Thursday, November 3, 2011


I am taking compost to the garden today. The vegetable scraps have been happily rotting away in many plastic bags outside my apartment door, damply waiting for me to haul them to the big black bin in the corner of my plot at the Two Coves Community Garden.

The garden is the reason I have friends who live in Astoria Houses, our local big public housing project. The garden was planted in an abandoned park that was made out of an abandoned lot that was an abandoned garage that some of the first break dancers used, all in the shadow of Astoria Houses.

The people who live in Astoria Houses were the first people in my life to fear cops for a good reason. Auntie Luscious explained to me that when they have a problem, they don’t call the police, they call the fire department.

Cops bring guns; if cops come, they take someone to jail; they harass people who sit down for being black in public… Firemen, on the other hand, put out fires. They calm heated tempers. They are local heroes.
All that, and they’re cute, too.

I was shocked when I first heard these stories. That is not a life I have to live. It isn’t part of my experience.
But I think part of this Occupy Experience is stepping out of the ILife and into the WeLife… I mean, police brutality has not been a part of my life; the government took care of me when my parents didn’t. I have many fond feelings towards The Man. But. There are others—many many others—who have been hurt. And rather than dismissing the hurt as unreasonable or provoked or “If you didn’t dress that way, if you would just change your behavior, if you would just try being a slightly lighter color of skin”…

Why do I/we ask the victims to change? Why don’t we demand the bullies change?

I am taking compost to the garden today, and it will change into strong, healthy dirt over the winter. I love the garden, though I’ve been neglecting it lately as I cook and read and cry and write about Occupy Wall Street. But I love the garden, what it has done for me and for my kitchen scraps—it has connected me with a larger community, it has given my kids a place where they can dig in the dirt without finding dog poop, it’s given my carrot tops a purpose besides landfill.
The garden was rescued from falling back into cutbacks wasteland by the man in this picture:
Ok, so there are a lot of men in this picture. Look at the man in the red windbreaker. Do you see how he has taken the arm of a young man in hipster glasses, and is using that man’s arm to punch him in the gut? In the next picture in the series, the young man is knocked backwards, his feet in the air.
Somewhere in the tussle, he loses his hipster glasses.
This series of pictures are the pictures that made me a radical defender of the occupiers. I had already brought them some supplies; I had already committed to help out as and when I could. I was in that very march that the photographer captured, but in the back because my short legs and my seven year old’s even shorter legs couldn’t keep up with the young, quick, determined men and women at the front.

But I wasn't going to obsess about the occupation, I wasn't going to write essays about it, I wasn't going to talk about it with other people and try and convince them what the protestors were doing was important to anybody else.That would be rude.

But when I got home, and rested, and checked to see what happened next… I saw those pictures. That young man in black hipster glasses is named Garrett, and he helped start what has become the Two Coves Community Garden.

Not all by himself, mind. A small group of dedicated people carried buckets of water to the garden and weeded and tended it the first winter it was occupied. I wasn’t there for that, but I admire those people who did not abandon the barren triangle of awkward saplings and broken promises in the cold or the dry.

This winter, we have over a hundred plots, over 150 regular gardeners, and we host cultural and community events throughout the growing season.

The garden wouldn’t be here today if Garrett and his friends hadn’t been there that winter. I wouldn’t have a plot in the garden, if he hadn’t been in the garden one Saturday in early July, 2008. I asked how to get a plot and he said, “How about this one?” and I said, “Yes, please!” and handed him twenty dollars and my email address.

So when I looked at those pictures-- over and over, trying to understand how a man in a red windbreaker could hurt skinny, harmless Garrett, smash him into the ground, crush him-- I teared up. I went from thinking I would support the protestors because they were supporting me and my children's future, to a more intimate sense of solidarity. I am not helping them; we are helping each other.

Garrett is human. He is not good at leading meetings or saving email addresses. However, he is really good at creating and protecting a space to enrich the earth and grow more beautiful plants. I am human, too. I don’t know what nature will do to my radical heart or to the movement this winter. I expect we will change. But I hope that, like Garrett’s other project, we will enrich the earth and grow into more beautiful and happy people through it.


  1. Hi Alia,
    Thanks for all you're doing and for sharing it!
    I saw your comment on my blog and decided to come and visit yours.


  2. Thank you! :)

    I've been wondering if I should post the ingredient lists (i feel silly calling them recipes. i cook stuff until it's done. :*)... Do you think that would be useful? Or are there plenty of blogs that do that?

    Anyway, thanks for visiting! :)