Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Technopolitics – An Idiosyncratic Introduction


I promised to write “next” on “Technopolitics and Social Centers.” Those are the hardest parts to explain of all the Spanish-language conference events I have been attending lately.
They are also the least reported.

This time I'll tackle the technopolitics. This basically amounts to using the internet to build platforms – interactive websites – to change government, to make it more transparent, more responsive, more honest, and, finally, more truly democratic.
The chief hacker in charge of civic platforms in Taiwan, Audrey Tang offers a good English-language introduction in about 20 minutes. (All links in the text are below this blog post [saves the fingers]). S/he comes from the electorally successful Occupy movement in that country. There was no police violence in all of that, so nobody heard about it. “Media doesn't like that peaceful resolution stuff. So it moves on to the fighting,” Tang said. “Democracy is not just voting. Voting is just the entry level of the game.” S/he is working to “upgrade democracy in Taiwan,” building platforms of engaging citizens in bottom-up policy development, and a digital media channel to engage politicians directly.
Tang was here in Madrid in 2016 at the Collective Intelligence for Democracy conference at Medialab. That's going on again now, as I write. A convocation of vetted hackers are working on these platforms in the center of this city, across the plaza from the occupied social center La Ingobernable.
(Actually, La Ingob had their own “Hackmeeting 2017” at the same time as MAC3 in October. I've no idea what they were working on. But the local gang is up there in the occupied social center pretty much every night, burning the midnight oil on something...) The Madrid Medialab's bi-lingual Intelligencia Colectiva Para La Democracia conference is “two weeks of collaborative work, multidisciplinary teams around projects related to democracy, citizen participation and the tools and methodologies that facilitate these processes.”
It climaxes with public events – a series of talks by different luminares, including media theorist and ex-punk pirate radio guy Richard Barbrook, and the mayors of Madrid and Barcelona.
Honestly, this is really geek stuff. And, like most of what Medialab does, it's over my head. But the implications of all this development are indeed revolutionary. Even though most of it is till in beta (in development), it is being used all over Spain, and, clearly in Taiwan.
It's important to note that this isn't “smart city,” using digital technology to enable managers to manage more efficiently. It isn't internet entrepreneurship training. And it isn't about voting in elections. This is a total re-imagining of what it means to govern in democracies.


Taller de Tecnopolítica posted to Twitter by Ourense en Comun
The MAC3 Workshop in A Coruna

My closest exposure to all this was at the MAC3 conference in A Coruna, in the workshop on technopolitics. Several Spanish hackers presented their platforms and their features, which are all in operation in governments today. (In this account, I'll skip the usual moaning and groaning about my low level of Spanish and the social exclusion an old person feels in an event dominated by the young. I plunged on, and do continue despite all that. But it is still the grain of salt dear reader must hold in mind.)
The workshop leader introduced, saying that technopolitical work is “more transversal” than meetings and assemblies, which tend to attract people who are already activist.
It is the program of capital, he said, to conquer and privatize critical infrastructure, including online. Our capacity to organize depends upon these infrastructures. Added to this is control of our own digital identities. As well, the militarization of technology is underway. Drones, robots, and mass surveillance are only a part of it. Like food production, the web is controlled by five companies, Google (now a unit of Alphabet), Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft.
(E.g.: Video from the recent “Peoples' Disruption” meeting on platform cooperativism was posted by its host the New School to their Facebook page; only a week later it is already deeply buried in the endless stream of university publicity.)
Counterposed to this is the ideal of a transparent media, exemplified by WikiPedia. (There is also a 15Mpedia, which concentrates on the Spanish movements.) It is through this transparent media that we can do important things like monitor our physical environment, and transversally coordinate the municipalist movements.
A second speaker talked about how municipalist platforms have a different view of the “smart city,” a discourse that dominated architectural theory in the late '90s, and by now has become a major paradigm of urban policy, planning, and development. This is not going without criticism. Municipalists are introducing proposals in every city in which they are active.
Presentations then began. First up was Agora the platform of participation of Ganemos Jerez. (That's a city in the province of Cádiz in the autonomous community of Andalusia.) This is an online space of citizen participation. It includes voting and process, which could be an invitation to participate in a workshop. It also solicits agreement (or not) on political initiatives, like alliances of the Ganemos electoral platform with the political parties Podemos or PSOE (Socialists/liberals). He showed proposals from citizens which were active on the website, some 25-30. One proposal he liked was for a school of critical citizenship.
Privatized consumer electricity is a big issue. It accounts for many citizens' sub-proposals. (The necessity to “re-municipalize” public services privatized by right-wing city governments, and how to do that was a major theme in the MAC3 conference.)
Inter-city connections are needed to make a strong technopolitical group. The methodology of participation itself is political. In smaller cities there are fewer activists, and it is harder to launch and sustain a group. These folks especially need connections to larger operations.
A presenter gave an overview of the Decidim platform used by Barcelona en Comu, the city council of Barcelona headed by Ada Colau. (He promised to send me the link, but didn't; what I found through search is in the “Links” below.) Decidim – (which I have also read is based on Consul, developed in Madrid – ah, Catalonian pride!) – is developed and maintained by “a productive ecosystem” of hackers, citizens and others working as meta.decidim. At the moment of our briefing, Decidim had 27,000 participants, 12K proposals, 14K “processes,” 1.6K “results,” and 36 projects underway with the city.
Decidim is “a guarantee of democratic quality” as well as privacy and security for citizen participants. It is used by 12 cities now – Pamplona, one in France, and all the rest in Catalonia.
An open question is what role Decidim played in the recent independence bid. In any event, the whole mishegos has certainly obscured the positive developments in innovative governance in Catalonia. I have never seen any of this covered on Spanish television. (Unsurprising, that; dinosaurs don't like mammals.)


network cloud of the French "Nuit Debout" movement
Big Conference, Big Talk

These guys (nearly all) are geeks, working for municipal governments in Spain. The big ideas come out at the conferences from the muck-a-mucks and little cheeses that give formal presentations. As I wrote above, I'm going to one of these in Madrid very soon. But in preparing this post I stumbled upon Heather Marsh speaking at the 2016 Medialab conference.
This “internet activist, programmer and philosopher” is trying to build “trust networks” within “network commons” to counteract the companies which are “are nothing more than gated wells of our personal data,” or “walled gardens.” She says, “Because of all this control of our data, and our minds and our actions and our relationships” we are all “being funnelled into this really ridiculous asinine infantile world where all we're getting out of Silicon Valley are dating apps, and Facebook and - who here is bored? There's other things that I'd rather be doing, like looking at our governance... and those applications aren't being built for us.”
At least not by capitalized private enterprise.
And in New York, the recently concluded third conference on Platform Cooperativism called "the People's Disruption” intends to bolster the challenge to the aforementioned “fearful five” platform monopolies.
There's a great deal more to be said about technopolitics, of course, and many folks working wholeheartedly on that. As the internet is gradually taken away from us, just as radio and television in their turn were privatized – (does anyone even remember the “equal time” provision on U.S. television anymore?) – it becomes increasingly necessary to defend what remains of its open nature.

