Sunday, September 20, 2020
It sure has... So, in writing here again I'll first toss out neutrality. The travails of this year have compounded with the death of my mother in Milwaukee last month. (Joan W. Moore was a distinguished sociologist, known for her work on Chicanx gangs. Her papers on those projects, early instances of participant research, are at UCLA.)
So I have a house to clear, an art collection to catalogue, and all those boxes, boxes, boxes of papers and books -- including numerous from the "House Magic" zine project and the "Occupation Culture" book research -- to store until I can get back to Milwaukee and work on them again.
Yes, I'm in the city by Lake Michigan -- "It's not a lake! It's an inland sea!" Right.)
And, to quote from the website of the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee where my mother taught most of her career: "We acknowledge in Milwaukee that we are on traditional Potawatomi, Ho-Chunk and Menominee homeland along the southwest shores of Michigami, North America’s largest system of freshwater lakes, where the Milwaukee, Menominee and Kinnickinnic rivers meet and the people of Wisconsin’s sovereign Anishinaabe, Ho-Chunk, Menominee, Oneida and Mohican nations remain present."
Facebook post about the Milwaukee Home Show of our family art collection
So there is this -- the weight of the past, which I'm doing now in my parents' home before selling it and leaving town. Milwaukeeans deserve a chance to see the things which delighted my late folks as they lived in this typical midwestern house.
Meanwhile, "SQuatting Everywhere Kollective" Lives!
We hope. And the "(Virtual) 14th NYC Anarchist book fair 2020" is kicking off next week. I'll cobble up a video for my and our books (5 years old but still realistic). And urge y'all to check it out, tune in, however you can. Technical disasters anticipated!, but a ferment of ideas and action as well. Saludos a todxs -- en soli, /awm
Friday, November 22, 2019
The SqEK group’s 10th annual meeting was held in Madrid in late October. The Squatting Everwhere Kollective organized with Madrid social centers, and activists of the housing group PAH. (PAH, for Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca, is the network of Spanish housing activists which came out of the financial crisis of 2008; they work with people displaced first for mortgage default, and more recently for privatization of public housing, resisting evictions, demonstrating and occupying.) This report is put together from collective notes shared with the group.
The focus of the SqEK was “one full day on Squatting for Housing, and another day on Squatting and Migration.” Mornings were given over to presentation and discussion of research papers, sharing of activist experiences, posters, videos, etc. Evenings saw talks with activists and some collective debates. The meeting included visits to different squatted spaces across the city and environs.
The conference began with a welcome dinner at the cooperative Achuri bar on calle de Argumosa in Lavapies. It’s an ‘alternative’ gathering place, hung with anti-fascist posters.
La Casika, Mostoles
The next morning, conferees trained out to Mostoles, a city near Madrid Central, to La Casika. An activist from the social center met the conferees to present the CSO, which is housed in an old-style low-rise building. She announced she is being evicted in early November. Squats have disappeared in Madrid Central, and now it is even rare to have squats in the periphery of Madrid. La Casika is used as a social center but offers support for people with housing issues.
This social center was occupied 22 years ago by an antifascist group. Over the years, there have been many refurbishments in the house, “to keep it alive.” The program includes groups of self defense, yoga, feminists, animal rights, prison support, drug addiction assistance, and more, organized by both activist groups and neigbours. La Casika also organizes “Corto y Cambio,” a popular short film festival, and a jazz festival. There are summer concerts and wall climbing.
The city administration wants to demolish La Casika as part of their renovation plan for the Mostoles city center. The collective stopped three eviction attempts. These were juidicial successes because the government made mistakes. Now in the fourth attempt, they will likely succeed. The court cases have taken different judicial paths – criminal, civil – now it's administrative.
Conferees asked for consent to take photographs and make recordings. "In Spain we like to take photographs, so we can show to the outside there is many people." SqEKers were invited to a solidarity party for migrant minors in La Ingobernable squat tomorrow. [La Ingobernable center, in an occupied city university building, was evicted in November, 2019.]
The papers scheduled for the day: Shabna Begum > Home, squat home: exploring migrant homemaking inside a squatter movement (London) / Explorando la producción migrante del hogar dentro del movimiento okupa (Londres) Matina Kapsali, Lazaros Karaliotas > Translating the common: Orfanotrofio housing squat for immigrants as a space of political subjectivation across differences (Thessaloniki) / Traduciendo lo común: la okupa Orfanotrofio para inmigrantes Nikolas Kanavaris > Refugee housing Squats as Commons (Athens) / Las okupas de refugiadas como communes (Atenas)
Bengali Squatters in East London
Shabna Begum presented her paper, “East London Bengali Squatters, Tower Hamlets, 1970s,” a historic research on migrant home-making.in a new environment. Bengali squatters occupied whole blocks of flats in East London, Spitalfields, where centuries before the East India Company had offices. Today 41% living there are still Bangladeshi.
[Note: In these notes, there is often no clear distinction between the presentation and the discussion.]
In the 1950s and ‘60s, many migrant men arrived. The 1970s saw changes in immigration laws, restricting the rights of families to join them. Housing was very precarious; the men were sleeping in shifts – “hotbunking”. The local housing council had a racist allocation system. Bengalis were kept off the waiting lists, and were housed separately. At the same time, there was "popular violent racism" from National Front skinheads.
Bengali people formed the BHAG (Bengali Housing Action Group), a word that in Bengali means both “tiger” and “share” – a radical, fierce collective, community. BHAG activists "identified with the black power movement," adopting a racial identity. Their strategy was to squat in density, and to establish vigilante patrols to ensure security and safety. The home then extended onto the street; to be at home was understood as to be safe in your community, in your area. They did this for two years, pressuring the council to provide better conditions.
For Bengali squatters in the 1970s, home was a space both meaningful and political, space for solidarity and resistance. Begum used oral history of people involved, to ask how people reflect upon those experiences, and how they feel about home. Begum interviewed five men and three women in Bengali. Everything must be translated to English. She used theory of feminist geography to explore home space as material and affective, connected to both London and home in Bangladesh. Unique problems: for example, Bengali does not have a direct match with the word "home".
Begum saw this migration and squatting narrative as in danger of being lost. Other accounts of daily lives in squatting include: Matt Cook in the 1970s, worked with gay squats and their "everyday lived experience", including new family dynamics and domestic arrangements (“Gay Times: Identity, Locality, Memory, and the Brixton Squats in 1970s London”). Christine Wall (?) wrote on feminist squats in 1970s (“Sisterhood and Squatting in the 1970s: Feminism, Housing and Urban Change in Hackney”).
"These are exceptional cases – more often, migrants were not organising like this." Bengalis felt directly targeted, and saw themselves as a cohesive group with a separate housing interest. They were supported by white squatters, especially legally. Squatting then was not yet criminalised. "This was also temporary for them."
Since the 1990s there's been a criminalization. Because of the media campaign against squatters, many people now use the word "occupy", not "squat". Discussion of research on “racialised identity”. In London, the Remembering Olive Collective (ROC) worked on issues of black education.
Migrant Squats in Thessaloniki, Greece
Matina Kapsali spoke about the Orfanotrofio housing squat for immigrants as a space of political subjectification across difference – “Translating the Commons”. Squatting disrupts the dominant order of cities, but constructs political spaces of solidarity. As per Jacques Rancière, “politics is world-making”. The “production of emancipatory realities” must be created by outcasts of the hegemony. While equality is presupposed, dissensus is important (citation: “Ten Theses on Politics”).
The method of the paper was informal conversations with migrants & activists. Many initiatives came from a “wave of solidarity" with migrants, the “corridors of solidarity” via Turkey through the Balkans to Europe which included squats and makeshift camps, and organised legal support groups.
The Orfanotrofio squat was in an orphanage owned by the Orthodox church. About 70 people lived there, families with children, 30% women. The places had rules of community. It was an institution of commoning, not a state organization nor an NGO (citation: “Citizenship as inhabitance? Migrant housing squats versus institutional accommodation” (Citizenship Studies, 2019).
