Interview with Reginald Simms

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Baltimore, Maryland (TFC) – Reginald Simms is a worker-owner and bookseller at Red Emma’s, a cooperatively owned and collectively managed bookstore and coffeehouse in Baltimore. As an anti-authoritarian and part time staffer for BRED (Baltimore Roundtable for Economic Democracy), he provides technical assistance and non-extractive loans to traditionally excluded and marginalized communities wanting to start cooperatives or conversions of current businesses within Baltimore and throughout Maryland. He also does organizing through GBAN (Global Black Autonomy Network), a translocal grassroots organization that deals with issues that affect the African Diaspora. A creative genius, avid reader, and succinct writer he spends his time strategizing on and fomenting, the continuous process of revolution. He is currently working on book that details the forms those subjected to the state will take in a post-service economy.

 

1. What was your initial entry point into radical politics?
The Mis-education of the Negro was a book for me that initially started me on the path of understanding authority. I was further catalyzed by the Occupy movement towards practical action in the real world. As I continued my self education in philosophy, anti-authoritarianism and black politics I made a decision to change how I interacted with the world and reproduce myself and decided to join a cooperative, Red Emma’s. I realized a lot of my time was spent at work so my workplace was the first thing I changed.
2: How did  BRED get started?

BRED Baltimore Roundtable for Economic Democracy), was an effort inspired by the need that cooperatives in Baltimore had in the past and in contemporary times for a more robust infrastructure of support. When Red Emma’s was founded over 12+ years ago there was no and still isn’t a business incorporation that was fit for starting coops, no banking institutions specifically created and designated for cooperative non-extractive lending and a small emerging organization for technical assistance.

Local cooperatives that are in Baltimore(Baltimore Bicycle Works, Red Emma’s, etc.) in conjunction with the DAWN (Democracy at Work Network), BASE (Baltimore Activating Solidarity Economies, and an emerging firm focused on cooperative law decided to be “at the table” for instituting an organization that would help to provide needed loans and technical assistance to low income and specifically black folk in Baltimore and Maryland. The loans are provided through a loan fund in partnership with the The Working World, a non-extractive lending institution who had it’s start in Argentina.

3.  What are some of the coops which have sprung from BRED loans?
Our first loan was made to Taharka Brothers a black youth led ice cream manufacturer based in Baltimore. We are also currently working with a vegan food product manufacturer so they can open a kitchen where they will process vegan food goods and provide a commercial kitchen to other vegan food businesses.

4. What has Red Emma’s taught you about workplace democracy?

A lot, I think once you get a taste of being a worker-owner it’s hard to go back to working for one person. There is a lot of freedom in being able to directly control the workplace and what happens there but there is also a lot of responsibility because whatever you decide or spearhead, the responsibility ultimately falls on you even though you can garner support from your fellow workers and you get to see what decisions that are made contribute to solving problems or make them worse. There was also a learning curve in being able to convince a diverse group of people to go along with a decision. You have to be convincing and actually solve issues instead of thinking that meeting with others to discuss decisions means shoving what you think should happen down other people’s throats. When I first started working at Red Emma’s I had to unlearn authoritarian tendencies that I think a lot of people are inculcated with. There is also a culture of DIY (Do-IT-Yourself), it’s something you pick up as you practice it and it can be off putting to some. Ultimately I think workplaces that are owned by the workers means decisions that are made that reflect how people work and it becomes a cauldron for self expression and exponential personal growth.

5. Speaking of Workplace Democracy what have you learned, that would be of benefit to others hoping to start a co op, about interpersonal conflict resolution?
Interpersonal conflict can be resolved most of the times through more thorough communication. A lot of people are educated into being atomized and alienated individuals and direct communication is a skill not widely acquired. Being able to give other people space and understand their point and perspective sincerely, goes a long way. Having processes for working through conflict like consensus based decision making, helps communication flow in a way that allows everyone a chance to speak without getting sidetracked by tangents but also to collaborate on solutions that most people can agree with and have a hand in making.

6.What are your thoughts on about post service industry economies and automation?

I think with AirBNB and Uber being prime examples you will have an economy where people own the means of production and services but will have no access. I think the economy will turn in on itself and people will be forced to pay for things and their access to those things will be controlled by others. This idea is still being fleshed out but the book will deal with ownership in a neoliberal late capitalist “post-industrial” society and how future subjects will interact with the state.

7. Could you speak on the principles of the GBAN and the work you do there?
GBAN is connecting the local with the global by creating opportunities for economic and cultural exchange throughout the African Diaspora. From those on the continent to Black Folk in Europe, to those in Haiti and the Global South. In the spirit of the panthers we’ve created different committees as organizing arms for different aspects of the network, including self-defense, culture, youth, and publications, just to name a few. I’m on the publications committee and have organized a collection of essays and writings to be published via zine format on different topics from the idea of translocal spaces to the “school to prison pipeline”, it comes out seasonally. Social Media and media in general fall under the publications committee so, I’m spearheading those efforts too.

8. What are your thoughts on near term human extinction prevention?
I’m pretty pessimistic when it comes to this country and the world. I think things will gradually get worse if they ever get better. I think when things take a turn for the worse you will have complete chaos or a historical moment in human and planetary history where humans will finally work together with the planet in a sustainable way. It’s just sad that it would take a world ending catastrophe for that to happen.

9. Who are your favorite radical artists, authors and thinkers?

I try not to put individuals on a pedestal because nobody accomplishes things by themselves. There are some music artist that I like such as Lowkey and Akala from the U.K. who often rap about structural inequality and the neocolonial times we’re living in. I’m more interested in the concepts people justify in their writings and if those concepts actually apply in my life. One of those concepts I’ve learned about relatively recently is Afro-pessimism, which sees the annihilation of the “White World” as the ideal for black liberation.

10. Any shout outs you’d like to make or things you’d like to promote?

The Global Black Autonomy Network at gban.org, Facing Autonomy Publication submissions or general inquiries can be sent to bwpmilitia@gmail.com, Red Emma’s at redemmas.org.