Tuesday, May 11, 2021

"Official" End of the Squatting Europe/Everywhere Kolletive

I tweeted this today --
1/ The SqEK email list today ceased to exist. This group of squatting researchers and activists, dedicated to producing knowledge useful to the movements, formed in 2009. The "Kollective" -- more a community of researchers -- split in 2019, after a final meeting in Madrid.
2/ We from NYC went to SqEK meets. I wrote of them in "Occupation Culture", and blogged it in "Occupations & Properties". Squatters aren't done, nor are the ceaseless attempts to evict and erase them. For updates on these precious carbuncles of the commons, see https://es.squat.net/.
Alan Willard Moore on Twitter
also on Mastodon

Saddened, But Unsurprised

From its start SqEK was a group of academics. Many of them came from squatting movements, but their intention was to produce academic-quality research that did what social science really always aspires to do -- explain, and through accumulating knowledge, to expand understanding of squatting as a coherent social and subcultural movement.

Through that kind of work, consistently marginalized and politicized movements like squatting enter into the calculus of governance as something other than a police problem. Social science is implicitly ameliorative; it is complicit with power

Too Much Success

SqEK came apart in a way from its success. After the conclusion of its biggest funded research project, called Movokeur, which saw historical maps of squats in various European cities produced through assiduous assembling research, and its blow-out 2015 conference in Barcelona (funded by Antipode foundation), there were no more big grants. The unfunded activist-organized conferences thereafter were somewhat sparsely attended. (These reprised the form of the 'squatter convergence', which will doubtless continue in future.)

Alan Smart's "book machine" at work at the SqEK meeting in Rome, at the Forte Prenestino


I could not have done my book "Occupation Culture" without SqEK. (That book, and our anthology "Making Room", are free PDFs here.) Most of that book is an account of our meetings, most of them revised from this over 10-year-old blog. As the reader may have gathered, this writer is not done with squatting, nor are many of the researchers and activists once affiliated with the SqEK group. How we will meet, network and collaborate in future years is what is now up in the air.
In any event, SqEK produced an impressive body of work over its 10 years of existence. The group also laid down a marker on the responsibility of academics to return their work on marginal resistant communities back to those people to help them better conceive and execute their work against the grain of capitalist property-based society. Although never explicitly stated in its communiques, SqEK was a group of militant researchers.

By the way -- this blog remains open to contributors on the themes of squatting and occupation. Even to promote your recent article or book with a small blurb. Contact me at awm13579 [at] gmail [dot] com if you are interested.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Flexible Batons and Social Unionism

It’s been pretty heavy in the runup to the provincial elections today. Tonight the left got fucked; at the moment it looks bad for the left. The snap special elections were called by weird, eye-rolling right-wing governor Isabel Ayuso (rightwing PP, "Madrid's Trump") so she could get rid of the faux-centrist Ciudadanos and govern alone, or most likely in coalition with extreme right Vox. (Ciudadanos in Murcia had proved an unreliable coalition partner, and Ayuso feared a similar threat in Madrid.) Her most reliable partner is Vox.

Illustration is of paper dolls of Madrid traditional costumes -- the chulapo y chulapo

Their election discourse is a ceaseless attack on Pablo Iglesias of the Podemos party, who quit his federal post to run in this regional election. Ayuso attacks Iglesias. Ciudadanos attacks Iglesias. “Communist”, he wants to “make Madrid Venezuela”.

Return of Fascist Glamor

Vox party outliers have been busy. Recently neo-nazis attacked a social center in La Paz barrio, CSA El Barco, destroying furniture and food collected for the pantry of Red Solidaria de Fuencarral. 15 of them, from the recently-formed group Bastión Frontal, attacked the center, striking some volunteers with a motorcycle helmet and a flexible baton.

