Friday, March 24, 2017

Broken Promises and a Thesis Statement

Back for a time in the States, I'm finding that “Municipalismo,” city rights and strategies to resist the absolute majority of a revanchist federal government and many state legislatures – is on many folks' minds. I've been invited to join a round-table on municipalism in Minneapolis at the end of March.
From this vantage, my blog, I'm all too aware of my broken promises of months gone by: January 30 “Next: The New Municipalism: How Cities Can Advance Without the Federal Government”! Yeah, right. With the doctrine of federal and state supremacy firmly entrenched in U.S. constitutional law, this would prove a hard project. But “advancing” can be multiply construed... Then this one, of February 15: “Next: Research and Development of Contemporary Municipalism”! Well, that post was to concern the institutional and autonomous projects that support progressive cities, a subject basically too vast for me to get it under control. (I will continue to try.)
Illustration by the amazing Miguel Brieva
So now, awash in texts read and undigested, I wonder what can I contribute to the upcoming roundtable event? Some reflections on municipalism in Spain, in which I have been a bystander, basically a 'literature review' of recently posted online texts. What is more in my line is an insistence on the urgent necessity of building autonomous “monster institutions” of counter-power. Those doggedly constructed in Europe over decades of struggle are in the forefront of contest against neo-liberal austerity. While they have not been embraced by political parties, their ideas and personnel have gradually seeped into many governmental institutions there, and in this way they have exerted their influence. What is new and striking about the Spanish municipalismo movement is that many from the counter-power popular institutions have entered directly into government. They are just in time to catch the technological wave of new e-tools for participatory decision-making, and to advocate not only for strengthening the social welfare safety net rotted out by austerity, but to propose basic income as a bulwark against the oncoming robotic and AI-driven waves of joblessness.
The USA is terribly far behind in this. Our politics have become entirely a spectator sport, as profitable for the circus-masters as pro football, and equally the realm of titans and superstars whose glitter and rage captivate millions.
It is exactly this Jeffersonian “Right of the People to alter” an improperly exercised power, derived from “the consent of the governed”* which is called into play – continually, through civil disobediences, and more, a kind of civil re-allegiance.
No more than this: Liberal institutions must aid and abet the construction of an effective popular, progressive, and autonomous counter-power.
The key question we face now is can the civic mores and institutions of the U.S.A. contain an incipient fascist federal executive backed by an unscrupulous mendacious political party with an absolute majority in the congress? These now include a mass market profit-based telematic media in which “news” is a source of profit, that is to say a conscience-less industry void of civic purpose or sense of obligation... although they are getting better at pretending to it.
The answer is at this point must be “just barely” – that is to say, no. The only force that can countervail such lethal legal authority is an autonomous popular counter-power. The grounds for its construction in this country are lacking, as social movements are habitually riven with dissension and particularlism. Therefore it is the institutions of the U.S. themselves which must undertake to construct this autonomous popular power.

* The “consent of the governed” cited is from the U.S. Declaration of Independence; this is an argument with a long pedigree in political theory, cf. Wikipedia, “Consent of the governed.”
Miguel Brieva

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Where Does "Municipalism" Come From? (II)

“Municipalism refers to political organization based on assemblies of neighbourhoods, practicing direct democracy, which would be organized in a system of free communes or municipalities, as an alternative to the centralized state.”
– United Explanations*

"Eight initiatives to reinvent democracy" as proposed at ParticipaLab, MediaLab Prado, Madrid, 2016