Everyday life in the squat consisted of collecting goods and provisions, making events and struggling together. The building was evicted and demolished in 2016. When it was evicted, many were moved to camps, but many were taken in by friends they made while squatting.
The Orfanotrofio was an intensive political experiment. There were tensions between refugees looking to work with the state and find places to stay and access services, and the squatters’ political aims to maintain autonomous spaces and not work with and resist the state.
How was the built network different from previous anarcho squat networks? It used the same symbols and relied on similar infrastructure, but with so many "ordinary people participating" there were not so many commonalities with "traditional squat movements" of Greece.
Athens, the Big Assemblies
Discussion of the big assemblies in Athens, the “great ideas” generated. “It’s very powerful to do these networks in the city." Talk of the complex situation of migrants in Greece during the summer of 2016, moving from camps to the city, country selection, the Red Cross, etc. “We always have the issue to understand if squatting is empowering people or not."
Paper – “Refugee Housing Squats as Commons - The case of Athens and the City Plaza Hotel” (Nikolas Kanavaris). The hotel was in Exarcheia, famous as “anarchist ghetto". With the 2019 change of government to right wing from center-left Syriza in power since 2015, the hotel was evicted. (The Guardian covered the event.) While many of the migrant squats were evicted; the City Plaza actually decided not be evicted, but to close voluntarily. In many rooms, people had their luggage “ready to go”.
The author sought to understand the internal dynamics of the squat, “using the theory of commons”. He saw the "commoning" process as a "relational practice", "creating a new ethos". He focussed on assymetries of power relations, and tried to give them meaning. This involved theorizing the concept of "hospitality" at different scales – state, regional, local, etc., as an ethics of power and space which enables subjects to encounter and transform each other’s identity.
Using a spatial approach, “I want to remap hospitality as radical solidarity”. This mapping considered spaces of organization, reception, food preparation and consumption, and the more private corridors and rooms.
A Panorama of Housing Struggles in Madrid
The 2017 film "La Grieta" (The Cry) was shown. One of the directors, Alberto García Ortiz, was present. The film follows the struggle of a family in social housing in the Villaverde barrio after the crisis of 2008 when the local council sells their apartment building to a North American “vulture fund”. The film explores the complex collusion of banks and politicians as well as tenant resistance.
In the evening, a panel discussion on migration, shortage of public resources and squatting in Mostoles (municipality near Madrid) included activists from the collective of CSOA La Casika, the okupa “La Dignidad”, the Stop Evictions assembly of Móstoles, and the photographer and activist Alberto Astudillo.
The activists of La Dignidad get legal advice from a committee. One of the provisions of their new contracts was found to be abusive by the European court. “Many procedures are still stuck in court. Some we can’t appeal – but the bank can.”
We got 80.000 signatures on a petition for a new housing law, but it wasn’t discussed in the Madrid Assembly (the regional government body), as it was controlled by the right wing. They were re-elected, so now it will be even more difficult. But we keep fighting! Even though most of us don't come from law, we learned things that we can now pass on to empower people.
The collective Stop Desahucios Móstoles is one of about the many district assemblies against evictions in the Madrid region, which meet weekly to deal with mortgages, tenant issues and squats. The assemblies offer “peer to peer” legal support.
Discussion: How do evictions happen in different places?
Day 2 – Squatting for Housing and Commons
Introduction to the squat EKO – ESLA El Eko (Espacio Sociocultural Liberado Autogestionado), in barrio Carabanchel – and visit to all the floors and the roof, with brand new solar panels. Days before, Eko had endured a clumsy eviction attempt in the guise of an inspection.
In the morning, we skipped the presentations and went to a Stop Desahucios (evictions) action in Carabanchel. Legal warnings were made in advance. The police did not show up. We stayed for a few hours in front of the door and chatted with activists and neighbours (around 30 people). Squatters had been in these apartments for more than five years. There were many more squatted apartments in the same street. Most were Roma people. Some were participants in the local housing group, the PAH or the Tenants' Union. The eviction was halted / postponed, because due to the common process in Madrid to sell and re-sell flats between investment funds and banks, the entity asking for eviction was not the same on the property title, so it was blocked by the court secretary (letrado de la administracion de justicia).
The presence of the approximately 20 SqeKers, a big part of the mobilisation, was appreciated by the family involved.
After lunch, we continued with the presentations of research works.
Presentation by Hande Gulen, “Neighborhood and activism in Istanbul: space, locality and the new political forms”.
Presentation by Begüm Özden Fırat, “‘Emek will not bow down to capital’ creation of urban commons and regimes of enclosure in İstanbul”.
Beyond the dichotomy of "state" and "private property”, how can we "common" property? How to practice it in such a way that it's not "private" property, but something else?
The occupied theater was called "Emec", which also means "labour". For generations, the theater was a subcultural space with a radical heritage. In 1987 May 1st was celebrated here, even though the holiday was generally banned. It is located in Taksim, a cultural and political hotspot of Turkey.
In 2009 it was closed. In 2010, a fake "film festival opening" was announced. When people came, the protests were called. There followed monthly demonstrations against the demolition. Some marches brought 3,000 people. The demolition was seen as a symbol of the gentrification of Istambul.
Some famous film people gave the movement a face. The street in front of the theatre was "kept busy" (occupied) all the time. People, "acting like the state", asked for a "common property", produced space as "common" by performing everyday acts.
The theater had belonged to Jewish owners, but was confiscated after the 1942 "non-muslim citizen tax" law. Recalling this informed the participants how property is made! This is not so unlike what states do now in neoliberal times. They confiscate buildings, then sell them later [e.g., eminent domain for purposes of development].
"Squatting is a way of un-making property. We have to think about how that property was made, before" …. "It's not our responsibility to change the past, but to rethink it. We have to think about violent acts that came before our activist ones today."
Peter Linebaugh, a historian of English commoners of the 13th century, argues that in the construction of property, besides only "contracts", "acts" should also be considered.
Questions – Why wasn't the theater occupied? It was too big. There was no neighbourhood around to hold it.
In Italy there was a wave of theater occupations in 2011, like Teatro Valle in Rome. The fact Emec was in the center was considered a factor in favour of occupation. Police repression always depends on many factors. Maybe centrality makes it more likely to be evicted? Squats in Kadikoy survived, because it was just after the Gezi Park uprising. Police were not ready to attack them, especially in a "republican" neighbourhood.
Samuel Burgum presented on "Occupying London: Post-Crash Resistance and the Limits of Possibility" (2019). The city is an archive. The storing and interpreting of historical data establishes authority. As the state does this, it has the authority to say what the city or country is. This dynamic, played out through records offices, museums, and libraries, is especially visible in colonial situations.
Derrida wrote about this: there is "no political control without control of the archive". These are centers of interpretation, with a claim to "know better than everyone else". Archives assert there is a "we", with a past and a future.
In England there are groups of people making their own counter-archives. This is a way to take back control over own history. These archives are defined by their precarity, by the struggle to keep them. London has had several archives destroyed by fire, by being thrown onto the street after evictions, or currently being rained on through leaking roofs. The dilemma is to keep control over them although they are in danger? or to work with a formal collection and lose control?
Example: The Black Panthers in the 1970s; the “Naming Olive” archive, named for Jamaican-born “Windrush” generation activist educator. She squatted a property in Brixton which became a center, used by Reclaim the Streets, had a printing press.
Lukas Kotyk presented “Learning to be horizontal by living together: the squatted garden as a common space for the imagination” / Aprendiendo a vivir juntos horizontalmente: el huerto como espacio común de imaginación.
This article was written for a forthcoming issue of Partecipazione ed Conflitto journal on horizontality in a squatting community. It discusses the self-management of occupied spaces, a study in "non-hierarchy". These are places without fixed positions, where one is able to work "with nobody telling us what to do", with nobody getting paid for "not nice" jobs.
The key questions is how to manage horizontality? to self-manage better, and be aware of mistakes and dangers. "Within the struggle we are focused on the way we fight it" Through practice, movement actors create a "conflation of goals and means". Thus we may bridge "existential revolt" and "political revolution", through trying to have different everyday relations. Squatting seems perfect for this work, since without ownership, much of the usual hierarchy is avoided. Still it requires effort, and the invention of sophisticated forms of governance.
