Urgent Action: Save the Rhizome Collective from Gentrification Driven Eviction in Austin

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Urgent Action: Save the Rhizome Collective

I am just learning about this situation from the Feminist Texican, and according to the Inside Books Project, the original date to meet code rhizomeviolations was today . . . However, I want to believe that we can still make a difference. The Rhizome Collective owns it own building where they house several activist organizations, an alternative garden and seed program, and a place for people to come together and change our world for the better. Their major work includes working on and training others in sustainable urban living and transforming abandoned or fallow ground. Several other similar collectives have been cited for similar things and survived.  Many of them have managed to stop eviction from the city by pointing to the underlining political impetus for their citations.  Those who have been successful, have all had community support and massive public mobilization behind them.  In almost every case these groups were targeted because they lived alternative socio-political lives in harmony with the diverse communities in which their organizations and/or homes were built. (Unlike those who move in and push people out through a series of personally hostile – glaring, herding in their children when people passby, not offering help or welcome in their shops/restaurants, and allowing their big dogs to bark @ & follow older neighbors around unchecked and menacing – to the overtly hostile acts of calling the police on BBQs, parties, etc. & insinuating there is criminal activity or exploiting city ordinances to consistently fine poor homeowners or business people and organizations.)

Whether you live in Austin or not, public support of Rhizome translates to a fight against gentrification and anti-alternative politics everywhere in the U.S. The same tactics used against Rhizome were used to push people out of their homes and businesses in Trenton, Portland, Harlem, Columbus, Albuquerque, Chicago, Boston, and even Oakland. These efforts represent the conflation of radical politics and marginalized people as thing that the city government, real estate agents, or sadly even affluent people on the left, can simply push out by citing city ordinance. Standing in solidarity with Rhizome then means you are standing in solidarity with the right of people and political organizations to maintain the spaces they have built and the cultures that have thrived around them in the face of those who think their politics or their culture(s) are more relevant or “better for the city.”

Rhizome is calling for support in the form of letters, phone calls, and donations. Here is their letter:

Rhizome Collective Sounds International Call:

Code Violations May Force Eviction

Austin, Texas – March 11, 2009 – The Rhizome Collective is a consensus-run 501c3 nonprofit organization that has operated a center for community organizing and urban sustainability in an East Austin warehouse since 2000. This warehouse was inspected on March 3rd by officials from the Building and Standards Commission of the City of Austin. On Thursday, March 5th The Code Enforcement Division of The City of Austin delivered a letter outlining a list of code violations to the Collective. The City mandated that the residents and organizations based in the warehouse must vacate before March 16th. The Collective is looking into all options, but is preparing to vacate the warehouse by the deadline. Before this inspection, the Collective was in negotiations to buy the warehouse from its current owner.

The Rhizome Collective is making every effort to work with the City on this matter. Contractors are currently completing an estimate of the cost required to bring the building into compliance with city building codes. Based on conversations with contractors, the Collective does not believe it will be possible to get an estimate, obtain permits and complete the work by the City’s deadline. Collective members attended the City Council meeting to ask for assistance on March 12.

The Rhizome Collective including Inside Books, Bikes Across Borders and Food Not Bombs is making an international call to supporters. The Collective is seeking monetary donations, in-kind donations, funding sources and statements of solidarity. Donate through the link below.

The Collective is an internationally recognized model for intentional communities that comprise a massive movement focused on justice and autonomous sustainability.

Susannah Cummins of the Inside Books Project explains that, “Rhizome has been the central organizing point for so many different organizations over the years. It’s really a unique place in Austin because you might go there to volunteer at the community bike shop and, in the process, learn about why people are sending books to prisoners.  There’s a kind of cross-pollination that happens at Rhizome that I think helps people make connections between different struggles and see things within a larger context.”

In 2004, the City of Austin donated a 9.8 acre brownfield in the Montopolis neighborhood to the Rhizome Collective. The property served as a legally operated municipal landfill from 1967 to 1970, and was illegally dumped on for approximately fifteen years following the closure of the landfill. In the same year, the EPA awarded the Rhizome Collective with a $200,000 Cleanup Grant as part of their Brownfields Program. From January 2005 to July 2006, 680 tires, 10.1 tons of trash, and 31.6 tons of recyclable metal were removed from the brownfield. This property is not being affected by the code violations on the warehouse.

In the nine years of its existence, the collective has collaborated with many local, national and international organizations by providing free or low cost space and through direct participation in their initiatives. The Collective has provided space to people working with the organizations mentioned above and, to name a few others: The University of Texas, Campaign to End the Death Penalty, Acción Zapatista, Rosa Clemente and Monkey Wrench Books. Members of the Collective have supported initiatives including projects of Indymedia, PODER, El Comite Obrero Fronterizo, Pastors for Peace, The American Friends Service Committee, The Student Farmworker Alliance and communities in both Mexico and Cuba. Inside Books sent over 18,000 books to Texas prisoners last year. Bikes Across Borders has organized more than fourteen bike delivery caravans since 2001, sending over 700 bicycles to Cuba, Mexico, and Central America. Projects directly benefiting the community have been prioritized at the Collective such as the creation of educational systems for sustainable living in urban areas, workshops on puppetry and street theatre, after-school programs focusing on bicycles, gardening and the arts.

The people affected include those who work at the warehouse in order to: furnish books to Texas prisoners, feed the homeless, teach neighbors how to fix their bicycles, run independent media projects and organize workshops on urban sustainability. The work performed here over the past nine years is a point of pride for the Collective, the greater Austin community and communities worldwide.

This is an official communication arrived at by consensus of the Collective.

For more information, please contact Laura Merner.









You can do your part by:


  • write a letter to the appropriate City of Austin commission
  • Attend review board meetings addressing Rhizome’s supposed violations AND gentrification in Austin
  • Write an editorials to local papers
  • Donate your labor to help fix the code violations
  • Donate your legal skills to help them forestall eviction or void certain unfair findings
  • DONATE funds if you can

(outside of Austin)

  • write a letter to the commission
  • write a blog post to raise awareness

You may also want to considered purchasing their book, The Toolbox for Sustainable City Living, or host a paid workshop with Rhizome folks, which helps them and you/your community.

If Rhizome loses its space, several activist organizations will lose their organizational home. Don’t let that happen. Do what you can. And while you are doing it, think about the neighborhoods in your own town that are considered “up and coming” and ask yourself how you can support the existing communities and organizations that call those places home.


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