For an American caught in the rat trap of U.S. politics, the “Municipalist Manifesto” reads like a document from an alien world. This document, which came out of a meeting held in Málaga, Spain, in July of '16 – the MAK1 – describes 'cycles of politics' and spaces of civic discourse that practically don't exist in our country. The guiding principles are expressed in its title: it is a “meeting for municipalism, self-government and counterpower.” First the manifesto declares independence from political parties. The municipalist's roots are local. That is the “bet” on building this kind of power, that “democracy begins with the local.” Then they name their issues – Spain's onerous balanced budget law, lack of housing, crushing municipal debt, and the necessity of reclaiming city services like water and power from the private companies to which they were sold by the right wing.
The municipalists aim to build a “federated network” of groups of political candidates (lists) and movements, and to support it with autonomous communications media which can construct “a new social common sense.”
From the institutions they will expect resources and strategies to promote new movements and experiments – a “new institutionality” which – crucially – respects the autonomy of all such initiatives.
The manifesto goes on for 10 more points – on building social space, cooperative enterprise, protection of migrants and more. They also commit to internationalism.
This isn't cloud cuckoo land. These are concrete proposals, action items, which are backed up by a series of recent electoral successes in cities around Spain. The most visible and energetically internationalist of these is Barcelona en Comú which achieved the mayoralty of Ada Colau. They have published a guide to how to build a political movement in the city, “How to win back the city en comú,” and have launched a dizzying array of initiatives based on the notion of an “open code” city, that is, fully hackable.

This success depended on earlier cycles of politics, as the Spanish call them. These include a decades-long squatting movement that began after the dictator Franco died in '75 and continues to this day. (Academics in the SqEK group of which I am a member have written extensively on this; we met in Barcelona during Colau's electoral campaign.) Those squatters opened up social centers, emulating Autonomist activists in Italy, in cities all over Spain. Barcelona, with its proud anarchist past, has quite a number of them. When the 15M arose, the Spanish part of an international “movement of the squares,” the right wing controlled government moved against it (the PP, Popular Party, had both city and federal state in 2011). The big 15M camp was evicted, and activists moved into the neighborhoods. When their open assemblies were attacked, they moved into the resistant occupied social centers. Thus two movements converged. Punk concerts, beer-drinking gripe sessions, vegan dinners and bike fixing clinics were joined by regular open meetings of multi-generational neighborhood activists figuring out how to fix their shit right where they live.
Spanish don't call their congresspeople. They are generally unavailable, and in any case people know that it's useless. As the European Union-mandated cutbacks to social services began to bite, enthusiastically enforced by the right, workers and clients in the affected sectors began to organize into mareas or “waves,” taking to the streets in parade, and occupying their workplaces. Health clinics and hospitals, public schools, social service agencies – Mareas arose all over the country, each in a different color: white (health), green (schools), orange (social service), blue, red, violet, yellow and black.
Face painting for the Marea for health services
Equally important in this respect – radicalizing citizens with grievances – was the movement of the PAH, fronted by Ada Colau. In direct response to federal government refusal to repeal or substantially alter harsh and onerous laws around mortgages in the face of the long-term European recession called simply “The Crisis”, thousands of people were forced from their homes. The PAH movement organized these dispossessed workers and middle class people and began to occupy homes. Many of these homes were owned by the very same banks which had foreclosed on the mortgages, and were vacant because of evictions. The government further 'collaborated' with the PAH, exacerbating the problem by selling off much public housing to private companies which raised rents to market rates.
Hence, the very regressive policies that punished the poor and less wealthy helped to set the conditions for building popular power. This is more than the power of anger to move people into the streets in protest. It's the power of solidarity to take back the necessities of life which the government and financial sector has been taking away.
We must ask ourselves how the repressions and dispossessions which will soon come in USA can similarly be used in a mode of political jiu jitsu to build movements of popular power.
Contemporary Spanish municipalism, then, came out of the 15M movement – “They don't represent us,” the cry of thousands of people gathering in the central square of the capitol city, and spreading from there to other cities throughout the couuntry. Even the Spanish part of the “movement of the squares” was international, with forerunners in Tunisia, Egypt, and Greece. The key issue – the “false representation” that political parties both left and right were undertaking – concerned the Crisis. This sustained nearly decade-long recession has meant an EU-directed campaign of austerity, budget cuts, privatizations of public services, foreclosures and evictions. The big banks were bailed out with the people's tax money, and, in the words of J.P. Morgan as quoted by David Harvey, “assets return to their rightful owners.”
Activists on the left in Europe have worked hard for years, often supported by the smaller political parties. The plurality of voices which parliamentary systems allow to speak (if not always act) within the circuits of power is foreign to the U.S.A., given its construction as a pseudo-monarchical republic along Roman lines. In the USA, the role of interrupter in the continuity of political transactions by conservative proprietors is taken by social movements, even at times in the past by criminal gangs. There is then a blockage in the paths to power in the U.S. which is only rarely and only partially overcome. When it is, it usually happens in cities. That's how Bernie Sanders started, as mayor of Burlington, Vermont. He did good. Just like the “sewer socialists” of Milwaukee in the 1930s through the '50s. They represented all the people and worked for the public good.
With its remnant welfare state and firm (if limited) civil liberties, Europe's case may seem quite dissimilar from the USA. But in fact it appears to me to amount to a totalizing austerity, even if it doesn't go by that name. An ideological tsunami intent on wiping away the care economy, education, the research and cultural economies – anything deemed “soft” – and leaving only the “hard” bodies supported, the police and armed forces.
An anarchist tweeted as I wrote, “If we don’t prevent fascists from building strength, debate won’t matter. Only popular self-defense has succeeded in stopping fascism.”
That's true. And I agree. But it's possible to move beyond self-defense. European municipalist organizing, action and electoral success – which, remember, arose during right wing governmental control – seems connected to me with Chokwe Lumumba's Jackson Plan for that city in Mississippi. In conditions of centuries of oppression, his administration's plan was to build popular power, develop workers' cooperatives, and more. Why can't we now demand more from US cities politically than just resistance to bad moves by federal power? With the mounting resistance to a massively unpopular authoritarian president, activists can be in a position to get more and better now.
The question is what to ask for? And how to know what citizens need?

