Economy

He said me haffi work, work, work, work, work, work

I was recently asked by my son’s teacher to talk about work, or rather my personal approach to paid work. I started out by looking at the whiteboarding the class had already done. Money and basic needs were amongst the emerging themes tied to work. Explaining work and labor to 7 year olds from an anti-capitalist lens is difficult for me, so if anyone has suggestions on how to do so, please let me know!

"Nature does not produce on the one side owners of money or commodities, and on the other men possessing nothing but their own labour-power. This relation has no natural basis, neither is its social basis one that is common to all historical periods. It is clearly the result of a past historical development, the product of many economic revolutions, of the extinction of a whole series of older forms of social production." Marx, Capital, Vol.1.

I'm experimenting with alternative social reproduction for as long as possible given the forces of capitalism. As far as my son's class is concerned, this is about choosing to decenter work. To help demystify, these are my main sources of income. I waitress 1-2 times a week for a steady paycheck. I'm a developer, which grants me the privilege of earning a relatively high wage for freelance gigs. I have a practice of trying to "walk the walk," so I do work with folks with similarly aligned values, which means I earn a below market, but fair, wage. My baby daddy contributes what the state requires of him, which covers half of my child's basic needs (rent, clothes, food, etc) and not a penny more, but I digress! A wild guess, but on average, I spend 60 hours a month dedicated to paid labor.

Selling my labor "full-time" would put paid work at the center of my life, which is not at all important to me. My relationships to people and the natural world matter to me most. Being a mom is the most important thing I do and requires the most labor. It’s the hum of my everyday life. It’s unpaid, grossly undervalued work. I simply could not dedicate the time required to be a mother while meeting the demands of full-time work. I choose to minimize how much time I spend producing wage labor as an act of self-preservation. I work enough to get some of my basic needs met. I hustle for the others.

Choosing to do minimal paid work also means I can heal and play instead of survive, self-medicate and distract myself with consumption. I daydream. I desire. I study. I've taken ceramics, Mandarin and now I'm learning design. I read! Read! Read! (Pleasure Activism is giving me life right now) I make things like sweet potato pies and Halloween costumes. I can be more physically and mentally present with the people I love. I exercise. I chaperone school trips. I can wear the clothes I want to wear and speak a language I want to speak. I can stand, sit, speak, REST and masturbate when I want to. I can go to other parts of the world and learn new-to-me perspectives.

Choosing not to work has harsh realities. I have shitty healthcare. I'm late on bills and penalized for that. DEBT. Raising a child and caring for oneself often requires more work than I can can surmise day-to-day. I don't have the money to pay careworkers. "I'm tired," is every third sentence I say. I have many future goals, but they can feel elusive because I can't finance them. My life is unsustainable. I am poor and poverty is violent and traumatic.

Still, I’m grateful for the risks I've taken in choosing to decenter paid work. I am able to exist in liberatory spaces from time to time, which is a tremendous privilege. I'm learning a lot, deepened my values and relationships, set goals and developed healthy practices. I'm seeking to maintain and build upon these liberatory spaces in the hopes of creating a sustainable path for myself and my son. These spaces are highly collaborative, and I'm learning that accountability really motivates me. It helps structure my time. If I know that I'm accountable to others that I trust and love, I'm motivated to get shit done as acts of love and care that give me pleasure. I know I can't do this work alone and I don't want to. I know that needing others is not a weakness or a threat to my autonomy. There are ways to meet our intrinsic need for other humans that aren't based on dependency models.

CoLET is a manifestation of such space. We are committed to creating human-scale liberatory practices that not only get our basic needs met, but incubate and fulfill our dreams. I’m so so grateful to Camille and Dana for feeding me and loving me. I’m so lucky to have such brilliant thinkers committed to transcending oppression with me! They are brave enough to use their radical imaginations to not only think of what it looks like outside the cage, but build it and try it with me!

It's been 3+ years since I've chosen to decenter work and my time may be up… because Capitalism... and those future goals I mentioned. I need money to buy the tropical land for the house for the POC intentional living community, where I can study food anthropology and furniture design and open a drive-in independent theater and the hot tub. I'm always looking for folks committed to this effort - friends, lovers, partners, commrades. In partnership, we can minimize our engagement with the oppressive forces of capitalism, build new systems and new ways of relating to each other, and maybe one utopian day abolish work.

