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

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Events Series at "Making Room" Show in New York City Sept. 2015

This post will be the most complete listing of events around the "Making Room" exhibition at ABC No Rio this fall. It will be continually updated. There are other spots where events are more fully described, which are mostly all hyperlinked here. We are all very excited about this event series, and look forward to an exciting and productive month in the Big Apple.

FIRST UPDATE: Seminar of Wednesday, 9/23 is cancelled. The principal session is Sunday, 2-5pm at Interference Archive. Registration recommended to awm13579 [at]
Interference website re. the seminar is here (with right now the wrong time for 7/22).

"pop-up" exhibition
"Last Squat City: A Fly’s Personal Archive"
Preview: Friday, Sept. 11. 7 - 10pm
Hours: Saturday + Sunday, Sept 12 -13, 12 - 5pm
"Last Squat City" is culled from the extensive archive of artist, activist, squatter, and Lower East Side icon, Fly, whose zines and comix (including PEOPs, Dog Dayz and Zero Content), and illustrations (MAXIMUM ROCKNROLL, Slug & Lettuce, World War 3 Illustrated, NY Press, etc) documented the squatters' movement resisting real estate developers, avoiding police batons, fighting off evictions and sometimes rioting; all of which frightened the complacent yuppie invasion. 37 Greenpoint Avenue, Suite E4G, Box 23 , Brooklyn, New York, 11222 718-383-9621 Curated by Richard J. Lee

Photo above: Tovarna Rog center in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Photo by BoBo.

The upcoming exhibition at ABC No Rio arranged in conjunction with the release of the "Making Room" anthology (and lurking in the background, this blogger's own coincidental publication of "Occupation Culture") is opening September 16th. An extensive series of events is planned. Details are posted below, with hyperlinks to more information.
The show closes October 15. The gallery is listed as open for viewing hours: Sundays 2:00 — 5:00pm Tues, Wed, Thurs 4:00 —7:00pm. It will also be open during the hours of special events. It will be open at other times, when me and others are there, and during the as-yet-unscheduled Christiania conference reports, but you should call first to be sure. (Christiania reports will happen between 9/24-26.) Spontaneous or appointed open-door times will always be after the noon hour.

Tuesday, 15 September, 7pm
A.W. Moore hosts activists from Slovenia talking about two giant cultural centers in Ljubljana which began as occupations — Metelkova, a former army base, and Rog, once a bicycle factory. The venue is MoRUS, the NYC squat & garden museum. Other radical travelers may join us…
MoRUS museum storefront
155 Avenue C
Manhattan, New York City, 10009

Wednesday, September 16th, 7pm
opening reception for the exhibition:
"Making Room: Cultural Production in Occupied Space"
Alan Smart and Jack Henrie Fisher of Other Forms are designing this exhibition at ABC No Rio based on the anthology book “Making Room: Cultural Production in Occupied Spaces”.

Related Events at:

New York Art Book Fair
both "Making Room" and Moore's book "Occupation Culture" will be presented at the New York Art Book Fair
Both "Making Room" and "Occupation Culture" are available online as free PDFs.
Other Forms will be tabling Making Room at the Journal of Aesthetics & Protest's "Friendly Fire" at New York Art Book Fair September 18–20, 2015; preview: Thursday, September 17, 6-9pm

Friday, Sept. 18, 8pm
Related Event:
Friday, September 18
A.W. Moore will be talking at the Sunview Luncheonette, an artists’ project working in a fully functional modernist restaurant. Dylan Gauthier is coordinating this meeting, and other NY Art Book Fair participants will most likely be roped in. Sunview Luncheonette
221 Nassau Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11222
b/t Russell St & Henry St
Greenpoint area

Friday, Sept. 18, 6-8pm
oral history event with Amy Starecheski and friends
Storytelling and discussion with squatters, artists and researchers, moderated by anthropologist and oral historian Amy Starecheski, author of the forthcoming "Ours to Lose: When Squatters Became Homeowners in New York City" and squatter archivist and artist Fly.

