Monday, February 6, 2012

SQEK Coming to NYC February 23-27

Yes, the Squatting Europe Kollective is meeting in New York this month. We're hoping to be historic.
The schedule is posted at:
And pasted here:
SQEK NYC 2012 description LITTLE

Squatting Europe Collective, New York City, February 23-27, 2012
1. Press release
2. Reception, Thursday 2/23 at ABC No Rio, 7-10pm
3. AAG sessions, Friday 2/24 at Hilton Hotel, 2nd floor Nassau Room
4. Saturday, February 25th, afternoon/evening – Public presentation: “Squatting in Europe: Prospects and Perspectives” at Living Theatre, 5-7pm; ends sharp
5. Sunday, February 26th – brunch meeting at 16 Beaver Group 12-4pm // meet with O4O group at 7pm
6. Monday, February 27th – Public meetings with activists TBA // Presentation at CUNY-GC 6:30-8:30pm

7. SQEK “Living Library” at Interference Archive, Brooklyn

8. AAG session description (theoretical questions around militant research)

Squatting Europe Kollective Convenes in New York City

For the first time ever, a group of activist researchers from the European squatting movement are gathering in New York City. They will make public appearances to speak about the decades-old movement of squatting and building occupations in their respective countries.

The tradition of political squatting is moving from the shadows into the light. With the world-wide rise of the Occupy movement, the deep reservoir of experience within the movements of political squatting have become suddenly significant.

Generations of activists have participated in occupations of vacant buildings in Europe, beginning in the 1970s. The best known early success was the famous “free city” of Christiania in Copenhagen. But every major city in Europe has experienced some version of politicized squatting, most recently in the form of social centers.

The members of SQEK – Squatting Europe Collective – have gathered for special sessions at the Association of Amerian Geographers' annual convention February 24. A public discussion, meetings, film and graphic arts exhibition are among the other activities planned for the meeting,

Scheduled activities for SQEK 2012 New York City:

2. Reception, Thursday 2/23 at ABC No Rio, 7-10pm

Thursday, February 23rd 7-10 pm – Reception for visiting researchers and activists
poster show of “House Magic” zine about squats and social centers
ABC No Rio cultural center
156 Rivington Street
Loisaida, NYC //

3. AAG sessions, Friday 2/24 at Hilton Hotel

Squatting and Social Centers: Resistance and Production of Critical Spaces I
(5 sessions, 8am-6:20pm) in Nassau A, Second Floor, Hilton NY
Note: Single session costs a lot of money, but you can probably sneak into this room which we have all day. Look like you belong there; it will be a radical egghead party...
8:00 AM - 9:40 AM – Participants: Miguel A. Martinez (University Complutense of Madrid/CSOA Casablanca) and Lucy Finchett-Maddock (University of Exeter), Pierpaolo Mudu (University of Rome/Forte Prenestino), Hans Pruijt (Erasmus Universiteit, Rotterdam), Loredana Guerrieri (Osservatorio Di Genere, Istituto Storico Della Resistenza, Macerata, Italy), Matthias Bernt (Leibniz Institute for Regional Development and Structural Planning, Leipzig)

10:00 AM - 11:40 AM – Participants: Linus Owens (Middlebury College, Vermont), Nathan Eisenstadt (Bristol University), Giovanni Piazza with Valentina Genovese (University of Catania), Alessia Marini (University of Rome, La Sapienza), Matthias Bernt

2:40 PM - 2:20 PM – Participants:Elisabeth Lorenzi (UNED Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia), Amy Starecheski (CUNY City University of New York, Graduate Center, New York), Thomas Aguilera (Sciences Po, Paris), Andrea Aureli (St. John's University, Rome), Matthias Bernt

2:40 PM - 4:20 PM Panel session; Participants: Justus Uitermark (Erasmus University, Rotterdam); Maria Rodó de Zárate (UAB Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona); Giovanni Piazza; Miguel A. Martinez; Thomas Aguilera; Amy Starecheski; Hans Pruijt; Andrea Aureli; Eliot Tretter (University of Texas, Austin)

