Tuesday, July 18, 2017

“Fearless Cities”: Second Plenary Session (5th post)

Since I wrote this two weeks ago(!), Barcelona en Comú international has posted a video of the entire plenary to YouTube. This is in addition to posted videos of numerous panels at the conference. Most, but not all, of the speakers are Spanish. Even though this was the last event, it's ready to post now, so I'm doing that. (Apologies for discontinuities; there is more to come.)

After the meeting on how to construct electoral platforms, I drifted to the cool gardens of the University of Barcelona for the lunch. I met some interesting folks hanging around a gal I'd met in a breakout. A guy working with a municipalist international called “Plenari” handed me a flyer for a September 1-3 conference in Thessaloniki, “Right to the City and Social Ecology” (the Bookchin phrase).
Another fellow was wearing a 2013 t-shirt with the words “Asembleas Populare” and a red and black anarcho-syndicalist flag. It was from Argentina, he said. We chatted about anarchists' non-participation in muncipalism – (but not about electoralists studious ignoring of anarchists!). “I am here to listen,” he said. The gal from Manchester I'd met in the breakout was with him. “Really I'm from no city,” she said.
(All this time my SqEK comrade Galvao was waiting outside for me to meet him. They wouldn't let him in to the conference as he had not registered. I had no cel phone, and had forgotten our appointment. This was a bit of funky misplaced security, as he is a doctoral student in governance. Other folks did slip in who were not, as will be discussed.)
After lunch we were back in the Paranimfo, the grand site of the plenary. This time all the seats beside the throne were full of the leading lights of the movement, conference organizers, and their friends. A man from the Catalan network acted as MC for a succession of speakers. (According to the list, this was Xavier Domenech, Executive Board of Barcelona en Comú, MP for En Comú Podem, Coordinator of Catalunya en Comú.) In our region, he said, we are celebrating the 148th anniversary of the Paris Commune. (Historical consideration of that epochal event was also at the core of a recent course put on by the Institute of Democracy and Municipalism in Madrid, meeting at the Traficante de Suenos bookstore – not as a nostalgic event in the nimbus of vanished utopian revolution, but how exactly it was organized.)
We have our own history of struggle, Domenech said, trying to build a radical democratic city. It tracks back to 1815, when the slogan was “Associationism or death.” And to May 2015, when the “rose of fire” returned. (This I think was a reference to the days-long street battle to defend Can Vies social center in the Sants district of Barcelona from eviction and destruction. Can Vies was finally attacked by a bulldozer, which was burned. A book was published about this, which includes considerations of the relation between 15M/Occupy and the anarchists. Much of the book's contents were posted to the Crimethinc blog.) That's when the people are fed up, and take to the streets.
Kali Akuno spoke about Cooperation Jackson, the movement behind the recent electoral victory in that city. He warned of the “Syriza trap” – thinking that our progressive forces can manage capitalism. (The left coalition Syriza government in Greece was forced to accept harsh terms from the European Union to gain tranch loans to sustain basic services, harsher many believe than would have been offered to a “center” or right-wing government.) First we must transform society from the bottom up. The welfare state is gone. We are living in the neoliberal order.
A series of reps from different Spanish towns gave short speeches. My host in his “solidarity apartment,” Steven Forti rattled off the Italian towns that have new allied governments – Naples, Bologna, Padua, Palermo, Verona, Reggio Emilia. A woman from Poland said, We face an extreme right in the federal power that seeks now to ban abortion and cut down the forests. (Trump, no surprise, plans a visit.) They have called a congress of urban movements to take place in Warsaw. Clare Walden from London told how the recent surprise wins of Corbyn's Labor party had restored confidence among the left. She quoted Shelley's classic rabble-rousing poem:

Rise, like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number!
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you:
Ye are many—they are few!
"The Masque of Anarchy," by Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1819

Walden spoke of the alternative food chain started in Bristol. And recalled how Margaret Thatcher had gutted the progressive localist government of London. We must refuse this, she declared, and develop our own alternatives.
This is the anarchist strain speaking, that which proceeds and develops regardless of government. IMO, when this strain is recognized as a key part of municipalist strategy, together with the indisputably non-partisan citizens' assembly, the movement will become irresistible. Damn the law, full speed ahead!
Another woman spoke of an emerging French network including several cities. The Zagreb activist spoke of a waterfront project planned for Belgrade which would see processes of privatization and financializing of public space – “20,000 people came to the street to fight this.” In Zagreb their platform won some seats. A woman from the USA called on us to “take down Trump.” A woman from Valparaiso, Chile said, “Our fear is to continue as we are with this neoliberal model which is not creating what we need.” (Valparaiso was spoken of as a site for the next conference of municipalists.)
A man from Rosario, Argentina spoke. Another from Brazil, Bele Horizonte. The popular democracy movement of Sao Paulo now has the city council there. A man from Hong Kong told us how the Communist Party is trying to take away local government. The military expansionism of the state is threatening other countries. The moderator said this is why municipalism is dangerous, Our enemies will work hard against us.
We heard, “Greetings from Kurdistan!” Murray Bookchin said once there was a chance for a coalition of cities, but then along came the nation state. Rojava now is the center of a communal life against capitalist modernity. The “democratic autonomy” of Kurdistan has much in common with the “autonomy of the zones” practiced by the Zapatistas of Mexico. Ours is a woman-centered radical democratic communally-based revolution. (I wonder if this spokesperson could even enter the USA now – I rather think not.) A man from Beirut spoke of how their movement is fighting big capital projects.
This dizzying array of speakers was capped by the tag team of Kate Shea Baird, the English-language international rep for Barcelona en comu and Chavi (her partner?), she speaking English and he Spanish. They said they'd been trying to identify the key ideas which all these different projects share.
They are all based in local means, a political project that is linked with base movements. Not just a part of the state, but a way to make a new kind of government. Formal democracy is finished. We need to go one step further, inventing new ways of representation. Our political space includes people inside and outside institutions. One only of these is not enough. Ours is a female-led feminized politics. It puts care work at the center. Why is municipalism working better now? Baird referenced Naomi Klein's video “Made for us.”
“We have to win where we can,” she said. Small victories show us what is possible. With small wins we communicate, “Join us.” We can win. Things can be done to change people's lives.
All these big things happen at local levels. There we experience them, and there we must deal with them. The local is the space we know. If we can't do it locally we can't do it at all. Candidacies are built in different ways. Diversification makes it more difficult to attack.
During all this, I noted an agitated and angry-looking man in a muscle shirt with no conference badge sitting near me. He was fidgeting nervously and glaring back just to the side of my line of sight. I was looking at him, yeah. And thinking how there was no evident security at this meeting, and we were building up to Ada Colau.
Working in networks, the speaker asked, how do we do it? Through the exchange of knowledge and specific tools. We believe in the commons in the face of corruption and trafficiking of services. We stand for interpersonal relations. With the campaigns in Belgrade against the waterfront development we made this struggle more visible. In Berlin, when Andrej Holm was attacked, our network supported him. We are doing Skypes, publishing articles and such to let folks know the experiences of other cities with the same problems. She referenced articles in English on Rosario, Argentina – (famous in activist art circles for the late '60s “Tucaman Arde” project) – and on the Zagreb movement, which “make our experiences visible.” We can compare policies, for example on the use of public space. We don't leave the responsibility to bigger organizations. These are things each of us can do. This is how we can contribute to the network.
Ada Colau closed the session. She reminded us she is the first woman to be mayor of Barcelona. Also she's the first from a working class background. “The media and the economic powers are not wirh us.” We must work in a network, and we must continue to strengthen it. Our next meeting is in Valparaiso. Meanwhile, you must be courageous and ambitiuos. We want a politics of the majority. This alliance should be open and generous as possible, and not fear being contaminated. We are battling giants. The battle of water privatization is going to be a big one. Municipalism is necessary because states are not useful anymore. They are too slow, too hierarchical. We must become municipalists. We must be selfish. Proximity is our strength.
We are still in a place where we must defend things we think are obvious. Many workers of the city helped us. The state machinery is old fashioned. Arriving in office, I found my agenda already full of formal meetings. Once inside city hall, my people disappeared. You enter a micro-world. This meeting is our family. In traditional politics, not everything can always be said. Here we can recognize our fragility. But we are not afraid, because we are together.
Later at lunch I saw Michelle Teran, who translated Ada Colau's book into English for JoAAP. She's doing video now. She was shooting interviews at the conference. She had just finished a tape on bank occupations, people who sat in at bank branches to force discussions of specific individual cases. It's a new strategy of coordinated occupations of several branches at once. Things get hotter.


