Fellowship Post: Reflections and Wayward Thoughts

Chaos. It’s the best feeling I can describe when thinking about my first month as a fellow for the OpenVillage festival. I am working with the Woodbine Health Autonomy group and my co-fellow Nicole. We are based in Queens, NY.

Chaos, like anarchy, are usually viewed as negative terms in our society. They denote disorder and structurelessness. They are usually states of being from which we wish to escape or wish to flee from. But looking at the seeming chaos of storms or of human physiology, it is clear that often times it is the incubator for something even more profound. Be it Einstein’s hair, the genius behind insanity, or the warmth provided by a fire, they all produce “a something” out of chaos. And so in the past month as we dove head first into the chaos of the Edgeryders platform and communication methods, I see something profound being produced.

Communication
Our first experience with Edgeryders and OpenCare was more than a year ago when we were contacted by members from OpenCare. They had seen a video we produced and were touched by the message. We wrote a blog post and we’re soon overwhelmed with the format of communication. As one who has weaned himself off of social media and strives to check email once a day, the up-to-the minute communication and breadth of people was overwhelming. Since then, we have had some interaction with OpenCare and were asked to apply for the fellowship in June, of which we were awarded.

As above, the communication methods have always been an obstacle for me. I’ve often wondered why that was the case. On the one hand, I’m of the generation that is most comfortable with social media and the internet. I’ve spent literal years of my life diving into social media platforms and online conversations. For me though, and perhaps one of the founding aspects of Woodbine is a rejection of the internet mentality. Not to critique its usefulness, but more of a comment on technology’s role in our lives. For many in the US with counter-cultural ideas of anti-capitalism and revolutionary tendencies, the internet offers a way to create a community. Similar to Edgeryders, many leftist communities arise on the internet, lending to an ability to share ideas, experiences, and fellowship. For myself, some of these communities were paramount and life-giving. One of the lessons from Occupy though was the power of true human interaction. The mass gatherings, the communal dinners, the encampments all provided a new concept for our internet generation; that it was the building of tangible community that could be the most powerful. For those who started Woodbine and previous iterations, there was a goal to create a space in which we could remove ourselves from our internet avatars and commune with people in the flesh. So a big goal of our project was to transition ourselves from thinking of meeting online to meeting in person, to create projects developed from long-term presence and being. So in that process, I have personally been trying to move away from internet-based means of communication (although I often spend too much time on email!). It has been a process to begin thinking of the constancy of internet communication and responding to blog comments as the formation of a community. And I think that is what will make the festival such a success. That with the continuation of these festivals where people can meet face-to-face, it will form the basis of a much more solid connection than just emails and messages. Inevitably in our world today, there is always the struggle between the local and the international. While all true work must come from the local, we are facing massively connected systems of oppression, so we must be ready to fight on that level as well.

The role of words
As a collective, one of our goals with taking on this fellowship was the ability to add to the growing Edgeryders community, benefit projects that we wish to deepen connections, and stay true to the message we are trying to formulate. It that vein, I will be transparent in my thoughts throughout these reflections. I do not mean anything as a critique, but as a way to open doors to conversations and bridges through misunderstanding.

Woodbine was started as a way to build the material means for revolutionary lives. We don’t say this sarcastically or pathetically. Our goal is to build collective power and create a path for a revolutionary life. It denotes a process, not some distant utopia to be gambled upon.

Wording is important. Often the term “revolution” has been used to excuse horrific atrocities and recently has been co-opted by neo-capitalists for their marketing campaigns. Even terms now used like “autonomy” are signaled by entrepreneurs to co-opt revolutionary language, instead representing the newest “tech” idea or pure individualism. So one of our struggles has been to elucidate and elaborate on what we understand these words to mean. It is a process of creating a vision for a new world. The words of the past have meaning, which is why neoliberalism is so intent on co-opting our collective histories.

