Prologue: The Great Collapse:
Live from the 215 and kneedeep in the muck of the not so distant future, a cataclysmic rupture in the global capitalist system has created an economic, political and social shockwave that has reverberated around the planet with a fury previously unseen in the whole of human history. Maybe it was Wall Street gambling and high volume trading? Maybe it was global peak oil prices causing the whole fossil fuel industrial complex to grind to a screeching halt? Maybe a few of our Vodoun initiated sisters had really conjured up a devastating hex from the bowels of the nether world, that caused the entire system to just get sick and die? Nobody REALLY knows, and few people really give a fuck. All we knew/know is that the game has changed and we out here tryna live.
In the weeks immediately following the great collapse, the TV news and Social Media sites were flooded with “Experts” and “Economists” trying in vain to put together a story that made sense of it all. The TV talking heads gritted their teeth and furrowed their brows in an desperate, futile attempt to bottle a whole new world up into the impossibly tiny and inadequate snow globe of corporate Media Newspeak and “mainstream” economic theory.
The Politicians also tried to get control of the situation. At first they tried calm and soothe people, urging us to “stay home” and “remain calm” (as if we was calm before all this shit went down Smh). When that didn’t work, they passed new, repressive “laws”, increased domestic surveillance and unleashed police and military upon the massive waves of people that poured out into the streets, desperate to find food and security. For a little while, the police fought the people and the people fought the police. The cops and military were well trained and well indoctrinated, but all that training and indoctrination ran into direct conflict with a very definite, very concrete material reality. To put it simply, once the cops stopped getting paychecks, they stopped being cops. The dollar and all other global currencies collapsed under the weight of hyperinflation and deflation. Initially, the large multinational Banks, Manufacturers, Speculators and Tech Companies, for the most part did what we expected them to do; They took flight. The sick and dying American economy was further weakened by an unprecedented outsourcing of Production and Capital. The State administrative machine was bottlenecked and ultimately overwhelmed by the influx of bankruptcies, civil and criminal litigation. The world had changed rapidly and America as we all knew it was dead. The Empire, in its mad thirst to increase power and profits had spun itself into chaos, bankrupting the State and suffocating itself with the unruly weeds sprouted up from it’s own contradictions. The entire system and it’s interlocking, interdependent institutions was at once imploding and exploding all over, with multiple crises being set off simultaneously from multiple locus points. Nobody really knows how it all happened, but everybody knows WHAT happened. A new space had opened up and thankfully, many of us had been in our communities, working and preparing for it. How quickly the whole world changes.
Philadelphia is a fucked up city…
We know we ain’t telling you nothing new when we say that, we just felt it would set an appropriate tone for us as we discuss the urgency of the challenges we face and the dire necessity of a new approach to confronting those challenges. We live in a time following the great collapse of the system. For the past five centuries (or more ;) ,we have bore witness to the unfolding of a very specific, identifiable process in the dynamic movement of human history.
The world we live in today and our collective memories of the worlds that we have lived through in the past are a direct result of this process. From top to bottom, inside and out, our lives and our planet have been drastically reorganized by this historical process. Land, Labor, Culture, Sex, Love, Thought, Feelings, Dreams, everything we’ve ever known, even “Knowing” itself was seized up, divided, redefined and sublimated to the twin terrors of ownership, and domination. We watched in horror and fought valiantly as the machines born of this terrible process expanded out from their unholy centers of operation, rolling over every continent , violating fresh, virgin land, swallowing up Black, Brown, White and Yellow bodies and spewing out a pale grey deathsmoke everywhere.
