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 Also for display will be an array of historical documents representative of New York City 90’s network of underground culture.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 www.booklyn.org: rlee@booklyn.org
Curated by Richard J. Lee

PS & BTW -- I'm blogging now and again on my book tour for Occupation Culture at: http://occupationculture.net/category/news/

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
http://flintpublicartproject.com/> Genesee County Land Bank
http://www.thelandbank.org/

GH Hovagimyan
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G._H._Hovagimyan

Monday, July 27, 2015

England's Dream (Part Two)


The first presentation of my book Occupation Culture in England was in Brighton, the famous seaside resort town two hours away from London. Brighton has had a strong squatting culture -- many squatted houses by many groups, protest occupations around food issues, pop-up squat art shows, etc.. It's also the bailiwick of a right-wing MP who pushed through the notorious bill criminalizing squatting a few years ago, contravening centuries of common law on behalf of property speculators. (I understand; as David Harvey and others have often explained, contemporary hyper-capitalism needs property speculation to survive. Shelter is a basic need; its manipulation is the surest way to make financial bubbles and extract huge profits today.)
My book talk was the Cowley Club, a rented social center on Brighton's main drag. The place is medium big, serving as a venue for music and concerts, a cafe bar, and a bookstore. It's multi-level, with a kitchen behind, and a back building housing an extensive library and archive. (Like many such, this holding is comprised of other radical archiving projects of the past which have accordioned down into this relatively secure space.)
House Magic journals hanging in the reading room of the Cowley Club

Michael, an economics student who runs the Cowley Books project in the place (it's both a library and a bookstore), arranged for my talk. He expected very few people to come, since the squatting scene in Brighton is at a low ebb, and like many others, Michael himself is soon moving on. But, as luck would have it, there had just been a spectacular short-term occupation in town, the Radical Bank of Brighton and Hove. I'd hoped to make it in time to visit, but the project was evicted days before my arrival. I met SqEK member Lucy Finchett-Maddock at a cafe near the Cowley Club, and we were soon joined by a few of those squatters. It turns out that if you're not squatting to live, then you're not breaking the new law. So they weren't in jail, like those poor homeless bastards rousted from derelict housing.
The Radical Bank got good local press, but they were evicted anyhow. Very shortly thereafter, their target, the nefarious Barclays Bank, put up a sign on their long-vacant premises inviting civic organizations to submit proposals for using the space. We presume the Radical Bank gang was not invited... Barclays likely want like a benefit shop, a second-hand goods sales outlet like those that dot the main shopping street of Brighton, keeping the vacancies looking busy and giving old folks something to do.
Lucy Finchett-Maddock is a scholar in Brighton now, working on the law around squatting. She's part of a major effort by legal scholars today to put definition into the much-abused concept of the commons. This is urgent work in the face of the global wave of privatizations and expropriations of public property and services. Lucy recently posted a two-part exegesis of her work, raging against the "legally sanctioned expropriating forces" which have reached new levels of nihilism. She sees the link between privatization and the demise of protections of protest. Hope she sees in one judge's citing of the Magna Carta, the ancient document that grants rights to the forest in the case of an eco-village eviction from the Runnymede site of that long-ago signing.
While the activists of the Radical Bank come from the "anti-cuts" cadres of the student movement and the 15M/Occupy nexes, Lucy sees the new wave of English squatting as primarily driven by the recent expropriations of social housing; it's eviction resistance. The squatters in the Elephant & Castle pub (see last post on this blog) clearly came from there; they're local folks.
Lucy Finchett-Maddock's analytic work in the legal arena has been paralleled by the artist Adelita Husni-Bey in an extended project undertaken in Utrecht, Netherlands at the inimitable Casco Projects space. Husni-Bey brought together activists, lawyers and scholars to consider what might constitute a fair and balanced law on squatting, one that makes room for social justice and cuts down the frenzy of property speculation that makes hyper-capitalist bubbles. Working collectively, they drafted a “Convention on the Use of Space” in the spring of this year "as a response to the housing crisis: the lack of affordable homes, absence of provisions for those without legal right to stay, rising rents, and the criminalization of squatting." As it turns out, the former manager of Cowley Books, now squatting in Rotterdam, took part in these meetings.
Casco Projects is the same art center which produced Nazima Kadir and Maria Pask's squatter situation comedy "Our Autonomous Life" a couple of years ago. That was part of Casco's Grand Domestic Revolution series, a years-long set of inquiries into new emerging conditions of daily life driven by feminist analysis.
I sat with Lucy in a Brighton cafe near the Cowley Club. This cafe itself was a curious place, with strong coffee, vegan lunch and desserts up front, and a warren of meeting rooms available for community groups in the back. (Sorry I forgot its name; Brighton has a vivid food culture.) Soon we heard about the Radical Bank squat project from a knot of polyglot activists, British, Spanish, Portuguese, who had come together to make it happen. Later that night, at my talk at the Cowley, the same folks showed up together with the rest of their gang. (They'd had a meeting that night.) There wasn't much discussion. For them my talk was entertainment, and I was happy to provide it.
I spent the night at Michael's house. He lives behind a vacant pub. It is inhabited by a property guardian, an "anti-squatter" hired by a company to make sure that the place isn't actually squatted. This growth industry is the property management sector's response to the squatting movement. (Tino Buchholz made a film about this phenomenon -- Creativity And The Capitalist City you can watch on Vimeo.) Michael told me that this pub was part of a creepy property speculation scheme whereby the managers of a chain of pubs bought out taverns all over England. They would then starve the business by charging exorbitant prices for supplies (the chain pubs have to buy from their parent company) and services, driving them out of business. When they were closed, the spaces would be converted from pubs to luxury housing. This Michael said, was driving "pub wars" in neighborhoods all over the country, as people organized to defend them as community assets and block their development. It didn't seem that anyone was defending this one, however. The owners were long gone -- "nice people," Michael said; they'd tried hard to keep it going. They produced regular concerts there. It had been an important venue for local musicians in Brighton...
The Cowley Club itself produces a lot of concerts, and it is an important gathering place -- although it's a private social club by law, not a public house. But today it's suffering from a dearth of volunteers. Everyone’s working too much to afford the time to volunteer. Michael thinks that the economy of the Cowley Club is unrealistic because it was set up at a time when many folks were "on the dole," receiving unemployment benefits which have been cut to the bone during the many years of tight-fisted governance in the UK. In truth, the place was pretty quiet during my visit. On the day I left, Karola, who lives upstairs, cooked for the regular weekly lunch cafe, a really inventive delicious vegan meal. I'd met her before, on my earlier visit to Brighton, and at the SqEK meeting in Rome. Karola's a long-time squatter from Poland, whose inventive cookery is matched by her quirky and colorful dress -- she's a kind of Baroness Elsa of the Brighton radical left.
I wrote in my last post about the great squatting action I stumbled into in Southwark. After Brighton I returned again to the new giant hostel there, built ironically in the former headquarters of the British Labor Party, occupied only some 20-odd years before being sold out. (Rather a metaphor for that disappointing neoliberalized political party, no?) That hostel continually processes hordes of summer-schooling youth groups. Student housing is all over Southwark now. That's the kind of transient rootless population that most lends itself to the rapid rejiggering of a neighborhood ecology, hordes of young people from elsewhere paying attention to their studies in between serious engagement with pizza and beer.
What's going on around can't doesn't really concern them. A weird commercial sign in the neighborhood featured the distinctive fuzzy purple arm of the Sesame Street character Elmo raised in a fist -- "When stuff sucks, make it right" read the slogan. Uhm, yeah. These rents and prices suck.

