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

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