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"