which
is one of the main tenant groups in the Bay Area,

(10:58):
UM and working with them to go to food banks, right,
places where people are generally low income, where they might
not be able to have the resources to get masks,
and we're distributing masks asking them are you having trouble
with your rent or your landlord? Right? The goal in
this is to give people the tools to organize around
issues that are deeply pertinent and urgent to them, especially

(11:18):
with an impending fiction moratorium, right. And so UM we
learned a lot through this. We went to a lot
of different food banks we found, um you know, some
of them were places where people primarily spoke Cantonese and Mandarin,
and so we you know, used our networks again that
we had created through this project, these relationships of trust
to find people that spoke Mandarin and we're willing to

(11:40):
come out, UM and talk with folks. UM. We found
people that spoke Spanish that we're willing to come out
and talk with folks. And we started to develop relationships
at these food banks where we were able to distribute
masks to people, talk to them, understand what issues they
were having, UM, and invite them to come to meetings
where they could actually get their resources to try and
tackle some of the issues that they're facing. I brought

(12:11):
you have more to add on the MASS project. Yeah,
I think it's worth saying that. UM, we're all very busy.
I'm a PhD student. While we were doing this work. UM,
you know, in d s A, I was teaching a
class and I was doing research. Janine is a extremely
busy union organizer. UM. And normally, you know, we'd come

(12:34):
home after work and be absolutely exhausted. UM. And this
was very tiring, but we felt somehow energized. We felt
driven to do this, and we found that lots of
the other people who participated were also busy with their
jobs and yet would make time to do this. And UM.
In terms of our actual practice, in terms of trying
to develop the political dimension of the distribution aspect of

(12:58):
our mutual aid. There was a constant interplay between what
we were reading and what we were practicing. So as
we began working with this radical Tenant Organizing group TANK
that Jinin mentioned, whose aim is to give tenants the
tools to form tenant councils and tenant unions in order
to use tools such as rent strikes to rebalance power

(13:20):
between themselves and their landlords and real estate companies, etcetera. UM.
During that time, during our mask builds, we would then
go and read articles in newspaper clippings from you know,
early twentieth century when there were examples of twenty year
old factory girls in Lower Manhattan organizing groups of apartment

(13:41):
buildings to go on rent strike, you know, ten thousand
families in one case, to go on rent strike. These incredible,
deeply inspiring stories UM where people uh suddenly became uh
subjects of history and not merely objects. And I think
part of what sustained our own work in this group
was some similar feeling and UM At the same time,

(14:07):
when we were trying to imagine future beyond capitalism, we
were looking at moments when that future seemed within reach,
and so we were studying, for example, Paris in ninety,
which is a moment within many people's living memory, all
although not our own, um and studying how it was

(14:27):
that these protests began with the student movement and then
spilled out into these massive strikes and all the sort
of self activity that emerged from that. And there was
such a wide, wide breath of people who came to
these builds. There were people as young as high schoolers,
were also much older, people in their seventies and eighties.
And when we were having this discussion, someone who lived

(14:50):
through the sixties and witnessed these things very up close
came to talk about Paris in nine six and shared
the wealth of his own experience. And again, all of
the was driving what we were actually doing with our hands,
what we were doing on the streets, what we were
doing at these food bank lines, um and so it
was very critical that everything we were reading was somehow

(15:12):
feeding into our practice. Yeah, and I think, you know,
we had over a hundred people participate in these masks builds,
and I think one of the things that I really
took away from this is again, people were craving that community,
They were craving relationships, and people came back because they
felt that in this group UM, and that translated also

(15:33):
as we transitioned right, we had built a culture of
friendship and of caring for each other that people wanted
to continue working on this. They wanted to continue to
be a part of this project. As we transitioned UM
to building air purifiers, right as the UM you know,
vaccines became more prevalent, masks were still being worn, but
to a lesser degree UM and we started turning to

(15:55):
fire season UM as these disasters right continued to strike,
especially with climate change only getting worse and worse. One
of the things that I think is really powerful about
mutual aid and is really powerful about communities is that
these disasters have been happening and continue to happen at
a greater and greater frequency. And I think what I've
learned from looking at you know, the heat waves that

(16:16):
recently took many lives across the Pacific Northwest, the um
really really freezing temperatures that happened in Texas about a
year ago, and especially COVID, is that you know, the government,
local or federal is not stepping in to help people.
Billionaires are not really stepping in to help people. It's
really only communities and networks of relationships that are keeping