For a long time it seemed like this chaotic process had stabilized. The owners and dominators had crystallized their aggressions into an over arching superstructure made up of various new institutions; NationStates, Parliaments, Banks, Judiciary Bodies, Plantations, Factories, Unions, Political Parities and Corporations. In addition to these new institutions, a whole new set of psychosocial norms, values and relations were designed to uphold and perpetuate the rule of the owners and dominators. For the most part these institutions, acting in coordination had subtly (and not so subtly) reshaped our ways of relating to one another, ourselves and our environment. Our communities and our lives were forcefully tied together in service of this perverse new empire of the State and Capital. The empire was strong and furious in it’s destructive and repressive capabilities. Despite these strengths, the system itself was vulnerable, prone to a long cycle of ever deepening and expanding internal crises. Many of us were aware of the weaknesses, contradictions and self inflicting vulnerabilities. We studied, worked and sacrificed, not only to understand the defects of the present system but with the hopes of surviving it’s inevitable collapse and laying the foundations for a new, more intimate, sane and humane system. We wanted to create a new way of life deeply rooted in the values of liberation, cooperation, shared responsibility and lateral decision making power. In the years leading up to the great collapse, the State attempted to reconcile the contradictions of a decaying world system and the empire it had produced. They attacked us with their economic austerity budgets, destroyed our public schools, relentlessly spied on us, threw many of us in jail and murdered many others. This process caused our people, all peoples, great pain and misery, but it also created the space and imperative for us to begin to plant the seeds of a new world within the dying shell of the old.
Our New Community
We live in Southwest Philly 52nd & Woodland. Years of intensive work and study has allowed us to identify, clarify and strengthen the core values around which our new world would be shaped. In the wake of the great collapse of the world system, we took care to make our community, the neighborhood where we live and work each day, the central focus of our efforts. The Community is our highest ideal To put it simply: We knew that the next phase in the great arch of human social evolution would bend towards the “localization” of human Social, Political and Economic organization and the free, open relationships forged between these small, community locales. The lateral, nonhierarchical distribution of decision making power over the affairs of our community was to be a central value in both our word and deed.
During the prior five centuries or so, the Empire of State and Capital had rolled across the face of the Earth, crushing communities and absorbing them into it’s body, constraining us within those boldface lies commonly known as “National Borders” and “Property Lines”. As a result of our close study of the system’s deep, irreconcilable contradictions, we had anticipated the great collapse. We viewed the collapse as an explosive event that would initially “dislodge” communities all around the world from the grips of the highly centralized, dominating State Capitalist system by rendering the empire’s institutions incapacitated. We knew that we would have to begin the long, tireless work of building a vital, community capable of producing the food, energy and social resources necessary for us and our people to not only survive this cataclysmic event, but to thrive and create a new autonomy and independence in the wake of the systemic collapse. There were only a handful of us here when we began the work of building new institutions and (more importantly) new relationships in this neighborhood. Some of us had grown up here, some of us had moved here from other places. The relationships we created with our neighbors was most important. We didn’t approach them as “activists” or some sort of political party jockeying for position within a foul system, nor did we walk with timidity or fake humility. We spoke with certainty, listened to our neighbors in earnest and did genuine work to help them take direct action to solve their own problems.