LINKS:

Audrey Tang: Stories from the Future of Democracy
Tang is a high-powered Chinese hacker, and presently "Digital Minister" -- or a minister without portfolio, in Taiwan's government
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mxMxg4ct-D8
You can also see his 2 hour talk on “Digital Innovation in Public Service Transformation at Medialab-Prado”


Hackmeeting 2017 en Madrid
https://hacklab.ingobernable.net/2017/10/09/hackmeeting-2017-en-madrid/

Collective inteligence for democracy
http://medialab-prado.es/article/collective-intelligence-for-democracy-2017

There's hours and hours of videos from the 2016 conference on the subject, in both Spanish and English, which come up on this search:
"Medialab Intelligencia Colectiva Para La Democracia"

Farhad Manjoo, “Tech’s ‘Frightful 5’ Will Dominate Digital Life for Foreseeable Future,” New York Times, January 20, 2016
https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/21/technology/techs-frightful-5-will-dominate-digital-life-for-foreseeable-future.html

Agora – Plataforma de participación de Ganemos Jerez
http://www.ganemosjerez.es/2016/04/23/plataforma-de-participacion/

A school for critical citizenship. I like that too. Here's one proposed for Egypt:
Maha Bali, "Critical citizenship for critical times," April 14, 2014
https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/maha-bali/critical-citizenship-for-critical-times

Re. Decidim, there are these two presentations on Slideshare, explaining "BCN DIGITAL/ Barcelona: Collaborative policies for the collaborative Economy," published in March '17 by Alvaro Porro (Barcelona Activa) i Mayo Fuster (IN3)
https://www.slideshare.net/Barcelona_cat/bcn-digital-barcelona-collaborative-policies-for-the-collaborative-economy
and this: "Discussions and decisions on Decidim Barcelona" from April '17 by Pablo Aragon
https://www.slideshare.net/elaragon/discussions-and-decisions-on-decidim-barcelona

Heather Marsh speaking at “Inteligencia Colectiva para la Democracia. Sábado 19. Tarde”; She says the quoted words around the 39 minute mark.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J5g67AE4jSU
Heather Marsh: "Rethinking the moats and mountains"
https://georgiebc.wordpress.com/category/code-will-rule/
her project, Getgee:
http://www.getgee.xyz/

The People’s Disruption: Platform Co-ops for Global Challenges
https://platform.coop/2017
Link for all video including breakouts
http://isoc-ny.org/p2/platform-coop-2017


Equal-time rule
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equal-time_rule
Geez!, could this still be law? I can't imagine that it is...

Friday, November 3, 2017

Reading Matter – Transeuropa 2017 in Madrid


Summary: This blog post is mainly about the printed paper reader published in advance of the recent Transeuropea festival in Madrid. (PDF available; see links below.) Described as an artistic, cultural and political event, it was my first dip into the hazy, crazy world of EU-funded get-togethers for an “alternative Europe.” This time the TE Fest people were partnering with the muncipalist city council government Ahora Madrid, and the European Commons Assembly. To save my weary fingers, links are pasted below.


How to write about these things? I'm blogging, so I express insecurities, and throw in gonzo bits and cracks. I don't have to make sense of it all. I want it to be interesting... This writing now is about these meetings, encounters, conferences. Everyone there is doing something. They are not on their personal path of best advantage. These events are evidence that folks are moving towards and in a generalized positive human future. It is, I truly hope, the drifting vector of the 'general intellect,' be that political or social or, well, only art.
During my weekly short eviction for flat-cleaning, I sit in the Centro Centro of Madrid, the exhibition and workplace of the city hall. From time to time, I hear the groaning sounds of the “Charivari” exhibition on political noise as the show disgorges a group of visitors. I feel so lucky to be here in this ample public building with beautiful light and internet for free. I wonder what to write, of my experiences here in participation city. With Transeuropa festival, I am moving decisively into NGO-land. So this isn't about squatting – or urban development from below, gentrification and the like, which is what this “Occupations & Properties” blog has been about for eight years. And it isn't about artists' collectives, which is what another long-neglected blog based on my 2012 book “Art Gangs” is about.

The Municipalist Submarine Rises from the Sea
I was so psyched for the Transeuropa 2017 festival! I burbled on about it at the English happy hour at the La Ingobernable squat. The newsprint publication, which appeared a couple of weeks in advance, was wonderful, shot through with enticing formulations and revelatory ideas.
The introductory text by the director declared that the festival was to be about “going beyond the nation state.” At the same time, this “can mean renewed autonomy at local levels.” That's the strategy – the “bet,” in Pablo Carmona's formulation – of the municipalist movement.
The three themes of the festival, in addition to understanding a transnationalism advanced by flying in folks from around Europe (including one of our SqEK colleagues), were “Europe as a refuge,” i.e., engaging the crises of refugee and migrant flows into Europe; “the Commons,” exploring ideas and practices of this powerful emergent political and social paradigm; and third, “cities of change” – the new municipalism. That's my meat, as I've been blogging the MAC 3 conference of Spanish municipal platforms on this blog for a month now.
Their newspaper promised a kind of wedding cake of artistic and political futurism. As it turned out we were delivered a tray of cookies and some piles of crumbs. But there were some tasty bits in there!
At one point during the opening session I ran into Georg from Hablarenarte who said the TE people had wanted to hold the conference in Barcelona. Maybe that would have been better, he said. God no!, I cried. That place is a political tire fire now. You're much better off in Madrid, where at least the municipalist program is running fairly smoothly (if invisibly).
The festival kickoff saw a rather despairing intro talk by a German quite traumatized by the rise of the nationalist right in the east, the “illiberal” democracies – and a short video showing handfuls of people waving at the camera in a plethora of European cities large and mostly smaller. Argh, sez me. This isn't how you start a conference! You don't 'share your concerns.' You just intro the big cheese, who tells you what you should be thinking about and working on. I ran away.

