Consuming Relationships

Liz 1st edition:
I’ve been doing work with the Breakdown collective for about a year and a half now. Prior to that, I filled volunteer shifts and was peripherally involved in the project since its inception. I have to say that before Breakdown, Denver’s activist “community” had a much more difficult time in arranging meetings and events, and even in broadening its base. When meetings and events are held mostly at private homes, it is difficult for movements to really expand beyond a core group of friends.

So I recognize that the existence of Breakdown as a physical space has created the possibility of a larger activist (or at least alternative) community in Denver that didn’t exist before. “Breakdown” has become almost a reified concept that most people in Denver’s underground, activist, or alternative scene know about. I think one of the big problems that Breakdown has faced is the fact that an activist community hasn’t spontaneously sprung up. An activist community also hasn’t been prodded out of the concrete the way that some people have wanted it to. I’ve realized, you can’t wish, will, or force an activist community/movement into existence. Having a physical space with the designated purpose of being a radical community resource center doesn’t mean that a community struggling to make real social change will naturally arise.

There are a lot of people that say they love Breakdown. But they love Breakdown for the underground music shows that we host, the hip bike-in movies we show in the parking lot, and the cool parties. There isn’t real political action or organizing going on in Breakdown and I consider that to be one of the greatest flaws of the space. Making Breakdown stay open each month takes a huge amount of work, resources, and money, which only a few people are actively contributing to.

One of the biggest frustrations of working with Breakdown is the lack of support, both financially and otherwise, from the broader community of people who say that they love the project. Why is every month a struggle to pay $900 in rent? I wish that people that use Breakdown as a resource were more respectful and receptive to the concept of giving back, of having a reciprocal relationship with a project that provides all kinds of resources, opportunities, ideas, and experiences for activists and non-activists alike in Denver.

Until people’s relationships with places like Breakdown become reciprocal, these places will not be sustainable or a real challenge to capitalist dominator culture, which encourages the commodification of relationships and the exploitation of resources (emotional, social, and physical).

Addition as of December 2005: The five of us (women) committed to Breakdown in a regularly tangible way picked through the lending library, taped up boxes, broke apart janky book shelves, swept the floors, wiped down the walls, scraped tape off every surface and moved furniture to the dumpster, the side walk or our friend’s basement. As people wandered in while we worked, or saw us out in the world, there were always sad faces asking, “Well, did you try to apply to apply for grants?” “What about having a fundraiser?” “Doesn’t anybody want to work on the project any more?” “I’m so sad.” “That’s so sad.” They always expressed regret but barley anyone offered to help with the move, the transition, or the enormous responsibility of getting Breakdown out of debt it incurred in an attempt to foster “the community.” It became increasingly evident as the month of October progressed that the absence of many people, including old and current collective members, wasn’t due to forgetfulness; they felt no responsibility to come help. Breakdown was never conceptualized or practiced as a reciprocal project based on rooted community. Instead, Breakdown was another commodity and the work put into it by, in the end, mostly women was also consumed. Yet, that consumption, especially of our women’s work, was never verbalized, contextualized or even passively acknowledged.

There was the reification of Breakdown as an entity run an unknown “them.” Even more deceptively, Breakdown was often reified, as a self-perpetuating project with rewards reaped just by associating one’s self as an ally of the space and therefore entitled to anything and everything it had to offer. Most personally troubling was the way that our work and often our identities as friends, co-workers, neighbors, lovers, and acquaintances were erased when there was talk about Breakdown. It was a constant battle full of quizzical looks when we tried to express our frustration at having our work, time and energy made invisible. People would respond with “Sorrys” and then change the topic saying something like, “Breakdown really should try to flier more, maybe that would help.”

Though Breakdown’s reification and the consumption of our work was most observably perpetuated by others—we in the collective were also party to the consumption and reification. When there was a particularly hard event to organize or lots of money to be raised it was easy to let the conversation be filled with, “Well, Breakdown…” And also while our work was being consumed we were always wondering what more we could feed people for them to consume. It was an ethic of sacrifice based on a fear that if we weren’t giving we were failing. We almost unconditionally allowed young, drunk, privileged 20 somethings to come to shows they recommended “Breakdown” organize. While they seldom had money to donate to the space at the door, they always were able to buy beer. It was an exploitative relationship that people expected to be able to access, trash and excuse themselves from when they could see no benefit to their entertainment. Until it was too late, we never demanded or initiated a conversation about how we needed reciprocal relationships and accessible events to have the space operate in a way that was meaningful and libratory.

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