Early on we identified four key issues that were effecting the lives of people in our neighborhood, throughout the city and in Ghettos throughout the control. Those key issues were:
1. Lateral Power and Decision Making
2. Housing and Land
3. Food Production and Distribution
4. Education and Childcare
5. Energy and EcoSustainability
Our study and direct experience had informed us that these five key issues were most important and pressing because the effectiveness of a vital and productive community rested upon them, the same as a house rests on a stone foundation
1) Decision Making and Lateral Power
Looking closely at the society in which we lived, we came to the understanding that a fundamental root cause of many of the problems that plagued us were directly related to the fact that the vast majority of individuals lacked the power to make decisions and exercise real control over their lives. Even further, our Communities themselves lacked the power to administer their own internal affairs in any significant way. All decision making power had been centralized into the body of the Corporate State, jealously guarded by it’s detached class of politicians and bureaucrats. Social Hierarchy and the unjust concentrations of power that follow it had shaped virtually every aspect of our lives: The relations between Men and Women, Workers and Capital, Heterosexuals and Queers, White Folks and everybody else etc. We understood that the Corporate State was a key actor in the perpetuation of these imbalanced and ultimately unjust relationships. We knew that we wanted to be a free, self-determining Community. We knew that we not only wanted to do away with the “external” hierarchy imposed upon us by the State, we knew that we did not want hierarchy and unjust concentrations of power to exist within our community either. This understanding brought us face to face with the challenge of creating institutions (Businesses, Gardens, Cultural Spaces, Schools, Defense and Safety Collectives etc.) and ultimately a culture in which power was not distributed hierarchically from top to bottom, but laterally, side to side, person to person. This is easier said than done, in any organizational effort, it is almost second nature for people to replicate the very same hierarchical structures typically seen in private Corporations, Political Parties and the administrative institutions of the State. We wanted something new, a new way of thinking, creating and being; in short our new community needed to produce a new culture. In order to lay the groundwork for a new culture, we had to create new institutions to act as the carriers of that culture. In order for these institutions to be qualitatively different from those old institutions that were failing and crumbling all around us, we knew that they would require a radically different organizational structure, a structure in which power is distributed laterally, not hierarchically.
Early on, the few of us that initiated this work would get together and discuss the many many challenges of Lateral Power and nonhierarchical organizational structures. We identified 2 key principles that would go a long way toward distributing the decision making power within a given institution or organization to as many participants as possible:
a. Collective Decision Making:
The process that we undergo in order to make important decisions is central to the make up of our Community and the institutions within it. We knew that we wanted decisions that affected us all to be discussed openly and publicly, until a general consensus was reached and every member of our community took a vote. In order to strengthen our own experience with collective decision making, we started off small, organizing weekly outdoor neighborhood assemblies in the evenings after our neighbors returned from work. During the assembly individuals, families and small groups would present the ideas they had for making our Community stronger. Strategic locales for Food Production, Cleaning and Beautification projects, etc. Many many issues were discussed at our assemblies and everyone was free to offer their opinion. These assemblies were not perfect, but they created a space for all of us to get together, discuss the challenges of the day and most importantly, see and hear each other. In addition to the serious discussions, consensus building and decision making, the neighborhood assemblies became naturally social affairs in which neighbors would congregate, laugh, talk, flirt, eat and dance to music, building deeper more intimate interpersonal ties amongst neighbors in the process of practicing radical democracy. These neighborhood assemblies (which still occur today) helped lay the foundation of mutual trust and experience that allowed for the new institutions we created in our Community to flourish under truly democratic control, virtually free of unnecessary hierarchy and concentrations of power.
b. Accountable Representation:
Under the old system before the Great Collapse, our society was thoroughly controlled by bourgeois Politicians and shadowy Corporate Execs and Share Holders that owned them. These people would make stupid speeches using grand, flowery language, claiming to “represent the interests of the people” or whatever. The Politicians and the CEOs, hopelessly fused together in a sick, incestuous oligarchy of State and Corporate power, lied through their teeth, claiming that the true power lay in the hands of us as voters and consumers and that they were merely our humble (but well paid) “representatives”. By now, everyone knows that the power over the old system and the institutions within it, was in every significant way, wielded by a small, detached class of Political and Economic elites. In our new Community we do elect representatives to carry out specific tasks but these representative positions are truly accountable to the people.
Every representative is subject to immediate popular recall and these representative positions are revolving with a new representative elected once the specific task is completed. This revolving structure helps to “democratize” skills and experience while working to prevent the ossification of a new administrative/decision making class. Many of the new institutions we created early on were structured this way; Schools, Businesses, Gardens, Work Shops etc. Many more have been created and maintained today.
