I am Ebony Martin (they/them) and in Fall 2019 I applied for the Eugene Lang Opportunity Awards Grant to complete a project centered around supporting grassroots abolitionist efforts in NYC sprouting up at the time. As a Black person from East Queens, I am very interested in these efforts as my identities make me extremely vulnerable to the harsh effects of these movements ‘failing’.
Although, that project is only the beginning of what I am going to write about here. A few things have hit NYC — COVID 19 and otherwise — that has shaped my work with this project into what it is now: a reflection on impromptu, love-based grassroots collective organising that I have participated in from January to now.
To give a little bit more understanding, the project that I had originally envisioned (No New Jails as Community Resistance) was centered around doing volunteer and documenting work with No New Jails NYC and other similar NYC abolition collective efforts such as Decolonise This Place and Why Accountability.
After the Close Rikers Bill had been passed though (with 8-12 new jails planned to be built in its place), No New Jails had temporarily gone dormant so I was not able to start my work with them. I had looked to the other similar organisations to get involved in the meantime, but soon after, my friends had experienced some violent interactions with some of the core organising members — making it very difficult to feel comfortable volunteering with them.
Because of this, the two months of the project were spent realising some of the intense friction that can come with happen within an organisation, even though you are all working towards the same goals and have similar ideological beliefs. It took some time to think through the extra effort that it would take for me to deal with these organising conflicts.
And then the citywide lockdown order hit.
Changes During COVID 19:
Alongside trying to accomplish this project, I had previously been starting up my own anti-gentrification collective with friends from East Queens. After going into lockdown, we felt the need to serve our community at this time in need as large parts of East Queens is often left out consideration when thinking about organsing efforts. This became my main project as we spent time as a group learning history about our specific neighborhoods and how they formed and socioeconomic makeup so that way we could brainstorm efforts that our neighbors desperately need.
One of the projects that we had completed was creating a more accesible document to poster up around the neighborhood with resources for COVID 19-related help. We saw that there was a lot of Google documents going around with resources but we knew that this information was not likely to trickle to the average, older residents around us — to people who may not even have reliable access to the internet. We compiled these sources and also translated them into spanish and spread it around our community.
Through working with this group, I learned even more lessons about having resiliency in organising and organising in a way that is non-heirarchal and recognises everyone’s inherent value. We were able to create a supportive space that shape-shifted based on our community’s needs at the time. Whether that be helping to run a grocery and hot food pick-up, mask and other supplies delivered to people’s doorstep, helping to translate when it come to organising a rent strike with neighborhoods, or just sitting on zoom and providing verabl check-ins. I am very thankful to have been able to provide a more supporting role to the community with this group.
My work with this project has been far from smooth but I have learned a lot about learning how unpack complicated events when it comes to trying to work in a group and, as Stephen M.R. Covey says, moving at the ‘speed of trust’.
Special thank you to ELOA mentor Ujju Aggarwal for lending an open ear, always checking in, and encouraging this project’s personal resiliency!
I want to also spread a thank you to Natasha D. Rivera for encouraging me to go for this award! Going on this journey has profoundly onto my time here at The New School and has instilled more confidence in myself as a student and community member.