UK Newswire Archive
05-03-2011 15:53Join the Bristol convoy traveling en masse to London on Saturday 26 March for the anti-cuts demo. Coaches being organised by Shambala Festival with a coalition of creative and socially minded organisations. £12 Adults / £6 kids (covering costs only). Click for more info...
05-03-2011 15:08Hot off the press - the latest news fro Calais and beyond
05-03-2011 14:17On the demonstration against government cuts on Saturday March 26, we will do a lot more than just march from A to B. At 2:11pm thousands of people will occupy key areas of London.
The third hearing for the Science and Technology Parliamentary Inquiry into the UKCMRI proposed bioresearch laboratory took place on 2nd March, at Portcullis House - more below.....
The third hearing for the Parliamentary Inquiry took place on 2nd March, 2011. Committee MPs questioned David Willetts MP, Minister of State for Universities and Science, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and Earl Howe, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health.
MP Committee members present were: Andrew Miller (Chair), Labour (Ellesmere Port and Neston), Stephen Metcalfe, Conservative (South Basildon), Stephen Mosley, Conservative (City of Chester), Pamela Nash, Labour (Airdrie and Shotts), Graham Stringer, Labour (Blackley and Broughton), Stephen MacPartland, Conservative (Stevenage) and Gavin Barwell, Conservative (Croydon Central), who also happens to be "paired" with the daughter of Chief Executive and Director, UKCMRI Ltd, Paul Nurse, in the Royal Society "Pairing Scheme" - which as stated on their website "helps to build bridges between parliamentarians, civil servants and some of the best science research workers in the UK" and very recently, on the same day of the last hearing, 16th February, Gavin Barwell led a delegation from Croydon to meet David Willetts to seek his support for a project in Croydon.
Subjects of questions included: would the taxpayer be expected to pay for overruns, has provision of housing been sacrificed, proposed central London location, possible impacts on other science budgets and parts of UK. Link here to video of hearing - starts at around 1:51:00.
A remarkable range of skills was demonstrated, including: expertise at avoiding questions, a flair for going off at tangents, turning vagueness into an art form and sales techniques that would surely be the envy of many used car salesmen. Future careers as Dragon's Den contestants?
BACKGROUND: The government has offered £220 million of public money towards a proposal to build an enormous bioresearch laboratory complex alongside St Pancras International Station, planned to handle "Biosafety Level 3" extremely dangerous pathogens in 79,000 square metres of building, eight storeys above ground and four storeys below ground, on land behind the British Library, at a time of brutal cutbacks. It has been approved at a Camden Council Committee meeting and Boris Johnson has approved the plans. A group of Camden campaigners St Pancras and Somers Town Planning Action are opposing this.
05-03-2011 11:21Just a couple of weeks after the revelation by Southwark Council they were going to axe 450 trees and not the 147 they admitted in their planning application, Southwark Council started the destruction today of many old loved friends and younger woodlands that local volunteers planted just 15 years ago. Total barbarians and carbon criminals.
The chain-saw team is now scheduled to continue the destruction over the coming weeks in the park of The Millennium Woodland planted in 2000 to mark birth of kids on the Aylesbury Estate, the cycle track orchard, the library woodlands and glade, the nesting woodland by the lake, the two mounds woodlands to the west of the lake and 147 individual specimen trees across the park.
05-03-2011 08:40The owner of Arianne's Tea Room beams at me as she pours the best red wine I have ever tasted. I ask her how long she has been running her Tea Room. She answers that it had been a seven year old dream which came true two years ago. She adds that her Team room is a labour of love and creation.
05-03-2011 07:13German Panorama TV (12mins) - Bradley Manning:"Whistleblower Jailed; Shooters Walk Free!"
12-min TV program on Bradley Manning EXCELLENT! ... and usable
This week's discussion was about the deepening military conflicts in Afghanistan, Pakistan. The new military government in Egypt and nascent civil war in Libya.
According to Police Review, Asistant Commisioner Lynne Owens, [her with the cute smile] is appointed the Containment Manager and will deal with future protest in Central London.
Next weeks radical events listing for London
Share it, print it, stick it up somewhere...
An audit of the UK Border Agency’s process for reviewing the immigration detention of individuals who claim they are survivors of torture, published on 1st March 2011 by the Home Office over a year after it was conducted, totally fails to deliver on its intention to establish the extent to which the UKBA is complying with its policy against the detention of torture victims except in ‘very exceptional circumstances’. The report states that in 91 per cent of cases where “Rule 35” forms were filed by medical practitioners in detention centres, the individuals were not released, but no explanation as to why these decisions were taken is offered.