Closing plenary -- Spanish speakers in Spanish, English speakers in English
"Ciutats sense por. Plenari de cloenda: municipalisme internacional"

Transnational Institute of Social Ecology – Conference in Thessaloniki 1-3 of September

Cooperation Jackson, Jackson, Mississippi

“The Rose of Fire Has Returned! The Struggle for the Streets of Barcelona,” by Crimethinc, posted April 2012
In print from Descontrol / Barcelona, 2014 / 160 págs.

Tom Crewe, "The Strange Death of Municipal England,” London Review of Books, Vol. 38 No. 24 · 15 December 2016
gated site -- free 24 hours with registration; as I check it is all online, however

Naomi Klein "You represent the best of the yes" #FearlessBCN

Sven Heymanns “An attack on democratic rights: Sociologist Andrej Holm fired from Humboldt University,” World Socialist website, 31 January 2017

Michelle Teran, media artist

Saturday, July 15, 2017

More than my notes and recollections...

The Barcelona international committee has posted at last videos from the June, 2017 conference. It's a feast of new political perspectives and information. I'll not have time to revise my blog posts according to these records -- not even the ones I've still got coming along. But this is where you can get the straight dope, if you have the time. Watch it in your assembly!
At last! They did it -- and it's all out there... "Fearless Cities" in Barcelona, the straight dope on European municipalism. BComu Global‏ @BComuGlobal Jul 13 If you couldn't make it to #FearlessCities you can catch up on ALL workshops and roundtables on our youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL63NMSaD-VgRZn5o1-8jgebvMDkANqbe7

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Getting Elected: Barcelona “Fearless Cities” Report (4)

This post continues reportage on the “Fearless Cities” convergence in Barcelona. The need for effective inventive organizing in the USA is so urgent I prioritized sessions on strategy and application. This was one of them. The panel was “Como creat una canidatura municipalista y participatia” (panel in English, title in Catalan in the program, go figure), How to Create a Municipalist Candidacy.
[REVISION: Video of this session has been posted, July 2017.]
Maria of Ahora Madrid introduced.* She presented activists of Spanish and European platforms who explained how they conducted their electoral campaigns.
Clare Walden of Take Back the City in London has a background in Occupy London. Her group launched a campaign to elect representatives to the Greater London Council. Her platform came together in 2015. Politics then seemed bad, Both the Labor and Tory parties embraced austerity and neoliberal policies. With privatizations, the housing crisis and evictions were massively increasing. Homelessness was increasing. Low wages was also an issue. A group of teachers working with mostly young people of color realized that the politicians didn't reflect them. Their students were so removed from politics that the teachers decided to form this platform, this association called Take Back the City.
In one incident, young mothers and pregnant women were about to be evicted. (In a well-publicized action, exactly this kind of group squatted vacant public housing to draw attention to their issue. Clare Walden didn't confirm that this was the same incident.) Two-and-a-half years ago working-class politics was dead. Take Back the City wanted to launch a peoples' mayoral candidate. Then 25 Greater London Council members were to be elected, so they decided to go for that instead.
Participation was at the center of the project. From day one young people of color were invited in. Part of our success has been including young black and brown kids. We started with a massive outreach. We met with 75 groups around London. We were going around to homeless people to ask, What do you want from London? What would a fair just London look like? We held a Peoples Manifesto workshop. We met with migrant cleaners in their lunchbreak. We met with 75 groups, and also did an online thing. We got policy proposals through this process. (She shows a slide: “Building a peoples manifesto.”) We prioritized the physical, not the online outreach.
A mayoral campaign was such a large undertaking we decided not to do it. (Later, in plenary, she said Mayor Sadik – weirdly criticized by Trump after the recent terrorist attacks in London – was the most left candidate standing, so we also did not want to run against him.) We picked East London to run a Greater London Council candidate, and another one in the south. Gentrification was a big issue. We tried getting people talking, having them bring their children around. We had big trays of free food, also singing and dancing. We wanted to create an environment to give people confidence in their own viewpoints. 800 young people came to an evening of political music and spoken word. In the UK there is no history of open air assembly, “because the weather is so shitty.” We had singing workshops for kids while we chatted with their parents abouut politics. We had our candidate standing on the back of a bus campaigning. We tried to do campaigning in a different exciting way. We did crowd-funding.
We weren't very successful – you have to knock on doors and such in the UK. Our manifesto was the most successful product. (They have a great yellow graphic – Take Back the City.) Our language is sensational, not academic or political.
After she spoke came Laura Berges from Comu de Lleida, a small city of some 139,000 near Barcelona. It is a rural city, with an agricultural base, a service city for a rural region. The politics are “a traditional city with its fat cats.” It has been Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) since democracy came to Spain (mid-1970s). The same political landscape for 40 years. There is only 50% voter participation. In the last round all the right wing was elected.
Comú de Lleida

We united around “a minimum consensus.” We made a call to social movements and left parties. We held open assemblies and private meetings. We made a call for a united candidacy. The social movements did not want to be identified with one party. They worked with us, but not in the name of their movement.
To launch our candidature we had primaries, spending one week on the streets. We had a total of 573 votes – 397 present, 176 e-votes (“telematic”). We sought a consensus to choose the first candidate. We presented a group of electors, not a political party. For that you must gather signatures. Most of our signatures were acceped by the Town Hall secretary. The process was time-limited – we had 20 days. The town secretary told us, Next time do a party because this is a lot of work for me.
Her slides: “Strategies. 1) Transparency – give information with meaning. 2) Participation – open structure. 3) Commons – common wealth / collaborative work / common discourse.”
“How: 1) Streets. 2) Hard work. 3) Reports. 4) Social digital networks. 5) Meeting with local entities. 6) ooking for agreements with other parties. 7) Supporting but not absorbing social movements.”
The traditional media did not give us much space, so we needed our own.
Slide: “Problems: 1) keeping and improving levels of volunteer participation. 2) time management – differiing rhythm of institutional workers and volunteers. 3) Money for something – space, legal advice, etc. 4) Us as “strangers in the hall: some political isolation.” 5) Low media impact. 6) “Goliath infuriated: the aggressive response of those in power.” 7) Are we a local autonomous group or part of a bigger project?
Then came Claudia Delso Carreira, counselor for participation in A Coruña, a city in the northern province of Galicia. (I met Claudia at a workshop on micropolitics held by a feminist collective in Barcelona a few years earlier. The book is forthcoming!) Historically, she said, A Coruña was a big party government – socialist (PSOE) for more than 30 years. Then a short period of coalition, which failed, then the right took power. Then we appeared – Marea Atlántica. We wrote a manifesto. We came into the streets, into the squares with a small piece of blue fabric and a microphone to share the question. The people took the mic and stated their concerns: “I want to change this in the neighborhood,” etc. It was really natural, really organic, without any kind of structure. After those kinds of meetings there arose in the neighborhoods groups we call mareas.
We called ourselves Marea Atlántica, something really charateristic, from our identity as a city on the Atlantic coast. A poet, Manuel Rivas, named us. The vocabulary of the marea is our own. “Marea” means tide, which is low and then high. We spoke of “buiding our own house.” We proposed the salary for elected people, and explained the kind of government we wanted. Now we are in it. Now we are it.
We invited people in the parties to join us but not as party members. Some came in, but not without tension. That really depends on the character of the person, how they deal.
There is no recipe of how to win elections or do municipalism. It is how we build the space – like standing up, speaking to you, to build another kind of situation. We walked, from 9am to 9pm. The media wasn't speaking about us, but the people were speaking about us. And that is how we won the election.
During the discussion session, a guy from Capetown asked, how do we organize across racial and class lines in the city.
In Barcelona, Claudia said, they made a map of classes and races in different neighborhoods. In A Coruña we have a favela (area of “informal settlement”) of gypsies from Portugal. We came to talk to them and said, “We have a common desire” that everyone can make their own solutions. Each person can really relate to that. (I'll note here that in addition to different theoretical orientations, the municipalists of Spain have a research-based approach to governance. They are well prepared for many problems by the time they enter the institutions of governance. This is because they are already working outside the institutions, so winning elections isn't a totalizing goal for them, without which they will have nothing, stop working and go home.)
A young man of color from Denmark said, We are organizing in peripheries of the city which are like asylum camps hidden away. These are racialized cities, like London.
In Madrid, said the rep from Ahora Madrid, the south is popular and the north is wealthy. This disparity has been increased over years by policy. We did maps of inequality, how money was put into one neighborhood rather than another. The north was cleaned more often than the south. So we took that question to the assemblies. We lost in the north, but won in the south, and also won in the center where gentrification and excessive tourism are issues.
Trina Turner from Stockton, California: Class is an issue. People aren't comfortable with one another, and don't know how to interact. “You have to be creative about how you put different classes together” so they can have conversations comfortably.
Woman from Budapest: We went to every door in our part of the city twice, 3,000 doors. We lost. The winner was a celebrity. But we got people who had never voted before. Even so, participation was only 17%. It was a poor district abandoned by the city, so people think this is no point. We continue now with small discussion circles around different topics.
Man from [Crowd?] party in Amsterdam: Geographic segregation of people in Amsterdam is strengthened by policies. Many narrow interest group parties rise up. No coalition seems possible. How do you combine when the city has a clear policy to segregate people?
An elderly woman from Vermont (part of the Bookchin contingent, his widow perhaps) said, “We came close to winning twice.” Now we try to have assemblies, planning assemblies, once a month. This starts with a community dinner. Within the assemblies we encourage people to discuss things as if they themselves were the legislators. Our candidates vowed to support only policies approved by the assemblies.
{This is classic libertarian municipalism. It's nothing like what the U.S. delegates I met have in mind. It would be a new political habit for them – or, as Fred Dewey has it, a very old one.)
A guy from Belgium also spoke about class and politics. Our working class candidates have been elected, but they have problems. The French language is used in the legislature, and lawyers are common there. Our representative was an electrician. He was laughed at, and when he voiced his concern about people unable to pay high electricity bills, he was referred to a social worker who might help him.
Later he explained he had been in the city council five years in opposition. “Don't only represent,” he said. Be part of the protest. Join the movement. “What happens in the city is more important than what happens in the council.”
A man from “Zagreb Is Us” platform in Serbia said their group came out of Reclaim the Streets mobilizations. They got going in a few months. They took four seats in the city parliament, two dozen in neighborhoods and 40 in local councils. Their city council members will rotate, so everyone gets to see how the system works, and get ready for the next election.
A man from Belgrade said that in opposing mega-developments their big problem was how to raise money. A woman from City is Ours in Warsaw said the same. How can we fund our campaigns? Our friends are not enough. In Poland political parties are funded, but we are an association and we don't want to change that.
Laura Berges from Comu de Lleida said they are doing a summer school, with workshops on law and bureaucracy as it affects neighborhoods.
A woman from (where?) said that their movement is voluntary. “Human resources are a huge problem.” Our activists in the institutions now have 60-hour-a-week workloads. “The movement is empty.” Dealing with the frustration of people expecting change is hard. We are always explaining to the neighbors why we can't do things.

