At the Pan-African Community Garden

Lessons from the Pan-African Community Garden

Last summer the Southwest chapter of the All African People’s Revolutionary Party started the Pan-African Community Garden with the help of comrades, relatives, neighbors, and social justice organizations in Tiwa territory (Albuquerque, New Mexico).  We did this without non-profit status, corporate sponsorship, grant funding, or financial backing of any kind – spending very little out of pocket when it came to the construction and maintenance of the garden. We also did this without any formal experience as a chapter undertaking such a project – meaning we had never built something like this together before. And yet in just a bit over a month we had built, quite literally from the gravel up, a thriving community garden that produced fruits, vegetables, and medicinal herbs, and that provided our organization with a space in which we were able to engage in long term political education work with the community. All summer and fall long we were hornworm hunting, grilling, harvesting okra, ashwagandha, cucumbers, and tomatoes, and conducting de-escalation training and teach-ins on sanctions, socialism, food sovereignty, and more. How were we able to do this with no money, no experience, and no 501c3 status? Ideology, organization, relationship building, and community.

It is important to understand that the AAPRP is an explicitly revolutionary socialist Pan-African organization. It is our belief that it is the historical mission of African people on this planet to organize collectively to win our liberation and the liberation and unification of our home, Africa, under a scientific socialist government. We believe this objective can not be achieved within the confines of the existing global capitalist system and that indeed the unification and liberation of our land and people will necessarily require opposition to and the ultimate destruction of that system. Capitalism can’t function without exploiting Africa and African people after all. And capitalism can not peacefully coexist with socialism. This means for socialism, our people, our land, and ultimately this planet to live, capitalism must be destroyed. This unapologetically revolutionary stance informs each and every project we undertake as an organization.

Because we understand only the organized masses of working class African people on the continent and the diaspora can realize our objective of one unified socialist Africa, the focus of our political work is the conscientization and organization of those masses around the objectives of understanding Africa and Africans as primary, building self-determination and independent political power, and developing militant anti-imperialist and revolutionary socialist consciousness and analysis. For this reason, all over the world members of the All African People’s Revolutionary Party engage in community defense projects, campaigns of positive action, institution and coalition building, and political education work to develop the masses we encounter into soldiers of the African revolution. This is the ideological and strategic approach underlying our decision to initiate the community garden project.

Though capitalist media pushes an image of revolution as a spontaneous and chaotic event, students of history know that the work to build revolution is by necessity slow and systematic – oftentimes taking place over the course of many years, even decades. The exciting moments of armed struggle that revolution has been reduced to in the popular imagination are in reality always the result of many segments of an oppressed society coming together over the long term to organize themselves and build the institutions and political formations that can truly contest for power and build a new world in the process. For that reason, there is no organizing work undertaken by the AAPRP Southwest chapter – or indeed by any AAPRP chapter, organizing area, committee, or task force anywhere – that is not first planned. And that plan is developed first and foremost by engaging in a concrete analysis of the conditions where we are trying to build using the revolutionary tools of analysis provided by our Nkrumahist-Toureist ideology.

The plan to build the Pan-African Community Garden was born when our chapter was just a few years old. We had, in our three years in existence up until that point, made a significant impact upon the socialist justice movement in Tiwa territory. First with the (re)-introduction of revolutionary socialist Pan-Africanist politics to the scene which we shared in a variety of seminars and recurring community events like the Pan-African Film Series and our contributions to pre-existing African institutions in Tiwa territory like Malcolm X Day and Juneteenth, but also with our approach to united front work and community defense. We have helped build multiple coalitions around anti-imperialism, working class unity, and unity between colonized struggles that have each pursed a strategy of making revolutionary politics and organizing accessible, approachable, and family friendly for the masses of poor and colonized people in the city outside of the organized left – a strategy that is defined by being as broad as possible while still being straight up with people about what we believe, what we’re trying to accomplish, and why.

The fruits of these coalitions and this strategy can be seen in the introduction and popularization of Fourth of the Lie  – an overtly anti-American celebration of resistance to Yankee imperialism where community members eat, learn, dance, build with each other, and then collectively burn a flag. Off top this might seem like a lot, particularly when engaging with folks who are not yet part of any kind of radical movement, but we found in prioritizing accessibility, approachability, and honesty and by engaging people with respect and curiosity about their perspectives, that we could discover much of the same righteous anger and hatred for US imperialism that burned within even the most experienced AAPRP cadre. If you talk to people in ways they can understand and if you actually care about what they have to say, you find a remarkable amount of clarity about who the enemy is and why our conditions are the way we are. Fourth of the Lie is a space where that clarity can be expressed, shared, and further developed. Uniting social justice organizations in Tiwa territory around building spaces like it on a consistent basis was a significant victory for our chapter’s work. It also helped us initiate and maintain the organizational and personal relationships that we would later lean on to help us build the garden. When we needed things like soil, wood chips, manure, seedlings, power tools, scrap wood, and extra hands – the comrades that we had made over years of coalition building and united front work came through. 

I’ve used the phrase ‘community defense’ a few times at this point, so I want to take a moment to define it as it formed another key piece of the foundational work that helped us build the garden. Community defense is best understood as an organizing strategy that combines revolutionary political education with organization and institution building to help a given community meet its own needs. Those needs can be organizing to provide safety in community spaces, protection from police terrorism, intervention in cases of abuse or domestic violence, education for youth, food production, and much more. Community defense is about both helping our people to recognize the reality of our oppression and the system that is causing it and also organizing our people to address that oppression and that system collectively. It’s about helping them understand that we do not have to wait for incremental change or saviors, but rather that we can move collectively to build the things we need to keep each other safe, survive, and fight back. That we can save ourselves. To quote AAPRP cadre and Hood Communist editor Ahjamu Umi, “The focus of community defense work is to plug Africans into organizing our people everywhere to become a direct part of the work to liberate Africa as the key to our salvation and progress.”

Prior to the creation of the garden, our chapter’s community defense work in Tiwa territory primarily looked like providing security at community events and also providing training and workshops in de-escalation and intervention for other organizers in the city. We introduced an organized and humanistic approach to event and space safety and helped develop a cohort of community members who were not only able to provide support in that arena but who were also able to train *others* in the same approach and bring it into organizations and events that we weren’t directly connected to, and even into their day to day lives. Early on in the development of the garden, we made the decision that it would be a police free space. The collectivization of de-escalation and security skills that we’d already been engaged in helped community members who volunteered in the space feel empowered to intervene themselves when crisis occurred. It should also be said that we are intentional about making safety, security, and de-escalation something that people of any size, skill level, age, and gender can practice. 

After several years of making this impact, our chapter gathered for a series of visioning and planning meetings at the end of 2020 to reflect upon what we had accomplished, what we wanted to improve upon, and where we wanted to go in the future. One clear shared vision that emerged early on was the development of an African controlled community institution that could provide a space for us to organize out of and that would also allow us to further develop our community defense strategy in Tiwa territory. We had at that point been providing food, mask, and medicine deliveries to African elders and families in the community for a year during the pandemic. We asked ourselves how we could develop a project that would allow us to produce materials for those deliveries on our own rather than buying them. From there the idea of a garden quickly began to form. We identified the establishment of an African community space and garden as a top priority for our chapter and began research to identify the area where we could build it and began planning to gather resources in order to do so.

But then! One of the relationships that we had developed over the years of united front, coalition building, and community defense work in Tiwa territory came through! A comrade in a prison abolition organization that we collaborate with frequently, Millions 4 Prisoners New Mexico, told us she had some land and we could use it for whatever we needed. It was a small abandoned lot on the corner of a busy intersection in what had once been a majority African area in Tiwa territory, littered with trash from passing cars and syringes. We accepted her offer without hesitation and immediately pivoted toward developing that space. We organized a series of work days to clean it up with community members, put out a call for donations to gather materials to build with, and began the work of transforming the space. Today we are proud to say that every single raised bed, every single bench, every single bit of mulch, every spec of dirt, the fence around the lot, and the system we set up for watering were all built or gathered, collectively, by our chapter, our comrades, and our community. 

What we have learned in the process of building this space is nothing less than the key principle of revolutionary work – that the organized masses of people, united by an ideology, strategy, and clear political objectives – can accomplish remarkable things with a fraction of the resources available to the forces opposing us. We don’t need grants, degrees, or sponsorship. We don’t need special training. We don’t need the enemy’s institutions or permission. We don’t even need experience. We need ideology and revolutionary organization and each other. That’s all

Today, we are planning for the spring opening of the Pan-African Community Garden and to welcome community members back into the space. When we look around at the conditions in which we are doing this work, we see a clearly looming food crisis that is a direct consequence of self-destructive US foreign policy and capitalist environmental destruction. We understand that our people are already facing a reality of food insecurity – alongside housing instability and an ongoing global pandemic – and we understand that is all poised to get much worse. For that reason we are planning how to scale up production at the garden by increasing the size of our raised beds, recruiting more volunteers to maintain it, and trying out new strategies for getting high yields in low water conditions. We want to begin to feed the neighborhood immediately surrounding the garden and beyond. We want to help people learn how to grow their own food and build one, two, many more community gardens in Tiwa territory. We want to organize our people around meeting their own needs and we want to help develop their consciousness of how doing so can help us all take out this system for good.

Forward ever, backwards never. 

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Onyesonwu Chatoyer is an African woman marooned in the United States, organizing to defeat capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism. She is an organizer with the All-African People's Revolutionary Party and the All-African Women's Revolutionary Union, an editor with Hood Communist, and also serves on the national committee of the Venceremos Brigade.

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