2) Housing and Land
Throughout history Housing and Land have been important focal points for people around the world struggling to achieve freedom, self-determination, autonomy and genuine community. In our time we understood that the people’s relationship to the Land was central. The Capitalist State, throughout it’s history as a Social entity has stolen Land that was once the shared providence of the many, selfishly proclaiming it as the private property of the few. We understood that the Land was a gift to all of us and In the early stages of our work we were presented with several strategic advantages. In the years leading up to the collapse, many of our neighborhoods were ravaged by gentrification. On a whim Market and local governmental forces would converge with the sole purpose of forcing us out of our neighborhoods. There was little legal recourse we could take against these decimations of our neighborhoods. Even in the face of rampant corruption, deception and outright theft on the local level, there was no “higher authority” that would hear our call of distress. We were for all intents and purposes, a landless, homeless people. As the economic crisis deepened, sucking more and more large private Real Estate companies into the abyss, we took quick notice of the abundance of vacant buildings in our neighborhood and throughout the city. We surveyed the people of our neighborhood and shared info with friends from other hoods and put together a database of individuals and families that were in need of housing. We’d organized work crews made up of able-bodied folks on the database as well as a few volunteers in the neighborhood and we’d open up the vacant, often boarded up buildings, renovate the units and move the homeless into them as quickly as possible. In the early days, jilted landlords would call the cops on us, forcing evictions. Many in our Community fought the cops viciously when they came to kick families back out in the street and even after all that, once they left, we’d just organize another work crew, rip the boarding off the buildings and move people right back in. Like most of the institutions in our Community now, the buildings were radically democratic and self-managed, with each resident having equal say in decision making. Soon, we saw multiple buildings that were once reserved solely for the benefit of private profit were slowly transforming into vibrant, dynamic centers of Communal activity.
3. Food Production and Distribution
The problem of Food Production and Distribution emerged early on in the process of institution building in this neighborhood. The vast majority of our people suffer through a dead man’s diet of greasy, high cholesterol, fatty, processed, pesticide ridden and genetically modified “foods”. Speaking with our neighbors early on, we understood this issue of Food Production and Distribution to be a central component of community building. Vacant lots and mid sized plots of land were seized and refigured for the purpose of growing food. Many people in neighborhoods throughout the city (and the world) were doing similar work, refiguring Urban spaces as local food production sites. In order to increase the diversity of food access, we reached out and established direct relationships with other neighborhoods, coordinating crop growth and sharing produce. Today, we enjoy a vast city wide food distribution chain in which everyone is fed according to his or her needs, crop growth is coordinated and yielded crops are traded shared based on a cooperative structure neighborhood by neighborhood.
4. Education and Childcare
In the days proceeding the Great Collapse, Women and Men were drawn out of our neighborhoods seeking to sell their labor to an employer for a wage. This process left the children of our neighborhoods in a position where the majority of their formative years are spent in the care of a nonblood relative. As the contradictions of Capital deepened, wages were suppressed and more and more workers have to take on 2, sometimes 3 additional jobs, families find it financially impossible to homeschool/rear their young children. In response to this reality created by Capitalism, the State has stepped in to “mediate” the need, by providing families with childcare vouchers, and facilitating a veritable explosion in the childcare/daycare industry in poor Black, White and Latino communities. Due to the fact that the majority of these Daycare facilities are heavily reliant on State subsidies, the entire industry as we know it rested upon a huge State supported bubble. Seeing this, we understood that this “bubble” could be burst by the next round of State austerity budget cuts, resulting in countless families being left unable to pay the (market driven) childcare costs. This potential Childcare “bubble burst” scenario is a double edged sword. A drastic cut in State funding for childcare subsidies would not only leave parents assed out with no way to pay for their children’s care during the day, this scenario would also cripple one of the largest employers in the hood, the Daycare Centers themselves. In the days following the Great Collapse, the “bubble burst” scenario that we had envisioned and planned for was nothing compared to the viciousness in which the State cut all social subsidies (Food, Housing, Education, Childcare and many many more) in a desperate attempt to save the Capitalist economy in the wake of the great collapse. Acting in service of our principles and out of sheer necessity, we created several new cooperative Educational and Childcare institutions. Our neighborhoods already possessed much of the necessary infrastructure for these new Childcare and Educational cooperatives: Schools closed and abandoned due to State budget cuts, formerly private Daycares, Childcare workers and Teachers displaced by the collapse of the system, Parents, Grandparents, Students, Neighbors and Mentors all willing to share in the work of caring for and teaching our young people. Our curriculums, standards and practices are shaped and upheld collectively by the community and we are working towards creating a new culture of care and learning suitable for our new Community.