This isn't true of all students, of course. Journalist Almudena Serpis relates the Radical Bank squat to the recent wave of student activism against austerity in England, called "anti-cuts". She quotes SqEK jefe Miguel Martinez, who points out that the UK squatting movement has always been more focussed on housing. The Brighton project is a different kind of initiative, which responds to the repressive criminalization of the practice.
The most extensive phase of action in London for my book Occupation Culture (which, after all, grows out of an archival project) was the day-long event at Mayday Rooms. This relatively new operation is dedicated to radical archiving, and some organizing. (I ran into a group of immigrant workers meeting on one floor of the narrow Georgian-era building who invited me to share their pizza.) Mayday Rooms has seen some impressive efforts of recovery of little-remembered or forgotten past incidents, including the documentation of the Free University of the 1960s in both London and New York City. A good measure of these results are mounted to their website.
Our session was arranged by Stevphen Shukaitis, a professor at Essex University and my publisher. (His imprint Minor Compositions is a spin-off of the venerable Autonomedia of New York City.) This day of meetings was the Mayday Rooms' method of "activating" a new area of collecting for them -- archives from the history of squatting in London. At one point the building's alarm went off, and no one seemed to know how to stop it. During this interminable screaming hell of sound, Iain Boal wandered into the room. Iain was lead editor on West of Eden, an anthology of texts on the California commune movement of the 1960s and '70s, and is a principal in the Mayday Rooms project.
Anthony, who works at the Mayday Rooms, had prepared some materials he laid out on the conference table for our small group to look at. These included squatter zines from the high tide of the movement in the '70s and '80s, and a large crumbling scrapbook, most of it from 1969. This was the moment when London's squatters took a building in the center of the city, and they were all called "hippies."

