Autonomous self-organized education, mutual aid learning, is a cornerstone of radical organizing. Institutions – the creatures of the state, of churches, and of immoderate wealth – cannot be trusted..
In addition to
From Across the Sea
This year European anti-capitalist movements received a morale boost from the visit and tour of a group of Zapatista activists. They call it the 500 year “reverse invasion” from Chiapas. The anniversary is Cortez´s conquest of Mexico in 1519-21. The company crossed the ocean on a sailing ship, and arrived in Madrid this summer. Since then the Zapatistas have been touring the European continent, meeting with activists all over Europe. Their strength comes from their long experience of organizing their largely indigenous communities and battling for autonomy against an angry state in the province of Chiapas. The poetic language of their statements is especially influential, as it is articulated by their principal interlocutors to the non-indigenous world, most notably Subcomandante Marcos.
Pintura de un zapatista identificado como Camilo año 2013
The Zapatista movement announced itself in 1994 at the same time as the notorious NAFTA free trade treaty came into effect. They opposed themselves specifically to this neoliberal dreamworld which has since blighted working class prospects on both sides of the border, and especially devastated Mexican campesinxs. In the mid-90s the Zapatista movement inspired activists in the USA with the idea of “counter power”, exodus, and the need to set up alternative institutions. Anarchists opened infoshops and skill shares all over the country. In time, the practical drain on scarce resources closed many of these early places, but many remain and new ones opened. In Europe, the Zapatista example boosted left movements, together with the powerful mobilizations of the Global Justice Movement against the World Trade Organization ministerial meetings which spread free trade agreements across the world.
Unlike the hapless US anarchists, who had to pay rent, radical left movements in Europe occupied and maintained large building social centers which served as centers for organizing the demonstrations in the different cities where the WTO meetings happened.
Un Encuentro in Madrid
In September of this year, the Institute of Radical Imagination hosted a four-day program to coincide with the arrival of the Zapatista contingent in Madrid. “On the Precipice of Time: Practices of Insurgent Imagination” involved both activist groups and institutions, among them the Reina Sofia Museum, Hablarenarte, Centro Cultural La Corrala, and the social center La Villana in the barrio of Vallecas.
Among the many participants, I had a chance to meet with Alessandra Pomarico from the alternative learning platform Free Home University (Italy) and Nikolay Oleynikov, part of the Russian group Chto Delat (“what is to be done”, the title of a famous tract of Lenin). I took notes on our talk, and include them below.
As well as participating in the encuentro, the two had set up part of a related exhibition with the poetic title Somos fragmentos de la luz que impide que todo sea noche" (We are fragments of the light that prevents everything from being night). That show, curated by Natalia Arcos and Mao Mollona, took place in a floor of La Corala, a charming obscure museum of popular culture, in a restored antique Madrid housing block.
The Somos fragmentos installation was a low-budget magical passage into a “Zapatistic” world, starting with video bits from Vietcong and Bruce Lee movies – “what the Zaptistas watched in the jungle” – and others of the campesinos chatting in the fields, raising schools and such. These videos, many by indigenous filmmakers from Chiapas, among them Liliana K’an Lopez, Delmar Penka Méndez-Gómez, Maria Sojob – engaged themes of women’s struggles against extractive capitalism (e.g., mining), ancestral knowledge, and the tensions between memory, tradition and historical change. A special guest video was by Francisco Huichaqueo, a Mapuche from southern Chile who also worked in Chiapas.
(The Reina Sofia museum showed a concurrent program of indigenous filmmakers, called
"But Tomorrow the Light Will Be for Others: Film and Indigenous Lives".)
After the numerous screens of videos, some rooms in the show at La Corala, artisanally spangled with tiny lights, recalled the brutal Acteal massacre of 1997 with impromptu altars on the floor.
Alessandra and Nikolay installed a “Provisory Learning Station” in the show. Their effort began with a long wall of printouts of collages, a timeline of Zapatista history enhanced with sinuous painted lines, map collage works done with migrants’ histories, and posters from the “Zapantera Negra” project of 2017, which brought Emory Douglas of the Black Panther Party to Chiapas. There was a library, and the last room was occupied with a table and chairs for a “Provisory Learning Center” open to groups to convene and discuss the content of the exhibition.
The show includes artifacts of the processes of learning and un-learning that the Zapatistas, Free Home University and Chto Delat have been using. What is exciting about this way of learning is that it is politically situated – built on a concrete set of social demands, and highly creative – using a combination of artistic processes and poetic story-telling.
Emory Douglas in a replica tent, 2014
“Walking We Ask Questions”
How in a group to recognize, hear and honor diverse experiences, and how to bring them together so all can benefit from the learning? These are classic problems of education – not how we master a curriculum, but how we learn from each other. And further how that learning together can build a movement of struggle. This can seem platitudinous – but finally to make this happen is not so easy.
I talked with Alessandra Pomarico of Free Home University and Nikolay Oleynikov of Chto Delat and FHU at a cafe inside the Reina Sofia museum courtyard. They have just produced a book, When the Roots Start Moving, which records in detail their and others’ experiences engaging with the Zapatistas and their ways of working.
