Zip Ties, Family Ties

On Friday, I talked about needing to find the rhythm backbone of our community before we’re able to run wild. In contrast, this Tuesday Flying Squad group has predominantly survived a year together as community. We survived being outdoors in the New York City winter (which, despite what Simon and Garfunkel proclaim, are bleeding me), we survived boredom and fights and watching the Parks Department tear down our two villages we spent months researching and building. In short, we have a very sturdy backbone. And today was one of those days where that was so clear.

We stayed at the library happily playing Zelda Uno, drawing pictures, telling jokes, and generally in good spirits until about 11:30am. At that time we decided we needed to head into Prospect Park and to try to rebuild a new village. The simplicity of these young people’s needs is so wonderful– having a place of their own, having a space to build and imagine and stake their own claim. The complexity of how impossible it is for them to find such a space in this city in this day is disheartening– what land can children take and truly develop their ideas, unhindered by economics and laws and meddling adults? Their persistence in finding that space is what gives me hope. I am not saying this in some dramatic bullshit way– I mean that with sincerity: their persistence literally gives me hope for the future, hope for future generations, hope for my own children, two of whom were there today dreaming and building along side their comrades.

Before we headed into the woods, we stopped by a hardware store and bought some rope and zip ties to help us secure a foundation for what became known as the community center building and two brothers’ home. Two other young people were more interested in building tools than buildings, and so, one began making a rake, the other… some object I am not sure what it is. The complexity of their designs ended up using up the majority of the zip ties we had purchased, much to the shock and complaint of the house builders later on.

“You’ve wasted all of the zip ties!” one of the house builders accused the tool builders.

I questioned what it means to “waste” a material. I told them a quick story about how I once accused a group of youngsters of wasting all of the school’s tape at a democratic free school I started many years ago. The story peeked their interest, and so I went on, “I called up the director of another self-directed school to ask for advice. And he asked me the same question: what does it mean to ‘waste’ a material? I explained they used all of the tape to bind one another to the chairs of the school. The director told me it sounded like a perfectly good use of materials to him. He suggested that maybe next time we discuss how much of a material can be used for different activities before using them.”

“Maybe we can distribute an equal amount of zip ties to each of us,” one builder suggested, “and then we can do what we please with our own share, collaborate or give them away if we want, or keep them for our own.” The group nodded and agreed that this was a good idea. They then added that I should buy this many zip ties for next week, indicating as wide around as their arms could go.

I discussed how I prefer that we use the rope, which is natural and will disintegrate over time but that I understood how easy the plastic zip ties were to use. They all nodded, having not thought about the long term impact of the materials we used.

As I reflected to a colleague in the evening, these are the conversations that are so golden. These are the opportunities missed if we are not able to make our own decisions and to just be with one another, simply, making our own spaces together.