* The speakers listed were not the speakers who presented. I regret I did not catch all the names, only the English ones I could get on the first pronunciation. I got almost none of the names or platforms during the Q&A.


Take Back the City

Aditya Chakrabortty, “For real politics, don’t look to parliament but to an empty London housing estate,” Guardian online, 23 September
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/23/real-politics-empty-london-housing-estate Vice.com also followed the story closely

PDF of the book "Situating Ourselves in Displacement"
edited by Murmurae (Paula Cobo-Guevara and Manuela Zechner) and JOAAP (Marc Herbst)
Print edition forthcoming from Journal of Aesthetics and Protest Press

Nice blurb on Fred Dewey's book "School of Public Life"

Sunday, July 2, 2017

“Fearless Cities” in Barcelona, Arrival and Plenary (3)

Friday 9 June 2017 – Noon. I arrive in Barcelona on the excellent fast train, the AVE. I've had departure anxiety, but also renewed technical trouble – my phone is dead again, this time for real. [Later in Madrid the mainboard would be replaced.] A Berlin friend's belief that security state services were interfereing with him seems paranoid – but the “push button state” in an “era of smart devices” seems more or less possible, so I don't discount the possibility. “Aggressive” and “parasitic” are theoretical terms to describe contemporary capitalist forces and, like a well-embedded tick, they'll shift position with every effort to dislodge them. As to whether someone is fucking with me – I'll allow as I can make it hard on myself without too much assistance, and also there is just bad luck.

Friday 6pm – the event begins at the plaza in front of MACBA art museum – how I'd like to be inside! Such great exhibitions they do. Completing registration for Fearless Cities. Incommunicado, naturally. Wish I'd brought a MAGA hat! That'd show what are the stakes for us.
Chatting with a woman from NYU, Sophie Gonick, who did her PhD on PAH Madrid, and her MA thesis on the unincorporated part of Madrid, Cañada Real. From the stage the speaker calls both Brexit and Trump “hijos de miedo” – children of fear. NYU gal says the “Barcelona model” has obscured the municipalist experience of other Spanish cities. “Fear” is the theme of the conference opener here, with references to terrorism. Mayor of Madrid, Manuela Carmena speaks of the 2003 Atocha attack (by jihadi terrorists), and the recent conference on peace in Madrid.
Saturday morning – at a cafe beside the University of Barcelona, site of the conference on the first full day of proceedings. Last night spent a few moments with a contingent of San Francisco based Democratic Socialists. I was downbeat. They said, “There can be no municipalism without social movements.” If there aren't any, how do you do it? Synergy, which is already happening. Then met Miguel Martinez of our SqEK group, fresh from the conference at Klinika in Prague, and a cabal of women academics – one who worked on PAH Barcelona. I feel bad I was so pessimistic with the San Francisco folks. But the Democratic Socialists in Milwaukee appear really lame. “Each chapter is different,” he said, and in San Francisco they are politically engaged. (The Milwaukee Dem Socs are actually a 501-c3, i.e., a cultural organization which is prohibited by law from engaging in electoral political activity; that's ridiculous.) The Spanish model is not so easily replicable. Met also some church-ed guys from Philadelphia. (These folks later proved to be really powerful, from the PICO national network of progressive faith-based community organizations.) I told them I thought in the Midwest it was really only churches which could organize, in Milwaukee anyhow. I also put in a word for the IWW.
Gerardo Pisarello Prados, deputy to Mayor Ada Colau, law professor at University of Barcelona, speaking at the inaugural assembly

“Yes” they say some sessions will be recorded and available online. (I didn't believe it then; and haven't seen it subsequently.) Now, in the “Paranimfo of the Aula Magna,” a blisteringly over-determined space with enormous 19th century murals in oil of men in scenes of the colonial era. Speakers sit in a throne-like area beneath royal portraits, flanked by rows of chairs for cardinals and ministers. A small group just realized they could sneak into those – why not? To be closer to the speakers. (Later presentations had indeed, the “cardinals and ministers” of the BCN en comu and allies sitting in those seats, rather unconsciously fulfilling historic roles.)
Now the vice-mayor of Barcelona is speaking, Gerardo Pisarello. He references that bunch of “mayors from all over.” References political parties, etc., and the municipalist movement as “an embryo, a seed of democratic movement in this global moment as capitalism without limit is generating suffering and “a lot of fear” that people will lose their jobs, lose their homes. Insecurity. The reaction to fear is reaction. “Far right monsters” have emerged – Trump, Le Pen, Hungary's Jobbik party – proposing masculine authority, religious authority. The women's march in Washington, D.C., which was echoed globally, shows that we can provide security through “democratic radicalization.” Through a fight for our common goods we can generate new kinds of relationships, and provide spaces in governance more permeable to citizens. We are making laboratories of this kind of being. It is important to have these experiences in common at this conference because they are examples of change, of resistance.
Then Ana Mendes of Ahora Madrid spoke. I reported her remarks on the resistance of the structures of the adminstrative state in a previous blog post. (That's "BCN Muni 2: Theory, Practice, Theory.")
Then the head of feminism and international relations for Barcelona en Comú, Laura Pérez Castaño, told us we must fight, and fight also the resistances within ourselves. (These notes come directly from the ear-in English translator, so they're rough.) We are democratizing from a feminist point of view. “Feminizing” is the expression we use. This means an end to the traditional marginalization of women from the spaces of decision-making and power. We build a more plural executive in Barcelona en Comú. We seek how to reduce verticality, to foster collective knowledge. Men usually talk more, and seem to have more legitimacy. “Why are women not intervening?,” we ask. We also time them to try to reduce the differences. Also we question, Who are the experts? The know-how is in the assemblies, the districts. “Every neighbor is an expert in their neighborhood.” The third step is to foster co-responsibility in municipalism. This is our big problem now. We call it the consolidation. We change meeting times, provide play areas for kids so women can participate. We also use digital participation, and equalize data about public uses. For example, in public transport “mobility has an agenda.” We try to design based on diverse needs, especially for migrant women. We work in the area of cultural policy for people traditionally excluded from telling their stories. We do “gender diagnosis” and “intersectional praxis,” not to control but to improve, to try to make things more fair and equal.
Marina Vicen, counsellor in Torrelodones, Madrid province, presents in Barcelona