Madrid is a Democracy Lab
But I came back the next day... But first, to return to the newspaper – it included an abridged version of Bernardo Gutiérrez' text published on the Open Democracy media platform “Madrid as a democracy lab” (July '17). He has just released a book, Pasado mañana. Viaje a la España del cambio (Arpa Editores), which I am trudging through, full of accounts of the interesting things that are being done in Spain now.
Now Bernardo is working at Medialab, a radical city-funded media center which was a partner in the festival, and the site of the somewhat concurrent European Commons Assembly. Some TE Fest action was happening in the Medialab, and a lot more across the plaza in La Ingobernable. (This partnering of adjacent places, one city-funded, the other an illegal occupation is in itself somewhat jaw-dropping.) The Commons Assembly is a recently formed grojup. There's more about it in the newspaper, but I did attend one brief session. People were sitting in a circle talking about their concerns, then they stepped back and let others come up and talk. All of it was thought-provoking, very orderly and well-behaved – a serious and intelligent group of folks. I'd no idea this was happening, and couldn't really open up to it all, since I was already booked into the TE Fest. But I digress.

Bernardo's text introduces Pablo Soto's concept of disintermediation, which is the political process of “removing intermediaries from representative politics” and “getting citizens to make their own decisions.” That this is a technical question is what concerns Medialab. Soto, a longtime hacker with the peer-to-peer movement, now works for the city government of Madrid, precariously controlled by an alliance of municipalist political parties. (It was for years in the hands of the right-wing PP, which resulted in some spectacular corruption trials.) Soto is managing the Decide Madrid citizen participation e-platform, which is already being used for “binding urban planning consultations.” This means in effect citizens get to vote on fully articulated proposals.
The Imagina Madrid program at another TE Fest partner, Intermediae, opened the proposal process to the public. (In fact, to make a fully articulated architectural development proposal is specialists' business, so “public” means merely an expanded field of experts; but that's something different than a closed bid process, for sure.)
Bernardo's text goes on to describe the “forceful decentralization policy” of the Madrid city government. This started some years ago, even under the PP mayoralty, as Intermediae took over cultural budgets in the city's peripheral barrios, and started to hire architecture collectives like Basurama, Zuloark and Todo por la Praxis to do citizen activation projects.
The city also handed out empty buildings to citizen groups to self-organize as social centers, thus in effect officializing a long-time current of “citizen protagonism” – Madrid's squatting movement.
The one squatting collective that was disappointed in its desire for a social center was the Patio Maravillas (covered numerous times in this blog in years past). They wanted a space in the center, and the city hall just wouldn't allow that. Finally they took one: La Ingobernable. And it fits right in.

Time of Monsters
Back to the paper. The article, written by two “advocacy coordinators,” Troncoso and Utratel called “Commons in the Time of Monsters: How P2P Politics Can Change the World, One City at a Time,” is the best rundown of the city-hacking change machine that is commons-based municipalism.
“The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born. Now is the time of monsters.” (May be Gramsci.) This time, a century later, we can zap them with our rayguns – “commons enabling, aka P2P (peer-to-peer, person-to-person, people-to-people) technologies... [which] enable small group dynamics at higher levels of complexity, and enable the reclamation of power.”
Yes, “power concedes nothing without a demand,” and the plan here is to weaponize demand, an unanswerable RFS attack on the power structure as it is, with its mazes of bureaucratic offices and blizzards of paperwork. “RFS” – that's a Request for Services attack/demand, to signal this new kind of online activism. (Not the negative disruptive DDoS or Distributed Denial of Service attack, which is what the current state bureaucracy sadly amounts to in much of its day-to-day operation.)
The beast fights back. The “activists-turned-political representatives” of Spain's municipalist platforms, write Troncoso and Utratel, “face an unwaveringly hostile media environment, which exaggerates their blunders (or invents them when convenient) while burying their achievements.”
They go on to discuss the “Partner State” idea, which includes the “promotion of real, needs-oriented entrepreneurship... bottom-up productive infrastructures” like coops and renewables, and – here's the key, which puts this all squarely into “Occupations & Properties” territory – programs to “allow commoners to repurpose or take over unused or underutilized public buildings for social ends, which giving legal recognition ot the act of commoning, whether through copyleft-inspired property-law hacks or through a longer process of gradually institutionalising commons practices.”
So squatting has a new name – commonsing. And as I learned at MAC3, there are already developed protocols for the process of evaluating and legally recognizing squatted spaces. And they are not only the idealized protocols evolved by artist Adelita Husni-Bey. They are being put into practice in Naples, as we shall see below.

“Renewed Political Force”
A text from the muckamucks in the European Commons Assembly outlines the “why” and the “what.” While the municipalists don't seem to focus much now on citizens assemblies, and the U.S. ones for sure don't care – this recently-formed bunch is all about that. And “that” is where popular power begins. “On the streets,” okay, but with thoughtful, civil citizens deliberating together on the matters that concern them. It's from there to action, personal, collective, and political.
Bloeman and Leonard write, in “For a Renewed Political Force in Europe,” that relentless markets, growth, comoodification, “extractive relationship with nature” blah blah blah have broken down social cohesion. That's what they start with. They applaud and support local initiatives to make community wifi, co-housing, community land trusts, and workers' co-ops. Their brief in the Madrid meeting was to go “beyond ideational affiliation,” and grow their movement. The emphasis was on “production” – political production around the commons. What could that mean? I don't know, 'cause I didn't make any of the breakouts. I was busy with the TE Fest.
The newspaper foregrounded migrant rights – “The Cities Want Them In!” came from the book Shifting Baselines of Europe. (That title's actually a creepy concept; the example is fishermen who don't notice that the fish are getting smaller and less numerous since they are invested in a “baseline shift”; it's a fancy name for gettinig used to the unfolding disaster.) While I didn't follow this line closely, we had a breakout (which I'll describe) wherein I met a refugee from conflict Africa. I realized that there is a difference in advocating for refugees and for economic migrants. They are mixed together in the waves trying to get into Europe, but the bureaucracy favors one over the other. (I'll be addressing these questions in a forthcoming essay on the union of manteros – blanket-sellers from Senegal – in Madrid.)
It's a theme struck strongly by the radical mayor of Naples, Luigi de Magistris. “Naples was the first Italian city to establish a 'Department of the Commons' and the first to change the municipal statute by inserting the commons as one of the interests to be protected and recognised as the functional exercise of fundamental rights of the person.” (That's from another interview, “In Naples we are all illegal or no-one is.”)
The Naples protocol for legalizing occupied social centers as “social commons” was studied in A Coruna at MAC3 in a late session which I haven't gotten around to blogging yet!
De Magistris describes the “absolute novelty” of a new way of working together between city government and social movements. “How does this happen? Through direct contact, open meetings, popular assemblies in the neighborhoods, observatories, and by keeping a direct relation with social centres and spaces of activism and active citizenship.”
Naples is a refuge city – in “the vanguard of a new 'diplomacy from below' working for a Mediterranean of peace and not war.”

