Sunday, June 5, 2016

Hard Work: SqEK Meets in Rotterdam

Rotterdam SqEK organizer Edward points out a luxury hotel, a modernist survival that was formerly squatted during his bike tour

Rotterdam is a city bombed flat in World War II. It has been rebuilt with great brio. Extravagant buildings rear up and jut in every corner of the skyline, making a total spectacle of a city that understands itself completely. And what it understands is business. There seems no room for anything else. Even so, it was here, not too far from the center, that the squatting research group SqEK had its spring 2016 meeting in a 19th century road-straddling building called the Poortgebouw. It was squatted in 1980, and is now in its umpteenth generation of people living together collectively. They are young people mostly, and fighting to stay in court cases with the developer who slipped in some time ago to buy the building cheap with the help of the city council.
SqEK has been around for nearly 10 years, meeting annually to share research and experience about squatting, mainly in Europe. The big issues burn on – gentrification, the theme of the conference, the squalorous embarrassment of the migrant camps in Calais, and the constant eviction battles that beset occupied social centers. As the Rotterdam conference convened in May of '16, the Banco Expropriat in Barcelona was being evicted with the spectacular street battles that city is known for. As we came together, we were told it was going to be nasty. There was a vault on the premises, and activists had locked themselves inside it. Klinika in Prague had been cleared by police, just as the Czech attendees arrived. “A bomb inside,” police said – a patent lie. (But not so funny when you recall that Putin's cronies are suspected of being the real culprits behind a devastating bombing of an occupied housing complex in Russia which was sought for redevelopment. No investigation was ever made.) Klinika was re-occupied immediately, the activists alternating between worry, phone calls and sudden elation.
The Poortgebouw was squatted in 1980. Folks in the building's collection of collective flats were generous hosts, several of them very interested in our talks. A clutch of punks coming from London showed up at the door, exasperating many with their expectation that they would be allowed to sleep in the place. (All bunks in the guest room had been booked far in advance.) These scruffy characters, heavily tattooed and thick with road grime, had been chased off a public lawn by police as they tried to catch some sleep. A little while later, as they sat outside smoking, two of them were arrested. I never figured out exactly why... but the incident consumed the organizers' attention for hours. Fearing harrassment, we were all urged to write the name and number on our arms of a lawyer who would defend us if we were also arrested.
Poortgebouw resident Unica's hallway collage of posters from past events

I rarely take this kind of thing too seriously. The SqEK group is ten years old, and this meeting included a program at the Erasmus University. The chances that the cops in a small city like Rotterdam had no idea what was going on at the Poortgebouw, and that they were desirous of busting a gang of mostly academics with all the noise that would come with that, seemed slim to none. Besides, I hate to write on myself.
The punks turned out to include two important activists – Mike from London and Sid from Calais. Mike and his peops had been among the first to squat in the Aylesbury housing complex in Southwark in early '15. I'd been to Southwark twice before, once after the massive Heygate housing complex had been nearly cleared, except for a handful of holdout residents. On my next visit, it was a vacant lot, with luxury housing under development, and a creepy collection of containers artily announcing themselves as some sort of laboratory for entrepreneurship. [See O&P blog post, July 2015] Only the street name remained, evidence of gentrification with the biggest hammer of capital.
The Aylesbury Estate of social housing was next. Although I didn't visit, x-Chris of the 56A Infoshop reported that it had been partially cleared, and a sort of security zone patrolled by rent-a-cops deployed around the houses to deter squatters. Mike and his punky shock troop of squatters was undeterred, and had squatted there in support of the residents under order of eviction. (As in the case of the Heygate clearances, their relocations were liable to be many miles away, even in other towns and cities.)
Sid from Calais – (originally from Ohio, he told me) – was the most tatted up and pierced of all. He had been working with a No Borders group in informal migrant camps around Calais, France. Sid and his peops had helped break squats there, roamed the “jungles” which amount to migrant favellas with a full urban complement of businesses, and endured police attacks alongside the residents.
This year's SqEK didn't really adhere much to the theme of gentrification. One of the most interesting strategies for resistance we heard was from Jordan Zinovich, who told of the efforts of the legal Bolsjefabrikken (Candy Factory) occupiers in Copenhagen to make their complex of workshop buildings less attractive to the developers who had begun to poke energetically around the neighborhood. Solidarity with migrants, mostly young Arab men, proved to be the path, and surrendering their culture was the price. The men did not feel comfortable in the graffiti-covered place, so the occupiers painted it black. The buildings then presented a much more sober appearance. Still, the developers did not seem to feel comfortable with the comings and goings of many young Arab men. The Danish occupiers continued their activities, including their punky parties, and it looks as if their use contract on the building will be renewed rather than foreclosed.
Jeanette and Jan came from Germany to Entschede, a town of about 160K in Holland. They gave a rundown on what it means to be working in the “art squatting” scene in a small Dutch city today. Ten years ago, they said, there were about five active groups squatting. Today, six years after the criminalization of squatting, there are only two. The largest holds a building under a five-year-old contract for guardianship (what is called “anti-squatting” in Holland and England). They do mostly cultural production there, once a year a DIY festival, and a gaming fest. They are getting money from the city council and Dutch arts fund for these activities, and consider themselves artists, and unpolitical. The city has just offered them a contract to “guard” another large space.
In Jeanette's view this group is causing gentrification, making their underground scene really attractive by organizing festivals. They are 80% funded by the city, and supported as well by a real estate developer's foundation. Because of this they started a new group of about 10, and took a warehouse which they called in English “Diversity.” There they've organized exhibitions and parties, run a semi-regular bar, free school events, workshops, a free shop. A few people live there, and some have studios. It is illegal; there is no deal with the owners. A recent court case decided if owner sells they have two weeks to get out.
Their group supports political acttivity. They are “not crazy active, but people are not discouraged.” They operate with a consensus process, which is easier because “we are friends anyway.” The other group exists mainly to have their studios, and “keep their personal projects going,” so their meetings don't work well.
Outside the still-squatted bike repair shop in Rotterdam

In Entschede, a number of venues for music and culture which were squatted are now legalized. The criminalization of squatting has changed the culture. There are still a lot of empty buildings, but anti-squatting companies are taking advantage of the vacancies and starting to “rent” them with very precarious contracts. It is not the same culture as squatting. The art school as well, which was a free school with a leftist orientation, where “you could do everything,” and squatting was a topic of reflection was privatized in the 1990s and then moved to another part of town. The mindset of the students has changed.
In discussion, a woman from Vienna and Basel observed that, “It's everywhere the same thing.” In the past, every cultural venue was a squat. The only way to do sometthing against that is to politicize the way you are living. Tim from Klinika in Prague observed that they are being persecuted because they are political. An artistic squat is celebrated as creative, but the political is persecuted. “The authorities are acting politically against a political action which is subversive.” Jeanette said that in Entschede it's not the authorities, it's really controlled from the inside. Other people, other artists object to political activity. Michael from London said that today, there is fear of using the word “squatting.” Today, “everything is an occupation.” He called for less negotiation, and more insecurity. This seemed like the germ of a real political aesthetic, spoken by a guy from a town recently famous for its “pop-up” social centers.
It became clear to me during this conference that the combined effect of the criminalization of squatting and the “anti-squat” guardianship companies which manage vacant buildings mainly for “renting” to students has brought deep change to artists' organizing and working conditions in Holland. The normalization of a paid-for sanctioned precarity in living and studio has effectively returned artists to a self-centered entrepreneurial direction fully consonant with redevelopment projects. The squatting culture seems to survive as a nimbus of historical recollection, or as a determinedly political project. The places where they cross are rare. And, while they may be the most exciting kinds of squatting projects, they are hard to sustain.
Fly in Naples