We were recently in a great conversation about the role of wording in our title. The original title of the theme we are to curate was “Living and working well together”. We then changed it to “Living Communism, Spreading Anarchy”, which was a reference to a book written by comrades in France who have been influential to us. There were comments around the terms “communism” and “anarchy”, essentially arguing that perhaps these words are too “coded” or have too much negative connotation. After some thought, we changed the title to “Revolutionary Care: Building Health Autonomy”. We recognized that we are new to the online community and the larger European history of these words, which maybe have different connotations in the US. But it also brought up questions around being specific about what we as the Edgeryders/OpenCare community are trying to do. With regards to care, do we view the OpenCare project as a means to fix the problems of state produced care? Or do we view care as a basic right that is oppositional to the current global model of capitalism and the exclusionary notion of citizenship? Are we trying to reform neo-liberalism with apps or are we trying to fundamentally remove ourselves from its grip so that we can build the power necessary to destroy it? The crisis we face as a community dedicated to care are caused by an exploitative means of viewing the world, be it climate change, the migrant crisis, and the rise of proto-fascist policies in our countries. How can we as a community avoid the “Silicon Valley” trap of convincing ourselves we are saving the world through a techno-utopia? Are we capital-based entrepreneurs or do we wish to build a world in which humanity can flourish? I bring these questions up as a response to a general tendency in progressives circles to not want to create opposition to power. So we soften language or we try to be on the middle ground. But recent events and elections have pointed us to the idea that people are ready for strong language and great visions. Not all visions lead to totalitarianism. In the Americas, the indigenous struggles have clearly given us a path from which to follow. They are clear in their language that they reject the extractive mentality of this culture. For them, to be for the land and the people is to be anti-capitalist, and the path for their revolution is the daily struggle to build a new world. Can we as a community be as courageous as them to use the strong language that will make us a beacon to a world of nihilism and distraction?

Community
Overall, the experience of building this international community has been humbling and inspiring. From working with Noemi (thank you for being patient with my delays and mishaps!), Nadia, Marco and the rest of the team helping the fellows! My co-fellows Gehan and Winnie have been such a wealth of information and thought around the festival, happy to be working with them. And in NYC, Nicole and I are the public faces of a much larger group of folks who are helping behind the scenes with ideas, group suggestions, research, etc. Much thanks to them all.

@amelia for her post about Invisible Illness was a great way to describe the covering up of anxiety and angst as a trauma itself. Care as providing a way to create solidarity must be paramount!

@duey for their inspirational account of Social, circus, community. As Emma Goldman says, “A revolution without dancing isn’t a revolution worth having.”

@georgie for the humbling account of creating health without walls, without the infrastructure we are trained in. True health autonomy will always come from the community, from those who have nothing to lose. The place you are at is the best place to begin.

So many more posts we’ve read and thought about. Please keep up the amazing work and help us share your work, so please contact us. Let us know what you think and we look forward to the continuing the revolutionary work of building a new world, a world based on care for each other.

-Frank


Today we enter eclipse season.  It’s a notorious time of flux and upheaval, closures and openings.  On tonight’s full moon I will go out with a friend I’ve made this year through my work at Woodbine and gather mugwort to bind into smudge sticks.  As summer begins its end here, this medicinal plant, which grows abundantly out of the lots and cracks in the sidewalk in Bed-Stuy, is just coming into the height of its magical powers; mugwort, or _artemesia vulgaris_, has been used traditionally as a stimulator of vivid dreams and a third-eye-opener.
 
I’ve begun my involvement with Woodbine Health Autonomy, and now with OpenCare, in the midst of a life transition.  I’ve spent the past year orienting away from something that has circumscribed my understanding of myself—who I am, what I’m doing, and where I’m going—for a while now, toward a future that is more unknown.  For the last five years I’ve been pursuing a PhD in art history.  By the end of my fourth year, however, the promises of academia had begun to ring hollow for me.  On the face of it, everything in the academy seems to be running as usual.  Universities keep reiterating the same forms: liberal arts educations, PhDs, lectureships and professorships, grants and post-docs.  Yet, at the very same time as they reiterate their merit and prestige in rhetoric and brochures, with the other hand universities are systematically undermining these entities in the course of running increasingly brazenly like large corporations.  Young academics cling to notions of critical discourse and transformative pedagogy even as they are forced to churn out work ever more rapidly and are saddled with heavier teaching and administrative workloads.  We reflexively assume the eventuality of a bright and stable future even as the university cuts tenure-track jobs and many end up out of work or living near the poverty line without benefits as adjuncts for years.  We are talking about social and economic justice as we watch the university function as a debt machine and factory for reproducing the wealth that has access to it in the first place.  In other words, we’re stuck playing out an atrophied and anachronistic story, attached to ideas that have already expired. 
 
