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Reflecting on the New York Commune at 20 Years

What happened in the decades after the Hunts Point Insurrection? M. E. O’Brien and Eman Abdelhadi use speculative oral history to share the stories of the everyday people involved in making New York City’s abolitionist future.

Reviewed: M. E. O’Brien and Eman Abdelhadi, Everything for Everyone: An Oral History of the New York Commune, 2052–2072, Common Notions Press, New York/Philadelphia, 2022

In a journal entry from November 14, 1981, Octavia Butler coined the term “histofuturism” to describe her archival practice and how she created critical fabulations of the future: “Histofuturist is my invention. An historian who extrapolates from the Human past and present as well as the technological past and present.” As Professor Shelley Streeby (2018) writes, “[Butler] preserves pieces of the past and present but changes them as she constellates and annotates them with a speculative eye toward the future.” Creating through a lens of histofuturism requires a keen sense of the past and present, the social, environmental, and political factors that have gotten us to where we are, and what it might mean for the future, real or imagined. When we’re presented with an alternative world, it’s difficult to capture the complex processes that get us there. We can arrive at a utopia, dystopia, or something in between without a clear sense of the systems and movements that got us there. But what if we were able to create another world and learn from the organizers who made it happen?

Everything for Everyone, written by M. E. O’Brien and Eman Abdelhadi, is an enthralling portrayal of what happens after an insurrection in Hunts Point begins a 30‑year struggle that propels New York City into an abolitionist future. Capitalism no longer exists, resources are distributed to everyone in need, the nuclear family is no longer the unit used to organize how we live, and self-organized communes hold assembly meetings for collective decision-making and conflict resolution. This revolution isn’t isolated to New York: years of war, economic instability, climate catastrophe, authoritarian governments, and a pandemic lead to the collapse of the global financial market and the creation of commune networks around the world. The book is structured as 12 fictionalized interviews from 2067 to 2072 featuring organizers who were involved in the Hunts Point Insurrection in 2052 and the movements that followed. It serves as one of many efforts to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the New York Commune, a network of residential communes, planning forums, and cooperative production councils that span the five boroughs.

Everything for Everyone defies traditional genre labels. It can be interpreted as speculative fiction or sci‑fi, but the term “visionary fiction,” coined by writer and educator Walidah Imarisha, seems more of an apt descriptor. As Imarisha (2015) puts it, “I came up with the term “visionary fiction” to encompass the fantastical cross-genre creations that help us bring about those new worlds. This term reminds us to be utterly unrealistic in our organizing, because it is only through imagining the so-called impossible that we can begin to concretely build it.” The path-making is key to what makes the book such a tactile vision of a postcapitalist society. Through the interviews, we learn in rich detail how movement leaders dismantle systems, self-organize, and practice collective care.

Structuring the book through oral history is a brilliant use of the form. Oral histories provide depth and texture to moments in the past that can feel inaccessible to us in the present day. It’s a window into the perspectives of everyday people who, despite insurmountable odds, fought, organized, survived, and thrived. Frequently they’re our only look into the lives of people marginalized in life and the history textbooks. In the book, we hear from everyday people involved in actions all over the city: DJs, nurses, sex workers, students, elders. It makes clear that everyone, regardless of social position, has a role to play in transforming unjust systems. An interview with Tanya John, coordinator of the Crotona Commune, explores the principles of dance parties and rave culture and how they are transmuted and used in the coordination of a month-long assembly of communes across the region.

The first interviewee featured in the book is Miss Kelly, a sex worker who strolled in Hunts Point for years before helping to lead the takeover of the Hunts Point Produce Market on May 6, 2052. Following ongoing economic crises in the 2030s and 2040 and a United States-led invasion of Iran, millions of Americans are out of work, and government services cease to exist in a meaningful way. A food shortage occurs in Hunts Point and other communities across the Bronx. Regular New Yorkers go hungry while the produce market becomes a citadel protected by the military and the NYPD, serving as a food stash for affluent neighborhoods in Manhattan. Miss Kelly and thousands of Hunt Point residents storm the produce market and access food for hungry New Yorkers. What follows is the development of a cooperative food distribution system with upstate farmers and the launching point of one of New York City’s first communes. Sex work, then known as skinwork, becomes a form of therapy.