Hardcore squatter artist Fly Orr from NYC LES was with us in Rotterdam. She did a slide show in the cafe on the hard scrabble '90s movement she was part of, and sketched during the talks. She then went on to Naples for the Tien@ment event celebrating counterculture and squatting. There she posted of three days “talking about Squatting West Berlin in the 1980s and on adventures around and 'on' the Wall (!!!) in a historic church of a beautiful former Monastery and then Youth Detention Center in downtown Naples, now part of a new Social Center/Squat (Scugnizzo Liberato).” This series of events celebrated “the movement of counterculture born of occupation in 1989” with concerts, exhibitions, theater and film. Three days to “remember the history of the antagonistic movement” in Naples.
I was glad that this ever-sunny North American squatter artist could reconnect with the European movement she had seen and depicted 20 years ago while touring with her punk band Zero Content.
Jim Fleming of Autonomedia, my publisher, was also in Naples. Jordan, also a member of that crew, showed up in Rotterdam with his compatriot Aja Waalwijk and Frank Vranckx(?), from the squatted village of Doel outside Antwerp. Jordan and Aja dressed as clowns for their presentation to SqEK, speaking of their work to network “free cultural spaces.” The “kids” at SqEK were mostly impassive, as the hippie/punk divide gaped wide. The pair were planning to go on to Lithuania for the June “Meeting of East and West Network” in Vilnius. After that, there's another network meeting in Russia, at the eco-center YES in Shiram, village of Borovoye, Tverskaya oblast. (Visas required.)
Now that the SqEK meeting in Rotterdam is concluded, the next one is slated for Prague -- at the occupied social center Klinika. The place has been under threat of eviction for some time, and we are hoping they can hold out for another year so we can meet there! Writes a comrade, “So this is what's happening now at Klinika... talking about bringing all the radical left in Czechia together to fight capitalism and racism. They can't evict us!! That flag will continue to fly over our home.”


Fight for the Aylesbury -- multi-lingual site (ENG, SP, FR) last updated in 2/15

Nuit debout on Wikipedia; incredibly current for an event that began at the end of March '16

“The Squatting Europe Kollective (SqEK) is a research network focusing on squatter movement(s). Their aim is to produce reliable and fine-grained knowledge about this movement not only as an end in itself, but also as a public resource, especially for squatters and activists.” The Barcelona conference website continues to be enriched with documentation of the 2015 conference, “SQEK BCN 2015: Squatting Houses, Social Centres and Workplaces, a Workshop on self-managed alternatives”

Squatters and Homeless Autonomy is on, with recent bulletins from the struggles in London and beyond... E.g.: "Ongoing pop-up squatted social centre. Get down there." They're also knocking out an occasional broadsheet, posted as a PDF on FB.

On the massive displacement and redevelopment in south London, see “Southwark Notes – whose regeneration?”

News about the Futurological Symposia – “an informal international group of free-thinkers and activists engaged in alternative lifestyles such as: eco-villages, eco communities, communes” and festivals, and their forthcoming and past meetings

More to come on this? Hoping so...
the doorbell at the Poortgebouw

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Holland Bound with "House Magic" #7 in Hand

Photo: Cover of Harvey Wang's book on Adam Purple, with a brilliant essay on his work
I'm on the move again – leaving Milwaukee to New York City, and thence to Rotterdam for the convergence of SqEK, the squatting Europe research group. It promises to be exciting, with many new friends and comrades coming to the meeting. I'll be bringing along the new House Magic zine of squatting and occupation culture. It's #7 – the 2015 issue, really, since we missed one because of the books Occupation Culture and Making Room.
It's a good issue, however. Designed by Other Forms' Jack Henrie Fisher and packed with interesting content.
The cover is a photo of the NYC squatter-gardener Adam Purple taken by his friend Harvey Wang. Inside, there's:
“Adam Purple, Grandfather of Sustainable Urbanism and the Greening of New York City,” by Benjamin Heim Shepard – the Lower East Side squatter, radical ecologist, and influential garden designer is mourned by his community
“Telling Squatting History in New York City,” by Amy Starecheski – museal and memory initiatives by NYC squatter artists
“Squatters of Rome,” by Alan W. Moore – an account of the SqEK group's 2014 conference in Rome, including visits to numerous squats and social centers, discussions and events. (Revised blog post from “Occupations & Properties,” July 2014.)
Alan Dearling, “Christiania: 5th Free Cultural Spaces Symposium” – a longtime writer on free festivals, travelers and things communal
‟Our Autonomous Life?” by Binna Choi, Maiko Tanaka – a soap opera based on research on squatters' lives produced with CASCO Projects in Utrecht
Squatting Europe Kollective Meeting in Barcelona, May 2015 – remarks by conference attendees, transcribed from video
Sophia Rehmus, “Social Benefits: A Rural Squat in Northern Spain” – a visit to a squatted village in northern Catalunya
“The Adventure of Knowledge” an interview with Raúl Sánchez Cedillo – Cedillo discusses the Fundación de los Comunes and the Universidad Nómada, two intellectual formations which have supported squatted social centers in Spain
Huw Nexbitt, “The Rise and Fall and Rise of the Art Squat” – the recent history of art-based squatting in the Peckham district of London is reviewed
Paul Case, “Talk: A Critique of Squatted Social Centres”
Colectivo Sublevarte, Timeline of Squatting in Mexico City
“John Trudell Walks On,” by Alex Jacobs – Recollection of the life of Native American poet and activist John Trudell, a prominent occupier of Alcatraz Island

The PDF of this new issue is not yet online... but it soon will be, and the URL will be posted here when it is. You can look for it in the usual place when it comes out, and meanwhile catch up on the last 6 issues you might have missed!

sqek rotterdam may 18-23 2016

Friday, April 8, 2016

"A Tour" for the NYC Anarchist Book Fair

"Imaginary Archive" exhibition, produced by Gregory Sholette -- "A collection of documents about the past whose future never arrived"

This blogger will be talking at the NYC Anarchist Book Fair on April 16th, with an activist who worked with the Advisory Service for Squatters in London. I will read the text posted below. (Here you get also the links.) It's a little redundant, but... hoping for a lively discussion in New York.
Postscript: Well, that just happened today, and indeed it was a very lively discussion, which I hope to transcribe or digest for this blog sometime soon. I actually did not deliver this talk at all... But that doesn't matter, because here it is, written down. I hope to be able to develop another book from exactly this kind of content...

A Tour of Some Important Projects of Squatting in Europe
by Alan W. Moore
for the New York Anarchist Book Fair, April 2016

