Thursday, November 29, 2018

“Fighting Where We Stand” – Transcript of the Submedia Video Program

Blogger's note: This video is one of the best I've seen in a long while at putting together several strands of recent strong movement activity – all of it centered on land occupation and resistance. Thanks to the Submedia collective which produced it, “Occupations & Properties” here reproduces the English subtitle script of the 30 minute episode.
The stories in this episode start with the famous ZAD in France, the years-long airport resistance. There was a grand compromise on the airport construction, and an agreement to vacate with one faction of the encampment. Another wanted to preserve the utopia. This part speaks about internal conflicts in occupation, a topic that goes beyond propaganda.
Much of this episode focuses on Native American resistance to oil companies and pipeline construction. There is much along this line, from the newly vindicated, utterly unquaint Native American reasoning on stewardship, wisdom about healing within nature, and their methods of confronting and questioning agents of the state and corporations who enter their lands.
From Slovenia, urban squatters speak about “the twin minefields of eviction and legalization” – (exactly the dynamic described in Amy Starecheski's book “Ours to Lose”) on NYC squatters' legalization).
Here follows the subtitle script:
(Sorry, I haven't put in the names of the speakers yet...)

Greetings Troublemakers! ... welcome to Trouble. My name is not important. From the endless turf battles found within the animal kingdom, to the mechanized carnage of modern warfare, the drive to control territory is a potent and recurring source of conflict.
Yet within the artificial borders that fortify the so-called "developed world", this type of conflict, like all others, is carefully managed. Which is not to say it doesn't exist. People quarrel with their neighbours all the time, even in suburbia and in places like Chicago's South Side,young men routinely get shot fighting over street corners.
As groups and individuals, we face differing types and levels of conflict in our everyday lives... but at the end of the day, the ultimate manager and mediator of these conflicts is the state. Through their police, courts and prison systems, states enforce laws that reproduce power dynamics, restrict our choices, and regulate our behaviour.
The allocation of resources is determined by the logic of the so-called "free market", whereby ownership over land is given official sanction by the state-backed illusion of private property. The key to the state control over our lives lies in its ability to regulate all conflict within a given physical area. It follows, then, that those of us seeking to steal back the power to resolve conflicts on our own terms must first draw a firm line in the sand, and deny access to the state and its sophisticated apparatus of social control.
In order to meaningfully assert collective autonomy, we must be capable of defending territory. Over the next thirty minutes, we will explore three autonomous zones serving as living embodiments of defiance to state rule: the ZAD, or Zone to Defend, in Notre-Dame-des-Landes, France; Unist'ot'en Camp located on the Wet'suet'en territories of so-called BC; and the autonomous spaces movement in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Along the way, we will speak with a number of individuals who are flaunting state authority, asserting control over the spaces they inhabit... and making a whole lot of trouble.
The ZAD has many realities. But mostly it's kind of a community where people try to experiment other ways to live their social and political life. In the end of the 1960s, somebody came up with an airport project for this area, Notre-Dame-des-Landes. And during all those years, the bocage [a terrain of mixed woodland and pasture] itself is put under the status of ZAD which basically means Postponed Planning Zone, which was transformed one day [renamed] into Zone to be Defended.

So there was a big resistance with lots of different forms of action, including sabotage, black bloc demonstrations, quite offensive defense. Occupying land is quite similar to a political squat, but with a strong dimension regarding the environment and the territory we live in.
During all those years, we did not simply organize politically against the airport, but we also made connections locally. We took care of the land. Some of us settled for good. And we thought out the future of the ZAD together. So it's been ten years now that structures have been created on the ZAD to figure out how to live as autonomously as possible. It necessarily means that we have to be able to answer our basic needs. Like be fed, sleep under a roof, have access to medicine. It's a place that has become a place where you can live for free. You can build your house, your cabin...
The occupation movement was created at a time when some of the peasants had called for illegal occupation themselves. When squatters came in 2007 they were close to anarchist and/or antiauthoritarian ideas. Trying to work together and allowing for a diversity of tactics, and knowing that that is our strength.
We're fighting against this state and this project. Also we come here.... we fight against things, but we also try to create things together. And making things available and trying to share. That everybody has possibilities and access to a place to live... to water and food.
[Blogger's note: The discussant directly engages problems in the self-organization of the ZAD, and launches a critique of one clique there. This is unsurprising on the left, and less so in an anarchist video since the critique is directed at an authoritarian tendency. Still, it's a bit of a surprise to this blogger that this video includes this kind of reflection. Contemporary radical left discourse, especially in squatting, has moved far beyond propaganda.]
So there's a kind of hegemonic ideology. Diversity of tactics has been much more of a theory for the past few months. Certain ideas that become ways of judging people, of excluding people from discussions.
So yeah there's some kind of really well-organized, sort of communist ideas that have taken a lot of place in the past few years that will have a kind of discourse about "you have to go to our meetings, and if you don't agree you might have to leave, or shut up... or maybe later on we'll come beat you up with baseball bats."
Some people who used sabotage as a tactic have been pressured and even attacked for having dug holes in the concrete of one of the roads which crosses the ZAD. And someone especially was put in the trunk and taken out of there, molested and left almost naked in front of a psychiatric hospital. And it's been some years that contesting this hegemonic power of the dominant group has been much more difficult. They tend to concentrate wealth. To concentrate strategic discussions regarding the movement. Bonds with local farmers and people governing other institutions of the movement. And they of course, deny it when it comes to critique. We provoked a number of discussions on the place that their reading group, called the CMDO, has been held among us. But they never recognized, publicly, their group as a group of power. And thus, never wanted to share that power with other groups or individuals.
It was mainly this group of persons which pushed towards the negotiations during the evictions.
Well as you can see all around us it's pitch black. People were not expecting the expulsions to happen until 6am this morning, local time here in France. Tiny groups of people chose their means of actions.
When the police attack, making barricades, going to harass the police in any form, or any way... to throwing back their own grenades or other forms of explosives, or molotov cocktails. From sabotage attempts ... especially on the tanks.
We really wanted to see one burn.

bear-warrior-with-head, from blog

Digging holes to prevent the tanks from going further. And of course, erecting barricades and defending them.