This is a very personal account of the 195 Mare st project (in Hackney, London) as an open autonomous space from the end of 2009 til its eviction in August 2010.
This is not a collective piece and it only reflects my own perception of this experience even if, of course, some of it comes from discussions and interactions I had with various friends. My reality of these few months and my thinking on it is not more (or less!) valuable or deep or intelligent than anyone else's. I decided to write this because I feel that there are not enough records of what is happening around me, in squats and other political spaces that I sometimes hang out in. I often "do, do, do" and I don't take much time to think or write or have a look back. I also want to make it clear: the text below might sound like a long moan of someone criticising everything but it's full of love! I loved very very much living in 195 Mare st, I love the people there, I loved the vibes of the house, I loved the building.
HISTORY OF THE BUILDING
The building on 195 Mare Street has had a long and varied past since 1699, year of its construction. It is the second oldest house in Hackney and a Grade II listed building, the only survivor from the range of substantial villas (of both earlier and later date) which were until the later 19th century the defining features of the once-opulent Mare Street. The house is in brown brick with red dressings, detached, with three floors over a basement and five bays to front and rear.
The history of the house has four phases. For the first 150 years it served as a family home, with stabling and about an acre of garden: a classic suburban villa for City people. In 1860 the house entered the second phase of its history when it passed to the trustees of a charity founded to commemorate the prison reformer Elizabeth Fry (who died in 1845). The project grew out of Fry\u2019s involvement with the British Ladies\u2019 Society for Promoting the Reformation of Female Prisoners, and typifies the making-over of merchants\u2019 villas for institutional uses at this period. The first Elizabeth Fry Refuge was established in 1849 in leasehold premises at Cambridge Heath. Its purpose was to provide residence in a secure and secluded environment, and training for domestic service, for young women who had completed prison sentences, mostly for very minor offences. It moved to 195 Mare st when the freehold was acquired, for \u00a32,100, in March 1860. In 1913 the Refuge moved to Highbury, and the property was sold to the local social club with liberal/radical roots with which it has been associated ever since (The New Lansdowne Club). In this third phase of its history the house underwent its most radical structural changes. A concert hall was constructed at the rear, outbuildings were replaced and a billiard room created on the first floor. (The paragraph above is "freely" taken from a Lisa Rigg article written for the Hackney Society in their publication "Hackney - Modern, Restored, Forgotten, Ignored / 40 Buildings to Mark 40 Years of the Hackney Society").
The New Lansdowne Club closed down somewhere around 2003, due to lack of registered members. Despite being a historically significant building, and an ideal community resource, the place stood neglected and was left to rot by successive owners for a long time. Until we moved in around september 2009, that is! Of course housing ourselves was a primary concern when moving into this place. But there was also the will and interest to open up the space and make it available as much as we could to host events and regular activities. I personally moved in the space a few months after it first got squatted.
MOVING IN AND NEGOCIATIONS
From the very beginning, we contacted and hoped to open negotiations with whoever was managing the building. The next door neighbour was acting as some kind of caretaker, so we gave them our contact to give to the people they were dealing with. Very quickly we got to be in touch with the developer who was working for Riverdale Development. We struck some kind of deal with them: we could stay there until building works/redevelopments would began. This was only a verbal agreement, no letter no email... Whether or not any of the party would stick to the agreement was not clear :) But good enough for us to start the project with some sense of security.
Very quickly, in november 2009 it was said to us that a part of the building was going to be demolished (the back bit containing the stage, the most recent part of the building that is not listed so developers can alter). The developers plans were not very clear to us: a community centre? luxury flats at the back? a restaurant? Thats when we organised the first "DO IT BEFORE THEY DESTROY IT" week end. I wasn't a resident at the time so I don't know how the whole thing was negotiated and what was meant to happen during and after the demolition. But then the demolition didn't happen...
Few months later, in may 2010, when the building was at its peak of activity, the developers told us again that the stage part of the building was going to be taken down. That time I was there! Our choice was clear: either we just refuse to let them destroy this part of the building and we will be taken to court, or we don't interfere with the demolition and we keep on using the other half of the building as a free social space and the project keeps running. We decided to comply with the demolition. For me the choice was easy, I'd rather have the project lasting longer. It would have changed the way the space could be used, but maybe for the better: smaller, more intimate, less big parties... That's when we decided to have our second opus: "DO IT BECAUSE THE DESTROY IT". But then the demolition didn't happen...