Perhaps the most influential post-war European urban squatting movement started in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. The instigators were Provos, a band of young activists and intellectuals who organized with jobless youth. Inspired, if not led, by the maniac street performer Jasper Grootveld, the Provos did politics like the Dadaists did art. Until recently, Provo and the subsequent Kabouters movement have been Dutch secrets, known outside Holland only to studious reefer heads. The recent Autonomedia book on their movement, Amsterdam's Anarchist Revolt, by Richard Kempton (2007), is the first major text on their work in English.
In 1966 the Provos put out a poster – “In the center of Amsterdam there is a white house,” it said. The house is empty, waiting for those without places to live to move in and take it. This was when the waiting lists for public housing were impossibly long. Through clumsy police repression, the movement grew, until in the later 1970s Dutch squatters controlled hundreds of houses in Amsterdam, and wielded enormous influence in the city.
The question arises how this influence was attained, and how it declined. (Both the rise and fall of social movements are part of the study of academics within the SqEK research group to which I belong.) The Amsterdam movement was esteemed by many Amsterdamers, not only because it housed people, but because it saved ancient houses slated for destruction, and stopped a barbaric subway proposal that would have devastated a neighborhood.
As outlined in the 1996 film “The City Was Ours” (De stad was van ons), many Amsterdamers abhorred the violent riots, and many squatters themselves resented the brutal authoritarianism of the squatter war leader Theo van der Giessen, although his tactics achieved important victories against police.
One important footnote here – The Dutch film “De stad was van ons,” 70 minutes, with English subtitles, is one of the best films on a squatting movement. It does not search up on Google now at all. It is part of the dark web, accessible only on movie page:
This movement's success in saving buildings follows what the analyst Hans Pruijt (P-R-U-I-J-T), himself an ex-squatter of Amsterdam's golden age, called “conservation squatting.” Saving important buildings is a powerful road to public acceptance for occupation. Another classic example – the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, the original site of the Dada movement in Switzerland, was scheduled to become a fashion showroom. Artists occupied it in protest, and turned it into a 24-hour performance art action. Today it is a museum dedicated to the Dada movement and the squat is recalled as part of the stories told during Zurich Dada's centennial year. (See the movie “Dada Changed My Life” for the story [sort of] of this queer-driven art squatting action.)
Action in Amsterdam inspired other Dutch cities, of course. The university city of Groningen, and especially Rotterdam had substantial squatting movements, with a great many different outcomes. Our research group, SqEK meets next month in Rotterdam in the Poortgebouw social center, a legalized place that began as a squat in 1980. In the long run, the Amsterdam squatting movement directly inspired city government, which recuperated the movement's achievements. The city evicted some very large squatted centers and re-established them as low-rent enclaves for approved cultural tenants. The program, called “breeding places” (broedplaatsen), favored start-up technology and fashion businesses. Maybe it is not necessary to point out that this arrangement is a long way from an open-door, assembly-run center with a strong political position. Even so, a former squatter leader now runs an urban consulting business which draws on the lessons of the movement to advise city councils on municipal brand development and creative community management. Ugh, yes, but this is the evolution of contemporary political reality in Europe. When I suggest to U.S. anarchists that they should involve themselves in government, they look at me funny. The point is, however, that this kind of engagement does not mean foreswearing activism and direct action. It is only to recognize that occupation is an entirely respectable political tactic. Negotiations on the fate of a project can begin from the first conversation with police.
Dutch Provos were directly involved in one big squat project near Amsterdam. The entire village of Ruigoord was occupied not long after it had been evicted to make way for an expansion of the port of Amsterdam. The planned expansion didn't happen, and Ruigoord (R-U-I-G-O-O-R-D) became a summer studio haven, an open air sculpture park, and an expansive wooded grounds for festivals. Many of the displaced villagers moved back. Artistically minded squatters started what they called the Amsterdam Balloon Company, which evolved into a production group for free festivals. The area was also maintained as an ecological park. The Ruigoord festival tradition spread to a nearby privately-owned squatted warehouse called ADM, which has struggled hard to stay there. Building giant robots helps.
Ruigoord is deeply invested in what might be called a hippie ethos. Marijuana grows freely. Psilocybin is sold at the festivals, which feature tents, yurts and tipis, a pyramid, many offering Tarot reading, yoga, crystal work, sauna, and.... I forget. But the core group remain evangelists of squatting. Ruigoordians today support the Belgian squat of the village of Doel, a similarly evicted village in a port area outside Antwerp. The ancient village of Doel today is an open air gallery for global street artists.
At the Futurological Symposium of Free Spaces, Ruigoord leaders received the “ambassadors” of the free city of Christiania, an enormous project in Copenhagen, Denmark that began around the same time as the village in the harbor was abandoned.
Christiania is famous. (The wonderful film “Christiania You Have My Heart” [2002] is online, on YouTube this time.) The abandoned military base in Copenhagen was taken over by students inspired by their architecture professor. It continues to this day, having weathered decades of hostility by several Danish governments and the close scrutiny of institutional researchers. Recent attempts by right-wing governance to enforce single ownership on Christianites, and turn over some of their land for private development have been successfully resisted. It remains one of the top tourist attractions in Denmark, not least for its “Pusher Street” where hashish and other soft drugs are openly sold. (The dealers of hard drugs, heroin and cocaine, and their users were evicted long ago.) The community offers a research residency for counter-culture students interested in Christiania.
After the hippies set up squats after their ways, it be came the turn of the punks. Vienna and Zurich were famous squatting centers in the 1970s and '80s, although moribund today. Squatting started pretty late in Slovenia. They had to wait for the Eastern socialist bloc authoritarian governments to fall. But punks also took over an abandoned army base and called it Metelkova Mesto. Today it is the major center for youth music and party in Ljubljana. And the government also took a piece of it, when a part of the complex became the site of a newly constructed museum of modern art. Still, anarchist politics continue as crusty as you can in a region with plenty of active fascists. An activist from Metelkova's punk community, an archivist there, recently toured the USA with Crimethinc in the “To Change Everything” tour.
The biggest squat in Italy also is on a military base. The 19th century Forte Prenestino was almost immediately obsolete when it was completed in the 1880s. It was used by the Fascists and the Nazis before being abandoned. Forte Prenestino has a drawbridge, two parade grounds, and a maze of underground tunnels which were used to store munitions. It was occupied in 1986 on “Non-Labor Day,” the Feast of Non-Working. Forte Prenestino is entirely self-financing, mainly through concerts, festivals and cafes. It is well known for the annual Crack! Fumetti dirompenti, the festival of disruptive comics. But the number of projects in the huge complex is dizzying: infoshops, hacklabs, cinema, theater, acrobatics lab, screen printing, drawing, sculpture, and carpentry workshops, gymnasium, music rehearsal room, recording studio, record label, natural cosmetics lab, photo lab, tattoo studio, and public spaces like a wine bar, a tea room, a very popular gourmet and locally-sourced kitchen cafe, and a pub.
And, just as in Paris the anarchist squat Transfo supported the occupiers of Notre Dames des Landes who were opposing the regional airport there, a collective at Forte Prenestino supports the No TAV movement in the north of Italy. This occupation and resistance camp opposes the high velocity train between Turin and Lyon, France. At Centocelle social center, also in Rome, SqEK researchers drank “No TAV” wine, bottled by the locals of the Susa Valley in thanks for the political support or Roman squatters.
Hmmm... was that simply a gift in gratitude? Or, more likely, part of the solidarity economy between the Roman left and the left of the countryside? Both solidarity economy and food culture are important fronts for work in Italy, and throughout Europe.
On the subject of economy, I'd like to mention a way I have always understood squatting, from the first project I was personally involved in, the 1980 Real Estate Show on Delancey Street. I understood that occupation as “insurrectionary urban development.” Along this line, I see squatting as urban innovation. And what's so important about it is that it does not accord with the capitalist model of entrepreneurship. Squatters make their projects happen with their own labor, not with capital. The direction of their work is towards a vision of a new world, and a reformed society. Anti-capitalist urban development, if you will, runs exactly parallel to the whole creative city brand mishegos, and education for entrepreurship that has gripped city governments in its spell in the 21st century. I see it as our job to break that spell with a snap of the crowbar. And right behind it comes the home brew and pickles...
The biggest historical example of this parallelism I can adduce is the phenomenon of hacklabs in squats. These pioneering experimenters with computers, open source code and free information came out of the pirate radio stations, like the famous Radio Alice in Bologna and Black Cat in Amsterdam. The squat-based hacklabs trained a generation of programmers in the new media of communication and business, which has had enormous implications for the economy of the cities concerned. (This story is told in the “Making Room” book by the hacker historian Maxigas, and the theorist of digerati Geert Lovink.)
As Janis will doubtless discuss at this meeting, both the Netherlands and the United Kingdom have recently passed anti-squatting laws. (Although curiously in the UK commercial premises are not part of the ban.) These laws give authorities the legal means to evict immediately. These follow along German models, and other European laws like those in Spain, called “eviction express,” which are not so recent. Despite these laws, squats and occupations continue. In some cases they actually increase. In all of these, familiar political conditions obtain. What I mean is that, with squatting part of political culture, negotiations are quite normal between popular assemblies and elected and appointed governmental powers, usually mediated by the judiciary. These do not invariably result in eviction for well-organized, strategic, and purposive political squatting projects.
With an active squatting movement the range of negotiating positions for activists opens up considerably. Occupation can become, at certain propitious times, naturalized. It does not always provoke an aggressive police response, despite the laws against residential squatting. It might mean an immediate negotiation with city officials. This can be seen in the case of Hamburg, a relatively small city (1.7 million). There the carefully coordinated squat of the Gängeviertel group of buildings slated for redevelopment led first to negotiation, and second to the institutionalization of the occupation as a cultural center. It still has significant political components.
Of course at times a vigorous defense is required. Also recently in Hamburg, as in Barcelona extensive street battles with police preserved two long-term social centers, the Rote Flora in Hamburg and the Can Vies in Barcelona.
I recognize that this is the kind of movement U.S. activists can only dream about. (Maybe in flashes it appears in Oakland.)
Squatting in Europe has great depth as a direct action political project – and, as its partisan academics in the SqEK collective call it, a movement. Squatting is about claiming rent-free housing for the poor and excluded. It is also about opening public common spaces, making room for organizing, cultural work, and communal living. Squatting is also a culture. It is multi-generational with deep roots and often with significant popular support.
Because squatting in Europe is part of the political process, squatters can't be ignored, nor so easily criminalized. Most dramatically, the mayor of Barcelona elected in May of last year is a former squatter and eviction resister. (Ada Colau's book, written with Adrià Alemany is called "Mortgaged Lives" and it's available in English as a free PDF download.)
Matthew Desmond's book “Evicted” has made a splash in liberal New York media. Desmond's work is an ethnography of the poorest of Milwaukee who are serial victims of eviction. Rent for substandard housing consumes the lion's share of their meager incomes; in one case 80%. One slip and they're out. Their landlords are making lots of money, since the rents are not cheap, but market rate. The rub is once evicted, it's really hard to get another apartment, so who is going to rent to you? Exploiters of the poor. Behold a business opportunity. Evictions are handled in civil court, and there's no public defenders. Most tenants have no lawyers. Most don't even bother to show up. Further, their evictions may not even go through court, but just be handled by the landlord's designated goons.
Waiting lists for public housing are decades long – that's decades.
As I listened to this, I realized this was a prima facie case for a squatting movement. I'm living in Milwaukee now, and there's no sign of one. Why not? I asked Google, which informed me of Occupy Our Homes, which came out of OWS. They continue their campaign to "save homes" which are being foreclosed by banks. This isn't the problem which Desmond describes. He describes a situation of unaffordable housing, not people who at one point could afford to buy and couldn't keep up payments. Apparently activists, with some NGO support, saw this as a more winnable campaign, to pressure banks for more favorable terms in foreclosures.
This was not the position of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union, nor of Homes Not Jails, nor of Take Back the Land. These groups which have run significant squatting actions in recent years were started by and for homeless people, however, not homeowners. They came from desperation, and from comprehensive organizing that traces its roots back to Martin Luther King's Poor People's Campaign.
It can be easy for an old man to fulminate and exhort – but I believe indeed that it's time for U.S. anarchists to get over their intoxication with riots, leave the punk shows for more than a smoke, and realize that they are part of the political process here as well. They can do a lot more within it. Direct action is a gambit, an opening move in a political game that then plays out. How a squat goes, and what it means and comes to stand for is in the hands of the bold assembly

