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The Slow Decline of a Dying Rhizome

by B. Perdue Saturday, Mar. 14, 2009 at 11:23 AM

This Tuesday, the Rhizome Collective will begin to die its slow death. All residents and backspace organizations have been forced to vacate. Many fear the blow of losing one's home will taper any gained momentum to save the space.

UNOFICIAL, COPYLEFT RELEASE

Please Circulate

13th of Friday, 2009

This Tuesday, the Rhizome Collective will begin to die its slow death. All residents and backspace organizations have been forced to vacate. Many fear the blow of losing one's home will taper any gained momentum to save the space.

Last night, we sat in a room with many collective members and the Allen Street Rhizome Warehouse private property owners—Scott Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew. Kellogg and Pettigrew have been members of the Rhizome Collective and sometimes residents of Austin, TX. They legally own the warehouse property through Sustainable Revolution Inc. Kellogg and Pettigrew have built a career through their work with the Rhizome Collective—creating a sustainability consulting/training seminar called RUST and published a book entitled Toolbox for a Sustainable Revolution. Over nine years, Kellogg and Pettigrew and countless others built the Rhizome together.

On 2/16/09, Kellogg and Pettigrew informed the collective of their intent to sell the warehouse property in six months. They listed an asking price of 0,000 and asked the collective to make an offer. When asked if sweat equity would be valued, they firmly responded, “no.” People questioned making this transaction using capitalist economic values. Kellogg purchased the warehouse with an inheritance of an unknown amount. Kellogg and Pettigrew also own property in New York State.

On 3/3/09, City of Austin Code Enforcement cited the property owners with a number of violations. Kellogg and Pettigrew received this information and informed us that we needed to vacate and the building would be sealed 3/17. Through collective pressure, Kellogg and Pettigrew reluctantly pressured the City and asked questions about the exact nature of the violations. They achieved a 30 day extension to pull permits and deal with the violations. Kellogg and Pettigrew asked all to vacate, regardless. Conveniently, the community organizations and housing residents are being shuffled out the door.

Members of the collective questioned Kellogg and Pettigrew about their intentions for dealing with the code violations. The question was asked if they are planning on pulling the permits with the understanding that the collective would purchase the space. They said they didn't know. Their options were to pull permits or sell within 30 days. Someone in the group offered to collectively share the costs of code violations. Kellogg and Pettigrew were hesitant about such an idea. Kellogg and Pettigrew in effect told the collective that from here on out they'd go it alone. It seemed silly, then, to waste our time pretending to work together. Clearly, there is an unequal power relationship between the landlord and tenants. Why pull permits if ownership is not to be transfered?

If we were working together, I'd understand temporarily leaving the space to deal with permits. But, the vague non-commitment was a de facto admission of what would happen post-permit. Nothing. The space will be sold on the open market—maybe to the collective, maybe not. This all begs a larger question, was the intention ever to transfer ownership to the collective? Why were calls to rent-to-own through owner financing not heeded by the landlords years ago? Why is the conversation revolving around money and loans, and not community cultural capital and anti-capitalist views of property?

Many who've lived in the community of Austin and have seen the day to day operations of the Rhizome and the long-term trends, have recognized the power imbalance of the situation. Fundamentally, collective space should reside in collective hands. There was a social contract of peaceable transfer power. Yet, the behavior and attitudes of Kellogg and Pettigrew always reflected their special case status. Not to mention their personal fiscal, material, and professional benefits under the guise of non-profit status and collective community building. Nor, their responsibility within the collective of building un-permitted structures for their own personal benefit and supposed community benefit. We have been co-dependent on the supposed benevolence of gift-giving from a privileged person. Frankly, we needed the space. And despite knowing that this day would come, we went ahead because we had nowhere else to go. We hastily relied on the good intentions of vastly more privileged people. Attempts were made to take good intentions out of the equation through the transfer of power—only to be stymied time and time again.

Now, I'm having a huge wake up call about the so-called community. Not so much about Kellogg and Pettigrew. I've seen them act like Queen and King of the Rhizome Castle for years. But, now, I see the meeting dynamics shake out like a bad anti-oppression workshop skit. Lip-service is given to a collective, consensus-based process when two people really run the show, their cadre of supporters seem well-intentioned yet politically fair weather, others can't deal with conflict and the elephant continues to sit in the room, voices are silenced because they are called too emotional, and people of color and marginalized folks are going to feel the brunt of the eviction. One sentiment I've heard a couple people throw out has illuminated this situation for me. Folks have said, “This is the United States, we can't just...” Its seems as though many folks in that room would stand up for somebody half way across the world out of guilt or some such motivation, rather than fight for their own home. In a classic display of privilege, folks are bouncing out of this community leaving the folks who actually live here to pick up the pieces and build again. Similar stories play out across the nation in these radical subcultures keeping them in their bubbles—never to reach out to people outside their activist playhouses.

Why am I putting this shit on blast? Well, because I think the situation is fucked up and I feel some sort of obligation to tell my version of the sequence of events. This piece will surely stir some controversy and hopefully spark some dialog. I've gone back and forth and had much self-doubt about how to approach this situation. I know this will piss some people off. I'm no stranger to controversy and firmly believe if actions cannot be held up to public scrutiny then something is amiss. I also think conflict is inevitable—especially when there is an power imbalance. We need to deal with it head on or not at all. Kellogg and Pettigrew have stated their intention to do as they please. So, either we wait for their word or pressure them to make the concessions that are politically and culturally ours. As long as Kellogg and Pettigrew continue their work creating “sustainable revolution” in New York and beyond, they must be held accountable for the sustainability of the Allen Street Warehouse and I hope this article aids in that.

Perhaps, there's still hope to make an offer to transfer the building in collective hands and for Kellogg and Pettigrew to do the right thing. Maybe this piece will ruin it. It should happen soon, if at all, because Kellogg and Pettigrew are leaving Texas once everyone's out and won't be looking back. What I heard last night, in not so many words, was there was no plan to pull permits and thusly no plan for collective purchase. I wonder why would they care once they leave this town? Sometimes, I think, its just not worth it. So, for now, I will no longer wait for the whims of the landlords or the illusion of collective process.

If Kellogg and Pettigrew choose not to transfer ownership to the collective, then the question is what's the community's cut?

This Saturday and Sunday there is a estate sale happening at the Rhizome. People are packing their bags and selling off community property. Come on down to the Rhizome to see it all go down.

Good Night and Adieu,

-Brent Perdue

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