The SqEK group’s 10th annual meeting was held in Madrid in late October. The Squatting Everwhere Kollective organized with Madrid social centers, and activists of the housing group PAH. (PAH, for Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca, is the network of Spanish housing activists which came out of the financial crisis of 2008; they work with people displaced first for mortgage default, and more recently for privatization of public housing, resisting evictions, demonstrating and occupying.) This report is put together from collective notes shared with the group.
The focus of the SqEK was “one full day on Squatting for Housing, and another day on Squatting and Migration.” Mornings were given over to presentation and discussion of research papers, sharing of activist experiences, posters, videos, etc. Evenings saw talks with activists and some collective debates. The meeting included visits to different squatted spaces across the city and environs.
The conference began with a welcome dinner at the cooperative Achuri bar on calle de Argumosa in Lavapies. It’s an ‘alternative’ gathering place, hung with anti-fascist posters.
La Casika, Mostoles
The next morning, conferees trained out to Mostoles, a city near Madrid Central, to La Casika. An activist from the social center met the conferees to present the CSO, which is housed in an old-style low-rise building. She announced she is being evicted in early November. Squats have disappeared in Madrid Central, and now it is even rare to have squats in the periphery of Madrid. La Casika is used as a social center but offers support for people with housing issues.
This social center was occupied 22 years ago by an antifascist group. Over the years, there have been many refurbishments in the house, “to keep it alive.” The program includes groups of self defense, yoga, feminists, animal rights, prison support, drug addiction assistance, and more, organized by both activist groups and neigbours. La Casika also organizes “Corto y Cambio,” a popular short film festival, and a jazz festival. There are summer concerts and wall climbing.
The city administration wants to demolish La Casika as part of their renovation plan for the Mostoles city center. The collective stopped three eviction attempts. These were juidicial successes because the government made mistakes. Now in the fourth attempt, they will likely succeed. The court cases have taken different judicial paths – criminal, civil – now it's administrative.
Conferees asked for consent to take photographs and make recordings. "In Spain we like to take photographs, so we can show to the outside there is many people." SqEKers were invited to a solidarity party for migrant minors in La Ingobernable squat tomorrow. [La Ingobernable center, in an occupied city university building, was evicted in November, 2019.]
The papers scheduled for the day: Shabna Begum > Home, squat home: exploring migrant homemaking inside a squatter movement (London) / Explorando la producción migrante del hogar dentro del movimiento okupa (Londres) Matina Kapsali, Lazaros Karaliotas > Translating the common: Orfanotrofio housing squat for immigrants as a space of political subjectivation across differences (Thessaloniki) / Traduciendo lo común: la okupa Orfanotrofio para inmigrantes Nikolas Kanavaris > Refugee housing Squats as Commons (Athens) / Las okupas de refugiadas como communes (Atenas)
Bengali Squatters in East London
Shabna Begum presented her paper, “East London Bengali Squatters, Tower Hamlets, 1970s,” a historic research on migrant home-making.in a new environment. Bengali squatters occupied whole blocks of flats in East London, Spitalfields, where centuries before the East India Company had offices. Today 41% living there are still Bangladeshi.
[Note: In these notes, there is often no clear distinction between the presentation and the discussion.]
In the 1950s and ‘60s, many migrant men arrived. The 1970s saw changes in immigration laws, restricting the rights of families to join them. Housing was very precarious; the men were sleeping in shifts – “hotbunking”. The local housing council had a racist allocation system. Bengalis were kept off the waiting lists, and were housed separately. At the same time, there was "popular violent racism" from National Front skinheads.
Bengali people formed the BHAG (Bengali Housing Action Group), a word that in Bengali means both “tiger” and “share” – a radical, fierce collective, community. BHAG activists "identified with the black power movement," adopting a racial identity. Their strategy was to squat in density, and to establish vigilante patrols to ensure security and safety. The home then extended onto the street; to be at home was understood as to be safe in your community, in your area. They did this for two years, pressuring the council to provide better conditions.
For Bengali squatters in the 1970s, home was a space both meaningful and political, space for solidarity and resistance. Begum used oral history of people involved, to ask how people reflect upon those experiences, and how they feel about home. Begum interviewed five men and three women in Bengali. Everything must be translated to English. She used theory of feminist geography to explore home space as material and affective, connected to both London and home in Bangladesh. Unique problems: for example, Bengali does not have a direct match with the word "home".