First thing we heard from developers was: "well, errm... the manager of our bank changed and he's not really happy with our loan application, so we don't really have the money at the moment". Good news you would think... It was even more serious than that, the Riverdale Development company went kind of bust and straight into receivership! Basically, developpers owe lots of money to bank, developpers cannot pay, bank wants its money back, bank takes control of the developpers and their property! So now, we were dealing with Dunbar Bank. You think developpers don't really care about preserving historical buildings and potential community spaces... well try a bank! From now on, we were officially squatters again :) We did try the odd letter to the bank to suss out if there was room for any deal, but without real hope and motivation. Bank started to send notice to quit, aggressive letters, security company checking on us 3 times a day, court papers, barristers with wigs etc. Loads of money splashed out to get us out. For the end of the story and an account on the resistance, you'll have to wait a bit.
SOCIAL CENTRE OR NOT?
So, were we a social centre? This was an ongoing debate in 195 Mare st. I personally wouldn't have had any problem calling the space a social centre so I won't be very objective in relating other people's feelings about why they didn't. Obviously, most of the discussions arose from our different definitions of what a social centre is or ought to be. I think that some of it had to do with the amount of expectations you create as soon as you call a space a "social centre": people might see it as a complete open space, to which you can knock at the door at anytime, ask for help, crash in... some of us wanted this space to be as much our house than a social space, hence trying to have some privacy and setting limits in how open the space was. In practice, my personal feeling is that this didn't really work and it's not because we refused to call ourselves a "social centre" that we weren't perceived as such. We indeed had a constant flow of requests/expectations for crashing space, help, other services and general openness. Another reason people were sceptical about the "social centre" label seemed to lie around our own expectations. Or rather a specific understanding of what a social centre is and not wanting to fit this description: a full on 24/7 project with entirely dedicated people, and some sort of pressure to be the new buzz, the new extra active trendy place where everyone should come ("we're the new social centre, come now quick and check us out!").
At the end there wasn't any collective decision as to how to label our project! I ended up using words like "open/free/autonomous space" but the word social centre would also slip out of my mouth regularly. My guess is that most of us didn't really care that much about the label and we were more interested in what was actually happening and created there. In the rest of the text I will then use social centre or autonomous space without distinction.
Some more discussion of the "social centre" label can be found in the "Whats this place" publication here.
Projects like squatted social centres are what I find the most interesting politically, at least in this moment of my life. Because they are about inside and outside. Local and global. Personal and systemic politics. It is about opening to the outside, creating network, consolidating solidarities and social relationships, creating alternatives, making spaces available, trying to build movement, promotion of DIY culture, fighting gentrification and enclosure, trying to break barriers between different scenes/groups/communities... But it is also about internal collective dynamics, how to work together, relate differently to each other, deal with issues/conflicts etc. A first step is simply to collectively acknowledge that there are internal power struggles and informal hierarchies in our collectives. This is already difficult to achieve. But then comes to the task to try and work on these hierarchies and power dynamics: sexism, racism, able-ism, class issues, who's got the more time to commit, more information, more resources, more network, more experience, better communicating skills... What I find particularly great is when the outside part of the social centre project happens at the same time than the inside part. It does give a sense of completion, of wholeness, when you feel that there is some political thinking about most aspects of your life. Or that at least people are trying and are doing the best they can (which unfortunately doesn't necessarily achieve loads, given how far away from the aim we're starting!).
195 Mare st was a very interesting case. The collective was not "open". It was clear from the beginning and for everyone around us that the people running the space were the people living there. It had advantages and drawbacks, but in my very limited exerience I found it one of the healthiest way of running a space so far.
Roughly, the way we worked was the following. We had two weekly meetings on sunday evenings: an "open" meeting and a house meeting. The open meeting would be to hear proposal and suggestion, meet people etc. And house meetings would be to deal with internal affairs. But it's during the house meetings that we would decide what can happen or not in the building. We had decided on various "parameters", things like: events are not for personal profit ; restrictions on parties (all have to be benefit for causes, entry on donation, only one big party a month until 2am, can have more frequent small parties going on until 11pm...); workshops have to be open to all and free or on donation; alcohol cannot be sold inside the building; first and second floors are private space etc. So it would make it easy and clear at the open meeting to say yes or no to proposals.
