On a typical weekend morning in Ridgewood, young families spill out of brunches at Julia’s and Norma’s and friends gather to work or catch up at Topos Bookstore. It’s a scene much like any other neighborhood in Queens: the elevated train rattles overhead and groups wander from coffee shop to bodega, to bookstore and wine bar.
But on Sunday evening, the neighborhood takes a deep breath. In a brick building distinguished only by a small orange sign, members and guests gather for a communal dinner at the Woodbine experimental hub.
“So many of us in New York (and everywhere else) are lonely in a deep way,” Woodbine told Bedford + Bowery in a collective email. “Jobs are dehumanizing, commutes are mind-numbing and everything’s expensive. Even just cooking a meal together is a powerful way for us to break that loneliness.”
Woodbine is an organizing space in Ridgewood, Queens, located off of the Forest Avenue station on Woodbine Street. It’s well-known in the neighborhood for its workshops, reading groups, and lectures addressing capitalism, mental health, race, political movements, and more.
Woodbine opened its doors in January of 2014, but many of its members found each other earlier than that, like during the Occupy movement. After Occupy and Hurricane Sandy, the friends who would found Woodbine realized that “collective power is our best bet against a failing global economic system.”
Woodbine’s social media following is surprisingly large for its size; the small space has over 5,000 likes on its Facebook page. Anywhere from 60 to 1,200 people indicate their interest for a typical Woodbine event, but its Patreon supporters number closer to 32. It’s closely associated with the nearby Ridgewood Community Garden, Health Autonomy Group, and Topos Bookstore.
Woodbine’s mission as an experimental hub is grounded in a dedication to self-sufficiency. “We all know what happens in a hurricane, or even a little blizzard in Queens. It takes the authorities forever, if they help at all,” Woodbine said. “Since we know that no one is coming to save us, we have to get organized, we have to grow stronger, we have to establish our autonomy.“
Practicing autonomy has meant different things to Woodbine at different points in its history. Its members have gathered to learn practical skills, like first aid, self defense, knitting, herbalism, and– most recently– sailing.
“Lately, we’ve also been exploring what autonomous mental health might look like,” Woodbine said. Its Facebook events include a Mutual Aid Self Therapy workshop, with an event description that explains: “In order to support each other in the difficult work we do and strengthen our ability to strike back, it is necessary to build ways of collaboratively and autonomously dealing with the psychological effects of the hierarchies that bind us.”
Woodbine’s programming doesn’t only look at practical skills, but also at political debates. This past year, Woodbine has hosted conversations on the Yellow Vest uprising, policing, migration, and the crisis in Venezuela, and has collaborated with the Queens Against Amazon Assembly, Decolonize This Place, and the Metropolitan Anarchist Coordinating Council.
Although Woodbine is certainly active in New York’s world of political organizing, it says “Community is the bond of our collective force.”
Woodbine’s Patreon page details the collective’s future plans to build a deeper and larger community with a Health Resource Center, Community Gym, and Community Garden — and collaborate with regional farmers and engineers up into the Hudson Valley.
During a recent visit from feminist activist and author Silvia Federici, Woodbine considered “how to re-enchant our lives.” And, in another visit from poet-professor Fred Moten, “how crises offer us an opportunity to enact new ways of getting together.”
“If we form ourselves only in opposition to oppressive and violent forces, those forces still define the terms of our lives,” Woodbine said. “For us it’s important to work on collective projects that bring us joy, connect us more deeply to each other and to the place we live in together.”
Woodbine’s Facebook page features the wave-like logo that adorns the collective’s front door on Woodbine Street. On Facebook, the image is surrounded by the phrase “Against the End of the World.” The mantra fits Woodbine’s goals of collective organizing and autonomy, but it also suggests a kind of defiant joy.
Asked about the motto, Woodbine explained: “In a lot [of] ways, it means realigning our gaze away from the abyss, and toward the horizon.”