The last week has been a turbulent and emotional time for all concerned with Pogo.
Many regular volunteers at Pogo Cafe became concerned that animal products were being stored and consumed in the premises. Pogo has always been a vegan space, and the presence of these products motivated concerned volunteers to dispose of them.
Spontaneously a meeting was called the following day, inviting both volunteers and co-op members. It was an emotionally-charged gathering, which became incredibly difficult for all who attended. It became evident that the gulf between volunteers and co-op members had grown so vast that the strength of feeling on this issue was unappreciated. We had hoped we would all be able to continue working together, but the co-op members decided to resign and discontinue volunteering at the cafe.
Pogo is a unique vegan space, valued by members of the activist and local communities. We will implement the ideals of collective working so, from now on, Pogo Café will be operating an open collective, with everyone invited to meetings, shifts and responsibilities, including decision-making. We hope this will make being involved in Pogo a more enjoyable and fulfilling experience, once again a space to comfortably promote moral veganism within the local community.
Currently we are training up new chefs, so if you would like to become a chef within Pogo, or help out with any other shifts, please do not hesitate to email us. No experience is needed, we will teach you everything you need to know.
If you would like to help with any other aspect of the collective, you can contact us via telephone or the email below.
Pogo will be open for business as usual from next Thursday 11th, from 12.30pm to 9pm and beyond.
76 Clarence Road
Tel: 0208 533 1214
48hrs… and this is what happened.
it all started one snowy day over the xmas holiday when, around the corner from Pogo, the Somerfield freezers broke and they threw away everything that was inside of them.
Some of us who are involved in the coop and some people from surrounding squats went down to salvage some food, which was otherwise going to waste, including dairy products, frozen vegetables and meat.
Seeing as we had just recently acquired a new freezer from freecycle and there were a lot of people who wanted to keep the food but who did not have freezers at home we decided to allow for temporary storage of said produce in the new freezer, which is located in the garage, our store room, which doesn’t share an entrance with the cafe.
In the next couple of days while cleaning and organizing the garage we moved all that food from the chest freezer into two smaller freezers and labels were stuck on them explaining that this is skipped food (including non-vegan products) and it’s not for cafe use.
The aim was to take these old freezers out of the Pogo garage, complete with food, as we were aware that it’s presence might cause discomfort to some people. We never got around to it due to a lack of time and energy.
Two weeks ago, one of the volunteers asked us why there was meat in the pogo freezer. The story was explained, and also tha the freezers will be gone at some point. The reaction was a question: ‘doesn’t it make you feel uncomfortable?’. Upon hearing ‘no’ as an answer, the conversation ended.
Tuesday this week, as you may be aware, an alternative pogo meeting was called at short notice. This was the result of two secret meetings that not all volunteers and none of the then-existing coop members were invited to. Those meetings obviously weren’t held at the cafe. On Monday night a group of people let themselves into the cafe garage, threw away all the non-vegan produce from the freezer, left animal rights literature stuck to said freezer, along with a patronizing note about freeganism being a slippery slope and suggesting that we might start to cook this food at the cafe, saying that a vegan cafe couldn’t be run by not vegans and complaining that not everyone had been explicitly consulted. Someone also used the email account the coop uses for keeping in touch with volunteers to send out notice of the alternative meeting, scheduled the same day seven hours later… even though another meeting was already scheduled at the same time at the cafe. We asked them to postpone the alternative meeting so that the previously booked meeting could go ahead as planned, to which they agreed, although not very promptly.
At the meeting we were first told, by someone who doesn’t actually work at the cafe, that the government is paying people to infiltrate vegan spaces and put meat there!
More seriously, we were also told that we, as a coop, were impenetrable and cliquey and that all the 15+ people present wanted more responsibilities at the cafe. They all thought that this was the only way to go about it, citing impenetrability and cliqueyness again. They also implied we weren’t vegan enough to run a vegan cafe.
The outcome of the meeting was that all the then current coop members and some long-term volunteers quit.
The following are some of our reasons.
- we were involved in this project for various reasons, one of them being cooperative working. Calling a meeting with a few hours notice and holding secret meetings are NOT cooperative working. Neither is holding a preliminary briefing they didn’t announce to all volunteers.
- it seems as if no thought was given to how intimidating +15 people arriving all at the same time (including people who never volunteered and people who some of us didn’t recognise) could be. Or maybe it was intentional. Either way – we find it unacceptable.