Begum saw this migration and squatting narrative as in danger of being lost. Other accounts of daily lives in squatting include: Matt Cook in the 1970s, worked with gay squats and their "everyday lived experience", including new family dynamics and domestic arrangements (“Gay Times: Identity, Locality, Memory, and the Brixton Squats in 1970s London”). Christine Wall (?) wrote on feminist squats in 1970s (“Sisterhood and Squatting in the 1970s: Feminism, Housing and Urban Change in Hackney”).
"These are exceptional cases – more often, migrants were not organising like this." Bengalis felt directly targeted, and saw themselves as a cohesive group with a separate housing interest. They were supported by white squatters, especially legally. Squatting then was not yet criminalised. "This was also temporary for them."
Since the 1990s there's been a criminalization. Because of the media campaign against squatters, many people now use the word "occupy", not "squat". Discussion of research on “racialised identity”. In London, the Remembering Olive Collective (ROC) worked on issues of black education.
Migrant Squats in Thessaloniki, Greece
Matina Kapsali spoke about the Orfanotrofio housing squat for immigrants as a space of political subjectification across difference – “Translating the Commons”. Squatting disrupts the dominant order of cities, but constructs political spaces of solidarity. As per Jacques Rancière, “politics is world-making”. The “production of emancipatory realities” must be created by outcasts of the hegemony. While equality is presupposed, dissensus is important (citation: “Ten Theses on Politics”).
The method of the paper was informal conversations with migrants & activists. Many initiatives came from a “wave of solidarity" with migrants, the “corridors of solidarity” via Turkey through the Balkans to Europe which included squats and makeshift camps, and organised legal support groups.
The Orfanotrofio squat was in an orphanage owned by the Orthodox church. About 70 people lived there, families with children, 30% women. The places had rules of community. It was an institution of commoning, not a state organization nor an NGO (citation: “Citizenship as inhabitance? Migrant housing squats versus institutional accommodation” (Citizenship Studies, 2019).
Everyday life in the squat consisted of collecting goods and provisions, making events and struggling together. The building was evicted and demolished in 2016. When it was evicted, many were moved to camps, but many were taken in by friends they made while squatting.
The Orfanotrofio was an intensive political experiment. There were tensions between refugees looking to work with the state and find places to stay and access services, and the squatters’ political aims to maintain autonomous spaces and not work with and resist the state.
How was the built network different from previous anarcho squat networks? It used the same symbols and relied on similar infrastructure, but with so many "ordinary people participating" there were not so many commonalities with "traditional squat movements" of Greece.
Athens, the Big Assemblies
Discussion of the big assemblies in Athens, the “great ideas” generated. “It’s very powerful to do these networks in the city." Talk of the complex situation of migrants in Greece during the summer of 2016, moving from camps to the city, country selection, the Red Cross, etc. “We always have the issue to understand if squatting is empowering people or not."
Paper – “Refugee Housing Squats as Commons - The case of Athens and the City Plaza Hotel” (Nikolas Kanavaris). The hotel was in Exarcheia, famous as “anarchist ghetto". With the 2019 change of government to right wing from center-left Syriza in power since 2015, the hotel was evicted. (The Guardian covered the event.) While many of the migrant squats were evicted; the City Plaza actually decided not be evicted, but to close voluntarily. In many rooms, people had their luggage “ready to go”.
The author sought to understand the internal dynamics of the squat, “using the theory of commons”. He saw the "commoning" process as a "relational practice", "creating a new ethos". He focussed on assymetries of power relations, and tried to give them meaning. This involved theorizing the concept of "hospitality" at different scales – state, regional, local, etc., as an ethics of power and space which enables subjects to encounter and transform each other’s identity.
Using a spatial approach, “I want to remap hospitality as radical solidarity”. This mapping considered spaces of organization, reception, food preparation and consumption, and the more private corridors and rooms.
A Panorama of Housing Struggles in Madrid
The 2017 film "La Grieta" (The Cry) was shown. One of the directors, Alberto García Ortiz, was present. The film follows the struggle of a family in social housing in the Villaverde barrio after the crisis of 2008 when the local council sells their apartment building to a North American “vulture fund”. The film explores the complex collusion of banks and politicians as well as tenant resistance.