4:40 PM - 6:20 – Mark Purcell (University of Washington, Seattle); Eli Meyerhoff (University of Minnesota); Pierpaolo Mudu; Lucy Finchett-Maddock; Nathan Eisenstadt; Alessia Marini; Loredana Guerrieri; Elisabeth Lorenzi; Salvatore Engel-DiMauro (SUNY State University of New York, New Paltz)

4. Saturday, February 25th – SQEK internal meeting 9am-12pm – City University of New York, Graduate Center student lounge, 34th St. & 5th Ave., 5th floor (tentatively confirmed)

5. Saturday, February 25th, afternoon/evening – Public presentation: “Squatting in Europe: Prospects and Perspectives” (Living Theatre, 21 Clinton St half a block below Houston Street, 5-7pm; ends on the dot of 7pm)
Public presentation by members of the Squatting Europe Collective (SQEK)
“Squatting in Europe: Prospects and Perspectives”
A roundtable with the members of SQEK
Generations of activists have participated in occupations of vacant buildings in Europe, beginning in the 1970s. The best known early success was the famous “free city” of Christiania in an abandoned military base in Copenhagen. By now nearly every major city in Europe has experienced some version of politicized squatting. Often this takes the form of the social center, occupations of large buildings which are organized to provide cultural, political and social services, usually for free.
For the first time ever, a group of activist researchers from the European squatting movement are gathering in New York City. They will make public appearances to speak about the decades-old movement of squatting and building occupations in their respective countries.
The tradition of political squatting is moving from the shadows into the light. With the world-wide rise of the Occupy movement, the deep reservoir of experience within the movements of political squatting have become suddenly significant.
Confirmed participants in a roundtable public presentation are: Miguel Martinez, Elisabeth Lorenzi (Madrid, Spain), Hans Pruijt (Rotterdam, Netherlands), Gianni Piazza (Sicily), Eliseo Fucolti (Rome, Italy), Thomas Aguilera (Paris, France), Lucy Finchett-Maddock (United Kingdom), Lynn Owens, Tina Steiger (Copenhagen/USA), Alan W. Moore (Madrid/USA)

6. Sunday, February 26th – Public meetings with activists
noon-4pm – brunch and afternoon session at 16 Beaver Group, 16 Beaver St., Wall St. area (tentatively confirmed)
7pm – Catholic Worker auditorium (55 East Third St.) – a round table, “talking turkey” with activists of O4O (Organizing for Occupation)

7. Monday, February 27th – meetings with activists (to be scheduled)
6:30pm-8:30p – Public discussion at CUNY Graduate Center, northeast corner 34th St. & 5th Ave. – Room C201 (“concourse” level, i.e. basement; capacity 40)

8. SQEK “Living Library” at Interference Archive, Brooklyn, continuing throughout the weekend
131 8th St. #4. Brooklyn, NY 11215 (Gowanus) 2 blocks from the F/G/R trains (4th ave. and 9th st.)

3. AAG session description

Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting 2012 // Friday, 24 February, 2012
“Squatting and Social Centers: Resistance and Production of Critical Spaces” (5 sessions, 8am-6:20pm)

The aim of this session is to bring together different perspectives concerned with the experience of squatting as practice of resistance and space of political engagement. Specifically, the session will focus upon, and solicit papers on five main themes:

1) Long and medium term structural factors that make squatting possible (or constrain it)
2) Analysis of “conflicts” and “dynamics.”
3) Social Centers/Squats’ networks, politics and culture
4) Empirical case-studies and comparative perspectives to squatting
5) Novel theoretical, cross-disciplinary and empirical approaches for the study of squatting

Several questions are relevant and worth discussing:
- what different kinds of experiences of “political” squatting exist?
- what kind of political, or post-political, labels meaningfully describe coalitions and solidarity between social networks resisting various forms of neoliberalism?
- how can academics facilitating such spaces?
- what kind of alliance can be built between squatters and political parties, trade unions, environmental activists, peasant movements?
- how is the LGBT movement involved with squatting?
- how do legalization and institutionalization affect squatting?
- are social centers utopic? heterotopic? or...
- how do modalities like Critical Mass, music and art events and demonstrations function in social centers?
- what is the relation between the physical space of the social center, and the cyberspace of the hacklab?
- what are the relations between squatting, community gardens and alternative systems of food production?