This way of working had some drawbacks. Well, if you were to come to an open meeting, there was a clear divide/hierarchy between "you" and "us". You would ask us if you can use the space and we'd say yes or no. Generally between one or four of the thirteen residents would come to the open meeting, and the things would pretty much always happen in the same way: "hi I'd like to do this and that? - Well, this sounds great, usually we ask people doing this kind of thing to take into account this and that, is that ok? - yes, it cool! - great! so when do you start?". Purely technical/organisational in a way. Like a job interview. Not very inclusive, and not really making it possible for people not living there to make the space their own and be really part of the project. Also, resources and "human power" are clearly limited to the residents. No real hope of having other people involved, helping out, having a strong impact, doing the dirty work (good friends or lovers might give a hand from time to time to clean up!) or bringing in some new energy when the momentum is gone... However, I don't personally recall someone coming to tell us that they felt restrained and/or constrained by how we worked (doesn't mean that it didn't happen). Above all, some of the people doing regular workshops did have an impact on the place and became familiar friendly faces who were very important in the success of the place.
From my limited experience, when a social centre collective includes residents and non-residents ("open") there is generally a constant tension between the two groups. For many very obvious reasons: The building is a home for some, and a social space for others. Some will be there 24/7 and will do most of the fixing/cleaning/caretaking (which is a big part of the work when running a social centre) while others will understandably do less work (because present in the building much less often). There is also the constant flow of random visits that you have to deal with when you live in an open space. This is whether or not these visits are pleasant/fun ones or scary/aggressive ones and everything in between, they all take energy and time! Also, in an open collective, everyone will have a say in the decisions but the level at which these decisions affect people is very different depending on whether or not you're a resident. Like decisions about opening times, frequency of parties and how late they can go, guests... If the social centre activities attracts attention/troubles from police/neighbours, again residents will be much more affected than non residents.
Having a closed collective obviously prevents all of this to happen as the people the most affected by the decisions are the ones, and only the ones, who are taking these decisions. A closed collective has the merit to be clear and honest about decision making process towards the outside. So much tensions in the groups I was involved in were created by hidden, assumed and not acknowledged dynamics that I tend to value clarity and visibility very much.
But then you might think: "well, hierarchy is crap whether its honest and visible or not!" Err.. that's a good point! Ok, we were stopping people from being part of the 195 Mare st project to the same level as us residents. However, we didnt really have to turn people down, no one really ever came seriously with energy and will to commit to the project, but then again if you dont open up in the first place you wont attract people from the outside!
Maybe the real question is where you draw the line between openness and wanting some consistency in your project, in your politics and trust in your collective. Isn't that the autonomous and DIY part of it: you get together with a bunch of people/friends your like and you build your own project. You originally got together with a certain set of ideas, principles and/or ways of working and they are inherent and fundamental to your project. I don't think there is any shame in wanting to collectively own a project and decide what's good or bad for it, because it's your project, and you are the ones giving time and energy to it. In a way, I would even tend to find it inspiring that people do their project the way they like, and if I don't fit in then that'll give me the motivation to do my own stuff. As an example, I remember being very inspired by a women-only skill-sharing week-end around squatting organised by the London Anarcha Feminist Kollective. Because I identify as a man I didn't take part of it, but a group of us later on did a FreeSchool week end on squatting and I know that personally I was directly positively inspired by the LAFK event! Then from this point of view, having a closed collective, far from stopping people doing their things might even encourage them!
All collectives have a limit in their openness anyway. And in extreme cases this openness limit (or closeness!) is only acknowledged when there is big conflict or a rotten situation that wasn't dealt with so that the group actually need to split/collapse/exclude someone or all the above...
Maybe it's more a question of some sort of blurry line rather than a real qualitative difference between closed and open. No group will be ever "completely" open or "completely" closed.
So on the whole, my feeling is that the "closeness" of our group was a positive thing. But internally, we had of course loads of informal hierarchies, conflicts and power dynamics!
GUIDELINES / SSP
Consensus decision making seems to be the default way of working around here... So like everyone we worked on consensus basis. Without discussing it, without knowing why, without deciding how. Just using some very loose definition of consensus: "I propose this - ok, anyone against? - alright then, agreed, you do it because you proposed it!".
So much of what we do and how we do it happens this way, unquestioned, simply because it's the way it's happened in the past or in other places.
Noticeably, I never felt we clearly had guidelines or a group agreement. Neither did we have many political/theoretical discussions to decide where we stood and where we were at on political issues. Things were more working in a kind of ad hoc way, "organically" some would say. A lot of decision would be made last minute, or on changing basis.