Theory of Nomadism
There is another interview in there with Roi Braidotti “On Nomadism.” It's always great to hear academics wrap up all the politics into conceptual categories. Because that's really the job with municipalist politics, and post-nationalism of course, is to think all sorts of things that before have been only peacenik hippie dreams into place as government policy.
She has written three books on recent subjective transformations, and finally proposes post-identitarian nomadic subjects who are delinked from ethnicity. This breaks down to a proposal for “flexible citizenship,” a “temporary, interim citizenship.” Immigrants denied papers in Spain certainly need this. How do we do it if the government won't?
How can we “postulate citizenship on participation, on belonging, on taxation, on being there... allowing people without countries, stateless people, to be citizens”? Legal minds are working on this.
Finally, on the climate crisis she notes: “We need to be able to think for future generations who cannot do anything for us. The future per definition, cannot be reciprocal, so we should exit the Kantian morality” – which governs modern political arrangements since the 18th century – “'I do that for you, you do that for me'... No! You do that for the love of humanity, because if we don't do that, there is not going to be a humanity!” We must give up the idea of reciprocity, the soul of compromise, as the engine of our politics.
Easy to say, but harder to say clearly.
The TE Fest put great store in culture as a vehicle to “break walls and create bridges from the ruins of xenophobia and hate spaeeches.” Indeed. How to escape from our political habits? From what Reich called the “emotional contagion” encoded even in our bodily behaviors of anger, frustration, and the social media escape from an actual public sphere already in tatters?
There's a good deal more in this little newspaper – on Turkey, Syrian refugees, feminism in politics. But that's a good start.

NEXT: Well, we'll just have to see.

LINKS


Transeuropa 2017 – Convergent Spaces
https://transeuropafestival.eu/es/

Ahora Madrid
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahora_Madrid

European Commons Assembly
https://europeancommonsassembly.eu/

“Charivari” exhibition on political noise as the show disgorges a group of visitors.
http://www.centrocentro.org/centro/exposicion_ficha/243

La Ingobernable – Centro Social de Comunes Urbanos
https://ingobernable.net/

The texts under discussion are all in these PDFs:
The journal of the Transeuropa Festival in English and in Spanish, La revista de Transeuropa Festival
https://transeuropafestival.eu/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Transeuropa2017-english.pdf

Bernardo Gutiérrez , ?Madrid as a democracy lab,” 10 July 2017
An exuberant ecosystem of citizen practices and self-managed spaces has turned Madrid into an international reference of the urban commons. (also in Español y Português)
https://www.opendemocracy.net/democraciaabierta/bernardo-guti-rrez/madrid-as-democracy-lab

Stacco Troncoso andAnn Marie Utratel . "Commons in the Time of Monsters: How P2P Politics Can Change the World, One City at a Time,” June, 2017 at:
http://commonstransition.org/commons-time-monsters/
This article expands on themes showcased on Commons Transition and P2P: a Primer, a short publication from the P2P Foundation and the Transnational Institute examining the potential of commons-based peer production to radically re-imagine our economies, politics and relationship with nature. (Download.)

Monday, October 23, 2017

Not “Seeing like a State” and a talk about Our Press at MAC 3 (4th post)


"Mutaciones, Proyecciones, Alternativas y Confluencias 15M" (2014) legible at: http://autoconsulta.org/mutaciones.php

Preliminary theoretical excursus:
In a review of recent books on the Anthropocene, Benjamin Kunkel writes: “No collective actor can be conjured from a name, and the literature of the Anthropocene so far fails to identify any historical process that might combine with moral exhortation to produce a borderless social movement in which human beings throughout the world effect their ecological solidarity as a political force.” Who could this “collective actor” be? A Comintern? An NGO? (Greenpeace is pretty good.) Apparently, a decentred movement is not good enough. Is it disingenuous to believe in a leaderless global movement?
Not according to Amador Fernández-Savater. Rather than thinking like 1919, he emphasizes the "everyday places of experience" we each inhabit within the present planet-destroying processes of hyper capitalism. “Neoliberalism is in fact a co-production." This is not a personal responsibility one small step argument. For Fernández-Savater it's another stage of politics, a part in a "multilayered and multichanneled revolution." The change we want to see follows “'a strategy without strategists'. No one directs it according to a plan, they are practices that multiply and spread by imprinting, via intensification, a new global direction to reality, effects 'without an author'.”
Amador Fernández-Savater; standing before what looks like a plastic ribbon divider at CSA Tabacalera

Still, there is that anxiety, like that behind Kunkel's text. That same anxiety had me carrying a small UN flag during one of the first marches in NYC after 9/11. I strongly felt this now weird-seeming delusion that a conclave of nationalistically self-interested monkeys would somehow put in the fix, and restrain the enraged gorilla. Ha.
The municipalist idea runs against the grain of statist anxiety. That is the fear that localist movements will destabilize the nation state, and with it the global order. It is why the Catalan independence ruckus has unnerved so many. There are good reasons to try to cut free of stifling federalist regimes entrained to the neoliberal order. And indeed there are translocal municipal movements, networking more and more each day, which are dedicated to the radical participation of citizens — or simply inhabitants, regardless of legal status. The activists of municipalism argue that the global challenges of corporate and state domination depend on “local anchors” that can be contested. (I paraphrase Romy Krämer's report on the June '17 “Fearless Cities” meet in Barcelona which I attended and blogged here.)