Fascist teen queen Isabel Medina

It’s a gas to be a young fascist in Spain now. 18-year-old Isabel Medina Peralta, daughter of a Toledo PP party man, heads the recently revived womens section of the Falange, and is a member of Bastión Frontal. She recently expressed a classic modernist anti-Semitism in a ceremony honoring the fallen of the Division Azul, Spanish fascists who fought for Hitler. The assembled celebrants, military garbed, gave Nazi salutes in a shocking video.
These fascists resemble the US Proud Boys and Boogaloos. But unlike those macho fronters, mainstream ultra-rights are women. It’s a fascist answer to the transversal feminist left.
This attack on the El Barco social center was not in the mainstream news, but the bullets and threatening notes sent to left and center-left leaders in the government did make the news. Vox said the leftists sent the threats to themselves.
So today Madrid votes. After some shilly-shallying, mainily from the statuesque and inexpressive socialist candidate, the left finally came together and stopped squabbling. Didn't do them any good.

Meanwhile, Outside the Government

La Ingobernable, the social center two years in the center of Madrid, was evicted as soon as the rightwing PP took the mayoralty, in November of ‘19 (despite a court order). Now the Ingob crew has struck again. They took a vacant hostel near the Puerta del Sol, the very center of Madrid, indeed the “kilometer zero” of the country.

Banner dropped out front of the building on calle de la Cruz -- "Oficina de Derechos Sociales La Ingobernable #DerechosParaCambiarloTodo"

The building they took belonged to a family of hairdresser-landlords who had evicted another okupa in one of their numerous vacant buildings. La Pluma -- "the feather" -- called a Centro Social Okupado Transfeminista, was taken during Madrid's Pride Week, 2018, to lay down a political marker in this now quite commercialized event. @CSOTLaPluma was evicted with the help of hired thugs. A criminal complaint is still pending.

An Office of Social Rights

A banner drop outside the building claimed “Social rights to change everything” ("Derechos sociales para cambiarlo todo").
Inside the assembly plans to hear the problems of citizens beaten down by the pandemic and continued low-wage precarious labor, exploitative rents, hunger and inadequate health services.
This action was taken on 2nd of May, an historic date in Madrid’s history, the day of the rising against the French in 1808. Activists are said to have dressed in traditional city garb, as chulapos y chulapas, as they negotiated witih police.

Against Our Erasure

This resonant date was chosen as the moment for the social movements to respond to the ceaseless provocations of the rightwing city government, which has remorselessly dismantled numerous sites of self-organized citizen participation, social centers and community gardens.
(See my earlier posts on this blog, "Tearing It All Down: The Twilight of the Citizen Participation Movement in Madrid" 3/21 and "Destroying Citizen Participation in Madrid: Part 2", both March, 2021.)
These spaces were not okupas. They had all been authorized by earlier mayoral administrations, some of them right wing. The new mayor ended all of them. Just as he promised he would replace the original building occupied by Ingobernable with a) a health center, and b) a museum, nothing has been done. There are no signs of any government activity to renovate any of these places as anything. The citizens have simply been cleared out and the places locked up.

Against the Logics of Neoliberalism

Invoking David Harvey’s “right to the city” (and behind Harvey Henri Lefebvre in his 1968 book Le Droit à la ville), Duke in Madrid professor Ernesto García López writes that the evicted projects generated “common goods” through radical democratic practice. They “spawned a certain moment of disconnection from hegemonic moral universes”, the “logics of neoliberal subjectivity”.
Quite simply, you don’t have to pay to hang out or particpate in those places. They are free and open to all – common goods.
The rightwing neoliberal privatizers understand the danger. “[P]recisely because the adversary has understood that these neighborhood experiences pose a threat...” García López writes, “these kinds of experiences constitute one of the decisive battlefields to contest the city today and tomorrow. Now more than ever, neighborhood communality becomes a strategic scenario of the political.”