Next: Research and Development of Contemporary Municipalism


United Explanations*
“What is Municipalism and Why Is It Gaining Presence in Spain?|”
A somewhat disjointed, but still quite useful explanation, by Marta Cillero posted in August of 2016 at: [also SP]

The Municipalist Manifesto, posted for MAK1 conference, September 2016 [also SP, GER]

A key text of theory on this question is: Observatorio Metropolitano de Madrid, La apuesta municipalista – la democracia empieza por lo cercano (2015)
PDF online at:

“Is this the world’s most radical mayor?” by Dan Hancox, May 2016

An English translation of Ada Colau's key book "Mortgaged Lives” is at Journal of Aesthetics & Protest:

Barcelona en Comú publishes ‘how to’ guide to winning back the city to mark anniversary of electoral victory

SqEK – Squatting Europe Kollective conference in Barcelona, May 2015

Just one example of texts on this political cycle-- The ‘Movements of the Squares’ and the Contested Resurgence of the ‘Sovereign People’ in Contemporary Protest Culture,” by Paolo Gerbaudo, University of London - School of Humanities, May 20, 2014

A 10-minute excerpt of Oliver Ressler's video project of 2012, “Take the Square,” drawing together Madrid, Athens, and NYC is at:

Miguel A. Martínez and Ángela García, “The Occupation of Squares and the Squatting of Buildings: Lessons From the Convergence of Two Social Movements” (2015), ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies

A brief introduction: “The tides of change: Spain’s “mareas”, by Julius Gavroche, 2013

The Jackson Plan –
Nathan Schneider, “The Revolutionary Life and Strange Death of a Radical Black Mayor,” April 2016