Kotyk studied social anthropology and ethnography. He lives in a squat and tries to see problems appearing and methods of dealing with them. He worked at a house in southern France, anonymized as Cida. The house was their common and safe space, with washing machine and kitchen, but they lived on the garden and focused a lot on agriculture.
In meetings they called "metel", they form a circle, and give each other two minutes each. To begin a topic you first take the opinion of all, without interruptions. If everyone talks, it's easier to be part of the discussion. This tool helps them to avoid that the discussions be monopolised. It also helps to avoid tensions, conflict. If a conflictive situation appears, it can be stopped and restarted. They try to be direct, to deal with tensions as soon as possible. To have non-hierarchical relationships it's fundamental to study these methodologies, these small tools, and how they are used.
What about when hierarchies are important like, when you are doing electricity? "It can still be discussed!" It's important to keep being reflexive. It’s also about other things, like always spreading the knowledge.
Evening discussions with Madrid activists from different housing groups and the tenants union.
The next day the SqEK meeting concluded with time given over to internal discussion at the squat La Canica. Recent debates on the list-serve have roiled SqEK. These concerned tensions between activists and academics over anthology book preparation, costs of same academic products, and more. It was determined that in the weeks following the meeting that SqEK will continue to exist – one of the basic questions – but now under “new management.” There will be new administrators of the list-serve, a revamped website, a new manifesto statement of purpose. More details will be posted here as they become available.
La Ingobernable evicted, Nov. 13, '19
Remembering Olive Collective (ROC) worked on issues of black education.
The Orfanotrofio was an intensive political experiment
Text from Orfanotrofio squat, 2015
image from https://en.squat.net/2015/12/31/thessaloniki-a-visit-at-the-orfanotrofio-squat/
The Guardian covered the event.
Guardian: Inside Exarcheia: the self-governing community Athens police want rid of
ESLA (Espacio Sociocultural Liberado Autogestionado) El Eko, in barrio Carabanchel.
clumsy eviction attempt 20 October 2019
Banner drop outside of ESLA Eko for the JACA 2018, anarchist art show, hosted by the Ateneo Libertario de Carabanchel
Emek theater occupation photo from hurriyetdailynews.com
Banco Expropiado La Canica (calle Huerta del Bayo 2 -esquina calle Embajadores- LavapiÃ©s) an expropriated bank, part of a network of cooperatives in Madrid
"La Comunidad de Intercambio La Canica es una red de intercambio de bienes y servicios con una moneda social propia y bellísima llamada, claro está, la canica." / The Exchange Community La Canica is a network for the exchange of goods and services with its own beautiful social currency, of course, the marble.
Friday, June 28, 2019
Dos okupas del grupo La Dragona de Madrid. Foto: Alvaro Garcia for El Pais
It’s an exciting moment in Madrid politics, and not in the way we’d prefer. The right wing has regained power in the last election, at both the city and the provincial level. (Due to a split in the left, naturally.) So the social movements that made up the backbone of the Madrid municipalist movement – Ahora Madrid, Madrid Mas, whatever it’s now-to-be-forgotten formation was named – will be challenged to go back to the streets. The new rightwing city council of the Popular Party includes the ultra-right wing party Vox. They are already pulling the plug on autonomous spaces that the city controls. And the new mayor has vowed to evict all the okupas they can find.
So here comes SqEK to analyze the situation...
First Callout for SqEK Madrid
Call for Papers and other forms of participation in the SqEK (Squatting Everywhere Kollective) conference to be held in Madrid: October 23-27, 2019.
Deadline for proposals July 15, 2019. [This is to plan for accomodations and facilities; more about intent to attend. – ed]
In our 10th anniversary as an activist-research network (https://sqek.squat.net/ and https://radicalhousingjournal.org/2019/sqek/) we keep meeting once a year, at least, in a self-managed conference. This means, above all, that we try to keep it as low-cost as possible, and no registration fees are charged. If available, free or cheap accommodation will be also provided for those who request it. In addition, we will collect donations from participants with permanent jobs to sponsor those without sufficient resources to attend. Even if you don't attend, you can donate to support the contribution of precarious activist-scholars. We expect that all the participants will cooperate with the organisation and development of the encounter.
Regarding the contents, we will focus on Squatting for Housing on the first day, Squatting and Migration on the second, and Squatting and Gender on the third. Please, submit your proposals according to these topics, although other subjects might be accepted too in case there are not sufficient contributions for the main ones. If there is an available time slot, we will also discuss draft papers to be submitted for the special issue on Squatting and Urban Commons (to be published by PaCo, Partecipazione e Conflitto, journal).
As usual, we will start on Wednesday evening with a welcoming event. From Thursday to Saturday, we will have morning, afternoon and evening activities TBD. Sunday morning will be dedicated to evaluate the meeting and discuss about current projects, the future of SqEK, etc.
Every morning will be dedicated to present and discuss papers, activist experiences, posters, videos, etc. Every evening (6-9 pm on Thursday and Friday, 5-8 pm on Saturday) will consist of a presentation by local activists and a collective debate. In between, we will visit different squatted spaces across the city-metropolitan area.
In order to have a fruitful meeting for all the participants, we will ask local activists what kind of contribution they want from our side. For example: a press conference to support their struggle against an eviction threat, to record a video clip with a similar purpose, to help painting banners or designing posters, etc. We will also ask for permission to record the debates and collective interviews to be held during the meeting.
If you are interested in participating, please fill in the following form and submit it to email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com by July 15, 2019, the latest:
This blogger will sadly not be in town… but will be coordinating events from New York City, a solidarity live stream.
SqEK book publication, Fighting for spaces, Fighting for our lives: Squatting movements today (2019)
Wednesday, June 5, 2019
by MARC HERBST
Ever since the international and regional implications of a potential far right victory in the recent EU elections revealed itself, you got a sense that the government in Germany and the state of Saxony where I’m writing from was put on notice. A large rainbow coalition of pro-EU parties organized a nationwide day of manifestations. The bogeyman right wing AfD (Alternative for Deutschland) party was nowhere to be seen. The Linke, SPD, Greens, DiEM and also Merkel’s CDU participated in the Leipzig event. It was a sizable albeit bland platform, punctuated by a surprisingly good pop/techno band playing from a stage on the plaza at the end of the march. From that stage, focused and partisan announcements on the need to get out and vote were made between bands. Speakers said that besides Berlin, Leipzig was the only other participating city in the former East. It was a lovely spring day. Though the turn-out was fine, it was not the huge “get-out the vote” rally it could have been.
Over the last months, I've watched the further-left Linke party play with emerging movements and solidifying facts of the city and the wider European and global situation. Earlier this year, there was a sizeable energetic anti-gentrification march in Berlin. The march was built by networks of housing-rights movements who've marched for several years now. Last year’s turn-out should have been larger even if there were some fabulous pictures demonstrating links between the city's electric and queer-fab and cool party scene. With a strong policy initiative of returning large housing blocks to public ownership, including houses upon the symbolic Karl Marx Avenue that heads east from the center of Berlin, this year's turn-out was quite good. Rent prices have skyrocketed in both Berlin and Leipzig – both places with historically low rents.
A few weeks later, Leipzig had an anti-gentrification march with a good turn-out. The Linke was prominent in the march. Speakers during the rally referenced the sizable Berlin crowd and the policy initiatives coming out of the capital city. Later that month, in the immigrant and hipster ‘bad reputation’ neighborhood of Eisenbahnstrasse near the train station, the Linke prominently appeared during the rent party/street protest to support a local bar hit by a terrifying rent increase. I just came upon the protest- I was in the neighborhood printing at the public-access risograph club and was drawn to the event by its sound-system resting in a cart in the middle of the street. The cart had Linke party flags on it.