Part of the strength of English subculture has to be that most of the people -- and certainly the yellow press, the pandering tabloid newspapers -- make such a show of vilifying it. Blubbering English indignation, it would seem, is an inexhaustible national resource. We all noticed that the headlines characterizing and denigrating the squatters of the late 1960s were virtually the same as those used by the yellow press in the 2000s, especially in the run-up to the vote on criminalizing squatting. "They must keep a stylebook."
During the afternoon, x-Chris of 56A, from whose copious files duplicate copies of the squat zines had come, gave a rundown of Southwark squat history and the current challenges residents and activists are facing.
The next day I gave a talk at The Field at Newcross. This small derelict building was given to a group of young people, some students at nearby Goldsmiths College, for their short-term use in return for a basic renovation. Marc Herbst, editor at Journal of Aesthetics & Protest, set up the gig. I was happy to meet them, and not very surprised to find that so many of the problems these folks were facing were the same as animated the squatting movements. It will be exciting to see the new solutions they come up with.


ETC Dee, "Moving towards criminalisation and then what? Examining discourses around squatting in England," in Squatting in Europe Kollective, eds., Squatting in Europe: Radical Spaces, Urban Struggles (Minor Compositions, 2014)
https://www.academia.edu/3218412/Moving_towards_criminalisation_and_then_what_Examining_discourses_around_squatting_in_England

The Cowley Club
www.cowleyclub.org.uk/

Radical Bank of Brighton and Hove
https://radicalbank.wordpress.com/

Ben Bailey, "Inside The Radical Bank", Brighton Source, May 2015
http://brightonsource.co.uk/features/inside-the-radical-bank/

Lucy Finchett-Maddock, "Their Law: The New Energies of UK Squats, Social Centres and Eviction Resistance in the Fight Against Expropriation (Part 1 of 2)," Critical Legal Thinking, 7 July 2015
http://criticallegalthinking.com/2015/07/07/law-new-energies-uk-squats-social-centres-eviction-resistance-fight-expropriation/

Peter Linebaugh, "Magna Carta Manifesto: The commons was at the core of a founding document of Western democracy" (n.d.; extract of 2008 book)
http://www.onthecommons.org/magazine/magna-carta-manifesto

OurAutonomousLife? A 4 episode experiment in making a squatter’s sitcom
http://ourautonomouslife.info/

Adelita Husni-Bey, “Convention on the Use of Space”
"The website useofspaceconvention.org will be online soon"
https://useofspaceconvention.hotglue.me/

Tino Buchholz, "Creativity And The Capitalist City", 2013 [English]
https://vimeo.com/49254956

Almudena Serpis, "Anti-austerity movement revives radical urban squatting", at The Ecologist.org, posted 24th June 2015
http://www.theecologist.org/green_green_living/2921348/antiausterity_movement_revives_radical_urban_squatting.html

Mayday Rooms
http://maydayrooms.org/

Boal, et al., eds, "West of Eden: Communes and Utopia in Northern California"
http://secure.pmpress.org/index.php?l=product_detail&p=378

Field at Newcross
http://thefieldnx.com/


Logo from the 1980s' squatter zine "Crowbar"

Saturday, July 11, 2015

England's Dreaming


The immediate developments after the Spanish municipal elections of May were so exciting -- and they continue -- that I have not blogged any of the specific action related to this blog. The text by Xavi Martínez and friends from the Ateneu Candela in Terrassa posted here June 9th was exemplary. He's a social center activist who has been elected to that city's council, and that text translation explains what he believes the squatting movement can bring to the new left municipal governances in Spain. That's exciting, and directly in line with a primary intention of this project ("Occupations & Properties," and the related zine "House Magic"), to enlarge and extend the subterranean currents that connect self-organized political and cultural action and mainstream center stage "obedient" politics and culture. And it goes on apace in Spain. (Updates, analyses and reflections can be had on the website of the Spanish fortnightly Diagonal.
Even so, apart from these kinds of reposts this blog has been quiet. But the spring and early summer have not. This is squatting season, and this writer has been worn out by all the action. I've put down my public pen in favor of brief spits and squibs of Facebook and Twitter.

flyer for the newly squatted Elephant & Castle pub, London

What I've neglected to report has been the substantial action behind squatting research these past several weeks. The SqEK conference in Barcelona concluded in later May, leaving behind a multi-lingual website that should slowly be accreting video records of the conference papers, including on economic self-organization, centered around occupied factories in Greece and agricultural towns in rural Spain. Conferees toured the neighborhoods of Barcelona, visiting squatted banks and communes. Immediately thereafter, I prepared for a visit to the USA to talk about my book and the anthology we printed for the SqEK conference called Making Room. (That was part of the Movokeur research project, a primarily statistical comparison of squatting movements in a handful of large European cities, which came to an end this year; the surface of that work was barely scratched.)
The distribution problems with that book, and my own Occupation Culture, have only recently been sorted out. Both are available in hard copy form in Europe, and in free downloadable PDFs, at the site of the publishers -- that's Minor Compositions for Occupation Culture, and Journal of Aesthetics & Protest for Making Room (also at La Central for the latter). (As my tour comes together, a website is in development; there is an "ad hoc" tour page on the "House Magic" website, which is a mirror site for both book PDFs.)
My book Occupation Culture is a fruitcake of information about squatting, social centers, and the many currents, both activist and cultural, that run through them. A lot of it came from this very blog. The Making Room anthology is an important book, the first gathering of texts from activists of the movement writing of disobedient culture across Europe in its many aspects. Again, it's a useful tool for those who argue that the innovations social movements have made in hacking back commonses from the sordid tsunami of privatization should be adapted by governance.
Meanwhile, I have been on the road...