Anticipated Attendance: 50 // Sponsorships: Socialist and Critical Geography Specialty Group
Political Geography Specialty Group

(Photo from

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Center, Yes, but What Kind of Social?

I've been worried about Tabacalera for a while now. That's the giant former royal tobacco factory that has become the biggest social center in Madrid, and probably all Spain. It was never an okupa, or occupied, squatted space, but Tabacalera is run in much the same way as many of the larger occupied social centers – CSOA's, or self-organized occupied social centers – with self-regulating workshops and activities, an assembly, and various committees to take care of the necessary tasks of running a big building.
Tabacalera however has an internal conflict for a while now, and it does not seem to be getting very much better. The center was recently closed for cleaning and repairs. The centerpiece of the weekend was a “day of reflection,” when new guidelines for managing the place were presented by the committees which had drafted them. One of the ateliers, the Templo Afro, was not happy. Their projects have been much curtailed, disciplined and interfered with by the management. I talked with a very aggrieved Templo African during the day of reflection, and shortly afterwards received a lengthy bill of particulars outlining just how the group felt they had been mistreated.
This notion of a despotic management mystifies me, since Tabacalera, like all social centers, is committed to horizontality. But it is taken as an evident fact by Templo Afro partisans. The place is run by a junta. Tabacalera of course has a contract with the state which spells out many obligations that the management – however “they” might feel about things – must discharge. There have been complaints about the behavior of Templo Afro party-goers... I know I don't have the whole story even by half.
The relation of the social centers – the crown jewels of the European political squatting movement – and the oppressed immigrant communities of the cities in which they are found is very important. These places are critical informal integrators for people of color into what are, after all, insular and nationalistic white European cultures. Of course there are all sorts of government programs, and private foundations at work, but – really. Where do people have agency? Where can they determine more or less for themselves how to do things?
Last night I returned to Seco ( It's a CSA – that is, a self-organized social center, not in occupation, but legalized. It's on the very edge of Madrid center, down along a highway surrounded by immense housing blocks. I'd been there years before, at the start of my “House Magic” investigations.* But Seco isn't into art. Their walls are almost entirely bare, and a few years ago that bugged me. I stuck with the more cultural of the social centers in Madrid, and Tabacalera is the most cultural of them all. In fact, so much so that politics are more or less under the table there. But because of the problems Tabacalera is having, I decided I needed to go back to Seco and get an opinion. The folks I had met there before suggested I go on Thursday evening, the regular social hour. But this night was a special dinner, cooked by the Senegalese participants of Seco for all the volunteers, a dinner in honor of the birthday of the Prophet.
I chatted with a couple of gals before the sit-down, explaining my project – my Spanish is crummy, but compared to my last visit, I'm fluent. I talked about the problems at Tabacalera. “It's just too big,” said one. “They can't have intimacy with anybody there.” Another said it sounds like badly need a mediation. Then we sat down to a wonderful economical meal – Senegalese cous-cous with a few chunks of curried chicken hidden beneath a cabbage leaf. A man darted between diners pouring condensed milk over each plate. The chef offered me a drink of “African wine,” a juice – non-alcoholic, of course – which goes with this food and would settle the stomach. The meal was unexpected and delightful. The camaraderie between the Seco folks was lovely to see.
But that's what they do at Seco. They are committed to immigrant rights, teaching Spanish, providing legal services. “At Seco they have a program,” said the Templo Afro guy at Tabacalera. And here the culture is food, not art.
This month SQEK – the Squatting Europe Kollective – begins a research project with a meeting in Madrid. I'm going to participate in that, and through it I expect to get a lot more fine-grained in my understanding of just what's going on here within and between the numerous and diverse social centers and occupations.