A key event in the book and in the exhibition described above was the film Chto Delat made in Italy with FHU. The making of the film was the way to “build the learning session”, Alessandra said. Together with invited artists and activists, they worked with migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, and activist farmers using natural methods to reclaim the land.
“So this film takes place in this very place where these farmers live and work. We went there. We were always living together. And the film emerged by these relations that we were building. There was no script. There was a process.”
Another “Zapatistic film” was made in Greece with the School of Solidarities, a school maintained by voluntary teachers that started to help migrants learn Greek, and the basics one needs to navigate a new place.
In both places they read the fables of Subcomandantes Marcos and Galeano. These were used “a little bit like icebreakers. We read the fables. We see how they respond to all these very basic demands of the Zapatistas.”
These demands are universal. They ask for a roof, for education, for freedom, for democracy, for health. “So through the fabulation, the prefiguration that Marcos transfers in this beautiful novel we activated conversations.”
Chto Delat and Free Home University, “When the Roots Start Moving: First Mouvement: To Navigate Backward, Resonating with Zapatismo,” edited by Alessandra Pomarico & Nikolay Oleynikov
The engagement of European activists in these processes brought up the question of going beyond solidarity, an idea and a vision that “empowered the movement in Italy at a moment when so much shredded apart”.
The coincidence between the Zapatistas’ basic proposals and the demands of the Black Panther Party was the core of the earlier Zapantera Negra project. Emory Douglas, minister of culture for the BPP and Caleb Duarte Piñon of EDELO set up an artists’ residency program in Chiapas to connect and be in service with the caracoles of the Zapatistas.
The Zapantera Negra project generated beautiful works, posters and murals, that superimposed two iconographic sytems, the propaganda of the Black Panthers and the embroidery work and corn-centered imagery of the Zapatistas, like Huey P. Newton surrounded with corncobs.
The Zapatistas, Alessandra said, “have this incredible capacity to self-reflect, and to build an archive and a process of research that is transmitted for everyone, not just the intellectual, not just to those that govern us, but to everyone…. We are not revolutionary as they are, we can only activate initiatives that make gestures toward something that we aspire to become. But the idea was to call a space of reflection about how we learn together, what is an autonomous space of learning, how we deploy them, each time maybe differently.”
Migrant journey collage
“So what we call space of learning is learning this, how we can un-learn all this necropolitics, this whole disruptive paradigm, and how we can learn with communities of struggle, how we can up-learn, from the bottom up, how we can produce different imaginaries so we enable ourselves to live different ways of living that are not so transactional…. Capitalism is based on the profit out of debt, the profit out of disposable bodies, disposable resources. We have to compost this paradigm. Maybe we are getting close to that. Our claim is we need space where we can learn that, collectively, horizontally. Sometimes it’s very painful, because to unlearn all our comfort zone, and all our way of living is very painful, but maybe it’s really necessary.”
The Zapatista movement
The impact of Zapatista political thought on the west was exemplified by John Holloway’s book Change the World Without Taking Power. Here is an interview with the author:
“Walking We Ask Questions”
On the Precipice of Time: Practices of Insurgent Imagination
Center for Convivial Research and Autonomy
Institute of Radical Imagination
Russian group Chto Delat
Free Home University
“Zapantera Negra” project
Note on autonomous learning projects
Autonomous education goes back a long way in the 20th century and before. Workers’ education circles abounded, most famously those run by anarchists in Spain and abroad under the influence of martyred educator Francisco Ferrer. Anarchist ateneos exist to this day in Barcelona.
In the 1960s, well-known auto-education centers were set up in London and New York – the London Free School
and the Free University of New York
At the turn of this century, numerous other self-education initiatives were launched in Europe, many in response to the Bologna Process of regularizing curricula and university management in the European Union. A standout among them was Copenhagen Free University
whose co-founder Jakob Jakobsen ahas continued investigating the history of self-organizing education, etc.
A sample of more recent initiatives must include the Public School, Los Angeles, California and beyond
(http://www.tpsla.org/) – an online platform for self-organizing classes of all kinds.
16 Beaver Group (https://16beavergroup.org/), New York City and beyond – an early 21st century space that convened regular assemblies of discussion and learning, which has recently revived an online assembly.
The rigorous investigations of groups like the Forensic Architecture group require learnings of a different level, more along the lines of new journalistic skills
https://forensic-architecture.org/ -- NGOs step up to do this for citizens, e.g.
Although I missed the 4-day encuentro, discussed in the text above, one of the featured speakers was Manolo Callahan, of the Oakland, CA Center for Convivial Research and Autonomy, whom I had seen speaking to the 16 Beaver Group assemblies. The CCRA has worked with the Zapatistas directly since they first emerged, running autonomous education programs for many years. A cornerstone of Callahan’s teachings come from the indigenous agricultural practice of the milpa, a sustainable system of planting in the jungle.
#ZapanteraNegra #zapatistatour2021 #chtodelat #FreeHomeUniversity #museosituado #ecoversities #ontheprecipiceoftime #practicesofinsurgentimagination #thezapatistaforum2021
Tuesday, May 11, 2021
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
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.”
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.
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
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?
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
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"