This can some have advantages. Spending (too much) time talking about why we want to do things might have an impact on actually effectively doing them! I was part of groups that wasted lots of time and energy in meeting deciding whether nor not doing this would be radical/anarchist/revolutionary enough or bitching about other groups for not being on the same political line. Here, "someone want to do something-we trust them to be decent about it-so just let them do it" kind of thing. Also, in some way I am associating this way of working with a kind of healthy relationship people can have with "activism" in general. Not seeing it as a job to strongly identify with, or as a cause to sacrifice for, as an obsession, as a thing we must do, that has to be effective, done in a formal way. Something that we have to do because others cannot, dont want to are are not doing, that we are the best equipped/most knowledgeable to do etc. Feels much better to just do it when we want to, when we're happy about doing it, when we feel like to, when we're no too scared of failing and/or not being successful. I cannot help to see the self-sacrificing mentality that I came across sometimes as pretty damaging to us as human beings! It's no wonder I'm saying this as I am the first not to look after myself, to self-sacrifice and feel insecure about what I'm doing, my achievements and what others might think of me if I fail. Working in this ad hoc way was also a very good personal challenge. I sometimes tend to be a control freak, to be very frustrated if meetings are not effective and working smoothly, to be upset if my ideas are not welcomed by round of applause, to not trust that things won't happen if I don't do them, to take on too much responsibilities and put myself into a powerful position etc. So in a way, these were some great months of being challenged and proven wrong on lots of these issues, and I'm grateful for that!
However, working this way does not necessarily always sound like the best either. So much for making issues visible if you're not formally creating space to talk about them! I also feel that sometimes not having clear guidelines can be the enemy of consensus decision making. If there are not clear goals and ways of working, then there is more risk of random blocks, conflicts, confusion and lack of focus.
In terms of political identity, frustatingly poor debates (if not completely absent) has been unfortunately my experience of Social Centre meetings so far in London. The three places I was most involved in did not have any clear political identity. Not that it was anyone's fault, the dynamic was such that there was no will, time and/or energy available for these discussions to take place. The other space I was part of was my first experience and I joined towards the end of the project. It seemed that there had been lots of discussions before, but while I was there I don't recall any political discussion during our meetings.
In these various places, there was a kind of vague "progressist/lefty/radical" spirit. The main clear position seemed to be that events/activities had to be not-for-profit (ie, not for personal profit) and on some sort of autonomous/DIY basis. Almost everything that would fall into this loose definition would be welcome. Without much discussion.
Another big trap, I find, is "rushing". Or doing things because it's urgent, saying yes to everything, "all these great issues we have to support", "we can't say no this is too important", "oh and this is happening on the other side of the world we had to do something about it!", "we have to save the world, now, quick!". I'm convinced that saying "no, we're busy" from time to time, discussing more why we're doing things and how we want to do them would help us working in a more "sustainable" and enjoyable way, and probably more efficiently for the goals we gave to ourselves.
So even I feel that there was room for more improvement on this front in 195 Mare st. I think it worked out pretty well. For me, it did result in a fair amount of frustration : not knowing where to stand on some issues ; limiting the amount of energy, time and motivation dedicated to the project ; self sacrificing and resentment that go along with it... My feeling is that early and more "guidelines-type" discussions might have created more of a collective feeling of sharing a project, going altogether in one direction, more of a collective momentum, less burn out, more clarity in our heads and for the outside (and definitely saved us from some long and repetitive discussions on similar subjects!).
We also never had a worded safer space policy although we did have lots of discussion on these issues and tried to deal with conflicts arising in the group. We did sit down loads to talk issues over, to try and solve conflicts, to find ways to deal with problems. I felt there was a real care for each other, and there was space to raise problems. We had our sunday house meetings (that would last forever!) with rounds of "how we're feeling today" at the beginnig and all current affairs, but also tried things like listening sessions (where we would do a round and simply have 5 minutes each to say what we wanted about an internal issue, and everyone else only listening). Things were far from perfect, we made lots of mistakes but I felt there was a real collective process going on.
However, I think that having a clear common agreement on these issues (call it safer space policy or something else) would have made it less difficult sometimes to feel legitimate raising problems and to feel safe challenging people. Obviously this is not the space to discuss what was happening inside our group but I'm pretty sure this lack of shared politics also impacted on what was happening in our open events.
An example of this, and of us not taking full responsibility for what was going on in our space was something that happened during the Calais Migrant Solidarity benefit party on 26th february 2010. Some confusion with the bands ended up with an extra set in the line up. A band that a lot of people came to see, the Rabies Babies, had another commitment later that night so asked this extra band to swap slot. None of the residents were there to deal with the situation. The extra band refused to postpone their set and got aggressive, verbally and physically threatening. It happens that The Rabies Babies is an all women band and the extra one (can't remember their name) is an all men band. So again, we as a collective completely failed in dealing with blatant stupid and sexist behaviors happening in our own space, during a party that we were organising ourselves...