A speaker from the Netherland women's march, Tammy Sheldon told us Women's March is a movement! We opposed not Trump but any system that would allow a sexual predator to become its leader. How the marches felt was pushing back against the hateful rhetoric of the right. We need international outreach. We need it so we can share “municipalistic moments.” She spoke of the dynamics of late evening meetings of women. Then she called for a round of applause for the childcare which is helping us to be here.
Marcelo Expósito, a Podemos deputy in congress from Barcelona said, We are proud to inherit the political heritage of Barcelona, especially the Raval district where our meetings began. We will not allow the system to commit crimes against the people. We bring an ethic of care to local government. Neoliberalism is exploiting and destroying these networks of care. We want to build cities of care. “We have to gather what is most beautiful” from the movements of the past and use them now to build local counter-powers for good government. We recognize peoples' fear but we cannot let it drive them. “Vamos a las mesas!” – to work.

RECENT TEXTS posted on the "Fearless Cities" conference:

Barcelona urban planning: a look at everyday life, by Gerardo Santos

These Cities Might Just Save the Country: Dispatches from the Urban Resistance, from Atlantic City to Miami Beach, June 30, 2017, by Jimmy Tobias
possible paywall

In Barcelona, the ‘Fearless Cities’ gathering brings together progressive councils for pro-people alternatives Enric Barcena, posted July 1, 2017, Green Left Weekly issue number 1143

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

For Imaginary Development: A Playtime? Place of Business?

Palle Nielsen's "The Model for a Qualitative Society," produced indoors in Sweden in 1968.

So yesterday I went to the “Imagine Madrid” meeting at Matadero to hear all about that program of participatory urban development. It's part of the municipalist city government of Ahora Madrid's expansion of the brief of their cultural agency, Intermediae. The project directors gave their pitch to an audence of architects, artists, profesors about Madrid city's solicitation of proposals to make designs for disused or under-used public spaces in Madrid. This was as I saw it a relatively normal kind of meeting between a city commssioning agency and a bunch of interested professionals. The political question it opens of course, is what of the social movements? What role can they play? The citizens' assemblies, the social centers of popular organization – are they invited to make proposals as well? And would these proposals have any chance of surivival in the winnowing process of selection? Could it be that the ideas of citizens living in the area might be better than those of architects? Well, the problem is how to gather those....
There is a process of collaboration built into the development of all these projects. But how it will work is fairly unclear, and it is a ways down the road, after the proposals are made. The commissions themselves – 40 to 70K euros – are pretty small. So they would fund only ephemeral temporary projects, not any kind of real built infrastructure. (Maybe something of wood, or demountable steel tubing, or an inflatable could be possible.)
So it becomes something like a prestige project for an architect or group that needs a resume item. Because they sure won't make a living off it, unless they are able to corral several of the sites under one plan.
I mentioned some of this to my friend in Intermediae. She was of the opinion that the whole thing was happening too fast, and that it should be circulated rather more privately to the professionals rather than in an open call. People in social movements were already angry about the Vallekas projects, and Intermediae had to field a lot of complaints.
Well, maybe there could be a different way of doing this? One that puts to work the volunteer energies of citizens in a way that achieves actual results? We'll see how it plays out. It's a good start, but seems rather in a way timid. All the city agencies of culture and development, however, have to deal with the reality of the bureaucracy that is – despite the best intentions of many of its functionaries – as Ana Méndez said, that is a system "designed against us" (my blog post of June 15, 2017).
I can't go to these kinds of presentations without having my own ideas. It's almost like a kind of disease with me, I'm afraid. I imagine myself an architect, while I am only a reporter. My thoughts this time included a rotating Feria de Economia Solidaridad y Vecinos Artesenales going around to all the sites. And a “cardboard city” like the adventure playgrounds built by children, constructed under the watchful eye of young facilitators and watched at night by security guards. This would also rotate amongst the sites. The first of these projects would be about building economic structures that were market-based, but not capitalist – in other words, answering the question of one professor at the presentation about how these projects would include businesses, typical, he said, of these kinds of civic activation proposals. (Cities usually usually just offer business concessions in public places as an activation strategy.) As cooperatives and artisans, of course! The second project is just about play, fantasy, and the kind of spontaneous construction that takes place when you give kids a golden opportunity to build and run things by themselves. We see it in controlled and commodified form, in amusement parks and in – god help us – work-a-day play centers in childrens' museums. The post-war adventure playground movement was totally different, and largely forgotten today.
Artist Nils Norman has done work on that, archiving the traces of what amounted to a philosophy of childhood radically different from that of today. Palle Nielsen's "The Model for a Qualitative Society," produced indoors in Sweden in 1968 is the most well-known (though little-known as well) example of this. Ah '68! Those visions of liberty never die.
I contacted Madrid La Feria de la economía solidaria, which produces the annual event at Matadero, and also a website called Pop Up Adventure Play in UK to suggest they make proposals. It would be good to circulate the proposals as well to social centers if there are some in the areas of the sites. They could begin their own process of imagining, or 'collective production of desires' as did the developers of Hamburg's Park Fiction called it in the mid-1990s.
Anyhow, I wrote a couple of emails and forgot about it. Got to move on, y'kno...


Imagina Madrid: 9 Lugares por transformar

Nils Norman's archive (see also other links):

text about Palle Nielsen's project in 1968; this was included in the landmark 2014 exhibition “Playgrounds” at MACBA and MNCARS, Spain. There's a book about it, as well.:
The uncredited photo at top is from this blog post where The Model was remembered in Liverpool:

The annual fair of solidarity economy in Madrid:

Pop Up Adventure Playgrounds blog:
Park Fiction, Hamburg development process (lots more on line); the archive of citizens' desires is the part of the project that never got built:


Thursday, June 15, 2017

BCN Muni 2: Theory, Practice, Theory

(My reports on the “Fearless Cities” conference on municipalism in Barcelona are coming out rough. So I won't make any more promises about what's coming next!)
The ferociously over-determined space of the plenary sessions, the Aula Magna of University of Barcelona (19th c. medieval revival)