Wet'suwet'en Nation Defense

Deep in the central interior forests of so-called British Columbia lies the unceded territory of the Wet'suwet'en nation. Never surrendered to the settler-colonial Canadian state, the gateway to these remote territories is the headwaters of the Wedzinkwah River, which lies under the stewardship and protection of the Unist'ot'en clan, one of the five house groups that make up the Wet'suwet'en nation.
For the past decade, the Unist'ot'en have been physically blocking the construction of three major oil and fracked gas pipelines slated to pass through their territories en route to refineries and tankers on the Pacific coast.
Ground zero in this stand has been the Unis'to'ten Camp, constructed in 2010 as a permanent resistance community, located smack dab in the path of the originally proposed route of the Northern Gateway, Pacific Trails, and Coastal Gaslink pipelines.
The Unist'ot'en have also established a checkpoint system, with access to the territories conditional on completing a Free Prior and Informed Consent Protocol. This system grants the Unis'tot'en authority over who gains access to their territory, which has allowed them to keep representatives of the extractive industry and Canadian state at bay. This territory is unceded Unist'ot'en territory, which is part of the Wet'suwet'en territory. Knedebease is the hereditary chief that manages this territory, and I am a member of that house group, so we manage these territories. And in my view, it is not Canada. It's not BC. This has always been Wet'suwet'en territory because we've never ceded or surrendered it to anybody.
Doesn't belong to the crown. Doesn't belong to the federal government. Doesn't belong to the provincial government. It belongs to Unist'ot'en. To my people.
We started travelling through the territories back here a lot more frequently. And the reason why we started spending a lot of time back here is because there were some proposed pipelines that were being proposed by industry and by government, to begin doing some preliminary work back here to stop them. You guys can't be doing any work in here, because we've already told them no. That they can't access our territory. Once we found out that industry was trying to force their way in, we put our cabin directly in the path of the initial proposal for Enbridge, for the bitumen pipeline that was proposed to come through here.
So the log cabin sits right en route of their GPS points of where Enbridge initially had planned to put their pipelines through here. At the same time, there was Coastal Gaslink and Pacific Trails Pipeline that wanted also to put pipelines through our territory. To me that's not self-sustaining. When it's really quick, it's boom and bust.
And they'll come, and then they'll be gone and they'll leave their mess behind. As you see on the sign behind it says checkpoint. So whenever industry, or just anybody comes through here you go through protocol, which you ask a series of six questions:
Who are you? Where are you from? How long do you plan to stay if we let you in? And do you work for industry or government that's destroying our lands? And how will your visit benefit Unist'ot'en?
And one of the key questions that they could not answer, truthfully and honestly, was the question where we ask “how will your visit benefit the people of this land?” Uhh.. I really don't think there is any benefit. And the reason why we turn them back is because they could not pass simple protocol questions.
The RCMP was created by the government to keep our people off our land. So, they are part of the government, so they too don't pass protocol. We don't trust police, because we're suspicious that your forces would in to scope out our layout so that if there is an injunction, you guys would be better prepared about how you're gonna deal with us.
The camp serves as a beacon for other people who are struggling with these ideas. That they might not be able to stop a project from coming through their territories. And you know, for anybody to stand up to something like that is quite a daunting task. But a lot of people who have studied us over the years, and learned from the resistance that we've taken... they've taken those lessons and have started their own actions. And there's an incredible amount of economic and logistical disruption that arise from that type of activity.
We are here today in solidarity with the Unist'ot'en camp. We wish to share the Unist'ot'en hereditary chief's clear statement that they do not consent to having pipelines built on their unceded traditional territory. This colonization has always been about the taking of Indigenous lands. We always said if we heal our people, then we'll heal our land.
The healing center idea came when we realized that "why aren't our own people coming out here to visit us?" And even though some do come, there's not a high number of our own people. And we realized that a lot of our people are still struggling because of colonization. From the Residential School era. From the public school system ... lotta racism. We realized that a lot of our people are struggling because of trauma. And we realized that we needed a healing facility that incorporated all the whole wellness thing that we were talking about.

Bear and Wolf defenders from

And we wanna put our culture back into our people. So that they will be strong and they will stand up. When people come out to a space like this, what they experience is land that's actually beginning to go through the healing process. This land back here that we're walking through and passing through, is land that was devastated from logging already.
And it's in a process of healing. It actually has berry bushes, so we're surrounded by berry bushes here. There are grizzly bear tracks a half a kilometer from here. So when people come up to spend time here, they begin to learn about the importance of connecting themselves to the planet that is in need of healing.

Struggle and Cession in Cities

While defending territory from state incursions is hard enough in rural, or remote natural terrains, those seeking to establish autonomous spaces in urban environments face an additional set of challenges. Cities are sites of concentrated state power. Not only are they strongholds of surveillance and repression, but they are also areas where the logic of state control is thoroughly integrated into everyday social relations.
This opens the door to recuperation, a process whereby state power constantly shifts and adapts itself in order to preemptively cut off and assimilate potential threats to its authority and legitimacy. This is the balancing act faced by urban squatter movements in cities around the world, whose participants must constantly navigate the twin minefields of eviction and legalization. This means simultaneously avoiding the social isolation that would make full-scale repression possible, while also combating state and real estate developers' attempts to transform these spaces into nothing more than edgy tourist destinations. One of the really important functions of the urban occupation is that it becomes a source of inspiration.
Despite being surrounded by hostile forces – in the form of state, police, capital – that it is possible to have a space in which you can experiment with different forms of existing. With different forms of living. With different forms of relating to one another. We could speak about three distinct phases of squatting experiments in Ljubljana.

First one is early '90s. This is the time of the destruction of Yugoslavia. It's a time of massive changes in Slovenian society. This movement had a clear continuity with alternative cultural movements of the 80s that was heavily influenced by progressive currents such as feminism, LGBT movement, anti-militarist tendencies, ecological movements. This movement found its highest expression in the squatting of Metelkova military barracks in 1993.
The second wave of squatting can be traced to the late 90s. In around 98 and 99, several different initiatives and individuals were squatting different spaces in the city of Ljubljana and were all evicted from those squats. And in the middle of this wave of repression over the movement, the community of Metelkova decided to give one empty space in the Autonomous Cultural Center to the anarchist infoshop.
The third wave of squatting in Ljubljana is symbolized by the squatting of ROG Factory, which is maybe the biggest squat in Ljubljana. It was squatted in 2006 by a new precarious generation of younger people that later came to be identified as the generation without future. It has always been understood by us that the front between the two different squats is the same front.
Because if one of us is attacked, or evicted for instance, that will mean a huge attack on the ability of the other to actually be part of any kind of political process in the city. The relationship of the state has been slightly different in its expression. So for instance, when it comes to ROG they have had constant attempts of the city to either evict them or attack them in different ways.
And just two years ago there was the most serious attempt to tear down several buildings in that area. That attempt was stopped by a broader political mobilization.The nature of an urban occupation is that it is faced with different kinds of factors that perhaps escape rural occupations. Our squats are part of the neoliberal capitalist society that is progressing further and further towards social devastation. Every time we are faced with the processes that are destroying our cities, we always have to question our position and our changing position within those processes.
Metelkova and ROG both generate quite wide public support. So this forced the public authorities to be cautious. And even though there are several softer attempts to push Metelkova into the state of legalization, we haven't in the last decade really been faced with an attempt of eviction. That of course brings a different set of questions for all of us who are part of Metelkova squat. And that is, in such moments, where the city is actually trying to sell you as one of its premium tourist destinations... how do you maintain yourself as a space that can still produce radical social movements and interventions in the city?

