(This is the second in a series of posts by Executive Director, Kirsten Moller as she pedals her way to the US Social Forum. Read on as she shares her journey from Upstate NY to Detroit and the lessons learned along the way.)
On Clarissa Street in Rochester sits a stately old home that has had a long cultural history. Since the 1900s the center housed the Improved Benevolent Protective Order of Elks of the World — an improved order because it welcomed both black and white members in an otherwise super segregated city. The house had long dark wood bars, a space for jazz and blues performances, thick sculpted plaster walls with gold tinged mirrored tiles on the wall. One can imagine cigar smoke, business deals and lots of information changing hands with the social lubrication of liquor and music.
Then the City hit hard times, the big employers Kodak and ITT moved on, unemployment sky-rocketed and the old forms of social networking became obsolete. The flying squirrels took over, nesting under the roof, pouncing on realtors who tried to get some kind of price for the building. Ninety five thousand dollars for the disintegrating stately corner building, but no takers. Finally last year a group of activists made a deal to buy the building for $32,000 and turn it into a multi-use community center for grassroots meetings, art shows, performances, dances, film screenings, lectures etc. Once a month they have a community dinner, Indy media works out of a bank of computers, classes are taught, craft projects started, constant renovations and all by volunteers. There is no staff, no president, director and their goal is to provide services reliably and consistently at no cost or for small voluntary donations. Imagine a center where old Communist Comrades, mingle with young anarchists, where the hallways are decorated with graffiti art and the dance studio is spare and clean.
We joined in to make the final squirrel eviction. Removing and cleaning the ceiling acoustic tile, scrubbing away the squirrel nests and insulation, repainting and repairing the dance studio. It was a big and dirty job, but we felt so accomplished when it was done and we joined community members in the sparkling new space to talk about the challenges we face in the movement and our hopes for the the next ten years.
Then out to the parking lot to learn how to hoola hoop and watch the pro spin flaming hoops for the neighbors. Good bye Flying squirrels — on to urban fish in Buffalo tomorrow.