Monday, October 16, 2017

Back from the MAC (1st post)

I have returned to Madrid from the city of A Coruña in the north of Spain, where the MAC3 conference was held – “Municipalism, Self-Government and Counterpower” was the title. It was essentially a party congress of municipalist platforms in Spain. I think I was the only native English speaker there (except for the bilingual Kate Shea Baird, the major spokes for Barcelona en comu's international committee, who passed me regally yet again; I've still never met her.) I was for sure the only U.S.A.ian.

I preface with an apologia – unlike Kate, I am far from bilingual. My comprehension of Spanish (which is actually Castilian) spoken fast and subtly is about 20-40%. But I'm pretty well prepped on the municipalist movement, and I've spent a decade researching “counterpower” in the form of squatting in Europe. My whole life has been an infatuation with mischief culture, on both small and grand scales. “Heretical,” yes. With a PhD. (Sigh.)
The MAC3 conference this time was hosted by Marea Atlántica, a party, er, platform or coalition which came to power in 2015 in the city of A Coruña in the autonomous community of Galicia, Spain. (Thank goodness few sessions were in Galego; the language of the Galician region is close to Portuguese.)

A Coruna city hall

The first MAC in 2015 was in Málaga in Andalusia in the south. The city has its own municipalist platform, Málaga Ahora, and is the home of one of the coolest occupied social centers in Europe, La Casa Invisible. (I say "cool" 'cause their five minute “lipdub” music video of a few years ago brings tears of joy to my eyes.) La Casa Invisible is a key seat of the Fundación de los Comunes – the Foundation of the Commons – which has several sites in Spain and was one of the organizers of this conference.
Texts around this first MAC1 conference were posted in several languages on the EIPCP Transversal web-zine site as a special issue entitled "Monster Municipalism." (This was an echo of the earlier “Monster Institutions” issue devoted to occupied social centers in Europe – maybe the picture is beginning to form up now, eh? This blog has been only about squatting for years.)
The second MAC – (or “MAK,” because they speak Euskara there) – was held in the Basque city of Pamplona, famous for the running of the bulls that enchanted Hemingway. It's a country of squats, analyzed in a recently defended PhD thesis by Sheila Padrones Gil. Thanks to an energetic media group, Pamplonauta Iruñea, numerous short videos of MAK2 participants were posted to YouTube (search the makers and #MakDos; Spanish only).
I had to go to this MAC – even knowing I would be blankly uncomprehending much of the time. I had to go because increasingly I feel that organized localism is our ONLY HOPE for getting out of the dead-end planet-destroying sitch we're living. Especially in the godforsaken USA which is on fire and sinking down. “Believe it if you need it” – the nation state – “if you don't, just pass it by”! (That's “Box of Rain” – yes, this political system “is all a dream we dreamed / One afternoon long ago”.)
I fulminate at length on this in the new issue of Chicago's Lumpen magazine in an essay called “How to Do Now” (another song title). The issue contains numerous other essays and proposals. The deepest one for sure is that from Jackson Rising in Mississippi. They've just published a book – Jackson Rising: The Struggle for Economic Democracy and Self-Determination. JR comes out of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement; their chief exponent was a lawyer for the Black Panthers. 'Nuff said!
It drives me absolutely nuts that activists in the USA don't immediately pick up this stick and get on with the business. Assemble! And push your local governments to disobey!

Okay, the setup is enough for today. Tomorrow the reports begin.....

tweet by Asad Haider, an editor at Viewpoint – – expresses the guts of the municipalist organizing strategy:
“Thought of a crazy idea:
1. Go to working-class neighborhood
2. Knock on doors
3. Ask people what they need instead of telling them
stop this shit right now!

As a footnote I have to praise a book I haven't read yet – Michael Hardt and Toni Negri's new book called simply Assembly. (It's the first in Oxford University's “Heretical Thought” line of books; viva Galileo.) Assembly is the basis of municipalist politics. On the sound file below is an hour of Michael Hardt in London talking about the book. He advocates "tactical leadership, which is deployed and then dismissed." With the assembly model – (that is 15M, Occupy Wall Street, new municipalist platforms, etc.) – everyone else in the movement needs to take responsibility, step up and make mistakes. What resources do people have for democratic decision-making? The capacities which people have for cooperation overlap with their ability to self-govern. We need to reclaim "entrepreneur." When neoliberals say "entrepreneur," "they mean they're no longer going to give you any money" for social services, and you have to make do on your own. You have to do it on your own. (At one point, Hardt says, we wanted to call the book “Enterprise” with an image from Star Trek.) Salvation from above?, like Syriza or Podemos, or the U.S. DSA? "There is no left government... What there is is a government that can give space to the left." For example, Barcelona en comu, which tries to give space to the movements.


My two books on squatting, both free PDFs online, can be found at:

Marea Atlántica municipalist political platform

Málaga Ahora municipalist political platform

La Casa Invisible in Málaga

Fundación de los Comunes network

EIPCP Transversal web-zine site, the issue "Monster Municipalism"

“How to Do Now” – proposals for municipalism in U.S.A.

Jackson Rising: The Struggle for Economic Democracy and Self-Determination in Jackson, Mississippi

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

“Fearless Cities”: Second Plenary Session (5th post)

Since I wrote this two weeks ago(!), Barcelona en Comú international has posted a video of the entire plenary to YouTube. This is in addition to posted videos of numerous panels at the conference. Most, but not all, of the speakers are Spanish. Even though this was the last event, it's ready to post now, so I'm doing that. (Apologies for discontinuities; there is more to come.)