Happy 20 mothafuckin 20, ya'll!

Towards A Slow Tech Movement: Building for Tech Justice

Something that has guided our thinking since the very inception of CoLET is the idea that just as the last 10 years or so have brought people greater awareness about the provenance of their food, we believe this is the moment to move people towards a greater understanding of their technology.

The past decade or two has been marked by a rise in farmer’s markets, organic offerings in the supermarket, and CSAs (community supported agriculture schemes that find farmers bringing down large shares of fruits, vegetables, and meat for members of the CSA to divvy up). In addition, CSA and cooperative farmers welcome members up for visits; while WWOOFs have long enabled people to do longer stints working on farms, getting their hands dirty and learning how to cultivate produce. While there is undoubtedly lots more to be done, people are more aware than they have been in over a half-century about what they consume and have been more demanding of the market as a result.

A CSA haul
A typical summer CSA haul

Here in CoLET, we’ve been thinking about what would be the tech equivalent of going to an organic farm or picking up one’s CSA share? A tour of a server farm or an internship at Google? Likely not. That’d be more the equivalent of touring a slaughterhouse or some sort of Big Ag facility.

In some ways, the distance and mystique surrounding the provenance of our hardware and software applications is part of the service.  We don’t want to know how the sausage is made, but we do so love that sausage. More please. Perhaps studying something like the rise of McDonald’s or the TV dinner might be instructive in helping us understand how we got to now. Both proprietary tech and fast food play on the same themes of speed and convenience. In an interview on The Splendid Table, Michael Pollan shared the following:

We were at this very interesting post-Betty Friedan moment where there was a very uncomfortable conversation unfolding: Women were going back to work; women’s liberation was very much in the air and there was tension over who would do the housework. It had to be renegotiated. Before that conversation could be completely played out and resolved, the food industry very self-consciously stepped in and said, “We’ll take care of it; we’ve got you covered.” They came forward with fast food and processed food, and it was a very deliberate effort on their part to hitch their agenda to that of feminism. There’s a wonderful billboard that I can remember from the ’70s. Kentucky Fried Chicken had this billboard all over the country — a giant bucket of fried chicken with just two words above it: “Women’s Liberation.”

KFC Wife Savers ad from 1968

As Anand Giridharadas so eloquently describes in his new book Winners Take All, capitalism keeps offering us “solutions” to the problems that it caused in the first place. However, just as the #MeToo has helped to surface the unfinished business of the women’s liberation movement, a day of reckoning is coming around the myriad ways that social media  — intoxicating convenience capitalism that took hold during an “uncomfortable conversation” moment in neoliberalism — exploits people and their data for ever greater profit. We’d like to believe that when the moment of crisis comes, a movement agitating for tech justice by way of open source, decentralization, inclusive communities of producers, and expanded access to tools will be at the ready.

Unfortunately, hope alone cannot build such a movement. So what can we tangibly do now to help people adopt practices and build greater intimacy with technology that, in some ways, is closer to them than even the food they put in their mouths? Our phones are often the first things we pick up in the morning and the last things we put down at night. We can’t just scare people into what we paternally deem “healthier” practices. There has to be a sea-change from both the production and distribution side. Alternatives need to be available and they need to be good.

With CoLET and our burgeoning Merkalie project, we are experimenting with solidarity economy principles by nudging folks in our community to host their sites with us rather than one of the big, faceless corporations. But at the same time, we want them to know that when they host with us, things will work differently — sometimes good and fast, but sometimes buggy and slow.

On a recent episode of Recode, Nicole Wang (formerly of Twitter, Google, and the office of the CTO of the USA) suggests that it may be time for a “slow food movement for the internet”.

“When I first started at Google, the pillars of design were: we want comprehensiveness, relevance,  and speed? Those were the three pillars of search. When social came into play, there was a change in the principles and we weren’t focused on search anymore, and the dynamics were around personalization, engagement, and speed. What if we say, ‘That’s not the internet we want to live with?’ What if the pillars were accuracy, authenticity and context? Maybe that slows it down, but maybe that is the different world we ought to be trying to build.