////////////// Much of this is taken from my book, Occupation Culture: Art & Squatting in the City from Below, 2015; PDF:
Although I have realized through talking about it that that book is not enough, and this is kind of a start on the next one...

Also this book is referenced in the text:
Alan W. Moore and Alan Smart, eds., "Making Room: Cultural Production in Occupied Spaces"; PDF:


Amsterdam's Anarchist Revolt, by Richard Kempton, PDF:

SqEK research group

[NL] De stad was van ons [EN subs] 70mins 708 mb avi

Hans Pruijt "Squatting in Europe"

Cabaret Voltaire centennial, the squat recalled

ongoing problems of the museum

SqEK meets next month in Rotterdam

“breeding places” in amsterdam (PDF)

critique of this

Ruigoord (Dutch)

Belgian squat of the village of Doel


Futurological Symposium of Free Spaces

Christiania, you have my heart - YouTube

Metelkova Mesto

CSOA Forte Prenestino (Italian)

The Real Estate Show - ABC No Rio Dinero

Where Can We Be? The Occupation of 123 Delancey Street, Stephen Zacks

Radio Alice in Bologna

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Excerpt from "Report: To Change Everything US Tour," posted December 28th, 2015

The Boing! anarchist collective in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Editor's note: I last posted on the talk of European activists and squatters at the MoRUS – Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space, in New York City in September of '15. The speakers at that event were part of a U.S. speaking tour, “To Change Everything,” organized by Crimethinc. The group has just posted their report on their very extensive travels across the continent. This included a swing through the southwestern border region, where anarchists and activists labor on behalf of displaced U.S. migrants, and indigenous people. This activism is all but ignored in day-to-day news and left discourses, so I felt it was important to repost – (with their permission) – a part of the full blog post concerning those issues here.

Last month, we concluded the To Change Everything US tour, bringing together anarchists from Latin America, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and North America to compare notes on the uprisings and social movements of the past decade. In the course of 65 days, we presented 59 events in 57 towns, speaking with well over 2000 people altogether.... We had a wonderful tour. For those of us from the US as well as overseas, it is instructive to take in the entire country in a single continuous trip....

Tijuana, Mexico
Crossing one of the bridges in Tijuana, only few meters from one of the most militarized borders in the world, I look down at an empty canal that used to be a river. Yet another sign of the drought plaguing this part of the West Coast. No water has run there for a while, but only a few months ago this canal was full of life: the encampments of deportees.
Just across the border in Tijauna, a space emptied once by the drought and the second time by police. Until recently, this whole space was crowded with the encampments of the deported and homeless. Now its empty expanse speaks to all the state-imposed suffering we never see.

The United States deports hundreds of people without papers to Tijuana, Mexico every day. The cartels often get first pick of the deportees, taking women and men of their choosing. Some for sex, torture, and death, some for the drug business. Others end up living in the canals, some not even speaking Spanish since they spent most of their lives in US. Most have nowhere to go.
Earlier this year, Tijuana authorities “cleaned” the canal. When you walk across the bridge now, you no longer see tents and a river of people. But everywhere in the city, you see the silent reminders of thousands and thousands lost in the machinery of the border regime. Abandoned shoes here, an empty sleeping bag there.
[Editor's note: A year in release now, "Exile Nation: The Plastic People" film documents this sad and shameful situation.]
In the evening, when dusk falls on the city, we walk through the red light district, still full of sex tourists. We stop in the square next to a church and set up the table for Food Not Bombs. “Free food,” comrade shouts in Spanish. In a second, the square that looked empty becomes alive. People come out of the dark corners, grab food, and disappear back into invisibility.
For a second, I try to imagine how the scattered millions on both sides of the border could stand up against the wall together. Then I am violently wrenched from my dreams by a hoarse voice barking at me: “Papers!”