- it seemed too remarkable that so many people wanted to take on responsibilities yet had never mentioned it. Especially seeing as a lot of responsibilities (such as: Monday cleaning, Wednesday prep, any-day baking, errands) were actively advertised via e-mail and signs in the cafe. When this was brought up, those tasks seemed to be considered menial and unimportant. It was especially surprising seeing as the current involvement of that group of people was such that they hadn’t actually noticed the skipped food that had been in the freezer for two months (even though there were labels on the freezers explaining it) and weren’t aware that there already a meeting booked for that day and time.
- we felt that our hard work for the last couple of years to keep pogo open was entirely unrecognized, let alone appreciated. The “menial” tasks like cleaning, most of the time fell to the coop.
- whilst we accept that we are cliquey – working hard together for a long time can do that – impenetrable is going way over the top.
Recently two new people had started coming to coop meetings and many of the people present at the Tuesday meeting had found us approachable enough to become good friends with us. There were also a few people outside of the coop who were taking on extra responsibilities. All they had done was asked, or taken the initiative.
- their suggestion that being in the coop means being in a position of power is, quite frankly, worrying. We don’t want to work with people who want power, or think that we do. Being in the coop is actually being in a position of responsibility which are not necessarily fun.
- the implication that only vegans who are practicing animal rights activism should be allowed to run the cafe is very exclusive and alienating. Especially seeing as cooperative voluntary working was always as important a point as veganism to all of the coop and long-term volunteers.
So yeah, that’s what happened. The cafe is now going to be run by a different group of people. We aren’t happy about leaving the cafe but we feel like they left us no other option. The cafe was very important to us and leaving it is going to take a massive chunk out of our lives. We would wish them the best of luck, but we’re still too angry to be able to do that.
the other side
e-mail: freeschool.pogo at googlemail.com
I appreciate all the hard work the crew who followed us put in to keep the project running, and am very thankful that its kept going and stayed vegan. However, we also put in a lot of hard work to set it up and run it during the first few years, and one of the fundamental principles which Pogo was founded on has been breached by this mistake. Working hard to keep a project going does not give anyone the right to act as they wish. I don't know if this situation was handled in the best way by those who challenged it, but the situation would not have arisen if the co-op members had not stored meat in the freezer.
The original Pogo constitution stated that all members of the co-op should be vegan. This is not because we were anti non vegans, it is precisely to avoid this sort of situation, or worse, that if vegans became out numbered by non vegans, people might start saying things like "we would make more money if we allowed people to have cows milk in their tea" and before you know it Pogo would no longer be vegan. Is it unreasonable to want to keep Pogo vegan?
The crew state in their email that it would be alienating if the only vegans could run Pogos. Alienating to who? Veganism isn't exclusive, anyone can be vegan and I suggest anyone who wants to be in the Pogo co-op goes vegan. This is what happened with a couple of people when I was involved and the one I still know is still vegan. It doesn't mean that the cafe would be unwelcoming to non vegans, this was not the case when it was run by a vegan co-op.
Living in a non vegan world as a vegan can be very alienating, so is it too much to ask that we have one space that is completely vegan? The volunteer who found the meat in the freezer may not have worked as hard as the co-op members, but was still giving up their time to work at a vegan cafe and must have been very shocked and upset to find animal products there, and should have been given and apology and assurance that the animal products would be removed.
I wonder why the co-op member questioned did not feel uncomfortable about the animal corpses in the fridge? Would they feel comfortable if a murdered human corpse was kept in the fridge? I'm assuming they wouldn't, which underlies a specisist attitude that as a vegan I am fighting against. This doesn't mean I hate all non vegans, as Leviathen points out most of us were non vegan once. However, in my experience the vast majority if not all of non vegans do not really understand how strongly we feel about animal exploitation, hence meat being stored in the freezer, and to me this demonstrates why non vegans should not be running Pogos.
I wouldn't spend my time arguing against freeganism, I would rather use my energy on the vast majority who economically support the meat and dairy industry, but Pogos is not a freegan cafe, and if people want a freegan space I suggest they set one up.
I know this email sounds very critical of the former crew, I am not in general and really do appreciate all the hard work they have put into Pogo over the last few years. I have nothing against them personally and.wish them all the best for whatever they decide to do next. Good luck to the new crew too, more notice about the meeting would have been good, I would have tried to come along.