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Collective Autonomy and the Death of Kirsten Brydum

San Francisco Activist Killed in New Orleans

Kirsten Brydum died on Friday, September 26, in New Orleans, LA. She had been traveling since August, researching for the Collective Autonomy project (see article below). She was shot multiple times in the head, and no one knows why. She was 25 years old. Kirsten visited me in Buffalo mere weeks before her death, just as she had visited so many others on her tour. While she had met a good deal of new friends along the way, she still made time to see the old ones. I was an old one.

Collective Autonomy on the Move

Republished from The Nor’easter

NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: Kirsten Brydum died on Friday, September 26, in New Orleans, LA. She had been traveling since August, researching for the Collective Autonomy project (see article below). She was shot multiple times in the head, and no one knows why. She was 25 years old.

Kirsten visited me in Buffalo mere weeks before her death, just as she had visited so many others on her tour. While she had met a good deal of new friends along the way, she still made time to see the old ones. I was an old one.

I met Kirsten at New College of California in 2006. She also volunteered with Food Not Bombs in San Francisco. Kirsten always wanted to share, whether it was meals, stuff or ideas. She organized all the Really Really Free Markets in the city, and when she still wanted to share more, she bottom-lined the donations-based Access Caf(c) in the Mission earlier this year.

Kirsten had big ideas that, after graduation, were bursting from the seams of the Bay Area. Unable to contain her, California let Kirsten go in search of the rest of the country, with dreams of a network that would transcend geography to connect all of us working for a better world. California didn’t know it would be a last goodbye.

Traveling by train, her last stop was New Orleans. Kirsten and some friends went out to a club together on Friday night, but her friends didn’t see her again until 8 a.m. Saturday morning. They saw her body, but Kirsten was nowhere to be found.

Our lives are a sort of wiki; everyone you meet contributes something. Kirsten made a physical wiki for her life’s work, centered on the Collective Autonomy Network. And lucky for us, even though people can be extinguished like candles, ideas never die. I urge you to keep Kirsten and the Collective Autonomy Network alive by contributing to the CAN Wiki. www.collectiveautonomy.net

The project wasn’t just about Kirsten; it was about all of us. And we’ll all miss her very much.


After years of working on projects in San Francisco (SF Really Really Free Market, Dirty Dove Infoshop, AccessCafe), I decided to travel the States to study how others are arranging anarchist economic models. The idea to travel turned into a project called the Collective Autonomy Network (CAN).

Collective Autonomy refers to a strategy: Collectivizing our energy and resources in order to approach autonomy from forces of oppression. It is self-sufficiency achieved through cooperation.

This project has taken me through the Pacific Northwest, the Northeast and the Midwest in search of counter-institutions such as infoshops, free schools, really really free markets, guerrilla gardens, radical health collectives and other projects that are creating a post-capitalist world today. By networking, I hope to show a movement that is more extensive than we realize, and to facilitate research and resource-sharing across distances.

Counter-institutions challenge existing social institutions by directly building alternatives to them. Free schools defy the dominant mode of education by demonstrating that people can come together and share knowledge in a non-competitive and non-commodified environment. Counter-institutions also establish the infrastructural framework for a project to survive beyond its founding members.

The San Francisco Really Really Free Market, for example, happens the last Saturday of every month in Dolores Park, regardless of whether an organizer attends.

Although I do not dismiss the importance of insurrectionary action, this project focuses on the ways we prefigure a world without capitalism. Utopian by design, yes, but conversations and practices that embody how we would arrange space, resources and methods of exchange in a free society are vital if we are truly seeking social change.

Anarchist economics involve sharing resources in order to become autonomous from the dominant system (see: The Dirt Palace, artist-owned collective in Providence), collectivizing energy to better meet the needs of our communities (see: Philadelphia Childcare Collective), and de-commodifying those needs (see: Divine Bicycle Church, Philadelphia). Anarchist economics move us from competition to cooperation, from selling to giving, and from expecting the government to care for us to doing it ourselves.

In describing our major social institutions and alternatives to them, I have been using the categories of food, housing, healthcare, education and markets/resource exchange systems.

The Collective Autonomy movement responds to the dominant institutions by building institutions informally based on a gift economy in which people form collectives or projects in order to facilitate free or low-cost access to resources in a certain community.