(16:38):
people alive. And the only way you know that we're
going to get through this is through having those relationships,
through understanding where people need support. And we started to
do this with the distribution of masks, right is build
relationships with community members in you know, fruit Vale in Oakland,
which is not a large, not a place that many

(16:58):
people from d s A or from TANK are living currently, right,
and starting to build relationships with people that do need
these resources in times of crisis, UM, so that we
know where we can plug in and also build relationships
amongst our fellow organizers so that we can support each
other through these disasters. UM. And so as we transitioned

(17:18):
to the air purifiers, we started you know, thinking about
everything we have learned from the mass project and kind
of making that even bigger and better. And how can
we you know, continue to take what we've learned and
change it and turn it into something really really incredible.
And UM, we you know Chris who Abar mentioned before,

(17:39):
who came up with the masks, came up with a
really incredible way to make air purifiers that like ridiculously efficient.
UM is really really useful, especially for wildfire smoke, but
also for just people with asthma. There's a lot of
environmental pollution in the Bay area right These things can
be used UM year round. And we began to build

(18:02):
these air purifiers out of you know, box fans and
help a filters UM with a shroud with weather stripping
right to make the air like only go through the fan,
to make it extremely efficient. And UM started to think
about how can we make this like community aspect even
bigger at least this is what I was thinking of
because I had started to realize, right, I think the

(18:23):
only thing that we can rely on is each other
right now, especially UM. And so we started bringing in
a bunch of different groups to come to these builds
we have, you know, East Bay d s A. We
started working really closely with Sunrise and developed a level
of trust and reciprocity in that relationship that has you know,
continued to be really beneficial to us UM and really helpful.

(18:43):
We met amazing people that came out. You know, they've
helped fundraise for US as our funding has gotten really
really low because these air purifiers are not cheap, though
they're much cheaper than commercially available, but we're you know,
giving them to folks for free because we want this
to be mutual aid UM and so working with Sunrise,

(19:03):
we're working with Asians for Black Lives UM Berkeley, Mutual
Aid MASK Oakland UM who both came out to our
builds but also helped us distribute air purifiers to Reno
and to places that had you know a qu i
s of five hundred right when fire season was so bad,
when the smoke there was just like unlivable. UM. We

(19:24):
were able to work with them to distribute these air
purifiers where people really needed them most. UM. We were
able to you know, continue to work with tank UM.
Some folks from the i w W came out. We
were able to distribute these air purifiers to the Sagorata
Land Trust, which is UM a land trust that is
run by Indigenous women UM and is working on essentially

(19:48):
giving UM indigenous land back to Indigenous people. We were
able to distribute with critical resistance and amazing abolitionist groups
started by Ruth Wilson Gilmore and Angela Davis in Oakland,
we were able to distribute UM to s r oh UM,
a group that is working with UM Low income, Chinese
immigrants in San Francisco who are generally living in single

(20:09):
family homes right with really bad air quality, um, and
work with like all of these different groups. You know,
Berkeley Mutual Aid were pulling in people from just countless
networks to come and build air purifiers together. Um. And
we had you know, an ex black panther talking to
someone from Sunrise from San Francisco. Right Like these just

(20:32):
wild connections, um, that are happening at these builds of
people who are deeply political and people who are barely understanding,
um you know what socialism means, but are wanting to
come out and do something for their community. Um. And
through these relationships and networks again, like we're able to
hang out after the builds, people are able to enjoy themselves.

(20:54):
Everyone said they were having a really fun time. Even
though we were like literally doing work on a Saturday.
People were still like, this is so fun. We had
you know, people baking bread and like fruit tarts and
cheesecakes and bringing it. Uh. We had so we had music.
It was like a very fun atmosphere and environment. And
despite the fact that you know, it was physical labor

(21:15):
and it was taxing and a lot of times it
was on hot days. UM. People stayed for you know,
four hours to help do this and to do this
work because they cared, because they wanted to see, um,
you know, what they could be able to do. And
they also I think started to build relationships. UM. I know,
you know, countless people talked to a Bra and I
and had no idea. You know, we've known each other

(21:37):
for less than a year now, UM, and they thought
we'd known each other our whole lives. And I think
that really speaks, right. I think that speaks so much
to the relationships that we've been able to build through this.
And you know, I think a Bra and I have
met countless people and have developed like an incredible community
through this work. UM. That definitely helps me keep going.

