Students Battle Capitalism, Toilet Paper

By Emily Smith

In a house on Selby, six Macalester students are fighting to abolish rent.

The residents of this new radical activism-themed co-op are Macalester students Jacob Bell ’08 and Erik Forman ’08, Kristin Stoeckeler ’07 and David Boehnke ’07, University of Minnesota nursing student Hazel Lauer, and St. Thomas student Scott Demuth.

The idea behind their co-op is that if a group of people buy a house collectively, they will not be subject to tyrannical landlords. After the house is paid off, people can live there free of rent.

“We wanted a radical space,” Bell said.

“This project is important in shoring up what may be seen as flagging progressive student presence,” Forman said.

The house is tentatively named SpazHotRod, or Selby Permanent Autonomous Zone: The House of Tomorrow for the Reclamation of Dreams.

The acronym is the result of pooling a few possible names. It may change.

Earlier this semester, cops interrupted their first party—the Molotov Cocktail Party. Panicked partygoers jumped over the fence and ran away, but the cops’ primary concern was not underage drinking but that the music be turned down.

They overlooked a computer monitor that was flashing pictures of people rioting and beating cops.

Dance party enthusiasts, house members installed a sound system that Forman acquired from his high school. Dubbed the Emma Goldman Memorial sound system, it will be an integral part of future dance parties, Forman said.

Because they limit their consumerism, the dining room table was constructed from a door found in a dumpster.

They also home-brew beer.

“There’s a special mix of molds in our basement that gives [the beer] a distinct flavor,” Forman said.

So far, the house has been free of conflict. Bell and Demuth said running out of toilet paper has been the biggest trauma they’ve experienced.

There was also a “five-minute drama,” Demuth said, when they were late in paying rent.

Yes, they are currently paying rent. They were unable to get organized in time to buy a house this semester, but are hoping to buy one next semester under the name of their non-profit organization, Rise Like Lions.

The organization’s web site, www.riselikelions.org, describes the group as “a collective of individuals committed to establishing cooperative, sustainable, and affordable community living options in the Twin Cities.”

Forman said that they “need to raise a ton of money,” but there is a good chance that they will be able to buy a house by next semester.

The group said they may buy a house in the Midway area, which is less expensive than the neighborhood immediately surrounding Macalester, but they have reservations because they do not want to be a gentrifying force.

Even further in the future, they imagine their house as a community space, with meeting spaces and a basement bike shop.

The co-op’s residents encourage other students’ efforts to establish co-ops and are willing to share resources and knowledge from their experience. Bell, Forman, and Lauer recently attended a North American Students for Cooperation conference in Ann Arbor, Mich. They see their co-op as part of a much broader national movement.

“We’re formalizing and making visible ways that other people have chosen to live,” Forman said.

When they’re not busy with work, school, or damning the man, the co-op’s residents spend a lot of time talking politics.

“There’s always some kind of debate going on,” Demuth said.

Bell commented that there is an “assumed anarchism” in their talks.

“I don’t really consider myself an anarchist, but I definitely read anarchist material,” Boehnke said.

While the extent of their anarchism may vary, they agree on one key issue.

“We really, really don’t like capitalism,” Forman said.