The conversations on the day that followed, the “theoretical sessions” (the first day was “historical”), were dense and winding. Felix Rottenberg emceed the arguments. The main current was around the question of institutionalization, legalization of free cultural spaces and the compromises it entails. (This, as it happens, is a line of investigation for our SqEK group.)
Ivanjka Geerdink spoke about his Novaglobe project to link up “flowtowns” on the world wide web. Geerdink's idea germinated when he began to use his mother's land in northern Holland whilst she was on holiday. He and his friends party and try to build a community. Now his intention is to use his formidable IT skills to build an online infrastructure to help in “keeping a flow alive, a spirit alive in places” – Flowtowns. IT for him is the “ring of power” that can do this. Ivanjka is a “hippie with a plan,” building on concepts like the “trusted global community” behind couchsurfing.org, the “Route Soleil” of seasonal human movement – which he compared to the French seasonal migration of cattle, the transhumance.
Rutger van Ree, who pontificated so well the day before, asked Ivanjka how he will deal with “the angry outside world?,” that is the people who hate migrants, gypsies, travelers, and all manner of temporarily present human beings. Alan Smart observed that the project smacked of technocratic utopianism. “If you replicate this system of network, can't you take some poison with it?”
Rural occupations in the increasingly depopulated countryside is getting to be a hot project, even in the political squatting world, as police in the cities bear down heavy on new and old occupations alike. Ivanjka's faith in (a well regulated) network of mutual trust is not so “hippie,” useless, naïve and misplaced as to warrant the routine dismissals that come from both left and right.
David Graeber explains money in his necessary opus “Debt: The First 500 Years.” Drawing on decades of economic anthropology, Graeber reminds us that money came into general use with the advent of moving armies who needed some way to regularize their commerce with local peasants who relied almost entirely on systems of mutual aid and credit for subsistence.
Ergo, those of us “on the grid” are living like soldiers, alienated from the source of all we need to subsist, and entitled by our coin to ignore any scraps of human relations that might adhere to our smooth monetary transactions.
While I liked Ivanjka's project – and believe something like that is going to matter a great deal in the very near future – the toughest talk for me came from Jaap Draaisma. (“Tough” BTW, in my youthful surfer days meant “cool,” but more in the sense of really real.) Jaap was a squatter in the hardcore punk squat Vrankrijk (Frahnk-reich; est'd 1984), during the days when the Amsterdam squatting scene was political – but “not so political as in Germany!” He later worked for the city government organizing the controversial Breeding Places program that legalized many squats. With this experience, he worked on the legalization of Ruigoord and their Landjuweel festival. In that work he was always practical. But he acknowledged the dilemma that “If you follow all the rules it's expensive, so you exclude people.”
Contrasting the attitude of the hippies who came to squatting a generation before him, Jaap said “You build your paradise for yourself or you want to change society,” making “collective action for a tribe's benefit, or for the larger good.” Now the political situation has turned bad, and squatters are being regularly arrested. In Berlin and New York they have formed a strong Right to the City movement. Maybe, Jaap asked, something like that could happen here? “Can we make a political agenda as a tribe?”
After Julian Jansen, a demographer with the Amsterdam city planning department explained the population statistics of greater Amsterdam, a squatter from the nearby ADM, also in the harbor area, explained their work there since 1997. Bev – (I did not get her full name, since the program changed radically, and she ended up not on it) – explained, “We organize as little as possible. We work together” as artists.
Bev, who grew up off the grid in New Zealand, is an ecologist trained in earth sciences. She studied “transformation management,” that is, “how to change the world.” You can't do that from within; “you need places for new ideas to develop.” The squatters at ADM developed and protected a lake which harbor authorities wanted to fill in. Her mission: “Protect the ecological systems in the harbor area.”
After the sessions Maik of the Robodock group explained a little of the “cultural defense” strategy at ADM. The owner of the building, he said, were “mafia,” who came around at various times in a limo with thugs, bouncers, wrestlers, and “cage fighters,” and later with demolition machines. Robodock was the answer to these intimidations and attacks. This highly successful festival, which “grew bigger than ADM,” used machine components, fire, and circus, working with NYC's Madagascar Institute. Their motto: “Safety third,” after “fun” and “fear.”
There was ever so much more... presentations by the “ambassadors” of Christiania, the spokesman for the nomadic Mongolians who never appeared, held up by visa problems at the various borders they had to cross. And sometime soon the audio of the conference should be posted on the website.
This symposium went on in Hippieland for real, as the purposively fantastic Landjuweel festival slowly gathered steam during the course of it. To send my emails I sat on a stump, my bare feet in the sand outside the “Salon” house with the wifi as Ivanjka the theorist strummed a guitar nearby... a woman approached carrying a frying pan. The bright-eyed musician who shared our tipi the night before lit up a hand-rolled cigarette. Two stiltwalkers dressed like Michelin people in costumes of orange and green walked in front of the church blowing bubbles. A woman passed pushing a child in a bakery trolly. And Aja Waalwijk dashed by, clutching conference papers. Aja does not wear a watch nor carry a cel phone. “His friends remind him what time it is.” Amazingly, things came together very well.
There is a lot more to be said about the rich load of information, about instances of alternative movements, and there were many realizations. There is also an analysis to be made of the symposium discourse, what was said and what was not said, what was allowed and what was not. I certainly want to know much more about the Ruigoord artists' community – I'm looking forward to the “ethnography” of the beaming Rumanian student Anna.
While I did not smoke the poros of hash and tobacco that were circulating, I certainly contracted a “contact high” from the lush hedonistic environment of happy people, hippies both for the weekend and lifelong, milling about and looking forward to their festival. Finally, though, I had to leave, although everyone was telling me not to, that there was nowhere to go better than this. Maybe so, and I surely feel the siren charms of the Landjuweel. But really, it is too late for me to reach for that kind of life. I felt better immediately with the city sidewalks under my feet, with soap and water close at hand. And in the end, I will have to fight for the right to the city, not the right to be left alone in the country. Although it is always so nice to come for a visit!