In a Saturday panel, “Municipalism for Dummies,” a speaker referenced the book “La Apuesta Municipal” – (the municipal bet or wager; democracy begins from the local – in Spanish, free download).
Ana Méndez was introduced as strategy advisor to Ahora Madrid, and I'm pretty sure I've seen her representing Observatorio Metropolitano. That's an independent research group on the city of Madrid that has been working for years to compile information on every part of the city. This kind of research, with links to academia but first of all militant, is key in building the base structure of a municipal movement.
(This is in contrast to academia which encloses information as part of its work of selling it and building professorial reputations, aka academic assets; this is a bind which individual figures, most notably Nicholas Mirzoeff, have fitfully sought to escape.)
To make an institution closer to the people, she said, we became researchers of the territory. Thinking of what is available, we imagine new kinds of economic models that are more in relation to the territories. Those include not only money but access to physical resources. (This has to do with the “social unionism” described by Beatriz Garcia of Instituto DM, also an Ob Met researcher.)
Another line of action of Ahora Madrid is the opening up of the institutions, changing structures that have been impenetrable to citizens. (I thought immediately of NYC Mayor Bloomberg's early innovation of a 211 telephone line for any kind of query or complaint. It cut through the maze of city agencies in a way that an internet business billionaire could conceive and implement.)
Her talk was fascinating – an exposition of “theory on your feet” borne of the hard experience of wielding municipal power. We try to understand local government functionaries – the city's bureaucrats – as inhabiting enabling structures, she said. When you get into government it is very complicated. We struggle with deep structural situations. Government in Spain is mainly on an administrative scale, requiring a very specifiic kind of managing which is in the detail of the law. The devil is in the details, and these are not systems that were designed by us. We wrestle with the codes that order the social activity that produces the state, and what we understand as municipalism.
Classical politics is built on inside/outside relations. It is built on demands which are answered or denied. Our question is how to do otherwise, how to build platforms that can make structural proposals. The in/out relation is less clear – now we are out/out, in/in, etc. We have not developed the tools to deal with the social movements from this complexity. With municipalism we are proposing local institutions that are less attached to the state organization, or state-like organization.
How can we imagine local governments that are not local branches of the state, but are the places where this state structure meets reality with all its complexities? It's like, how can we desflecar – like threads on cloth. How can we open the threads on this very heavy structure of the state?
All the power is in the mayor who delegates by decree (like a chocolate fountain). But the city is not a tree – the city government shouldn't be a tree, society is not made like that. It's a very hierarchical structure.We are faced with structures that don't understand the overlapping of things.
She said this is a question of what researchers on organization call “information ontology” – the system, the names which institutions use to name the world is rooted, and clings in a way that is very deep. We face a 25-year-old machine designed by the rightwing Popular Party. “It has tendencies.” We little by little open up spaces, making redistribuution, making other things happen – this has to do with this feminization of politics.
The question of citizen participation is a great shift in the mentality around governance.
Kate Shea Baird, coordinator for Barcelona en comu's international committee and a key conference organizer, moderated this session. At one point, during a discussion of problems, she remarked that when we think of the opportunities and limits of municipalism, we need always to think of the alternative. Another on the panel agreed, citing a saying in Catalan, “If we don't do politics, politics will be made against us.”
Beppe Caccia of Venezia in Comune buttered us up. “I think there are very few dummies here. Most are already working.” As a political culture municipalism does not need to be “a new ideological item, or discourse.” We need to connect a plurality of political cultures with our daily practice. We cannot even discuss models. We have to discuss single examples like the exempla of Spinoza's ethics.
Municipalist political culture has always been a minoritarian one, even in left political cultures. He said. The workers movement, for example, has always been a state-centered political culture. There is an idolatry of the state on the left. The state is the driving force of capitalist development. The state is also the possible regulator of wealth distribution and possible provider of social protection.
Even so, new municipalist culture emerges again and again in transition times. Now, following Gramsci, we are in the time of interregnum. The old economic and social models are dying. New social forces, new economic models of common life are striving to affirm themselves. These are dangerous times, times of monsters. The resistance of the old creates reactionaries – nationalism, protectionism, authoritarian responses. This is a crucial time. New social forces are emerging and looking for tools, for theoretical weapons to achieve radical structural social transformation.
The main impact of austerity policies has been on cities, rending the urban social fabric over the past 10 years. The logic of political reputation has been challenged in the past decade mostly from below, by developing new forms of social organization. (Not sure this has been true in USA, though!) In the late 1990s, the focus was on participatory democracy and participatory budgeting. Now participation is empty of significnce. It has become about building consensus, not building democracy from below.
Why we are winning elections is, after the new cycle of social movements, there is a desire, a demand to have a different way of governing our towns, villages, and cities. We take a three-fold approach to establishing municipalist practice. First, there must be a strong social dynamic from below. Second we must be able to build confluences, and construct new political platforms. These are not the same as social movements; they assume the demands of social dynamics and formulate a political project. Finally we work to transform the city institutions.
Soon we broke into small groups. I was supposed to send in my report, but I never did it. That's okay. Prensa will never get back to me on my query about the substitute speaker's name, so... it evens out. More soon!


Pablo Carmona and Observatorio Metropolitano, “La Apuesta Municipal” from Traficante de Suenos in Spanish, free download).
Observatorio Metropolitano independent research group on the city of Madrid http://www.observatoriometropolitano.org/
An Italian perspective on militant research (Ephemera journal on the theory and politics of organization has a special issue on the subject)

Instituto DM – Instituto para la Democracia y el Municipalismo

Last lunch at the "Fearless Cities" conference -- paella

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Meeting for Fearless Cities in Barcelona 1

Back from the inspiring summit on municipalism in Barcelona, produced by the city government there. That is the new political movement which corporate media misread as left populism – or simply ignore. There is so much to process – notes by hand and on computer, the posts by many participants in English and Spanish, the streams appearing and disappearing, and the sprawling website itself, that... Well, here is a start.
Most of the time there I spent with a U.S. delegation – (there was more than one, but the one I was invited to seemed to vanish) – comprised of hardcore political activists. Working Families Party operatives, Democratic Socialists and Black Lives Matter people predominated. Their discussions were intense and focussed on building electoral campaigns. It was exciting to watch them grappling with the tenets of the municipalist program and ideology. It seems simple: It's direct democracy, high ethics, transparency, and at the center feminism, ecology and the care economy.
There are many rough stumbling blocks along the path to realizing or using these new ideas in practical political organizing. (They're really not so new; ancient, actually, but refashioned.) I know these folks will get it together, though. And I am convinced, through spending time with these energetic, committed and intelligent political activists that we're going to see some dramatic electoral results on the local level around the USA. I'm sure I was in the room with many future elected leaders – but people who also know that the ration of glory high office holds is not what their work is all about.
This was a wildly diverse conference, with people from so many countries, and so many sessions I could not hold names and positions together. I just tried to keep up with the conversations. Now I'm giving only a mostly anonymized taste of some of that talk. Please comment if you wish to add some detail.
Arriving for the conference, I was fortunate to have a solidarity apartment from an Italian professor and writer on Spanish politics. Steven Forti presented on Italian municipalist platforms in the conference, while running around doing things for his radio station as well. Almost immediately I ran into some SqEK academic/activist comrades – Miguel Martinez, Claudio Cattaneo who lives in Can Masdeu, Julia Ramírez Blanco, Andrej Holm and Galvao Santos.
The first event of Fearless Cities was a welcome in the public square in front of the art museum MACBA. (I longed to see the show inside of “Forensic Architecture” and punk in contemporary art, but – no time for my love.) We heard Ada Colau, the mayor of the city and head of Barcelona en comu, the political platform that has taken power in the city government. She welcomed us “back to the squares” in springtime, a reference to the 15M movement of 2011 where in a sense it all began. That pivotal Spanish political event was one among many “movements of the squares,” including the US Occupy. Numerous recently-elected dignataries spoke, including Madrid's own mayor Manuela Carmena. The event was live-streamed, and is still online (in Spanish only, however; highlights also, all over-dubbed in Spanish). [NOTE: In mid-July, the YouTube channel of Barcelona En Comú has uploaded many of the panels. Most are in Spanish, but some are in English.]

Photo: Manuela Carmena y Ada Colau at opening of Fearless Cities

The next day saw an opening plenary with statements from muck-a-mucks in BCN en comu laying out their ideas. Much is online also from the earlier conferences on municipalism produced by the Spanish platforms – the July, 2016 MAC1 and January, 2017 MAC/K-2 conferences on muncipalism. Short videos were produced which feature reflections by many participants (search #MAK2; the first MAK saw afterwards an important assemblage of texts on the transversal website – see my own post here “Where Does Municipalism Come From? II” from February 2017 for a precis). The big difference now is that these folks have been governing for a while now, and their ideas are tempered – chastened in some cases, stronger in others.
Still optimism and inspiration ruled the day. Looking at some of the conference-time tweets conveys some sense of the lead themes as seen by conference organizers and speakers:

Kate Shea Baird‏ (a key organizer of BCN en comu's international group) @KateSB – “Can the municipality be a space of self government rather than the local branch of the state?” asks @anametropolitan

“Municipalism is not about implementing progressive policies,but about giving power back to ordinary people.” – @debbiebookchin #FearlessCities (she's the daughter of Murray, the revered theorist of libertarian municipalism)

"Without the soil of fear, the 1% can't win" @drvandanashiva

“We must put life and care at the centre of politics! 💚”

"Gender equality isn't about specific policies for women. Gender must be integrated in all public policy" @L_Makeba

"Without feminism there is no revolution of municipalism" Laura Perez Castano - Councillor for Feminism and LGBTI, BCN en comu

"We measure the amount of time men and women speak in meetings to visibilize inequalities and reduce them"

“Ada Colau (mayor of Barcelona): States are slow, authoritarian and patriarchal. Against this municipalism is a must, it is morally obligatory.” #FearlessCities

“When the states fail to assume their responsibilities, cities should step in. This is why we need more #FearlessCities working together.”