How? Listen....
As is clear from the above, to do effective political work now it is important to change habits of mind, habits that bind us to older formations, which like waterlogged wreckage from the totalizing shipwreck we are in the middle of, are dragging us down into the suffocating deeps of nowhere.
Changing habits of mind, finding the new place from which to move politically, begins with listening to what others have to say, to what they feel is important. It probably means listening to those with whom you disagree, including those you don't even want to hear. Listening is a skill refined by the political audio art sound collective Ultra-red. They have published on this: “Some theses on militant sound investigation, or, listening for a change” (2008).
Here it is certain that the most careful political work being done on intersubjectivities is by feminists. The agenda of the feminist meetings at MAC 3 are described in this text on “Municipalisms, economies and feminism” – they are all plural. We are many and all different.
Ultra-red, "What is the Sound of Freedom?" at the Whitney Museum NYC in 2012

Back to the Meetings
The journalism group met at the headquarters of Marea Atlantica. It's a lovely modernist glass-cube building overlooking the Plaza of Humor – which is exactly what it sounds. We looked down from the second floor meeting room on a concrete plaza inscribed with cartoon characters, historical caricatures, and the like. The plaza features comical bronze busts, and two granite benches with carved figures of Galicia's most famous caricaturists sprawled on them.
A mini-bookshop was set up in the lobby, with books and DVDs. I noted many familiar authors: four volumes of Emanuel Wallenstein's treatise on world systems, essays by Rosa Luxembourg, works by David Harvey, bell hooks, Angela Davis, Silvia Federici, Yanis Varoufakis – and DVDs of the Yes Men, the French TAV occupation, the Danish “youth house” squat Ungdomshuset, one on the Sanfermines of 1978, a violent police riot in Pamplona during the transition period, etc.
Locations, libraries and artworks I can describe. With the conference talks I get only the gist of it. Basically the meet was was concerned with the communications efforts made in support of the municipalist candidatures and platforms.
Seated granite artist at Plaza de Humor

Media workers in several cities spoke of their experiences and perceptions.The moderator was from El Salto periodical. Issues of the magazine covered the book table, and this successor to the periodical Diagonal was a frequent reference in the talks. It is the Spanish left media, especially for this movement. The question concerned precisely media strategy for the short, medium and long term. Elections are coming up in 2019, and several of the municipalist platforms have experienced big lossses. They have many enemies – not onlyt he right wing, which pounces on every mistake the munis make (and being young, ideological, and inexperienced in electoral politics they make many), and generalize them as characteristic of the movement itself. (One young elected's anti-clerical call for an end to public subsidies for the centuries-old religious processions in one city is a classic example, and provided the right with dirt for a year.) But the munis also face opposition from the PSOE (socialists, i.e. liberals) and IU (united left), potential allies. They are all competing for votes, and the state resources that come with them.
The moderator was from El Salto – I recalled him from another Instituto DM meeting recently in San Fernando de Henares, where the town is confronting the imminent opening of an enormous garbage dump (a macrovertedero). He described the workshop as a continuation of the work from MAK 2, in Pamplona. “We are a diverse group, from places big and small, and all looking forward to the 2019 elections.”
The audience was about 30, but swelled in time to 40. Not all were journalists – many were interested political activists. Ana from Madrid described her group as volunteers, sort of autonomous, basically promoting positive things about Ahora Madrid, doing publicity and defending them when they are attacked. They also do “electoral marketing.” This kind of media unit seems almost quaint compared to the phalanxes of 'high-powered media consultants' in the USA, the technicians who engineer our elections.
Hector of Sevilla described the problem of being “invisibilized” by large media groups. “We use humor in short videos,” he said, emulating the U.S. Yes Men. (Their strategy is imposture of government and corporate spokespeople.) These videos make fun of the false statements of politicians and newspapers. They rely on alternative media like Diagonal, and now El Salto for information.
Sante of Ahora Málaga, the home of the Casa Invisible social center, reported that the PP right-wing mayor is “adored.” They try then to point to the many incidents of corruption and conflicts of interest. The turistification of the city and the expulsion of residents from social housing is an enormous problem in Málaga, even more than in Barcelona. The tenants have mounted a strong campaign. Ahora Málaga prints a paper which lampoons the format of another. Many experts, architects and such, want to write for them. A man from Pamplona in Basque country where the party Bildu is in control reported that they started a blog with various lines of work. They try to articulate positions and start “communicative structures.”
A Barcelona man spoke of their use of social media. Twitter, Facebook, memes on WhatsApp – “we experiment a lot.” Their enemies, of course, have more money, and use the micro-targeting techniques on social media which were so successful in the Trump campaign. They are also experimenting with “deliberative platforms” – the subject of technopolitics will be discussed in tomorrow's meeting. (As I wrote, HackFest 2017 was underway in La Ingobernable social center in Madrid [#Hackmeeting17], and Medialab Prado is getting ready for a weeks-long vetted workshop on exactly this kind of citizen participation platforms.) With these platforms, he said, citizens can create counter-power, and engage in citizen journalism.
After a coffee break, one man laid out statistics on media viewership so – where people get their information – so that we may understand “the machine that confronts us.” A woman from Santander, where the munis are very much in the minority, said they rely on concrete actions like discussions and book talks as tools of mobilization in a kind of cultural intellectual campaign.
Another man quoted revered Galician experimental writer Valle-Inclan, and said it was better to experiment and risk failure than simply to lament the lack of money to implement conventional strategies. The Basque man regretted the lack of self-esteem in the discussion. “We have done well so far.” Sante said early mistakes, like nominating our friends for electoral office, and stupid statements, provided fuel for enemies, and will haunt the movement well into the future.

Next: Technopolitics and Social Centers

LINKS

Benjamin Kunkel, “The Capitalocene” London Review of Books, 2 March 2017

Notes for a Non-Statocentric Politics by Amador Fernández-Savater • 21 April 2014
http://criticallegalthinking.com/2014/04/21/notes-non-statocentric-politics/

Romy Krämer, “The Birth of a Translocal Movement,” n.d., posted June 2017
http://guerrillafoundation.org/birth-translocal-movement-new-municipalism-fearless-cities-conference/

Ultra-red, “Five Protocols for Organized Listening,” 2012
https://archive.org/details/UltraRedFiveProtocols

Ultra-red, “Some theses on militant sound investigation, or, listening for a change,” 2008
https://inthemiddleofthewhirlwind.wordpress.com/some-theses-on-militant-sound-investigationor-listening-for-a-change/

“Municipalisms, economies and feminism” – in Spanish: Coordinadora en Clave Feminista MAC3, "Municipalismo, economía y feminismos," October 2017
https://www.elsaltodiario.com/palabras-en-movimiento/municipalismo-econom%C3%ADa-feminismos#

Friday, October 20, 2017

MAC 3 -- A Game of Cards (3rd post)


"Take back the economy" -- The Plan as per the Hidra collective (posted at http://lahidra.net/nociones-comunes-barcelona/)

Before look at the first full day of MAC3, I must confess I was confused. How can a meeting of political party operatives and elected officials be about “counter-power”? Aren't they in power, and supposed to be figuring out how to use it? Aren't the people out of power, the activists, squatters, general masses of the unwashed beating at the gates and yelling at them to do something? Aren't the folks in government always telling activists, Well, it's complex, you don't understand how things work, we can't do what you want now, I have to go to lunch now with important people, etc.... Are you also confused?
In a March '17 interview, Pablo Carmona of the Ganemos Madrid list author of The Municipalist Wager, and a key theorist of the movement explained. The concepts may seem hard for USAians to grasp...