Desert, Arizona
I stop after a steep hike for a second to catch my breath. I look around. No shade, everything looks the same, even cactus are lying rotting across the path. Death, nothingness, desert for as far as the eye reaches. Even though it is early November, the temperatures are still high; the absence of humidity dries me up and a bottle of water barely suffices to keep me hydrated.
Unexpectedly, we reach the top of the ridge and climb down into the bottom of a canyon. I hear the last sound I had expected in the middle of the Arizona desert: water. We follow a little stream until it runs into babbling waterfalls. I sink my legs into the cutting cold water. Relief.
“This is very rare,” explains our comrade who took us to the desert. “Most people who cross US-Mexico border don’t stumble across this kind of oasis. A lot of them become dehydrated or have heat strokes. Some of them die.”
The only water they see is the bottles left along the route, along with food and first aid supplies, by tireless comrades determined to help people survive the deadly desert crossing.
“I sometimes wonder if this is enough,” my comrade ventures, his eyes locked to the horizon. “Maybe we’re just doing humanitarian support work when we should be looking for ways to fight borders more directly.” His forehead furrows, his cheeks beaten up by the rough desert wind. I wonder how many lives he has already saved.
This takes my thoughts back to Europe, to the millions of refugees from Middle East, risking their lives to cross border after border, only to arrive in lands where people are organizing themselves into fascist formations and gated communities. What will it take to bring down Fortress Europe?

The Mohave desert.
Tempe, Arizona
We’ve been driving through the desert for hours, having watched the sun rise over the dusty bleak khaki and orange expanses of northwestern Arizona. Yet arriving at the home of our host in Tempe, on the outskirts of Phoenix, we blearily file out of the van onto soft green grass, a well-manicured lawn that wouldn’t look out of place in any well-watered suburb east of the Mississippi. I’m reminded of something I read once that attributed the shrinking of the Colorado River—which no longer reaches the Gulf of Mexico, an environmental reversal of staggering proportions—to the expansion of the Phoenix metropolitan area, with over four million people flushing toilets and watering lawns. So maybe it’s that dim recollection, or just my weariness from the overnight drive, but as I stumble into the apartment, for whatever reason my mind keeps slipping back to that vivid green lawn glistening against the pale concrete sidewalk, a southwestern non sequitur whose very normalcy reveals an incomprehensibly vast apparatus of control deployed against the unforgiving landscape. A mode of producing a certain form of life that renders others impossible, that by its very structure erases or immiserates many as it eases a gauzy, sedative veil over the eyes of the few it ostensibly benefits. Neatly trimmed green grass lawns in the desert as a biological neon advertisement for itself, the tenuous triumphalism of the American Way of Life™ over and beyond any and all constraints of common sense or ecological capacity, the banal aesthetics of ecocidal power and self-destructive collective denial.
But before long, my bleary mind is diverted from such concerns by the siren song of a well-stocked bookshelf, brimming not only with classic and contemporary anarchist favorites but substantial blocs of intriguing history, theory, fiction, and even an ample smattering of titles pertaining to some of my more specific and obscure interests (pre-revolutionary Irish history, the 1990s journal Race Traitor, and other divergences too embarrassing to enumerate). Unable to sleep past 9 AM in most circumstances—unlike my tour mates, who are already sprawled snoring on the couches—I resign myself to a few hours of gleeful solitary delving into the treasures of this well-curated collection. But before I manage to slip down that rabbit hole, I’m swept into conversation about politics in Arizona, a peculiarly horrifying landscape in which the right wing arrives to protests visibly armed with semi-automatic weapons, neo-Nazis rub shoulders with Republican officials in scheming how to hunt and exploit migrants, and identity politicians and nonprofits deploy guilt-driven notions of “allyship” to domesticate resistance that might exceed their limits. Or so it would seem; this is my first time in the state, and amidst my sleep deprivation I’m struggling just to keep up with the litany of different protagonists and conflicts, both inter- and intra-, let alone evaluate them critically. I emerge from the conversation with two impressions. First, that this area might be a fruitful space in which to introduce some of the critiques and questions we have been discussing on the tour. Second, that we’re stepping into a minefield in which a complex web of local alliances, conflicts, and backstories raise the stakes in ways we may not fully understand. Gulp.
Blink—did I doze off? It’s afternoon, and we’re scrubbing the last traces of beans and guacamole from our plates with tongues or tepid tortillas before scrambling back into the van to head to the event. As one of our tour mates has lost his voice, tonight will be my first time presenting the introductory and concluding chunks of our presentation, and I feel like a high school student cramming for an exam, sifting through sheets of notes and trying out different phrasings as I mumble to myself in the back of the van. In an innocuous strip mall, amid laundromats and pre-fab Chinese restaurants, we find ourselves at a surprisingly cozy cafe, already humming with people setting up rows of chairs and laying out zines and pamphlets from a range of different projects. As my tour mates set up our literature, mingle with the arriving crowds, and attempt to sift through the range of groups and personalities in anticipation of the discussion to come, I hole up in a corner, trying to shoehorn the last bits of what I plan to say into my overstuffed couch of a brain. My body tingles with that exhilarated, not quite frantic anticipation of a challenging but not overwhelming ordeal to come.
Come here, my tour mate tells me, interrupting my reverie; we’re going to meet some local O’odham organizers and talk about the panel. Shutting the laptop and pulling together my sheaf of papers, I think back to the question I asked our host about the indigenous land acknowledgment with which we prefer to begin our events when and where we can; the event tonight will take place on traditional Akimel O’odham territory. I’m still trying to mold my tongue to the unfamiliar words in preparation for the introduction, as we step outside and introduce ourselves to new friends who are active in O’odham struggles and have come to share the event with us. They offer us some context about the land we’re on, some of the struggles folks on their reservations are engaged in against environmental destruction and desecration of sacred sites, and their experiences doing radical organizing in the area, including with anarchists from settler backgrounds like those that form the majority of the evening’s audience. And, as they politely but pointedly make clear, as of yet they have no particular reason to trust us, or any miscellaneous mostly-white group of anarchists for that matter. What are we about? What do we stand for? Gulp, once again; suddenly my seemingly minor role introducing and concluding our presentation seems strikingly high-stakes.
