Saturday, October 1, 2022
A Visit to the Watchtower
The assembly at La Atalaya
The pandemic seems to have let up, or at least the sky is clearing. I got the ‘Rona at last. It wasn’t fun, but it wasn’t severe. Definitely a new disease. But in Madrid, folks are walking around and interacting without masks, although on public transit most people still wear them.
Recently I was invited to a fiesta at CSO La Atalaya in Valekas. It’s something of a trip out there. I missed the play of the "marionetas subversivas", but I had some paella at the “comida popular”.
Heading to the fiesta
The okupa La Atalaya is an abandoned school, and the fiesta took place in the expansive playground. I can't say when it was first occupied, but the blog starts in 2015.
Vallecas is a peripheral barrio of Madrid. It began as a "chabola" or "favela" in agricultural land decades ago as laborers came from the Spanish countryside to work in Madrid's factories. They were organized by the Communist Party to demand proper housing, and the struggle was a hard one. Finally public housing was built. The barrio remains solidly working class.
Undated photo, 1960s? Vallecas was called "little Russia" in the last century
Atalaya means "watchtower". In their occupation statement, they said: “We want to be the engine of cultural recovery and sovereignty for Vallekas, returning to being what we should never have ceased to be... As we said the first day we started, paraphrasing Pablo Neruda: “It is forbidden not to smile at problems, not to fight for what you want, to abandon everything out of fear, not to make your dreams come true”.
"Alegría para combatir, organización para vencer". "Joy to fight, organization to win."
The center is where the "pirate ship" of the annual July Naval Battle of Vallecas is ‘launched’ – built and rolled out to the streets. This construction plies the local ‘waters’, the crowds that gather to drench each other with water in the annual July event in the streets of the barrio.
A mural recalls the 'pirate ship' of the annual 'naval battle' (giant water-gun fight) in the barrio
In May, when an order of eviction came down, La Atalaya called a press conference. Publico reported that by then the old school had a climbing wall, a skate park, sports teams, and a “pole dance” project. I think this is more likely an aerial silk project, since they performed in that way at the fiesta. A long hanging fabric is used as a performance armature for twisting and climbing movements.
Atalaya was founded as a youth center. Publico quotes a young man, Daniel, "We have allowed young people to have free activities in an area with few resources”. During the pandemic, some residents of the neighborhood ran a solidarity food pantry, Somos Tribu, which served 200-300 people weekly.
"These spaces help create community,” He said. “We are isolated in our homes and we believe that we have no help or alternatives, but the social centers help us understand that problems are collective, and that we have to find solutions together."
Climbing wall in La Atalaya
After a judicial order to vacate, delivered in May of this year, La Marea made a video which reveals what an extraordinary project this CSO is.
In this “day-to-day” video, produced for El Salto magazine, you can see the climbing wall, a boxing club, a skate park, with hands-on guided instruction, and a solidarity food pantry. The place even has a library with language classes and events. The narrator speaks of youth at risk in an educational system that isn’t adapted to their realities.
The food pantry is for people with “renta minima”, an income of 700 Euros a month. An organizer notes that there are many ideologies in the neighborhood, Christians, Muslims, atheists, and those “who wave the flag” (nationalists). This is a “human project”, he says, during a time when many social services are closed.
La Atalaya was not evicted in May. They recently won another court victory, as activists up on criminal charges were acquitted. Still, like all the okupas of Madrid, regardless of the important services they provide to citizens, the fate of La Atalaya is highly precarious.
CSOA La Atalaya represents itself, with bulletins and a rad short video
about CSOA La Atalaya
Irene Gonzalez Rodriguez, “Madrid acorrala aún más a los espacios sociales: el centro La Atalaya se enfrenta a un nuevo desalojo”, Publico, 05/12/2022
A May, '22 tour video by Oriol Daviu of La Marea, narrated by young woman organizers
"El día a día del CSO Atalaya, de Vallecas, obligado a desalojar el centro"
Eli Lorenzi (@elisabeth.lorenzi)
In the plaza at La Atalaya. Lucio Urtubia was a famous Spanish anarchist