Friday, October 23, 2009

Café Chicago: A New Model of Social Action in the City that Caffeinates

The economic, social, and environmental collapse that we swim in may be happening so slowly that we are not able to detect its downward spiral in our day-to-day lives. But it is taking place, and we need to evolve much more quickly than we have been. We need bolder action. We need to spawn viable alternatives while also actively resisting the corporate and state forces out to repress, distress, and brutalize us as they protect wealth and privilege.

That paragraph's perhaps an odd way to start a brief description of the new activities being launched by Resistance Coffee and its umbrella Chicago Coffee Confederation, but it does provide some insight into the motivations behind such projects as Café Chicago.

Café Chicago seeks to address real and growing failures within our warfare-oriented, corporate-dominated, ethically challenged society. Decisions in the work place are made by a class of owners and managers not doing that actual work. Immigrants are exploited by our economic and business models, then targeted for repression and deportation when nativists get restless. Jobs are often meaningless and often put workers into the unfortunate role of constructing their own demise (example, day laborers and other workers in low-income areas building and renovating the condos that will make the area unlivable for those workers all too soon).

Too often we are forced into compromising our values, because we can't afford to maintain our values. If we are lucky, we buy shitty pesticide-laden produce because organic is too expensive; if we live in the vast food deserts of the South and West Sides, pork rinds and synthesized cupcakes are our side dishes. We drive and drive and drive because it is in someone's interest to block construction of affordable and effective public transportation. We buy coffee grown under old-style plantation-like conditions, sold to us by baristas who hate their jobs but need to make a living.

It’s time for a different model, one that values human beings and our longing for freedom and for justice and community. We need alternatives that don’t find us hiding our heads in the sand, but that continue to challenge those forces hell-bent on destroying our city, our planet, and our lives. It's time for a different model of making a living, of funding social change whether radical or revolutionary or alternative-building. It’s time for new models of social interaction that prize each and every voice, and that build community and resistance.

Café Chicago grows out of this search for real alternatives, and out of the experience of a small-batch coffee roaster toiling in a freezing cold garage trying to make a living roasting fair trade, organic, liberation-oriented coffee over the past five years on a backyard barbeque grill while raising much-needed funds for feminist, immigrant, and other radical organizations. Café Chicago grows out of the recently formed Chicago Coffee Confederation, which now has three homemade micro-roasters spinning in three different garages, with several more in the works. We are working together to support ourselves, our communities, our organizations and creative work, and of course to support the very real desire for great tasting, consumer-fetish-free coffee. It grows out of a desire to create meaningful, living wage, socially relevant work in an atmosphere free of ugly power relations.

The first small-batch, homemade coffee roaster.

The idea that is forming is to take the expertise of the garage roasters of the Chicago Coffee Confederation and expand our work horizontally and on a much larger scale via a working relationship with a vital social change organization in Chicago. We will be working with a prominent group working with day laborers and immigrant communities to construct a worker-made, worker-owned, and worker-operated cooperative that will roast coffee in full-sized, energy-efficient machinery.

Money generated by Café Chicago will be used to support the workers doing the work, and to support the work of the organization. An attached cafe will serve as a gathering place for people who value such work, people doing that work, and for people who share values of cooperation and mutual aid and want to act in solidarity with those at the bottom. This hub, Café Chicago, will also benefit the work of many other change organizations in Chicago, generating funds for these organizations and also serving to generate funds for projects that get sidelined in the process of seeking restrictive corporate and governmental funding.

Using some features of communal bike shops like Working Bikes and Ciclo Urbano, our hub will open its doors and its expertise to youth seeking out meaningful work and experience and knowledge of the world, to low-income activists and artists needing to augment their incomes, and to others interested in the art and craft of socially-relevant coffee roasting.

Café Chicago’s gonna rock this city that works, but we’re going to work it a different way. If you wanna participate, write and let us know who what when where and how, and probably especially why.

The revolution may not be well-funded (yet); the revolution will be caffeinated.

Coffee bean porn.