PRACTICE RADICAL HOSPITALITY

antigravity-dec2016-practice-radical-hospitality1-by-ben-claassen
Published  December 2016

We are undoubtedly in a crisis situation. Tremendous numbers of people around the country are suddenly robbed of hope. Some of us are at mass demonstrations erupting in urban center and university campuses. Others are at home, on the phone with family and friends. Many of us are at work as usual, even though nothing feels usual about the dread that now hangs over every conversation. Organizing can look like a stone-faced, militant business. Organizers must inspire downtrodden people to suck it up and come out swinging, sometimes literally. Over the years I’ve learned that organizing looks very different for different people. The morning of November 9 left us all with choices about how to mourn and how to fight. Will we feed the crisis, or slow down and figure out how to change course? This is a conversation with a dear friend about how to slow down and welcome others into new networks of trust.


What does this moment demand of us?
Let’s begin by acknowledging many folks in New Orleans have been on the front lines for so long, decades even. The fight for racial justice includes the struggles of women, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, labor, the incarcerated, the elderly, the disabled, and other vulnerable communities.

For some of us, then, the moment demands that we continue our work with even greater resolve—whether that is planning direct actions, engaging in civil disobedience, writing, dancing, speaking, or whatever you feel contributes to the necessary resistance against capitalist, patriarchal, white supremacist regimes. For others, the moment demands that we find a way to join the struggle in a more active way, to go beyond solidarity politics and allyship and become accomplices to those in danger. For me? The moment seems to demand that I cook a lot of food for as many people as possible.

So you’re preparing for the new dawn of fascism with a dinner party?
Not quite. I think about this practice as Radical Hospitality—an organizing and grieving strategy. Radical hospitality is not a one-time event, nor a social obligation. To me, this means cooking big, filling meals, inviting friends, colleagues, and mentors into my home, and charging every guest with the task of bringing one new person.

Radical hospitality organizes organizers and nourishes future freedom fighters. Planning together in our homes is vital to building trust with one another and strength for struggle. Throughout history, these spaces have posed the most danger to despots and oppressive governments. Many of the world’s most revolutionary thinkers organized from their own homes or those of trusted comrades.

How do you go about planning an evening of radical hospitality?
Go analog. I’m a big social media junky, but the digital will probably become more and more dangerous each day. Anyway, I hear that one of the steps on the road to revolution is the seizure of government services, like the Post Office. Don’t impose goals for the evening. Create conditions for conversation and planning to occur. Pick a book, film, question, or inspirational person to rally around. Hell, please steal my question: “What does this moment demand of us?” Encourage guests to bring their own books, films, stories, and questions. Write this all out on your invitation. If the group is larger than ten, it may be wise to designate a conversation facilitator or two ahead of time. Give folks plenty of notice and make it clear that they should try to bring a new person. Ask for responses, but account for at least twice as many.

If you can, tap a range of people—those who are very politically active and people who might not be ready, or who want to figure out how to fight in their own way. Keep in mind, it will be a small beginning. Promise to serve everyone who comes to the door and invite them to conversation. And please, I wish this didn’t need to be said, but be sensitive to race, class, and gender. Five white guys and your one black femme friend is not the most optimal guest list.

But then there’s the cooking part. That sounds expensive. How do you manage that?
Generally, I don’t do a potluck setup the very first time I bring new people together for fugitive planning. But this is your choice, your event. Obviously, funding can be an issue. Keep barriers to entry as low as possible. Team up with roommates, housemates, neighbors, or a few close friends and make one or two simple comfort food dishes in large quantities. Ask others for that quarter-cup of flour or spices you don’t have. I’ll give you a few tried-and- true recipes at the end. Also, now is the time to hit up all your urban farming friends.