Rosa Luxembourg Stiftung pamphlet on the Jackson Plan

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

“Squatting in Rome” Documentary

“Squatting in Rome” is an engaging recent documentary focussed on some of the more public squats in Rome. (Thanks to Submedia for the tip on this.) The crew which made it is called MediAlien; they seem French, anarchist, and have bagged a few other works as well. Posted in November of 2015, the piece is dynamic and shortish (22 min.).
“Squatting in Rome” begins with the immense Forte Prenestino, with its hundred-plus person assemblies, and includes ESC with its close university connection (“We could say that we are Foucauldian”). It concludes with a ramble among the militant students and citizens who make these actions.
An elder speaks about the occupied Cinema Palazzo, with its famous cultural history. “They granted a permit to build a casino here. In what world do we live in?” Romans did not only say no, they took the building back. The Sapienza Clandestina collective -- "secret wisdom" – was formed by university students. They mapped out the institution, and realized there was a wealth of vacant space just waiting to be used by... them! “We're trying to remove spaces from the neoliberal process” that governs the university. The Communia squat followed the needs of its community. They opened a study room for students crowded out of the library, a language school and sewing studio used by immigrants. And the political parties? “They've had their chance” – now activists are doing it for themselves, and for what their communities want.
The motives for these actions, and their ethic come not from ideology but are constantly formed and reformed directly from the clearly defined needs of communities. Direct action that serves the people, a first principle of the Black Panthers.
This is not easy stuff. The cops in Rome are tough. They don't wear IDs, and they beat the kids freely. A few of those clubbed are interviewed after trying to rush the admission-only European Maker Faire held on their campus. In the twilight, after the demonstration, young men sing the joyful historic fight song of Italian communist partisans. The filmmakers insert a bit of “Bella Ciao!” (here's an English version by Chumbawumba). I've no idea why U.S. activists don't have fight songs.
While it is anchored to specific actions, the latter part of this doc is concerned with the broader political struggle. An older crowd of demonstrators hoist shirts and ties on hangers. The banks are overruling the governments (like “Government Sachs” in the U.S.), and the unions are prone, helpless in the face of the trend toward precarious “gig” work and the splintered economy of labor, the “entrepreneurship of onesself” (e.g., Uber).
The question of gender does not divide, but it is “transversal to all struggles.” Feminists are fully engaged, up front in explaining, and in the 'administration' of autonomous facilities.
Says one, “The time for struggle is always now. We have to catch the struggles in our lifetimes, because it's not true that they always lead to repression. They lead to a richer life with conscious people, and that's what counts.”

“Squatting in Rome” video (22 min.; VO: IT/EN, subtitles: EN/FR/IT)
produced by MediAlien
Submedia, the insurrectionary anarchist website, renowned in the underground for its fast-cut found footage and weird, salty talking head

European Maker Faire
(I can't resist contrasting this kind of spectacular corporate-driven pseudo-hacker event with the open civic initiative of Medialab Prado in Madrid)

CSOA Forte Prenestino (they just published an anniversary book)

“Bella Ciao!” -- here's an English version by Chumbawumba

The riot-porn cover on the film link, beloved of the Submedians. Gee guys, that's not the only fun part of squatting!

Monday, January 30, 2017

Only Resistance Matters – Resist to Build Popular Power in the “Rebel Cities” (I)

