part of the global grass-roots infrastructure
this essay is both No.8 of the series on building the
global grassroots infrastructure, and the opening page
of the Grassroots Infrastructure Trust subfolder
How the Trust came to be:
The notion that owning property could be bad came to me only very gradually. In 1953, when my wife and I graduated from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and I got my first post-doctoral job as an Instructor in Physics, at $4,500 for the 9-month academic year, we began to think about buying stocks, as investments in our future. The world, we thought, lay open before us. She was 26, I almost 28.
Eleven years later we came to Boston, and one year after that, in 1965, we joined the newly-established Boston campus of the University of Massachusetts as charter faculty members. The U.S. government was in the midst of the Vietnam War. Freda and I, frugal products of our childhood years in the Great Depression, had accumulated various stocks in those first 12 post-doctoral years. One day she said to me that we should get rid of our stocks. Always more acute than I was, she realized the complicity of the large corporations in the war, complicity which as stockholders we shared.
No argument. We sold our stocks. That of course didn't really solve the problem. At first we put the money into our bank account, a savings account, no less. Surely the bank invested it in the most profitable way that it considered sufficiently secure, with no thoughts about the social consequences of what it did with "its" money, which are not part of their considerations. It took about thirty years to finally realize how to deal with the problem of "my" wealth, that is, the wealth over which I had legal control.
Freda died in 1981. Since we had held everything jointly, I was the sole heir. Three years later I bought a house in Cambridge at 14 Laurel St and moved there from the house in Brookline we had rented throughout our years in Boston. And five years after that, in 1989, I bought the other side of the duplex, 12 Laurel St. This duplex house, still legally considered two houses, is the property I finally deeded irrevocably to the Trust in August 1999.
My parents both died in their nineties, my father in 1994 at age 94 and my mother in 1995 at 95. From their estate I inherited about $300,000, mostly in stocks that my father had bought over the years. I decided to divide it equally among my two daughters and myself, and proceeded, each year, initially to give each of them, and subsequently each of them and their husbands $10,000, the maximum non-taxable amounts.
By the time Freda died I considered myself a "follower" of Peter Kropotkin, the great Russian theoretician of anarchism. I also understood the meaning of Pierre Proudon's question, "What is Property"?, and his unambiguous declaration in response, "Property is Theft!" And there I was, owning a house. It was an old house, built around 1840. For a number of years I lived in it myself, free of troubling contradictions. But soon after my neighbors on the No.12 side decided to move to the suburbs and I bought their side of the house, I began thinking of renting, partly because I wanted the company and partly to get the income. That I would regard my tenants as my housemates was hardly enough to resolve the looming contradiction between my professed beliefs and my actual behavior. I "joined" the two sides of the house with an internal door, and the two backyards by taking down the fence between them.
Within a year of buying the No.12 side, that is, by sometime in 1990, I rented to my first housemate/tenant. Radical pretensions aside, I also have a bourgeois desire to live in a "nice" place. Repairing and renovating a century-and-a-half-old house was a costly project, on which, up until then, I had made only a start. I was also committed to giving a fair amount of money to groups (mainly tax-exempt ones) working for social change, and was determined not to let the expense of fixing up the house interfere with that practice. I tried to resolve the contradictions by
With the above practices I felt reasonably comfortable that I was not exploiting my housemates. Nevertheless the fact remained that I was by definition the legal owner, a capitalist who had the power to control the rents (especially after rent control ended in 1994) and to decide on who might or might not live there. Moreover, the tenants did not share my long-term interest in improving the house, in which they gained no equity, and yet the decisions about what work to do, and how much to spend on it, were mine. Bluntly, I enjoyed a privileged position, the existence of which, in principle, I opposed. At best, it was a partial resolution of the contradictions between my beliefs and my behavior.