Interviewer: It is not always clear what municipalism is....

Pablo Carmona: ...Municipalism has a strong libertarian matrix, it does not think of conquering power to change things, but to change things, power has to be elsewhere. Its objective is to disperse power and to challenge the existing institutional mechanism....


According to Pablo, “the wave of institutional participation that is opening up in many parts of the country largely has the mission of dissolving or de-structuring the Spanish power system” which is entrenched in precisely these institutional arrangements.
That is to say, everything is not all right. The constitutional order of 1978 is “damaged.” (Imagine the state of the 1789 product!) As the 15M movement of 2011 moved forward, they found it was “a good time to rearm the old tool of Libertarian Municipalism.”

Pablo Carmona in his natural habitat, bookstore Traficante de Suenos
(Fashion- able hoodie is actually kind of dress-up for Spanish left politicians.)


The social movements (that's like the PAH, the squatted social centers, feminists, sin papeles, ecologists, etc.) are incapable of dissolving the institutional structure and building a new one – i.e., of effecting a revolutionary transition that would have the character of a union, not of labor but of the social itself. So they decided to enter politics on the municipal level, We wanted to “deprivatize politics and launch it into society.”
“That is why we attach such great importance to linking institutional participation and the movements, which linkage has not been collaborative. Many times that [idea] is not understood. 'How, if you are part of the movements, do you always say that the movements have to be a counter-power?' Because we understand that the relationship, even when we have talked about that idea of a party-movement, has to be an antagonistic relationship. That is, it would be a mistake to fall back into the [habits of] social democratic Europe, where many social movements or organized civil society are subordinated, co-opted or financed under the institutional wing.” That's why they cheerfully participate in critical debates about the city council initiated by the social movements, even when they are against them. “Many of our colleagues see it as a rupture, as a betrayal, but we think it is the diversity necessary for this system of antagonisms and counterpowers not to make the social sphere decapitalize and lose its value and meaning.” That “capital” is the valor and energy of the social movements.
[The above is a tweaked machine translation. The original: “nosotros pensamos que es la diversidad necesaria para que ese sistema de antagonismos y de contrapoderes no haga que el ámbito de lo social se descapitalice y pierda valor y sentido.”]

“To the Tables!”
We arrived for the MAC at a regular civic center. Old people and youngsters drifted about. There's also a library upstairs. We were herded into two rooms with card tables, and seated in small groups. On each table was a pile of cards. I had a nice chat with Leilla of Barcelona en Comú (she's a roommate of Kate Shea Baird, la jefa of BCNenC's international committee). I showed her the Lumpen magazine from Chicago which had my lovely article on the municipalist movement in it. She smiled and nodded her head politely. Then the horror began....
The cards were dealt out. I had a 10 of clubs. Leilla had an ace. It was explained to us what we were to do. I thought it was about coming up with ideas about how to build the movement, from its past, its present, and its future – I wrote my bright ideas on the table... but I was wrong. It was much much more specific. I had just made the clean paper dirty.

The job was to consider how the municipalist movements could effect change on different levels of governance. The “clubs” had the level of European Union. Discussion began. The EU maintains human rights, but it also oppresses, sell weapons, and maintains borders (“Fortress Europe”). A principal in the DM Institute began to outline how the rules of the EU on economic policy, laid out in Brussels, control finance, tourism, the real estate market, and create limits to municipalism. He rattled rapidly on, interminably, uninterruptibly... I was soon swamped, and couldn't get a thing from his talk. We shuffled again, and this time I drew a 2. That was more appropriate!, since I was by now swamped and sinking. Another guy from Marea Atlantica said something about markets. Water was washing over the bow. Finally we were to write the key points of our talk onto the paper covering the table.
I was not the only person not talking. At our table were two women of color. They were from Territorio Domestico, an activist group working with domestic and care workers. Many of these are migrants, and some undocumented. They also seemed lost in the blizzard of talk, but at least they understood the language! At length, one of them spoke about the importance of the stories of individual lives.


After the first intensive discussion and the summary written out by Lilliana of Barcelona en Comu, we were moved to another table and dealt a new hand of cards from a different suit, i.e., . We then launched into a short discussion of the written textual consideration that we saw the previous group had left on the table. We wrote a response. There followed another move, short discussion, another response. We were ordered then to move into the adjacent room, where another large group at several tables were doing the same thing. I shouldn't say “we,” because at some point along the way I staggered from the room....
Although it blew my fuses, it really was a great game!, a wonderful way of getting everyone thinking strategically. In they end, they have a lot of raw material for a strategic document or a manifesto – fodder to chew on for future meetings. The document that came out of the MAC1 in 2016, while it was called a manifesto, was a text that “brings together several lines of discussion that emerged in the workshops and working spaces” of MAC1.

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Many tweets came from this extended card game exercise – e.g.,
We are remixed again to discuss the 2nd question: achievements and challenges of the municipalist movement. We are still at the top in # Mac3...

...and, Fundación Comunes Retweeted La Hidra Cooperativa‏ @LahidraCoop “Organizar red municipalista a escala europea es el gran reto contra políticas austericidas y estrategias de control estado-céntricas #mac3” via Bing x-lation: “Organize municipal network at European level is the great challenge against policies austericidas [austerity-cide!] and #mac3 state-centric control strategies”. Those are two gangs who really understood what was going on.
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Curiously in the MAC1 statement there is a strong emphasis on migrant rights. The sin papeles, or sans papiers, the undocumented, are severely disadvantaged throughout Europe, whether they be refugees or economic migrants. While there is no Joe Arpaio or Jeff Sessions' DOJ hunting them down, they can be detained and deported, and are regularly fined for trying to work or sell things. MAC3 did not have much discussion of the issues of the undocumented. Mainly I'll guess this is because they are super-poor, working all the time as they can, and even if funded can't travel on airplanes which have ID checks.
Territorio Domestico in a small session at MAC3

I sat in the lobby at the kids' table and typed up some notes, looked at tweets. I was feeling pretty low, facing a three hour lunch break with no one to talk to. Along came Alejandra from Medialab Prado in Madrid. She had helped with the Lumpen article, and she is is actually bilingual. We chatted, and then she also was off. On my cel, Malena said, “Go enjoy A Coruña. It's a beautiful city.” With I did. Wandering into the Museo de Bellas Artes, which is a mortuarial place full of bad art of the ages. I was not much cheered up.
Still, I could go back to the apartment, lunch with my host at a crowded tapas bar, take a nap and still make the session on journalism in the afternoon.