After the meeting on how to construct electoral platforms, I drifted to the cool gardens of the University of Barcelona for the lunch. I met some interesting folks hanging around a gal I'd met in a breakout. A guy working with a municipalist international called “Plenari” handed me a flyer for a September 1-3 conference in Thessaloniki, “Right to the City and Social Ecology” (the Bookchin phrase).
Another fellow was wearing a 2013 t-shirt with the words “Asembleas Populare” and a red and black anarcho-syndicalist flag. It was from Argentina, he said. We chatted about anarchists' non-participation in muncipalism – (but not about electoralists studious ignoring of anarchists!). “I am here to listen,” he said. The gal from Manchester I'd met in the breakout was with him. “Really I'm from no city,” she said.
(All this time my SqEK comrade Galvao was waiting outside for me to meet him. They wouldn't let him in to the conference as he had not registered. I had no cel phone, and had forgotten our appointment. This was a bit of funky misplaced security, as he is a doctoral student in governance. Other folks did slip in who were not, as will be discussed.)
After lunch we were back in the Paranimfo, the grand site of the plenary. This time all the seats beside the throne were full of the leading lights of the movement, conference organizers, and their friends. A man from the Catalan network acted as MC for a succession of speakers. (According to the list, this was Xavier Domenech, Executive Board of Barcelona en Comú, MP for En Comú Podem, Coordinator of Catalunya en Comú.) In our region, he said, we are celebrating the 148th anniversary of the Paris Commune. (Historical consideration of that epochal event was also at the core of a recent course put on by the Institute of Democracy and Municipalism in Madrid, meeting at the Traficante de Suenos bookstore – not as a nostalgic event in the nimbus of vanished utopian revolution, but how exactly it was organized.)
We have our own history of struggle, Domenech said, trying to build a radical democratic city. It tracks back to 1815, when the slogan was “Associationism or death.” And to May 2015, when the “rose of fire” returned. (This I think was a reference to the days-long street battle to defend Can Vies social center in the Sants district of Barcelona from eviction and destruction. Can Vies was finally attacked by a bulldozer, which was burned. A book was published about this, which includes considerations of the relation between 15M/Occupy and the anarchists. Much of the book's contents were posted to the Crimethinc blog.) That's when the people are fed up, and take to the streets.
Kali Akuno spoke about Cooperation Jackson, the movement behind the recent electoral victory in that city. He warned of the “Syriza trap” – thinking that our progressive forces can manage capitalism. (The left coalition Syriza government in Greece was forced to accept harsh terms from the European Union to gain tranch loans to sustain basic services, harsher many believe than would have been offered to a “center” or right-wing government.) First we must transform society from the bottom up. The welfare state is gone. We are living in the neoliberal order.
A series of reps from different Spanish towns gave short speeches. My host in his “solidarity apartment,” Steven Forti rattled off the Italian towns that have new allied governments – Naples, Bologna, Padua, Palermo, Verona, Reggio Emilia. A woman from Poland said, We face an extreme right in the federal power that seeks now to ban abortion and cut down the forests. (Trump, no surprise, plans a visit.) They have called a congress of urban movements to take place in Warsaw. Clare Walden from London told how the recent surprise wins of Corbyn's Labor party had restored confidence among the left. She quoted Shelley's classic rabble-rousing poem:

Rise, like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number!
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you:
Ye are many—they are few!
"The Masque of Anarchy," by Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1819

