Sunday, May 23, 2010

Kelly Marie Martin: Cooking Together at the Bicycle Kitchen

Cooking Together at the Bicycle Kitchen: Infrastructure of La Bicicocina.
by Kelly Marie Martin
Journal of Aesthetics and Protest

I am a “cook” at the bicycle kitchen, La Bicicocina, an all-volunteer run nonprofit bicycle repair workshop in central Los Angeles. A “cook” is a volunteer. We cook bikes. Our mission is to promote the bicycle as a fun, safe, and accessible form of transportation, to foster healthy urban communities, and to provide a welcoming space to learn about building maintaining, and riding bicycles. What began informally in the kitchen of a studio apartment used for storage at the Los Angeles Eco-Village by Jimmy Lizama, a downtown bike messenger who wanted a place to work on bikes has just officially filed for its own 501c3 status. As a longtime cook and founding board member I want to share how we make decisions because I think the structure of the Bicicocina while by no means perfect is at the very least interesting and at best inspiring. It is also constantly evolving. Interspersed are some fellow cooks’ responses to my call to our listserve, “What do you think about our decision-making process?”

The bicycle kitchen decision-making process works in the collective. We deliberate and confer. We use the fact that our mission guides us in and helps us to keep our eye on the ball. A clear statement of purpose and clearly defined objectives guide the process to ends we can work with.

Making choices is aided by the fact that the bicycle is our friend.

Our meetings are above all civil.

We raise our hands, our names are placed in a stack and we go in the order speaking our mind, brainstorm style, no ridicule or judgment, it works well.

Our fundamental organizing principal is: we have no Boss, no owner, and no one person is in charge.

Our process is open and inclusive, all members are encouraged to contribute in our decision making process. One dissenting voice will cause continued discussing – however we do require 100% consensus. One shortfall in our process is that we do not have our cookbook written and as we age, our traditions and settled policy issues are rehashed and need to be kept alive by oral informing. In some ways this is refreshing and in others it hampers our moving on. I am not sure we have to move on our model and mission work. We are putting bicycles on the street in a visible and proactive manner. We advocate the bicycle as a primary transportation choice, and it is working on a weekly basis. We hear five to ten clients each week say, “I do not want to use a car any more” or “I sold my car,” “I am selling my car, gas cost too much” etc. Each bicycle on the street is one less car and that makes incremental changes. We are part of the solution. -Jim Bledsoe

Currently, there are around forty “active” cooks – people who take approximately one or more wrenching shifts a month or teach a class and/or work in a committee. Information is passed internally on the listserve, the forum, a wiki and word of mouth. The forum was generated by a cook; it is an online posting board for a variety of topics. The forum was created to cut down on email traffic on the listserve, so that issues and ideas between meetings can be posted freely there instead. It’s also for information pertaining to “shadow” cooks. Shadow cooks are potential volunteers, a.k.a. “cookidates.” They answer a questionnaire, go through some training and shadow ten shifts before the community posts comments on the forum and then votes either on the forum or in quarterly meetings on their cook-readiness. The wiki, also created by a cook is an online source for all internal documents, schedules, cook contacts, meeting agendas and minutes.

Volunteering at the Bicycle Kitchen for 4+ years I have had the pleasure to watch our organization grow from a handful of friends to a group of thirty including a hub, a board and committee heads. While these newly created positions offer responsibility for actions and day-to-day operations, the Kitchen has kept a uniqueslice of co-operative decision making alive. At any point, at any time, anyone in the collective can bring up an issue, an idea, a concern, a goal and be heard. Anything big to major that involves a decision is brought up to the group and we vote for it and for the most part the vote is a go. One key component to making this possible in my opinion is that everyone is working for our mission. All who come on board believe in this mission and aim to increase it with whatever time, skill and power they have. Keeping the mission in focus keeps us all on the same page and allows freedom to feel ownership in our co-op as we all work towards the same goal. Our success in this area has been organic, peaceful and progressive. - Kim Jensen

As part of the 501c3 filing we formed a board of directors which is currently nine cooks and can be as many as fifteen, but no less than five. Cooks nominate and vote on the Board with elections every six months. Terms are one year (although, the first Board had half the board serving eighteen months to ensure not everyone left at once.) Any active cook can run for the Board. The Board can nominate and elect a member from outside the cook’s community. Board meetings are monthly and all cooks are welcome to attend, but voting on matters at the board meetings are limited to board members only. Built into the bylaws is the ability of any cook who disagrees with a board decision to overturn that decision with a referendum. There is an Executive Committee (affectionately still called the Hub in a nod to the term used for the five people who were the main decision-making stakeholders from the early days at the Eco- Village space and our first two years at Heliotrope) that is made up of the Chairperson of the Board, the Vice-chair, the Secretary and the Treasurer. These positions are legal names from nonprofit filing, required on State and Federal documents. The board members holding these positions are voted on by their fellow boardies. We have a schedule of three or four cooks meetings a year and one retreat. The agenda for the board meetings and cooks meetings are compiled by the chair and secretary, but any cook can suggest an agenda item.

There are also committees. Current active committees are Operations, (orders parts and oversees the functionality of the physical space); Volunteer (recruits and trains new cooks); Programs (oversees Bitchen – ladies/transgender only evening, Earn-a-Bike youth program that’s on hiatus, and schedules workshops); 501c3 Application and Bylaws, both ad hoc and concluded; Space Exploration (looking into moving/acquiring a bigger location, but is now dealing with a CRRA/Metro opportunity at Hollywood and Western); PR (fields media requests from corporate and independent media and students); and finally Development, a more recently formed committee tasked to be more proactive about fundraising, pushing instead the idea of generating project-specific funds rather than rooting out large beholden-to-the-government sums. There are also the standing committees of the Hub, Finance and IT (self-explanatory). All cooks are welcome and encouraged to participate in a committee.

Finally, there are the cooks meetings – scheduled and emergency meetings. The emergency meetings are generally called when a time-sensitive, community-affecting situation comes up. Although we don’t technically operate under consensus (voting at cooks meetings is 2/3 majority,) and the Board is empowered to make decisions for the cooks, in these cases the emergency meetings are called because no BIG decisions are made without the participation and opinion of as many of the cooks who want to be involved. We’ve self-moderated meetings for the past year and a half and maintain a stack, implementing a one-two minute go around to hear from everyone present before taking a straw poll and finally, a vote on all big decisions.

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