NEXT: Journalism, propaganda, and online voting

LINKS


Entrevista a Pablo Carmona, Ganemos Madrid: "No es como lo habíamos imaginado hace dos años" 05/07/2017 | Marcos Ancelovici y Montserrat Emperador Badimon
http://vientosur.info/spip.php?article12759

Lumpen magazine from Chicago which has my lovely article on the municipalism, called “How to Do”
http://www.lumpenmagazine.org/how-to-do-now/

Territorio Domestico
http://territoriodomestico.net/

Link is to a short video of a 2010 demonstration organized by Territorio Domestico in Lavapies, Madrid. "Without us the world doesn't move." The prop being pushed was part of an exhibition, 'Principio Potosi" at the Reina Sofia museum https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUTW6clGcRM

The Municipalist Manifesto, 2016
http://eipcp.net/transversal/0916/manifesto/en


A Coruna from above

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The MAC 3 Begins


I was in Lugo 100 miles away from A Coruña on the morning the conference began. Lugo was in the throes of the ancient festival of San Froilán, honoring a pre-Romanesque bishop and patron of the province. The city was full of country folk looking for places to eat octopus. Although the week-long extravaganza was coming to an end, the night before saw an earsplitting bed-rocking disco outside our window which ran until 3am. That morning we found that the bus schedule to A Coruña had been cut back because of the festival (what?!), so Malena hooked into the Bla Bla Car ride share app. I was slated for a late afternoon ride, hopefully in time for the registration and opening plenary. We'd have to go to the outskirts of Lugo, to the highway where the guy was coming from Madrid. He was having battery trouble, and would be an hour “or so” delayed....

In the end, he took me to the door of the Facultad de Economia of the university on the outskirts of the city. I was just in time for the start of the conference. As I registered folks talked to me in English – for the last time. In the auditorium, a lineup of reps from different cities spoke about their concerns, their objectives, their main problems. I tried to understand, but of the various accents of Spanish (which is in fact Castilian, of one province) some are not so hard, and others are really difficult to understand, like one slurred stream of sounds. As the panelists hurried to finish, my comprehension decreased. Still, I got some sense of the issues that would be negotiated here at the MAC 3 as the municipalistas “oil their network.”
Unlike the “Fearless Cities” conference in Barcelona in June (see blog posts on that here), there were no explanations and no exhortations. There were also no Americans or Brits. This MAC was to be a working meeting, and what was proposed from the stage to the crowd of some 200 conferees was a rough agenda. With partial comprehension my notes are choppy. There was no press office to clear any of this up. (There was one in Barcelona, but they folded right after the conference.) Comments on this post are welcome and corrections and emendations will be made.
Reliquary of the saint in question

A woman took the stage to introduce. (Who? No idea.) She said, “There is a difference in times between institutions and social movements” (I take this to mean sense of time, movement of actions and ideas, the former being slow and deliberate, bureaucratic, and the latter meditative but moving straight to action.) The institutions don't reflect the “urgencies of the micro-political.” We want to tap the richness of the citizens' knowledges and ideas.
Then a parade of folks clad mostly in black, some with declarative t-shirts, took the stage. Emmanuel Rodríguez of the Instituto DM (Instituto para la Democracia y el Municipalismo) spoke first and super-fast, as I knew from the seminar he conducted at Traficantes de Sueños bookstore in Madrid. All I got was a remark on the “brutal differences in economic power,” not only between poor and rich citizens, but between the municipal governments and the banks and corporations. (This leverage was brought into play immediately after the recent vote of secession in Catalonia as a number of major Spanish banks and firms announced they would withdraw their headquarters and hundreds of jobs from the province.)
A guy from A Coruña announced that in December they would hold a “classic party congress” of the Marea Atlántica platform (that includes A Coruña – our host for the meeting – and number of other cities in Galicia). They would use the MAC3 discussions to “introduce debates into our own process.”

Another poor guy had first a loud buzz in his wireless mic, apparently from his mobile phone, and then immediately afterwards feedback from his notepad! (New tech = new problems.) When the different electoral platforms meet and talk here, he said, some of the questions they will work on include contesting monopolies, diversity, working on a European scale, and ….(?). Reps from other cities were introduced. Juan from Málaga with a Casa Invisible t-shirt spoke of the problem of corruption and the hidden transactions made by former regimes. For them – the Málaga Ahora party – a key value is transparency of all actions by the municipality. Real estate speculation is a huge problem in that city.
Santa Rosa (?) of Zaragoza en Común in Aragon, adjacent to Galicia, spoke (much more clearly, for me) of using “institutional rhythms to activate the potential of the 15M movement” – (here, unlike in USA, the broad mobilizations of 2011 have not only not been forgotten, they formed the ground floor for everything that has come after) – to “intervene in the constituent processes.” The PSOE has power in Málaga. (That's the socialists, conservative left, like the US DNC – their slogan, a bald lie, is “we are the left”).
So Zaragoza en Común tries to set up “posts of participation” in the neighborhoods (barrios) of the city to contest the proposals of the PSOE. The PSOE's informal networks of power influence the institutions disproportionately. ZenC are also working on remunicipalization of city services. “We don't want to obssess on the electoral problem.”
Marta of Pamplona (the Basque city where the MAK2 was held) mentioned the social center in the center of the city. I assume she is from Aranzadi: Pamplona en Común, and was referring to the September occupation of empty palace of the Marquis de Rozalejo, in the center of Pamplona. It was taken in 2007, evicted, and retaken in September '17 by a group which proclaimed the Rozalejo “open to all the neighborhood, all popular groups in the neighborhood and the city that need it, to all those people who want to contribute to building social change from the foundations." They consider that "not having gaztetxe while building luxury hotels is unfair, not having gaztetxe while building the high-speed train is unfair, not having gaztetxe while dozens of public buildings remain in disuse or in abandonment is unfair” [from diariodenavarra.es]. (Gaztetxe is the name of a self-organized occupied social center in the Basque language of Euskara; it also means youth house.)
Palace of Rozalejo, occupied in Pamplona

For the Aranzadi platform, remunicipalization is a key economic issue. They are trying to do that with energy, which is now controlled by a monopoly. The question of intervention in the social economy is complex. (It is clear typing these up that the speakers are putting forth issues they face, perplexing problems which can be considered in the days ahead.) For another speaker how to compose their list of candidates was a challenge.

