After two years of community meetings, a year of intensive fundraising and another eight months of searching, a group of pragmatic dreamers on Long Island finally have finally obtained their goal: 3,000 square feet of space in the middle of suburban hell.
“We’re a space where things have the potential to happen,” says Kevin Van Meter, 27, one of the founding members of the Long Island Free Space. “We got kids who come out who ordinarily would never get involved with anarchists but who see what they are doing at the space and are able to connect it with larger social movements.”
Located almost two hours from the New York City in Ronkonkama, the Free Space is the only youth-run, non-profit on Long Island. It has about 60 active members and currently hosts four shows a week. It is already home to an alternative library, art gallery, a womyn’s collective and a bike recycling program. The Free Space will hold its official grand opening on April 10.
The Free Space grew out of the Modern Times collective, a loose network of radical young Long Islanders that flourished in 1999 and 2000 during the heady days of the “anti-globalization” movement. The group gradually began to question the effectiveness of urban street protest tactics and ended up jettisoning many of its outwardly radical trappings after a disastrous series of arrests during the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia.
“The first thing we did was to stop thinking of ourselves as activists, as activism as it was being practiced was a special activity that was being done outside of the experience of everyday life,” Van Meter says.
Two years of community meetings followed as Van Meter and others found strong support for a vibrant community center in the middle of Long Island. Realizing this would take money, the Free Space collective began fundraising and writing grants and hired part-time staff to push the project forward. Just when they were about to despair of ever finding a permanent home for their project, Free Space organizers found the group’s new space early this year.
“You need to create institutions first that can be a base of emergence for future movements,” Van Meter says. “As long as you look solely at ‘Big P’ politics and ignore these micro-level activities, you are missing a big part of the picture.”
For more, see lifreespace.org