Photo: Seco in 2005, before they got legal, posted at

* That's what this blog is about, in case it's been forgotten – my life running the “House Magic: Bureau of Foreign Correspondence” information project of European squats and occupations. See:

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Letter from friends in Oakland

A letter from some friends in Oakland regarding the Jan. 28th events:
Let us start by apologizing; that our words may be incoherent, our thoughts scattered and our tone overly emotional. Forgive us, because the ringing in our ear continues to interrupt our thinking, because our eyes are bleary and we’re weighed upon by the anxiety and trauma of our injuries and the imprisonment of the ones we love. As most of you are well-aware: after a full day and night of street battles in Oakland, we were defeated in our efforts to occupy a large building for the purposes of establishing an social center. We’re writing, in part, to correct the inaccuracies and mystifications spewed by the scum Media. But more so as to convey the intensity and the urgency of the situation in Oakland to comrades abroad. To an extent, this is an impossible task. Video footage and mere words must inevitably fail at conveying the ineffable collective experiences of the past twenty-four hours. But as always, here goes.
Yesterday was one of the most intense days of our lives. We say this without hyperbole or bravado. The terror in the streets of Miami or St. Paul, the power in the streets of Pittsburgh or Oakland’s autumn; yesterday’s affect met or superseded each of these. The events of yesterday confronted us as a series of intensely beautiful and yet terrible moments.
An abbreviated sequence:
Beautiful words are delivered at Oscar Grant Plaza, urging us to cultivate our hatred for capitalism. Hundreds leave the plaza and quickly become thousands. The police attempt to seize the sound truck, but it is rescued by the swarming crowd. We turn towards our destination and are blocked. We turn another way and are blocked once more. We flood through the Laney campus and emerge to find that we’ve been headed off again. We make the next logical move and somehow the police don’t anticipate it. We’re closer to the building, now surrounded by fences and armed swine. We tear at the fences, downing them in some spots. The police begin their first barrage of gas and smoke. The initial fright passes. Calmly, we approach from another angle.
The pigs set their line on Oak. To our left, the museum; to our right, an apartment complex. Shields and reinforced barricades to the front; we push forwards. They launch flash bangs and bean bags and gas. We respond with rocks and flares and bottles. The shields move forward. Another volley from the swine. The shields deflect most of the projectiles. We crouch, wait, then push forward all together. They come at us again and again. We hurl their shit, our shit, and whatever we can find back at them. Some of us are hit by rubber bullets, others are burned by flashbang grenades. We see cops fall under the weight of perfectly-arced stones For what feels like an eternity, we exchange throws and shield one another. Nothing has felt like this before. Lovely souls in the apartment building hand pitchers of waters from their windows to cleanse our eyes. We’ll take a moment here to express our gratitude for the unprecedented bravery and finesse with which the shield-carrying strangers carried out their task. We retreat to the plaza, carrying and being carried by one another.
We re-group, scheme, and a thousand deep, set out an hour later. Failing to get into our second option, we march onwards towards a third. The police spring their trap: attempting to kettle us in the park alongside the 19th and Broadway lot that we’d previously occupied. Terror sets in; the’ve reinforced each of their lines. They start gassing again. More projectiles, our push is repelled. The intelligence of the crowd advances quickly. Tendrils of the crowd go after the fences. In an inversion of the moment where we first occupied this lot, the fences are downed to provide an escape route. We won’t try to explain the joy of a thousand wild-ones running full speed across the lot, downing the second line of fencing and spilling out into the freedom of the street. More of the cat and mouse. In front of the YMCA, they spring another kettle. This time they’re deeper and we have no flimsy fencing to push through. Their lines are deep. A few dozen act quickly to climb a nearby gate, jumping dangerously to the hard pavement below. Past the gate, the cluster of escapees find a row of several unguarded OPD vans: you can imagine what happened next. A complicit YMCA employee throws opens the door. Countless escape into the building and out the exits. The police become aware of both escape routes and begin attacking and trampling those who try but fail to get out. Those remaining in the kettle are further brutalized and resign to their arrest.