“If” – Tearing Down, Building Up

The “neoliberal logic” was embodied in Ayuso’s monosyllabic campaign – “Libertad”. Freedom to what? Go have a beer, despite the confinement being practiced all over Europe; freedom to keep your bar or restaurant open with minimal restraint; freedom to stay in your residence if you are old and sick, and not be sent to the hospital; freedom to pay a doctor because the lines at public health clinics are so long; freedom hopefully not to pay such high taxes to support a socialist system. Ayuso paraded around the province, turning public events into campaign events, in a way unprecedented in Spanish politics. But not in Trump’s USA. This morning, after the PP victory, she is crowing.
The citizens' centers are bad for business. People in them are not consuming. Even as the right wields the power of governance to smash these citizen centers, these kinds of centers are replanted, grown back, and ever more tightly theorized.
The mayor also shut down Medialab Prado. “Moved”, it was said, but the Medialab has yet to be reconstituted in its “new location” outside the center. Medialab had evolved into the think tank of municipalism. (These complex meetings were blogged here during 2016-17.)
One of Medialab’s groups, GriGri Projects, boasts an extensive array of academic and institutional collaborators. GriGri Projects centers Afro-Europeans and Latinx collaborators of color. This spring they’ve launched a series called "Un botiquín para mi ciudad" (“A first aid kit for my city”; it’s on YouTube also). They write of their intention:
“In the face of the emptying of the collective senses, in the face of the cutback of community public services and the generalized privatization of life, at a time when we are faced with a reality of climate and health emergency and the devaluation of life in common as stated in the manifesto ‘Catastrophe Ethics’ , we want to propose a space from which to collectively imagine and design tools to deploy a livable life in the city of Madrid and in this way weave our common existence.”

Social Unionism

Pablo Carmona, a key author of the municipalist manifesto La Apuesta Municipalista. La democracia empieza por lo cercano (2014), returns to an earlier conception of social unionism to explain the necessity of the social center today.
A historian, he points out that the socialists passed the labor reform which broke the social contract. The young working class became a cheapened labor force with few of the rights their parents had enjoyed. Precarious work in tourism and hospitality became bedrock features of the Spanish economy. Now, 30 years later, “widespread precariousness came face to face with a runaway real estate market”, making survival a daily struggle.
To confront this neoliberal “wild urbanism”, “new models of organization and articulation” of struggle are needed. Besides trade unionism – “cis-hetero male, white, with rights and sustained by family salary” – what was needed was a social union that would answer the needs of “migrants, domestic workers, manteros [migrant workers without papers who sell in the street], evicted and precarious young people” – in short, all those on the margins or completely excluded from the social contract of the state.

Jack Kirby

Offices of Social Rights

The kind of space the Ingobernable crew opened up last week, then, is to “build forms of self-organization and struggle that will serve as a meeting in the midst of dispersal”. It sounds something like the Unemployed Councils of the 1930s.
“In these spaces there were activities as different as Spanish classes for migrants, or school support, solidarity pantries, rights workshops or housing counseling. All of them, forms of encounter around specific problems with the aim of fostering an idea: the construction of communities that fight for their rights.”
(A living example of this is the as-yet-unevicted resistant social center ESLA Eko in Arganzuela barrio, which hosts all these activities – as well as three iterations of the JACA exhibition of radical art described in this blog.)
The Social Rights Office would provide “collective advice” for problems people in Madrid confront, a cornerstone of the trade union model, and even some government offices. But these SROs would avoid “the assistance, charitable and paternalistic logic that can be produced in these spaces, to compose spaces of resistance from the community in struggle.”

The logic is clear. The issue now is survival. When you lose the government, the only recourse is the streets.

[machine translations cited]

Guillermo Martínez, “La Ingobernable vuelve a ocupar en el centro de Madrid y crean una Oficina de Derechos Sociales”, May 2, 2021, Publico.es

Ernesto García López, “Disputar Madrid desde las experiencias vecinales”, CuartoPoder.es, February 26, 2021

GriGri Projects – Convocatoria "Un botiquín para mi ciudad" (May 6-June 12)

Pablo Carmona, Nuria Alabao, “El sindicalismo social y los Centros Sociales siguen siendo imprescindibles”, El Salto, May 3 2021

e.s.l.a. EKO – Espacio Sociocultural Liberado Autogestionado ...