Related Event at ABC No Rio:
Monday, Sept. 21
TRI-X-NOISE a mobile photo installation by Bill Daniel
Hobo filmmaker/phototramp Bill Daniel is back on the road with a pop-up photo show comprised of 30 years of 35mm photographs beginning with the early 80s punk scene in Texas, featuring all of your favorite old school punk bands

Related Event:
Seminar session on the squatting movement, produced with the Interference Archive
The first two sessions will likely be held at ABC No Rio and the MoRUS museum
pre-enrollment is strongly recommended -- contact:
On-site at ABC No Rio
Tues. Sept. 22 5-7pm (tentative)
off-site at MoRUS museum
Wed., Sept. 23 7-9pm (cancelled)
(final session 9/27, 2-5pm, in Brooklyn; archive will be open at 12noon)
Interference Archive
131 8th St.
Brooklyn, New York 11215

Thursday, Sept. 24, 7pm
Martha Rosler in conversation with Alan Smart
A conversation with the renowned artist and cultural critic Martha Rosler. The discussion will be keyed to her book Culture Class, and turn on relationships between her artistic practice and urban politics.

Erick Lyle and Streetopia 25th, 7pm
Erick Lyle talks about “Streetopia”
A catalogue of the epochal San Francisco exhibition that cried out against the ferocious gentrification of that city by dot-com workers -- “a massive anti-gentrification art fair that took place in venues throughout the city.” Writer and co-curator Erick Lyle (of the zine SCAM) will present the Streetopia project. (An informal BBQ with BYO will follow in the backyard.)

As yet unscheduled:
early afternoon reportback from the Futurological Symposium at Christiania in Copenhagen, Denmark
comrades from the SqEK group and friends will call in to talk about what is going on at the conference, which runs from 9/24 thru 9/26

Related Off-Site Event:
final session of squatting seminar
S A Engel-Di Mauro, Assoc. Prof. Geography at SUNY New Paltz will present
9/27, 3-5pm in Brooklyn)
Interference Archive
131 8th St.
Brooklyn, New York 11215

Sept. 28, evening
meeting at MoRUS to discuss squatting in the USA

A discussion on the relation between artists and social movements -- "Artist as Ally" will be scheduled in October

Monday, August 24, 2015

Fly "Pop-Up" Show in NYC

The inimitable Fly, graphic artist suprema, hoists the cremonial bolt cutters at the opening of the MoRUS museum in NYC

Opening Preview: Friday, Sept. 11. 7 - 10pm
Open Saturday + Sunday, Sept 12 -13, 12 - 5pm
Pockets of the underground continue to exist and re-form themselves amidst the city's current hyper gentrification. New generations flock to New York in order to “make it” their own and compete in the arena of history makers. For one weekend only, Booklyn presents a prominent culture war of squatters, itinerants, anarcho-punks, community gardeners, and artists who banded in different capacities to call of one of the most expensive American cities home.
Last Squat City: A Fly’s Personal Archive is culled from the extensive archive of artist, activist, squatter, and Lower East Side icon, Fly, whose zines and comix (including PEOPs, Dog Dayz and Zero Content), and illustrations (MAXIMUM ROCKNROLL, Slug & Lettuce, World War 3 Illustrated, NY Press, etc) documented the squatters' movement resisting real estate developers, avoiding police batons, fighting off evictions and sometimes rioting; all of which frightened the complacent yuppie invasion. Fly landed in the Lower East Side in 1988 and immediately became an active participant in the burgeoning network of squats (Glass House, Fetus, Umbrella Haus, C Squat, to name a few) and alternative art spaces (ABC No Rio, Gargoyle Mechanique Lab, Bullet Space).
Running for one weekend only, the exhibit and fundraiser will showcase Fly's personal collection of zines, comics, illustration, and, of special interest, parts of her DIY'ed personal wardrobe. Also for display will be an array of historical documents representative of New York City 90’s network of underground culture.
Visitors can purchase donation packets which contain multiples of Fly’s idiosyncratic visual work from the early 90’s to the present day.
37 Greenpoint Avenue, Suite E4G, Box 23 , Brooklyn, New York, 11222 718-383-9621
Curated by Richard J. Lee

PS & BTW -- I'm blogging now and again on my book tour for Occupation Culture at:

