The last day of Reclaim the Commons was devoted
to eco-actions. After all the days of marching and
protest and dancing with cops, a day spent gardening
was quite blissful and restorative. We began at
the convergence center, early, taking apart our
wonderful Garden lounge and loading trucks with
the plants and materials it contained. I felt very
sad, watching it go piece by piece: it was such
a wonderful, magical space, a garden inside a warehouse,
the tubs and plants arranged to form peninsulas
around islands of seating where old sofas and straw
bales invited you to come in, sit, have a conversation.
The fountain in the center, composed of three barrels
of different heights, filled with water hyacinths
and duckweed, murmured softly and the whole room
seemed to suffuse the air of the convergence center
with life. It was also one of the most successful
gardens I’d ever had a hand in designing, and I
was especially proud of the hundreds of plants we’d
propagated in parties back in February—proud that
I’d thought far enough ahead to schedule them during
the optimum time for propagating in this climate,
and proud that they had such a high survival rate—although
that was due mostly to those faithful friends who
kept them watered for four months. So, thanks to
all of you who snipped and planted and watered and
collected and transported plants. We truly had
an abundance—enough to fill the Garden Lounge, give
hundreds away at the Really, Really Free market,
create a garden in the street on the day of actions,
and for all the gardening projects we had scheduled.
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And the Garden Lounge was always meant to be temporary, a holding zone for the plants we would usefor the eco action day. Like a blossom fading to become a fruit, it had to transform.
We went first to Hunter’s Point, where the Bayview/Hunter’s Point newspaper shares a building with the Idriss Stelley Foundation, that provides support to families of victims of police violence. One of our long-term projects will be the transformation of this building and the additions they plan into a model Green building, a living example that bioremediation, not biotech, is the path to abundance and healthy community. We began by transforming their patio to a living garden, with tubs arching around to define a seating area, the garbage screened by our rescued oaks and manzanitas that we scavenged from a nursery going out of business. The fountain will live here permanently, the water plants, which grow phenomenally quickly, providing an ongoing source of soil-building mulch.
We had about twenty people madly rolling barrels and carrying plants and slinging dirt, and the garden seemed to fly into place. I find with these projects that the secret is to have all the materials gathered and ready beforehand, and have a clear plan of action. Then all the energy of a crowd of eager but inexperienced gardeners can be put to use, and the project goes quickly. And indeed, the garden seemed to fly into place. Toward the end, we ran out of soil, and so some of went out to lunch while waiting for our friends with trucks to get more. We swarmed into a small Chinese restaurant down the street. Bayview/Hunter’s Point is predominately African American, we were predominantly white. One of the other customers looked at us and asked, “Are you all down here on a field trip?”
When we explained what we were doing, she got excited and told us that she was involved with a community garden by one of the housing projects that needed reviving. It turned out to be one of the gardens we hope to have some ongoing involvement with.
Meanwhile, back in Garfield Park in the Mission, the Radical Family Collective and friends were building a cob bench in the shape of a dinosaur, near the swings and children’s playground. I didn’t get over to the project until much later, but by all accounts it went very well, with the neighborhood kids joining in and the police and park officials deflected by my housemate Bill’s cheerful grin and assurance that ‘we’re talking’ about permits.
At the end of the day, we gathered on Utah Street, just on the border of the Mission and Potrero Hill and just up from San Francisco General Hospital. Rebecca had gone house to house on her street, recruiting people to receive tub gardens and commit to caring for them. In just a couple of hours, we installed a dozen or so gardens on the street, in wine-barrel tubs and bathtubs which we had covered in mosaics in workshops held during the Saturday Mission Village flea markets sponsored by our friends at CELL Space, a transformed warehouse that houses artists, community and cultural events, and ongoing organizing. The neighbors turned out, and the press arrived, and soon the street was transformed into an urban oasis—another forerunner of even larger projects we hope to achieve in the long run.
My only regret was that I didn’t marshall the energy to drag some of the gardening troops over to my house, where all the compost and food waste of the convergence lay moldering in plastic bags and boxes. I was left to deal with it later, with some help from a couple of our Greenbloc and Pagan cluster friends who were left at the end of the action. It was slimy but rewarding task, and it’s now all happily composting, layered with straw and already heating up. My reward will be the increased fertility of my back yard. In retrospect, we should have made a plan early on and an agreement with one of the community gardens, and could have more easily composted it as we went along.
The day after the action, the cob bench in Garfield Park was surrounded by sawhorses and Caution tape. Apparently the authorities were alarmed by it: it might explode, or come alive, snapping at children with cob jaws and teeth! But the kids were ignoring the tape, and playing on it anyway.
And so the convergence ends, but Reclaim the Commons will go on. Like the food wastes in my garden, it will compost for awhile, digesting all the disparate elements, the successes and the failures, the sweet moments and the sour, transforming them to humus that will fertilize the next phase.
Copyright (c) 2004 by Starhawk. All rights reserved. This copyright protects Starhawk's right to future publication of her work. Nonprofit, activist, and educational groups may circulate this essay (forward it, reprint it, translate it, post it, or reproduce it) for nonprofit uses. Please do not change any part of it without permission. Please keep this notice with it. Readers are invited to visit the web site: www.starhawk.org.
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