Several of us in the Free University of NYC have also been involved with the People’s Recovery Summit, a three-day happening at The Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew in Brooklyn this weekend (Feb. 1-3). Conversations at the Summit revolve around five themes: Education, Environment, Economics, Organizing, and Wellness. The overarching question is: in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, how can we rebuild NYC in a way that is more just, more fair, and more democratic?
It is cold inside the church, but the presence of so many warm bodies eases the chill. Downstairs, breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served and shared in a large community dining room. The People’s Library (still overflowing with books from Occupy Wall Street) is here.
Upstairs in the main sanctuary of the church, workshops and discussion groups begin gathering at 10am and continue throughout the day. There are circles of participants from all across the city, from all walks of life, talking about environmental issues, talking about debt, talking about self-care. Various organizational allies are present: folks from 350.org to Strike Debt to organized labor to Occupy Wall Street. (Even the Free University is tabling!)
A friend and organizer points out: “This is basically like a Free U, but in a church.” That seems about right.
And this relates perfectly to a discussion that has brewed within the Free University of NYC since last summer: what is the “Free University”? Is it a tactic or an institution? Can anyone throw together a “Free U” and there it is? Or is it something that emanates only out of one organizational body? As a tactic, it need not even be called a “free university”—and the Recovery Summit certainly has not employed that language—and yet this gathering of people to engage in workshops and discussion on various themes, where access is denied to none, facilitation is horizontal (that is, non-hierarchical), and there is no tuition, no fees, no books to buy, no forms to fill out: that is what many of us imagine a “free university” to be.
The People’s Recovery Summit continues tomorrow, Sunday, Feb. 3. The church is located at 520 Clinton Avenue, Brooklyn. More information on the website. Check it out!
[The views expressed in this blog are sometimes those of individuals and sometimes that of the collective. Today’s post reflects the views solely of the author listed above.]