Cooperative Living: Week One

A week ago I moved to Syracuse, New York, and I also moved into an anarchist collective cooperative.

It’s been a week. Let me try to update you.

Open Table

Our rent checks to the Collective happen midway through each month. Since we moved in at the beginning of the month, we still have yet to pay a dime. All our food, shelter and community needs have been taken care of. We have freshly ground coffee in the morning, and we have an immediate community of like minded activists.

The big take-aways for me in this first week of living in the Collective is the off-handed generosity. Coming from a place of having my own apartment, living alone and buying my own food, I am shocked whenever the Collective tells us at orientation that anyone we invite over is welcome to our supply of food. It really bends the way you think about generosity, and the housing and food system in the world.

The people at the Coop do not require a security deposit when we move in, they do not make us sign our life away with contracts, they do not ask us to pay for food ourselves. And yet, they are able to be way more generous than any landlord I’ve ever known. It makes you rethink the whole system we live in. If this is possible, if it’s possible to live freely and without scarcity- to be able to fix huge potlucks for the community off of our own funds. How and why isn’t everyone doing this?

Yesterday we attended the Nagasaki Day Peace Picnic in commemoration of those who died in the bombings in Japan. Our Collective provided a huge bulk of the food: an industry size rice cooker, creamy vegetable soup, spicy curried vegetables and more. And we gave away all the food that the community wanted to take, and we still have massive leftovers to take home and put in our own fridge.

The generosity is astounding. But then, no one’s rent is changing due to this generosity, so who cares? Let’s share with the world! When you take your own fight or flight competitive nature out of the whole equation, when it doesn’t take anything away from you to share with others, and really only benefits you, it begins to change your whole mindset. At least it does mine.

Minimalism and Conflict Resolution

And then the fact that most people living at the Collective are working off very low income levels. And the way that we make all of this work is partly due to lifestyle. Our cupboards are stocked with rice and lentils, something that can feed an army, but is relatively cheap to keep in stock. It doesn’t go bad, it’s all natural, and it can work for every meal.

Compost bucket by the sink where all extra foodstuffs go. Very little trash at all. Prioritize organic, local and minimal plastic.

Our room is big enough for both of us and all of our stuff, which I wasn’t really expecting. We’re settling in nicely.

We have a book at the houses that we are all encouraged to read: On Conflict and Consensus. The general idea is that we are not to avoid conflict, we are to embrace conflict as a normal part of life, and we are to become more adept at dealing with in peaceful and productive ways.

Organic Food

And the garden! I haven’t really explored it yet, but I plan to start utilizing it soon.

Monarch butterflies fly outside our kitchen window in the mornings as drinking coffee.

We have a garden full of peppers, onions, corn, eggplants, parsley, cilantro, carrots, raspberries, leeks, chives, cucumbers, basically anything you can think of growing in abundance and ready for harvest for anyone at the Collective who feels like cooking that day. We are invited to join into this space that has taken decades of work to create, and we are simply able to jump in while all the veggies are ready to harvest!

The city outside of the Cooperative is still taking awhile to get used to. It’s not big city New York that most people in the country think of. We’re in a small college town New York, which reminds me more of Kansas than anything else. It’s taking a minute to get used to the change in environment, coming from the much biggest urban space of Kansas City. But just as I write, sitting at the coffee shop today, one of the baristas just got off her shift, and dropped a coupon for a free coffee on my table, not looking back to take credit.

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midwestern librarian, writer, activist

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