Some time before 1997 - I don't remember exactly when - I decided to give up my life-long habit of always trying to save some money (for future security). Both my children were comfortably self-sufficient economically. And I was apparently in reasonably good health, and in any case did not want to plan for a possible long period of infirmity and expensive care, a "privilege", it seemed to me, available only to a tiny fraction of the world's people. I put these thoughts into a brief statement, "Renewing the Call to RESIST", that I wrote in late 1997 for the RESIST organization, which was about to celebrate its thirtieth anniversary in early 1998.
Also in 1997 I began thinking about the house. What would be done with it after my death? By then I had seen some communities in the Northern Sierra of Oaxaca State, Mexico where the concept of communal property was strongly entrenched, as this picture taken some years later shows. The sign proclaims:
That year, 1997, I met with two long-time friends whose political outlooks I thoroughly trusted, Carl Kurz and Mira Brown, founders of the grassroots group Bikes Not Bombs, to get their inputs. And I began seeking help from people in the neighborhood, as indicated by my May 12, 1997 letter to Friends and neighbors. Two years later, by the Spring of 1999, I had a reasonably clear idea; a note I wrote on May 23, 1999 began,
Some thoughts on setting up an irrevocable trust for my duplex house in Cambridge and my interest in a farm in Gill, Massachusetts, referred to as the real property. These notes are preceded only by my May 12, 1997 letter to Friends and neighbors.
Goals: 1. To insure the use of the real property for socially constructive grassroots efforts during and after my lifetime.
In early July 1999 I wrote tentative inquiries to 17 friends to see if they were willing to be trustees. Eleven accepted, we held two meetings, and on August 16 the legal document [htm or rtf] defining the trust was finalized. I deeded the Cambridge property to the trust, but was unable at that time to also deed to the trust my one-third interest in the farm in Gill, Massachusetts, as I had wished. I still hope to be able to do that.
Up through 2002 the trust was, in money terms, a purely "paper" organization which neither received nor disbursed any funds. Nor, since it didn't function as a "charitable foundation", did it have IRS 501-C-3 tax-exempt status. However, with its financial activation now beginning, it will soon seek to gain tax-exempt status.
Complications with the farm, compounded by poor judgment, led me to abandon my desire to deed it to the trust and to sell it instead, which I did in October 2001. Details are in the documents from 2001-08-23 to 2001-10-12 listed below. However, I am now seeking to regain my part-interest so that I will be able to give it to the trust. Details are in the documents from 2002-10-05 to 2002-11-18.
The above account, even supplemented with the documents that follow, is necessarily incomplete. If you are interested in pursuing these ideas and wish to get more information about this particular local effort, I'll be glad to provide it.
G.S., January 2, 2003
Links to html or txt files open on your browser when clicked and can then be printed. The rtf (rich text format) files can be downloaded, then opened on a word-processing program and then read and/or printed. The rtf files give the closest printed facsimiles to the original documents.
1997-05-12 First letter of exploration to Cambridge friends and neighbors (htm)
2000-06-16 Notice to Ted Haber of decision to sell our shares (htm)
2001-05-16 Offer of Ted Haber to pay $48,000 per share (htm)
2001-05-23 Our counter-offer to Ted to sell for $68,151.50 per share (htm)
2001-08-09 Initial call to the trustees to activate the trust (htm)
2001-08-10 Counterproposal from Ted (htm)
2001-10-06 Report on Sept 9, 2001 trustee gathering (htm)
2002-01-10 Second call to the trustees to activate the trust (htm)
2002-03-24 Report on Feb 24, 2002 trustee gathering (still incompletely posted) (htm)
as the trust becomes active in managing the 12-14 Laurel St,
Cambridge property, and in receiving and disbursing funds
These rtf (rich text format) files can be downloaded, then opened on a word-processing program and then read and/or printed.
Record of rental income and expenses for the 12-14 Laurel St, Cambridge house: (2000), (2001), (2002), (2003), (2004), 12-yr summary 1993-2004
Return to the (top of this) opening page of the Local Grassroots Infrastructure Trust subfolder