Something else we recently saw that also clicked for us and actually happens to be at the intersection of slow food and slow tech is this article from Low Tech magazine on the beauty of fermented food.

Unlike many high-tech proposals like ‘smart’ food recycling apps, highly efficient logistics systems, and food packaging innovations, fermentation is both low-tech and democratic—anyone can do it. What’s more, it has low energy inputs, brings people together, is hygienic and healthy, and can reduce food waste.

Low Tech magazine itself runs on a solar powered server located in Barcelona  that can (and does!) go off-line during longer periods of cloudy weather. Low Tech and its sister publication NoTech question whether every problem has a tech solution, and Low Tech intentionally publishes no more than 12 articles a year. While this may be on the extreme end, it is a worthwhile provocation. Even Amazon servers aren’t up all day every day; despite all best efforts, outages happen. How can we begin to cultivate patience with digital technology and how do we deliver a payoff for that patience? Do we even need to?

Beautiful women harvesting at Soul Fire Farm in Hudson Valley, NY
Beautiful women harvesting at Soul Fire Farm in Hudson Valley, NY

Understanding the deleterious effects of big tech, we need to cultivate new ways of producing and consuming technology that are better for our society and our planet. Where are the projects that are already doing (or attempting to do) this and how can we promote them? Most importantly, how do we do this in a way that — unlike much of the “foodie movement” — is about a radical restructuring of relations between producer and consumer? Because in the end, we don’t just want capitalism that is “bursting with flavor”; we want fresh, juicy, and local…….liberation.

*Header image is of earthenware pots for fermenting kimchi

"Cold Dark Matter by Cornelia Parker"

CoLET 2018 – 2019 Programming Calendar

Here's what we'll be discussing and watching over the next few months. As usual, it's a work in progress and subject to change.  The best way to keep up with changes is to check the Events page or subscribe to our iCal feed.

Saturday October 20, 2018 from 11am - 1pm - Surveillance/Death/Power 
Brooklyn Central Library - Infocommons Room 6
To Read Ahead: In the Wake by Christina Sharpe (Chapter 1)
To Watch Together: "How We Became Machine Readable" Mimi Onuoha  - https://vimeo.com/233011125 

Saturday November 24, 2018  from 11am - 1pm - Theme: Maintenance/Sustainability
Location: Brooklyn Central Library - Infocommons Room 2 - CANCELLED
To Read Ahead: "Resource Scarcity and Socially Just Internet Access over Time and Space" http://acmlimits.org/2017/papers/limits17-pargman.pdf
To Watch Together: The Moderators https://vimeo.com/239108604 
December 2018 - BREAK (or dinner)
Saturday January 19, 2019 from 11am to 1pm - Theme: Data and Social Justice (Podcast / Reading)
Location: TBA
To read ahead: "Odd Numbers" http://reallifemag.com/odd-numbers/
February 2019 - Dinner/ Theme: 
Location: TBD 
March 16, 2019 from 11am to 1pm- Theme: The Digital Divide  - Crown Heights Library 
Location: TBA
To read ahead: 

"On the wrong side of the digital divide in Cleveland, OH" - http://beltmag.com/wrong-side-digital-divide/

April 20, 2019 from 11am to 1pm - Theme: Permaculture - session/ visit community gardens?
Location: TBA 
May 18, 2019 from 11am to 1pm - Theme: System Change 
To read ahead: Leverage Points, Places to Intervene in A System - http://donellameadows.org/archives/leverage-points-places-to-intervene-in-a-system/
June 2019: Dinner/Theme: ? 
Location: TBD 
***July 2019 - September 2019 - CoLET Summer Break ***
(artwork by Cornelia Parker)

Tools For More Secure Communication

Over the past week, we’ve all heard a lot of worries and concerns because of the election results. Working together to support each other is crucial. But, doing so securely is essential. Here are few quick things you can do today and a few resources to continue towards more secure communication across our communities. The DIY Guide to Feminist Cybersecurity is very comprehensive and outlines in more detail some of the following:

Phone Communication

Email Communication

Browser Security

Online Applications

  • Use a Password Manager like LastPass
  • When possible use your own network applications and tools, control where your data is using free and open source software like

Resources and Guides

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