From Homies Empowerment to Homefulness, we are liberating BlackArthur in Deep East Oakland (Occupied Huchuin Ohlone Lisjan Land)
by Tiny Gray-Garcia
“I have a case of toilet paper. I’ll bring it over tomorrow,” said Reena, a now unemployed accountant from Alameda.
“I have a box of organic vitamins,” said Mr. Johns, an architect.
“I will bring two bags of non-perishable groceries over,” said Linda, a landscape gardener.
“I have so many masks – we had hoarded them after the fires,” said Gene, an UberEats driver.
These beautiful statements were from just a few of literally hundreds of people who have become “Radical Redistributors” in this time of COVID-19, as we define it at POOR Magazine.
What is Radical Redistribution? It’s what most people might refer to as mutual aid, but we as a houseless and poor people, indigenous people-led, self-determined movement on stolen land have been doing it since our inception in 1996 when me and mama were homeless and leading extreme outreach street based writing workshops in shelters, welfare offices and street corners to eventually launch the first physical copy of POOR Magazine and the very grassroots non-profit of the same name.
Fast forward 20 years and here we are with permission and guidance from First Nations elders and families, unselling Mama Earth and working really hard to build Homefulness, a homeless people’s solution to homelessness, while also supporting po’ mamas and families with the Po Mamas Reparations Fund and The Bank of ComeUnity Reparations.
For us, mutual aid is interdependence and donations are radical redistribution, as they involve a decolonizing and intentional, conscious shift away from the hoarding, producing, consuming mentality of capitalism. And just like our multi-nationed ancestors before us, we have operated this way from the beginning of our movement life and personal lives.
Every Tuesday for the last several years, POOR Magazine goes into encampments from San Francisco to Oakland to create grassroots, poor people-led media and simultaneously pass out healthy organic food, hygiene kits, produce, tents and sleeping bags. On Friday we distribute cash money, food and supplies to very low and no-income housed families as part of the Po Mamas Reparations Fund.
And on Thursday, since we got to Homefulness on BlackArthur in Occupied Huchuin in 2011, we have been operating the Sliding Scale Cafe, Po Peoples Organic Bakery and Po Peoples Organic Farm. All of these provide free food, produce, organic harm reduction hot dogs, healthy food to help decolonize our poor people diets and have the goal of supporting unhoused and very low-income folks.
This was all long before there was a COVID-19 virus. We were struggling to heal the virus called poverty, which all of us have or still currently deal with. Now the numbers of people needing help has increased, so we have increased our support until we are now supporting between 600-700 people all across the Bay at last count.
Other powerful, very grassroots groups like the Self-Help Hunger Program, Phat Beetz, East Oakland Collective, Coalition on Homelessness, Community Ready Corps, UFAD, Consider the Homeless, Where Do We Go Berkeley, First They Came for the Homeless, Anti Police-Terror Project, the Poor Peoples Economic Human Rights Campaign out of Philly, Homies Empowerment and Disability Culture Club have been doing this work since their inception too.
But the odd disconnect is, it’s always been just seen as movement work or social work or, even worse, as in the case of the big NGOs, savior work. But now with the shelter-in-place scenario when so many supportive services and savior services are not even open, us very grassroots folks of course are still here, relied on more and, happily now, joined by huge numbers of people waking up to the lies of scarcity and the violence of poverty.
Stop perpetrating the violent act of looking away
Oddly, people’s inability to operate same old same old seems to have forced them to actually think about the lies of hoarding and accumulating, stealing and selling, in a way never seen before by this poverty skola. Helping people realize that everything in life doesn’t have be tied to profit and exploitation, that we might be able to actually thrive by sharing EVERYthing with each other.
In fact, I might be so bold as to say: Corona might have killed capitalism.
. . . now, perhaps because so many people are experiencing just a small slice of the torture of scarcity, isolation and abandonment by a system that doesn’t care about anyone, even if you have played by its harmful rules, a lot more people are suddenly waking up.
Most of the new radical redistributors aren’t members of POOR Magazine’s powerful solidarity family of conscious wealth-hoarders or even a graduates of our decolonizing, degentrfying seminar called PeopleSkool, which we do twice a year, to help people un-gentrify their minds and lives. They are redistributing this toilet paper, food, masks, money and essential things because they were answering a call for radical redistribution, which is a direct resistance to the lies of hoarding and accumulating, stealing and selling that are so rampant in crapitalism.
Rent moratoriums and reparations
From 2009, when POOR Magazine launched the concept I call Community Reparations, most people, even so-called conscious and woke people, seem to listen to me talk about it with that annoyed, confused look on their faces. Waiting politely until I am finished explaining I’m a client and don’t want to be saved by them or anyone else, they then proceed with their talks about “organizing oppressed people from the bottom up.”
It is always mind-numbingly idiotic and I want to scream, didn’t you hear me? But now, perhaps because so many people are experiencing just a small slice of the torture of scarcity, isolation and abandonment by a system that doesn’t care about anyone, even if you have played by its harmful rules, a lot more people are suddenly waking up.
“Someone said once, when you are hungry, you can’t eat books, so now our library is filled with food, toothpaste and essentials,” said Cesar A. Cruz Teolol, founder of Homies Empowerment, a powerful grassroots, educational, arts and culture space right here on occupied Huchuin, BlackArthur, down the street from Homefulness.
As an indigenous and very grassroots organizing project, Homies Empowerment launched the “Freedom Store” earlier this month as a direct response to COVID-19 scarcity, hunger and struggle. Now they are distributing paper towels, food, sundries and so much more to more than 700 low and no-income Oakland families.
And then we have the powerFULL work of young people like this young man name Eagle in Richmond who on his own put out a little table of food outside so people who might be hungry could eat and Deecolonize Academy Students who unflinchingly jump to the punch to offer support whenever called on for Sliding Scale Cafe and RoofLESS Radio.
The end of krapitalism
Driving through downtown San Francisco and Oakland and gazing upon images of Las Vegas, New York’s Time Square and other spaces across Mama Earth, it seems like it’s over. Everything – the useless work, the superfluous travel, the CONventions, the buying and selling and extracting and stealing, the profiting off of and the destroying.
Of course it’s not. The insane politricksters trying to “open back up” and weird protestors of social distancing, the land-stealers of Wamponoag land (again) and the extraction nation are still here, never left and are waiting like vultures to strike. The police, ICE and plantation prisons, detention centers, false borders and selective enforcement and murder didn’t go away, haven’t really ebbed and in many ways are more dangerous than ever.
But this moment will never be forgotten and hopefully has taught a huge lesson to us all, that krapitalism is just that, crap, that scarcity is a lie. That there is in fact enough for everyone and it’s not based on how much money you have in your pocket or how much land you have stolen but where your heart and consciousness is located. And all that useless hoarding doesn’t actually get anyone anywhere, except alone with a lot of useless stuff and stolen land.
To radically redistribute to Homies Empowerment via Paypal, send to email@example.com or on Venmo @Cesar-Cruz-22.
To radically redistribute to POOR Magazine, send to RadicalRedistribution-Fund on Venmo or www.poormagazine.org/rev_donor.
To drop things off to POOR magazine or for more information about PeopleSkool, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lisa “Tiny” Gray-Garcia, aka “povertyskola,” is a poet, teacher and the formerly houseless, incarcerated daughter of Dee and mama of Tiburcio and author of “Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America” and “Poverty Scholarship: Poor People-led Theory, Art, Words and Tears Across Mama Earth” and co-founder of Homefulness, a homeless people’s solution to homelessness. Reach her at www.lisatinygraygarcia.com or @povertyskola on Twitter.