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about genre.  By genre I mean the stories we tell ourselves about our lives and the categories these stories fall into.  Genre is the way our individual narratives conform to certain tropes because what’s possible is delimited by historical circumstances and situational constraints.  Genre is how these tropes gather inertia and reproduce themselves, because it’s easier to maintain a sense of constancy by slotting your life into a recognizable picture than it is to exist with shattering indeterminacy. 
 
In his book on the historical novel, the Hungarian Marxist theorist György Lukàcs talks about moments of what he calls a “parting-of-the-ways.”  Despite the heavily determining effects of class conflict and modes of production in the lives of individuals and societies, there are moments of pivotal decision that emerge when the inherent contradictions produce a “certain crucial sharpening of social or personal circumstances.”  Lukàcs brings a quote from the German drama Herodes and Mariamne: “To every man there comes a moment when the pilot of his star hands him the reins.  The misfortune is he does not know the moment, each which passes by may be the one.” 
 
Things have stopped working on a mass scale and no elected official—no liberal, conservative, not even a socialist—can salvage them.  At best they can mitigate the damage provisionally—expand healthcare so more people can live to fight for dwindling jobs imperiled by automation, dole out a universal basic income to distract the ranks of the unemployed, support big corporate green energy projects that displace indigenous people from their land, reform prisons, relax immigration, even as carceral capitalism and state violence continues apace, etc.  There’s no going back to the welfare state: “The transition from the citizen/worker model to the citizen/consumer/customer one means the transition from a welfare regime, based on the enforcement of social and fundamental rights, to social policies intended as the ‘management’ of social problems.  As subaltern ‘customers’ and/or ‘needy,’ we are deprived of full subjectivity and self-determination.”
 
Even as this past year saw new and frightening forms of rupture and instability worldwide, there’s a way in which things also feel perversely stable.  The market ebbs and flows, wealth continues to concentrate in the streets and gleaming towers of New York, London, Shanghai, Dubai.  We keep waiting for our political offices to straighten themselves out, to straighten things out.  We keep going to work, looking for work, buying groceries, watching TV, picking our kids up from school.  We find ways of stabilizing, find stability in what Lauren Berlant calls the _crisis ordinary_.  She speaks about how genres can function as holding patterns, how we attach ourselves to stories that enable us to move forward—or at least to tread water—even as the these stories are actively harming us and inhibiting our flourishing.  And how could we not cling to narratives that afford us at least a provisional sense of constancy when we have no better option, when we need to pay the rent and put food on the table, when no matter how bad things get they never seem to tip into full-blown collapse?
 
It is impossible to give up our attachments to outdated, conservative, and harmful stories alone.  If, as Bourdieu says via @Gehan’s wonderful citation, “_our denial, the source of social alchemy is, like magic, a collective undertaking,_" so too is overcoming this denial.  It isn’t a matter of simply disabusing ourselves of ideology, of becoming woke, but of building the infrastructures that will enable us to radically reconfigure our narratives of where our individual lives are headed, of what life might mean over the next ten, thirty, one hundred years, without feeling like we are jumping into the void alone.  This is one definition of what revolutionary care means to me.
 