Architectural rendering of ROG, formerly a bicycle factory... a naked x-ray, with all culture removed

That of course comes with every question of recuperation. How do we still manage to keep our practices DIY? How do we still manage to stay ungovernable, which is basically the only way not to become a squatting museum, or a sort of caricature of what a squat should be? Many people and many activities that are cleaned from the city center because of the demands of the tourist industry... we all end up in squats with different trajectories and different positions that we occupy in the current social-economic order.
This naturally leads to tensions. Some more serious than others. And the consequence also can be seen in what recently happened to club Jalla Jalla – it was destroyed in a fire. As a community this was immediately recognized as an effect of the general state in which the whole city is being pushed. And our focus is not only to rebuild Jalla Jalla the club, but also to rebuild and reclaim our collective capacity to resist the processes of devastation that are everywhere destroying the conditions of living for so many people in this town. Establishing and effectively securing an autonomous space isn't something that happens overnight. States cannot afford to let challenges to their legitimacy go unanswered, lest they serve as examples for others to follow.
For this reason, any political attempt to reject state authority over a territory is likely to provoke a serious reaction. It is therefore crucially important that those involved anticipate the state's response, and are in a strong enough position to weather the inevitable storm. Autonomous territories allow for the building of dual power. They are alternative focal points of legitimacy that can effectively challenge the state's monopoly on authority. Indigenous Nations draw this legitimacy from spiritual and cultural practices rooted in generations of deep connection to the lands claimed by their colonizers. For those of us more alienated from the lands and spaces we occupy, the process of asserting autonomy must begin with navigating the tensions and contradictions that exist in dominant society, cultivating strong bonds of solidarity, and fuelling antagonism towards the state. We'd rather not pass lessons to anyone. If people get inspired from what they've done here, it will always be a pleasure to share experiences and knowledge of those years spent here.
I think it has been proven several times that building the infrastructure for the movement and of the movement really becomes crucial in moments of high and demanding political mobilization in the society. To have the kind of spaces that enable you to maintain the historical memory of movements, that enable us to find different kinds of accomplices in our struggles for a different kind of world. With the help of allies all around the world ... we've garnered lots of support through Indigenous, non-Indigenous, professionals,... everyday citizens.
A lot of people do support what we're doing and have vocalized it to us. We have come here to be with you, to make sure you understand you're doing the right thing. There's always people who come here also who have connections, or who have been to other places where people are struggling and bring us information. And so that creates solidarity between different struggles. You need to ensure that the Indigenous people who have always lived on those lands, since millennia, are involved in that struggle. They have long stories. Ancient, ancient stories that talk about how and why they have responsibilities. The mere fact that a squat exists as a potential of development of autonomous ideas, of politically radical ideas, is of course already a threat to the state, a threat to capital's interests.
And therefore we will never be safe, no matter how many selfies tourists make here. If it is possible that in a city that is so increasingly gentrified, so penetrated with different capitalist forces if it is able to have a space where experimentation with our freedom is possible, then it kind of gives us hope that other kinds of political projects are also possible. And what we would really love to see is more of these kinds of inspirations around the world, around different cities, around different communities.
As for our inspiration, we take as much inspiration as possible from as many struggles as possible. The Zapatistas movement, even though we're far far from what they achieved. The Landless Peasant Movement, especially in South America, or Reclaim the Field network all over Europe. Or occupied neighbourhoods, like in Exarchia in Greece. Or people protecting seeds like in India. Rojava is, of course, an insight especially regarding feminist self-defence.
Some of us are also really close to the Italian struggle against the train line crossing the Val di Susa.
[Blogger's note: SqEK research group Gianni Piazza, convener of the most recent conference in Catania, Sicily, wrote a book about this peasant & activist resistance to a high-speed rail line construction; we drank “No TAV” wine at a social center in Rome in '14.]

Val di Susa police line. Image from blog.

The most important thing is that we have to ask ourselves "what are our needs?" And then find ways through which we can express them. We're absolutely going to win this fight. Y'know, this is a fight that belongs to not only us, but all of our unborn. This is a fight that belongs to all of our ancestors who died fighting for these spaces, and protecting them.
So this is a fight that doesn't belong to us. We're not selfish people. This fight belongs to all of our Wet'suwet'en people past, present and future. Some of us went to fight the world of the airport. And the airport was a pretext to fight the system behind it. I'd say for me, the ZAD, it helps me burn the social and structural boundaries in my head ... and then almost everything became possible.
We live in a historical moment in which the global neoliberal order, wracked by overlapping social, economic and ecological crises, is rapidly unraveling before our very eyes. Yet far from being a cause for celebration, the dark new reality rising to take its place promises to be even worse. New and resurgent forms of state power are being constructed on foundations of hyper-nationalist reaction, armed with sophisticated new tools of surveillance and repression.
A proliferation of civil wars, surging levels of inequality and climate change-fuelled catastrophes are provoking historical levels of forced human migration. But while things look undoubtedly bleak, the rapid transformations currently underway have the potential to uncover new cracks in the facade of state power. Revolutionaries must be ready to take advantage of any and all opportunities that these shifting new dynamics may produce, establishing a decentralized network of autonomous zones that can sustain projects of mutual aid, respond to emergent threats, and coordinate solidarity across borders.
So at this point, we'd like to remind you that Trouble is intended to be watched in groups, and to be used as a resource to promote discussion and collective organizing. Are you interested in offering sustained material support for existing autonomous spaces, or figuring out what steps would be involved in launching your own? Consider getting together with some comrades, organizing a screening of this film, and discussing where to get started. Interested in running regular screenings of Trouble at your campus, infoshop, community center, or even just at home with friends?
Become a Trouble-Maker! For 10 bucks a month, we'll hook you up with an advanced copy of the show, and a screening kit featuring additional resources and some questions you can use to get a discussion going. If you can't afford to support us financially, no worries! You can stream and/or download all our content for free off our website. If you've got any suggestions for show topics, or just want to get in touch, drop us a line. This episode would not have been possible without the generous support of Komunal, Group Groix and Michael. Now get out there and make some trouble!

Many thanks to the Submedia collective for sharing the subtitled script with “Occupations & Properties.”


Submedia collective: "Fighting Where We Stand", 30 minutes, November 2018

"My name is not important."
Marco Deseriis, "Improper Names: Collective Pseudonyms from the Luddites to Anonymous"

Donatella Della Porta, Gianni Piazza, "Voices of the Valley, Voices of the Straits: How Protest Creates Communities" (2008)
While this academic book is expensive, Gianni has also written articles on the Val di Susa resistance

Friday, October 19, 2018

Spain Is Africa (Part Two) – The Seminar of Prof. Taylor

Colectivo Ayllu

Some Recent Institutional Motion

This is the second post about recent meetings and events of migrants and Afro-descendants in Madrid. After the earlier- and below-blogged conference at the Reina Sofia museum in July of this year, city cultural institutions are moving on the issue. Although the city proper still hasn't done much for the mainly African street-sellers without working papers who are represented by the Sindicato de manteros y lateros de Madrid (@manteroslateros, #LaLeydeExtranjeriaMata) – much less anything for the many African beggars (or sellers of the weird La Farola newspaper) who aren't part of the union, there are now a slew of cultural programs appearing.
The Afroconciencia group, resident at the giant Matadero cultural center ("Black in Spain"), produced a festival recently. It included a big market. Another African market event is slated for CSA La Tabacalera (although that is regular; Tabacalera self-organized has had a Templo Afro collective since its beginnings). Another resident group of Americans (no, not USAians), Colectivo Ayllu, has an exhibition up at Matadero as well: "Devuélvannos el oro" -- "Give us back the gold." And the weirdly conceived Grigri Pixel residency project at Medialab Prado has begun (#grigripixel18), dynamized by a meeting with anti-racist groups and social center activists. I hope to report on some of this action in later posts.