"Intelligence, diversity and self-organization are the essence of life, and it's stronger than fear" @drvandanashiva in #FearlessCities

“There is no one size fits all in municipalism. You have to find your formula"

Social Protection instruments for housing are not enough without civic mobilization @AndrejHolm #FearlessCities

More than the pep talks and high-flown rhetoric to which the left is addicted, the “Fearless” conference included numerous discussions of ground-level strategy on how municipalist platforms in different cities were built. There were fascinating statements of the kind of new subjectivities the movement was both based on and was constructing. And there were discussions about how to apply some of these lessons in the USA.
I listened to a lot of it, but know I missed a lot as well. The organizers handled the event as well as may be expected, given the language divide between Spanish and English.
The need for efficient organizing in the USA is now so urgent I prioritized sessions on strategy and application. The best of these I saw was in English, “Como creat una canidatura municipalista y participatia” (title in Catalan in the program, go figure).

The US contingent of organizers held their own sessions and breakouts. You could feel the urgency in their meetings. One session I came in on dealt with white supremacy, and the personal damage of racism. (Other sessions I missed considered neo-fascism.) It was very affecting to hear the stories of oppression people of color are often reluctant to share. From the terrible shared childhood experience of "Mommy, what's a nigger?" to the the call from the agency after you have rented the apartment, "Oh, we made a mistake, it's already rented."
These are stories white folks read about, from the children of families trying to better their situation who were kicked in the face on their way up the ladder – as you are reading now. But to hear people tell them, and to see the effect these oppressions experienced as children, had as remembered by mature people is to realize something fundamental about the nature of our rotten society. And as well, to see something of the motor spring of revolutionary intention. During lunch, one white conferee from Canada asked me, when will there be a truth and reconciliation commission in the USA as there had been with indigenous people up north?
Yes, white organizers need to relearn the lessons of the New Left, and let organizers of color lead. This was such a sturdy, intelligent, sensitive and militant bunch!
But when some tried to generalize to Europe as, yes, ideological cradle of white supremacy, the contemporary application of the argument broke down. In Europe it is Muslims who are the oppressed and racialized minority, and also most of the refugees and the terrorists. The “M” word was not spoken during that US session. But it struck me then that Barack Hussein Obama was for the extreme right in the USA a convenient way to displace and deny their racism. When Trump inveighed against Muslims while before he had denied Obama had been born in the US, he was playing to a deep-seated Other-izing fear of white USAians stretching all the way back to Malcolm X. It wasn't a dog whistle, it was a fog horn. And it was a lesson learned by the US extreme right from the international neofascist movement.
A key question for me at this conference was how could the US progressive left and its various movements use the lessons of Spanish municipalism? How does it differ from the practice of politics in the USA?


YouTube channel of Barcelona En Comú

About “MACs & MAKs” – “MAC” stands for “Muncipalismo, Autogobierno y Contrapoder”
the first was July 2016, in Málaga, in Andalucia in the south of Spain
videos posted on YouTube by Fundación de los Comunes the second was in January of 2017, in in Pamplona, called Iruña (“en euskera y cooficialmente, Iruña”), with different initials: MAK 2 because it was also in Basque language
videos posted by Pamplonauta Iruñea, and Fundación de los Comunes
The third MAC in A Coruña, slated for October of 2017, will also be in Galego, the regional language of Galicia

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Kunst und Gentrifizierung in Berlin

Poster for the 1980 show, by Andy Baird of Artpolice

I participated in an art show this June, “The Real Estate Show Extended,” Berlin edition. The title refers to our famous/notorious exhibition in New York City in 1980, when the BeeGees were still big. We took over a building to mount a show of art protesting the exploitation of artists and the eviction of tenants in Lower East Side social housing – the early stages of what has become a global problem – gentrification.
This show-in-occupation was remembered and reprised in NYC itself in 2014 in four galleries and at the place that came out of the original Real Estate Show, ABC No Rio. The Cuchifritos project space in the old Essex Market also held a part of the extended RES show – a Free Speech center, where passersby and community members were informed about the impending plans to develop the enormous parcel of vacant land where the 1980 RES took place.
A curator from Berlin, Matthias Mayer, saw the show there and invited Becky Howland to mount a version of it in Berlin. We helped him produce a show of documentation from the original RES, and participated in the “RES Extended” alongside Berlin artists.
It was great to see old comrades again – Becky, Peter Moennig, and Joseph Nechvatal. We are all still making art, and despite our separate life courses, we all recognize that our project of 37 years ago was prescient. Gentrification has turned out to be the way Big Capital rolls now, destroying big city neighborhoods and reconstructing them as rich folks' quarters. It's a major problem for working class people and artists.
I made two “zines” for this show – collages, actually, in the form of newspapers. Each one hung on a cafe reading stick (Zeitungsstock). One concerned the events at the Free Speech center and the giant development proposed in '14, and now a-building. The second concerned gentrification itself, and the erasure of bohemia in both Berlin and New York.

Panel with Becky Howland (NYC), Peter Mönnig (Cologne), Alan Moore (Madrid), Joseph Nechvatal (Paris). Moderated by Howard McCalebb (Dada Post, Berlin). Photo by Anne Fatoyinbo

I want to describe these zines in later posts. But first I'll talk a little about the show itself. The documentary part opened in a small art space in Kolonie-Wedding, a district well to the north of Berlin's Mitte (Spor Klübü project space). The housing is fine old stock, and full of working class families, including many of Turkish descent. The neighborhood was sehr gemuetlich – quiet, children playing, folks lounging out front of cafes – it was hard to realize how rapidly it was being transformed. In Berlin the landlords' scheme is to upgrade the infrastructure in an old building, needed or not, and then raise the rent through the roof. I stayed in an AirBnB apartment not far from the first show venue where this had happened. The room was great, light-filled with a balcony, and three very nice young roommates. The person who let the room had moved out with her boyfriend for the time I would be there. They needed my money to make their rent.
In this case, AirBnB buffers gentrification, giving young people a strategy to manage high rents.
I met Fred Dewey at the opening of that show. He's from Los Angeles. There and in Berlin, Fred organized neighborhood councils. He wrote a book about that, and his other adventures. Now he's into Hannah Arendt's political philosophy, leading a reading group this summer. We sat down for a conversation in his apartment near Templehof. (A report on that will also be coming along here soon.) Later we went for a walk to the vast disused airfield. Development plans there were halted by a community referendum. No political party supported that, but it went through. For the moment, Templehof is a vast public commons, with a small community garden area, places to picnic grill, and numerous runners, bikers and kiters.
The second show of the RESx-B included a large number of Berlin artists, and was held at a space called Kunst Punkt in Mitte. I hung around there for days during the install, but not many conversations happened. Everyone was just working on their piece, the way artists do when preparing for a show.
The opening was mobbed, however. And the talk the next day, with the three of us “veterans” on stage, was also well-attended.
For my part, I had to make a relevant noise. I began the panel talk with a kind of performance. I asked how many knew who Andrej Holm was? Not very many, maybe 5 or 10 raised hands. This matters because Andrej Holm was appointed as Berlin's housing minister under the new red-green-red coalition government elected last year. A concerted defamation campaign against him caused the government to dismiss him. Soon after he was fired from his university position at Humboldt as well.
In reponse to that action, students of the sociology faculty occupied their part of the university. “Holm bleibt!” they cried – “Holm stays.” (#HolmBleibt will fill you in on their action and manifestos.) And so did I, in the art gallery, while banging on a beer bottle with a stick of wood. The point? You need laws to protect tenants and neighborhoods. Holm was fired because he would help to draft them, and see that they were enforced rather than exceptioned and looking the other way.
Andrej Holm is Germany's expert on gentrification. His case study is Berlin. He is also a member of our SqEK network of squatting researchers, so he has learned from that movement and its strategies of self-organization.
Then I held up a poster from the Köpenicker Strasse squat's street festival, a “festival of counterculture.” I had passed by there on my way to the gallery. The streets all around the Köpi, as it is known were full of police vans, waiting. These events often end with a riot – although when I passed by the music was just beginning on the blocked-off street, and kids were playing with their parents.
I said that in order to preserve housing and communities and cultural spaces you need law. That would have been Andrej's job. But you also need “anti-law” – disobedience, contest and disorder. The punk culture which impels, animates and preserves squats like the Köpi is something Berlin is famous for. It not only animates the milieu of bohemia, it is a concrete path for working class kids who didn't go to art school or music academy to enter into a kind of artistic life. It is also a solidarity experience for many marginalized and dysfunctional people, folks with mental problems, addicts, or just young misfit toys in the capitalist playing field.
Andrej Holm in a photo from the publication Taz.de