I’d been seeing the impact of Linke party branding at more official temporary, cultural initiatives. I work a few days a week in Grünau, another ‘troubled’ neighborhood, but one further away from the city center. Grünau was a model socialist neighborhood during the East German period. It was planned and built from scratch using the best socialist urban design. On the long pedestrian promenade at the core of the neighborhood, the Linke storefront is almost kitty-corner to the active indoor swimming pool and youth center, and just down the street from a series of politically oriented cultural spaces. Moreover, in the weekend before the election, I saw their party-cart everywhere in the hipster neighborhoods of the city- notably at the coolest outdoor party of the weekend; one taking place on the newly cool fields by the disused Plagwitz train station- at the cafe by the new-model community gardens and kid-friendly DIY playground.
Over the past few months, in the context of the ongoing issues of housing rights, immigration and lifestyle politics, it's been hard to miss the climate movements. Kids I know have begun to participate in the Fridays for Future climate strike emerging from Greta Thunberg’s resistance to attending school if there would be no future to learn for. The day of the March 15 Friday strike was cold and humid, but it only seemed to amplify the pre-teen and teenage energy of the event; directed at the climate but overplayed by the standard insurgencies of kids– sexuality, popularity, and unbound energy trying to seek an outlet. This march was large and ended with a mass of kids excitedly crowding out the city’s opera house steps, then joining those in the adjoining plaza in a punk rock pogo dance… interspersed with speeches for climate justice.
The last Fridays For Future before the EU election was larger. The UK initiated Climate Rebellion group was there. I attended their organizational meeting, mostly made of college students and academics. At that Climate Rebellion meeting we had to constantly interrupt the conversation to get more chairs, to introduce more people. That was stunning in itself. But the final pre-election Fridays for Future march was really something else. It was large and contained radical content.
A youth organizer I know excitedly led the chant, “hopp, hopp, hopp, Wachstum stopp.” This translates to the directly counter-capitalist chant, ‘hop, hop, hop, stop economic growth.’ She was leading this chant because she knew that as we entered the square, activists would be rappelling on ropes down the side of the local mall – the Höfe am Brühl. The climbers unfurled a banner with this slogan. When the climbers were eventually arrested, kids from the crowd began to yell the ultimate curse to any mall, “Höfe am Brühl is not cool!”
What concerns kids politically, and what realities confront them as problems in their tender years often goes on to dominate the politics of their later life. They have much more time than adults to brew in their anxiety and make the architecture of their potentiality. Kids have parents who see their anxiety. The kid organizer I know has parents whose family is established in the creative scenes of the city. It seems like a mistake, but a good one, that the Greens were able to capitalize on this current foment. It should be no surprise. While the far right took one of the greatest number of votes in many of Saxony’s electoral districts outside of Leipzig, it was the Greens and the Linke that won the city. While the right did well in Saxony, nation-wide, their vote sank and the Greens, buoyed surely by this energy, surged.
My friend and fellow researcher Michelle Teran dug up this bit from Germany’s Fridays for Future WhatsApp feed that counts coup. I’ve translated it from German to English.
“Hey People, we have been unbelievably rocking over the last 5 months, and we have done more for the climate movement than anyone has done before us. Something historic has just happened. All together, we have transformed the European Elections to the Climate Elections. After the vote, every party’s statement, except the AfD, said that protecting the climate was THE theme of the election. The media has also taken to use our concept of the ‘climate vote.’ Almost all the main candidates are speaking about protecting the climate. (signed) Franzi Wessel.”
In a way, it is heartbreaking that any party should benefit from the failure in governance that climate change represents. It is heartbreaking because the fear of disasters known and unknown are real, and terrifying. Yet, in the politics of a continent and a world, it is also notable and good that systems try to transform individual and common concern into good political developments. We should watch with guarded optimism how things develop.
Marc Herbst is artist, editor, researcher, some-times activist with a deep and inter-disciplinary approach across the ranges of art, art theory and social sciences and experience with natural sciences. He is a co-editor of the Journal of Aesthetics & Protest – www.joaap.org, an independent project publishing (in print and online) texts on art, culture and critical theory. He likes the name "weirdo think-tank" for the Journal Project. He completed his PhD at Goldsmiths Centre for Cultural Studies in October 2018.
Thursday, November 29, 2018
Blogger's note: This video is one of the best I've seen in a long while at putting together several strands of recent strong movement activity – all of it centered on land occupation and resistance. Thanks to the Submedia collective which produced it, “Occupations & Properties” here reproduces the English subtitle script of the 30 minute episode.
The stories in this episode start with the famous ZAD in France, the years-long airport resistance. There was a grand compromise on the airport construction, and an agreement to vacate with one faction of the encampment. Another wanted to preserve the utopia. This part speaks about internal conflicts in occupation, a topic that goes beyond propaganda.
Much of this episode focuses on Native American resistance to oil companies and pipeline construction. There is much along this line, from the newly vindicated, utterly unquaint Native American reasoning on stewardship, wisdom about healing within nature, and their methods of confronting and questioning agents of the state and corporations who enter their lands.
From Slovenia, urban squatters speak about “the twin minefields of eviction and legalization” – (exactly the dynamic described in Amy Starecheski's book “Ours to Lose”) on NYC squatters' legalization).
Here follows the subtitle script:
(Sorry, I haven't put in the names of the speakers yet...)
Greetings Troublemakers! ... welcome to Trouble. My name is not important. From the endless turf battles found within the animal kingdom, to the mechanized carnage of modern warfare, the drive to control territory is a potent and recurring source of conflict.
Yet within the artificial borders that fortify the so-called "developed world", this type of conflict, like all others, is carefully managed. Which is not to say it doesn't exist. People quarrel with their neighbours all the time, even in suburbia and in places like Chicago's South Side,young men routinely get shot fighting over street corners.
As groups and individuals, we face differing types and levels of conflict in our everyday lives... but at the end of the day, the ultimate manager and mediator of these conflicts is the state. Through their police, courts and prison systems, states enforce laws that reproduce power dynamics, restrict our choices, and regulate our behaviour.
The allocation of resources is determined by the logic of the so-called "free market", whereby ownership over land is given official sanction by the state-backed illusion of private property. The key to the state control over our lives lies in its ability to regulate all conflict within a given physical area. It follows, then, that those of us seeking to steal back the power to resolve conflicts on our own terms must first draw a firm line in the sand, and deny access to the state and its sophisticated apparatus of social control.
In order to meaningfully assert collective autonomy, we must be capable of defending territory. Over the next thirty minutes, we will explore three autonomous zones serving as living embodiments of defiance to state rule: the ZAD, or Zone to Defend, in Notre-Dame-des-Landes, France; Unist'ot'en Camp located on the Wet'suet'en territories of so-called BC; and the autonomous spaces movement in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Along the way, we will speak with a number of individuals who are flaunting state authority, asserting control over the spaces they inhabit... and making a whole lot of trouble.
The ZAD has many realities. But mostly it's kind of a community where people try to experiment other ways to live their social and political life. In the end of the 1960s, somebody came up with an airport project for this area, Notre-Dame-des-Landes. And during all those years, the bocage [a terrain of mixed woodland and pasture] itself is put under the status of ZAD which basically means Postponed Planning Zone, which was transformed one day [renamed] into Zone to be Defended.
So there was a big resistance with lots of different forms of action, including sabotage, black bloc demonstrations, quite offensive defense. Occupying land is quite similar to a political squat, but with a strong dimension regarding the environment and the territory we live in.
During all those years, we did not simply organize politically against the airport, but we also made connections locally. We took care of the land. Some of us settled for good. And we thought out the future of the ZAD together. So it's been ten years now that structures have been created on the ZAD to figure out how to live as autonomously as possible. It necessarily means that we have to be able to answer our basic needs. Like be fed, sleep under a roof, have access to medicine. It's a place that has become a place where you can live for free. You can build your house, your cabin...
The occupation movement was created at a time when some of the peasants had called for illegal occupation themselves. When squatters came in 2007 they were close to anarchist and/or antiauthoritarian ideas. Trying to work together and allowing for a diversity of tactics, and knowing that that is our strength.
We're fighting against this state and this project. Also we come here.... we fight against things, but we also try to create things together. And making things available and trying to share. That everybody has possibilities and access to a place to live... to water and food.