Professor's Taylor's Listening Session

Professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor was in Madrid in the summer touring her recent books on Black Lives Matter and the Combahee River Collective. Her lecture is discussed in the previous blog post. The later seminar was peopled by members of many of the same groups as the MAC4 session (also blogged earlier), along with many new ones. Both events were part of the Reina Sofia Museum's fascinating series "Six Contradictions and the End of the Present". My notes are from the simultaneous translation into English.
Beatriz García Dorado of Traficantes de Sueños introduced. She referenced a 2005 project of migrant solidarity which that editorial collective had done, the “Ferrocarril Clandestino” (underground railroad). This early initiative was prefigurative, as today today rescue ships, like Open Arms, ply the Mediterranean despite the fulminations of the Italian interior minister.

There is now an alliance, Beatriz García said, between the precarious worker and the migrants. It is anti-capitalist, and works against the way people are divided.
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor said her interest in black feminism was spurred by the U.S. Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and the women she met in it; especially the #SayHerName campaign to remember black female victims murdered by police, like Sandra Bland.

The Story of the Combahee River Collective

In the view of whites, Taylor said, black women are angry, aggressive, “impervious to pain.” “Slavery was far more terrible for women.” “Overlapping simultaneous oppressions explain the essence” of black feminist politics. In the 19th century there was both a “woman question and a “race problem.” Gender, race and class meet in the Combahee River Collective Statement.
The name of the group came from an 1863 U.S. army raid directed by Harriet Tubman which freed 750 slaves. While the Combahee River Collective paralleled the mostly white New Left of the 1960s, the slogan/idea “the personal is political” was not a retreat, but a description of their lives of oppression. Their “daily indignities” were not abstract.
Like the Black Panther Party, the CBC's program was misconstrued as a demand for separation. The idea was that if black women were to be free, everyone would be free. “Black women will never be free within capitalism.” Oppression is in the “marrow of the nation.”
Between today and 40 years ago, the class divide between black people has grown. As an example, in Ferguson – [the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri, after the police killing of Michael Brown] – black political figures urged young people “to get off the streets and vote for them.” BLM rejects that kind of politics, and the “pathetic tradition of currying favor.” The CBC, in contrast, were internationalists aligned with third world movements.

Muchas Quejas Importantes

The seminar was peopled by reps from many of the same groups as the MAC4 session, with many new ones.
NOTICE: I am sorry that I didn't get the names of people speaking, and sometimes not even their organizations. Please, if you know and can comment, I'll happily improve this and any other post. This is a rough report.
Discussant (Francesca?) – The NGOs [Non-governmental organizations] have been instrumentalized by the political parties. The Roma community [aka gypsies] has been criminalized. We seek cultural strategies both inside and outside the system.
[I thought about museums of the excluded, like the installation called the Culture and Art Museum of Migrant Workers in China I saw at the Principio Potosi show in 2010.]
Beatriz Garcia: Territorio Domestico is organizing care and domestic workers. Care work has been politicized. (Silvia Federici, author of Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation, and an important theorist of 'women's work', has been to Madrid often to speak about this issue.) We are thinking of spaces we can build together.

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor – I am here to listen.

Josh (?) of the collective of transgender migrants (also present and speaking in the earlier meeting at MAC4) – Sexual dissidence is also an issue among migrants seeking refuge in Spain. We are talking about the politics of social death inflicted on non-heterosexual bodies.
Ángela Muñoz of Las Kellys, a group that organizes hotel cleaners – Tourism is the engine of the Spanish economy. The last labor reform laws made our hard jobs miserable. Cleaners are paid two euros (about $2.35) for each room cleaned. There is overt discrimination against black workers. We also regularly confront sexual violence.
"We migrant women have an extra load on us."
K-YT – That it is seen as women's work allows it to be devalued. It's an excuse to keep wages low.
? – Europe was built on slavery and genocide, but hides behind a universalist humanist discourse. It is a sinister legacy. In Spain it is fascism and racism. Gender colonialism. An inferiorization of peoples. The nationalist idea is of a hetersexual nation. Other bodies don't matter.

Institutional Aporias

K-YT – This is similar to the U.S. There is no national monument to slavery. A complete denial of racism in the USA.
[There is the Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit (est. 1965) with grand displays on slavery. There is the Black Holocaust Museum, founded by a lynching survivor in 1984, which lost its building in Milwaukee in '08, and is gimping along. In the '90s Colonial Williamsburg added a slave market to their recreation. Children cried. The very popular National Museum of African American History and Culture in D.C. is recent. Brand new is the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, aka the Lynching Memorial in Alabama.]
To admit this history would legitimize black demands for reparations. By denying it the disparities [in income and wealth, education, etc.] can be seen as inherent to black people, as coming from them.
A Caribbean journalist Taylor talked to in London said, “We were there, so we are here.” People are here now to demand what is theirs. The expatriation continues. The past is not past.
[This was said in the shadow of the scandal of the Windrush generation in the UK, Caribbean immigrants to the island during the 1940s and '50s who had their UK citizenship revoked. This resurgent white nationalist policy abrogates the responsibility to negotiate the human legacy of imperialism in British society.]
? – A women's refugee network is forming. We need to make alliances to combat this socio-economic system.
K-YT – In the U.S. the police and ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency] have been unleashed.
[In June when she said this, I wrote in my notes, “I think she exaggerates, but not by much.” Now, in October, after a brutal summer which saw the incarceration of migrant families, which continues with 13,000 children in concentration camps (the figure is only estimated) and the threat to jail more, I can see that she was not exaggerating in the slightest. One thing this nakedly brutal Republican administration is eradicating is any residual belief among its citizens that the US government represents good or moral political behavior in any way, on any level.]
This is a normalization of the security state, which began with the “9/11 process”. It has affected everyone.

Start with the Most Oppressed

How to organize is to start with the most oppressed, and keep that struggle front and center. There is a lack of space in U.S. social movements to have these difficult conversations.
Man from SOS Racismo – As people who live in the margins, we are inside structures. There is a difference in the struggle around La Manada [a crew of rapists who were treated with leniency by a Spanish court, leading to mass protests by women against Spain's deep culture of male sexual aggression] and the struggles of the strawberry workers in the south of Spain who are mostly black. We are lonely in this struggle. The struggles of racialized people are always pushed to the margins.
The reception of the Aquarius [a boatload of rescued migrants which was rejected by the Italian government and welcomed in Spain] was very good, but it was atypical of what has been happening to other migrants arriving. Moroccan workers have been raped in factories.
Woman from the Vallekas PAH – I am Ecuadorian. To get documents we are often ignored by functionaries because they are racist. A Spanish person does not suffer this. The police stereotype us. In the PAH, we welcome everyone.
Another woman of the same group – I am from the Dominican Republic. I am here 21 years. But I am still being told, “Go back to your country.”
Malik of the Sindicato of Manteros [the union of blanket sellers, mostly Senegalese migrants] – We experience police abuse every day. This is institutional racism. There is a rising current of xenophobia. The white left has closed their eyes, because the anti-racist struggle does not give them votes. The racism of the Popular Party and the Ciudadanos [right-wing Spanish parties, old and new] does give them votes. We are subject to invisibilization as sin papeles [without papers, sans papiers in France]. We need papers.
Francisco of the Colectivo Ayllu now resident at the Matadero cultural complex criticized the institution of power. “Racism has a cultural dimension” in the “Indian” identity. The Museum of the Americas has to recognize this pain. In our daily life and our private life we must reckon with this memory of colonization and white violence. We have to find ways of healing this long memory of pain. “We don't need a white voice” to tell us who we are.