In the evening, a panel discussion on migration, shortage of public resources and squatting in Mostoles (municipality near Madrid) included activists from the collective of CSOA La Casika, the okupa “La Dignidad”, the Stop Evictions assembly of Móstoles, and the photographer and activist Alberto Astudillo.
The activists of La Dignidad get legal advice from a committee. One of the provisions of their new contracts was found to be abusive by the European court. “Many procedures are still stuck in court. Some we can’t appeal – but the bank can.”
We got 80.000 signatures on a petition for a new housing law, but it wasn’t discussed in the Madrid Assembly (the regional government body), as it was controlled by the right wing. They were re-elected, so now it will be even more difficult. But we keep fighting! Even though most of us don't come from law, we learned things that we can now pass on to empower people.
The collective Stop Desahucios Móstoles is one of about the many district assemblies against evictions in the Madrid region, which meet weekly to deal with mortgages, tenant issues and squats. The assemblies offer “peer to peer” legal support.
Discussion: How do evictions happen in different places?
Day 2 – Squatting for Housing and Commons
Introduction to the squat EKO – ESLA El Eko (Espacio Sociocultural Liberado Autogestionado), in barrio Carabanchel – and visit to all the floors and the roof, with brand new solar panels. Days before, Eko had endured a clumsy eviction attempt in the guise of an inspection.
In the morning, we skipped the presentations and went to a Stop Desahucios (evictions) action in Carabanchel. Legal warnings were made in advance. The police did not show up. We stayed for a few hours in front of the door and chatted with activists and neighbours (around 30 people). Squatters had been in these apartments for more than five years. There were many more squatted apartments in the same street. Most were Roma people. Some were participants in the local housing group, the PAH or the Tenants' Union. The eviction was halted / postponed, because due to the common process in Madrid to sell and re-sell flats between investment funds and banks, the entity asking for eviction was not the same on the property title, so it was blocked by the court secretary (letrado de la administracion de justicia).
The presence of the approximately 20 SqeKers, a big part of the mobilisation, was appreciated by the family involved.
After lunch, we continued with the presentations of research works.
Presentation by Hande Gulen, “Neighborhood and activism in Istanbul: space, locality and the new political forms”.
Presentation by Begüm Özden Fırat, “‘Emek will not bow down to capital’ creation of urban commons and regimes of enclosure in İstanbul”.
Beyond the dichotomy of "state" and "private property”, how can we "common" property? How to practice it in such a way that it's not "private" property, but something else?
The occupied theater was called "Emec", which also means "labour". For generations, the theater was a subcultural space with a radical heritage. In 1987 May 1st was celebrated here, even though the holiday was generally banned. It is located in Taksim, a cultural and political hotspot of Turkey.
In 2009 it was closed. In 2010, a fake "film festival opening" was announced. When people came, the protests were called. There followed monthly demonstrations against the demolition. Some marches brought 3,000 people. The demolition was seen as a symbol of the gentrification of Istambul.
Some famous film people gave the movement a face. The street in front of the theatre was "kept busy" (occupied) all the time. People, "acting like the state", asked for a "common property", produced space as "common" by performing everyday acts.
The theater had belonged to Jewish owners, but was confiscated after the 1942 "non-muslim citizen tax" law. Recalling this informed the participants how property is made! This is not so unlike what states do now in neoliberal times. They confiscate buildings, then sell them later [e.g., eminent domain for purposes of development].
"Squatting is a way of un-making property. We have to think about how that property was made, before" …. "It's not our responsibility to change the past, but to rethink it. We have to think about violent acts that came before our activist ones today."
Peter Linebaugh, a historian of English commoners of the 13th century, argues that in the construction of property, besides only "contracts", "acts" should also be considered.
Questions – Why wasn't the theater occupied? It was too big. There was no neighbourhood around to hold it.
In Italy there was a wave of theater occupations in 2011, like Teatro Valle in Rome. The fact Emec was in the center was considered a factor in favour of occupation. Police repression always depends on many factors. Maybe centrality makes it more likely to be evicted? Squats in Kadikoy survived, because it was just after the Gezi Park uprising. Police were not ready to attack them, especially in a "republican" neighbourhood.
Samuel Burgum presented on "Occupying London: Post-Crash Resistance and the Limits of Possibility" (2019). The city is an archive. The storing and interpreting of historical data establishes authority. As the state does this, it has the authority to say what the city or country is. This dynamic, played out through records offices, museums, and libraries, is especially visible in colonial situations.
