“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.
All of these beautiful statements were just a few of literally hundreds of people who have become “Radical Redistributors” — as we define it at POOR Magazine— in this time of COIV-19.
What is Radical Redistribution? It’s what most people might refer to as mutual aid, but it’s really what we as a houseless and poor people/indigenous people-led, self-determined movement on stolen land have been doing since our inception in 1996. That’s when me and mama were houseless and leading 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 nonprofit 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 poor mamas and families with the Po Mamas Reparations Fund and The Bank of ComeUnity Reparations.
For us, mutual aid is interdependence. Donations are radical redistribution, as they involve a decolonizing and intentional consciousness 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 has gone 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 and houseless families. On Thursday, we have been operating the Sliding Scale Cafe, Po Peoples Organic Bakery, and Po Peoples Organic Farm, all of which provide free food, produce, organic harm-reduction hot dogs, healthy food to help decolonize our diets. The goal is supporting unhoused and very low-income people.
This was all long before there was a COVID virus. We were struggling to heal the virus called Poverty, which all of us have or still currently deal with. Now the numbers of peoples needing help has increased, so we have increased our efforts to supporting between 600 and 700 people all across the Bay.
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, HomiesEmpowerment and Disability Culture Club have been doing this work since their inception, too.
But the odd disconnect is, this has always been seen just as movement work or social work or even worse, as in the case of the big NGO’s, 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.
Oddly, peoples inability to operate the 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 actually sharing with each other … I might be so bold as to say COVID might have killed capitalism.
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/degentriFUKing seminar called Peopleskool which we do twice a year. They are people who are redistributing this toilet paper, food, masks, money, and essential things because they were answering a call for radical redistribution.
Since 2009, when POOR Magazine launched the concept I call Community Reparations, most people, even so-called conscious and woke, seem to listen to me talk about it with that annoyed/confused look on their faces. They wait politely until I finish explaining that I’m a poor person, like their clients, but like most of my fellow poverty skolaz, I don’t want to be saved by them or anyone else. Then once they think I’m done they proceed with their talks about, organizing “oppressed people from the bottom up….”
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 actually 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 HomiesEmpowerment, a powerful grassroots, educational, arts and culture space down the street from Homefulness.
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 to more than 700 low and no-income Oakland families every Tuesday from 10am to 4pm.
And then we have the work of young people like 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.
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 as if 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 really over.
The politicians and the weird protestors of social distancing, the land-stealers of Wamponoag land (again), and the extraction nation are still here, have never left and are waiting like vultures to strike. The police, ICE, and the plantation prisons, detention centers, false borders, and selective enforcement and murder didn’t go away; they haven’t really ebbed and in many ways are more dangerous than ever.
But this moment will never be forgotten — and I hope it has taught a huge lesson to us all: That there is in fact enough for everyone, and it’s not based on how much money you have in your pocket, or 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.
To radically redistribute to HomiesEmpowerment via Paypal – email@example.com or VEnmo @Cesar-Cruz-22. To Radically Redistribute to POOR Magazine – RadicalRedistribution-Fund on Venmo or www.poormagazine.org/rev_donor. To drop things off to POOR magazine or for more information about PeopleSkool or the Bank of ComeUnityReparations email firstname.lastname@example.org.