The Common Ground Collective is a decentralized network of non-profit organizations offering support to the residents of New Orleans. It was formed in the Algiers neighborhood of the city in the days after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Common Ground Relief, or Common Ground Collective, was founded on the ideas of Malik Rahim, a local community organizer and former member of the Black Panther Party; Scott Crow, an anarchist organizer from Texas; and Sharon Johnson, a resident of Algiers neighborhood on September 5, 2005. Other key organizers included Brandon Darby, Lisa Fithian, Jackie Sumell, Kerul Dyer, Suncere Shakur, Naomi Archer (Ana Oian Amets), Emily Posner, and Jenka Soderberg.
Common Ground started with delivery of basic aid (food, water, and supplies) and an emergency clinic in Algiers. The effort expanded to providing assistance to homeowners and residents trying to move back into other areas of the city and region--such as the Lower Ninth Ward, St. Bernard Parish, and Houma--where flood-protection infrastructure failed after the hurricane.
Common Ground Health Clinic had its beginnings when four young street medics arrived in Algiers a few days after the hurricane. They began riding around on bicycles asking residents if they needed medical attention. Locals were surprised to be approached in this way, since no representatives of government agencies or of the Red Cross had appeared up to that point. The medics offered first aid, took blood pressure, tested for diabetes, and asked about symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other disease. Common Ground volunteers helped to provide free services and home gutting in the Upper & Lower Ninth Wards. As of March 1, 2009, over 23,000 people had volunteered with Common Ground Relief for various lengths of time, creating an unusual social situation in the predominantly black neighborhoods, since most of the volunteers were young white people from throughout the United States and Europe. An ABC News Nightline report described the volunteers as "mostly young people filled with energy and idealism, and untainted by cynicism and despair, and mostly white, [who] have come from across America and from countries as far away as Indonesia." The health clinic was especially helpful to remaining residents of New Orleans immediately after the hurricane since Charity Hospital and other emergency care providers were not available.
Common Ground Relief initiated a number of programs and projects following its inception in September 2005. Its organizing philosophy is dubbed "Solidarity Not Charity," reflecting the anarchist philosophies of many of its members. Some of the facilities provided free to residents included debris removal, aid distribution centers, roving medical clinics, bioremediation for toxic areas, house-gutting, roof-tarping, building neighborhood computer centers, free tech support for non-profits, stopping home demolitions in the Lower 9th Ward, supporting community and backyard gardens, anti-racist training for volunteers, a tree planting service, and legal counselling services. Common Ground volunteers established 7 health clinics and nearly 100 community garden projects within a year.
|"||Common Ground Relief can boast one of the most multidisciplinary of all teams. There are (categories not mutually exclusive) nurses, doctors, psychiatrists, pharmacists, anarchists, herbalists, acupuncturists, community organizers, journalists, legal representatives, aid workers, proletarian neighborhood members, EMT's, squatters, gutter punks, artists, mechanics, chiropractors, clergy, and so forth involved. A huge sign outside the door reads, "Solidarity Not Charity" and this statement exemplifies the perspective of those involved.||"|
|-- James Chionsini, Common Ground volunteer, |
In May 2006, Common Ground Relief assumed management of the Woodlands Apartment Complex, a 350 unit complex of buildings initially to be purchased by Common Ground Relief. Common Ground Relief management froze the rents at the Woodlands to pre-Katrina levels, helped create a tenants union and ran a workers' cooperative with paid skills training. However, after 150 apartments were rehabilitated the owner, Anthony Reginelli reneged on the verbal agreement and sold the building to Johnson Properties Group LLC. More than 100 families were evicted from the property. Common Ground Relief lost approximately $750,000 in payroll, landscaping, electrical, plumbing and carpentry expenditures.
Common Ground Collective eventually split off into multiple independent organizations--Common Ground Relief, Common Ground Tech Collective, New Orleans Women's Shelter, R.U.B.A.R.B. Bike Collective and the Common Ground Health Clinic. Thomas Pepper is the current operations director of Common Ground Relief. In September, 2007, Common Ground Relief shifted its focus from direct relief to rebuilding. In January 2008, Common Ground Relief bought property in the Lower Ninth Ward for its headquarters and long-term volunteer housing. Common Ground Relief's primary mission is the short term hosting of skilled volunteer groups (around 50 volunteers), who participate in projects which include wetlands restoration, bioremediation and community garden construction, a free legal clinic, an advocacy center, a job-training program for local residents, a lawn maintenance service, a media collective, drywalling and other rebuilding work. Common Ground Relief has established a tree farm to grow trees to be planted in storm-ravaged bayous east of New Orleans and to grow ornamental trees, ground covers, and shrubs to be planted in the Lower Ninth Ward.
Antor Ndep Ola is currently the Executive Director of Common Ground Health Clinic.
Brandon Darby, former Director of Operations of Common Ground Relief from January to April 2007, has admitted to serving as an FBI informant in the months leading up to the 2008 Republican National Convention. According to Democracy Now, "Darby has admitted to wearing recording devices at planning meetings and wearing a transmitter embedded in his belt during the convention. Darby testified on behalf of the prosecution at the trial of David McKay of Midland, Texas who was arrested at the RNC on charges of making and possessing Molotov cocktails." During the trial McKay's attorney alleged Darby was acting as an Agent provocateur.