Mutual Aid and Plant Sharing

Yep, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and the Republicans are continuing to dismantle the USPS and steal the election, and we’re in the middle of one of the biggest national protest movements ever in the US (and Hong Kong, and Belarus, and…), and a massive reckoning with racism. Also climate change, which means I’m in Day 2 of what is predicted to be the longest and hottest heatwave ever in the Bay Area, and also that we’re dealing with possible state-mandated rolling blackouts to deal with the energy surge, plus fire season!

What I’m saying is, I needed to find ways to help. Something that maybe could move the needle in a small way. I wanted to do something aligned with my skills, my values, and the knowledge that we desperately need a prolaterian revolution.

So I started growing plants in cardboard toilet paper rolls. I did the first round for my own garden, and kept saving the rolls for future plantings. It seemed to work well, and I was satisfied with the results. I continued to tend my own garden, literally and metaphorically.

Meanwhile, I’ve also been reading more about mutual aid. The work of Cooperation Jackson has been particularly inspiring, not to mention the many people and organizations putting together teach-ins and talks and podcasts about revolutionary topics. I have been absorbing information about the ways it can strengthen a community and make us more resilient, and more able to mobilize in the event of, say, a General Strike, or even a disaster like COVID-19.

But being a white woman who was raised comfortably middle-class, I still have this need to be told when it’s okay to do something. I have an expectation that there will be an existing effort or organization I can hitch my wagon to, so to speak. Because if it was worth doing, wouldn’t someone already be doing it? And how would I even go about starting my own Thing anyway? Is there some secret manual to organizing that I don’t know about?

It sounds silly, but it’s true! I think a lot of us are just waiting for someone else to do something or start something so we can comfortably follow. But I’ve watched so many mutual aid efforts—by individuals and organizations old and new—crop up in the last few months to fill in the yawning gaps left by our broken system. Real, actual help being given to people, whether it’s making sure elderly neighbors have groceries or protesters have food and supplies. Why couldn’t I help with the resources I have?

With all this percolating in my brain, and after my parter Cael mentioned people were looking for plant starters on Nextdoor, I realized I might actually have something worth sharing: I could give away vegetable starters. It would be a small thing, but a way to get to know other local edible gardeners and potentially introduce newbies to gardening as well. And by giving people a few vegetable starters, I could move my neighborhood a little closer to food sovereignty.

I started with six pea plants. Peas are surprisingly productive and hardy, and I found a variety that grows well in my usually very foggy neighborhood. (Thank you, Kitazawa Seed Co.!) It took them a little bit to get to a decent size, but once they were ready, I made a post on Nextdoor. They got snapped up immediately, and I got to give them out to three different neighbors.

Once they were all claimed, I updated the post and let people know I would be planting another round of starters soon—this time some peas, arugula, and bok choy. A couple people messaged me and let me know they were interested, so I planted some starters for them, plus some extra. Those starters are sitting on my windowsill now, and I water them first thing every morning.

Today, one of the people I gave a pea starter to met up with me so we could exchange seeds. They gave me lettuce seeds and got arugula and carrot seeds in return.

I don’t expect this will ever be a big thing, and I don’t really need it to be. It’s enough for now to build more connections in my community and know that a few more people will be able to eat fresh arugula and peas in a couple months. Meanwhile, I’m still trying to find other ways to reach out and thinking about other skills and knowledge I can offer. And, of course, reminding myself that if I see a need and have the resources to satisfy it, I don’t need to wait for someone else to step in first. I am capable of solving problems on my own, as we all are.

What I’ve Been Reading/Watching/Listening To Lately

A graphic with a photo of pea plants and the text: “Mutual Aid and Plant Sharing”

What I Read This Week (Dec. 1 – 7)

I Joined a Stationary Biker Gang – The Peloton phenomenon is baffling to me, so this insight was fascinating. Really appreciated the discussion of Peloton’s accessibility to people who might not otherwise exercise, despite how inaccessible their advertising makes it look.

Five Questions to Ask Instead of “Is This Really Body Positive?”

Jack Beloved – The prologue is so compelling! Really looking forward to seeing where it goes.

Real Estate Thought It Was Invincible in New York. It Wasn’t. – I wish this piece had taken more time to focus on what tenants’ rights groups’ aims are now that they are finally beginning to beat back big developers, but it’s pretty astounding just reading how much things have changed in such a short amount of time.

Presidio at 25: Back to nature

My book Tell It to the Bees was made into a film – but they changed the ending for a straight audience – “This bittersweetness is a straight person’s finale. I wanted my couple to have their cake and eat it together, for once: a fully romantic, fully happy, and therefore – in the context of lesbian fiction – a more radical ending.”

Millennials weren’t the only ones gutted by the recession. Gen X has never recovered.

Bisexuality and Me: One Trans Experience – This is so well-written, and makes it a little clearer to me why I sometimes feel more comfortable using “queer” rather than “bisexual.” Queer feels like it encompasses so many more things about me, from aspects of my sexuality to my way of viewing the world.

Why Racists (and Liberals!) Keep Writing for Quillette

What I Read This Week (Nov 17 – Nov 23)

The End of Babies – The first time I’ve read a piece that so deeply and incisively describes my anxieties when I consider becoming a parent. (And that’s coming from someone who once dreamt of having a big family for years.)

Julián Castro: If Democrats Don’t Elevate Voters of Color, ‘Why The Hell Are We Democrats in the First Place?’

All Summer in a Day – A classic Ray Bradbury short story I’d managed to never read until this week.

‘I don’t know about normal love’: A church leader’s abuse and a woman’s years-long struggle – Content earnings for rape, sexual assault, grooming, and religious abuse.

The Magic Kingdom – “Capitalism, like all abusive relationships, creates a sense of learned helplessness in its victims. We are complicit in what it makes of us: we want so badly for what it tells us to be true.

The Middle of Everywhere – A writeup on the importance and beauty of vanishing tallgrass prairie,

The Quiet Rooms – What happens when children as young as 5 are put in “isolation rooms” for misbehaving at school? If I hadn’t already been a prison abolitionist, this piece would’ve done it.

Asians in California don’t believe hard work and determination alone equal success

Will There Ever Be a Me Too-Styled Movement for Bad Bosses? We are taught to take socially imposed power structures as a piece of nature, to believe our place within these systems as symptomatic of our strengths and shortcomings, to understand any drive to succeed and in so doing, get more power than other people, as the ultimate goal (and reward) of working life.” I liked this piece, but also feel it ignores the labor movement and others who have been pushing back against “bad bosses” and bosses in general for a very, very long time.