Walden spoke of the alternative food chain started in Bristol. And recalled how Margaret Thatcher had gutted the progressive localist government of London. We must refuse this, she declared, and develop our own alternatives.
This is the anarchist strain speaking, that which proceeds and develops regardless of government. IMO, when this strain is recognized as a key part of municipalist strategy, together with the indisputably non-partisan citizens' assembly, the movement will become irresistible. Damn the law, full speed ahead!
Another woman spoke of an emerging French network including several cities. The Zagreb activist spoke of a waterfront project planned for Belgrade which would see processes of privatization and financializing of public space – “20,000 people came to the street to fight this.” In Zagreb their platform won some seats. A woman from the USA called on us to “take down Trump.” A woman from Valparaiso, Chile said, “Our fear is to continue as we are with this neoliberal model which is not creating what we need.” (Valparaiso was spoken of as a site for the next conference of municipalists.)
A man from Rosario, Argentina spoke. Another from Brazil, Bele Horizonte. The popular democracy movement of Sao Paulo now has the city council there. A man from Hong Kong told us how the Communist Party is trying to take away local government. The military expansionism of the state is threatening other countries. The moderator said this is why municipalism is dangerous, Our enemies will work hard against us.
We heard, “Greetings from Kurdistan!” Murray Bookchin said once there was a chance for a coalition of cities, but then along came the nation state. Rojava now is the center of a communal life against capitalist modernity. The “democratic autonomy” of Kurdistan has much in common with the “autonomy of the zones” practiced by the Zapatistas of Mexico. Ours is a woman-centered radical democratic communally-based revolution. (I wonder if this spokesperson could even enter the USA now – I rather think not.) A man from Beirut spoke of how their movement is fighting big capital projects.
This dizzying array of speakers was capped by the tag team of Kate Shea Baird, the English-language international rep for Barcelona en comu and Chavi (her partner?), she speaking English and he Spanish. They said they'd been trying to identify the key ideas which all these different projects share.
They are all based in local means, a political project that is linked with base movements. Not just a part of the state, but a way to make a new kind of government. Formal democracy is finished. We need to go one step further, inventing new ways of representation. Our political space includes people inside and outside institutions. One only of these is not enough. Ours is a female-led feminized politics. It puts care work at the center. Why is municipalism working better now? Baird referenced Naomi Klein's video “Made for us.”
“We have to win where we can,” she said. Small victories show us what is possible. With small wins we communicate, “Join us.” We can win. Things can be done to change people's lives.
All these big things happen at local levels. There we experience them, and there we must deal with them. The local is the space we know. If we can't do it locally we can't do it at all. Candidacies are built in different ways. Diversification makes it more difficult to attack.
During all this, I noted an agitated and angry-looking man in a muscle shirt with no conference badge sitting near me. He was fidgeting nervously and glaring back just to the side of my line of sight. I was looking at him, yeah. And thinking how there was no evident security at this meeting, and we were building up to Ada Colau.
Working in networks, the speaker asked, how do we do it? Through the exchange of knowledge and specific tools. We believe in the commons in the face of corruption and trafficiking of services. We stand for interpersonal relations. With the campaigns in Belgrade against the waterfront development we made this struggle more visible. In Berlin, when Andrej Holm was attacked, our network supported him. We are doing Skypes, publishing articles and such to let folks know the experiences of other cities with the same problems. She referenced articles in English on Rosario, Argentina – (famous in activist art circles for the late '60s “Tucaman Arde” project) – and on the Zagreb movement, which “make our experiences visible.” We can compare policies, for example on the use of public space. We don't leave the responsibility to bigger organizations. These are things each of us can do. This is how we can contribute to the network.
Ada Colau closed the session. She reminded us she is the first woman to be mayor of Barcelona. Also she's the first from a working class background. “The media and the economic powers are not wirh us.” We must work in a network, and we must continue to strengthen it. Our next meeting is in Valparaiso. Meanwhile, you must be courageous and ambitiuos. We want a politics of the majority. This alliance should be open and generous as possible, and not fear being contaminated. We are battling giants. The battle of water privatization is going to be a big one. Municipalism is necessary because states are not useful anymore. They are too slow, too hierarchical. We must become municipalists. We must be selfish. Proximity is our strength.
We are still in a place where we must defend things we think are obvious. Many workers of the city helped us. The state machinery is old fashioned. Arriving in office, I found my agenda already full of formal meetings. Once inside city hall, my people disappeared. You enter a micro-world. This meeting is our family. In traditional politics, not everything can always be said. Here we can recognize our fragility. But we are not afraid, because we are together.
Later at lunch I saw Michelle Teran, who translated Ada Colau's book into English for JoAAP. She's doing video now. She was shooting interviews at the conference. She had just finished a tape on bank occupations, people who sat in at bank branches to force discussions of specific individual cases. It's a new strategy of coordinated occupations of several branches at once. Things get hotter.


Closing plenary -- Spanish speakers in Spanish, English speakers in English
"Ciutats sense por. Plenari de cloenda: municipalisme internacional"

Transnational Institute of Social Ecology – Conference in Thessaloniki 1-3 of September

Cooperation Jackson, Jackson, Mississippi

“The Rose of Fire Has Returned! The Struggle for the Streets of Barcelona,” by Crimethinc, posted April 2012
In print from Descontrol / Barcelona, 2014 / 160 págs.

Tom Crewe, "The Strange Death of Municipal England,” London Review of Books, Vol. 38 No. 24 · 15 December 2016
gated site -- free 24 hours with registration; as I check it is all online, however

Naomi Klein "You represent the best of the yes" #FearlessBCN

Sven Heymanns “An attack on democratic rights: Sociologist Andrej Holm fired from Humboldt University,” World Socialist website, 31 January 2017

Michelle Teran, media artist

Saturday, July 15, 2017

More than my notes and recollections...

The Barcelona international committee has posted at last videos from the June, 2017 conference. It's a feast of new political perspectives and information. I'll not have time to revise my blog posts according to these records -- not even the ones I've still got coming along. But this is where you can get the straight dope, if you have the time. Watch it in your assembly!
At last! They did it -- and it's all out there... "Fearless Cities" in Barcelona, the straight dope on European municipalism. BComu Global‏ @BComuGlobal Jul 13 If you couldn't make it to #FearlessCities you can catch up on ALL workshops and roundtables on our youtube channel:

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Getting Elected: Barcelona “Fearless Cities” Report (4)