Another example I have in mind was an incident at the No Sweat benefit party on the 21st of August. Several people felt that there was pretty offensive and sexist things said on stage by a member of Wonk Unit during their set. This ended in a group of people (non residents) going on stage and reacting against it. In my opinion, we as residents, should have been the ones reacting. As a group we never really made clear that there were things that had to be challenged if there were happening in our space (like sexist jokes), never discussed what would be a good and efficient way to do it, and as a consequence never really made it clear to people organising events in the building. Then I have my share of responsility in creating a space where this kind of thing could happen and being un-challenged by us, and had to be challenged by others (thanks to them - and apologies for our lack of reaction!).
I'm sure that there are probably tons of other incidents, some of which probably none of us is even aware.
Maybe some of these situation would have been dealt in a better way if as a collective we had clearer politics and clearer understandings of how to deal with these incidents/conflicts.
This leads me nicely to the "outside" part of the 195 Mare st project, and the various activities and events that happened there.
WHAT DID WE DO
Most of us were particularly keen on trying to have regular activities (mostly skill-sharing workshopy type stuff) happening in the building. Some of them were very successful, some a bit less, but always done with a very nice spirit! clowning, theatre, radical choir, language lessons (french, german), welding, photography dark room, computers, bike repair, writer's circle, life drawing...
For most of our time there, we also had the usual FreeShop space you can see in most autonomous spaces where people can drop the stuff they don't need anymore and others can come and take what they want/need. It was always there in a corner of the building but particularly looked after on tuesdays, the day of the bike workshop. I always found tuesdays afternoons to be really nice times in 195, lots of people coming round, fixing their bikes, hanging out, enjoying the garden, the freeshop and a cup of tea.
In terms of special events, we had lots of Benefit parties (calais migrant solidarity/no borders, Rythm Of Resistance, No Sweat, Big takeover, for other social centre like 56a, for projects like the Full Unempolyment cinema and FusePress, Anti Deportation network, The North East London Squatters Network, anti fascists...) and cafes (Hackney Squatted cafe), ArtEvict, theatre plays ("Such is life" by some amazing persons I can't remember the name of; "Heroes of Fakelaw" by Sam Thompson), exhibitions, cabaret, clowning, pantomime, movies, ceiligh, DJs...
Different groups had some of their meetings here: Queer Invisible Academy, Food not Bombs, RampArt collective, Hackney Feminist Activists, Hackney Solidarity Network...
195 Mare st was also the temporary home of a very dear project to some of us, The London Freeschool. Two London Freeschool happened in the 6 months we were there. The first one was in March 2010. It was an attempt of having a various range of workshops with a feminist emphasis. Trying not to have only workshops about feminist issues, but any kind of skill sharing and trying to have an empasis on the gender aspect of it. And also created space for specific debriefs at the end of the workshops and general debriefs at the end of each day. We wrote a Safer Space Policy for the event and tried to make sure that everyone had a read of it. A lot of these ideas didn't work that well, so there is room for lots of improvement but for me the week end was a great event! (even if it was one of these examples of me doing too much, stressing out and burning out as a result!). See also this video.
The other day of FreeSchool was dedicated to "resistance", and was part of the PAST/PRESENT/FUTURE of 195 Mare st week end of events. It got organised on very late notice but was a good day of workshops with a nice bunch of people.
Another event organised under the London Freeschool umbrella was two very successful days of workshops around Consensus decision making and Facilitating consensus.
Some other very nice moments were these sort of festival/week ends of events that we as residents organised. Two of them were a reaction to the times we thought we would lose the back part of the building where the stage is: DO IT BEFORE THEY DESTROY IT in november 2009, and DO IT BECAUSE THEY DESTROY IT in may 2010. We all remember dearly the first of these week end, that included "The three little squatters pig" pantomime, the second best pantomime on Mare st! A piece wrote, played and directed by us and friends. After some workshopy stuff and film screening about the building, we had to face a packed audience with a row of kids coming from no-one knew exactly where. I also remember a table tennis competition and some open mic. At the time I wasn't living there yet and I didn't even attend the whole week end. so I have very partial memories of it.
I was a resident when the other week end DO IT BECAUSE THEY DESTROY IT was organised in March 2010. I remember it being extremely good fun to organise and pretty successful! We had a movie, a big benefit party on the saturday, and some workshops and an amazing Ceiligh on the sunday with again, a big diverse crowd of faces we've never seen before. Very rewarding! And last but not least, the evening was closed with our favourite and local band 52 Commercial Road. It felt just right that if the stage was to go, "52" should be the last ones using it. But well, the stage lasted longer than we thought.