[Blogger's note: The discussant directly engages problems in the self-organization of the ZAD, and launches a critique of one clique there. This is unsurprising on the left, and less so in an anarchist video since the critique is directed at an authoritarian tendency. Still, it's a bit of a surprise to this blogger that this video includes this kind of reflection. Contemporary radical left discourse, especially in squatting, has moved far beyond propaganda.]
So there's a kind of hegemonic ideology. Diversity of tactics has been much more of a theory for the past few months. Certain ideas that become ways of judging people, of excluding people from discussions.
So yeah there's some kind of really well-organized, sort of communist ideas that have taken a lot of place in the past few years that will have a kind of discourse about "you have to go to our meetings, and if you don't agree you might have to leave, or shut up... or maybe later on we'll come beat you up with baseball bats."
Some people who used sabotage as a tactic have been pressured and even attacked for having dug holes in the concrete of one of the roads which crosses the ZAD. And someone especially was put in the trunk and taken out of there, molested and left almost naked in front of a psychiatric hospital. And it's been some years that contesting this hegemonic power of the dominant group has been much more difficult. They tend to concentrate wealth. To concentrate strategic discussions regarding the movement. Bonds with local farmers and people governing other institutions of the movement. And they of course, deny it when it comes to critique. We provoked a number of discussions on the place that their reading group, called the CMDO, has been held among us. But they never recognized, publicly, their group as a group of power. And thus, never wanted to share that power with other groups or individuals.
It was mainly this group of persons which pushed towards the negotiations during the evictions.
Well as you can see all around us it's pitch black. People were not expecting the expulsions to happen until 6am this morning, local time here in France. Tiny groups of people chose their means of actions.
When the police attack, making barricades, going to harass the police in any form, or any way... to throwing back their own grenades or other forms of explosives, or molotov cocktails. From sabotage attempts ... especially on the tanks.
We really wanted to see one burn.
Digging holes to prevent the tanks from going further. And of course, erecting barricades and defending them.
Wet'suwet'en Nation Defense
Deep in the central interior forests of so-called British Columbia lies the unceded territory of the Wet'suwet'en nation. Never surrendered to the settler-colonial Canadian state, the gateway to these remote territories is the headwaters of the Wedzinkwah River, which lies under the stewardship and protection of the Unist'ot'en clan, one of the five house groups that make up the Wet'suwet'en nation.
For the past decade, the Unist'ot'en have been physically blocking the construction of three major oil and fracked gas pipelines slated to pass through their territories en route to refineries and tankers on the Pacific coast.
Ground zero in this stand has been the Unis'to'ten Camp, constructed in 2010 as a permanent resistance community, located smack dab in the path of the originally proposed route of the Northern Gateway, Pacific Trails, and Coastal Gaslink pipelines.
The Unist'ot'en have also established a checkpoint system, with access to the territories conditional on completing a Free Prior and Informed Consent Protocol. This system grants the Unis'tot'en authority over who gains access to their territory, which has allowed them to keep representatives of the extractive industry and Canadian state at bay. This territory is unceded Unist'ot'en territory, which is part of the Wet'suwet'en territory. Knedebease is the hereditary chief that manages this territory, and I am a member of that house group, so we manage these territories. And in my view, it is not Canada. It's not BC. This has always been Wet'suwet'en territory because we've never ceded or surrendered it to anybody.
Doesn't belong to the crown. Doesn't belong to the federal government. Doesn't belong to the provincial government. It belongs to Unist'ot'en. To my people.
We started travelling through the territories back here a lot more frequently. And the reason why we started spending a lot of time back here is because there were some proposed pipelines that were being proposed by industry and by government, to begin doing some preliminary work back here to stop them. You guys can't be doing any work in here, because we've already told them no. That they can't access our territory. Once we found out that industry was trying to force their way in, we put our cabin directly in the path of the initial proposal for Enbridge, for the bitumen pipeline that was proposed to come through here.
So the log cabin sits right en route of their GPS points of where Enbridge initially had planned to put their pipelines through here. At the same time, there was Coastal Gaslink and Pacific Trails Pipeline that wanted also to put pipelines through our territory. To me that's not self-sustaining. When it's really quick, it's boom and bust.
Who are you? Where are you from? How long do you plan to stay if we let you in? And do you work for industry or government that's destroying our lands? And how will your visit benefit Unist'ot'en?
And one of the key questions that they could not answer, truthfully and honestly, was the question where we ask “how will your visit benefit the people of this land?” Uhh.. I really don't think there is any benefit. And the reason why we turn them back is because they could not pass simple protocol questions.
The RCMP was created by the government to keep our people off our land. So, they are part of the government, so they too don't pass protocol. We don't trust police, because we're suspicious that your forces would in to scope out our layout so that if there is an injunction, you guys would be better prepared about how you're gonna deal with us.
The camp serves as a beacon for other people who are struggling with these ideas. That they might not be able to stop a project from coming through their territories. And you know, for anybody to stand up to something like that is quite a daunting task. But a lot of people who have studied us over the years, and learned from the resistance that we've taken... they've taken those lessons and have started their own actions. And there's an incredible amount of economic and logistical disruption that arise from that type of activity.
We are here today in solidarity with the Unist'ot'en camp. We wish to share the Unist'ot'en hereditary chief's clear statement that they do not consent to having pipelines built on their unceded traditional territory. This colonization has always been about the taking of Indigenous lands. We always said if we heal our people, then we'll heal our land.
The healing center idea came when we realized that "why aren't our own people coming out here to visit us?" And even though some do come, there's not a high number of our own people. And we realized that a lot of our people are still struggling because of colonization. From the Residential School era. From the public school system ... lotta racism. We realized that a lot of our people are struggling because of trauma. And we realized that we needed a healing facility that incorporated all the whole wellness thing that we were talking about.
And we wanna put our culture back into our people. So that they will be strong and they will stand up. When people come out to a space like this, what they experience is land that's actually beginning to go through the healing process. This land back here that we're walking through and passing through, is land that was devastated from logging already.
And it's in a process of healing. It actually has berry bushes, so we're surrounded by berry bushes here. There are grizzly bear tracks a half a kilometer from here. So when people come up to spend time here, they begin to learn about the importance of connecting themselves to the planet that is in need of healing.
Struggle and Cession in Cities
While defending territory from state incursions is hard enough in rural, or remote natural terrains, those seeking to establish autonomous spaces in urban environments face an additional set of challenges. Cities are sites of concentrated state power. Not only are they strongholds of surveillance and repression, but they are also areas where the logic of state control is thoroughly integrated into everyday social relations.
This opens the door to recuperation, a process whereby state power constantly shifts and adapts itself in order to preemptively cut off and assimilate potential threats to its authority and legitimacy. This is the balancing act faced by urban squatter movements in cities around the world, whose participants must constantly navigate the twin minefields of eviction and legalization. This means simultaneously avoiding the social isolation that would make full-scale repression possible, while also combating state and real estate developers' attempts to transform these spaces into nothing more than edgy tourist destinations. One of the really important functions of the urban occupation is that it becomes a source of inspiration.
Despite being surrounded by hostile forces – in the form of state, police, capital – that it is possible to have a space in which you can experiment with different forms of existing. With different forms of living. With different forms of relating to one another. We could speak about three distinct phases of squatting experiments in Ljubljana.
First one is early '90s. This is the time of the destruction of Yugoslavia. It's a time of massive changes in Slovenian society. This movement had a clear continuity with alternative cultural movements of the 80s that was heavily influenced by progressive currents such as feminism, LGBT movement, anti-militarist tendencies, ecological movements. This movement found its highest expression in the squatting of Metelkova military barracks in 1993.
The second wave of squatting can be traced to the late 90s. In around 98 and 99, several different initiatives and individuals were squatting different spaces in the city of Ljubljana and were all evicted from those squats. And in the middle of this wave of repression over the movement, the community of Metelkova decided to give one empty space in the Autonomous Cultural Center to the anarchist infoshop.