(21:57):
I would definitely not be able to continue to do
this work if I couldn't you know, call Librara. But
nine pm and we talked for three hours, and we complain,
but we also talked through like what are we doing
and how can it be better? And how can we
you know, get through this roadblock? UM? And I saw
that in countless places. UM. As we moved to our
own distribution, so we're partnering with these organizations, but we're

(22:19):
also doing our own distribution UM, which I think is
like a huge experiment and how to actually do mutual aid,
which UM is something that you know, when we talked
to the organizers in our circles, we weren't finding answers too,
and so we kind of realized, like we just have
to kind of try and figure this out. But we
would go out and do these distributions and afterwards, you know,
have lunch with people and talk to each other, like

(22:39):
what could we do better? What are we doing wrong?
Is this mutual aid? Like these are questions we're having
right after we've been standing in the sun talking to
people for three hours. Like the dedication of the people
involved in this, like a Oar said, most of us
are working forty fifty sixty hour weeks and yet we're
dedicating constant time during the week and at least one
day every weekend to either distribution or a build UM

(23:02):
is incredible. I feel like incredibly honored to be able
to work with the people that we've been working with UM.
But in our distribution, we started thinking about, you know,
how can we invite some of these people to come
to our builds. Maybe that's the reciprocity. I think true
mutual aid is really about believing that the people that
were distributing to can also give back to us, rather

(23:24):
than seeing them as like helpless UM. And so we
continue to do some of our distributions with tank UM
and actually we were able to do some of these
distributions in a way that helped new buildings who were
just starting to form tenant councils. UM. You know, use
the air purifiers as a way to open up conversation
with some of these people and say, hey, you're building

(23:44):
is being organized. Remember how the fire season was last year, right, Like,
this is something that you can use, and let's talk
more about other tools that we can use, coming together
to really fight for changes that we can't necessarily make
on our own. UM. So that was happening, and then
we also decided to look at data around where in
Oakland or asthma rates really high, Where in Oakland is

(24:06):
air pollution really bad, and where in Oakland is it
primarily lower income folks? Right, we want to be giving
these air purifiers to people who can't generally afford a
hundred to two hundred dollar air purifier. UM and so
East Oakland was one of those places. And again through
this network that we had built through the Mask build,
we had a connection in East Oakland someone that had

(24:27):
UM that is part of East by ds A right,
that had done a lot of community organizing, and someone
that was actually able to, you know, send out an
email to her neighborhood and say, hey, we have air purifiers.
And so we had people posting up at her house. UM.
So you know, we were coming into a neighborhood that
was not our own, which in some ways UM, you know,
there's a lot of complications to that, UM, but we

(24:48):
were also able to do it at someone's house that
we knew UM. And our goal in this was to
get people to come to our builds to make air
purifiers for themselves and for their family, their community, their friends,
so that we then don't have to go into those neighborhoods, right,
so that they can then start to own that distribution
and own this project and like feel an autonomy over it. UM.

(25:09):
And so we also kind of door knocked around the
neighborhood talking to people about the air purifiers, about wildfire smoke,
about coming out to a build, you know, about why
this is really important, um, why we need people to
engage in this project. UM. And we distributed almost a
hundred air purifiers that day, I think folks in that community.

(25:33):
And after that that week, UM, so we distributed on
Sunday and then um a week later on Saturday, we
would have a build. So within that week, right, we're
calling everyone that we distributed to saying, hey, how is
your air porifier working? Can you come out to a build.
It's really really valuable that you come out to a
build so that you can make sure that your community
has clean air to breathe, especially during fire season. Um.

(25:55):
And through these calls, right, I talked to someone who
lived in East Oakland for an hour and this person
just started opening up and was so touched that we
had done this and basically said, you know, no one
has ever cared for my community like this, No one
has ever even thought about us. Right. And you see,
like there are nonprofits right California was giving out air
purifiers to certain people, like there's a semblance of the structure.

(26:18):
And yet we were actually interfacing with these people who
seemed to have no idea that any of this was
happening right there, saying you know, no one else has
been able to do this UM, and we're starting to
form relationships and develop connections in these neighborhoods and make
people feel cared for and follow up UM And despite
all of this work, right, no one shows up to
our bill that week UM, and I think Obra and

(26:38):
I both felt pretty defeated, right, Like is mutually possible?
What are we doing wrong? Clearly? Like class and racial
barriers are really hard to overcome in this UM. And
you know, we're talking to our ex black panther friend
that has continued to be a huge part of this project,
and he was like, you're you know, you have to
keep trying. You're doing the right things. And so we

(27:00):
went to West Oakland again where we had a connection
from our mass project that helped us set up in
front of this corner next to UM, a vegan cafe
that serves trans poc for free UM and has really
wonderful food. We're able to talk with them, give them
air purifier as they allowed us to UM kind of

