Thursday, February 12, 2009

Madrid: The Traffic in Dreams

So Pablo takes me on a fast tour of Diagonal the newspaper, which has a very clean, bright modern storefront tucked into Lavapiés, an older part of the city of Madrid. The place includes a store selling t-shirts and media items. In the back, a fellow is folding aprons printed with a bright red and black design in Constructivist style -- “keep the kitchen clean!”
Diagonal published Pablo’s review of the Barcelona conference of European social centers in early January.
In the basement a meeting is slowly getting underway of organizers of the “sin papeles” community (without papers), preparing for an upcoming demonstration. It will be a march from Lavapiés to Sol, the historic city center of Madrid.
Many of the sin papeles are Senegalese and other Subsaharan Africans who have been coming into Spain in increasing numbers in the last 10 or so years. We chat outside the Diagonal offices with a Pakistani activist -- about New York. Not so surprisingly, many immigrants to Spain speak English; so many, that handouts in Spanish classes may be written in English.
After our visit to Diagonal, I follow Pablo into the Metro, and we head downtown to the Seco social center. The pink panther is the logo of Seco.
This centro is located in a city-owned building now, a strikingly designed rounded modern structure. The building was sitting empty, and the Seco group, which began working in a squat years ago, was given the use of the site after a negotiation. There is a small rent which they mostly pay. Inside Seco a clutch of kids play on the internet, and a small group of youths is conferring. It is the hacklab, Pablo says. A small room holds bicycles and parts of the Critical Mass group -- Bici Crítica, an uphill struggle in Madrid. Classes in Spanish at three levels are held here for immigrants.
Seco is near a working class district which is now 35% immigrants. Seco strives to relate to these populations. I am introduced to Elia, who is traveling to NYC this summer… August. She is shy with English, and quickly returns to setting up for a party, a music night honoring the “Mods” of UK.
I was impressed by Diagonal. Like Traficante, it is a very together left space, not a squat, not dirty or unimproved at all. Seco also is very clean, a modern building, not brand new but not shabby.
Bernat emerged from the classroom where he had been teaching Spanish. Pablo said he was a writer for Diagonal. Bernat is a very personable Catalan wearing a black and white kefiya. Guillermo was also there, a researcher making “maps” of the social movements in different Spanish cities. He was reserved, and although he spoke English very well, I did not have a chance to speak with him. Bernat sees the predecessors of the social centers of today as very definitely rooted in the “ateneos” (athenaeums) of the Republican era, cultural centers where working class people could educate themselves. I asked Pablo about the questions which had preoccupied me in regards to the social centers, that is the subjectivities that participation in their activities generates and requires, the new mentalities beyond capitalism. In the words of the Universidad Nómada text, it is a matter of “creating new mental prototypes for political action.” For Pablo at this moment, the challenging work of Seco SC klies in the conversations of diverse people, making the “mixtape,” or “building the Esperanto of our movement.”
On Friday afternoon I had a very good talk with J, a hacker from Miami. He was participatng closely in the “Garage Science” workshop at Media Lab Prado, and asked that we meet there. There I found him huddling over his project. In the middle of a swirling crowd of techno hackers stood the great Steve Kurtz directing the actionj, or as he put it, trying to help out the folks working on various techno projects. (Just what these did consist of I had not the time to learn.) Also on hand by purest chance was the architect and urban theorist Kyong Park, in town to give a talk at Casa Encendidas. Kyong now teaches in San Diego, and works mainly in Asia. He was in the lab because he was having problems with his computer. After suffering through an intricate technical presentation on the electrical properties of various fruits, J and I repaired to a Turkish café nearby. He has been working with a group called SinAntena, also based in the Traficante space. This is , a media outfit that has been covering political events in Madrid, including squatting. Jay sees the social center squatting in Madrid as having come out of the shantytowns on the city’s periphery. These arose in the 1970s and ‘80s. Most were destroyed. Some were replaced by permanent housing (That’s the solution recommended by the UN, according to Mike Davis in his book “Planet of Slums.”) Gradually squatting moved into the city center. The task of building a social center is arduous, and many folks cannot sustain it. Many people J knows now squat only for housing, not to make a social center. This kind of energy is rare!

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