Towards Homefulness: The POOR Magazine Solidarity Family

“On Saturday at noon,” Tiny said, “please stop wherever you are and light a candle and say a prayer for Homefulness. That’s when we at POOR will be dedicating and blessing the land at 8032 Macarthur Ave.” Tiny, aka Lisa Gray-Garcia’s voice, fierce and scratchy and so familiar after two years of conference calls, pulled us together from Oakland to Minneapolis to New York and beyond, called us back into spiritual family at this heart-exploding moment for San Francisco-based POOR Magazine and their allies across the U.S. The awe—this aching combination of disbelief and reverence—that all of us on the phone were feeling was both heavy and weightless on the phone line that day. We were a small group of people, all RG members, who had been invited and blessed to throw our labor, our hearts, ourselves into a relationship with POOR Magazine (a poor-people led, indigenous people led media, arts, and education organization) to support POOR in taking back land for a project called Homefulness. The stunning, humbling perseverance and vision of POOR Magazine, coupled with a lot of hustle and some ingenuity, had brought us to this day when POOR managed to take back land in East Oakland, the first step towards realizing the revolution of Homefulness.
Two years before this particular phone call, in the summer of 2009, a group of people with race, class, or educational privilege—many of whom were RG constituents—came together at POOR’s office in San Francisco for a weekend-long “Revolutionary Giving Session.” Over the course of the weekend, scholars from POOR shared their knowledge on poverty, police brutality, welfare, gentrification, land theft, unrecognized forms of labor, and interdependence. One of the aims of the weekend was to push us beyond the kinds of solutions that the non-profit system offers—which rarely center poor peoples’ voices—to think about interdependence and reparations (more below). The POOR members leading the weekend challenged us to dig deeply into the ways we’d internalized the values of the violent system we live in. In the months that followed the Revolutionary Giving Session, a group of us formed the Solidarity Board, or Solidarity Family.
The Solidarity Family was created to support and amplify all of POOR’s work, and specifically to support POOR in realizing the Homefulness Project. Homefulness has long been a vision of the POOR family, a long-term solution to landlessness (POOR’s reframing of the skewed, individualizing language of “homelessness”), envisioned and mapped out by people in poverty. Homefulness is a sweat-equity-based, truly green model for housing, art, and microbusiness. Homefulness will provide stable housing to six families in struggle. The site will also be home to a revolutionary child-care center and school; all of the art, media, and education programs of POOR Magazine; Uncle Al & Mama Dee’s Café, a multigenerational community arts and social-justice eating and performance space; and a sustainable urban farm rooted in indigenous values and practices. All of this is in the spirit of creating permanent and lasting solutions to houselessness for families in poverty who have been displaced, evicted, gentrified and destabilized out of their indigenous lands and communities. It’s our role as the Solidarity Family to channel the resources we have access to to help make Homefulness a reality.
The Solidarity Family model is very much something that we’re building, together with folks from POOR, as we go. The work we do takes so many forms. We research HUD 203k loans and scan real estate websites. We offer our cars to get POOR’s members to and from the new site of the Homefulness Project. We use our linguistic domination skills—that is, our ability to use the language that is most likely to be heard and respected by people in power within non-profit, government, and financial worlds—to apply for funding, to write fundraising letters to our families and friends, and edit publisher proposals. We fundraise from our networks to buy plane tickets to get POOR scholars to the US Social Forum; to sustain the daily costs of POOR’s revolutionary education, media-making, and art, like the cost of POOR’s office space and stipends and food for POOR scholars; to respond to emergency needs that come up for POOR members, like evictions and family emergencies; to “buy” land for the Homefulness Project. We draw on the connections we have as people with class privilege—our parents, relatives, family friends, college professors—and call up people we know to ask questions about real estate law, zoning requirements, soil testing, property taxes, and the publishing industry. We use our credit and co-sign on loans so that POOR can buy a van. We do data entry and database maintenance. We participate in direct actions and protests that POOR organizes. We tell people about POOR. We do childcare at POOR events. We post links on Facebook to share the art and media created by POOR scholars, spreading POOR’s powerful work to reframe the news, issues and solutions from a perspective rarely seen or heard in other media: the perspective of poor people. We talk to each other on the phone a lot.
And: we are transformed, all the time.
POOR looks at “giving” money through the framework of reparations. All of us in the Solidarity Family have begun the life-long process of sifting through pieces of our family histories to place our own lineages of accumulation within their right contexts. How did we end up with more material resources than we need? POOR pushes us to get beyond generalities: instead of saying we benefited from white privilege (right now, all of us in the Solidarity Family are white), we’re challenged to specifically situate our histories in larger histories. How we are called to act in our lives, and the kinds of reparations that we owe to poor communities on this planet, depends on the specific roots of our class privilege: some of our parents made money on real estate speculation, some in recent technology  booms, some from the earliest profits of the colonization of this land. This isn’t meant to be proscriptive: pay back [x] because your family benefited from [y] oppressive system. It is spiritual, not mathematical. But what is clear is that we owe. The reparations we owe are meant to be transformative: not transformative in the sense of strategic giving that maximizes impact, but because by going through the process of reckoning with these histories and channeling our resources differently, in conversation with people in struggle, we will be transformed. And so, together, we have all sat down to write and think and talk through how we will make reparations, beginning with a commitment to give to POOR.
It’s been about two and a half years since we all came together at POOR for the first time.  Today, POOR has acquired and begun a relationship with the land where Homefulness will be sited, and is working on plans to build on it. Our work now is largely about fundraising to make the rest of Homefulness a reality, and keep POOR’s doors open at the same time. We are planning a second Revolutionary Giving Session for June 2012, to coincide with the three year mark of our working together. We’ll get a chance to see each other in person also invite in new people to join us in the Solidarity Family. We’d love to see you there: join us?
The Solidarity Family is currently Tyrone Boucher (tyronius.samson[at], Jess Hoffmann (jess[at], Lex Horan (lex.horan[at], Toby Kramer (toby.kramer[at], Jessie Spector (jessie.spector[at], and Ro Seidelman (rseidelman[at], working closely with Tiny aka Lisa Gray-Garcia and other scholars at POOR. Contact any of us if you want to learn more about the Solidarity Family, or if you’re interested in joining our work. For more information about the Homefulness Project and the Solidarity Family, see our media packet, Homefulness: The Whole Story.