Other systems throughout the city are communized. An interview with Belquues Chowdhury recounts the occupation of the Borough of Manhattan Community College and abandoned office buildings in lower Manhattan for the creation of the Tribeca Commune. Elmhurst Hospital, one of many closed by the city in the 2040s, is occupied by nurses and is turned into a free hospital with drugs and medical supplies sourced from a communized pharmaceutical plant in Jackson, Mississippi. The impacts of climate change are woven throughout many of the interviews and it’s clear that the intersection of economic collapse and extreme weather creates the conditions for the rebellion against current systems. The combination of food scarcity and weeks of 90‑plus-degree weather in April fuels the community takeover of the Hunts Point Produce Market. Regular flooding of lower Manhattan leaves abandoned buildings that are transformed into communal spaces. Cities like Miami become underwater cemeteries with sea-level rise. Communes across the city host climate refugees that have fled from other parts of the country and the world due to chronic flooding, desertification, and wildfires. The impacts of climate change force a reset on how communities interact with the landscape. Indigenous farming practices are reintroduced in barren regions of the country to support reforestation and sustainable food growing. In a world where an average of 21.5 million people are annually displaced because of extreme weather (UNHCR 2016), with the number only expected to grow in the coming decades, the book’s portrayal of climate impacts feels eerily prescient in the same way that Octavia Butler’s portrayal of a drought-stricken California under authoritarian rule in Parable of the Sower feels like a mirror.

Each interviewee makes clear that the price of a revolution is steep: friends and families killed by militarized police forces, one billion people lost from the impacts of climate change. But all of the losses are on the path towards a more just future. O’Brien and Abdelhadi frame the commune itself as a place that facilitates ongoing healing:

“All these narrators participated, to varying degrees, as deliberate and self-conscious actors in a social transformation that was able to challenge and remake global social forces and institutions. The experience of successful collective action, however violent and chaotic, enabled participants to imagine and create new forms of love and solidarity, of being together with each other, and ultimately of healing.”

A postcapitalist New York City isn’t some perfect utopia but a hard-fought state of being that requires consistent tending-to. Utopian theorist Tom Moylan (1986) notes that the civil-rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s inspired writings of critical utopias. The writing was reacting to an era of disillusionment in government and ongoing struggles for racial and gender equality. There was no room for rose-colored glasses and the science-fiction writing of the time reflected that. Writers like Ursula K. Le Guin and Sam Delany developed stories that critically examined societal norms. Critical utopian writing can hold on to the vision of utopian thinking while acknowledging the ongoing struggles that exist in society. As Moylan puts it, “a central concern of the critical utopia is the awareness of the limitations of the utopian tradition, so that these texts reject utopia as a blueprint while preserving it as a dream. Furthermore, the novels dwell on the conflict between the ordinary world and the utopian society opposed to it so that the process of social change is more directly articulated. Finally, the novels focus on the continuing process of difference and imperfection within utopian society itself and thus render more recognizable and dynamic alternatives.” The difference and imperfections captured in Everything for Everyone make the New York of the 2050s to 2070s feel like a legible place, full of a cast of characters that make the city, the city.

The specificity in the rendering of a communized New York City speaks to the deep organizing experience of the authors. M. E. O’Brien, professor of queer studies at New York University, and co‑editor of Pinko and Parapraxis, spent years involved in trans and HIV activism. Her previous book, Family Abolition: Capitalism and the Communizing of Care, explored the history of the working-class family and family abolition movements. Eman Abdelhadi, faculty fellow at the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study and assistant professor of comparative human development at the University of Chicago, has been involved in organizing for Palestinian liberation and helps to coordinate the Muslim Alliance for Gender and Sexual Diversity. The book provides both a hopeful and clear-eyed view of class struggle through a Marxist lens. It’s sure to become a classic for readers looking for models of community care and radical world rebuilding.


  • Imarisha, W. 2015. “Rewriting the Future: Using Science Fiction to Re‑envision Justice”, Bitch Media, no. 66.
  • Moylan, T. 1986. Demand the Impossible: Science Fiction and the Utopian Imagination, New York: Methuen.
  • Streeby, S. 2018. “Radical Reproduction: Octavia E. Butler’s HistoFuturist Archiving as Speculative Theory”, Women’s Studies, vol. 47, no. 7, pp. 719–732. DOI: 10.1080/00497878.2018.1518619.
  • United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). 2016. “Frequently asked questions on climate change and disaster displacement”, UNHCR website [online], 6 November. URL:

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To cite this article:

Daphne Lundi, “Reflecting on the New York Commune at 20 Years”, Metropolitics, 9 April 2024. URL :

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