Borders Are Violent Spaces

A woman from Peru added, mistrust and rage have very deep historical roots. We are speaking about power, and how we participate in it. There is a lot of desire to take on these problems. Borders are violent spaces, more violent for some than for others.
“Eric” – Race, class and gender, yes. But where is coloniality? We are not here to perform a victimist narration. We want to conquer a political situation. The tension with the white left is causing us great problems.
Woman from Territorio Domestico – I was protesting alone in front of a hotel because they were disrespecting and smashing me. If you are a black woman they don't respect you.

Lynching memorial in Mongtomery, Alabama, USA

Professor Taylor's Concluding Statement

K-Y Taylor concluded with a brief on the U.S. political situation:
The death toll from the hurricane in Puerto Rico, she said, shows what U.S. power looks like in a cultural context: 4,300 deaths. Black activists see cities as “internal colonies.” A small space opened up for the black elite – after all, the U.S. had a black president! So black people think they are American.
The presence of white people is an issue in the Black Lives Matter movement. BLM groups are not integrated, but the protests see many white people involved. [And, I'll add, victim support as well.] There is a long history of independent black organizing, with left white people, not liberals, involved. Black people are 12% of the U.S. population. Changing society in an anti-capitalist way won't be possible with segregated movements. To confront the Trump administration “we have to figure out how to do things together.” BLM is a young movement. It's not even four years since Michael Brown's murder. Now the U.S. government no longer counts people killed by police. Estimates are 1,000 a year. The biggest challenge now is “how does the movement get bigger?” There is no coalition organization for BLM. BLM doesn't have to manage diversity within their movement. Joining struggles seem like the obvious next step. For example, to connect to the immigration crisis, and attacks on Arabs and Muslims. But people are worried about their issue being subsumed. The funding streams of foundations tend to narrow the political perspectives of those involved. This makes people more conservative.
The rich are hoarding their wealth and we all have to scramble for what is left. Racism is the explanation for this, in “the way that it is explained away.” Blame the poor, “paint them as crminals.” The most vulnerable are blamed for their social problems. The center left political parties have failed to produce a change. Racism is a strategy the right has evolved to cover over their own failures to take care of society. “There is no post-Occupy autonomous organization in the U.S.” Occupy was effectively smashed by the U.S. state. This, and the legacy of horizontalism, of “leaderlessness” has amplified the lack of input people have in the decision-making processes.
Okay, it was a pretty bleak afternoon. And, as we head into the US midterm elections, it could get bleaker. Hope not! I voted! But the renewed desire to fucking do something to stem the white nationalist counter-revolution, both electorally and in schools, streets and workplaces, has to be the best thing in the USA today.


Grigri Pixel -- "Magical objects in urban spaces"

MNCARS, Reina Sofia Museum – "Six Contradictions and the End of the Present"

Ferrocarril clandestino

PDF The Combahee River Collective Statement - American Studies

Principio Potosi show in 2010.)

Black Holocaust Museum, Milwaukee (presently virtual)

Slavery and Remembrance -- Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

Lynching Memorial -- account of an Englishman's tour
Thomas Laqueur, "Lynched for Drinking from a White Man’s Well"
London Review of Books

Windrush scandal

Windrush Generation

from doomsteaddiner blog

Friday, October 12, 2018

Spain Is Africa (Part One): The Spanish Visit of Prof. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

A constant cause of activism in the squatting and social center occupation movement is open borders, and solidarity with migrants. The European squatting movement is peopled with activists from many European countries, most of them with colonial pasts of which activists are well aware. Threaded through this blog, and the book Occupation Culture that came out of it, are stories of experimental solidarities like the Metropoliz in Rome where punks and gypsies live together, and Jeudi Noir, the French collective that squats big buildings for migrants to live in. And recently in Madrid, the Sindicato de Manteros y Lateros – the union of blanket-sellers and can-sellers, who work selling on the streets without legal papers, was organized inside squatted social centers.
With the unceasing flows of migrants and refugees from south to north, the issue has been on the front burner of global politics, leading to the rise of "populist" neo-fascists who have mobilized white fear to win elections. At the same time, the USA has seen a spike in activism by people of color – by Afro-descendants in Spanish parlance, against police violence, and by immigrants against the mass detentions, deportations and jailing of children by the Trump government.
Beyond what can be called reactive activism, powerful as it may be, the inspiring initiatives of Cooperation Jackson in that Mississippi city are part of the global municipalist movement. (I've also blogged on them here.)
As municipalists have taken power in some Spanish cities, a line of work specifically focussed on migrants and Afro-descendants has been taken up by the cultural institutions. This string of posts will be devoted to a review of some of those initiatives.

A Union of the Excluded and Illegal

Earlier this year I was commissioned to write on a social art project with the Sindicato de Manteros y Lateros de Madrid (@manteroslateros), a kind of union for the mostly Senegalese and Bangladeshi migrants who sell stuff on the streets. They do the work they can do without papers, and endure much police harrassment and punishing fines. (The text was written, but not published – that's another story.)
But I saw the stirrings of a larger movement against institutional racism in Spain, which connects to wider struggles of migrants and marginalized peoples globally. In the summer at the MAC 4 conference, a group met to talk about it. (I blogged this in a July post "MAC 4: Anti-Racism and Subaltern Europe".)
That summer I could not follow most of the talk in ESP – but, with the visit of Princeton professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor to Madrid shortly after I had another chance to catch up (@KeeangaYamahtta). Prof. Taylor is Anglophone, so the Reina Sofia museum which invited her set up a seminar with simultaneous translation into English.
She'd given a formal talk – on the translation ftom Traficantes de Sueños of her 2016 book. From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation. And in the seminar she frequently referenced her work in the 2017 book How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective.

Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective

Beatriz García Dorado of Traficantes de Sueños introduced. She referenced a 2005 project of migrant solidarity, the “Ferrocarril Clandestino” – underground railroad. (This early initiative has been eclipsed today by the rescue ships, like Open Arms, which ply the Mediterranean despite the fulminations of the Italian interior minister.)
There is now an alliance, Beatriz García said between the precarious worker and the migrants. It is anti-capitalist, and works against the way people are divided.

1987 pamphlet of the Combahee River Collective

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor said her interest in black feminism was spurred by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and the women she met in it; especially the #SayHerName campaign to remember black female victims, like Sandra Bland, murdered by police.
In the view of whites, Taylor said, black women are seen as angry, aggressive, “impervious to pain.” “Slavery was far more terrible for women.” “Overlapping simultaneous oppressions explain the essence” of black feminist politics.In the 19th century there was both a “woman question and a “race problem.” Gender, race and class meet in the Combahee River Collective Statement.
The name of the group came from an 1863 U.S. army raid directed by Harriet Tubman which freed 750 slaves. Identity politics for the Combahee River Collective was about how black women were being politicized. While they paralleled the mostly white New Left of the 1960s, the slogan/idea “the personal is political” was not a retreat, but a description of their lives of oppression. The “daily indignities” were not abstract.
Like the Black Panther Party, the CBC's program was misconstrued as a demand for separation. The idea was that if black women were to be free, everyone would be free. “Black women will never be free within capitalism.” Oppression is in the “marrow of the nation.”
Between today and 40 years ago, the class divide between black people has grown. As an example, in Ferguson – [the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri, after the police killing of Michael Brown] – black political figures urged young people “to get off the streets and vote for them.” BLM rejected that kind of politics, and the “pathetic tradition of currying favor.” The CBC, in contrast, were internationalists aligned with third world movements.

