Writer Alan Moore gifted Llano Del Rio with this fabulous annotated reading list contextualizing the broad movement, and theoretical basis of, municipalism with a thought-line specific to Los Angeles. Moore is an independent scholar of the global autonomous movements, the author of (among other things) “Art Gangs: Protest and Counterculture in New York City,” and “Occupation Culture: Art Squatting in the City from Below.” As a young man in Manhattan in the 1970s his editor at Artforum, John Coplans, said “your beat is the underground.”
Municipalism as I know it, and blogged its later meetings on Occupations & Properties, is an electoral movement in Spain that grew out of the popular assemblies of the 15M movement (named for the camp in Madrid’s Sol square on May 15, 2011). These sprang up nationwide during an election season. They not only took the streets, they camped, months before Occupy Wall Street. (Details at: 15Mpedia.org, including recent issues of the newspaper madrid15M). The elections brought the right wing to power, and years of street demonstrations against austerity measures. The mareas – waves of protestors with specific issues, identified by color (e.g., marea blanca for health workers) – coalesced into electoral platforms around Spain.
Housing is part of everyone’s bare life. Getting evicted is the inflection point for many people’s activism. I was in a show in Berlin on gentrification in 2017. There I talked with Fred Dewey, who ran Beyond Baroque in LA, and was deep into the Neighborhood Council movement in 2002. He wrote The School of Public Life (Errant Bodies/Doormats, 2015), a tiny book of provocative essays on the matter of being face to face, and exercising citizen power. Fred is a student of Hannah Arendt. He loves Ultra-red, the sound art group that’s been long active in LA, recently with some in Defend Boyle Heights. Ultra-red teaches in Europe. If a bibliography can be about books not read, then I like one they pimped: The Force of Listening, by Lucia Farinati & Claudia Firth (Errant Bodies/Doormats, 2017). The Ultra-red gentrification project was called “School of Echoes.” Listening is how one conducts effective assemblies and builds circles of solidarity. It’s worth a study. Bighead blabbermouths like me can always write – even write about what they heard while listening.
In Spain the movement of the evicted is called PAH. A leader was Ada Colau, elected in 2015 as mayor of Barcelona. Quite an achievement for a former squatter – but that’s an aspect of Spanish politics that is alien to USA (although you could look to SF in the ’80s and ’90s to find… a lot of activists who had to move away). Colau and Adrià Alemany wrote Vidas Hipotecadas in 2012, translated as Mortgaged Lives by Michelle Teran for the Journal of Aestehtics & Protest. (She also made a 40-minute film which streams on the Aesthetics & Protest website.) The effects of listening in PAH assemblies is strong: “Each week you cry after these meetings with the [indebted] homeowners, but not just with their pain. There is joy, too, because every week there are problems that get resolved. It is a very beautiful thing” (quoted on the Journal Of Aesthetics & Protest website).
I’d call PAH the spine of Spanish municipalism. Why? Because they do direct action in urban space. They open places for living and for meeting. Here I’ll stick my work, developed with the SqEK group of squatting researchers: the zine House Magic ( 2009-16), my book, Occupation Culture: Art & Squatting in the City from Below (Minor Compositions, 2015), and our anthology Making Room: Cultural Production in Occupied Spaces, Moore and Alan Smart (JoAAP, 2015), both online as PDFs. Those books, and many others edited by SqEK describe a movement blacked out for decades in US media. Wonder why. It’s hard to organize if you’ve got nowhere to live and nowhere to meet. Can’t pay? Organize your ass out of here, why doncha?
Back to voting which is still legal, more or less. The best basic explanation of the Spanish electoral municipalist movement is provided by the Municipal Recipes website, with its 30 min. video of key activists, cooking a meal and explaining their program. (The Guerrilla Translation group also posts the video, and glosses it with the magnificent illustration by Maria Castelló Solbés; an interview with the graphic designers is in the Lumpen Magazine issue on municipalism 2017; there they express some later misgivings; for example about including Italy’s 5-Star.) Ostensibly municipalist platforms (slates of candidates) control numerous cities in Spain today, including Madrid and Barcelona, the biggest. The most radical – with elected governments that word must be used advisedly – is fronted by Ada Colau. Barcelona En Comú is evangelistic. The key voice of the platform in English is the one-time Brit, Kate Shea Baird, who does communications: social networks and translation. She posts on Open Democracy, Medium, Red Pepper, CTXT, Roar, etc. She is a politóloga who studied at Oxford.
Baird was a key organizer of the Fearless Cities conference in Barcelona in June of ’17. (I attended, and blogged it at Occupations & Properties. Barcelona En Comú’s YouTube channel has many conference streams.) Baird’s writing is excellent as an intro to municipalist ideas. For me the best is with Laura Roth for Roarmag.org: “Left-wing populism and the feminization of politics,” from January of ’17, and “Municipalism and the Feminization of Politics” for Roar‘s “City Rises” issue, Summer ’17. It’s important to understand that municipalism is a feminist project – it is politics stripped of the habitus of macho power – imperative command, closed doors, repression, opaque bureaucracy, exclusions. It is a rough ride to center citizens’ voices, care and environmentalism in your politics. You get called a communist witch.
