An auto mechanic and a community organizer walk into a bar…

they decide that auto repair should be free. That’s basically what happened with The Automotive Free Clinic, but the mechanic and the organizer were both me.

Here’s the story.

In January of 2020, I offered a first of its kind class called Redneck Studies. The class was both about reflection and analysis of who white working class Southerners are and speculation about who we could be in the future. It was attended by 5 rednecks, three from Alabama, one from Texas, and one from Paraguay. Yes, there are rednecks in Paraguay and they are definitely Southerners, or at least, we discovered similarities in music, humor, and experiences. Redneck is global.

Anyway, while I was teaching this class, I was also working as an auto technician at a dealership in Montgomery, Alabama. It was a fun job. I love working on cars and hanging out with salty working class people, telling rude jokes and being smart asses to each other. Then, coronavirus hit. I had been a leader in my previous stop in organizing in Birmingham, Alabama and I had basically quit organizing to go back to working in a shop. But, when coronavirus hit, I knew that I could sit back and do nothing. So, I got together with the rednecks from the Redneck Studies class and The Automotive Free Clinic was born.

The AFC provides free and low cost auto repair to the community. In Alabama, the state commits no money to public transportation and, because of this, it is abysmal. Mobility is a huge barrier to people getting to work, the doctor, the grocery store, church, and other essential places, and with a collapsing economy, these barriers will get even higher. The AFC stands in the gap.

The grand opening for The AFC was in June of 2020 and in the last three months we’ve repaired almost 20 cars and trucks, done thousands of dollars of work for completely free, and even made it a practice to charge nothing to Black community members as a form of reparations since we are a white organization. We’ve raised almost $10,000.

The next step is to get a brick and mortar shop. Currently, I am running the shop out of the back of my ‘85 Toyota 4Runner. A brick and mortar shop would greatly expand the number and complexity of repairs that we could do, it would give us the opportunity to be a community institution by offering educational class at the shop, and it would allow us to start a new program called The Automotive Free Car Lot. Let me explain.

It is common for non-profits to ask for donations of old cars as a form of fundraising. The often send the cars off to be scrapped and receive a small amount for the scap metal, usually about $250. The Automotive Free Car Lot could receive the same vehicle donation, fix up the vehicle, and give it to community members in need.

An example of how this could work is suppose a community member brings in a 1990 Ford Ranger and it has a blown up engine. Well, that wouldn’t be worth repairing. But, we could put them in a 2000 Honda Civic that we pieced together from four donations, which would leave us 3 vehicles to scrap once we stripped them. We would make $1000, get a community member in need in a reliable vehicle, and have a ton of spare parts to use to fix up other vehicle donations.

But, we need a shop to do this. So, I’m asking for donations to help us get the $20,000 for shop rent and overhead for a year.