OpEd: Sure We Can and the 800 Canners It Supports Needs Your Help – Today

The New York City Council is about to vote and re-allocate funds for the 2021 City Budget – and I wanted to share an institution that is especially close to my heart, and who needs support today. ​Sure We Can​, a waste management company and nonprofit canning collective in Bushwick, has put forth a request for Capital Funding. They are at risk of eviction, and this is a vital local space for sustainability in New York City. ​For over 10 years, Sure We Can and the 800 canners it represents have worked to build community, decrease waste, and develop the circular economy.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams has agreed to allocate $1 million from his budget to support Sure We Can, but they need an additional $1.3 million to come from the City Council. The request is supported by Councilmember Antonio Reynoso, State Senator Julia Salazar, and Pat Quinn, former Governor of Illinois. ​Losing the limited industrial affordable space for Sure We Can will be a major setback in meeting NYC’s zero waste goals. This funding request is not a handout, but a leg up for low-income entrepreneurs of our city. ​Chicago Crosby, Sure We Can Board Member and Canning Rights Activist says, “Help me to help them not only save tax-payer dollars and deplete landfills of these eco-harmful but redeemable products but also to help instill a work ethic that will extend an entire lifetime.”

All images by Carlos Rivera

Ever since I moved to New York, I’ve been performing at Sure We Can with my company Dzieci Theatre. There we have performed in a shipping container, beneath an overhang in the sorting yard, as well as inside a warehouse where bottles are stored. It’s an incredible experience as an artist to work in non-traditional spaces. Each time we visit and prepare our space, we protect the sorted recyclables, lay down pallets as a stage floor, and stack milk crates as seats for the audience.

At my pre-COVID job at Beer Table in Manhattan, we would sell fresh cases of beer from NYC Breweries, and beer available through regional beer distributors including Manhattan, Union Beer, S.K.I., 12%, and Remarkable Liquids, among others. So frequently, each time I would return to Sure We Can, I would see empty cans from my local favorites, as well as many Big Beer classics, like Budweiser, Corona, even Ballast Point. It is easy to forget the physical impact of the drinks industry on our environment, and I am grateful to be able to see how the beer industry manifests at this end-point. In a place like Sure We Can, this valuable lesson is in practice, in a sea of empty cans.

Sure We Can services a population of vulnerable black and brown communities, immigrants, and working families for whom collecting cans is part of their livelihood. Though I have had these personal encounters and productive interactions, my impact is only as large as I am willing to engage. It only begins to chip away at some of the cultural and racial stigmas associated with being a canner.

Pierre Simmons, longtime canner and SWC Board Member is interested in the humanization of canners. Last week in a virtual press conference he stated, “I have noticed that over the years we are treated as though we are subhuman, and that is the very opposite of who and what we are. We are independent workers.”

In addition to its work in sustainability, Sure We Can is engaging in an outreach campaign for the 2020 US Census, to reach historically undercounted people, and ensure future federal funding for public services. In a city like New York, where the restaurant and bar industry relies on the labor of the undocumented to survive, it is crucial that we find avenues to support their rights. Sure We Can is an exemplary definition of a grassroots, community-led organization that serves its people.

HOW TO HELP TODAY:

Follow Sure We Can on Instagram: @surewecannyc
Follow the link in their profile to send an email to your representatives.

Another concrete way for New Yorkers to help?

Do you have any empty cans, plastic or glass bottles? Leave them in a shopping bag in front of your home or hanging on the fence. It all counts!

www.surewecan.or​g

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