1 – Little Free Everything

By J. River Lerner 

As I walk around certain neighborhoods in Oakland, I notice the Little Free Libraries popping up like slow-growing mushrooms. Their caps bulge, birdhouse-like, on top of slender, painted-lumber stalks. One or two more with each season, spreading old how-to manuals and well-thumbed mystery novels like so many spores. And like mushrooms, though you can never predict exactly where they’ll sprout, it’s always in a predictable habitat: owner-occupied homes with well tended flowers and small signs that say “Science is Real” and “Our neighbors are welcome”. 

That they spring up in those yards, in these neighborhoods, isn’t an accident. Aesthetically, culturally, organizationally, financially: the little libraries absolutely shout ‘landowning class’. They’re built like little cabins, with shingles! They distribute books, one of the only things that we already have robust public infrastructure to freely distribute! There’s a multi-million dollar nonprofit that ‘charters’ the libraries and sells $400 kits to build them! And besides, they’re somehow exactly the sort of home improvement that probably increases a home’s value, but that your landlord, for inscrutable reasons, would never let you build.

So it’s not without reason that Little Free Libraries have become a symbol of gentrification and center-left land-ownership. But I still find them utterly inspiring. Because for all their baggage, these little libraries present a non-utopian vision of what anarchist economic infrastructure can look like, and provide a pragmatic blueprint for getting us there.

Little Free Libraries, fundamentally, are infrastructure to facilitate mutual aid. Rather than the casual transactionalism of a yard sale or petite capitalism of a used bookshop, they are genuinely free and non-coercive, requiring neither monetary payment nor bureaucratic limbo. Rather than the careless charity of a box of books left on the sidewalk, or the structured state distribution of a public library, they encourage those who take to also give, and those who give to take; in fact, the host of the little free library, though often dispro-portionately supplying books, gets the benefit of having this community-replenished library right at their door. And as physical spaces, they’re able to exist independent of, and for those without access to, the increasingly monopolized and segmented internet sphere.

For our communities to flourish, and for us to provide viable alternatives for survival outside of the state and capitalism, mutual aid cannot just be a series of one-off events, acts, and campaigns. We need to build structured opportunities for mutual aid into the physical fabric of our communities, at the most intimate and local level. 

I think this starts by allowing ourselves to imagine places for community members to share goods of all sorts. In Little Free Libraries we have a robust, active model of hyperlocal and hyper-specific micro-distribution centers throughout our streets, stocked and maintained by the community, providing books without coercive demands of payment or registration. 

So, why just books?

Let’s imagine little free everything, all our daily needs distributed via lovingly labeled shoe boxes, dilapidated but well-muraled file cabinets, and excessively bedazzled tool sheds throughout our neighborhoods.

There are long histories of community pantries and fridges to share food within neighborhoods. What else can we build infrastructure to share? Let’s imagine little free pharmacies, with tampons and tylenol and the extra toothbrushes from when buying a 4 pack was only 1 dollar more. With QR codes linking information on no-fee clinics and abortion access. Little free auto shops with the half pint of oil or half gallon of washer fluid you didn’t need, and a link to a whatsapp group for help or advice from knowledgeable neighbors. Little free costume libraries and art-supply drawers and toy shops and seed shares!

I want to walk down my street and see passion fruit vines growing over the crates where canned lentils and peaches can be found. To tuck tightly rolled t-shirts into chain link fences organized by size and find my new summer sandals in a repurposed newspaper box. To steward a little free kitchen supply on my Tuesday afternoons, labeling new arrivals with colored stickers so I can move the oldest to another location if space gets tight. I want to place well-labeled batches of soup made with my grandmother’s recipes into a parking lot fridge muraled with bright flowers and birds.

This vision has inspired me to begin building these genre-specific little free stores in my own neighborhood. As I do so, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to divorce these new projects from Little Free Libraries’ petit-bourgeois ethos. I think we can do this not just by moving beyond books, but broadening aesthetic possibilities, and placing them in reliable public spaces as opposed to land that we own or rent. Why replicate suburban, birdhouse aesthetics in these projects? Put a 5-gallon tub on cinder blocks; give it a little sign. Zip tie a milk crate to a chain link fence, or hang it from a tree. Glue instructions with what to leave onto a dresser or file cabinet that someone is giving away. Landlord not into it? Try the empty lot next door, the center median, the more chill neighbors down the block. What’s important is creating a space with a clear enough purpose to facilitate community use, and upkeep, and love, and stewardship.