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Destroying Citizen Participation in Madrid: Part 2

Drawing of the demonstration for EVA, by @cuadernista
As I blogged last time, the city of Madrid has been on a revanchist rampage to shutter all the permitted citizen-managed spaces in the city. It started last year, and has not let up. They began with La Gasolinera (@LaGasoli) in 2019, right after they beat Manuela Carmena in the elections for mayor. Manuela’s party, Mas Madrid, was expected to win, but the left split and the right came to power in both the city and the province.
La Gasolinera was an innocuous place, full of parents and kids. But they showed a film that the neighborhood councilman didn’t like, and that Vox man, the ultra-right political party with whom the PP “center right” has allied, demanded the place be closed.
That was the start. There’ve been several evictions since then, like the lovely Solar de Antonio Grilo (see pic of mosaics) @solarantoniogrilo. The next place on the chopping block is Casa de Cultura de Chamberí (@CasaChamberi, @SomosChamberi). That’s a rich neighborhood, so it’s perplexing why the right would want to close a place where the people likely vote for them.
I went to the demo to save the Casa Cultura. It started with a bang – a drum corps beating out the rhythm. A brass band further along the parade played traditional popular songs. Lots of kids, some carrying heart-rendering collaged signs. There was no sign of any political party, no angry placards, and only a couple of people wore t-shirts. (One “bruja” [witch] beating a drum, and another from La Ingobernable 1st anniversary, La Ingob the evicted social center next to the Caixa Forum tourist attraction.)

The apoliticism of the crowd was in itself a plea, albeit useless. They’ve filed a lawsuit to delay the eviction, arguing that the work of social interest should be continued during the pandemic. They cite the neighborhood food pantry (the city doesn’t do that, although some churches do), and the support group for patients from a local mental hospial. There was another demo later at city hall to bang a pan for the food pantries.
The legal route did not work for EVA (#EVAsigue, @evArganzuela). They got the boot anyhow.
More to the point, a group of young people "struggling for a barrio organized, joyful and combative" (Arganzuela 27 @agz27), have broken into an abandoned Santander Bank building to open a new social center.
So the beat goes on….
All of this is rather atypical for a city that has long tolerated a certain level of squatting – it alleviates a housing crisis they have no interest in solving. But this new administration, both in the city and the province level, is especially brutal and uninterested in solving poor and working peoples’ problems. The outlying shantytown Canada Real was without electric power for months last year, a scandal in Europe. Why?
The garden Solar Antonio Grilo before eviction

They were running so many marijuana plantations they caused blackouts, said the shameless politicians. Look at their expensive cars parked outside!, said the unrepentant legislators, as the media showed kids doing homework by cel phone flashlights and mothers gathering wood to burn for heat.
If they can do that why should they care about a bunch of citizen-run spaces that provide, as the Chamberistas wrote, a “meeting point so that from mutual support a social fabric seriously affected by the pandemic crisis could be sustained.”


NEXT: The “Located Museum” Steps Up


Merche Negro, “Golpe a la participación ciudadana: PP y Vox promueven la eliminación de asociaciones vecinales a base de quitarles los espacios concedidos”, 31 ene 2021, El Pais

Agencias, "Ayuntamiento recupera el solar de Antonio Grilo, okupado durante una década", 7/12/2020, La Vanguardia

Leah Pattem in Madrid, "Spanish shantytown residents face third month without power as snow forecast", Mon 7 Dec 2020, The Guardian

Reina Sofia, “Museo Situado” manifesto

Monday, March 22, 2021

Tearing It All Down: The Twilight of the Citizen Participation Movement in Madrid

What’s Wrong Here?
It’s hard to explain these places because they don’t really have many counterparts in the USA. But they’re common in Europe, and there are many in Spain. The geneaology of citizen spaces is mixed. There’s the anarchist tradition, exemplified by the career of the education martyr Francisco Ferrer, of workers’ self-education. Some of the spaces have that tendency, most especially in Barcelona. Others are descendants of neighborhood organizations from the time of the dictator Franco. So you’d be forgiven for understanding their existence as part of a common civic good.
They are places of popular animation, where people can come together to do projects that they themselves decide are useful and interesting. They don’t need approval from bureaucrats or managers, they just need agreement among themselves.
They are the nodes of citizen participation, places where people can really feel a part of their neighborhood, not just a consumer.