I don’t think Americans appreciate the repression they live with and what it will take to break out of it. Mientras the white settlers have taken up the Comanchero role of fake Indians, and are riding around the wagon train of our futurity. Tania Bruguera said “It’s not just buildings structures and circles of solidarity, it’s how do these circles and structures of solidarity protect themselves?” (from “The Artist as Activist: Tania Bruguera in Conversation with Claire Bishop,” YouTube, 2016). European activists have a lot more of what Huck Finn called “sand,” and don’t think it’s ’cause Spanish and German cops are so soft; they charge, use their sticks, and shoot people (with “non-lethal” rounds).
But it’s true they don’t often murder people in cold blood, that’s real terror. Which brings us to the major municipalist movement in USA, Cooperation Jackson, which has inspired many a Black Lives Matter activist. The Rosa Luxemburg foundation in NYC has posted the pamphlet “Casting Shadows: Chokwe Lumumba and the Struggle for Racial Justice and Economic Democracy in Jackson, Mississippi,” by Kali Akuno (27 pp., 2015). This is a deep-rooted program, dating to Black Panther times. Yes, the South votes red, but that’s the white settler slavers’ government setup. Laura Flanders recently reported on the Southern Movement Assembly. Reverend William Barber is fronting a new Poor People’s Campaign. There’s a lot going on, and transversality is the key. The most impressive activists I met in Barcelona at “Fearless Cities” were Black Lives Matter vets. Today’s promoted t-shirt ad has: “Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it” – Malcolm X. Okay for Gary Cooper days, except the BLM activists I met in BCN were all women! Filming a cop shooting your lover in the car – that’s sand.
Rosa Luxemburg foundation also posted the PDF of Vicente Rubio-Pueyo’s “Municipalism in Spain. From Barcelona to Madrid, and Beyond” (24 pp. 2017). It’s important to note that municipalism is broad-based. Barcelona’s platform in Catalonia fronts hard, but they have other problems today. The MAC meetings (Muncipalismo, Autogobierno y Contrapoder) include activists from all over Spain. There have been four meetings so far. (Note: there is no central source for MAC. Search it at YouTube. Also remember the MAC in Euskadi, Basque country, is MAK.) The idea is in the conference title – autonomous self-organization and counter-power are integral parts of the municipalist idea. They are a point of leverage. (Squatted social centers are so important here.) Without a foot in the movements, your electoral candidates simply drift off into business as usual.
A main area of focus for Cooperation Jackson – it’s in its name – is development of worker co-ops with city government help. Common ownership of businesses is known in Europe through famous examples like the UK’s Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers (1844) and the Spanish Mondragon Corporation of the mid-1950s. Anarchists prefer worker collectives without hierarchical management. Baltimore has a great one; a kingpin in that now works for the NGO Democracy Collaborative, which promotes co-ops. A broad-scale economy buffered against hyper-capitalist tides is essential for enhancing democracy. Wage slaves cannot be free. There’s a lot on this. Recently I’d recommend following Nathan Schneider, a Nation Magazine writer (sadly much is gated). There’s his forthcoming Everything for Everyone: The Radical Tradition that Is Shaping the Next Economy (Nation Books, USA). He also edited Ours to Hack and to Own: The Rise of Platform Cooperativism, a New Vision for the Future of Work and a Fairer Internet with Trebor Scholz. Scholz organized the conference series “The Politics of Digital Culture,” much of which is online in streams.
Scholz’s background is hacker theory. His ideas feed into the wave of contemporary “techno-politics,” which has the most traction in Europe. (Trebor is German. In the USA, big media worries about Russkies hacking our white settler voting machines.) I attended and blogged the November ’17 Democratic Cities participation technologies festival in Madrid last fall. I struggled to absorb the dope on things like “Consul, the largest platform in the world based on Ruby on Rails. Free software for participation in politics.” (Again, much of this is streamed on YouTube.) This shit is deep, and revolutionary. It’s not Uber or AirBnB “sharing” economy BS, but true tech utopistics. I cannot refference y’all a source for the hacking stuff. The ideas and examples behind this technological research are laid out very well in Michael Menser’s We Decide! Theories and Cases in Participatory Democracy (Temple University, 2018) for a full dress rundown on the theory and history of “PD.” Menser’s sympathies are Occupy Wallstreet and anarchist, and he has chapters like “Participatory Budgeting, Democratic Theory, and the Disarticulation of the State” which tickled me. This must come to pass….
For eggheads, one bulkier read could be Michael Hardt and Author Antonio Negri’s Assembly (Oxford U., 2017), which turns some ancient political theory assumptions around. Expensive in hardback, yeah, but perfect for discussion groups and somewhat smoother than the earlier books. Find the pirate PDF….