NEXT: Spain Is Africa (Part Two) – The Seminar of Prof. Taylor: Important Complaints

16th c. engraving of Columbus landing in the Caribbean by Theodore de Bry. Via Florida Museum/University of Florida Library


Occupation Culture: Art & Squatting in the City from Below, by Alan W. Moore (Minor Compositions, 2015)

Il Metropoliz – Space Metropoliz

Collectif Jeudi noir

Cooperation Jackson

Sindicato de manteros y lateros de Madrid - Inicio | Facebook / (@manteroslateros)

July post "MAC 4: Anti-Racism and Subaltern Europe" reporting on the anti-racism discussion

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor - Wikipedia

“She'd given a formal talk...”
Her talk in ENG with x-lation into ESP after each statement was posted by Katakrak as Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor «Un destello de libertad» (a flash of freedom)

Her visit was part of the museum's fascinating series "Six Contradictions and the End of the Present"

Combahee River Collective

Ferrocarril clandestino

PDF The Combahee River Collective Statement - American Studies

Monday, September 17, 2018

Of Platforms and Contradictions #2

This is my second post on the “Overexploited and Underpaid” talks, part of the series “Six Contradictions and the End of the Present” at the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid. In this I reflect on the seminar held with the main guests, professors Trebor Scholz and Tiziana Terranova.
It's great that the museum hosts events like this. Institutions here do continuous adult education about new ideas, new media, and the new ways of thinking, being, and working which these momentous changes entail. The processes of information capitalism are working so far in advance of most people's understanding it is imperative for state institutions to step up to educate the public. Continuous education will be needed for people to cope with the impending changes in every aspect of life.
The framing of this appearance was announced on the museum's website:
“Though the Internet was initially considered a public space based on the free interaction among equals, it is now conceived as a huge factory without walls where any aspect of the day-to-day life can be valorised, produced and commoditised. Is there any alternative to this scenario?”
A study document was prepared by the GEC, which is quite extensive, concluding with the group's "Requirements for a transformative cooperativism". I did not see this. I just kind of came along, and had no hesitation about barging into the conversation.
The seminar with the two guests began with a presentation on the short-term housing platform Airbnb by Javier Gil, a sociologist and activist with a Madrid tenants union (@Gil_JavierGil; I think this is the PAH, but not sure).

The Straight Dope on Airbnb

Two things are happening with Airbnb in Madrid, Gil said: property owners are taking housing out of the market because of the rent gap, and renters are doing it with their own flats, to help deal with a 38% increase of housing prices in last four years.
Of these in Madrid, only 6% are people doing it out of their own home; the other 94% are owners taking units out of the housing market. For them, said Terranova, management agencies in Naples contact owners and offer to manage their Airbnb. A big hotel chain in Madrid is doing that now, said Gil.
Around the corner from the museum in the diverse Lavapiés barrio, there is a strike now against a 300% rent increase. The tenants union is a collective solution to a collective problem, a message to owners that increasing rents so high will meet resistance. The “nos quedamos” (we stay) campaign refuses rent increases.
Gil spoke of “urban nomads,” those who rent on weekends and sleep elsewhere. This is a stressful life for the individual, Scholz said. In your fieldwork how did you find the “urban nomads”? One by one, right? You could have found them more easily if you had access to the Airbnb data. The platform capitalists create market instabilities, and they don't allow for solutions to emerge using their data.
This market couldn't operate without a frame of government which allows this. Meanwhile, the human and social costs mount, and are not adequately addressed.

The Urban Money Mindset

Airbnb accelerates the housing market, Gil said, Precarious people can participate, but only in moments of crisis. For some it allows them not to work in traditional economy. They prefer that kind of life to a bad job. It's the new subjectivity. People start looking for more money opportunities in how you organize your life, your house. “Hey, I can rent my sofa too.” The market is expanding itself into aspcts of life which have not been mercantilized.
The model of the market is continually enforced, said Terranova. How do we contest the political hegemony that enforces this modality over others? Maybe that is the form of the class struggle today, against the market.
In their publicity, Scholz said, Airbnb talks about this old lady who can now stay in her apartment thanks to them. The guy doing global outreach for Airbnb did his PhD on religious cults. He is aware of how to manipulate subjectivity around the company's product. Scholz said he was recently in a solidarity economy meeting and Airbnb was on the panel, presenting all these lies, a charming young lady. It's like the pharmaceutical industry selling drugs.
It is hard to communcate this to North American colleagues, he said. Because only health, education and services are growing sectors, these should be the basis of the economy, not the cost. The economy needs to be re-centered.
This is exactly the argument of feminist economist Kate Raworth with her conception of what she calls the “donut economy.”

Addressing economic organization is a post-national way of thinking. Yet even as market capitalism and global finance have lost legitimacy, this precarity and financialization of everything embeds the neoliberal mentality very deeply.

An Excursus on Art

Terranova, referencing Stewart Hall, said that we need to “make stories” – the popular cannot be only the field of capital. We need novels, volumes of similar stories, TV shows in the reward and punishment format.
I disagreed on this. It's the argument of Stephen Duncombe for an “ethical spectacle” in his 2007 book Dream. I'm a diehard avant gardist, I suppose, and prefer to step outside the Spectacle for cultural strategies. Example, “Dada Ruso,” the magnificent exhibition presently in the MNCARS museum.
At this point, a guy with TV experience spoke up, a producer of web series. Long form story telling in that medium, he said, is a corporation thing. It's very difficult to do something different. Bernardo Gutiérrez, who introduced the seminar, told of a friend who made a proposal for a TV show about student journalists around the time of the 15M movement. It sounded like a great pitch to me. It was rejected – “Who would be interested in that?”, they said.
A garbage picker from Sao Paolo told Scholz, “I read your book, and it's inspiring, but I really need money.” The question is, what do we have that people can engage with now, next week? It can be completely flawed, only temporary, but immediate in its effects. There is a story of Emma Goldman. She is giving a fiery speech, and afterwards an old worker says, That's great, but what about me? I'm old. I won't see the revolution. What about worker rights? She took the point.

Economy Is Political – Why No Co-op Lobby?