... starting with A Tour of England, during which I saw The Cruel Work of "Revitalization" in Southwark, London.
One might think the way to re-develop a low-rise working class and immigrant neighborhood close to the center of an expanding global city would be to devise a solution that preserves as much as possible of the social fabric and historic institutions of the existing communities while at the same time making generous provision for the arising of new ones. In some ideal utopia of reason and functional democracy this might be the way to approach the problem. But those imaginary happy folk don't live in London, nor would their rulers be thinking like the English barons of capital.
The district of Southwark is now suffering a new Norman invasion. Years of careful circling of the Elephant and Castle area, some preliminary probes to plant high rise housing near the thundering roundabout, and a long series of sellouts by the local chieftains have prepared the way. Now the historic housing estates, which are vast, carefully planned wending series of low-rise houses with courtyards and playgrounds, designed as architectural reefs for a vibrant and tranquil community life, are soon to be levelled. The projects are called "revitalization."
"I cut down your generations like grass," bragged an ancient Assyrian king on his stele. Then new peoples will move in, who have no idea what existed there before them. "Oven-ready" from the universities, as one government education advisor recently put it, happy for a place in the great global project of London. They will don their plastic suits and march off to the labor of carrying on the consensual madness of the day.

flyer posted around the neighb warning of the next phase of "revitalization"

The grand harbinger of all this -- the great steaming pile of skulls on the horse-swept plain, the far-distant fire now an inferno close by-- was the demolition of the monstrous high-rise Heygate Estate. This place fell into social pathology, was effectively demonized, and in the end cleared of inhabitants and demolished. Now there's a complex of "pop-up" shops in a pile of shipping containers called "Elephant Artspace" where there used to be a community ball field. (Dan Hancox nailed this trend among developers in February '14 in an excellent text called "Fuck Your Pop-Up Shops.")
Now it is being "revitalized." Over a period of years all the trees between the classic modernist housing towers will be cut down, and high-priced condominium apartments will be built for the new workers of London. Like most war refugees, the displaced tenants just want to go somewhere they can be safe from the raging tornado of the luxury city. Right of return to the old lands? Oh, sure, you can come back. Show us the contents of your wallet.

"Elephant Park" luxury housing under construction in Southwark, May 2015

Opposing these dicta, these deals already done, are the communities themselves. As they show their ID cards to enter their former homes, now put under the sign of erasure with security cordons patrolled by contract employees, they hold their meetings, put up flyers around a coffee shop here and there. And surely, they are hoping for the best outcome for themselves and their families. Which can only be a nice relocation at the same rent, right?
And now, to join them, comes the London Southwark childrens' crusade. A vacant pub in the Elephant and Castle roundabout has been squatted. The long countertop which saw a million pints is now covered with scavenged vegetables. A squatters' assembly is debating whether alcohol should be allowed inside what they have dubbed a "social center." (The scars of the homeless, mad and alcoholic peoples' siege of Occupy London are deep.)
I popped in to the squatted pub with x-Chris of 56A infoshop. He was wearing a t-shirt from the defense of a skatepark a few years ago. The boy who met us at the door, opening the impromptu chain lock, had the same emblem tattooed on his chest. I'd met x-Chris an hour before at the 56A Infoshop where he works.
56A is both tiny and immense. It is truly cozy -- four, maybe five people can sit in the main room -- because the place is stuffed. The walls are lined with open boxes stuffed with zines and short-run newsletters and magazines. There are rows of books, some for sale and others for browsing. Turning carousels have single zine copies displayed. Everything in those rooms is very close -- it is truly a box for reading, with every lump of knowledge close to its fellows. It becomes impossible not to think continuously of relations between one and another struggle, between the instant we are living, some years gone by, and the deeper currents of the radical past. I was so tired all I could see this time was a blur of colors and a jumble of words, but I knew where I was, inside a special kind of machine of knowledge. But it's not just knowledge. 56A is at the heart of real-life present-day squatter resistance in Southwark. People network new actions out of there.