(27:22):
set up shop in front of their store. And there's
also like a liquor store on this corner. It's like
a very busy corner in West Oakland. UM and kind
of did the same thing. We're handing out air purifiers,
talking to people about the build, talking to people about UM,
you know why this is important. And we're also door
knocking in the neighborhood, talking to folks UM at their homes,

(27:42):
UM asking people, you know, who needs an air purifier? Right, Like,
these communities generally know each other really well, and we're
able to talk to people who are like, oh, my gosh,
you know, like my aunt lives over there and her
kid has asthma, and like you should go talk with her. UM.
And so we start to develop these connections and kind
of map out the neighborhood and UM, you know, again
we're following up. We're talking to these people on the phone,

(28:03):
we're asking them to come out to the build. And
we went out to this neighborhood again. So the second
time we went out, UM, I started to recognize people, right,
and I started to be able to talk with people
and UM. Through I was kind of like door knocking,
UM while people were posted up by the liquor store
and this Beacon cafe and UH there was like a
church service going on and I recognized one of the

(28:25):
people there, and he recognized me, and we were able
to talk, and he was really grateful for the work
that we were doing. And he started calling his friends
over and be like, hey, you know, do you all
need an air purifier? Remember how a bad fire season
was last year, And also like we should all go
to this build next time. UM, you know, we should
actually be showing up and helping out um. And words
spread so quickly, like these communities are so deeply connected, UM,

(28:49):
at least from what I like witnessed and UM that
week again, right, we called everyone. We said, like, you know,
we really think it's valuable for you all to come
out to a build. We want to give you like
ownership and autonomy over this in a world where I
think so often you feel so little autonomy UM, and
so little power when everything feels like it's crumbling. Right,
to have some semblance of ownership and autonomy, to be

(29:11):
able to um do something that is immediately like visible
and real UM feels really powerful. Right when sometimes you know, uh,
talking to elected officials is moving too slowly because disasters
are happening so quickly. There is a need to balance
immediate need and system change, right, And I think you
have to constantly hold both, um, but you know, we're

(29:33):
talking to these folks, were asking them to come to
the build, and um, we actually had a couple of
people come out to our build from our distribution, people
that had a really amazing time, People that you know
said that they enjoyed being there um and took air
purifiers back and gave them out to their friends and family. UM.
And we're able to say, you know, I made this right,

(29:54):
Like this is something valuable, but also I understand how
it works. And I talked to one of these people.
Our next build is actually on his birthday, and he
was like, I really want to come out on my birthday.
I really want to come out and help people and
do this thing that has been enjoyable. Um. And it
is also like helping people, And that to me was right,

(30:16):
Like that someone wants to come on their birthday to
like build air purifiers on a Saturday when most of
these people are you know, working forty two however many
hours a week that they're willing to continue to even
work on a Saturday, I think is a huge feat um.
And it's something that's definitely felt really really powerful in
this Yeah, I think something that Jannine brings out is

(30:48):
really important, which is that UM, at every stage we've
been sort of interrogating and examining the work we're doing
and asking whether we are truly drawing out the full
political potential of our work. So in the earlier days,
when we were just stirring up that sanitizer and getting
out these masks, you know, we did a lot, and

(31:12):
you know, this network of volunteers comprised well over two
hundred people, and it was sort of consuming all of
our time. But eventually we realized that to a large degree,
we were basically just acting as a stopgap measure for
government austerity, for the big gaps left behind by this

(31:33):
extremely problematic nonprofit industrial complex, and the work we were
doing then we realized was sort of susceptible to co
optation UM and it didn't necessarily represent too much of
a threat to capitalist hegemony and UM. At that point,

(31:54):
you know, we shifted into DSA, and we started bringing
in a very sort of explicit uh political education component
and started associating with an organization like Tank which is
already been doing UM really incredible radical organizing in the
Bay Area. But eventually ran up against the limits of
that as well, and you know, d Essay is an

(32:16):
organization where a lot of us initially learned our politics,
but you know, and its current sort of stage, it's
characterized by a strong degree in our chapter of sort
of democratic centralism, and most of the effort is being
put towards electoral work and reform work, and everything that
we were reading about seemed to point towards the extreme

(32:36):
limits of that form of organizing, and how these forms
of organizing in fact represented sometimes the more reactionary elements
of the left in earlier moments in history, and we
wanted to go beyond that. And so we realized that
we were spending a lot of time having to just
sort of defend the work that we were doing. So
eventually we just decided to uh sort of reassert our autonomy.