For a speaker from La Hidra Cooperativa of Barcelona, the key question was how to overcome the institutional blockage to redistribute power and wealth? (I heard the same line in Barcelona in June from city officials there, that the system is designed against us in our efforts to use it for egalitarian ends .) This shows the limits of municipal power when confronting problems of urban speculation, tourism, etc. They have built cooperative apartments with public support, bu still the state scale determines a lot of what can happen, like the “habitual” tourist economy. They try to investigate the hidden transactions taking place in the city. These are the issues which have most interested the assemblies in the barrios. The money produced in the center of the city does not get to the peripheries.
Barcelona is a model for the successful remunicipalization of services, in particular water, under the slogan “no nos serviran” (they don't serve us). For the Hidra “think tank” the big question is how to construe (?) the different levels of governance, to coordinate action toward objectives on the different scales of barrio, city, territory, nation and European Union. (This would be the basis of the game we would play the next day.)
As the speakers realized they were going over time, the talk became too fast for me to follow, and the action a little manic. At one point two men wrestled a woman for the microphone... All I could catch was a definition of “social sindicalism” as a struggle for the most precarious of our citizens. (This concept is explicated by Beatriz García of the social center La Villana in Vallecas, and the Fundación de los Comunes in a 2017 article.)
The final speaker from A Coruña noted that while they remained a minority in the city government, and were declining electorally, he remained optimistic. The PP (the Popular Party of the right) was the main enemy. They were threatening municipal autonomy on a federal level. (Shades of Repugnican state legislatures and Sessions' Justice in the USA!) Our next struggle, he said, is to raise citizen participation, to open channels and spaces to participate.
In A Coruña they are fighting now over development plans for an area on the water, near the port. (Actually, all of central A Coruña is on the water; it's shaped like a gnawed-on pork chop sticking into the Atlantic, so land is scarce.) Plans now call for hotels, commercial use, and high-rise residences with no provision for public space. We have to dispute this “common sense” kind of development.
More Local Color
The dinner after was beautifully organized in the cafeteria of the faculty. Several long tables with no chairs were set with plates of tapas and raciones, vegetarian and non (the clear choice). I didn't know anyone, only Emmanuel Rodríguez from his seminar. He was polite, and then moved off. I ran up on the guy from the Hidra Cooperativa who had spoken earlier. “What's that?” I asked. “A think tank,” he replied, explained a bit, then also slinked off. I was left talking with Susanna of La Villakas in Vallekas. Good fortune! She was one of the few folks from social centers here at MAC3. Vallecas is the working class district of exurban Madrid, a traditional site of left resistance,
I also chatted in English with Arturo, one of the information guys (wearing a big “I” sticker on his shirt) who said this meeting is a chance to “oil the network” of municipalism, since they are not as well coordinated city to city as they wish to be.
Later that night I chatted with my host, who is active with issues of “historic memory” in Galicia. That isn't at all an abstract matter. It concerns the recovery and re-interment of remains of those executed by Franco's regime and its fascist cadres over decades, and buried in mass graves all over Spain.
She was interested in some of the meetings, especially the cultural one. But who is speaking?, she asked. I don't see any names. And that was true. It was only the subject under discussion that is listed. No expert opinion was to be put forward, and no single person to organize the talk. I did not even see this as an aspect of MAC3 until she mentioned it, but it's radically different than other conferences with a roster of identified importantxs. I think it's part of the general feeling against expert culture in this movement, and against empowering spokespeople. It's not that there is no leadership in movements like this, it is only that it is not foregrounded. It is not enmarcado, framed out in advance. That is finally very different, and quite refreshing! It's also the procedure of our own SqEK meetings... although finally this can be frustrating when our links are so weak that one forgets who one was talking to!

Map of locations of common graves, excavated and not, in Spain

NEXT: A game of cards....

LINKS
Emmanuel Rodríguez of the Instituto DM (Instituto para la Democracia y el Municipalismo)
http://institutodm.org/blogs/emmanuelrodriguez/

Marea Atlántica
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marea_Atl%C3%A1ntica

Zaragoza en Común
http://zaragozaencomun.com/

Aranzadi- Pamplona en Común
https://www.facebook.com/Aranzadi.Pamplona.En.Comun/

La Hidra Cooperativa
http://lahidra.net/

Centros sociales y sindicalismo: la potencia colectiva
Jan 16, 2017 - Beatriz García, La Villana de Vallekas/Fundación de los Comunes
https://www.diagonalperiodico.net/blogs/funda/centros-sociales-y-sindicalismo-la-potencia-colectiva.html

Center for the Recovery of Historic Memory (Galicia, Spain)
http://memoriahistorica.org.es/tag/galicia/

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 – viewpointmag.com – 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.
https://soundcloud.com/search?q=%23NovaraFM%3A%20Michael%20Hardt%20-%20Assembly



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LINKS

My two books on squatting, both free PDFs online, can be found at:
http://occupationculture.net/

Marea Atlántica municipalist political platform
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marea_Atl%C3%A1ntica

Málaga Ahora municipalist political platform
https://malagaahora.org/

La Casa Invisible in Málaga
http://www.lainvisible.net/

Fundación de los Comunes network
http://www.fundaciondeloscomunes.net/

EIPCP Transversal web-zine site, the issue "Monster Municipalism"
http://eipcp.net/transversal/0916

“How to Do Now” – proposals for municipalism in U.S.A.
http://www.lumpenmagazine.org/how-to-do-now/

Jackson Rising: The Struggle for Economic Democracy and Self-Determination in Jackson, Mississippi
http://www.cooperationjackson.org/announcementsblog/2016/8/9/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.

LINKS:

Closing plenary -- Spanish speakers in Spanish, English speakers in English
"Ciutats sense por. Plenari de cloenda: municipalisme internacional"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CwBuTn0UFR4&t=1074s

Transnational Institute of Social Ecology – Conference in Thessaloniki 1-3 of September
http://trise.org/

Cooperation Jackson, Jackson, Mississippi
http://www.cooperationjackson.org/

“The Rose of Fire Has Returned! The Struggle for the Streets of Barcelona,” by Crimethinc, posted April 2012
https://crimethinc.com/2012/04/19/the-rose-of-fire-has-returned-the-struggle-for-the-streets-of-barcelona
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
https://www.lrb.co.uk/v38/n24/tom-crewe/the-strange-death-of-municipal-england
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
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NnZ2Uc-oKVg

Sven Heymanns “An attack on democratic rights: Sociologist Andrej Holm fired from Humboldt University,” World Socialist website, 31 January 2017
https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/01/31/holm-j31.html

Michelle Teran, media artist
http://www.ubermatic.org/