"Elephant Artspace" architectural rendering; the trees in this image are the artist's fantasy
I waited with some folks, and finally x-Chris arrived. He had come from a meeting, and he stood in the door, seeming somehow a little stunned, or uncertain. The council has just offered 56A a 15-year lease extension at a charming rent. "Why?" he wondered.
Later, in the the newly-squatted Elephant and Castle social center x-Chris cast a wistful eye over the literature table. "In days past I'd have grabbed all this for the archive," he said. Each of these spreads, these tables of flyers, stickers, pamphlets, zines and newspapers, are snapshots of the political and cultural concerns of a resistant community at a given moment, when their resolve has steeled to direct action, and a space has been opened to share these particular words, images, messages.
The Elephant and Castle pub squat was full of small colored cards in many different languages and their scripts, with advice what to do if the English immigration police accost you. Not many immigrants are going to wander into a squat that is undoubtedly under constant surveillance, and threat of invasion and arrest by angry police. The cops were surely angry because one of their recent raids in the neighborhood to snatch up papers-less migrants had been thwarted by an angry crowd of citizens. A lot of the talk at 56A revolved around this action -- who was in jail, who was out, the status of their cases before the courts, the photos of the action which had faces blurred, the police circulating enlargements of the first photos with faces clear...
TO BE CONTINUED

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Social Centers and Democratic Revolution


This text appeared during the moment of Spain's recent municipal elections. Coming from a long-time activist who was then elected to office, it is a reflection on what the squatted social centers active throughout the country might offer to the new formations of governance. This blogger came across the article referenced on the website of the recent mission of U.S. activists called "nyctospain.com."

Social centers and democratic revolution: The main contribution they can make right now is to put their many years of experience on the table
by Xavi Martínez This article is a collage of ideas from people in the Ateneu Candela (Terrassa), and several texts by people linked to other social centers*
posted at diagonalperiodico.net as the website of the fortnightly Diagonal newspaper, May 21, 2015, as "Centros sociales y revolución democrática"