The third wave of squatting in Ljubljana is symbolized by the squatting of ROG Factory, which is maybe the biggest squat in Ljubljana. It was squatted in 2006 by a new precarious generation of younger people that later came to be identified as the generation without future. It has always been understood by us that the front between the two different squats is the same front.
Because if one of us is attacked, or evicted for instance, that will mean a huge attack on the ability of the other to actually be part of any kind of political process in the city. The relationship of the state has been slightly different in its expression. So for instance, when it comes to ROG they have had constant attempts of the city to either evict them or attack them in different ways.
And just two years ago there was the most serious attempt to tear down several buildings in that area. That attempt was stopped by a broader political mobilization.The nature of an urban occupation is that it is faced with different kinds of factors that perhaps escape rural occupations. Our squats are part of the neoliberal capitalist society that is progressing further and further towards social devastation. Every time we are faced with the processes that are destroying our cities, we always have to question our position and our changing position within those processes.
Metelkova and ROG both generate quite wide public support. So this forced the public authorities to be cautious. And even though there are several softer attempts to push Metelkova into the state of legalization, we haven't in the last decade really been faced with an attempt of eviction. That of course brings a different set of questions for all of us who are part of Metelkova squat. And that is, in such moments, where the city is actually trying to sell you as one of its premium tourist destinations... how do you maintain yourself as a space that can still produce radical social movements and interventions in the city?
That of course comes with every question of recuperation. How do we still manage to keep our practices DIY? How do we still manage to stay ungovernable, which is basically the only way not to become a squatting museum, or a sort of caricature of what a squat should be? Many people and many activities that are cleaned from the city center because of the demands of the tourist industry... we all end up in squats with different trajectories and different positions that we occupy in the current social-economic order.
This naturally leads to tensions. Some more serious than others. And the consequence also can be seen in what recently happened to club Jalla Jalla – it was destroyed in a fire. As a community this was immediately recognized as an effect of the general state in which the whole city is being pushed. And our focus is not only to rebuild Jalla Jalla the club, but also to rebuild and reclaim our collective capacity to resist the processes of devastation that are everywhere destroying the conditions of living for so many people in this town. Establishing and effectively securing an autonomous space isn't something that happens overnight. States cannot afford to let challenges to their legitimacy go unanswered, lest they serve as examples for others to follow.
For this reason, any political attempt to reject state authority over a territory is likely to provoke a serious reaction. It is therefore crucially important that those involved anticipate the state's response, and are in a strong enough position to weather the inevitable storm. Autonomous territories allow for the building of dual power. They are alternative focal points of legitimacy that can effectively challenge the state's monopoly on authority. Indigenous Nations draw this legitimacy from spiritual and cultural practices rooted in generations of deep connection to the lands claimed by their colonizers. For those of us more alienated from the lands and spaces we occupy, the process of asserting autonomy must begin with navigating the tensions and contradictions that exist in dominant society, cultivating strong bonds of solidarity, and fuelling antagonism towards the state. We'd rather not pass lessons to anyone. If people get inspired from what they've done here, it will always be a pleasure to share experiences and knowledge of those years spent here.
I think it has been proven several times that building the infrastructure for the movement and of the movement really becomes crucial in moments of high and demanding political mobilization in the society. To have the kind of spaces that enable you to maintain the historical memory of movements, that enable us to find different kinds of accomplices in our struggles for a different kind of world. With the help of allies all around the world ... we've garnered lots of support through Indigenous, non-Indigenous, professionals,... everyday citizens.
A lot of people do support what we're doing and have vocalized it to us. We have come here to be with you, to make sure you understand you're doing the right thing. There's always people who come here also who have connections, or who have been to other places where people are struggling and bring us information. And so that creates solidarity between different struggles. You need to ensure that the Indigenous people who have always lived on those lands, since millennia, are involved in that struggle. They have long stories. Ancient, ancient stories that talk about how and why they have responsibilities. The mere fact that a squat exists as a potential of development of autonomous ideas, of politically radical ideas, is of course already a threat to the state, a threat to capital's interests.
And therefore we will never be safe, no matter how many selfies tourists make here. If it is possible that in a city that is so increasingly gentrified, so penetrated with different capitalist forces if it is able to have a space where experimentation with our freedom is possible, then it kind of gives us hope that other kinds of political projects are also possible. And what we would really love to see is more of these kinds of inspirations around the world, around different cities, around different communities.
As for our inspiration, we take as much inspiration as possible from as many struggles as possible. The Zapatistas movement, even though we're far far from what they achieved. The Landless Peasant Movement, especially in South America, or Reclaim the Field network all over Europe. Or occupied neighbourhoods, like in Exarchia in Greece. Or people protecting seeds like in India. Rojava is, of course, an insight especially regarding feminist self-defence.
Some of us are also really close to the Italian struggle against the train line crossing the Val di Susa.
[Blogger's note: SqEK research group Gianni Piazza, convener of the most recent conference in Catania, Sicily, wrote a book about this peasant & activist resistance to a high-speed rail line construction; we drank “No TAV” wine at a social center in Rome in '14.]
Val di Susa police line. Image from italycalling.wordpress.com blog.
The most important thing is that we have to ask ourselves "what are our needs?" And then find ways through which we can express them. We're absolutely going to win this fight. Y'know, this is a fight that belongs to not only us, but all of our unborn. This is a fight that belongs to all of our ancestors who died fighting for these spaces, and protecting them.
So this is a fight that doesn't belong to us. We're not selfish people. This fight belongs to all of our Wet'suwet'en people past, present and future. Some of us went to fight the world of the airport. And the airport was a pretext to fight the system behind it. I'd say for me, the ZAD, it helps me burn the social and structural boundaries in my head ... and then almost everything became possible.
We live in a historical moment in which the global neoliberal order, wracked by overlapping social, economic and ecological crises, is rapidly unraveling before our very eyes. Yet far from being a cause for celebration, the dark new reality rising to take its place promises to be even worse. New and resurgent forms of state power are being constructed on foundations of hyper-nationalist reaction, armed with sophisticated new tools of surveillance and repression.
A proliferation of civil wars, surging levels of inequality and climate change-fuelled catastrophes are provoking historical levels of forced human migration. But while things look undoubtedly bleak, the rapid transformations currently underway have the potential to uncover new cracks in the facade of state power. Revolutionaries must be ready to take advantage of any and all opportunities that these shifting new dynamics may produce, establishing a decentralized network of autonomous zones that can sustain projects of mutual aid, respond to emergent threats, and coordinate solidarity across borders.
So at this point, we'd like to remind you that Trouble is intended to be watched in groups, and to be used as a resource to promote discussion and collective organizing. Are you interested in offering sustained material support for existing autonomous spaces, or figuring out what steps would be involved in launching your own? Consider getting together with some comrades, organizing a screening of this film, and discussing where to get started. Interested in running regular screenings of Trouble at your campus, infoshop, community center, or even just at home with friends?
Many thanks to the Submedia collective for sharing the subtitled script with “Occupations & Properties.”
Submedia collective: "Fighting Where We Stand", 30 minutes, November 2018
"My name is not important."
Marco Deseriis, "Improper Names: Collective Pseudonyms from the Luddites to Anonymous"
Donatella Della Porta, Gianni Piazza, "Voices of the Valley, Voices of the Straits: How Protest Creates Communities" (2008)
While this academic book is expensive, Gianni has also written articles on the Val di Susa resistance
Friday, October 19, 2018
Some Recent Institutional Motion
This is the second post about recent meetings and events of migrants and Afro-descendants in Madrid. After the earlier- and below-blogged conference at the Reina Sofia museum in July of this year, city cultural institutions are moving on the issue. Although the city proper still hasn't done much for the mainly African street-sellers without working papers who are represented by the Sindicato de manteros y lateros de Madrid (@manteroslateros, #LaLeydeExtranjeriaMata) – much less anything for the many African beggars (or sellers of the weird La Farola newspaper) who aren't part of the union, there are now a slew of cultural programs appearing.