We Don’t Like You

Right wing politicians have never liked these places, no matter what form they take. Over the last few decades many of these citizen spaces have been set up and legalized. They were given contracts by the government in response to steady organized pressure from citizens’ groups.
Now the city administration has passed to the right wing hands again. This time the traditional PP is reinforced by coalition with a new hard right neo-fascist party called Vox, and they are determined to eliminate all of these spaces throughtout the city, not just the few okupas they fulminated against during the electoral campaign. Moreover they are disordering and disturbing the operation of the principle think tank and generating center of citizen participation, a funded agency called Medialab Prado. It’s being evicted from its purpose-built building in central Madrid.
Over several years, I watched the arising of spaces like these, and reported in this blog on the discourse of citizen activation across institutions and cultural agencies in Europe. Artists, architects, urbanists and activists were talking about strategies, holding conferences, generating reports and journal articles.
Put queries like “strategies to activate citizen participation”, “How can you encourage public participation?”, and “What is active citizen participation?” into a search engine and they’ll come up.

Get Back In Line, Buster

Why is the right wing so opposed to this plainly effective goal of good government?

The questions may seem tiresome since the answer seems so clear. Contemporary reactionary politicians, and in the case of Madrid the self-declared “center right”, have embraced the political strategy of polarization that worked so well for Trump. Spaces of citizen participation, where people of different points of view can meet, interact and decide things together can break the spell of polarized siloed political viewpoints. So that’s no good.
And of course people are doing things other than consuming, so that’s no good either.
To grant contracts of use to citizens for centers of self-organized initiatives means those places aren’t available to be sold to the highest bidder or simply given away to a political friend. Corruption is endemic to right wing politics in Spain, so that isn’t only conspiratorial supposition.
Last month the permitted legal neighborhood center EVA Arganzuela was evicted from its premises. (It's name, EVA, means Espacio Vecinal de Arganzuela, Neighborhood Space of the Arganzuela barrio.) I went there a number of times. I blogged about its formation, in a long campaign of demand for such a space carried out with the collaboration of the nearby cultural center Intermediae in the Matadero complex. Intermediae later paid for supporting that demand when the city cut their space in half. That kind of reprisal happens when a city agency steps over some invisible line drawn in the minds of the right wing. That’s what is happening now to Medialab Prado. The agency is paying for its past political sins.

Break It Up, Move Along

Medialab is Madrid's think-tank on citizen participation -- fablab, media center, and a place of international conferences. The director has been fired, the custom-built edifice in the center of Madrid is being cleared, and the staff moved to the periphery of the city. This is the crowning act on the on-going demolition of citizen participation infrastructure -- cultural centers, community gardens -- going on all over the city. As the right’s slogan for the May election campaign goes, "It's either communism or liberty." Citizens together apparently is communism.

I did a project at EVA. I proposed they use some machines they had to make a zine. It was tough to get it going. I had to attend several assemblies, and argue with numerous people. Finally a young couple supported the idea, and it happened. What distiniguishes that experience from normal generation of cultural projects in Madrid is I didn’t have to know somebody in the administration in order to get it to happen. It wasn’t easy, but the door was open. That’s how it is in citizen-run spaces. The complaint that these kinds of places are just “run for a group of friends” and not “public” at all demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of cultural processes. The “public” cultural institution in Madrid is solely a site of spectation. You can only look. Not touch. Everything is arranged by professional cadres. No suggestions are invited.

NEXT: Anemic Pandemic-Era Resistance


Apoyamos y defendemos Medialab Prado

Jorge Otero Maldonado @jorgeotero99
"El traslado de MediaLab-Prado amenaza la candidatura del 'Eje Prado-Retiro' para ser Patrimonio Mundial de la UNESCO"

María F. Sánchez
"El cierre del EVA: el desalojo de un espacio vecinal esencial durante la pandemia"

in English