A year ago I finished two books on squatting –
Occupation Culture and the anthology Cultural Production in Occupied Space. I planned to go forward with another, a case history of a group of squatted social centers in Europe. There are many fine examples of autonomous self-organization of political and cultural people in occupied spaces which later became public resources, enriching their cities. The social centers are all pre-eminently local institutions (albeit of the “monster” type), and are only occasionally linked in inter- or national networks.
But, as the U.S. turns hard right, it's clear that this mode of grass roots urban development is likely to be repressed. Squatting will not be tolerated, nor is it likely to be developed as civic policy anywhere in the country, as it has been in Europe. The political environment for such policy innovation now seems hopeless.
Now, only resistance matters. And more, resistance that builds and sustains popular power, both political and economic. In the near term, I hope to be able to present some tools – examples of cultural, educational and political tactics, kinds of collective formations, and technological innovations that have and are being used in countries in the European Union to both seed and strengthen collectivity in cities. Many of these tactics have been used specifically to build citizen participation in political movements that have brought concrete electoral results.
These tactical plans and formations will be drawn from various quarters without regard to political orthodoxy, although most come from the left. My hope is that they all be used towards the same end – to help activists and citizens build popular power of the kind that U.S. representative democracy has long been without – and is in fact purpose-built to exclude. Build enough popular power, and that may be something we can change. After all, the country has done weird things that way, like prohibit alcohol consumption and elect DJ Trump – it can even do something sensible.
This work I see as less an abandonment of my commitment to the squatting movement than a reaffirmation, a doubling down. Squatting expresses the ideals of the commons, coming from a view of the earth and its built resources as a “common treasury” for all. Just as proper governance is for the public good, so ownership is stewardship. If improperly exercised or abandoned, it may be abrogated, either temporarily or permanently. The more legitimate expropriation is performed by collectives; the most legitimate is civic. So it is that groups of squatters reclaim public and private buildings neglected by their owners, and at times these are returned by governance to full public uses.
A first principle of the squatting movement is autonomy. Squatters want nothing to do with government or capitalist economy. This is a kind of absolutism which has preserved the ethos of the movement as a kind of secret society of anti-capitalist pirates, a brotherhood [sic] of social bandits. This has assured a certain continuity, as generations of squatters arise from the weeds of the city to continue the tradition of living free, and for free. But, like bandits, squatters die young. Not literally, usually, but they cease to be squatters as they tire of evictions and rent or buy housing, tire of the cold and scrounged “freegan” food and take jobs. The autonomy of squatting, then, is all too often an autonomous interruptus.
Poster describes Gaengeviertel, a legalized occupation in central Hamburg, Germany

So is much political activism in the U.S.A., an adventure of youth. As people come to universities and colleges, they learn the facts about social, political and economic arrangements in our society. Many become politicized. Fewer remain so once they leave the warm waters of the class- and seminar room, ample public space for students, and tolerant atmosphere of collegiate institutions. The modern consumer society, as Debord observed 50 years ago, is built on techniques of separation. It is chill waters for collectivity. These have only increased in the intervening half century, to the point of a screaming intensity that today binds us by social media to portable communicating devices. We carry our separation with us.
To overcome autonomous interruptus, and the real world snuffing-out of political awakening, it is necessary to build autonomous infrastructure politically. That means not to become the slave of one's own idealism; not to imagine that the unicorn you are riding is real. The sweet perfume that drew you into this tent only lingers fleetingly. Breathe now the frosty air of political reality. That does not mean at all to abandon idealism, ideology, vision or purpose – only illusions, inhibitions and prejudices, thes habits of mind that the new political technicians of mass data have learned how to turn against us.
Do not succumb to their ancient evil art. Do not let the devils use your hatreds as a lever to move your soul. Remain in the real. Remain in love.
Yeah, so that leads straight into a rather advanced problem of the present-day Spanish municipalist movement – how to remain connected and true to the goals and intentions of the social movements which underlie their rise to elected office. But now I am way ahead of myself. We'll need to start with some basics....

NEXT: The New Municipalism: How Cities Can Advance Without the Federal Government


“America Needs a Network of Rebel Cities to Stand Up to Trump,” by Kate Shea Baird and Steve Hughes, In These Times, November 29, 2016

“Monster Municipalism” issue of transversal web journal, European Institute of Progressive Cultural Policy (EIPCP), September 2016

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Hard Work: SqEK Meets in Rotterdam

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Holland Bound with "House Magic" #7 in Hand

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

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

sqek rotterdam may 18-23 2016

Friday, April 8, 2016

"A Tour" for the NYC Anarchist Book Fair

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

SqEK research group

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

Hans Pruijt "Squatting in Europe"

Cabaret Voltaire centennial, the squat recalled

ongoing problems of the museum

SqEK meets next month in Rotterdam

“breeding places” in amsterdam (PDF)

critique of this

Ruigoord (Dutch)

Belgian squat of the village of Doel


Futurological Symposium of Free Spaces

Christiania, you have my heart - YouTube

Metelkova Mesto

CSOA Forte Prenestino (Italian)

The Real Estate Show - ABC No Rio Dinero

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

Radio Alice in Bologna