Common Ground Collective
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 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 Relief, or Common Ground Collective, was founded originally 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. It began to coalesce as a cohesive organization with an influx of activists and organizers two weeks later, including Lisa Fithian, Kerul Dyer, Suncere Shakur, Emily Posner, Jenka Soderberg, Jackie Sumell and Brandon Darby. Although many others contributed substantially behind the scenes, these people were responsible for many of the underpinnings, philosophy, and organizational directions Common Ground Collective took until 2007.
Common Ground began community organizing in the Algiers neighborhood and surrounding areas in the first few weeks. Subsequently, it began recruiting volunteers to help gut homes and provide other free services in the Upper & Lower Ninth Wards. Common Ground also housed up to approximately 500 volunteers at a time in the St. Mary of the Angels school in the Upper 9th Ward of New Orleans. 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 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 early 2006, Common Ground Relief volunteers effected an unsanctioned clean-up of Martin Luther King Charter School in the Lower 9th Ward, which was subsequently reopened. In the winter of 2007 Common Ground opened a family homeless shelter in the 7th ward of New Orleans which was closed a few months later.
Civil Rights Work
Common Ground contributed to the civil rights work that took place in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The organization provided civil rights workers to take depositions from internally displaced evacuees of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina. Partnership between Tulane University, the Advancement Project, and Common Ground Collective provided an opportunity to protect the civil rights of Americans still struggling to recover from the storm.
They participated in the Anderson v. Jackson case, a class action lawsuit brought by displaced New Orleans public housing residents against the Bush Administration, alleging violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (the Fair Housing Act), the U.S. Housing Act of 1937, the 5th and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, and International Law. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson sought to demolish housing units and to replace the existing units with fewer mixed units. Common Ground, the Advancement Project and Tulane advanced the argument that race-based discrimination was taking place, injuriously affecting the working class African American community populating the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans. The 5th and 14th Amendments were allegedly violated when the United States deprived community members of their right to due process, and it allegedly violated treaties to which it is a signatory by depriving Americans of the right to return to their homes.
Woodlands Apartment Complex
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.
Former Director of Operations' tie to the FBI
Brandon Darby, one of the founding members and 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.
- Mizell, Billie (2006-03-02). "Fifty Dollars and a Dream". Alternet. Retrieved 2006-05-06.
- DeRose, Jason (2005-09-23). "Anarchists Providing Medical Aid in New Orleans". National Public Radio. Retrieved 2006-03-19.
- Shorrock, Tim (March/April 2006). "The Street Samaritans". Mother Jones. Retrieved 2006-04-25.
- Scott, Crow (2011-11-01). "Black Flags and Windmills: Hope, Anarchy and the Common Ground Collective (publisher’s overview)". PM Press. Retrieved 2013-02-13.
- Capochino, April (2006-04-17). "Common Ground volunteers bridge racial divide". New Orleans CityBusiness. Archived from the original on 2006-05-22. Retrieved 2006-04-25.
- Hamilton, Bruce (2006-01-09). "Algiers health clinic fills crucial post-Katrina niche". Times-Picayune. Retrieved 2006-03-19.
- Crow, Scott (2006-03-13). "Anarchy and the Common Ground Collective". Infoshop.org. Retrieved 2007-12-17.
- "What Lies Beneath: Katrina, Race, And The State Of The Nation (publisher’s overview)". AK Press. 2007-02-15. Retrieved 2007-12-17.
- "Solidarity Not Charity" (PDF). Common Ground Relief Volunteer Handbook. 2006-01-06. Archived from the original on 2007-10-20. Retrieved 2007-12-17.
- Dyer, Kerul (2006-03-16). "New Orleans School Clean Up Begins!". Common Ground Collective site. Retrieved 2006-05-06.
- "Hundreds Face Eviction in New Orleans". Democracy Now. 2006-09-27. Retrieved 2008-03-28.
- Drummer, Marina (2006-12-31). "Notes to Financial Statements". Community Futures Collective Site. Retrieved 2008-03-28.
- "Just And Sustainable New Orleans: Common Ground Relief". KNYO. 2007-11-29. Retrieved 2008-03-27.
- independent.co.uk, Mar. 9, 2007. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/desolation-row-the-betrayal-of-new-orleans-439511.html
- Democracynow.org, Jan. 5, 2009. http://www.democracynow.org/2009/1/5/headlines#17
- Democracynow.org, Jan. 6, 2009, Prominent Austin Activist Admits He Infiltrated RNC Protest Groups as FBI Informant. http://www.democracynow.org/2009/1/6/prominent_austin_activist_admits_he_infiltrated
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Common Ground Collective.|
- Common Ground Relief
- Common Ground Health Clinic
- Common Ground Tech Collective
- New Orleans Women's Shelter
- Rubarb Bike Collective
- A Healthy Dose of Anarchy: After Katrina, nontraditional, decentralized relief steps in where big government and big charity failed - Reason Magazine, December 2006
- This American Life, "Turncoat" episode
- Articles about the Common Ground Collective at The Rag Blog
- Community Organizer Lisa Fithian of the Common Ground Collective on Rag Radio Interviewed by Thorne Dreyer, March 23, 2010
- Common Ground founder Scott Crow, author of Black Flags and Windmills, at The Rag Blog, August 24, 2011 Rag Radio interview by Thorne Dreyer and video by Jeff Zavala