Thursday, August 6, 2015

"Occupation Culture" On Tour

I'm in the USA, doing a desultory tour of my book, "Occupation Culture" and the anthology "Making Room". I'm based in Milwaukee with my partner Malena taking a sabattical from her job. We tripped upstate with Dan Wang last month, to the artists' residency ACRE, west of Madison.
That sprawling place is in the "Driftless" region of the state, where the glaciiers did not pass. The lovely rolling hills of this farm country make a pleasing rural setting for the residency. It's built by an architect who is very into salvage. Large beams of old growth wood from Chicago's tear-downs have been used to build the lodge buildings, and an airplane hangar was disassembled to make the cafeteria and workshops. My talk took place in a kind of screened in area with the artist residents seated on bleachers salvaged from a high school. It was performative, and concluded with Dara Greenwald's wonderful short film, "Tactical Tourist". We met Claire Pentecost and Brian Holmes as they emerged from tubing down the river next to our "rustic cabin" -- (that means cold shower, brr!). The next day our host, Dan Wang, took us on to Viroquia, where we visited the massive Driftless Books store in an old tobacco warehouse.
Our guide and host, Dan Wang, outside the Driftless Books loading dock, Viroquia, WI
Back in Madison, we saw the famous farmers' market around the state capitol building. Had to buy a shopping bag... Wisconsin has a very strong local food culture, and we were happy to visit large sprawling cooperative supermarkets in Viroquia and Madison both. This is the future, we must hope, and a far cry from the out-of-the-corporate-can feedlots one finds on the U.S. interstates.
Just this week we turned east, to Michigan. Our first stop was Flint... after a long long drive, like Midwesterners often do.
Flint is a famously afflicted city. Famous, because of Michael Moore's film "Roger and Me," which details the systematic betrayal and abandonment of the city by its major employer, General Motors. It has fallen into steep decline since, with massive house leaving, epidemic arson, torturous crime rate -- your regular rust belt nightmare. Stephen Zacks, a New York City based writer, is a native son. He's set up a public art program there as a giveback to his boyhood home.
We lit out for Flint from Milwaukee late in the day. We still hoped to make it by nightfall... Fools, we'd believed the online travel times (Michelin and Google). 1) You don't take 94 through Chicago, you take 294, the ring toll road through Cicero (it's still a hairy hourlong ride with heavy trucks, but at least you're moving); 2) Michigan time is an hour ahead of Wisconsin. Our hopes of arriving for the Flint Art Parade were quickly dashed. Stephen Zacks, our host, had also scheduled my talk for that night, not the next day as I'd thought, and that was not going to happen. We made it to a chain motel outside Battle Creek, which appeared to be run by ex-junkies, in a room spittin' distance from I-94, which serenaded us all night. Dinner was at Denny's, the 24/7, with a gallery of weird Americans sauntering, hulking, wheeling in and out.
We arrived in Flint the next day, and Stephen gave us the tour of his public art project. The office is in a downtown building that served once as an all-ages music venue, and today has numerous other leisure and service offerings. We met the project's young French architecture intern. Flint has a Land Bank run by the county, an office building downtown which hands out abandoned properties to those who show they might make something of them. Stephen has two -- one, a living space and planning center for those working on his public art project, and the other a painted decorated supply shed. Other houses nearby are abandoned, painted on, and squatted.
Two had been recently burned, and neighbors were pitching in to help clean up one of them. We were invited inside to see the fine 19th century decor of the house by two guys who seemed too old to be doing the heavy demo cleanup they were doing... but Michigan grows them hardy.
An old comrade, the artist GH, had built a white spiral construction supporting a chute-like form for this year's project. The city building department had taken umbrage, insisting it come down. Stephen was circulating a petition to save it in the neighborhood. We met the mayor, then a couple of local machers standing in an open-air gallery of bronze figures depicting town heroes of the modernist era (e.g., Mr. Chrysler, and others more familiar as brand names). We saw the GM heir who runs a foundation hustling down the street, talking on his cel phone, on his way to his office in the town's only high rise.
GH's sprawling white sculpture on a patch of vacant land in Flint, MI; it's been roped off as 'unsafe' at the insistence of the building department
Stephen described the lay of the funding landscape. He is doing what he can in a country that basically doesn't believe in art, nor understand art and artists. Nothing much can be done about that, I think; but I am wondering what I can do in Flint when I next return to that challenging city.

Flint Public Art Project> Genesee County Land Bank

GH Hovagimyan