During the break I said that my biggest question concerned the apparent disconnect between political activism and cooperative initiatives. The Cooperation Jackson group in Mississippi has elected a mayor. They intend as well to build “a solidarity economy, anchored by a network of cooperatives and worker-owned, democratically self-managed enterprises” (quote from a succinct UK documentary on the group [ca. 30 min.]). The group is regularly invited to Barcelona en Comú's municipalist meetings (the “Fearless Cities” series), but has never come to Madrid.
Why don't the cooperatives demand political support and funding from their governments? A key part of the Cooperative Jackson plan is precisely to swing city contracts to workers cooperatives.
A convener of the GEC told me Madrid had tried that, through a program called Mares Madrid. But the right wing attacked it as “jobs for friends”, and the timorous city council cut the funding way back.
When we reconvened, Scholz said he was seeing among academics a fatigue with analysis. They are reporting, analyzing, and then throwing their hands up, as if to say, What can we do about it?
“Free Jeremy Hammond,” I cracked. (He is the notorious hacker of the Stratfor defense intelligence website who is doing 10 years in US federal prison; @FreeJeremyNet)
For me, Scholz said, it's not about bringing the giants down. Corporations and coops exist side by side – one can't destroy the other.
Side by side they may be, but one is beating and squashing the other, like Laurel and Hardy.
“An investor-based startup gets tax advantages. If you do the same thing as a co-op you don't. This has to change.”
Scholz talks to policymakers, and has had success in Brussels, some in Germany and France. Jeremy Corbyn in the UK has made platform co-ops part of his program for the Labor party. Scholz's group has tried to get the US DSA (Democratic Socialists of America) to do the same. This is a long road, up a steep hill.
The infamous ALEC, which writes boilerplate regressive anti-union legislation for state governments around the USA, is joined at the hip with chambers of commerce. These bodies don't have co-ops on their agendas.
Scholz lamented that the biggest co-ops, like Spain's Mondragon and USA's TrueValue hardware chain don't flex their muscles politically. “Peoples banks in Germany are huge, but they are just like any other bank.... In Spain and Brazil the co-ops are rich... How do we motivate them to invest in their future?” These giant co-ops have lost sense of their mission and social responsibility. “They don't project their values outward. I think that's because of McCarthyism,” Scholz said.
That's a historical question. Co-ops emerged strongly in the US during the Depression of the 1930s, but they were not included in Roosevelt's New Deal. Instead corporations and extractive industries were favored. The big co-ops have gone a long way to disassociate themselves with left politics.
But how can the chicken run away from the egg?
Today in the US, co-ops are part of Cooperation Jackson's plan. These organizers come out of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. Malcolm was on top of J. Edgar Hoover's enemies list. The Communist Caucus of the DSA in Oakland advocates cooperatives. They are a group despised by the Democrats.

Can a Union be a Co-op?

This blog began as an investigation into the squatting movement. And I keep a weather eye on that movement and its possibilities as they have changed over the years. Municipalism is part of that change, and I have blogged a lot about that. But now, to many in the left movements in Spain, municipalism has turned into something of a false promise – as a Chavista in Madrid anguished during the formal talk of Scholz and Terranova, “The left has come into power here but refuses to take power.” Another part of that change is the emergence of what Beatriz Garcia has called social unionism in the world of the social centers, sindicalismo social.
The platform cooperativism program is quite hopeful. But the question remains, how can people move into positions of participation? It seems obvious that left electoral platforms should boost co-ops. Their constituents stand to benefit most. Unions as well, clobbered by foreign competition, regressive legislation (in the USA), and the looming clouds of AI and robots, should be out front of co-op formation. But they aren't doing it.
Which leaves... what, hackers, academics and anarchists?

How About a Squat?

Italian social centers come out of a strong autonomist marxist tradition. They have always been “workerist.” So it was an unsurprising surprise that Terranova concluded her remarks at the seminar by recalling that many conversations in occupied social centers in Naples had contributed to her understandings of these issues. Now, she said, there is a fear that these centers, only recently given a path of legalization, may be shut down by a change of city administration.
(This was a key topic at MAC 4 which I blogged – but not that session. It is yet to come... [cue flush of shame].)
Luca Recano, who traveled from Naples with Terranova, explained that Macao in Milan, the cultural center that emerged out of an important squatting action there in 2012 – (I blogged it at the time; Emanuele Braga wrote of it in Scapegoat) – has turned the money they have raised from cultural activity into a blockchain crypto-currency called Common Coin, which also includes labor. (This is from the Bank of the Commons, now in beta.)
Political action is paid in the Macao system, because it is considered important work in the general interest.
Even so, Luca said, “strong contradictions which limit the reproduction of this experience.... There's a lack of trust among some in the use of the technology... a fear of scaling up this practice.” Many of these economic relations remain on the level of gift economy.

Macao in Milan. "Nowhere", i.e. "utopia".

“I don't think that when people get paid that it's all about being paid,” said Scholz. Speaking of a project he had done in India with dalit women, “becoming owner of a business changed their lives.”
In a sense, OSCs are already quite internet platform-dependent. And they are intrinsically cooperatives. mount websites and use existing platforms like Twitter and Facebook to distribute their activities. They have a virtual presence that often lasts long past their actual physical existence.What they have not done – and it's a big stretch – is make substantive changes in people's daily economies.
I am doubtful that the OSCs can become incubators of cooperativism, either platform or brick-and-mortar, on anything like the scale of even a small restaurant chain. OSCs are too minoritarian, and their constituency is split, like classic anarchists, between sindicalists and insurrectionaries. But, as seminar introducer Bernardo Gutiérrez shows in his book Pasado mañana. Viaje a la España del cambio, sprouts of cooperativism are appearing all over Spain, not just in OSCs.
Municipalists have been concentrating on pulling what levers of the state they can, re-municipalizing privatized city services, building new social housing, and taming repressive police forces. It is up to entrepreneurs of the social to promote, institute and maintain the economies – many of them, and all diverse – that we so desperately need to survive the Anthropocene.


NEXT: Back to Old Business – MAC 4 Concluding Session; Spanish Social Centers Ponder Legalization Strategies; The Madrid Seminar of Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor


study document prepared by the GEC for this meeting

Rent-gap theory

The concept of ethical spectacle offers a way of thinking about the tactical and strategic use of signs, symbols, myths, and fantasies to advance progressive, democratic goals.

Russian Dada 1914–1924

UK documentary on the group Film length: 32:06 In Jackson, Mississippi, Cooperation Jackson are building a solidarity economy...

Mares de Madrid - Barrios. Economía. Futuro
Mares de Madrid es un proyecto de transformación urbana que, a través de la economía social y solidaria, busca fomentar iniciativas productivas innovadoras.

Naples OSCs given a path of legalization...
Marta Cillero, "What Makes an Empty Building in Naples a 'Common Good'?", Political Critique, April 25, 2017

Co-ops were not included in Roosevelt's New Deal....
Jonathan Rowe, "What History Books Left Out About Depression Era Co-ops", Yes! magazine, Sep 14, 2018

Beatriz García, “Centros sociales y sindicalismo: la potencia colectiva,” June 2, 2015, Diagonal Periodico

I blogged it in 2012....

