We're into our second year of being/doing CoLET and we've been using these cold, slow, winter days to take stock (aaaand also make stock! Because food is one of our thangs, y'know.). We're still simmering on a lot of what we're sharing here, but wanted to share a little about where we are and what we've done so far. In part to stay accountable and also to just chronicle this journey for ourselves and those that come after us.
The Good Stuff
CoLET is not the main source of income for any of us, so we couldn't devote a lot of time to it week in and week out, but we still were able to maintain momentum despite only seeing each other every other week or so. We still manage to talk nearly every day either over Signal, email (we are enthusiastic users of NextCloud!), and (more recently) via Issues in our Gitea instance.
We have a good line of communication and can easily move from business concerns to talking about our personal lives to sharing recipes and back again. We have inside jokes and a good sense of each other's quirks. We laugh a lot, we stress very little, and have a lot of genuine love and respect for each other.
After much chewing on the issue, we decided to incorporate as an LLC. It took longer than some of us expected, but we are grateful to the wonderful young women and Dr. Michael Haber of the Community and Economic Development Clinic at Hofstra University for skillfully (and cheaply!) getting us over the finish line. We hope to share our operating guidelines with you soon as we think they could be of service to the greater community.
Building Our Network
Continued study on the intersection of socieconomic justice and climate justice is a priority for us, and in our first year we were able to organize many lively reading groups and dinners. We have archived much of what we read and discussed here on the blog. Over the past year or so, Camille (our unofficial spokesperson!) also made the effort to reach out to and start growing our network by connecting to many likeminded groups. We've made friends with folks via:
Dana maintained close ties to the NYC coop and solidarity economy community, participating in a group for women and non-binary folks confronting patriarchy within that movement. There is a brilliant write-up of their efforts here. From this community, we were also able to get our feet wet, doing small projects for Hopewell Care Cooperative and Dollars &Sense. Laura, who came into this with little WordPress experience, was a quick study on these projects and started styling themes like a pro in no time.
The Tough Stuff
While we had a lot of success making new friends, we sometimes over-reached and tried to participate in events and groups that had a more global scope than we could handle. For example, Camille pitched a workshop to RightsCon and the Black Farmers and Urban Growers Conference and while it was accepted at both, without any funding and a clear sense of what we were trying to accomplish there, it didn't quite make sense for us to participate. As the saying goes, "You have to crawl before you walk."
Another mistake we made last year was starting to work on a project before we fully understood the scope or the budget. By the time we realized that the group we were working with had little money and a LOT of requirements, we were in too deep. This was a big learning experience, and something we have now taken steps to rectify. We know that the groups we want to work with are often going to be cash-strapped, but we think the solution to this is finding the cash to pay for the work rather than trying to get people to work for free. As we implement new systems, we want to also try to root out the exploitative dynamics that have characterized the old ways (e.g. expecting women and people of color to do thankless unpaid labor).
Equity and Expenses
Though we intentionally decided not to be a cooperative, we do want to have an equitable (though not necessarily equal) split. Right now, members get paid based on the work hours they put into a given project. Since nearly all the work hours we've been paid for so far have been for WordPress development, any work that isn't paid client development/training work currently goes unpaid -- no matter how much time gets put into other aspects of the collective. As a new formation, we are still thinking through how to compensate everyone for the time they put into keeping this ship on course.
Of course, as a fledgling organization, we are squarely focused on covering our monthly overhead. Right now that's been a challenge. Once we have more income coming in and all our costs are covered, we will be better able to spread the income around.
We genuinely wanted to host more dinners, but finding cheap/free space in Brooklyn has proven tough. We also sometimes struggle to figure out where to meet with just the three of us, but our apartments work OK and we sometimes like to go grab a slice of pie at Pel's.
We did have consistent good luck hosting the reading group in the private rooms in the library and moving from the Crown Heights library to the main library was an upgrade (though they don't allow food in the meeting room in the main library's Infocommons 🙁 ) . A lot of people swore they wanted to come to the reading group's but people consistently failed to show up for the last few so we've put them on hold for the foreseeable future. We still want to do dinners though. Let us know if you happen to have (or know of) a cozy space in or around the Crown Heights/PLG/Flatbush area!
(The featured image on this post is from Larry Luckham's image set from his time at Bell Labs. He worked in their Oakland, California data center in the late 60s and early 70s. Click above to see them all. They are great!)