The Afroconciencia group, resident at the giant Matadero cultural center ("Black in Spain"), produced a festival recently. It included a big market. Another African market event is slated for CSA La Tabacalera (although that is regular; Tabacalera self-organized has had a Templo Afro collective since its beginnings). Another resident group of Americans (no, not USAians), Colectivo Ayllu, has an exhibition up at Matadero as well: "Devuélvannos el oro" -- "Give us back the gold." And the weirdly conceived Grigri Pixel residency project at Medialab Prado has begun (#grigripixel18), dynamized by a meeting with anti-racist groups and social center activists. I hope to report on some of this action in later posts.
Professor's Taylor's Listening Session
Professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor was in Madrid in the summer touring her recent books on Black Lives Matter and the Combahee River Collective. Her lecture is discussed in the previous blog post. The later seminar was peopled by members of many of the same groups as the MAC4 session (also blogged earlier), along with many new ones. Both events were part of the Reina Sofia Museum's fascinating series "Six Contradictions and the End of the Present". My notes are from the simultaneous translation into English.
Beatriz García Dorado of Traficantes de Sueños introduced. She referenced a 2005 project of migrant solidarity which that editorial collective had done, the “Ferrocarril Clandestino” (underground railroad). This early initiative was prefigurative, as today today rescue ships, like Open Arms, ply the Mediterranean despite the fulminations of the Italian interior minister.
There is now an alliance, Beatriz García said, between the precarious worker and the migrants. It is anti-capitalist, and works against the way people are divided.
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor said her interest in black feminism was spurred by the U.S. Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and the women she met in it; especially the #SayHerName campaign to remember black female victims murdered by police, like Sandra Bland.
The Story of the Combahee River Collective
In the view of whites, Taylor said, black women are angry, aggressive, “impervious to pain.” “Slavery was far more terrible for women.” “Overlapping simultaneous oppressions explain the essence” of black feminist politics. In the 19th century there was both a “woman question and a “race problem.” Gender, race and class meet in the Combahee River Collective Statement.
The name of the group came from an 1863 U.S. army raid directed by Harriet Tubman which freed 750 slaves. While the Combahee River Collective paralleled the mostly white New Left of the 1960s, the slogan/idea “the personal is political” was not a retreat, but a description of their lives of oppression. Their “daily indignities” were not abstract.
Like the Black Panther Party, the CBC's program was misconstrued as a demand for separation. The idea was that if black women were to be free, everyone would be free. “Black women will never be free within capitalism.” Oppression is in the “marrow of the nation.”
Between today and 40 years ago, the class divide between black people has grown. As an example, in Ferguson – [the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri, after the police killing of Michael Brown] – black political figures urged young people “to get off the streets and vote for them.” BLM rejects that kind of politics, and the “pathetic tradition of currying favor.” The CBC, in contrast, were internationalists aligned with third world movements.
Muchas Quejas Importantes
The seminar was peopled by reps from many of the same groups as the MAC4 session, with many new ones.
NOTICE: I am sorry that I didn't get the names of people speaking, and sometimes not even their organizations. Please, if you know and can comment, I'll happily improve this and any other post. This is a rough report.
Discussant (Francesca?) – The NGOs [Non-governmental organizations] have been instrumentalized by the political parties. The Roma community [aka gypsies] has been criminalized. We seek cultural strategies both inside and outside the system.
[I thought about museums of the excluded, like the installation called the Culture and Art Museum of Migrant Workers in China I saw at the Principio Potosi show in 2010.]
Beatriz Garcia: Territorio Domestico is organizing care and domestic workers. Care work has been politicized. (Silvia Federici, author of Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation, and an important theorist of 'women's work', has been to Madrid often to speak about this issue.) We are thinking of spaces we can build together.
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor – I am here to listen.
Josh (?) of the collective of transgender migrants (also present and speaking in the earlier meeting at MAC4) – Sexual dissidence is also an issue among migrants seeking refuge in Spain. We are talking about the politics of social death inflicted on non-heterosexual bodies.
Ángela Muñoz of Las Kellys, a group that organizes hotel cleaners – Tourism is the engine of the Spanish economy. The last labor reform laws made our hard jobs miserable. Cleaners are paid two euros (about $2.35) for each room cleaned. There is overt discrimination against black workers. We also regularly confront sexual violence.
"We migrant women have an extra load on us."
K-YT – That it is seen as women's work allows it to be devalued. It's an excuse to keep wages low.
? – Europe was built on slavery and genocide, but hides behind a universalist humanist discourse. It is a sinister legacy. In Spain it is fascism and racism. Gender colonialism. An inferiorization of peoples. The nationalist idea is of a hetersexual nation. Other bodies don't matter.
K-YT – This is similar to the U.S. There is no national monument to slavery. A complete denial of racism in the USA.
[There is the Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit (est. 1965) with grand displays on slavery. There is the Black Holocaust Museum, founded by a lynching survivor in 1984, which lost its building in Milwaukee in '08, and is gimping along. In the '90s Colonial Williamsburg added a slave market to their recreation. Children cried. The very popular National Museum of African American History and Culture in D.C. is recent. Brand new is the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, aka the Lynching Memorial in Alabama.]
To admit this history would legitimize black demands for reparations. By denying it the disparities [in income and wealth, education, etc.] can be seen as inherent to black people, as coming from them.
A Caribbean journalist Taylor talked to in London said, “We were there, so we are here.” People are here now to demand what is theirs. The expatriation continues. The past is not past.
[This was said in the shadow of the scandal of the Windrush generation in the UK, Caribbean immigrants to the island during the 1940s and '50s who had their UK citizenship revoked. This resurgent white nationalist policy abrogates the responsibility to negotiate the human legacy of imperialism in British society.]
? – A women's refugee network is forming. We need to make alliances to combat this socio-economic system.
K-YT – In the U.S. the police and ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency] have been unleashed.
[In June when she said this, I wrote in my notes, “I think she exaggerates, but not by much.” Now, in October, after a brutal summer which saw the incarceration of migrant families, which continues with 13,000 children in concentration camps (the figure is only estimated) and the threat to jail more, I can see that she was not exaggerating in the slightest. One thing this nakedly brutal Republican administration is eradicating is any residual belief among its citizens that the US government represents good or moral political behavior in any way, on any level.]
This is a normalization of the security state, which began with the “9/11 process”. It has affected everyone.
Start with the Most Oppressed
How to organize is to start with the most oppressed, and keep that struggle front and center. There is a lack of space in U.S. social movements to have these difficult conversations.
Man from SOS Racismo – As people who live in the margins, we are inside structures. There is a difference in the struggle around La Manada [a crew of rapists who were treated with leniency by a Spanish court, leading to mass protests by women against Spain's deep culture of male sexual aggression] and the struggles of the strawberry workers in the south of Spain who are mostly black. We are lonely in this struggle. The struggles of racialized people are always pushed to the margins.
The reception of the Aquarius [a boatload of rescued migrants which was rejected by the Italian government and welcomed in Spain] was very good, but it was atypical of what has been happening to other migrants arriving. Moroccan workers have been raped in factories.
Woman from the Vallekas PAH – I am Ecuadorian. To get documents we are often ignored by functionaries because they are racist. A Spanish person does not suffer this. The police stereotype us. In the PAH, we welcome everyone.
Another woman of the same group – I am from the Dominican Republic. I am here 21 years. But I am still being told, “Go back to your country.”
Malik of the Sindicato of Manteros [the union of blanket sellers, mostly Senegalese migrants] – We experience police abuse every day. This is institutional racism. There is a rising current of xenophobia. The white left has closed their eyes, because the anti-racist struggle does not give them votes. The racism of the Popular Party and the Ciudadanos [right-wing Spanish parties, old and new] does give them votes. We are subject to invisibilization as sin papeles [without papers, sans papiers in France]. We need papers.
Francisco of the Colectivo Ayllu now resident at the Matadero cultural complex criticized the institution of power. “Racism has a cultural dimension” in the “Indian” identity. The Museum of the Americas has to recognize this pain. In our daily life and our private life we must reckon with this memory of colonization and white violence. We have to find ways of healing this long memory of pain. “We don't need a white voice” to tell us who we are.