The panel is beginning; my mind is racing. We’ve agreed that four of us from the CrimethInc. tour and three O’odham folks will share the stage. They will open with a welcoming and introduction, followed by our presentation, and then they will share some of their responses as well as discussions of their struggles locally. We’ll share the Q & A and discussion afterwards. As the rumble of conversation dies down and attention focuses on the stage, the O’odham comrades stand and one sings a song of welcome in his native language, then, in English, greets us and the audience. With a flash of embarrassment, I recognize the tingle in my sinuses that foretells tears rising to my eyes. To be welcomed—somehow this gesture cuts to the heart of some powerful and previously unspoken disquiet and longing inside of me. Beyond any discourse of “rights” or entitlement, amidst the shameful histories of conquest and deception and betrayal, the simple act of being welcomed onto the land where someone lives feels indescribably powerful, humbling.
And yet the welcome is not merely for the crew of us who’ve arrived in the van and will leave a few hours later, some of us likely never to return. It’s also directed at the folks from settler backgrounds who do live in the area; in one subtle gesture, the welcome both reveals and defuses the tension that crackles beneath the surface of a “radical” gathering of mostly non-native folks on occupied indigenous land. I watch the faces of folks in the audience as they are welcomed into the place that perhaps they thought of as already “theirs.” Such a welcome performs a nuanced operation, reminding us of the submerged violence that our very presence connotes while encouraging us not get stuck in guilt over it. Rather than excusing or justifying our feeling of entitlement to be here in the first place, it invites us to contest and transform our relationship to the land we inhabit—whether for a night or a year or a lifetime—and to the unjust reality that structures our occupation of it.
Thus welcomed, I rise to my feet, thanking our new friends and introducing ourselves and the evening’s event. Long-rehearsed words slide off my tongue even as I try to pan back, reformulate insufficiently nuanced thoughts, insert new language that contests old assumptions, and remain conscious of the specificity of the context into which we’ve been invited. As the panel unfolds, I’m delighted to see our international comrades absorbing and reflecting the paradigm shifts introduced in our conversations with the O’odham and other local organizers here. In the conclusion, I attempt to synthesize the reflections of Slovenian, Brazilian, and Czech anarchists into a framework engaging themes and questions that might open into local concerns and contexts. After I finish, the three O’odham panelists layer on their experiences and conclusions, sometimes parallel to our own and sometimes constructively challenging them. As questions pour in from the audience, we’re collectively able to address them from several different perspectives, alternately diverging and overlapping, making for a challenging and insightful discussion.
In defiance of received wisdom about the limits of American attention spans, the joint panel and discussion lasts a solid three hours and beyond, and nearly the entire audience remains raptly attentive throughout. At last, we reluctantly conclude to enthusiastic applause, and break into a litany of thought-provoking smaller conversations as the night slowly winds down. Unfortunately, the hectic tour schedule demands that we once again drive overnight, so after barely twelve hours in the area we’re boxing up the zines and books, bidding our new friends farewell, and piling back into the van once again to drive south. Feeling energized from all of the challenging conversations, I offer to drive, but a perceptive tour mate sees the slightly deranged quiver of sleep deprivation in my eyes and gently but firmly insists that I climb into the back. It turns out that I’m actually too exhausted to disagree.
As I drift off, packed amidst my friends in our sardine can of a tour van, I reflect on our too-short trip through Tempe/Phoenix. Over the course of the evening’s panel I’ve absorbed more about indigenous and anti-colonial politics in the southwest than I’d learned in years of anarchist organizing beforehand. In the part of the US I’m from, discourses of race have been constructed around a foundational black/white binary, with a growing Latino/a migrant population perched somewhere around or between. Indigenous peoples and struggles, despite their ongoing presence and the fierce resistance of folks like Lumbee anti-police organizer Eddie Hatcher, remain relegated to history or obscurity in most discussions of race and power, even among activists or radicals. In the context of Arizona, however, some of the largest and most actively organizing indigenous populations in the so-called US rub shoulders with an enormous Mexican and Central American migrant population, which is internally divided along lines of citizenship and status, language, education, and other factors. While these groups are often jointly targeted by a reactionary white settler/citizen population, they don’t necessarily share strategies or interests as “people of color,” with divergent perspectives and goals around their relationship to the state, the border, and the land. And white would-be allies, be they earnest liberal activists or militant anarchists, may inadvertently reproduce some colonial dynamics in their approaches to organizing in this context.
At the same time, there are also many inspiring examples of cross-community actions, projects, and relationships that have managed to build trust. Some white anarchists and radicals have forged long-standing relationships with folks on the O’odham reservations, connections that made it possible for us to organize the joint panel in Tempe. Collaborative Dine, O’odham, and anarchist/anti-authoritarian blocs at marches against racist Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the border patrol provided explicit opportunities for indigenous and non-indigenous radicals to come together against the institutions that jointly oppress them. In Flagstaff, an indigenous infoshop, the Taala Hooghan, operated for years, connecting radical youth from different communities. Despite the grim conditions in Arizona, I left both inspired and humbled by how much we have to learn from folks who are refusing to simplify their situations or promote the struggles of some oppressed communities at the expense of others, instead striving to build trust and the capacity to resist while unflinchingly confronting the realities of poverty, racist violence, border militarization, environmental destruction, and attempted indigenous genocide. And it’s not just a question of learning about an exotic context remote from our lives; the popularity and wide circulation of the text “Accomplices Not Allies,” to take just one example, indicates how much the rest of the US (and beyond) can learn from the specific conditions and experiences of anti-colonial and anti-authoritarian rebels in Arizona.
But what would it mean to extend these analyses of settler colonialism, border imperialism, and the complex nuances of white supremacy to other contexts? How can anarchists and other radicals connect to indigenous resistance in places with very different colonial legacies? How might our anarchist critiques of nationalism be complicated by indigenous concepts of nationhood and territory? Are we, as one of our O’odham comrades said, in fact “all indigenous to somewhere”? How do white people engage with that question without reinforcing narratives that have been appropriated by European fascists? How can we overcome the limitations of identity foisted on us by states, markets, and oppressive social systems, while cultivating a deeper sense of who we are rooted in a land base and an organic community, not predicated on borders or exclusion?
We still have a lot to learn. But listening deeply to each other, building connections and building trust, we might find that our seemingly insurmountable differences could become a source of powerful strength. Eventually, inevitably, the last well-manicured green lawn will vanish from the desert. How, and how soon, and whether there will be any humans left to see it replaced by the regeneration of desert flora and fauna, is ultimately up to all of us.

