By and For People; E4F Answers the Call! by Lou Cespedes
I was given very specific instructions for answering the phone. First, ask if they live in Brooklyn, tell them how long it takes, tell them when they could call again, tell them we’ll give what we have available, but most importantly tell them “we are a small but mighty Black/ Brown-led grassroots organization that has been fighting gentrification and police violence for the last 7 years in Brooklyn. We are NOT a governmental agency or a non-profit. This food distribution effort is volunteer-led and run in solidarity with our community”.
Covering the needs of our own community is a herculean task but it is one that Equality for Flatbush (E4F) has taken on since it was founded. When I asked Imani Henry, Lead Organizer of E4F, how far his network would deliver, he retorted, “We are Brooklyn based; anywhere in Brooklyn, we go! The #Brooklyn Shows Love campaign, a mutual aid and material support project responding to urgent needs in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. This is a new venture for Equality for Flatbush, but not their first rodeo. Their praxis has been forged through the lessons of past experiences and disasters like Hurricane Sandy and the 2003 Blackout. They’ve been spreading the gospel of “neighbors helping neighbors” through activism for years now. They will quickly remind you they are doing what Brooklynites and New Yorkers have always done, and they are not a “charity or non-profit – but rather a– a political family” that is a self-sustaining enterprise of community led and run activism. The very people they serve, compose the core of their leadership and movement. They are “by and for people” getting love offerings, staffing hotlines. The same activists are delivering groceries to people who led struggles against their landlords or the NYPD . We are a political family and see all Brooklyn residents as part of that family. E4F is proud their base are the very decision makers behind their campaigns, a diverse collection of 18-80 years old, and the vast majority of their activists BASE and leadership are Black and Brown women, although all demographics are represented.
In E4F “the people” are the real heroes – everyday working folk and longtime residents of the community that organize to support each other,in a process of self-determination and leadership by the people directly impacted by problems. E4F works together with a tenants, homeowners, families impacted by police murder, etc. to develop a successful strategy to win . Direct action is part that strategy. It does not really matter who you are, so long as you believe in fairness and human goodness – but if you don’t – beware! Equality for Flatbush has protested against community gentrification, police brutality, apartment evictions by crooked landlords, protested racist business establishments, called out politicians, fought against ICE raids, and have battled against narratives that seek to disqualify or disenfranchise the long-time residents of this community. Their fight is not only on the street, but also protests in the courts and in the building lobbies of city institutions. Since 2018 they’ve been on the front line of organizing rent strikes.
E4F core leadership is diverse; a white E4F leader named Tom circulated an email to core leaders suggesting “we should launch a mutual aid project”. Within two weeks, the organization launched a five-prong operation to provide direct cash assistance and emergency material aid, create an open resource list for Brooklyn communities, and supply and deliver groceries to struggling Brooklyn residents. Equality for Flatbush is about 2000 strong members and activists, speaking in 13 different languages. This time, I was among their foot soldiers summoned to this cause, attending to the needs of the Spanish speaking community and facilitating a love offering of free groceries. Part of that self-sustaining power comes from the synergies of their activists, and a conviction that their work is “by them and for them”.
At 8:45 am the calls would start coming into my cell phone. A typical conversation would begin – “Hello, yes, I was told to call this number for help – we need food! Hundreds of calls flooding volunteer cell phones through word of mouth references from friends or fellow church congregants. I would take the next call, and the one after, for hours each day, each call giving me a greater sense of the need that E4F was filling, and the scale of the endeavor. I fielded calls from Bushwick to Canarsie, to Borough Park. No neighborhood seemed unaffected.
E4F activists participate in every aspect of the administration and supply – from intake to delivery. In some cases, the group would supply direct material aid, Activists help with no contact drops of medications, food, and cash; They call it SOLIDARITY AND REVOLUTIONARY LOVE! That is the fuel, and the results so far have been nothing short of miraculous.
So far, their GO FUND ME campaign has raised 107k (and growing) to support this campaign effort. They’ve doled out cash to over 624 people totaling 90k – but the need is growing equally as fast as COVID-19 begins to grind on our most vulnerable. E4F plans to carry out this work through the rest of the year and they believe that we can win ” #WEAREWINNING ” “#Beforeitsgone”. E4F actively fights the narrative that there is nothing you can do about gentrification and police violence – they believe they can fight and win. By promoting HOPE they will face the seemingly insurmountable challenges our community faces.
How can this not be G-d’s work? The activists of the Equality for Flatbush movement are answering the call!
If you can’t donate, you can volunteer. Equality for Flatbush is seeking help throughout Brooklyn to expand its network. You can find out more about Equality for Flatbush and their other campaigns at http://www.equalityforflatbush.org/