For example, radical health collectives formulate to provide (generally alternative) medicine to people with lack of funds. Food not Bombs volunteers salvage wasted food and serve free vegetarian meals to hungry people. Guerrilla gardens and urban farms transform abandoned lots into vital, food-producing land (see: Mill Creek Farm, Philadelphia). Free schools utilize the already-existing wisdom in each community to provide free education to whoever wants to learn (see: Albany Free School). Really really free markets emphasize the joy of giving without the expectation of return (see: Alton Brighton Really Really Free Market).

These types of projects thrive on a local level. These are community-building projects that arise out of people self-organizing to better meet the needs of their own community. The CAN seeks to connect an intentionally decentralized movement. Autonomy is important, but if we were more connected then we wouldn’t constantly reinvent the same strategies with which to thwart capital.

If we could maintain this decentralization while communicating and sharing knowledge with each other, then will we start to see our efforts as part of something happening all over the country, and we will begin to understand our strength.

Descriptions and contact information for projects in the Northwest, Northeast and Midwest (Southeast coming soon) can be found at www.collectiveautonomy.net. The site is a wiki, so contribute your own projects to the network.

Some highlights from the Northeast region (a more comprehensive list is on the Web site):

I. New York City

A. 123 Community Space – Bed Stuy, Brooklyn. Community center and infoshop. Formed by four grassroots organizations: In Our Hearts, Freegan Bike Workshop, Misled Youth Network and Anarchist Black Cross. Programs: Garden work parties, silkscreening printshop, letter writing to prisoners, bike repair, Picture This! (Kid’s photography project).

B. Rock Dove Collective – radical health, access to healthcare and accountability. Developing an Alternative Provider Network.

C. Freegan.info – Web site and collective describing “freegan” theory and encouraging “freegan” practice. Aims at providing food, bikes and clothes to the activist community. Hosts a full calendar of events every month.

II. Philadelphia

A. Borrowed Time – Sober, smoke-free arts and events space. Free store, movies, meetings, art shows, potlucks, board games, costume parties, skillshares and more.

B. Philadelphia Childcare Collective – Providing free childcare, as a political act, to parents at ongoing meetings and events

C. The Divine Bicycle Church – Bike repair co-op. Tools, advice and recycled parts available.

D. Mill Creek Farm - Volunteer-run urban farm. Makes fresh, local, organic produce available to low-income and senior residents of the neighborhood by keeping their prices competitive and through programs like EBT and other welfare-like coupons.

III. Providence

A. South Side Community Land Trust City Farm

B. The Dirt Palace – All-women artist collective, owned by two collective members; located in Olneyville. Only public facility is the silkscreening lab. Film animation studio, music room, sewing room, library, beautiful kitchen. Hosts Books Through Bars.

C. Food Not Bombs – Serves Sundays 1-4 in Armory Park, in need of more volunteers.

IV. Boston

A. Lucy Parsons Center – Radical Bookstore, Infoshop and Meeting space. Hosts a calendar of events.

B. Alton Brighton Neighborhood Assembly – Local community self-governing; organizing Really Really Free Markets.
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Collective Autonomy and the Death of Kirsten Brydum | 1 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Collective Autonomy and the Death of Kirsten Brydum
Authored by: eboyd on Monday, November 01 2010 @ 02:25 AM CDT

 well, this comment is a bit late, but i think it's better late than never. in a rather peculiar twist of fate i just crossed paths with the memory of Kirsten -- who it just so happens was my best friend's step sister (though i only met Kirsten in passing once) --- through her "Really, Really Free Market" stuff on YouTube. this is a weird twist of fate because i was unaware until today that she was even remotely involved in the anarchist movement, even though i had recently converted to anarchism at the time of her death when her step sister came to me as a shoulder to cry on. i had been mildly aware of the fact that she was a social activist, though her activism never crossed my path (mainly because, in Los Angeles, i am secluded completely from the anarchist movement, and also because i still haven't gotten active in the movement as much as i plan to) until now when i was randomly searching through anarchism-related videos and articles online.


that said, i wish when i met her i would have taken the time to get to know her. RIP Kirsten and long live your memory and ideas!


Erik Boyd