I don’t actually have a very good future imaginary.  While some possess much more prescient minds, for better or for worse I’m mostly stuck analyzing what exists in the here and now.  As a historical materialist, I’m especially aware that the limits to our political imaginations aren’t creative, but structural.  The very categories we have to work with—the ways we conceive of time, the past, our bodies and minds and the bodies and minds of others, our assumptions about what has value, what is progress—have been formed in and by the political economic system we are trying to varying degrees to contend with.  We see this play out all the time; development schemes and NGO’s propagating neo-imperialist dynamics, activists caught in a capitalist work ethic, so-called radicals reproducing racialized and gendered dynamics of power and violence. 
 
I think moving toward a truly better future together will entail deep and sometimes brutal examinations of our attachments.  It will mean giving up some of our most closely held notions about ourselves, conceding that things will change in ways we cannot predict, letting others in to a degree that is necessarily uncomfortable.  It will mean agreeing on provisional grounds of commonality knowing that our ideas will morph and evolve, that things will be revalued, that categories we can’t yet imagine will emerge and be swallowed again in the course of things.  It means conceding that we don’t have The Answer—it isn’t an app or a crypto-currency or a rural commune or an urban farm, though revolutionary change may involve all of these things.
 
I know these are incredibly broad, abstract thoughts.  I’m afraid I have many more like them.  But in the coming weeks and months I hope to think with greater specificity about what they mean in relation to my participation with OpenCare, to the goals of Woodbine Health, to our engagement with the many amazing groups and individuals cohered by this unwieldy and exciting platform, and for the conversations I hope we will have together in October.
 
As a wayward conclusion to a wayward post, I’ll just say that I like weeds because they’re the abject, valueless.  They’re a reminder to me that the good stares us in the face all the time but we don’t or can’t experience it as such because we’re busy or in pain or because it might not look like a product and maybe we don’t have words or a framing story for it yet. 

-_Nicole_
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Thought provoking post. Is the citizen/worker to citizen/consumer quote also Lukàcs?

Thanks, @gehan! That quote is from here: https://www.viewpointmag.com/2015/10/31/reproduction-as-paradigm-elements-for-a-feminist-political-economy/

I don’t get much further than wayward or abstract thoughts myself, so thanks for taking the effort to write down these reflections Frank & Nicole @woodbinehealth

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I’ve been recognizing my past fascination with cyber-punk/speculative/subversive fiction as just another pattern of dead end consumerism. I guess it’s all stepping stones. If it wasn’t for that I wouldn’t have the vocabulary and cultural references to appreciate visionary fictions from authors such as Octavia Butler or Ursula Le Guin. Who’s to say that next year I’ll look back and realize this was also, just another futile phase of intellectual development -_-. But never mind that, I’m curious what lays ahead of this new awareness. Is it more rewiring of the neural patterns?? Or is there a critical mass of people who will spill over into actual ®evolution. Is this question going to be asked in perpetuity? Is that the definition of protracted struggle??

With respect to communication Frank, I think media diets play a huge role in how we relate to each other here in the Coastal States of the US. I can’t speak for the rest. But unplugging from facebook is basically the same as not watching HBO shows and CNN. Where as this type of consumption pattern is also layered since it can be seen as even more advanced virtue signaling, reminding me of people who only buy green products and live minimal, nothing is safe from ridicule and derision. But my point is when you become Mass Media Lean, more time is available for that face to face, flesh to flesh communication, just gotta get the words in with people between their commercial breaks, haha.

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Critical mass in a world of distributed networks is a hard concept to pin down, no? Which way are you building of the two you mention @aquamammal rewiring or building mass?

Sorry for the quick reply as I am on the road…
Plus I’m still rereading this post (always keeping it in an active browser tab) as I find it fundamental.
It informs harvesting of the OpenCare - @gehan made a good distinction in her backend work on harvesting, as a way to internalise and put into practise our learning journey these months: individual level harvesting, ground level, community level and meta level.
Thanks Frank.

I’m currently trying to just rewire my own brain with a couple of my close friends/comrades before we can try and take on the situation at large. Realized that I’m carrying a bit of malicious frameworks I must purge, but this is a personal practice, it takes up minimal bandwidth. I would think that media diets play a large part in this.

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