This is something that Little Free Library, as a phenomenon, has done brilliantly. The concise, three-word title tells you exactly how to use the space. More importantly, it calls out an ideology behind that space. A means of distribution that is piecemeal, hyperlocal, and utterly non-coercive. Naming our spaces can inspire care, identity, mythology. “The Ursula K. Le Guin Memorial Pantry” and “Little Free Shoe Store” both carry more cachet than an unlabeled box of food or shoes. The name allows that box to become a place, not just a resource to neighbors but a part of the fabric of neighborhood identity and mythology, shaping our local geography to facilitate mutual aid and communal upkeep of infrastructure. And even, perhaps, inspiring more little free distribution centers to follow in its wake.

So this season, new kinds of mushrooms will grow, in different habitats, spreading different spores. But mushrooms are just the fruiting body. If you listen closely, they will always speak softly of the messy mycelium of interconnected mutual aid networks, always growing, just below our feet.

1 – Eclipse this shit

By a beach bat

It’s a foggy morning in the Inner Sunset, where I’m perched on a stool in my sister’s kitchen. The light in the kitchen is gray and flat, and somehow the city feels vague, impossible to make words out of. For a few seconds at a time, though, weak sunlight will filter through the big windows, which are partially blocked by hanging pots of ferns and string-of-pearls. In those moments, the flat light becomes rounder and softer, glowing with a tinge of green. It is in the green light that words come to me, all in a rush. I try to get them down before the next cloud covers the sky. It’s late October, 2023. 


The genocide in Palestine seems to be reaching its final stages. On a Tuesday, a hospital in Gaza is bombed and a thousand people die, and then on a Wednesday, Biden is sending $14 billion in aid to Israel. I’m wondering what it might take to get us out of our simulation of normalcy. Here, in the US, we have developed quick and efficient methods of processing this kind of news. It’s hard to grieve through a screen; sometimes the best we can manage is a fleeting anger and outrage towards the state. “Disbelief” is no longer the right word, because it’s all so routine—even literal funding and propaganda for genocide makes sense within this state.

Maybe it’s good that we expect these things to happen, that we have a complete lack of faith in our government achieving anything beyond violent colonialism. But at the same time, I wonder about our desensitization to death, which maybe is caused by our desensitization to life. In other words, would we have a different response to mass death caused by colonialism if we could read our own lives in sharper focus? I don’t want to write an article about Palestinian liberation because I’m not an authority on Palestinian liberation. I know that liberation from any system of oppression only works if it is led by those who are the most oppressed by that system, through any means necessary. But I also know that no one is free until everyone is free, and that our complicity in the US empire not only fuels ethnic cleansing, death and destruction—it also makes our lives duller. It limits our intelligence, shrinks our autonomy, and diminishes our sense of awe and wonder towards life. 

We should care about what’s happening in Palestine—yet another apocalypse for people of color—not only because humans should care about each other, but also because their crisis is intrinsically tied to our own, even if the two cannot be equated. While some of us have no idea what it’s like to live through apocalypse (yet), our self-perpetuated oppression—this commitment we have to living under this state—kind of devalues what it means to be alive in the first place. 

It reminds me of this quote I heard in an interview with Ruth Wilson Gilmore, who was talking about the prison industrial complex and our detrimental eye-for-an-eye approach to criminal justice. She said, “where life is precious, life is precious.” She was referring to the paradox of throwing one life away in an attempt to help heal another (i.e. putting someone in prison because they have harmed another person). If society doesn’t treat all life as precious, we can hardly expect it to treat any life as precious. And if we don’t treat our own lives as precious, if we don’t deeply care about what it means to be living, I don’t think we are going to care as much about all the ways the state can dole out death—from air strikes and concrete cells to the slower killers, nine-to-fives and unaffordable housing…


I feel this sense of relief when I go to the San Rafael dump. It’s similar to the feeling I get when it starts raining. At the dump, it’s loud and big and chaotic, and the towering piles of trash make you feel like you’re in a dystopian sci-fi movie. For some reason, they have peacocks there. You go to the dump expecting it to be a chore, the least glamorous part of fixing up your backyard, and instead you end up in another world for half an hour. 

Like when I saw that solar eclipse in 2017. We were in this huge cornfield in Independence, Oregon. There were a bunch of posters taped up around town that read “INDIE GOES DARK!” I’ll never forget how it felt to be sitting there on the roof of our car, my world familiar and true, and then watch the moon pass over the sun. The sky went black in the middle of the day and the birds stopped singing and we saw stars. Someone nearby howled, and I started laughing and crying at the same time. You think life is one way. The job you have and what time your alarm goes off in the morning. The sprawling clocks and calendars inside your mind. The decisions your fucked up president makes on a regular tuesday, and the momentary disgust you feel before you keep scrolling on instagram. But then you go to the dump and there’s peacocks there, or you wake up in your new apartment and on your way to the corner store it’s just pouring rain. You think life is one way until you’re watching an eclipse and everything inverts upon itself and you realize the darkness was there the whole time. For a few minutes, for half an hour, you’re not a citizen of any state. You’re just a creature, autonomous and alive. For half-hours at a time, life becomes precious.

