On a recent Sunday evening a steady stream of mainly twentysomethings began stacking their shoes outside a walk-up apartment in downtown Brooklyn. “It’s okay in the kitchen, but we try and keep shoes off of the wood floors,” explained one of the hosts, and, as more and more people began congregating in the kitchen and living room, the need for such a rule became apparent.
The aroma of pesto percolated through the apartment where a dozen housemates and guests were diligently slicing bread for bruschetta, cutting up mango and kiwis to throw in a fruit salad, and preparing a medley of fall vegetables for a mash. Baked apples just out of the oven sat steaming on the large wood-slab table alongside a bowl of leafy greens. A collection of cutlery, cups and mismatched plates sat in between. A mixture of strangers and old friends, including a pirate-radio host, a playwright, several poets and assorted looky-loos in search of conversation and a free meal, engaged in conversation over cooking until dinner was served, a little past eight.
“I’m happy to announce all the food at tonight’s meal was salvaged,” said A New World In Our Hearts member Thadeaus Umpster. “It was either donated by stores before it was disposed of, or…” he paused pregnantly, “…reclaimed shortly thereafter.” Umpster’s oblique description of Dumpster diving, or collecting food from grocery stores, bakeries and other businesses after it’s been thrown out, drew laughter from the crowd. This free, family-style community dinner better known as Grub occurs on the first and third Sundays of every month and and is one of several initiatives In Our Hearts oversees, including The Brooklyn Free Store.
An active collective since 2005, In Our Hearts describes itself as “a New York-based anarchist network made up of autonomous collectives, projects and individuals who share the goal of building a culture of resistance in the city and beyond” in its manifesto. Some intentional ambiguity surrounds In Our Hearts–anarchist organizations tend to shy away from overexposure and attendance lists–but the group has a core membership scattered throughout Brooklyn, and then many fans and loose affiliates around the borough and the country. In Our Hearts has more than 3,000 MySpace fans and their Facebook group is about 350 members strong. Still, their publicly posted information raises as many questions as it answers. For starters: What exactly are they resisting? And how?
“It’s about bringing the confidence back to the people which capitalism takes [away],” said Caio Juca at a recent In Our Hearts discussion. In one member’s living room, visitors sat in a circle as Juca, a member of Brazil’s Ativismo ABC anarchist collective, discussed anarchist economics. He led a lively debate that touched on strategies for finding work, food and health care outside of capitalist institutions. Solutions such as community gardens and Dumpster diving for food and items to sell online were all weighed as viable options.
In this particular collective, anarchism is defined as turning a cold shoulder towards capitalism and consumerism rather than engaging in confrontational actions. That’s not to say members of In Our Hearts haven’t ever embraced militant aspects of anarchistic resistance, but at the moment, they’re content to focus on community-building initiatives like Grub and their newest project, The Brooklyn Free Store.
Free stores are an anti-capitalist idea that dates back to at least to The Diggers, a radical underground theater group in 1960s San Francisco that advocated for a “Free City.” In Our Hearts officially opened their free store in July on Walworth Street between DeKalb and Willoughby Avenues in Bed-Stuy on a plot of land that Umpster says the organization “reclaimed from the city.” Made from fencing and plastic-tarp tenting, the free store is open daily and works under the premise of “share what you can, take what you like.” The inventory is always revolving, but mostly consists of clothing, books, movies, appliances and furniture. It also serves as a meeting place for In Our Hearts’ events, classes and workshops, including regularly scheduled film screenings on Thursday nights at 8pm.
Anyone can give or take items from the store–like the television and full-size mattress collected by an elated man last Thursday, who couldn’t thank Umpster enough for the Free Store’s existence, as he carted his goods away in the back of a van. The happy shopper said he intended to put them in his daughter’s bedroom when he got back home. [Ed. Note: Let’s hope it was bed-bug free.]
“These are things that are practical and positive,” Umpster said, commenting on the collective’s efforts to promote alternative, anarchistic models for living in Brooklyn and beyond. “We don’t need to reach everybody. We just need to reach enough people so they can reach other people.”