I’ll close with a few links to projects by our O’odham comrades:
Akimel O’odham Youth Collective
The struggle against the Loop 202 freeway
O’odham Solidarity Across Borders

…and some politically motivated music:
Hip hop from Phoenix: Shining Soul
Akimel O’odham Ska Crust from the Gila River Reservation: Requiem

A live audio recording from the last stop of the recently wrapped-up To Change Everything tour, an international panel discussion featuring stories and lessons from participants in some of the better and lesser known uprisings of the last few years. (98:12)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Social Center Activists Talk in NYC

Update: The "Change Everything" tour of international anarchists organized by Crimethinc is now concluded. A report on their travels has been posted on the Crimethinc blog. It is an excellent and stimulating read. (Note: URLs to references and links are at the bottom of this post.)

Last September, a day before the opening of the exhibition connected with our anthology "Making Room: Cultural Production in Occupied Spaces," a group of activists gathered at the MoRUS museum on New York's Lower East Side for a talk about squatted social centers. Some of the activists were traveling with Crimethinc's "Change Everything" tour. Brian of Crimethinc, he of the long dreads who debated Chris Hedges a few years ago on the question of the black bloc in the Occupy movement, is wandering around the edges of the crowd. It's small. The tour, we are told, is part of a global dialogue between anarchists all over the world. The pamphlet text has been translated into many languages. The speakers this night were from the squatting movement in different contexts -- Slovenia, Sweden, Argentina, and Scandinavia. Bim of Stockholm speaks first.
There is not much of a squatting culture in Scandinavia. Tenants' rights there are stronger than in most countries. In early summer Bim was part of a squat in a southern suburb of Stockholm. The suburb had been built around a metro station there. The building they squatted had been sold to a private company pushing gentrification. They planned new construction advertised to higher income people as "15 minutes from the city." Demonstrations and organizing was done against this. This included concerts, free shops, and other events. Finally they took over the building to show that it could be renovated. They expected to be evicted quickly, but they weren't. "So we were surprised to have a building." We had to figure out what to do with it. People came quickly. "They didn't plan to make a social center. It just happened." This showed the need for such a place. The free shop was full of stuff within hours. "Everything sort of happened by itself." This was surprising since Sweden has no history of doing occupations.
The assemblies were long meetings which were exhausting. People were "differently educated," so we began to break out meetings by topic. For us, without the experience of Occupy, this was something new. We didn't promote rules because we wanted to be inclusive. In [Hed-dollen, the town of the squat] there is also a skate park and Cyclopen [another squatting project]. But you can never have too many spaces. The legal spaces would not be in conflict with what was happening in the area. [Stockholm also has a network of suburban art centers, some of which I visited during the Creative Time Summit there in 2014.] We were not just a group of punks. Even for people who were not radical, "we experienced that we could do something." Still, after a month of work, the initial group was burned out.
Ileana of Argentina spoke next. She sought to describe some of the active tensions in the squats she was involved in. In Argentina squattinng is not a political thing. People come continuously to the cities -- (now 90% of the population of Argentina) -- and start building their little shacks. A political movement is not present. People feel they have a right to build their own dwelling. In the year 2000, the financial crisis led to occupations. [The Take movie is about these factory occupations; see link below.]
I was involved in two projects in Rosario and in Buenos Aires. One had a number of provisions. The other, in Buenos Aires, was a really big old pizza place taken over by neighbors when it was shut down in 2001. Since then there has been increasing repression and evictions of important spaces. Spaces opened up for a year or more, opening up possibilities, and then closed down again. Ileana was also involved in a squatted house, "living politically together." People there were engaging their "micro-political relations and their decision-making." It was really exhausting. Assemblies in the social center are "a coming together of different bodies." In the house, as versus the social center, that process was very different. We talked about our emotional relationships. We assume that horizontal spaces are going to be horizontal, but they aren't.
Shifting affinities are something to be aware of when talking about horizontality. This goes to the question, What is collectivity? I gave up a lot to live in that house in Buenos Aires. But my whole self does not need to be decided upon by an assembly. This is a subtle thing. There is tension in our relation to the collectivity. Finally, it's a question of how we care for one another.
Ramona from Slovenia spoke next. In that country, she said, the squatting culture emerged in the early 1990s. The Metelkova military base in Llubjana was squatted in 1993. The Rog bicycle factory is another. Ramona comes from the anarchist infoshop in Metelkova. The late 1990s saw a wave of residential squatting. We were allowed to have our infoshop in Metelkova, but we also lived there. Every kind of project is there. [She names them.] The 22nd anniversary was just last week. Gentrification has intensified in the last five to 10 years, and we are now into the third generation of squatters. We ask what role or function we play in this process? Metelkova looks very open and friendly. For young people it is one of the last places in the city they can hang out without consuming. Tour guides promote Metelkova. "We see 10 or 20 cameras every day trying to take a picture of the natives." The city mayor complements Metelkova as a zone of critical thought -- the "ghettoization of critical thought" is imposed upon us.
We ask, what is the role of a radical community which is a part of this squat in the face of gentrification? When creating these spaces we want them to last. But institutionalization makes them more open to cooptation. The state deals with the emergence of resistance in terms of repression. The other way is sending inspectors, and of course we fail all those tests. It's a way to pressure us to legalize. The squat produced cultural value which is capitalized by the state through tourism. While it might be tempting to legalize, why do we fight for autonomy? Metelkova was an expression of deep disagreement with the way the city was developing under capitalism. It is easy to forget this conflict orientation as the space closes and becomes self-sufficient. It is "a tiny island of resistance.... If it doesn't go into conflict with everything else around it, it has no meaning."
Sara from Ljubljana then spoke. There are a quarter million people in the city. Both squats -- [Metelkova and Rog] -- are in the center of the city and they are huge. The origin of Rog is connected with the story of transition from Communist rule. This was more gradual in Slovenia than in other Eastern Bloc countries. But we have been facing increasing precarity and austerity. Rog was a very successful bicycle factory, but it shut down in the 1990s. Different speculations were made on the building. In 2006 it was occupied as a production space by collectives which had prepared the occupation. Metelkova emphasizes alternative culture. Rog emphasizes social production, not only cultural production. Temporary usage was a leading concept. We will leave when the city decides what to do with it, but in the meantime it needs to be used. In a couple of years we realized we were collaborating with gentrification, so we began to think how to develop. We turned into a center of cultural production.
With the Europe-wide economic crisis, the city could not find an investor to develop the space, so we are there 10 years now. In the beginning, it was very nice, with solidarity and so on. Then with the first winter, a huge factory with broken windows and no electricity, it was hard. Many people left. Many collectives began to build their own spaces within the factory. [She names various uses.] After two years the assembly became very hard, then it stopped, and restarted on a new basis. We believe in "non-perfectibility." We are "inclusive, non-hierarchical and non-institutional."
David of Rog: The "social center" within Rog has seen itself as political from the beginning. There have been two broad phases. The first was a campaign-driven collective with clear politics around the "struggle of the erased." This concerns the 25,000 people who lost citizenship during the transition. It's a complex story, but this campaign started in the early '00s and continues. Another campaign concerns the rights of migrant workers. They lost rights with the crisis and were never paid. People were in the social center because of these campaigns. It was also always open to community initiatives. The second phase came with Occupy Slovenia, a five-to-six-month occupation during which many activists became engaged in the Occupy struggle, and went away from the campaigns. The space became more about being collectively organized. A new formation is the Precarious Wasps' Nest of Workers meeting, also the Insurgent Women Social Workers which started in 2013 with a radical approach to social work. The media collective asks what does our space mean for us, and what is its function in the wider society?


anthology, Making Room: Cultural Production in Occupied Spaces
includes the essay “Metelkova, mon Amour: Reflections on the (Non-)Culture of Squatting,” by Jasna Babic

Crimethinc: Ex-Workers' Collective

To Change Everything US Tour, Sept-Oct 2015

“Välkommen till kulturhuset Cyklopen”

"Radio Sweden covers the re-opening of the Cyklopen libertarian social centre in Stockholm" November 2013

The Take is a documentary film by Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein
full movie on YouTube at:

Metelkova mesto
Metelkova is an autonomous social centre in the centre of Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Tovarna Rog on official Slovenian culture website
“Opened in 2006 within the 7,000 square-metre former premises of the Rog bicycle factory in downtown Ljubljana”

Tovarna Rog

“Rog: Struggle in the City,” by Andrej Kurnik, Barbara Beznec
Transversal e-zine, April 2008

Photo at Metelkova: Matej Družnik/Delo; at

poster image: First Latin American Gathering Of Worker-Recovered Factories, Caracas, Venezuela, November 2015

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Talking “Streetopia” in San Francisco

During my recent book tour for “Occupation Culture,” everyone wanted to talk about gentrification. While it is certainly involved, squatting really isn't about that... At the “Making Room” show at ABC No Rio this past September, however, we hosted a talk by Erick Lyle, whose new book “Streetopia” documents and reflects on an artists' project that got right to the point in San Francisco. My notes are below.
Barry McGee work in the "Outerspace Hillbillys" show at the Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco
photo from