We cannot, and should not be what we are not. As Subcomandante Marcos says, "Practices should think about themselves, instead of theory thinking about the practice." So we go ahead thinking about ourselves.
In our cities there are some spaces where the same people work, with autonomy, and hence beyond both institutional logic and that of the market. These are places of meeting, of daily life and of collective projects: an urban community garden, a cooperative bookstore, a pub for the youth in a neighborhood, a P2P laboratory, a community center full of life, etc.
The Ateneu Candela is one of these. This social center was born 14 years ago in the city of Terrassa (provinnce of Barcelona), in an old textile factory renovated collectively. Unlike the political parties or classic organizations it does not require affiliation; membership in the social center is built on participation -- a lot of people participating in many initiatives like a cafe, a bookstore, a consumer cooperative, meeting rooms, a stage for performances.
The engine of a space like the Ateneu Candela is its people in motion, and it is these people that support it. People inhabiting the community center have many ways to participate. It is their nearest community. Social centers are also interconnected in a larger network: La Casa Invisible in Málaga, La Pantera Rossa in Zaragoza, Katakrak in Pamplona, El Patio Maravillas and la Villana in Madrid, and many others.
All these social centers are open spaces in the city. We are not talking about places for a group of similar people, but for many people who in their diversity recognize each other as equals in the face of the becoming-precarious of their lives, and who cooperate with each other. They are places for living well, where people stand up for their rights with joy, and contribute to the transformation of the city and their lives.
Social centers in general have been, and still are meeting spaces for dozens of projects and initiatives -- political, cultural and social -- which have generated many networks of people and groups, promoting forms of cooperation among equals. For many years we have demanded our "right to live in a city that is not subordinated to the interests of a few"; we have put other ways of living our lives into practice and under experiment.
After the 15M [movement of 2011], participation in the social centers grew, and the list of people and groups who use the Ateneu Candela as a meeting place has not stopped growing. The place is currently gaining strength everywhere, with the chance to take on the 'mafia', and attack the institutions that have been captured by the 1% over the years, at different levels and with various brands.
This is happening also at the local level, with a new wave of citizens candidates standing in elections for local government. In many of these new electoral platforms people linked to social centers are involved. And conversely, many of the citizens engaged in these campaigns have begun to participate in social centers.
¿Surprise? No. Although some now have rushed to sound alarms about this -- we are living a democratic revolution. Not only here in Spain, but throughout Southern Europe, the Mediterranean, and this revolution has even reached Hong Kong. The 15M movement began here in Spain. In the social centers and elsewhere, people around the Ateneu Candela made up the crowds and the power in the public squares. And as noted above, many people in the streets began to participate later in the social centers or other public spaces, including the Ateneu. The same democratic revolution that began with the 15M, is now embodied in the new citizen candidacies: the 99% is doing politics and struggling for their lives in multiple connected ways.
We can ask a few questions about all this: How do the people of the social centers position themselves in the midst of this effervescence of real democracy? What can we expect from this cycle which is shaking the elections and opening institutional spaces? Are we not going to need these spaces of autonomy once citizens with the DNA of the 15M movement fill elected offices and institutions? What can we contribute?
We stand together with the 15M: close, but in a different way. We are close because we are part of the democratic revolution, and we want real democracy now. And in different ways -- as many ways as the diverse people who participate in the different spaces. Social centers like the Ateneu Candela, unlike traditional parties or some classic political organizations, do not require membership, and affiliation is built from that same concrete participation. It is not a fixed organization, but rather is involved in multiple projects or initiatives. This allows, in turn, multiple forms of participation.
With the democratic revolution we hope to retake the city from the hands of the 1% and return it to the people. We want to win the right to the city, and secure a real democracy. Because we are not merchandise. We know that is not enough, but it is what we have long been committed to achieve. However, we are not naive. As Déborah Ávila and Marta Malo say, "the institutional assault is not the only way," because in addition to the 'ceilings' of the mobilization, new 'ceilings' appear when it comes to institutions. "There is no doubt that the institutions could improve the lives of the majority, but we also know that not all social models, lifestyles and behaviors today, emanate from institutions." Real democracy would take center stage and would accelerate when people massively break into the institutions which have been hijacked by the interests of a few, and return them to the service of the 99%. But when this happens "it will require a mobilized society that continues to create other tangible sustainable ways of living".
Social centers have been, over the last decade, places of experimentation in new city models based on social rights, in different forms of democracy at the local level, and new ways of understanding culture and access to it, or in laboratories of free software and digital fabrication. These laboratories for innovation in production based on common goods [los bienes comunes], have resulted in experimental apparati of creation and production, de-precarization and empowerment.
Since the Casa Invisible of Málaga, we think that the main contribution that social centers can make at this moment is to put on the table their years of experience in "challenging the traditional institution from the perspective of the commons". One of the great challenges facing different municipal leaders is that of building new institutions: the experience of the social centers is shaping up as something quite valuable in that task.
We think like our friends in Malaga. As Felipe G. Gil notes, the "inhospitable" public institutions have much to learn from the "open and inclusive operations that occur in communities not invaded by the very bureaucracy of public institutions". Social centers, and their practices related to the management of the commons, have generated tools that can revolutionize the institutions and public spaces, such as "protocols and methodologies that promote inclusion, hospitality, openness and connection."
Social centers are spaces which permanently interrogate themselves. They walk while wondering, and don't have problems when it comes to changing the space itself, nor their ways of making and organizing, nor building alliances. One of the big deficits of political institutions in deep crisis lies in their rigidity, their inability to regenerate, to innovate, to correct what does not work and reinforce what does. Social centers bring fresh air to this issue, creating living, dynamic social processes that permanently transform, adapting to changing times, but also providing storage, buildup [acumulación], shelter -- in difficult times -- and openness and change as the times require it, always fleeing from dogmatism with an unquestioning loyalty to autonomy.
It will be critical that the social centers organized by citizens continue to exist with their own independent character. As Felipe G. Gil says, "it is time that public institutions learn how to care for and manage the common goods of the social centers". Civic institutions and public facilities should use the management tools of the peoples' spaces and come to resemble them. These places should rethink themselves, and learn from citizen movements, some of which live in social centers. Governments should listen and obey their people while working for a better city.
Now, those who want to storm the institutions to get rid of some and put others in their place should think again. This is about bringing democracy to the people. Real democracy and institutions that are of the majority is a challenge that has only just opened up, and therefore it is vital that "social centers organized by citizens continue to exist with their own independent character."
The city that we imagine is full of spaces that move people, with autonomy, common areas of life for people and collective projects that transform the city to make it better. One or more in each district, with its wealth and particularities. Places that can be developed as they deserve without having to continually suffer the scarcity of resources to survive or simply have a roof to develop. Projects with their own resources and publics -- which are the people -- to deploy all their transforming power.

Centros sociales y revolución democrática, by Xavi Martínez posted May 21, 2015 at: https://www.diagonalperiodico.net/la-plaza/26808-centros-sociales-y-revolucion-democratica.html
Translation by A.W.M.

*Link posted at "nyctospain.com" report on the visit of NYC activists to Spain during the May 2015 elections with the following comment: "Great article exploring the role of social centers in the "municipalist" revolution from our friend Xavi Martinez who we met a few days ago (and some of us have known for years). He's a leader from the PAH, active in the Ateneu Candela, and as of yesterday, a council member in Terrassa!"

