Jun 25, 2010

good business


the other day at an LGL meeting, april saravia said something that really changed my brain: she said "can someone tell me why we're doing this legal clinic- besides just for a pat on the back? what's in it for us?" blowing my mind question!!! "whats in it for us" seems to be a major filter for how i'm tryina think about anti-capitalism lately...

as a teenager i participated in general youth/punk anti-capitalism - believing in alternatives to capitalism (socialism, ecofeminism etc.) in the day-to-day, it was about having like integrity and not selling out; not commercializing your creativity or exploiting your subculture etc. i still believe in those values, but lately i'm interested to recognize totally other ways of resisting capitalism that don't revolve around reaction and rejection.

to me it's actually a bigger question for activism & cultural production: just generally how do you work with a group of people when PROFIT is not the guiding principle? any seasoned organizer will tell you it's exhuasting. for example there's an unspoken tentent that we're all allowed to take time off to avoid "burn out" or being driven by "guilt" obligations. everyone is supposed to contribute out of our own free will - our sense of purpose - and through these choices we build an alternative way of living and being...

i mostly work with groups of people where there is little or no money to made, and we produce STUFF - parties, legal services, movies, art whatever. i continue to be fascinated by trying to understand what drives everyone - why these projects continue to be the things we really love to do, as opposed to the things we do for money. in the case of creative projects - i find that something often under-estimated is cultural capital.

for example, take GROWN dinners. ashland invited me to start cooking there - so we've been trying to work out a system that is marginally profitable - so i can serve crazy delicious food at affordable prices, not loose money, and maybe even make some money. 2 weeks ago we did a tasting, and then we took this past week off in order to assess and fully negotiate the monies with Mickey (owner of Dinner House M).


(photo by luke!)


it turns out that at the tasting i spent $140 dollars on ingredients and we only made $66 (albeit wonky accounting). Mickey thought i was totally insane. "That is not good business." she said. "If you spend $140, you have to make $300. that's good business." i mean, she's totally right. but it's hard to explain why i'm not doing it for money- cause i'm not exactly just doing it out of the goodness of my heart either. i'm doing it because it IS a venture - of art, ideas, creativity, however you wanna frame it. because you can! (and that ABILITY to frame it takes a whole other set of skills/resources that i can't  get into here) and it WILL be tradable at some point somewhere... sooooo i guess i'm just really into exploring that stuff cause it bothers me when people act like there is this great divide between art and commerce, or social justice and profit, etc. that's the zone i find exciting.

also major shock and awe about Mickey letting me cook in her kitchen. i can't think of hardly anyone anywhere that would let us do that. major boundary crossing. i mean it's her kitchen, her staff, her maintenance, her liability, etc. what's in it for her?? cause TRUST me she is ALL about the BIZNESS. for sure, there's an argument that my food will bring more customers earlier = more alcohol sales. in the end we settled on a 15/85 % split of profits - which is like INSANELY nice for me. so actually i think there is another level that she's down, possibly having to do with queer community... more thinking for another day... similar ambiguities at silver platter...

at LGL (which actually IS a movement-building project) we are working on this idea lately of not so much helping other people, but HELPING EACH OTHER. it reminds me of many conversations i've had with gregg bordowitz about ACT UP, so i know this mode has been explored before (also makes me think we're on the right track!) for example at the clinic last month a young woman came in seeking services - help with a name and gender change. turned out i needed to change MY name too, so we decided to go to the courthouse together. it worked! i guess in one sense, that was me being an "advocate" -but in another way, maybe more like co-conspirator. another interesting blurry boundary...

at Silvia Rivera Law Project (the org that LGL is modeling off of) one of their guiding principles is that social and legal services are not an end in themselves - they are tools for movement-building. we can help the most vulnerable members of our community to get on their feet so they can join us in the streets so to speak. the model being that through services people can become transformed into constituents (fighters). i think it's a STELLAR idea, and sooooooooo interested to see how it will play out in our own project.

(photos by michelle & luke!)

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