This post continues reportage on the “Fearless Cities” convergence in Barcelona. The need for effective inventive organizing in the USA is so urgent I prioritized sessions on strategy and application. This was one of them. The panel was “Como creat una canidatura municipalista y participatia” (panel in English, title in Catalan in the program, go figure), How to Create a Municipalist Candidacy.
[REVISION: Video of this session has been posted, July 2017.]
Maria of Ahora Madrid introduced.* She presented activists of Spanish and European platforms who explained how they conducted their electoral campaigns.
Clare Walden of Take Back the City in London has a background in Occupy London. Her group launched a campaign to elect representatives to the Greater London Council. Her platform came together in 2015. Politics then seemed bad, Both the Labor and Tory parties embraced austerity and neoliberal policies. With privatizations, the housing crisis and evictions were massively increasing. Homelessness was increasing. Low wages was also an issue. A group of teachers working with mostly young people of color realized that the politicians didn't reflect them. Their students were so removed from politics that the teachers decided to form this platform, this association called Take Back the City.
In one incident, young mothers and pregnant women were about to be evicted. (In a well-publicized action, exactly this kind of group squatted vacant public housing to draw attention to their issue. Clare Walden didn't confirm that this was the same incident.) Two-and-a-half years ago working-class politics was dead. Take Back the City wanted to launch a peoples' mayoral candidate. Then 25 Greater London Council members were to be elected, so they decided to go for that instead.
Participation was at the center of the project. From day one young people of color were invited in. Part of our success has been including young black and brown kids. We started with a massive outreach. We met with 75 groups around London. We were going around to homeless people to ask, What do you want from London? What would a fair just London look like? We held a Peoples Manifesto workshop. We met with migrant cleaners in their lunchbreak. We met with 75 groups, and also did an online thing. We got policy proposals through this process. (She shows a slide: “Building a peoples manifesto.”) We prioritized the physical, not the online outreach.
A mayoral campaign was such a large undertaking we decided not to do it. (Later, in plenary, she said Mayor Sadik – weirdly criticized by Trump after the recent terrorist attacks in London – was the most left candidate standing, so we also did not want to run against him.) We picked East London to run a Greater London Council candidate, and another one in the south. Gentrification was a big issue. We tried getting people talking, having them bring their children around. We had big trays of free food, also singing and dancing. We wanted to create an environment to give people confidence in their own viewpoints. 800 young people came to an evening of political music and spoken word. In the UK there is no history of open air assembly, “because the weather is so shitty.” We had singing workshops for kids while we chatted with their parents abouut politics. We had our candidate standing on the back of a bus campaigning. We tried to do campaigning in a different exciting way. We did crowd-funding.
We weren't very successful – you have to knock on doors and such in the UK. Our manifesto was the most successful product. (They have a great yellow graphic – Take Back the City.) Our language is sensational, not academic or political.
After she spoke came Laura Berges from Comu de Lleida, a small city of some 139,000 near Barcelona. It is a rural city, with an agricultural base, a service city for a rural region. The politics are “a traditional city with its fat cats.” It has been Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) since democracy came to Spain (mid-1970s). The same political landscape for 40 years. There is only 50% voter participation. In the last round all the right wing was elected.
Comú de Lleida