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

"Forget About That Squat"


I'm going to rant now, folks, so feel free to change the channel. I just watched a little interview with a guy who was billed as the "creator of Occupy Wall Street," (didn't notice that one, eh? Yes, your movement was "created") -- and read an article on "lessons from the Spanish movement" by a pimp for Elizabeth Warren. Both these folks seem to think that the lessons of Podemos and Syriza are that the left should move decisively into the electoral arena in the USA. Forget all this organizing stuff and putting people on the street and all.
Apparently these people had their eyes firmly closed during the many years of runup to these electoral victories. That would be the endless demonstrations, encampments, and pitched battles in Athens. And it would include the large networks of mutual aid that emerged all throughout the islands of that nation (which were imitated and perverted by the right wing there), which lay outside the purview of Syriza. So this beanbag for Warren suggests that Spain's movement was animated by a network of social centers which provided the space for people to organize. (They were getting arrested when they met in public space.) We could do that in USA, but y'kno the rent's so high and all... What this author neglects to mention -- part of a contingent who visited Spain, who went to the social centers in Barcelona during election time, and certainly knows better -- is that these spaces for organizing were squatted! Yes, I mean taken over by citizens who refused to pay rent to provide themselves with the political and cultural urban space they needed, and entered a legal process of contest for use of the property they occupied for purposes of commonsing.
This author also fails to mention the weekly mass demonstrations against cuts in social programs, and the back-turning on ministers by cultural luminaries because of cuts to culture, and (excuse me) the General Strike! The pitched battles with police by black-clad anarchists who could be seen on TV live from Burgos scampering merrily along in the background as angry elderly voiced their opinion of city hall to the cameras.
Direct Action Gets the Goods. It's an old anarchist slogan... and when you forget it, you can just turn to Tammany Hall, vote their way and look forward to your Christmas basket and maybe your cousin gets a job... while old man Plunkitt takes his opportunities upstairs.
The Warren person's post was linked out of the website of a group of activists who visited Spain recently, during the exciting municipal elections. (It's at http://www.nyctospain.com/.) These guys presented at the Left Forum recently, where left activist strategies are debated, and decisions made which determine a lot of what is going to happen on the ground in U.S. cities, since the funding agencies which back these professional activists take their cues from these conversations.
I was communicating early on with an organizer of this visit. I suggested that they visit our conference at some point -- Squatting Europe Kollective -- which was happening at the same time. I certainly can't blame them for giving that a pass... But they did visit social centers. They did visit Can Batlló, a complex of factories that has been taken over by citizens' assemblies. The renovations are being assisted by the Barcelona city hall. Why? Because the citizens' assemblies told them they were going to squat the place if they didn't come to an agreement on its use.
I should not be surprised by this failure to include squatting in their report to North Americans. Even as I peruse the Chokwe Lumumba plan, the plan for grassroots economic redevelopment of Jackson, Mississippi devised by the Black Panthers' lawyer and derailed by his sudden death, which would have used city funds to develop the kinds of structures of citizen participation as Spain, I read Neil Gray's review of David Harvey's Rebel Cities book, in which the socialist is taken to task for ignoring the Italian Autonomist movement ("autonomistas," he remarked snarkily at a party I attended). Harvey gets it, as Gray quotes Blanqui, that "rent devours all." But his "aporia" on the Italian movement which generated the social center model for squatters across Europe (and his idealization of the Communist Party of Italy which repressed the Autonomists) extends to all the minoritarian movements, both political and cultural (punks), which made counter power and autonomous zones for the last 40 years. The fish of theory also rots from the head.
Let's see how this might be begun. Student movements have resisted street austerity cuts around the globe through pitched street battles -- and won. Only not in the USA. Schools are being closed all around that country. Fine. Take 'em. That's property paid for by your tax dollars, built for public interest. Commons it.
As long as these direct action strategies are not part of the calculus of U.S. activists, and especially the (often professional) people who presume to lead them, so long will the hopes and dreams of many continue to be unfulfilled, and energy and money circle endlessly around the electoral drain.

Erica Sagrans, "6 Lessons for the U.S. from Spain’s Democratic Revolution"
http://inthesetimes.com/

I refer to Micah White -- he is not responsible of course for a videotista's headlines, but he is an advocate of electoral stragegy now, and is convinced street protest doesn't work. Clearly I disagree...

Jackson Plan of Chokwe Lumumba
https://mxgm.org/the-jackson-plan-a-struggle-for-self-determination-participatory-democracy-and-economic-justice/

Neil Gray, "Whose Rebel City?"
December 2012 at http://www.metamute.org/editorial/articles/whose-rebel-city

Monday, June 1, 2015

To Build Counterpower We Must Be Power


Which is very difficult. It is easier to be critical, resistant, to things as they are than it is to assume responsibility for the welfare of people, to manage infrastructure when there is no one to complain to. The Barcelona meeting of SqEK, however, this time included reports from self-managed factories and workplaces. And, at the same time the meeting was being held, Barcelona was going through an electoral campaign and election. The winner -- Ada Colau is elected mayor of Barcelona, the squatter leader of the PAH anti-eviction group.
So... change is in the wind, big change. Many left politicians in sympathy with the movement of the commons are coming into power. How is the squatter movement going to work with this new emergent restructuration of political power in Spain?