5. Energy Production and EcoSustainability
Quite possibly the most challenging issue we have faced in the wake of the Great Collapse of the system, was the issue of Energy Production and EcoSustainability. Despite our great desire and dedication to freedom and autonomy, our neighborhoods were intimately tied to the same powers we opposed, due to our reliance on the State’s energy infrastructure. Our homes and vehicles were powered by energy sources we knew to be harmful to the planet. Our community wanted clean, renewable energy technologies that worked in harmony with our abundant planet. There have been many people working on methods in which we can harness the Earth’s power and use it to suit our needs. We continue to study and experiment with these methods. Early on, before the collapse, we began to counter act our neighborhood’s dependency on the State energy grid by collectively instituting our own alternative sustainable energy production strategy. We envisioned every building in our neighborhood as a potential minipower plant. We started off by outfitting a few large, strategically chosen buildings (mainly abandoned and repurposed schools and warehouses) with our own Solar Panels to collect sunlight from the roof. We have also built miniwind turbines on the sides of the buildings. We also envision a technology that will allow us to drill narrow pathways into the ground in order to extract geothermal heat from the Earth’s core. Each of our minipower plants have also been outfitted with a small a meter and processing unit that can collect the solar, wind and geothermal energy, use it to power the building and store any surplus energy in hydrogen tanks or ship it back into the new, decentralized, internet based energy grid, so that others who need it, may use it. The use of this technology has become widespread in the past few years and we have formed working relationships with neighboring Communities throughout the City and the world in order to collect and share clean energy freely.
Conclusion (For Now/For the Future)
We still here and we still tryna live, a flower growing up from the rich soil of a new world fertilized by the corpse of a dead social order. Everyday we take further steps toward a standard of freedom, autonomy, cooperation and social intimacy, our immediate ancestors couldn’t have imagined. This ain’t a game, this is a battle. We fight, make mistakes and hopefully learn and improve. Again, we state that we hold the Community up as our highest ideal. The free association and equally democratic relation between individuals and groups within our Community as well as the Communities around us and throughout the world, will continue to be central to our vision for a new society while acting as the means by which we hope to bring that society into being. For now, we here and we building.
1. Jeremy Rifkin The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power is Transforming Energy, The Economy and The World
2. K. Kia Bunseki FuKiau Mbongi: An African Traditional Political Institution
3. Graham Purchase Anarchist Organization
4. Huey P. Newton “On Intercommunalism”
5. Benjamin Barber Jihad Vs. McWorld: How Globalisation and Tribalism are Reshaping our World
6. Murray Bookchin The Philosophy of Social Ecology: Essays on Dialectical Naturalism
7. Russell “Maroon” Shoatz ” The Dragon and the Hydra”
8. Sam Mbah & I.E. Igariwey African Anarchism: The History of a Movement
9. Max Rameau Take Back the Land: Land, Gentrification and the Umoja Shanty Village
10. Michael Albert Moving Forward: Program for a Participatory Economy
11. Rudolph Rocker “Socialism and the State”
John Morrison is an MC, producer, writer, and DJ. Follow him @johntheliberator, The Culture Cypher, Soundcloud, Mixcloud, all the clouds. An excerpt of this work originally appeared in season one episode one (not our pilot episode, mind you) of Metropolarity: Journal for Speculative Vision & Critical Liberation Technologies.