Afterwards I had an argument about this from a fellow who insisted the punks needed to be dealt with because they took property and did not follow rules. Well, the property is not being used, and not following the rules is kind of the point of punk culture. Anyhow, punks have their own rules which are in effect as strict as “straight” society. And social solidarity for society's outcasts means they aren't sitting around public parks and skulking on streetcorners.
But the place is so dirty, a terrible eyesore! With the Wagenplatz nearby, there are mounds of garbage. Could it be that the city is deliberately not picking this stuff up? Imagine if, instead of repressing them, and feeding the aggressive self-defensive side of the punk culture the city cooperated with these places. They are not as chaotic as they appear. There is a plenum, an assembly, which runs the place through open meetings. There are lawyers who protect them, or they wouldn't still be there. These places and these people would act differently if they didn't always have to defend themselves so strongly.
Finally, I showed the back cover of Erick/a Lyle's most recent issue of SCAM zine with an image by Barry McGee. What is more, sez me, important artists have come out of the squatter punk subculture. And that's not to mention innumerable musicians, like the Clash – although this is rarely a part of the official biographies of those who promote them.
On my last day in town I waited on the street to meet Matthias on a lonely stretch of Frankfurter Allee, in the shadow of the Plattenbau housing complexes built by the East German government. There, right next to the Stasi museum, the artists' coalition he works with is scheduled to receive some run-down buildings to develop as artists' studios.
I had it all planned out for him by the time he arrived, whether he wanted to hear it or not. They should open a cafe in the part with the nicest door, and next to it a bookstore and women's center. The cafe should be run by a politically-minded workers' co-op. That way, if they succeed, they might be able to spin off another business into the neighborhood. The bookstore, similarly constituted, can provide venues for poets and writers. Artists in the building should be required to do at least some hours of collective labor regularly so they have to interact with the community. Included in that can be sittting in the bookstore, a semi-social activity, or working in the cafe. Both of these projects would be open to the public and would materially enrich the neighborhood's cultural resources which are bleak-to-nonexistent.
Of course there are all sorts of regulations you have to observe for every different activity... the more money the less freedom.
We'll see.

"The Real Estate Show" Documentation of the original show from 1980 from ABC No Rio's Archive, organized by Becky Howland & Matthias Mayer
May 27-June 27, 2017 at Spor Klübü project space, Kolonie Wedding, Berlin

The Real Estate Show Extended / Berlin @ Kunstpunkt Berlin – June 3-24, 2017
Schlegelstr. 6, 10115 Berlin – Opening hours: Wed-Sat, 14:00-18:00


"The Real Estate Show Extended -- Changes on the Fly" has not yet been reviewed... this is an artist's site:

A fine review for Studio Int'l online, "Lower East Side: The Real Estate Show Redux," by Natasha Kurchanova

Nice blurb on Fred Dewey's book "School of Public Life"

SqEK network's biggest conference, in Barcelona in 2015, has the best developed website


Hunh! Here's a video about the Spanish PAH with Andrej pacing around up front...

Die Köpi (auch Køpi) ist ein 1990 besetztes und 1991 legalisiertes Haus in der Köpenicker Straße 137"... I did not know it was legalized.

A traveler's recent experience in a Wagenplatz (2015); by "leetheperm":

SCAM, Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Issue, Erick Lyle (Editor)

Yes, the Stasi Museum. Yow!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

“Ungovernable” – From the Street to the Center

It's an inspiring thing to see popular power at work. To see the people assembling, moving through the streets, excited, with bubbles of jubilance, chanting, singing, carrying signs and banners – and then acting.
This just happened again in Madrid. There was a demonstration last Saturday, 6th of May, “Madrid no se vende” – Madrid is not for sale. I've been working on the theme of gentrification for a show in Berlin, so of course I had to go to this manifestation of the resistance in my city. The “mani” assembled in a tight little plaza not far distant from the Puerta del Sol, epicenter of touristic Madrid. “Maybe it's only a concentracion, not a manifestacion,” my partner suggested. Perhaps there won't be so many people.
But as the noon hour approached, the crowd began to build, hundreds filling all four corners of the plaza. The police – national in this case, who control civil demonstrations – closed the streets, and the marchers set off down a quaint old street lined with touristic shops. These aren't crappy places, but nicely done, reeking of authenticity, and sprinkled with genuine old businesses.
By now I was beginning to wonder a bit that the “mani” did not seem so very focussed on the questions around touristic gentrification. No denunciations of Air BnB. Rather it was a crowd of folks representing their affiliations.
There was the PAH, the famous housing rights activists and campaigners, in their green vests and t-shirts. Everywhere folks were wearing “No se vende” neckerchiefs. (I gotta get one.) Many bicyclists, some with “bicycle life” t-shirts. “Open the borders” shoulder bags. A group of Africans with a banner and signs, “right to papers” (“papeles por derecho”). “#stop buitres”, the “vulture capital” firms that have been buying up public housing from the previous city council. “Por un Madrid respirable”, a Madrid you can breathe, anti-smog, probably Ecologists in Action. A woman wearing a placard advertising for a place to rent! Folks wearing t-shirts of their barrios – Carabanchel, Arganzuela, and the ever-radical Vallekas. Radio El Salto is doing interviews. (El Salto is a new media project, a consolidation of two other left outlets.) Men wearing “castizo” hats. I didn't see the Yayoflautas “in uniform,” but there were plenty of older folks like me there. Everyone led by a sound truck plastered with posters and banging out dance music.
At the hour mark, I left them marching down calle Atocha, and headed home to make lunch.
To my surprise and delight, I learned on Monday that the crowd of the “Madrid no se vende” demonstration had supported the taking of a building in the very heart of the city, across the street from the Prado Museum. An ancient heritage building, formerly a university, then a health clinic, now – la Ingobernable, the Ungovernable social center.
This action expresses the frustration that many social movements have with the recently elected city government, Ahora Madrid. After long years of right-wing rule, the new council has been slow to realize change. Their motions have been fitful, and much of their energy consumed with internal strife.
After a year away from Madrid, I had expected to return to something politically exciting. I left just after Ahora Madrid was elected, so I looked forward to new cultural opportunities, and a blossoming of citizens' initiatives supported by the city council. That isn't the case. They are working, and there are signs of it, but it's all been quite sluggish and unspectacular. Meanwhile, business as usual marches on, and the big news is the corruption of the previous administration, not the initiatives of the new one.
The public art agency of the council, Intermediae, has commissioned architects to make maps of citizen services and projects in the barrios outside the center. These projects are useful, no doubt. And the groups of architects involved – Basurama, Zuloark, and Todo por la Praxis – are skillful and ingenious. But they haven't ramped up at all since the election, and so far as the social movements are concerned, this is pretty small beans. The systemic problems of the city to be confronted, baked in by years of insider governance and corruption, are much greater.
At a meeting in January, a packed house of squatting movement(s) activists complained of the indifference of the city government to their claims. Patio Maravillas, the thrice-evicted now homeless social center, complained that it was impossible to open any place in the center of the city, only in the peripheral barrios. EVA Arganzuela begged for participation. I later walked around this giant popular market, now shuttered with weeds growing out of it, and wondered what happened to the surge of people who stopped its development as a riverside shopping mall. The citizens of the barrio “won,” but now everything is frozen, on hold, awaiting a normalized process of development.
So clearly a great sense of frustration with the pace of change, and the opportunities the new city council has not offered to citizens' initiatives, lies behind the new Ingobernable. Now frustration has turned into action.
The news of this occupation first appeared on an Italian website! They published the manifesto: “We are surrounded by abundance and opportunities to improve our society.” The feminist movement in Madrid expresses, thinks and acts to transform society, to make it more just, and put sustainable life at the center of an ecological vision. They declare for “the joyful self-organization of people in the face of the desperate paralysis of public institutions.”
Coming out of a demonstration for the “right to the city,” Ingobernable will be a “hub of social self-organization” in the heart of the city. (As it happens, on calle Gobernador!)
Emmanuel Rodriguez of the recently-formed Institute for Democracy and Municipalism declared the move a “practical criticism of the spectacle city.” Madrid is not sold!, as canned leisure to the “army of suitcases with casters that day after day leave the airport towards the center.”
The social center is “something material and positive. To open a social center is to create a living space... a reality that does not wait for the administration, which in fact does not need it at all. It is civil society at its best.” It gives a new job to an abandoned facility, “taking advantage of a social wealth” that has only been used for speculation or corruption.
The building occupied by the activists is an old one, a heritage building. Owned by the city, it was given to an architect by the former mayor so that he might make a museum in it – that is, it was removed from its public uses (as university and then health center) and placed in line to the realm of touristic spectacle.
But nothing can ever be so simple as the rhetoric of action proposes. The architect in question, Emilio Ambasz, is a pioneer green architect, praised by urban visionary Michael Sorkin. Sorkin's students worked on green design for a South Bronx okupa in the 1990s. In my ideal world, Ambasz would visit Ingobernable, then, with city council support, work with the architectural collectives Intermediae has already contracted to produce a truly dynamic, continually evolving “museum” of the architecture of civic participation. This is what Ingobernable proposes to do by themselves. We'll see if governance itself up to the challenge.