By the way, piece of advice to anyone running an open autonomous space: don't use such confusing names for your parties/events! We realised later on that since november 2009 and the DO IT BEFORE THEY DESTROY IT, loads of people simply understood that the space was gone/demolished/evicted... so think twice about how you name your events if you want to avoid misunderstandings!
Towards the end, we also decided to organise a week end of celebration of the building, trying to be reach out even more to our direct neighbors : PAST/PRESENT/FUTURE of 195 Mare st. More about this specific event later in the text.
One thing that I did find difficult to implement was our policy of strict donation. This decision came up because few of us weren't that keen on this kind of tradition of "suggested donation" wich actually means "strongly suggested donation" which actually sometimes means "pay or you don't come it because this is a benefit". Some sort of guilt manipulation thing. I don't have a problem with wanting to make money for a benefit but then if you're being more or less forced to pay to enter the building then this is not a donation, it's simply an entrance fee, and should be advertised as such. Donation is donation, you donate what you like if you want to or can. And if you don't, you still com in! It was almost impossible to get people organising events in 195 Mare st to do that and quit the "suggested donation" thing, everyone is so used to it. Someone suggested to me once that we could ask for donation when people leave, so that they give money only if they're happy about their evening...
Right from the beginning there was some concerns about relying too much on the internet to outreach and advertise our space, and appearing too "cliquey". For example, we chose not to have a riseup email contact as it can be associated to the activisty clique and is not open per se (you need to be endorsed by people holding two different riseup accounts to open a new one) ; we also chose not to use the group option on the london indymedia website, some of us not wanting Indymedia to be the only presence we had on the web. We did actually decide early on to have a website but that was never done.
A big chunk of our communication was actually made through several big boards attached to our fence directly on the street. These signs worked pretty well in attracting the passers by, communicating what the project was about, letting people know what was on etc. Dozens and dozens of people would read our signs daily. Many people came by to tell us how happy they were to see this place being used again, to not just stand there and getting derelict.
People organising events in our space were more or less responsible for the advertising, and would generally make a flyer that we would stick onto these outdoor boards. When we were the ones organising events or week ends festivals then we would print our own flyers and try to distribute them around.
Of course we used the internet a lot at the end, and our decision to not rely too much on it wasn't really implemented in practice. I personaly even found that it was creating more of a hassle than anything else as the email provider that we chose (safe-mail) was pretty shit and useless, and I would have liked very much having an indymedia group page! But these are practical details that I believe didn't impact much on what we were doing there. It is quite interesting to note that towards the end, an aktivix email adress was created (so that we could make en-masse emailing, something that the other email provider couldn't do), without any re-assessment or discussion on why we didn't get and activisty account on the first place... one of these moments where the group dynamic is such that people feel it's ok if a group decision is being trodded on and that there is little risk that someone will complain. And no one complained!
Some interesting discussions happened when we got our papers, went to court and were facing eviction.
Our time was coming to an end and we decided to have a week end of celebration of the building, the PAST/PRESENT/FUTURE of 195 Mare st event. Ironically, this was the most active effort I and we made to reach out all our direct neighbours. We produced what I think is one of the best leaflet I ever came across :) something along the lines: come and celebrate this great building, its history, and tell us what you would like to see happening in there in the future (with or without us inside!). We printed out a thousand and distributed door to door in the neighboring streets. While doing it I (and probably others) felt: "what the fuck, why didn't we do that when we moved in? it's like we're doing it now because we're getting evicted so we want local residents to come and support us!" Well, this is all part of the truth. I'm convinced that all of us did the best we could, but there was lots of room for improvement, especially in terms of reaching out. Sometimes it seems that I (and some of the groups I was and am involved in) pay more attention to whats happening in other continents than on my doorstep...
We got all sorts of very different comments about our efforts to open up. Some people said that what we were another one of these crusty cliquey place, not welcoming to our neighbors, scaring them with our style, our dirt, our dog, our manners, our radicalism, our closeness. Some others said that we were doing a wonderful job, much better than other squatted social centres in the past, being really open and inclusive. Of course all of that is subjective and lies very much in the eyes of the person giving the feedback. So all these comments have some truth in them.
This is such an ongoing constant discussion about squatted social centres. Are they a "real" community centres? are "normal" people not from the "scene" coming to them, getting involved and taking part?
I never really knew how to address all that. When I think of it, I mainly have un-answered questions in mind: what is a social centre or a community centre? what is a community? Why are the people from the "scene" not "normal" people? Why should we or should not do this or that if we have an open squatted space? Do we have any kind of responsibility to the outside when we start such a project? What are we trying to achieve and for who?