We united around “a minimum consensus.” We made a call to social movements and left parties. We held open assemblies and private meetings. We made a call for a united candidacy. The social movements did not want to be identified with one party. They worked with us, but not in the name of their movement.
To launch our candidature we had primaries, spending one week on the streets. We had a total of 573 votes – 397 present, 176 e-votes (“telematic”). We sought a consensus to choose the first candidate. We presented a group of electors, not a political party. For that you must gather signatures. Most of our signatures were acceped by the Town Hall secretary. The process was time-limited – we had 20 days. The town secretary told us, Next time do a party because this is a lot of work for me.
Her slides: “Strategies. 1) Transparency – give information with meaning. 2) Participation – open structure. 3) Commons – common wealth / collaborative work / common discourse.”
“How: 1) Streets. 2) Hard work. 3) Reports. 4) Social digital networks. 5) Meeting with local entities. 6) ooking for agreements with other parties. 7) Supporting but not absorbing social movements.”
The traditional media did not give us much space, so we needed our own.
Slide: “Problems: 1) keeping and improving levels of volunteer participation. 2) time management – differiing rhythm of institutional workers and volunteers. 3) Money for something – space, legal advice, etc. 4) Us as “strangers in the hall: some political isolation.” 5) Low media impact. 6) “Goliath infuriated: the aggressive response of those in power.” 7) Are we a local autonomous group or part of a bigger project?
Then came Claudia Delso Carreira, counselor for participation in A Coruña, a city in the northern province of Galicia. (I met Claudia at a workshop on micropolitics held by a feminist collective in Barcelona a few years earlier. The book is forthcoming!) Historically, she said, A Coruña was a big party government – socialist (PSOE) for more than 30 years. Then a short period of coalition, which failed, then the right took power. Then we appeared – Marea Atlántica. We wrote a manifesto. We came into the streets, into the squares with a small piece of blue fabric and a microphone to share the question. The people took the mic and stated their concerns: “I want to change this in the neighborhood,” etc. It was really natural, really organic, without any kind of structure. After those kinds of meetings there arose in the neighborhoods groups we call mareas.
We called ourselves Marea Atlántica, something really charateristic, from our identity as a city on the Atlantic coast. A poet, Manuel Rivas, named us. The vocabulary of the marea is our own. “Marea” means tide, which is low and then high. We spoke of “buiding our own house.” We proposed the salary for elected people, and explained the kind of government we wanted. Now we are in it. Now we are it.
We invited people in the parties to join us but not as party members. Some came in, but not without tension. That really depends on the character of the person, how they deal.
There is no recipe of how to win elections or do municipalism. It is how we build the space – like standing up, speaking to you, to build another kind of situation. We walked, from 9am to 9pm. The media wasn't speaking about us, but the people were speaking about us. And that is how we won the election.
During the discussion session, a guy from Capetown asked, how do we organize across racial and class lines in the city.
In Barcelona, Claudia said, they made a map of classes and races in different neighborhoods. In A Coruña we have a favela (area of “informal settlement”) of gypsies from Portugal. We came to talk to them and said, “We have a common desire” that everyone can make their own solutions. Each person can really relate to that. (I'll note here that in addition to different theoretical orientations, the municipalists of Spain have a research-based approach to governance. They are well prepared for many problems by the time they enter the institutions of governance. This is because they are already working outside the institutions, so winning elections isn't a totalizing goal for them, without which they will have nothing, stop working and go home.)
A young man of color from Denmark said, We are organizing in peripheries of the city which are like asylum camps hidden away. These are racialized cities, like London.
In Madrid, said the rep from Ahora Madrid, the south is popular and the north is wealthy. This disparity has been increased over years by policy. We did maps of inequality, how money was put into one neighborhood rather than another. The north was cleaned more often than the south. So we took that question to the assemblies. We lost in the north, but won in the south, and also won in the center where gentrification and excessive tourism are issues.
Trina Turner from Stockton, California: Class is an issue. People aren't comfortable with one another, and don't know how to interact. “You have to be creative about how you put different classes together” so they can have conversations comfortably.
Woman from Budapest: We went to every door in our part of the city twice, 3,000 doors. We lost. The winner was a celebrity. But we got people who had never voted before. Even so, participation was only 17%. It was a poor district abandoned by the city, so people think this is no point. We continue now with small discussion circles around different topics.
Man from [Crowd?] party in Amsterdam: Geographic segregation of people in Amsterdam is strengthened by policies. Many narrow interest group parties rise up. No coalition seems possible. How do you combine when the city has a clear policy to segregate people?
An elderly woman from Vermont (part of the Bookchin contingent, his widow perhaps) said, “We came close to winning twice.” Now we try to have assemblies, planning assemblies, once a month. This starts with a community dinner. Within the assemblies we encourage people to discuss things as if they themselves were the legislators. Our candidates vowed to support only policies approved by the assemblies.
{This is classic libertarian municipalism. It's nothing like what the U.S. delegates I met have in mind. It would be a new political habit for them – or, as Fred Dewey has it, a very old one.)
A guy from Belgium also spoke about class and politics. Our working class candidates have been elected, but they have problems. The French language is used in the legislature, and lawyers are common there. Our representative was an electrician. He was laughed at, and when he voiced his concern about people unable to pay high electricity bills, he was referred to a social worker who might help him.
Later he explained he had been in the city council five years in opposition. “Don't only represent,” he said. Be part of the protest. Join the movement. “What happens in the city is more important than what happens in the council.”
A man from “Zagreb Is Us” platform in Serbia said their group came out of Reclaim the Streets mobilizations. They got going in a few months. They took four seats in the city parliament, two dozen in neighborhoods and 40 in local councils. Their city council members will rotate, so everyone gets to see how the system works, and get ready for the next election.
A man from Belgrade said that in opposing mega-developments their big problem was how to raise money. A woman from City is Ours in Warsaw said the same. How can we fund our campaigns? Our friends are not enough. In Poland political parties are funded, but we are an association and we don't want to change that.
Laura Berges from Comu de Lleida said they are doing a summer school, with workshops on law and bureaucracy as it affects neighborhoods.
A woman from (where?) said that their movement is voluntary. “Human resources are a huge problem.” Our activists in the institutions now have 60-hour-a-week workloads. “The movement is empty.” Dealing with the frustration of people expecting change is hard. We are always explaining to the neighbors why we can't do things.

* The speakers listed were not the speakers who presented. I regret I did not catch all the names, only the English ones I could get on the first pronunciation. I got almost none of the names or platforms during the Q&A.


Take Back the City

Aditya Chakrabortty, “For real politics, don’t look to parliament but to an empty London housing estate,” Guardian online, 23 September also followed the story closely

PDF of the book "Situating Ourselves in Displacement"
edited by Murmurae (Paula Cobo-Guevara and Manuela Zechner) and JOAAP (Marc Herbst)
Print edition forthcoming from Journal of Aesthetics and Protest Press

Nice blurb on Fred Dewey's book "School of Public Life"

Sunday, July 2, 2017

“Fearless Cities” in Barcelona, Arrival and Plenary (3)

Friday 9 June 2017 – Noon. I arrive in Barcelona on the excellent fast train, the AVE. I've had departure anxiety, but also renewed technical trouble – my phone is dead again, this time for real. [Later in Madrid the mainboard would be replaced.] A Berlin friend's belief that security state services were interfereing with him seems paranoid – but the “push button state” in an “era of smart devices” seems more or less possible, so I don't discount the possibility. “Aggressive” and “parasitic” are theoretical terms to describe contemporary capitalist forces and, like a well-embedded tick, they'll shift position with every effort to dislodge them. As to whether someone is fucking with me – I'll allow as I can make it hard on myself without too much assistance, and also there is just bad luck.