“#MadridNoSeVende, nuova occupazione in centro: nasce 'La ingovernable',” "Dinamo" press online, 8 May 2017

La Ingobernable, manifesto and web page

"Del 6M a La Ingobernable," Emmanuel Rodríguez (@emmanuelrog), Público, 6 May 2017
(Público, formerly a print daily, is now online; best consistent coverage of social center occupations after 15M monthly paper itself.



Radio El Salto



"Social Centers in the New Cycle of Politics" meeting at Traficante de Suenos, January 2017


David Harvey, "Right to the City" article

"Ungovernability" -- it's not just for riots anymore!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Revival of Anarchist Art in Spain

It's been some years since I attended a show and talk in Madrid put on by the youth section of the Spanish anarchist union, CNT in the arts faculty of a public university. This production of the Juventudes Libertarias (libertarian youth) was disappointing – yellowing reproductions of 1930s anarchist posters, a long talk by a published anarchist author about a Chilean pamphlet “against art and artists”, and a circle of bored head-scratching grafiteros sitting around, clearly more from duty than interest. “Anarchist art” seemed to be pretty much stuck in the past, with wheels spinning quite slowly.
I sat there for two days with materials I'd brought from the USA – posters and publications of political art that even today remains largely unseen in Europe. My display was ignored. The only interest in this work came from two sociology students from another campus. After that I pretty much wrote off anarchist culture in Madrid.

But I was wrong. Time have changed! The JACA 2017 (for Jornadas de Arte y Creatividad Anarquistas), presented at various spaces in April in Madrid, was an exponentially more developed program. I missed nearly everything since I've been away from Spain for a while. But I did catch a discussion about an important rolling initiative aimed at building a counter-institutional sphere of art practice.
Three organizers from Valencia spoke at the JACA segment held in the ESLA Eko occupied social center. They had just concluded a presentation called “AnArco: liberal art vs. libertarian art.” in conjunction with the Anarchist Book Fair in Valencia. That program included pieces by dozens of artists and collaborating groups, nearly all doing work in political social practice, performance, video, and traditional media.
Upstairs in ESLA Eko, JACA organizers had put up some of this – large forceful black and white photocopies pieced and pasted on the wall, piles of scattered stickers, hanging screens, video monitors, a built masonry wall, a giant tree trunk pencil in a carriage, as well as conventional artworks. A full program of discussions, music and theater took place at the other JACA locations. I looked in briefly on one, a large group of older people recalling the years-long film festival now defunct hosted in Carabanchel, the barrio wherein ESLA Eko is situated.
The Valencia presentations came out of an earlier project in the Madrid barrio of Vallekas at a place called ABM confecciones. That was called “Art and libertarian propaganda” in a nod to the prevailing conception of anarchist art, that is as a poster art in service of social movements. This tradition continues strong in the USA, notably with the propaganda work of Interference Archive, the Art & Revolution project, and the recent highly productive “art builds” undertaken in San Francisco, Milwaukee, Chicago and New York to make materials for demonstrations.

The shows are only part of this rolling initiative. The guts of it are the continuous discussions around what an anarchist art, a libertarian art might mean, what it can be. The project and the shows are open to participation, and their terms are hashed out in many meetings of many different assemblies. This is never without conflict, for sue, since artists and anarchists both love to argue. “We are caught between the monsters of art and libertarianism,” one of the Valencian organizers told us at Eko.
What struck my quite conventional antennae of course was the participation of Santiago Sierra in the JACA show. Probably the best known Spanish political artist, he was there alongside the Democracia collaborative, whose publication work I've seen dropped here and there in non-art venues. (They showed part of their 'opera,' “Dinner at the Dorchester.”) But this was full-throated participation in an art show in a squatted space. Conventionally, that should be a big deal, rather as if Marcel Duchamp had put a piece into your little show in a bookshop in Paris in the '30s. But come to think of it, that would probably have also been unremarked at the time. As it surely will be this time. After all, the Rubells don't collect Sierra, do they? That's why they call it avant garde, well ahead of the pack.
Sierra put in a serious piece, one of his “Monuments to Civil Disobedience” dedicated to the venue itself, ESLA Eko. The works of this series come out as editions. Perhaps I should buy one, since the Rubells won't. Eko, of course, is still around, unlike the Spanish Republic Sierra's work has eulogized. And it is indeed a remarkable place, and its own monument. It's part of the world being built under our noses as most eyes are averted to the tiny screens we love so well.
Santiago Sierra, "Monumento a la desobediencia civil" at Eko.

I perused the linked list of artists and groups working in the Valencia AnArco project. It's a big fascinating job, and I only began it. One that jumped out at me was a project by Dos Jotas in Madrid called "Institutional Gray". This was their contribution (2015) to an ongoing institutionally sanctioned mural project which is unfolding on the block-long back wall of the Tabacalera self-organized cultural center. Dos Jotas painted the wall gray. Whatever appeared as "volunteer," they painted over, also in a shade of gray. (It's the same procedure as the filmmakers of the 2001 work "The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal," although active, not documentary.) It's a great instance of what Stevphen Shukaitis calls a strategy of over-identification with the ongoing repression of street art in Madrid as in most cities.

But I don't know if that work was shown. The JACA and AnArco gangs surely did not have the resources to mount the artists' works in ways that institutions do. Like Alán Carrasco's Geschichtsaufarbeitung (like, "history workup"), a campaign of letters written to Spanish companies that profited from slave labor under the Franco dictatorship asking them what they were doing about that, since German companies with similar histories had conttributed to a fund compensating victims' families.
Dos Jotas and Carrasco are but two from the impressive roster of artists who participated in the ABM show, the AnArco, and/or the JACA events, artists with solid backgrounds of intriguing and provocative political work. Most of these artists' work of course has been done in institutional contexts – schools, museums, art centers – not in places like Eko. Squatted social centers usually have great street art on the walls outside and murals inside, theater, circus, poetry, and music groups and events. But it's never been clear what kind of relation the recent wave of social practice art – or 'social sculpture' to use the old Beuysian term – could or would have to the squatting movement. Would it find a place in these centers with their punky freak-flag-flying alternative positions so zealously maintained?
Now my question is being answered in the best possible manner, by action. And it is gangly, wildly articulated, and unconventional productive action. The Vallekas event was “halfway between a show, a distributor and a place to debate about the anti-authoritarian struggle and the relevance of the alternative” [sphere] (Paris, 2015). The artists and collectives were less “in the show” than in relation, in discussion.
Having stepped out of the institutional sphere for which, and in reaction to which most of their work has been designed, these artists have entered into a practice of composition, in the terms of the Autonomists. Chatting with Marc Herbst about this, he wrote: “composition, first is, figuring out who you are. Becoming self composed (like you know, clearing one's throat before beginning to sing). Politics are an inside-outside tack of growth, so self-composing occurs throughout a process, where the group gathers steam and self-awareness.” In writing this little notice, I am trying to help in this process of composition, even as I also am being composed. I want to help because I want to find myself.


The online reports of these events are all in Spanish. I use Google translate with fair results. The most complete account I've seen so far is:
Enric Llopis as SPMujer, “'AnArco': Arte anarquista frente al arte liberal,” 16 Abril, 2016 at:
This includes a valuable account of Luis Navarro Monedero's participation, an artist and theorist whose influence is quite important.

See also:
Germano Paris, "Arte y propaganda libertaria en Encarnación González 8 (Vallecas)", in ¿Qué pasa aquí?, Difusión, Octubre 6, 2015 at:

The Vallekas show was also covered in the print publication “Todo por Hacer: Publicación Anarquista Mensual,” a monthly Madrid anarchist sheet I have not seen

ABM confecciones is on Facebook; a video shows a hand drawing on the wall: “We don't want to be a gallery.”

Manifiesto of JACA
tabs also contain the program and participating spaces

View of JACA show at Eko. Caption: "This show is currently out of entrepreneurship. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused."