Brown Bag Lunch Series 

The Brown Bag Lunch Series, part of the Imagining Post-Capitalism Festival (May 1-6, 2018) aims to engage passersby and government workers on their lunch break in impromptu conversation on a specific topic. The series of three events takes place at Frank H. Ogawa/Oscar Grant Plaza in Oakland and aims to encourage engagement through an open format discussion, facilitated by the Imagining Post-Capitalism organizers and guest artists, who will help mediate thoughts and ideas proposing a different future for us all.

Working with Nature to Reduce Work and Waste

Brown Bag Lunch Series discussion (May 2nd, 2018, 12-1PM @ Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, Oakland, CA)

From the perspective of one participant, by LisaRuth Elliott

One of my first conversations was with a waste worker—a plaza janitor pushing a trash can on a cart who stopped for a chat on the theme. I wanted to quote him, he had a quick quip that got to the heart of what we were getting at.

A young woman looked inquisitively at our easel with the prompt for the day’s conversation, and when invited, sat down to join us. We asked, Do we work with systems we create from the ground up that are in direct relationship to and with natural systems—like guest artist Asya Abdrahman’s fog catchers that were on display on the lawn behind us, that through simple construction available to anyone who can understand how to create a triangle, are currently collecting 55 gallon drums full of water daily from the marine fog in Point Reyes? Do we attempt to take on the larger than us, overarching systems of capitalism based on the exploitation of resources and greed we are forced to use to make our daily lives run? Do we do both at the same time? What are the chasms we have to cross first before the populace understands the starting point is that capitalism has broken our ability to thrive and live better lives?

I was approached by a man from Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency (BOSS) passing out flyers for a rally coming up for voter registration, criminal justice reform, and employment opportunities. i took the flyer and asked if he would like to have a conversation about where to go beyond capitalism. Initially he didn’t want to sit down to talk, but as soon as we disagreed on whether or not capitalism was broken—he felt it is stronger than ever, evidenced by my mention of the widening gap between rich and poor—he indeed took a seat and we started talking more pointedly. He felt I was being optimistic about there being a way to approach the problem of offering a better life for all, a system that addressed the well-being of humanity. As he left he situated the conversation in an assumed hope for a socialist republic, which I wasn’t convinced had worked as a state system and wasn’t necessarily where we needed to go with our decentralized attempts, but we at least had gotten to a context for what could be.

We were collectively thinking about how items, goods, products, art are valued. Artists and cultural producers among us have had the experience that if you give something away, people see it as a throwaway item, not worth their time, must not be worth much if it is free. If you charge, even just ask for $1, then it is more likely that someone will see the item as worth something. I suggested that nothing is actually ever FREE, that if something is given for free, it should have an asterisk and then a chart or table (like the nutritional information on a food package) breaking down the time, resources, energy usage, materials paid for or used in the creation of the item. Chris reminded us that the transactional nature enabled by money takes us away from having to interact with each other in complex ways, takes us out of a negotiation with another human, simplifies it. Digital money abstracts it even further of course, in that we no longer even have a relationship to cash in hand, it’s seen as an even bigger freedom to remove ourselves from having to touch or see money. Asya is putting together a Critical Mass Market based on bicycling as a means to transfer or trade services and goods, which reminded us of the Really Really Free Market that took place at Dolores Park earlier in this millennium. Hers is meant to be a bit of a moving barter system, though she didn’t use the word barter. I reflected a bit on my own experience with generosity with my bread project, LisaRuth’s Lovin’ From the Oven which is a skills sharing endeavor usually around a kitchen table and often results in a bit of confusion as to who is giving and receiving in the end.

When Asya’s painted fog-catching silk squares came out and were being gifted to those sitting in conversation, immediately we had a number of visitors who didn’t really communicate other than that they wanted this free beautiful cloth that was being handed out. There were no conditions to who received them, Asya included as recipients even those people who stopped briefly. She explained to those who stayed that it was part of a project that started in Morocco, and references the music that over time became the Blues. The painting has something like 30 layers. The abstract colors feature a faint outline of the figure of a woman, the sun anchoring the field, at the bottom and forming the core of the piece and located in what looks to me to be the solar plexus of the figure’s body.

All the while, Asya’s son was working with her brother on the lawn to create bamboo pole structures and affix netting to catch the fog, of which there was none on this day. He also broke down a tall plastic bottle into a continuous thin strip of plastic which can be used to wrap the poles, and when heated, shrinks to create a firm fastener. The bottle was cut down into this material using a razor screwed into a wooden board, and this simple tool quickly transformed the vessel into cordage.

Of course, the conversations naturally turned to asking us who and what Shaping San Francisco as a project is, so we were able to speak to our intention to seed our present understanding of the world, and the direction we want to see it go toward, in a deeper sense of history and where we have come from to get to this moment. We’ll be out in front of ProArts Gallery on May 3 and May 4 with new topics. We’re looking forward to it!

LisaRuth Elliott (Curator/Shaping San Francisco) produced the three-day event San Francisco History Days at the Old Mint in 2016 and 2017, organized the California Historical Society’s community outreach process for the Old U.S. Mint, and headed up a collaborative archival digitization project of neighborhood newspapers.