Derrida wrote about this: there is "no political control without control of the archive". These are centers of interpretation, with a claim to "know better than everyone else". Archives assert there is a "we", with a past and a future.
In England there are groups of people making their own counter-archives. This is a way to take back control over own history. These archives are defined by their precarity, by the struggle to keep them. London has had several archives destroyed by fire, by being thrown onto the street after evictions, or currently being rained on through leaking roofs. The dilemma is to keep control over them although they are in danger? or to work with a formal collection and lose control?
Example: The Black Panthers in the 1970s; the “Naming Olive” archive, named for Jamaican-born “Windrush” generation activist educator. She squatted a property in Brixton which became a center, used by Reclaim the Streets, had a printing press.
Lukas Kotyk presented “Learning to be horizontal by living together: the squatted garden as a common space for the imagination” / Aprendiendo a vivir juntos horizontalmente: el huerto como espacio común de imaginación.
This article was written for a forthcoming issue of Partecipazione ed Conflitto journal on horizontality in a squatting community. It discusses the self-management of occupied spaces, a study in "non-hierarchy". These are places without fixed positions, where one is able to work "with nobody telling us what to do", with nobody getting paid for "not nice" jobs.
The key questions is how to manage horizontality? to self-manage better, and be aware of mistakes and dangers. "Within the struggle we are focused on the way we fight it" Through practice, movement actors create a "conflation of goals and means". Thus we may bridge "existential revolt" and "political revolution", through trying to have different everyday relations. Squatting seems perfect for this work, since without ownership, much of the usual hierarchy is avoided. Still it requires effort, and the invention of sophisticated forms of governance.
Kotyk studied social anthropology and ethnography. He lives in a squat and tries to see problems appearing and methods of dealing with them. He worked at a house in southern France, anonymized as Cida. The house was their common and safe space, with washing machine and kitchen, but they lived on the garden and focused a lot on agriculture.
In meetings they called "metel", they form a circle, and give each other two minutes each. To begin a topic you first take the opinion of all, without interruptions. If everyone talks, it's easier to be part of the discussion. This tool helps them to avoid that the discussions be monopolised. It also helps to avoid tensions, conflict. If a conflictive situation appears, it can be stopped and restarted. They try to be direct, to deal with tensions as soon as possible. To have non-hierarchical relationships it's fundamental to study these methodologies, these small tools, and how they are used.
What about when hierarchies are important like, when you are doing electricity? "It can still be discussed!" It's important to keep being reflexive. It’s also about other things, like always spreading the knowledge.
Evening discussions with Madrid activists from different housing groups and the tenants union.
The next day the SqEK meeting concluded with time given over to internal discussion at the squat La Canica. Recent debates on the list-serve have roiled SqEK. These concerned tensions between activists and academics over anthology book preparation, costs of same academic products, and more. It was determined that in the weeks following the meeting that SqEK will continue to exist – one of the basic questions – but now under “new management.” There will be new administrators of the list-serve, a revamped website, a new manifesto statement of purpose. More details will be posted here as they become available.
La Ingobernable evicted, Nov. 13, '19
Remembering Olive Collective (ROC) worked on issues of black education.
The Orfanotrofio was an intensive political experiment
Text from Orfanotrofio squat, 2015
image from https://en.squat.net/2015/12/31/thessaloniki-a-visit-at-the-orfanotrofio-squat/
The Guardian covered the event.
Guardian: Inside Exarcheia: the self-governing community Athens police want rid of
ESLA (Espacio Sociocultural Liberado Autogestionado) El Eko, in barrio Carabanchel.
clumsy eviction attempt 20 October 2019
Banner drop outside of ESLA Eko for the JACA 2018, anarchist art show, hosted by the Ateneo Libertario de Carabanchel
Emek theater occupation photo from hurriyetdailynews.com
Banco Expropiado La Canica (calle Huerta del Bayo 2 -esquina calle Embajadores- LavapiÃ©s) an expropriated bank, part of a network of cooperatives in Madrid
"La Comunidad de Intercambio La Canica es una red de intercambio de bienes y servicios con una moneda social propia y bellísima llamada, claro está, la canica." / The Exchange Community La Canica is a network for the exchange of goods and services with its own beautiful social currency, of course, the marble.