Friday 6pm – the event begins at the plaza in front of MACBA art museum – how I'd like to be inside! Such great exhibitions they do. Completing registration for Fearless Cities. Incommunicado, naturally. Wish I'd brought a MAGA hat! That'd show what are the stakes for us.
Chatting with a woman from NYU, Sophie Gonick, who did her PhD on PAH Madrid, and her MA thesis on the unincorporated part of Madrid, Cañada Real. From the stage the speaker calls both Brexit and Trump “hijos de miedo” – children of fear. NYU gal says the “Barcelona model” has obscured the municipalist experience of other Spanish cities. “Fear” is the theme of the conference opener here, with references to terrorism. Mayor of Madrid, Manuela Carmena speaks of the 2003 Atocha attack (by jihadi terrorists), and the recent conference on peace in Madrid.
Saturday morning – at a cafe beside the University of Barcelona, site of the conference on the first full day of proceedings. Last night spent a few moments with a contingent of San Francisco based Democratic Socialists. I was downbeat. They said, “There can be no municipalism without social movements.” If there aren't any, how do you do it? Synergy, which is already happening. Then met Miguel Martinez of our SqEK group, fresh from the conference at Klinika in Prague, and a cabal of women academics – one who worked on PAH Barcelona. I feel bad I was so pessimistic with the San Francisco folks. But the Democratic Socialists in Milwaukee appear really lame. “Each chapter is different,” he said, and in San Francisco they are politically engaged. (The Milwaukee Dem Socs are actually a 501-c3, i.e., a cultural organization which is prohibited by law from engaging in electoral political activity; that's ridiculous.) The Spanish model is not so easily replicable. Met also some church-ed guys from Philadelphia. (These folks later proved to be really powerful, from the PICO national network of progressive faith-based community organizations.) I told them I thought in the Midwest it was really only churches which could organize, in Milwaukee anyhow. I also put in a word for the IWW.
Gerardo Pisarello Prados, deputy to Mayor Ada Colau, law professor at University of Barcelona, speaking at the inaugural assembly

“Yes” they say some sessions will be recorded and available online. (I didn't believe it then; and haven't seen it subsequently.) Now, in the “Paranimfo of the Aula Magna,” a blisteringly over-determined space with enormous 19th century murals in oil of men in scenes of the colonial era. Speakers sit in a throne-like area beneath royal portraits, flanked by rows of chairs for cardinals and ministers. A small group just realized they could sneak into those – why not? To be closer to the speakers. (Later presentations had indeed, the “cardinals and ministers” of the BCN en comu and allies sitting in those seats, rather unconsciously fulfilling historic roles.)
Now the vice-mayor of Barcelona is speaking, Gerardo Pisarello. He references that bunch of “mayors from all over.” References political parties, etc., and the municipalist movement as “an embryo, a seed of democratic movement in this global moment as capitalism without limit is generating suffering and “a lot of fear” that people will lose their jobs, lose their homes. Insecurity. The reaction to fear is reaction. “Far right monsters” have emerged – Trump, Le Pen, Hungary's Jobbik party – proposing masculine authority, religious authority. The women's march in Washington, D.C., which was echoed globally, shows that we can provide security through “democratic radicalization.” Through a fight for our common goods we can generate new kinds of relationships, and provide spaces in governance more permeable to citizens. We are making laboratories of this kind of being. It is important to have these experiences in common at this conference because they are examples of change, of resistance.
Then Ana Mendes of Ahora Madrid spoke. I reported her remarks on the resistance of the structures of the adminstrative state in a previous blog post. (That's "BCN Muni 2: Theory, Practice, Theory.")
Then the head of feminism and international relations for Barcelona en Comú, Laura Pérez Castaño, told us we must fight, and fight also the resistances within ourselves. (These notes come directly from the ear-in English translator, so they're rough.) We are democratizing from a feminist point of view. “Feminizing” is the expression we use. This means an end to the traditional marginalization of women from the spaces of decision-making and power. We build a more plural executive in Barcelona en Comú. We seek how to reduce verticality, to foster collective knowledge. Men usually talk more, and seem to have more legitimacy. “Why are women not intervening?,” we ask. We also time them to try to reduce the differences. Also we question, Who are the experts? The know-how is in the assemblies, the districts. “Every neighbor is an expert in their neighborhood.” The third step is to foster co-responsibility in municipalism. This is our big problem now. We call it the consolidation. We change meeting times, provide play areas for kids so women can participate. We also use digital participation, and equalize data about public uses. For example, in public transport “mobility has an agenda.” We try to design based on diverse needs, especially for migrant women. We work in the area of cultural policy for people traditionally excluded from telling their stories. We do “gender diagnosis” and “intersectional praxis,” not to control but to improve, to try to make things more fair and equal.
Marina Vicen, counsellor in Torrelodones, Madrid province, presents in Barcelona

A speaker from the Netherland women's march, Tammy Sheldon told us Women's March is a movement! We opposed not Trump but any system that would allow a sexual predator to become its leader. How the marches felt was pushing back against the hateful rhetoric of the right. We need international outreach. We need it so we can share “municipalistic moments.” She spoke of the dynamics of late evening meetings of women. Then she called for a round of applause for the childcare which is helping us to be here.
Marcelo Expósito, a Podemos deputy in congress from Barcelona said, We are proud to inherit the political heritage of Barcelona, especially the Raval district where our meetings began. We will not allow the system to commit crimes against the people. We bring an ethic of care to local government. Neoliberalism is exploiting and destroying these networks of care. We want to build cities of care. “We have to gather what is most beautiful” from the movements of the past and use them now to build local counter-powers for good government. We recognize peoples' fear but we cannot let it drive them. “Vamos a las mesas!” – to work.

