From the 70's to the 10's: Notes from Alumn


Chia: (1970's)

We occupied the Solana Beach store for awhile after Changing Times left, until the owner sold the spot. During that time, Chip and Lee were important contributors.

It's probably just as well we lost our space, because the split left us with $400 in inventory and in a poor position to pay rent. Roberto and I drove up to one of the distributors in LA and attended a meeting of their collective. Our request for credit was granted, and that was critical. If you've never seen Lincoln's poster of the dancing Marx's, definitely ask him for a copy.

Jon: (mid 1980's)

I was a member of Groundwork for a couple of years in the mid-1980s. (My core involvement was with new indicator and committee for world democracy and IWW.) Roberto and Chia were still at the core. I didn't go to that many meetings - mostly just staffed.

I do have some knowledge of the situation regarding a year and a half or so when the store was suffering a string of thefts. Roberto staked the place out and caught a campus cop with his hand in the till. Police cleared him after he explained that he was just checking to see how much cash was there, though he did leave soon for another job. I rather doubt non-cops could get away with such an explanation.

But two collective members were also implicated - one a surrealist whose name I do not recall who was confronted in a meeting and confessed, but later retracted the confession claiming he had been browbeaten and pressured. George was caught stealing from Che Cafe, and it later came out that he had been stealing from many organizations on campus, including Groundworks (and also new indicator).

This led to long series of meetings about how to respond, with many people demanding that he be run out of town, others that we needed to engage with him in a process of restitution and getting his life together (the first being impossible without the latter). These were fairly bitter disputes, as George had been active in the scene for a long time and many people felt personally betrayed. George's now in northern California (last I heard) and published a novel with AK.

David: (early 1990's)

Another thought about lasting student-initiated institutions. The recycling that occurs at UCSD is run by the University and taken for granted, but was originally started by The Recycle Co-op (motto: Because Once is Never Enough). I was a member in the early 90s. Some of the existing members when I got involved maintained that the University should take over recycling because it was in everyone's interest. The Co-op nonetheless set up all the original dumpsters and glass collection sites at student housing and other locations. We were a non-profit like every other Co-op and used some of the money we made to fund the Co-op lease struggle of the time.

Brian: (2008-2011)

When I got involved with Groundwork briefly in 2007 and then more in 2008, Groundwork was in the process of moving from what is now called the Dolores Huerta room (which interestingly, a family member of Dolores was part of the Groundwork collective at the time), to the location it occupies today in the old/original student center (2016).

There was a wooden bench that had seen many bottoms and it moved from the Huerta room to outside the new location. However, within a few months it had disappeared. I assume university custodians removed it, because, well, it was probably a liability. Despite it's shakiness, it was still a gorgeous wooden bench.

Most of Groundwork's extras got moved to a storage unit upstairs (now the Black Student Union) above the current General Store cooperative, which used to occupy the university tv station–or at least it's shit was left there. That place was a disaster before (and after) Groundwork moved in. Vhs tapes upon vhs tapes flooded most of the area. Like real shitty music videos from the early 90's. I swear even promotional beta tapes floated by occasionally.

Groundwork also hosted a program that sent books to folks incarcerated by the state. Donated books and letters ended up in the chaos of this room. I helped clean up this place and eventually it became useful for Books for Prisoners and was somewhat organized for awhile, until the university evicted.

The collective struggled with socialism. Groundwork accepted folks with diverse views of the world as long as they accepted a culture of critical relationships within the working collective. There were radical labor organizers, anarchists, and Mechist@s amongst folks with moderate left politics. It made for quiet political discussions, but we had pretty good interpersonal working relationships.

I coordinated the general stock and brought to attention more books on anarchy, created DIY and food politics sections, and brought in more zines. At one point the book catalog was ready for online sales but the web server crashed taking the database with it, not to be restored.

During my time, the collective decided to stop selling textbooks–or really the economy decided that for us–and restructure from a paid worker collective to an all volunteer staff with an infoshop model. It worked ok for the collective as at the point that we agreed to forego all pay, we were already foregoing most pay. In retrospect, we failed to think how this would effect recruiting new folks and the bookshop was stagnant for a bit, attracting few new students.

We kicked around the idea of becoming an online publisher with support from professors, but that never really came to fruition.

Around 2011 I left Groundwork in search of a wage, but years later was involved once again taking books from Groundwork on the road to anarchist book fairs, east county bars, and regional anticapitalist convergences.

Syndi: (~2012)

So glad to have been part of this collective at one point in its wonderful history.

At the time, I felt that my contributions at groundwork weren't that significant. Mainly i just liked to chill, paint, and organize events. And cleaning up, cleaning up was my thing.

My favorite time at this collective was reviving Books for Prisoners at UCSD with Ed Gar, Laura, Salamander Sanchez and others. I remember Ed Gar and Sam clearing up the storage space and building shelves. Before that BFP was just on cardboard boxes and a table. Props to Ed Gar for putting those storage shelves to use. We found a map and tried to put pins on places we've received letters from. It took us weeks to organize those boxed books onto the shelves. In a couple of months that storage space was transformed into a workspace, we named it the "Angela Davis room".

Later Ed Gar and I filled some papers and applied for grants. We received ~$10,000 from the Sustainability Resource Center and spent all of it on postage stamps to send books to people incarcerated. We even made a new logo and bought shirts.

It makes me sad that the space was taken away and that it has affected the ability for Books 4 Prisoners to function as an org. This place really did change my life.


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