Bank of the Commons

M^C^O – Macao – their manifesto about Common Coin

using the Bank of the Commons (now in beta)

“Messages of Rupture”: An Interview with Emanuele Braga on the MACAO Occupation in Milan By by Cultural Workers Organize, translated by Roberta Buiani

M^C^O - Macao


Saturday, September 15, 2018

On the Tech Beat – Of Platforms and Contradictions

Graphic from IGD podcast of Nov. '17 "Error451: #04 Net Neutrality"

So summer is done and it's back to school before you know it. There's still a bunch to say about what happened in Madrid in July – and I promise to get back to it. But first, to the current course work.
I attended a talk last week at the Reina Sofia museum entitled “Overexploited and Underpaid,” part of a series called “Six Contradictions and the End of the Present” produced by the Grupo de Estudios Críticos.
The speakers were professors Trebor Scholz and Tiziana Terranova.
The framing of this appearance was announced on the museum's website:
“Though the Internet was initially considered a public space based on the free interaction among equals, it is now conceived as a huge factory without walls where any aspect of the day-to-day life can be valorised, produced and commoditised. Is there any alternative to this scenario?”
A study document was prepared by the GEC, which is quite extensive, concluding with the group's "Requirements for a transformative cooperativism". I did not see this. I just kind of came along to the seminar after the talk I blog below, and had no hesitation about barging into the conversation.
I had met Trebor 15 years ago at a conference in Buffalo, New York, called “Free Cooperation.” I was working then on artists' groups and collectives (I finally published Art Gangs in 2012), so all this stuff and these people interested me. Key conveners of that long-ago conference were Trebor Scholz, Brian Holmes, Geert Lovink, and Howard Rheingold, a Whole Earth catalog veteran and professional tech optimist.
“Free cooperation” named a conditon of labor promoted by Christoph Spehr. A book came out of that conference published by Autonomedia which emphasized the creative side of online action: “New media artists create social online tools and urge others to participate,” the promotion reads. “Knowledge collectives gather information in large, open repositories. Free culture – with all its file-sharing applications – is blossoming.”
At that point internet penetration was about 13% of everybody. Last year it passed 50% of everyone in the world. What has powered that is not free cooperation, nor indeed any kind of blossoming. It has been the raw power of capital. And, despite Google's pledge to “not be evil,” capital is not benign.
In 2016 I saw a barnstormer tour appearance by the authors of People Get Ready concerning the "jobless future" of AI (artificial intelligence) and super supple robots which turbo-capitalism can soon deliver. The implications for liberal democracy are bleak. The Atlantic magazine has been dinning this line for some time, most recently in a text by an Israeli author, who ought to know.
Or not. There's clear advantages everywhere for everybody in the platforms which capitalist internet firms have provided. This modern sword of Damocles hanging over our virtual banquet table is one of the “Six Contradictions” the seminar series at MNCARS set out to explore.
Scholz and Terranova both spoke in a formal lecture talk at the museum. I was immediately presented with a classic meat-world problem when a sniffling sneezing young woman sat down next to me, blocking me from the aisle. Foolish me, to take an inside seat. I really didn't want to get sick.
Terranova had the dystopian side of the argument, as she pointed out that the internet was developed with state funding. In the middle '90s it was opened to business and the market, and the slide towards monopoly concentration began. Investment poured in for all kinds of schemes. It stuttered with the “bubble” of '00, when many of the more hippie-minded projects popped, then came in again for real with the aim of disrupting all former businesses as usual. Ergo, shopping malls dying all over the USA today.
She began with an enormous obscure graphic – "Anatomy of an AI System [artificial intelligence] -- The Amazon Echo as an anatomical map of human labor, data and planetary resources." More than a map, this enormous graphic is accompanied online by an extensive illustrated essay. Terranova pointed out that the terms with which we think of capital and labor today must undergo deep change in the face of the rise of AI.

A 17th c. graphic from the "anatomy of AI" article; this illustration of "citafonia" from the Baroque era makes as much or more sense than the micro-rendering of the AI diagram itself....

All of this development is going to remain invisible to us, the users, “confined to the front end,” i.e., the user interface. These ways of interacting with “computational platform capital,” like Alexa and Siri [Alexa is Amazon's virtual assistant, like Siri from Apple's iPhone], raise the specter of a foreclosed dystopian future, like the TV series “Black Mirror.” (Which, BTW, I will not watch as I consider it the epistemological equivalent of the “strong guys with guns” genre of TV programs.)
Alexa starts laughing in the middle of the night, scaring its owners. Is a resistance embedded in the program?
All of this is profoundly disruptive to life as we have known and lived it, driven by the idea that information-based economic models can replace market systems. What maintains this hegemony in the sphere of public life is neoliberalism, an ideology, a Foucauldian “abstract machine” that subjectively holds the explicit structures together.
Trebor Scholz had the optimistic role, but he began it with a sober reminder. “People gave their lives” for the rights of workers over the past 200 years, and now capitalist “sharing” platforms are wiping those away. Discrimination among platform workers and vendors is resurgent as well.
As the evangelist of platform cooperativism, he drove straight to a few of the 45 cases from his book with Nathan Schneider, “Ours to Hack and to Own.” Among them is Up & Go Cleaners in NYC, one of a number of in-home services groups comprised of women of color and migrant laborers. There is here an alignment, a commonality with union organizing, as in the case of Las Kellys, and Territorio Domestico, workers' rights groups active in Spain among hotel cleaners and care workers.
Another is a Swiss co-op, which helps “citizens to securely store, manage and control access to their personal” health data. Very useful when talking to different doctors, and also to access clinical trials.
There is also FairBnB, a short-term rental platform which started in Italy and also works in Spain on a principle of “community-powered tourism,” returning a portion of profit to local projects.
These examples directly address current hot button issues – low-wage labor, exploitation and exclusion of migrants from labor markets, data privacy, and impact of Airbnb tourism on housing availability.
The idea is not new, Scholz said. Older co-ops, some quite powerful – e.g., Mondragon, True Value hardware – are “hiding in plain sight” as they have adapted to the corporate landscape, and do not look down at the seedlings around them.
The platform cooperative idea has a good deal of powerhouse academic support behind it. Multiple sessions of training are being held, and publications produced.
A questioner wondered if this was not cultural imperialism? The precondition of co-design, that the workers themselves be intimately involved in developing the platform, works against that.
Politically, said Terranova, the main task is to show that platform capitalism is doing a lot of collateral damage. Scholz said that in the USA they are looking to municipalities to support these initiatives. As per André Gorz it's a “reformist reform.”
People are struggling to survive, said Terranova. That's a strategy of power. They don't have time to organize. And (unsurprisingly) most of these platform capitalists are US companies.

NEXT: The seminar report



Six Contradictions and the End of the Present

Grupo de Estudios Críticos

one brief bio of Trebor Scholz

Tiziana Terranova

study document prepared by the GEC for this meeting

an idea promoted by Christoph Spehr

the book, “Free Cooperation”

internet penetration last year

Summary highlights from People Get Ready, by Robert W McChesney and John Nichols

a text by an Israeli author – "Why Technology Favors Tyranny," by Yuval Noah Harari; extract from his book

shopping malls dying all over the USA
"Big, bold … and broken: is the US shopping mall in a fatal decline?", by Dominic Rushe. 23 Jul 2017

"Anatomy of an AI System -- The Amazon Echo as an anatomical map of human labor, data and planetary resources."
More than a map, this

evangelist of platform cooperativism – Trebor Scholz has published a number of books.
This pamphlet by Trebor Scholz is online, “Platform Cooperativism: Challenging the Corporate Sharing Economy,” January 2016

Nathan Schneider – “Everything for everyone”: Michel Bauwens interviews Nathan Schneider, Sept. 10, 2018

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