(32:58):
And as we shifted into the Air Purifier chapter of
our work, that's what we were doing, and um our
inspirations are manifold. And as we were reading about these
earlier moments in history, something which UM had an extraordinary
effect on me was studying the example of the Spanish

(33:20):
Revolution in and suddenly I was reading about this moment
in history that's been more or less erased from most
of our textbooks are presented UM in a very kind
of dishonest form UM. And what these workers and peasants
had done in the midst of fascist takeover was create

(33:42):
on an enormous scale, UM, the perhaps the most egalitarian
society that I've ever read about, which truly represented UM
a sort of liberatory, radical, early form of anti if
oraitarian socialism that stands in tremendous contrast to the much

(34:04):
uglier h forms of so called socialism that we've seen
appear in the twentieth century. And what I noticed was
that this society in Spain in n six was absolutely
replete with mutual aid, and these kind of anarchist tendencies
had UM sort of penetrated the consciousness of many of

(34:27):
the workers and peasants in Spain, you know, sixty years
before the revolution. After UM Bakunin in the First International
sent out an emissary to start spreading these ideas, and
they took whole like wildfire and spread across the country.
I think I think one of one of the most
incredible things about that story is the the guy they

(34:48):
gets sent from Italy like from as as the representative
and now again because yeah, he doesn't speak Spanish, right,
he only speaks Italian, and he he he should stif
at this place, right, and he's he's, he's such a
sort of brilliant order and and the sort of like
the power of the ideas that he has is so
strong that you know it it breaks through the language barrier,

(35:08):
and it's it's this sort of I think, it's just
this incredible moments that you know, I think, I think
times into a lot of a lot of what you
two are running into with, you know, I mean, we
still live in a place that's you know, incredibly defined
by language bears, and just the ability to break through
that becomes it gives you this just incredible potential of
power and organization. Yeah, Chrise, you don't know how much

(35:29):
it means to me to hear someone who's as familiar
with this as you. Most of the time when I
talk about it's just total blank faces, even among my
friends and comrades on the left. And unfortunately, but yeah,
I mean reading about Finelli, who didn't speak a word
of Spanish and he just went and with his wild
gesticulations and his passionate rhetoric was able to basically inspire

(35:53):
people with the radical politics that he came there to represent.
And it's somehow then took on a life of its own.
Is kind of an extraordinary thing. And what I would
do to take a time machine back and just see
what this guy. You know, he slept on trains and
basically lived as a tramp as he went from village
to village, spreading the word what what this looked like?

(36:14):
What was he doing? Um? And yet these ideas took
hold in aw only deep way and UM. These notions
of solidarity, mutual aid, cooperation, free association existed by the
time of the Spanish Revolution in ninety six. So these
sort of dual power counter institutions were more or less

(36:37):
in place. And these are the things which UM were
the basis the precondition for this sweeping egalitarian social revolution
that then unfolded, which was unfortunately destroyed by force. UM.
But this was the sort of society that I imagined
I might actually want to live UM and and UH.

(36:59):
And what you see is that there is a deep
element to UM, a sort of shared consciousness that existed
at that time. And it was quite an effort for
people to bring that consciousness from sort of the countryside
where it took hold more nash naturally into sort of
the industrial um centers, the metropolitan areas where people working

(37:22):
in factories were um, you know, found it a lot
more difficult to sort of exercise these um values because
these things are effectively bled out of them as a
work on the factory floor. And um that brought a
whole different meaning to the work that we were doing now,
and we wondered, what can we do to uh inculcate,

(37:44):
to nurture this kind of consciousness among the people with
whom we're interacting as we do our mutual aid, as
we do our distributions, as we hold these builds that
you know, even though we had trouble getting initially a
few of the people from our distributions to show up,
there were still sixties seventy people showing up every other weekend.
And now we finally started having the people that were

(38:05):
distributing extraordinarily surprising and exciting and yeah, this has been
it could happen here. Join us tomorrow for part two
of this interview. Well, we'll go more in death in
the political side, common humanity collectives work. Meanwhile, you can
find us on Twitter that happened here pod and also
on Instagram the same place, and you can find the

(38:26):
rest of her work your cool Zone Media in the
same places. It could happen here as a production of
cool Zone Media, but more podcasts from cool Zone Media.
Visit our website cool zone media dot com, or check
us out on the I Heart Radio app, Apple Podcasts,
or wherever you listen to podcasts. You can find sources
for It could Happen here, updated monthly at cool zone

(38:47):
Media dot com slash sources. Thanks for listening.

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