That city is changing fast, under the pressure of a massive wave of super well-paid tech workers. Everyone there, if they are not counting their money, is worried. Chris Carlsson, the great San Francisco historian talks about that; and the anarchist writer Cindy Milstein has been reporting the many struggles which have broken out in the street, where increasing numbers of San Franciscans are finding themselves.
The blurb for Erick's new book explains: “After San Francisco’s new mayor announced imminent plans to 'clean up' downtown with a new corporate 'dot com corridor' and arts district–featuring the new headquarters of Twitter and Burning Man— curators Erick Lyle, Chris Johanson, and Kal Spelletich brought over 100 artists and activists together with neighborhood residents fearing displacement to consider utopian aspirations and to plot alternate futures for the city. Opening in May 2012 at the Luggage Store Gallery, the resulting exhibition Streetopia was a massive anti-gentrification art fair that took place in venues throughout the city. For five weeks, Streetopia featured daily free talks, performances, and skillshares while operating a free community kitchen out of the gallery.”
The project took place in the Tenderloin district of San Fancisco. Erick explained that the mayor intends this part of the city "to be a dot com corridor" of tech businesses. The second dot com boom is underway now in SF, "Tech 2.0." The first dot com boom in San Francisco saw a united organizing response which resulted in key legislation. This solidarity has dissipated. “Streetopia” was an opening cry from the artists' community.
The roots of the "Streetopia" project, as it happens, were in a squat -- at 949 Market street during the first dot com boom. After long seasons of demonstrations, Erick said, “We wanted to do something more about what we're for rather than what we're against. We were tired of holding up protest signs at city hall. We wanted a social space where people wouldn't have to spend money.”
Erick has written about this great adventure, a covert occupation and development of an abandoned movie theater, in his book On the Lower Frequencies That book is “a manual, a memoir and a history of creative resistance and fun in a world run rotten with poverty and war.” While Lyle's best known zine venture is called Scam, his book tells of a less well-known photocopied project, The Turd-Filled Donut, which largely concerned the SFPD which was beating down hard on him and his punk pals back in the day.
The Luggage Store Gallery, a 35-year-old project which owns their building, was the partner for the “Streetopia” project. “We were making art projects for the people living there, he said. The artists built a simple structure which combined a bleacher-type seating with a stage. They "funkified" the gallery space. The architect was inspired by the St. Louis city museum, an "unsafe structure" with labyrinths. Although maligned, the Tenderloin district has strong community organizations. The idea of the show was to amplify those. For example, "What if the space of Occupy was normalized and made constant?" For the five week run of the show, there was a free cafe -- inspired by the Diggers; a "healing arts studio," where they practiced tincture making, and led ex-urban herb walks. The idea was to heal the city trauma due to displacement.
Julian Dash did a Holy Stitch project as an afterschool with kids, remaking and selling clothes. There was a stand selling coffee and trees, nurselings in planters. The Drug Users Union which seeks to set up safe injection sites, as exist in the European Union, collaborated with Barry McGee. They mocked up a design for a safe injection booth. Out of this came another group, the Urban Survivors Network.
Sarah Lewison's project was to reactivate a communal news network. The Kaliflower commune network of newsletters claimed to circulate to 300 communes in the Bay Area during the 1970s. All of this was non-monetary. It was not the "sharing economy", but real sharing – "a lost world." Silicon Valley and the gentrifiers have stolen that language from us. For the “Streetopia” artists, real time was important, so they did not photograph everything.
Even so, underground hobo celeb Bill Daniel was artist in residence, making photographs. Bill made the film classic “Who Is Bozo Texino?”. As it happened, he also showed up at ABC No Rio in September as well, touring his vintage photos of punk shows in Texas.
The artists of “Streetopia” did skill shares, for example how to find information about the city's hidden forces. Sarah Schulman came and talked about ACT-UP. A new group is using ACT-UP tactics to shut down banks. Caroline Dins made a project about James Baldwin. He did a PBS documentary, "If I Had a Hammer". Fifty years later, Caroline found the kids from that film, and talked to them about the legacy of neglect of the neighborhood.
In the discussion after Erick's talk, people noted that there has been some community land trust action in SF to preserve art spaces and housing. Sarah Lewison called this settling of younger people "a resuscitation act." With this tech stuff, "it's like the coming of the railroads," a reorganization of urban space on that scale. Today we have "a dialogue of powerlessness," complaining about stuff like gentrification. The tactics used by power to change and degrade communities are not clear. It is like the AIDS crisis, when people were dying and nobody in power was talking about it.
In the Lower East Side, said Fly Orr, we witness the takeover of the community by high level transients -- students and workers who don't plan to be here for very long. She works at the Lower East Side Girls Club where many people come to meet and organize.
I have the book, which include some deep thinking by smart people about the ongoing urban disaster that is wiping out working class and artists' communities around the world. I haven't read it yet. When I do, I'll post more about “Streetopia.”

"Vote for Survival," by Emory Douglas, shown in the Streetopia project
Emory Douglas/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / via New York Times


“Streetopia” – Order the book from the artists' collaborative JustSeeds for just $20.

Streetopia book Facebook page

Chris Carlsson talking about SF gentrification in 2014, article and podcast

Erick Lyle, On the Lower Frequencies

TRI-X-NOISE a mobile photo installation by Bill Daniel

Sarah Lewison's "State of Community" project for Streetopia

San Francisco Drug Users Union

Article about the Holy Stitch project, in "Bare" e-zine, March 2014 by Caroline Young

Holy Stitch page on Cargo Collective

Monday, November 2, 2015

Cooling My Heels...

...back in Milwaukee. Book touring is done for the moment, and I've been trying to take stock of what happened. I'm almost ready to start reporting some of these findings to this blog. As well, more ad hoc autonomous shadow-world publications are marinating in the stewpots of our gang's minds....
Squatting is pretty minoritarian stuff. In the USA in particular, while occupation is a political tactic, squatting isn't understood as a political movement. Indeed, occupations are rarely undertaken for any length of time.
So now, after a few months of sporadic touring, I shouldn't have been surprised that the U.S. reception of the books we have produced -- my own Occupation Culture and the anthology Making Room has been so lukewarm. What these books discuss and I've been talking about it seems is a curiosity of European culture. Folks are maybe thinking it's like lederhosen and paella -- curious, even tasty, but not something we do here in America.
Three years on, Occupy Wall Street seems to be forgotten. If it was, as Michael Gould-Wartofsky writes, manufactured by a dedicated cadre of media activists as a media event, both online and in the mainstream broadcast and print, it seems to have faded as completely as any of last year's celebrity kerfuffles. (That author swung through Milwaukee talking about his book The Occupiers: The Making of the 99 Percent Movement; we swapped books and I'm reading his now.)
The upshot is largely invisible. A generation of lefties with the kind of solidarity forged only in action; a reanimation of activism across the country; and, arguably, Bernie Sanders' focussed and issue-driven campaign today. Some new journals and a slew of books.
But, unlike its progenitor, the 15M movement in Spain (Gould-Wartofsky, like Nathan Schneider, points to the Spanish who were key actors in the OWS in New York), Occupy Wall Street did not succeed anywhere in the country to take any permanent brick-and-mortar positions, like squatted social centers. (The 15M movement led to dozens of sustained occupations all over Europe.) Nor did OWS have any electoral outcome. (Anti-austerity movements Europe-wide have led to some electoral victories; the Podemos party and related initiatives came straight out of the 15M in Spain.)
Now I am back in the foggy pre-winter chill near the banks of the Milwaukee River, far from the bustle of New York City September, and further still from the roiling, exhilirating political terrain of sunny Barcelona in May. Family business will hold me here now for some time, during which I plan to continue processing the data accumulated during the events celebrating the Making Room anthology book release, and the Barcelona conference of SqEK.
Considered objectively, the New York City events series was not a success, if success is measured by the yardsticks of increased attention and monetization. All the events were ignored by print press and media alike. To be sure, not a lot of effort was put into promotion, essential in the hectic New York environment. Still, gallery attendance was scant; some events had to be cancelled for lack of participation; and audiences at all events were pretty small.
On the other hand, discussions were focussed and intense. Several of those I intend to report on this blog in the weeks to come. And if this was not the moment to generate a broader public interest in the histories and potentials of the squatting movement, the people who were interested were very interested. Finally, that's what counts in this kind of thing. Oft cited, sourced to Margaret Mead, it's still true: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

Occupation Culture: Art & Squatting in the City from Below
by Alan W. Moore
published by Minor Compositions; free PDF online at --

Making Room: Cultural Production in Occupied Spaces
Edited by Alan W. Moore and Alan Smart
Co-published by Journal of Aesthetics & Protest and Other Forms; free PDF online

Occupation Culture tour website

Review of The Occupiers: The Making of the 99 Percent Movement
by Michael A. Gould-Wartofsky

Website of the 2015 conference, of the Squatting Europe Kollective -- SQEK BCN 2015
"Squatting Houses, Social Centers and Workplaces: Workshop on Self-Managed Alternatives"
NOTE: Numerous videos, texts, posters and images are on this site, and uploading continues
PHOTO: At ABC No Rio, during the "Making Room" event series, September 2015. Left to right Sarah Lewison, Alan Smart, Sophie Hamacher, Martha Rosler and Erick Lyle