RECENT TEXTS posted on the "Fearless Cities" conference:

Barcelona urban planning: a look at everyday life, by Gerardo Santos

These Cities Might Just Save the Country: Dispatches from the Urban Resistance, from Atlantic City to Miami Beach, June 30, 2017, by Jimmy Tobias
possible paywall

In Barcelona, the ‘Fearless Cities’ gathering brings together progressive councils for pro-people alternatives Enric Barcena, posted July 1, 2017, Green Left Weekly issue number 1143

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

For Imaginary Development: A Playtime? Place of Business?

Palle Nielsen's "The Model for a Qualitative Society," produced indoors in Sweden in 1968.

So yesterday I went to the “Imagine Madrid” meeting at Matadero to hear all about that program of participatory urban development. It's part of the municipalist city government of Ahora Madrid's expansion of the brief of their cultural agency, Intermediae. The project directors gave their pitch to an audence of architects, artists, profesors about Madrid city's solicitation of proposals to make designs for disused or under-used public spaces in Madrid. This was as I saw it a relatively normal kind of meeting between a city commssioning agency and a bunch of interested professionals. The political question it opens of course, is what of the social movements? What role can they play? The citizens' assemblies, the social centers of popular organization – are they invited to make proposals as well? And would these proposals have any chance of surivival in the winnowing process of selection? Could it be that the ideas of citizens living in the area might be better than those of architects? Well, the problem is how to gather those....
There is a process of collaboration built into the development of all these projects. But how it will work is fairly unclear, and it is a ways down the road, after the proposals are made. The commissions themselves – 40 to 70K euros – are pretty small. So they would fund only ephemeral temporary projects, not any kind of real built infrastructure. (Maybe something of wood, or demountable steel tubing, or an inflatable could be possible.)
So it becomes something like a prestige project for an architect or group that needs a resume item. Because they sure won't make a living off it, unless they are able to corral several of the sites under one plan.
I mentioned some of this to my friend in Intermediae. She was of the opinion that the whole thing was happening too fast, and that it should be circulated rather more privately to the professionals rather than in an open call. People in social movements were already angry about the Vallekas projects, and Intermediae had to field a lot of complaints.
Well, maybe there could be a different way of doing this? One that puts to work the volunteer energies of citizens in a way that achieves actual results? We'll see how it plays out. It's a good start, but seems rather in a way timid. All the city agencies of culture and development, however, have to deal with the reality of the bureaucracy that is – despite the best intentions of many of its functionaries – as Ana Méndez said, that is a system "designed against us" (my blog post of June 15, 2017).
I can't go to these kinds of presentations without having my own ideas. It's almost like a kind of disease with me, I'm afraid. I imagine myself an architect, while I am only a reporter. My thoughts this time included a rotating Feria de Economia Solidaridad y Vecinos Artesenales going around to all the sites. And a “cardboard city” like the adventure playgrounds built by children, constructed under the watchful eye of young facilitators and watched at night by security guards. This would also rotate amongst the sites. The first of these projects would be about building economic structures that were market-based, but not capitalist – in other words, answering the question of one professor at the presentation about how these projects would include businesses, typical, he said, of these kinds of civic activation proposals. (Cities usually usually just offer business concessions in public places as an activation strategy.) As cooperatives and artisans, of course! The second project is just about play, fantasy, and the kind of spontaneous construction that takes place when you give kids a golden opportunity to build and run things by themselves. We see it in controlled and commodified form, in amusement parks and in – god help us – work-a-day play centers in childrens' museums. The post-war adventure playground movement was totally different, and largely forgotten today.
Artist Nils Norman has done work on that, archiving the traces of what amounted to a philosophy of childhood radically different from that of today. Palle Nielsen's "The Model for a Qualitative Society," produced indoors in Sweden in 1968 is the most well-known (though little-known as well) example of this. Ah '68! Those visions of liberty never die.
I contacted Madrid La Feria de la economía solidaria, which produces the annual event at Matadero, and also a website called Pop Up Adventure Play in UK to suggest they make proposals. It would be good to circulate the proposals as well to social centers if there are some in the areas of the sites. They could begin their own process of imagining, or 'collective production of desires' as did the developers of Hamburg's Park Fiction called it in the mid-1990s.
Anyhow, I wrote a couple of emails and forgot about it. Got to move on, y'kno...


Imagina Madrid: 9 Lugares por transformar

Nils Norman's archive (see also other links):

text about Palle Nielsen's project in 1968; this was included in the landmark 2014 exhibition “Playgrounds” at MACBA and MNCARS, Spain. There's a book about it, as well.:
The uncredited photo at top is from this blog post where The Model was remembered in Liverpool:

The annual fair of solidarity economy in Madrid:

Pop Up Adventure Playgrounds blog:
Park Fiction, Hamburg development process (lots more on line); the archive of citizens' desires is the part of the project that never got built:


Thursday, June 15, 2017

BCN Muni 2: Theory, Practice, Theory

(My reports on the “Fearless Cities” conference on municipalism in Barcelona are coming out rough. So I won't make any more promises about what's coming next!)
The ferociously over-determined space of the plenary sessions, the Aula Magna of University of Barcelona (19th c. medieval revival)