Increasingly, I have found myself living for those moments. Nothing makes sense to me anymore: the way we structure our time, the concept of working, of saving money or spending it. Ambitions and “dreams,” purpose, talent, fate. All the weighty labels, the abstractions of who we are — I can now see that they’ve always been, at least in some ways, tied up in what the system requires of us. I used to think I was very smart, and that there would be a place in society for me to use my skills and do something important. I had faith that there was a clear path to follow, and that following this path was the way to right wrongs, to solve injustices, and to have purpose. The disillusionment has been creeping up on me for a long time, but I guess it recently wormed its way to my core. 

I look around bleakly from where I stand, at twenty-two, and I’m not sure what to make of the view. The sun doesn’t seem particularly warm, but it isn’t cold either. There are people on the street; some of them walking quickly with their heads down, others talking to the road signs or yelling at the sky. And there are coffee shops and abandoned houses and office buildings. Billboards and parking lots. I’m not sure where it’s all headed. Where I’m headed within it. My eyes always seem to rest on the fences. Maybe that’s my own problem. Society all sprawled out in front of me, and all I can see are the artificial barriers. All I can imagine myself doing is buying a pair of bolt cutters.

We are taught to believe it’s all part of the masterplan: people sleeping on streets, colonial states dropping bombs, supreme court rulings, elections, job interviews, getting engaged. Ingrained within us is this false notion that there is a point behind it all — that the path we are on has a destination. But what kind of masterplan is it if it does not honor life? If it has no problem killing thousands of children along the way? We don’t need to wait and see if things will work out. Things did not work out. Are we really holding out for nothing more than a better president, a less miserable job? Is that the best we can dream up — the most accurate amalgamations of our beautiful and messy reserves of desire? 

When you live within a failed experiment, life knows no boundaries. There’s only one thing that we shouldn’t be doing, and that is continuing to follow the obsolete plot. Yeah, the plot was compelling for a while. And maybe when it stopped being compelling, it became comforting. But I think it might be time to follow something else, now. 

I think I’m going to follow the look you’re giving me from your balcony on a friday night, as the stars rise low over west oakland and tires screech from the road beneath us. I’m going to follow the feeling I get from playing pool in the rain at Eli’s, or reading the last page of Josh’s zine, or sexually harassing cops that have the nerve to walk around my neighborhood. I’m going to follow heartbeats and fingertips and flirtatious eye-rolls, and the tears I cry for you and the tears you cry for me. I’ll follow the impulse to fight when I want to fight, and run when it’s better to run, and be quiet and listen when it’s time to take instructions — I’ll follow rage, and tenderness, and I’ll follow the warmth I feel when the light softens in my sister’s kitchen…


I guess that’s why it took me so long to write this: I kept waiting for the light to tinge with green. For my surroundings to tip just a few degrees into the abnormal, and for my brain to process it as the extraordinary. In those moments I feel the weight of my life, all tied up in the weight of your life, and the weight of death. 

It sounds like a heavy burden to carry, but somehow it’s so much lighter than the dullness I felt in that flat light. 

1 – My jiddo fled genocide in Palestine so I could be free

Cw: murder, Palestinian genocide 

By Laila/Laiq R. Makled

In 1948, at the age of seven, my jiddo (grandpa in Arabic), his parents, and his six siblings were forced to flee from their home in Haifa, Palestine. A few years ago, my jiddo told me his memories of standing on a balcony, seeing naked dead neighbors in the streets, hearing screams in the distance, children “going crazy” because their families were gone. That morning, they ran for their lives to the Mediterranean.

My family was privileged and wealthy: They owned an olive oil mill and property in Palestine, so they had resources to flee and survive for some period of time.

When they got to Sur, Lebanon, my great grandmother, Badrieh Al Khamra, started to sell her jewelry to keep everyone fed. This kept my family alive for a while, but after five months, it was gone, and everyone started to starve.

So, with nothing but the clothes on their backs, they got on a cattle train to Aleppo, Syria. The trip took a few days. Eventually, they arrived in Aleppo, where they stayed for six months, before settling in Damascus, Syria. What ultimately helped pull our family from starvation to survival were two things: My great grandfather, Ahmed Izzat Taha, spoke English and also had a college degree.

