Red Emma's turns 12 today!
Reflections on the past 12 years by a Red Emma's co-founder.*
Today marks a double anniversary for Red Emma's - twelve years since we held our very first event in our basement storefront at the corner of Madison and Saint Paul in 2004. It's also three years to the day since we held our first event in our expanded location at the corner of North and Maryland in 2013.
Red Emma's was founded in the shadow of the second George W. Bush presidency, right in the middle of what might arguably be called some of the most horrifying years for American politics in recent memory. Years that brought us the second Iraq war, mass state-sanctified executions, Guantanamo Bay and a peculiarly American brand of torture, the refusal to participate in the Kyoto Accords in clear disregard for the growing threat to the environment, a still-growing debt crisis, cuts to federal funding for healthcare, cuts to Pell grants for poor students, an assault on reproductive rights, a massive increase in the number of families living below the poverty line, and let's not forget that whole bit about evolution being just a "theory."
We founded this project in response to the crisis we saw growing around us, a crisis that we were implicated in as activists and organizers. We realized that it wasn't enough to fight American imperialism on a global scale, jumping from one mass mobilization to the next - we had to bring the fight home, to learn how to build resilient structures grounded in deep community roots, to support us through the immediate crisis, and the crises to come. Standing on the corner of North Avenue today, in the shadow of an impending Trump presidency, talking with my friends, and neighbors, and community members about our shared hopes and fears for the next four years, I cannot help but feel proud of the institution we have managed to build over these last twelve years, the connections we have made, the collective we have formed, the communities we have provided space and support for, the thousands of events we have hosted, the books we have made available, the jobs we've created, and the projects we have incubated and inspired.
Twelve years ago, when we launched Red Emma's, we didn't know what direction the project would take. We could never have predicted that our 7-person collective would grow into a fully-fledged worker cooperative 20 members-strong, and counting; or that we would someday be able to pay ourselves a base wage of $11/hour with the possibility of raises, and provide healthcare; or that we would be majority women, queer, and trans- run, or led by a growing collection of workers of color. The transformations we have gone through, the growth we have been through, the depth of understanding and critical-self reflection we have undertaken would literally have been unimaginable to me 12 years ago. And there is so much more to do, so much more growth and development and critical self-reflection we have to do, together, as this new collective of worker-owners who are learning to navigate the complexities of working in community across the vast diversity of our personal experiences.
Being a part of Red Emma's is not always easy, it's not always rewarding, and it's definitely not always fun! But every so often, I remind myself to take a step back, to survey everything we have accomplished over the past decade, and to let myself be awed for a moment. This project, and the people who have built it over the years, and the city and the communities who have supported it, are truly remarkable. And so today, on the twelfth anniversary of the very first Red Emma's event, I want to say thanks - for the support, for the love, for the criticism and self-reflection, and for the unflinching commitment to helping us model a tiny glimmer of a new world in the shell of the old. It's hard to say what the next four years - or twelve years - will bring, but I am certain of one thing: Red Emma's will be here, until they shut us down (and probably after that too), as a tiny bright spot in an increasingly dark world, fighting for the rights of the communities we represent, as an institution to support us through the struggles that lie ahead.
* My views are my own, and not necessarily reflective of all of my fellow worker-owners at Red Emma's!