In a Saturday panel, “Municipalism for Dummies,” a speaker referenced the book “La Apuesta Municipal” – (the municipal bet or wager; democracy begins from the local – in Spanish, free download).
Ana Méndez was introduced as strategy advisor to Ahora Madrid, and I'm pretty sure I've seen her representing Observatorio Metropolitano. That's an independent research group on the city of Madrid that has been working for years to compile information on every part of the city. This kind of research, with links to academia but first of all militant, is key in building the base structure of a municipal movement.
(This is in contrast to academia which encloses information as part of its work of selling it and building professorial reputations, aka academic assets; this is a bind which individual figures, most notably Nicholas Mirzoeff, have fitfully sought to escape.)
To make an institution closer to the people, she said, we became researchers of the territory. Thinking of what is available, we imagine new kinds of economic models that are more in relation to the territories. Those include not only money but access to physical resources. (This has to do with the “social unionism” described by Beatriz Garcia of Instituto DM, also an Ob Met researcher.)
Another line of action of Ahora Madrid is the opening up of the institutions, changing structures that have been impenetrable to citizens. (I thought immediately of NYC Mayor Bloomberg's early innovation of a 211 telephone line for any kind of query or complaint. It cut through the maze of city agencies in a way that an internet business billionaire could conceive and implement.)
Her talk was fascinating – an exposition of “theory on your feet” borne of the hard experience of wielding municipal power. We try to understand local government functionaries – the city's bureaucrats – as inhabiting enabling structures, she said. When you get into government it is very complicated. We struggle with deep structural situations. Government in Spain is mainly on an administrative scale, requiring a very specifiic kind of managing which is in the detail of the law. The devil is in the details, and these are not systems that were designed by us. We wrestle with the codes that order the social activity that produces the state, and what we understand as municipalism.
Classical politics is built on inside/outside relations. It is built on demands which are answered or denied. Our question is how to do otherwise, how to build platforms that can make structural proposals. The in/out relation is less clear – now we are out/out, in/in, etc. We have not developed the tools to deal with the social movements from this complexity. With municipalism we are proposing local institutions that are less attached to the state organization, or state-like organization.
How can we imagine local governments that are not local branches of the state, but are the places where this state structure meets reality with all its complexities? It's like, how can we desflecar – like threads on cloth. How can we open the threads on this very heavy structure of the state?
All the power is in the mayor who delegates by decree (like a chocolate fountain). But the city is not a tree – the city government shouldn't be a tree, society is not made like that. It's a very hierarchical structure.We are faced with structures that don't understand the overlapping of things.
She said this is a question of what researchers on organization call “information ontology” – the system, the names which institutions use to name the world is rooted, and clings in a way that is very deep. We face a 25-year-old machine designed by the rightwing Popular Party. “It has tendencies.” We little by little open up spaces, making redistribuution, making other things happen – this has to do with this feminization of politics.
The question of citizen participation is a great shift in the mentality around governance.
Kate Shea Baird, coordinator for Barcelona en comu's international committee and a key conference organizer, moderated this session. At one point, during a discussion of problems, she remarked that when we think of the opportunities and limits of municipalism, we need always to think of the alternative. Another on the panel agreed, citing a saying in Catalan, “If we don't do politics, politics will be made against us.”
Beppe Caccia of Venezia in Comune buttered us up. “I think there are very few dummies here. Most are already working.” As a political culture municipalism does not need to be “a new ideological item, or discourse.” We need to connect a plurality of political cultures with our daily practice. We cannot even discuss models. We have to discuss single examples like the exempla of Spinoza's ethics.
Municipalist political culture has always been a minoritarian one, even in left political cultures. He said. The workers movement, for example, has always been a state-centered political culture. There is an idolatry of the state on the left. The state is the driving force of capitalist development. The state is also the possible regulator of wealth distribution and possible provider of social protection.
Even so, new municipalist culture emerges again and again in transition times. Now, following Gramsci, we are in the time of interregnum. The old economic and social models are dying. New social forces, new economic models of common life are striving to affirm themselves. These are dangerous times, times of monsters. The resistance of the old creates reactionaries – nationalism, protectionism, authoritarian responses. This is a crucial time. New social forces are emerging and looking for tools, for theoretical weapons to achieve radical structural social transformation.
The main impact of austerity policies has been on cities, rending the urban social fabric over the past 10 years. The logic of political reputation has been challenged in the past decade mostly from below, by developing new forms of social organization. (Not sure this has been true in USA, though!) In the late 1990s, the focus was on participatory democracy and participatory budgeting. Now participation is empty of significnce. It has become about building consensus, not building democracy from below.
Why we are winning elections is, after the new cycle of social movements, there is a desire, a demand to have a different way of governing our towns, villages, and cities. We take a three-fold approach to establishing municipalist practice. First, there must be a strong social dynamic from below. Second we must be able to build confluences, and construct new political platforms. These are not the same as social movements; they assume the demands of social dynamics and formulate a political project. Finally we work to transform the city institutions.
Soon we broke into small groups. I was supposed to send in my report, but I never did it. That's okay. Prensa will never get back to me on my query about the substitute speaker's name, so... it evens out. More soon!


Pablo Carmona and Observatorio Metropolitano, “La Apuesta Municipal” from Traficante de Suenos in Spanish, free download).
Observatorio Metropolitano independent research group on the city of Madrid
An Italian perspective on militant research (Ephemera journal on the theory and politics of organization has a special issue on the subject)

Instituto DM – Instituto para la Democracia y el Municipalismo

Last lunch at the "Fearless Cities" conference -- paella