It was incredibly hard for Palestinians to get jobs at the time, so having an education meant everything to my family. And for the Tahas, they experienced how a degree could mean the difference between having dinner and not. Over his life, my great grandfather published and translated 46 books, including The Oregon Trail and Cheaper by the Dozen.

In 1959, my jiddo Nabil Ahmed Izzat Taha was accepted to Purdue University with less than $20 to his name. He worked as a dishwasher making 80 cents an hour to pay for school and housing. In 1964, while at a church event to get some food, he met my grandma: Sharon Elizabeth Hood, a young white, Baptist, small town girl from Texas. Not long after that, on February 24, 1965, my mom Rhoda Nabil Taha Makled was born in Baytown, Texas to a white Baptist mom and Muslim Palestinian dad.

My grandma’s unexpected pregnancy forced both families to reckon with how they were going to integrate their lives — and so they did. My grandma not only supported my jiddo, the father of her child, in becoming a citizen, but many of his other siblings as well: writing Congress, filling out immigration paperwork, etc. And on March 6, 1969, under the affirmation and witness of my maternal great grandparents, Earl Winfred Hood and Elaina Marie Hood, my jiddo was recognized as a United States Citizen by the District Court of the United States in Houston, Texas.

This narrative of a wealthy family, turned poverty stricken refugees, turned American Dream may seem like the inspiring story the colonizer propaganda machine wants us to hear. But this story continues to be marked by tragedy.

With a darkness looming over him, I can hear my jiddo saying to me: “I am completely broken at this point.”

The impact of this apartheid, of Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, continues to impact this generation and generations to come. Genocide carries itself in our bodies, beckoning us to tend to its healing and to honor the pain and devastation it has caused. Every few months, when Palestine is in a news cycle, we are forced to relive the trauma our family went through while watching other families continue to suffer. It’s incredibly painful to witness, and all people who come from Palestinian bloodlines are survivors of this tragedy. Regardless of what’s in the news, my jiddo, now nearly 85 years old, still gets night terrors.

I called my mom the other day to let her know I was writing this piece and to check in with her about how she’s feeling about the news. She was struggling, talking about how her whole life she has felt so confused and hurt and disconnected from the struggles in her heart about Palestine. She told me when she read this essay that I put words to feelings she has long struggled to put words to. This is what she wrote to me after our conversation:

“In a world where colonization still draws painful borders around Indigenous lives, through silent echoes of the past and loud clamors of the present, the narrative of my dad’s shattered dream and unyielding survival stands as a testament. It is a soul-stirring reminder of the human spirit’s unyielding flame, burning fiercely amidst the chilling winds of conquest, illuminating the paths of resistance for generations to come.”

In the spring of 1992, I was born to a Muslim Lebanese dad and my mom. Today, 31 years later, and 75 years after my family escaped the Nakba, I live on Confederate Villages of Lisjan territory in Oakland, California. On Trans Day of Visibility this past year, I posted a photo of me after top surgery, talking about what it means to me to be trans. This is what my jiddo said:

My jiddo fled genocide by Israel in 1948, and I get to be free as a transgender person with access to things like gender affirming care and community in 2023. My jiddo always tells me he is proud of me for just being me, and I truly believe him when he says that. He has endured so much, and to see his grandchild live in such a loving and fulfilling way, is a dream come true for him.

A few months ago, when I asked my jiddo if he considered me a Palestinian, he said, “nothing would honor me more.” 

That is why I’m sharing this story. I carry my Palestinian elders and ancestors in my heart and body everywhere I go. It is not a separate part of me; it is me. It is part of where I come from. I come from the land and people of Palestine. I am a transgender Palestinian.

A free Palestine means a freer world. Wall-shattering resistance from Palestinians is a direct result of 70+ years of colonization, land theft, occupation, and apartheid. It is the result of traumatized, imprisoned, and oppressed people fighting back.

Do not be silent. Have conversations with people in your life. Call and email your legislators and demand a cease fire. It matters when you stand in solidarity with people as they fight against militarized and global forces that want them extinct, especially when those forces are backed by biased mainstream media.

I hold all oppressed people fighting for liberation in my heart. Black liberation, sex worker liberation, Indigenous sovereignty, transgender liberation, Palestinian liberation — it is all intertwined as we aim to decolonize and return home. 

I read this piece to my jiddo before publishing, and I asked if there’s anything he wanted me to add. With a glimmer of hope in his eyes, this is what he said:

“We [Palestinians] are not going away. We’re in this world to stay, and the world is going to have to deal with us.”