Borders Are Violent Spaces
A woman from Peru added, mistrust and rage have very deep historical roots. We are speaking about power, and how we participate in it. There is a lot of desire to take on these problems. Borders are violent spaces, more violent for some than for others.
“Eric” – Race, class and gender, yes. But where is coloniality? We are not here to perform a victimist narration. We want to conquer a political situation. The tension with the white left is causing us great problems.
Woman from Territorio Domestico – I was protesting alone in front of a hotel because they were disrespecting and smashing me. If you are a black woman they don't respect you.
Professor Taylor's Concluding Statement
K-Y Taylor concluded with a brief on the U.S. political situation:
The death toll from the hurricane in Puerto Rico, she said, shows what U.S. power looks like in a cultural context: 4,300 deaths. Black activists see cities as “internal colonies.” A small space opened up for the black elite – after all, the U.S. had a black president! So black people think they are American.
The presence of white people is an issue in the Black Lives Matter movement. BLM groups are not integrated, but the protests see many white people involved. [And, I'll add, victim support as well.] There is a long history of independent black organizing, with left white people, not liberals, involved. Black people are 12% of the U.S. population. Changing society in an anti-capitalist way won't be possible with segregated movements. To confront the Trump administration “we have to figure out how to do things together.” BLM is a young movement. It's not even four years since Michael Brown's murder. Now the U.S. government no longer counts people killed by police. Estimates are 1,000 a year. The biggest challenge now is “how does the movement get bigger?” There is no coalition organization for BLM. BLM doesn't have to manage diversity within their movement. Joining struggles seem like the obvious next step. For example, to connect to the immigration crisis, and attacks on Arabs and Muslims. But people are worried about their issue being subsumed. The funding streams of foundations tend to narrow the political perspectives of those involved. This makes people more conservative.
The rich are hoarding their wealth and we all have to scramble for what is left. Racism is the explanation for this, in “the way that it is explained away.” Blame the poor, “paint them as crminals.” The most vulnerable are blamed for their social problems. The center left political parties have failed to produce a change. Racism is a strategy the right has evolved to cover over their own failures to take care of society. “There is no post-Occupy autonomous organization in the U.S.” Occupy was effectively smashed by the U.S. state. This, and the legacy of horizontalism, of “leaderlessness” has amplified the lack of input people have in the decision-making processes.
Okay, it was a pretty bleak afternoon. And, as we head into the US midterm elections, it could get bleaker. Hope not! I voted! But the renewed desire to fucking do something to stem the white nationalist counter-revolution, both electorally and in schools, streets and workplaces, has to be the best thing in the USA today.
Grigri Pixel -- "Magical objects in urban spaces"
MNCARS, Reina Sofia Museum – "Six Contradictions and the End of the Present"
PDF The Combahee River Collective Statement - American Studies
Principio Potosi show in 2010.)
Black Holocaust Museum, Milwaukee (presently virtual)
Slavery and Remembrance -- Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia
Lynching Memorial -- account of an Englishman's tour
Thomas Laqueur, "Lynched for Drinking from a White Man’s Well"
London Review of Books
Friday, October 12, 2018
A constant cause of activism in the squatting and social center occupation movement is open borders, and solidarity with migrants. The European squatting movement is peopled with activists from many European countries, most of them with colonial pasts of which activists are well aware. Threaded through this blog, and the book Occupation Culture that came out of it, are stories of experimental solidarities like the Metropoliz in Rome where punks and gypsies live together, and Jeudi Noir, the French collective that squats big buildings for migrants to live in. And recently in Madrid, the Sindicato de Manteros y Lateros – the union of blanket-sellers and can-sellers, who work selling on the streets without legal papers, was organized inside squatted social centers.
With the unceasing flows of migrants and refugees from south to north, the issue has been on the front burner of global politics, leading to the rise of "populist" neo-fascists who have mobilized white fear to win elections. At the same time, the USA has seen a spike in activism by people of color – by Afro-descendants in Spanish parlance, against police violence, and by immigrants against the mass detentions, deportations and jailing of children by the Trump government.
Beyond what can be called reactive activism, powerful as it may be, the inspiring initiatives of Cooperation Jackson in that Mississippi city are part of the global municipalist movement. (I've also blogged on them here.)
As municipalists have taken power in some Spanish cities, a line of work specifically focussed on migrants and Afro-descendants has been taken up by the cultural institutions. This string of posts will be devoted to a review of some of those initiatives.
A Union of the Excluded and Illegal
Earlier this year I was commissioned to write on a social art project with the Sindicato de Manteros y Lateros de Madrid (@manteroslateros), a kind of union for the mostly Senegalese and Bangladeshi migrants who sell stuff on the streets. They do the work they can do without papers, and endure much police harrassment and punishing fines. (The text was written, but not published – that's another story.)
But I saw the stirrings of a larger movement against institutional racism in Spain, which connects to wider struggles of migrants and marginalized peoples globally. In the summer at the MAC 4 conference, a group met to talk about it. (I blogged this in a July post "MAC 4: Anti-Racism and Subaltern Europe".)
That summer I could not follow most of the talk in ESP – but, with the visit of Princeton professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor to Madrid shortly after I had another chance to catch up (@KeeangaYamahtta). Prof. Taylor is Anglophone, so the Reina Sofia museum which invited her set up a seminar with simultaneous translation into English.
She'd given a formal talk – on the translation ftom Traficantes de Sueños of her 2016 book. From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation. And in the seminar she frequently referenced her work in the 2017 book How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective.
Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective
Beatriz García Dorado of Traficantes de Sueños introduced. She referenced a 2005 project of migrant solidarity, the “Ferrocarril Clandestino” – underground railroad. (This early initiative has been eclipsed today by the rescue ships, like Open Arms, which ply the Mediterranean despite the fulminations of the Italian interior minister.)
There is now an alliance, Beatriz García said between the precarious worker and the migrants. It is anti-capitalist, and works against the way people are divided.
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor said her interest in black feminism was spurred by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and the women she met in it; especially the #SayHerName campaign to remember black female victims, like Sandra Bland, murdered by police.
In the view of whites, Taylor said, black women are seen as angry, aggressive, “impervious to pain.” “Slavery was far more terrible for women.” “Overlapping simultaneous oppressions explain the essence” of black feminist politics.In the 19th century there was both a “woman question and a “race problem.” Gender, race and class meet in the Combahee River Collective Statement.
The name of the group came from an 1863 U.S. army raid directed by Harriet Tubman which freed 750 slaves. Identity politics for the Combahee River Collective was about how black women were being politicized. While they paralleled the mostly white New Left of the 1960s, the slogan/idea “the personal is political” was not a retreat, but a description of their lives of oppression. The “daily indignities” were not abstract.
Like the Black Panther Party, the CBC's program was misconstrued as a demand for separation. The idea was that if black women were to be free, everyone would be free. “Black women will never be free within capitalism.” Oppression is in the “marrow of the nation.”
Between today and 40 years ago, the class divide between black people has grown. As an example, in Ferguson – [the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri, after the police killing of Michael Brown] – black political figures urged young people “to get off the streets and vote for them.” BLM rejected that kind of politics, and the “pathetic tradition of currying favor.” The CBC, in contrast, were internationalists aligned with third world movements.
NEXT: Spain Is Africa (Part Two) – The Seminar of Prof. Taylor: Important Complaints
Occupation Culture: Art & Squatting in the City from Below, by Alan W. Moore (Minor Compositions, 2015)
Il Metropoliz – Space Metropoliz
Collectif Jeudi noir
Sindicato de manteros y lateros de Madrid - Inicio | Facebook / (@manteroslateros)
July post "MAC 4: Anti-Racism and Subaltern Europe" reporting on the anti-racism discussion
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor - Wikipedia
“She'd given a formal talk...”
Her talk in ENG with x-lation into ESP after each statement was posted by Katakrak as Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor «Un destello de libertad» (a flash of freedom)
Her visit was part of the museum's fascinating series "Six Contradictions and the End of the Present"
Combahee River Collective
PDF The Combahee River Collective Statement - American Studies