A few hundred keep going. Vengeance time. People break into city hall. Everything that can be trashed is trashed. Files thrown everywhere, computers get it too, windows smashed out. The american flags are brought outside and ceremoniously set to fire. A march to the jail, lots of graffiti, a news van gets wrecked, jail gates damaged. The pigs respond with fury. Wantonly beating, pushing, shooting whomever crosses their path. Many who escaped earlier kettles are had by snatch squads. Downtown reveals itself to be a fucking warzone. Those who are still flee to empty houses and loving arms.
A war-machine must intrinsically be also a machine of care. As we write, hundreds of our comrades remain behind bars. Countless others are wounded and traumatized. We’ve spent the last night literally stitching one another together and assuring each other that things will be okay. We still can’t find a lot of people in the system, rumors abound, some have been released, others held on serious charges and have bail set. This care-machine is as much of what we name the Oakland Commune as the encampment or the street fighting. We still can’t count the comrades we can’t find on all our hands combined.
We move through the sunny morning and the illusion of social peace has descended back upon Oakland. And yet everywhere is the evidence of what transpired. City workers struggle to fix their pathetic fences. Boards are affixed to the windows of city hall and to nearby banks (some to hide damage, others simply to hide behind). Power washer try to clear away the charred remains of the stupid flag. One literally cannot look anywhere along broadway without seeing graffiti defaming the police or hyping our teams (anarchy, nortes, the commune, even juggalos). A discerning eye can still find the remnants of teargas canisters and flashbang residue. At the coffeeshops and delis, friends and acquaintances find one another and share updates about who has been hurt and who has been had. Our wounds already begin to heal into what will eventually be scars or ridiculous disfigurements. We hope our lovers will forgive such ugliness, or can come to look at them as little instances of unique beauty. As our adrenaline fades and we each find moments of solitude, we are each hit by the gravity of the situation.
Having failed to take a building, our search continues. We continue to find the perfect combination of trust, planning, intensity and action that can make our struggle into a permanent presence. The commune has and will continue to slip out of time, interrupting the deadliness and horror of the day to day function of society. Threads of the commune continue uninterrupted as the relationships and affinity build over the past months. An insurrectionary process is the one that emboldens these relationships and multiplies the frequency with which the commune emerges to interrupt the empty forward-thrust of capitalist history. To push this process forward, our task is to continue the ceaseless experimentation and imagination which could illuminate different strategies and pathways beyond the current limits of the struggle. Sometimes to forget, sometimes to remember.
We’ll conclude with a plea to our friends throughout the country and across borders. You must absolutely not view the events here as a sequence that is separate from your own life. Between the beautiful and spectacular moments in the Bay, you’ll discover the same alienation and exploitation that characterizes your own situation. Please do not consume the images from the Bay as you would the images of overseas rioting or as a netflix subscription. Our hell is yours, and so too is our struggle.
And so please… if you love us as we believe you do, prove it. We wish so desperately that you were with us in body, but we know most of you cannot be. Spread the commune to your own locales. Ten cities have already announced their intentions to hold solidarity demonstrations tonight. Join them, call for your own. If you aren’t plugged into enough of a social force to do so, then find your own ways of demonstrating. With your friends or even alone: smash, attack, expropriate, blockade occupy. Do anything in your power to spread the prevalence and the perversity of our interruption.
for a prolonged conflict; for a permanent presence; for the commune;
some friends in Oakland. [at from See also Brandon Jourdan and Marianne Maeckelbergh's documentary at ] Photo by Dave Id, at