Thoughts On Reclaiming Space As Resistance

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Photo Courtesy of the Toledo Blade

We all talk about the strength which lies inside the roots of the flower emerging from cracks in the concrete, perseverance seethes in her core, truly. Those of us who feel much like the fragmented bits of nature, making her way back through the fractured asphalt, feel admiration for the wildflower, recognizing we’re on a warpath, where sometimes the gravity is so heavy that we wilt under intense sunlight, only magnified by the tar enveloping our plight.

While our acts of resistance via catapulting our bodies into trees, in front of bulldozers, or onto the streets—screaming with dozens of others—does much to assert our ideology and desires in many realms—I find it more than worthwhile to acknowledge all those others who are also actively responding to oppression in all forms imposed on us by capitalism via creating alternative spaces, reoccupying land, or by generally taking back skills we’ve lost as urbanites and empowering themselves to create a world, presently, in which they’d like to see and share. It seems there are so many of us who subscribe to similar visions of a post-capitalistic world, and yet it seems that action or conversation on that behalf is oftentimes lacking in our circles.

Focusing on how to dismantle the structure which suffocates us now in order to eventually create a system which functions for us comes naturally, though what I find rather bold is that there are people who are relentlessly working to create these systems now and not waiting for the collapse, recognizing that with every new brick lain of worlds we dream to see, the state loses credibility and legitimacy, thus furthering the skin of the spectacle to fall from the face of these power structures. The more we build, the less we rely on them. The more we empower ourselves, the less power they have to control our lives. I’ve always been glad to see the destroying and the building (though not mutually exclusive) coalesce, as they do with grace in long-term occupations of spaces which are subject to potential development or destruction, where people form cities, creating community in spite of threats of ruin.

And then there’s this: Poised right in between a budding middle-class district and a neighborhood with a lower socio-economic status sits the Collingwood Garden in Toledo, Ohio. Intentionally placed in a formerly vacant lot (which had been empty for the twenty years prior), the Garden attempts to act as a bridge for the two very separate communities, and from my experience in attending a community event here at it’s near-inception, that intention seems to be playing out nicely. It was here that the metaphorical flag was hoisted on May Day in 2013. It should be added that this project began as, and still is, a guerrilla project. They now have the blessing of the city, who seems to be glad that someone is doing something with the land in a city where much of the infrastructure is collapsing, and where the people are fleeing, as is with much of Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, and probably soon to be the newborn boom-towns with their fracking projects in North Dakota and Texas.

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 9.03.19 AMIn this vein there certainly exist numerous similar projects arising to meet the needs of their immediate surroundings. This type of resistance, while not only inspiring, is complementary to, and helps provide a standing for the type of resistance that work-stoppages and economic damage intend to create. Without those building, we couldn’t destroy.Though the project was not intended to be food-oriented, that is a critical factor, and often where many of these community building projects begin—at reclaiming the very roots and necessities of our existence or survival. The Collingwood Garden is a “whole issues approach to change, trying to build the model of a lifestyle that is accessible to people and that won’t fuck over the people and the planet. It was different than attacking the current system in any traditional manner. People are really open to hearing solutions, it’s a motivating factor for people to participate,” Nic Botek, a co-founder of the garden, and Ohio-born and bred, tells me in an exchange, “Getting people into the culture of ‘we should produce our own food’.” He says that the needs of the space arise organically from the function of the project. Hence the running water, Cobb kitchen, soon to be Earthships, and other future biotechture. The space is utilized as a community venue where people cook food outdoors together, exchange information about how to prepare the grown vegetables, and soon they are heading over to the local high school to do a similar program for the students there. I visited this garden in their fledgling state a few years back, and what was most incredible to me was that in this space, when so many people talk about getting together a community, this space really does it, and does it outside of the already existing radical context, but with those who’ve spent their lives living next door. The menagerie of people who collected in the garden for a potluck was astonishing. The Collingwood Garden is still in its beginning stage, and Nic expects it to grow and have a domino effect, where new needs will arise and be met by eager hands in the community.