OK. You’ve got ten pounds of mac and cheese and 15 people in your house. Now what?
Eat first, obviously. Share a few questions of your own, or ask around: “What do you need right now?” I feel stupid telling anyone how to conduct their own conversations, so I’ll leave it there. Allow people to ask for specific support in ongoing resistance activities and projects. Allow new people to share any reservations and contribute ideas. Consider taking notes, especially if you plan to host more. You’re creating a warm, intimate space where people can take a breath, laugh, cry, and ask for help. You’re slowly building a network of justice-minded people who will be able to call on one another in the future, perhaps when someone least expects it. It’s never been a lack of militance that corroded revolutionary movements, but a lack of trust. Radical hospitality builds trust. I hope that more people will try it. We can come out swinging as hard and as long as we want, but without trust, there is no “irresistible movement of the masses,” as The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee once put it.

How do you wrap it up? What’s the takeaway?
Pretty simple. Every person leaves with the following things: A promise that your home will be a safe space where they can return, contact information for all the attendees (get everyone’s permission first!), and leftovers.

I get it, but there are much more immediate and aggressive calls for revolution. How does radical hospitality fit in? It seems too small and too slow.
No one should shame anyone for being in the streets or not, for making sense of stuff online or staying up late talking with friends. Images of mass movements from history and the current moment do not always tell the whole truth. Revolution does not come overnight. It’s a slow build involving the transformation of countless people, countless sacrifices, small and large acts of courage, small and large mistakes, and incremental change that reaches a tipping point. Most parts of organizing mass actions aren’t sexy. Sometimes it’s sitting through tense meetings, running around taping banners back together five minutes before a march starts, phone-banking for hours the night before a protest, or lugging around water bottles in the summer. All of this makes direct actions possible, so everyone who wants to be heard can be out there, fists in the air.

Strategic, large scale resistance requires that we think slowly. Perhaps this moment demands that we take to the streets. Yet this moment also calls us to engage in smaller scale action that lays the groundwork for structures and rituals of trust. These structures and rituals, and the networks of trust they create, are what will survive in a month, a year, and four years from now. Inviting others to conversation can be an incredibly politicized act. Breaking bread in the midst of struggle to build each other up is part of building the world anew.


RECIPES

These recipes share three common things: they’re cheap, filling, and make good leftovers. My grandma taught me all of these. Quantities and cost estimates are for around ten people. They can be made vegan or gluten-free by substituting your favorite alternatives.

BRUSCHETTA
3-4 large tomatoes
1/2 red onion
Garlic powder
Salt & Pepper
Olive or other vegetable oil
Bread slices

Finely chop tomatoes and red onion. Add garlic powder, salt, and pepper to taste. Drizzle with oil. Serve on toasted bread slices. ($11)
 
MACARONI WITH SAUCES
2 boxes of macaroni ($4). Boil in salted water and drain, then choose any of the following sauces:

RED SAUCE
2 quarts of Hunt’s Tomato Sauce
1 red onion
Garlic powder
Salt & Pepper
Italian spices (basil, oregano, rosemary, dried or fresh)

Add diced onion, garlic powder, spices, salt and pepper to tomato sauce, let simmer for at least 30 minutes uncovered. Optional addins: milk or cream, veggies, spicy sausage or ground beef, balsamic vinegar. ($12)
 
SIMPLE SAUCE
2 sticks butter, margarine, or 1 cup olive/ vegetable oil
Grated cheese (Parmesan is best. Be kind on your wallet and go for the cheap shakeable kind)
Garlic (fresh if you can)
Salt & pepper
1 Egg (optional)

Melt butter/oil with diced garlic. Pour over warm pasta and toss with salt, pepper, and cheese. To make a creamier sauce, toss a whisked egg into the pasta. If you do this, make sure the pasta is really hot. ($14)
 
MAC AND CHEESE
1/2 cup butter, margarine, or oil
1/4 cup flour
1 cup whole milk or non-dairy alternative
1 egg
1 lb. grated cheese of choice
2 tbsp. spicy yellow mustard
2 boxes elbow macaroni

Preheat oven to 375°. Melt butter or oil in saucepan and add flour. Raise heat, stir in milk, let thicken. Lower heat and add egg, cheese, mustard, salt and pepper to taste. Stir in cooked and drained macaroni, then transfer to baking dish and bake for 25 min. or until cheese is golden brown on top. ($20)

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