A speaker at the Puerta del Sol, Madrid, on 15 May 2015, 4th anniversary of the 15M movement.

This was one of the very big questions hanging over our meeting... and it was evident in the absence of many otherwise interested Barcelonesans -- los barcelonense -- from our meeting. They were all out working for the Guanyem slate and Ada Colau.
I wish I could weigh in further on this question, and get into the content of sessions at the conference. But the action in the SqEK 2015 meeting for me revolved around an exhibition. We made a show of posters and zines from the squatter movement. I worked on this for weeks ahead of time. It was mounted in the vestibule of a theater for the opening reception at Ateneu Popular 9 Barris. This place, built mainly around a theater and circus training school, was once a squatted factory. Now it is fully legalized, and rebuilt as a comfotable facility in cooperation with the city government. Even though many now receive a salary to manage their place, the people of Ateneu 9 Barris, feel in sympathy with the social movement of squatting. They display a proud timeline detailing their activist period, when a stinky and poisonous factory was suddenly installed in a working class neighborhood. The neighbors were unhappy, and organized against it. Nothing happened with that, so, finally, they decided to occupy the factory and shut it down. For some years Ateneu Nou Barris ran as an occupied space.
SqEK people arrived there throughout the day, many bringing with them rolls of posters from their cities. Two Beehive collective people came from Mallorca and hung their banners -- "Mesoamerica Resiste" and their own Uter project, a dense allegorical drawing about the struggle for abortion rights. Carlos of the Sublevarte collective arrived from Mexico D.F., and put up the bright colorful silkscreen work of his group. Tobi and Andre both came from Berlin with their rolls, and Tina from Copenhagen brought work from Christiania and the Candy Factory. (Tobi has just brought out a new book on resistant street art in German, and digs this tough poli-street art website.)

Alan Smart, the co-editor and co-designer of the epochal "Making Room" anthology, put up a dense assemblage of texts and images from that book, mixed with photos Frank and Vanessa brought from the NYC LES squatter movement. Galvao arrived with tons of the zine and book material he had been printing for us throughout the week, and we filled several tables with a cornucopia of resistant literature. With the arrival of the other SqEKers, we were ready for the first day reception of our meeting.
The show we put up was only there for a few hours. We had to clear it out because the Ateneu was having a big Balkan music festival the next day. Sigh... So everything was packed into the big rented van, and was trucked to the next place. That was the IGOP institute of governance studies of the Universidad Autonoma of Barcelona. There in the second sub-basement -- yes, we're talking way underground culture! -- we re-installed the posters and zines, which Galvao had printed tirelessly over the a week's time. This time we mixed in the expository posters which many of the academics presenting had brought with them. During breaks in the sessions, conferees gazed at all the visual material, discussed and browsed the zines.
At the conclusion of the sessions, we moved up the hill, to the famous squat of Can Masdeu. That is a former hospital for lepers squatted many years ago as a permaculture-based commune. By now energy was lagging. We did not reinstall the exhibition, but the Beehive put up their banners and talked about them to the Spanish who came to the special SqEK public event. Afterwards Carlo of the Sublevarte collective from DF and Tobi presented on their work -- about the Mexican autonomous movement and the subversive street art of Berlin respectively.
Finally, much of the exhibition materials were rolled up, packed in the van, and returned to Madrid in preparation for the trip to USA in September. If you are around New York City then, you can see much of it at the downtown cultural center ABC No Rio. That place, famous among punk music afficionados, was itself once squatted. Now it is scheduled for demolition and rebuilding as a green building. "Making Room" will be the last show before the building comes down....
Now we are sifting through the material gathered, and I am readying my trip to the UK for the first sessions discussing my new book, Occupation Culture: Art, Squatting and the City from Below, from Minor Compositions. I'll be speaking (and listening!) at the Cowley Club in Brighton June 24th, and as part of another "gathering" event for UK squat materials at the wonderful Mayday Rooms archival project in London on the 26th.
Bas-relief signboard for the recent NYC tenants' rights march, by Seth Tobocman. An exhibition of the movement continues through June 15 at Interference Archive, Brooklyn.

LINKS

http://www.ateneu9b.net/

https://www.facebook.com/projecteuter

http://www.assoziation-a.de/neu/Reclaim_Your_City.htm

http://reclaimyourcity.net/

http://www.canmasdeu.net/

https://www.facebook.com/sublevarte.colectivo

http://cowleyclub.org.uk/?Bookshop

http://maydayrooms.org/