Usually, I (and some other people around me) get very excited when a "local person" comes along to our events. Someone "real". "waow, did you see? there's a REAL person who came to the workshop! someone we never seen before and who actually lives down the road!!?! Someone who works, pays rent, wears colorful clothes and no patches!". Ok, I'm exaggerating a bit, but not that much. Implying that all the other people who are coming to our space are not "real", not "normal". Not sure what they are. Not worth making the effort to organise activities and events apparently...
Well, in my mind, almost any group of people can make up a community. The 13 or so people living in 195 Mare st were a community. The squatters scene around Hackney can constitute a community. Anarchists, queers, feminists can all be considered as communities. And as such, maybe they also need their spaces to get together, to network, to show solidarity and support, to conspire, organise and build movements.
Who lives around the 195 Mare st building? to be honest, I'm not sure. Me trying to describe what the area is made of would only show you how ignorant I still am about it. There are few vietnamese shops. I made "friend" with someone working in the shop next door, who would come almost every day in our garden to dump rubbish. Because of some borderline racist/bad stereotype way of thinking, me and others assumed he was vietnamese and didn't really engage with him. But taking only five minutes, smiling and asking few questions and you realise that he's actually not from vietnam, you get to hear more about his (not very easy) life story, you understand that they are using our garden few hours a day to put their rubbish out so that the council doesn't fine them for littering the pavement... Is there anyway the space could have been useful for this person? I now realise that even though I often invited him to come and join some of what we were doing (in vain), I never actually asked him the question directly: "Is there anything that you would like to see happening in this building". We're so not used to be open to people directly around us.
There are also turkish/kurdish shops around, the random off licence and chicken+chips, estates, posh flats and houses, run down flats and houses, london fields, broadway market... How much of a community do all of that constitute? how many communities?
I'm white, european, straight, middle class, went to university, single, young, able-bodied, activisty squatter type. Obviously some of the 195 Mare st residents did not fit these categories, lots of us didnt fit ALL of these categories, and I dont want to deny this diversity, but I can see how we could appear like this as a group from the outside. How much can I or do I have to offer to people from all these different backgrounds living around 195?
I might frown at people in suits crossing the gate ; I supported chucking out christian people who wanted to use our space for religious purposes ; I can act suspicious or hesitant with people having mental health issues coming round ; I can act suspicious and have a racist knee-jerk reaction when a group of black kids rush in our bike workshop... Was I the only one doing and behaving like this? I don't assume so. Did that help to make the space inclusive? I doubt it. So there's no wonder it is difficult to attract a wide variety of people in these spaces.
Was it our intention to create a space specifically for people outside the "scene"? I dont think it was. Should it have been? If yes, would it have been the right conditions to do so? How much of a "local community" sense can we build with a space that lasts less than a year, with a small bunch of people that never actually lived in Hackney before and who have very limited knowledge and link to local issues?
But do we really need to "offer" something to people? to provide services? to attract them thinking that we could convert/enlighten/radicalise them? Are people around us not intelligent enough to just take and find what they want, where and when they want?
Maybe we're back to thinking about our goals (creating a space for your neighbors and/or for the people you share political values and practices or something else) and how we want to achieve them. Would it be possible for the space/project to only be a resource, available for people to use as a tool if they want to. But at the same time doing what we want the way we want, being open and inclusive about it, maybe inspiring some people along the way, showing that things can happen in lots of different ways... Creating alternatives for us, our own benefit, and maybe be a small part in the constant struggle against this incredibly strong feeling that things are the way they are and nothing much can de done about it.
Maybe also acknowledging that there are many ways to be political. There are two undestandings of what "being political" is that I usually encounter. One is the one you learn at school: is political what has to do with the government. The other one is the one I learned the past few years being involved in "activism" and social centre spaces: is political what "activists" do. It is not generally defined like this but is kind of implied in the opposition between "us" and "normal" people, or when saying this person is not "political" simply because they are not activists. I don't have a definition of what is political but I'm not personally satisfied with either of these two.
So that was it, summer 2010, we lost the court case and we had a first eviction date. A very interesting process. Obviously, we were going to resist!
That's what our flyer was saying:
"Today, Dunbar bank is trying to evict us. We have decided to resist the eviction. First because it is a political stance to resist bailiffs, police and authorities. Also because we feel that we've made a much better use of the building that the previous owner! If the eviction succeeds, the more likely outcome is that the building will rot for some more years... But together with our friends and supporters, we are resisting! And that is already a victory!"
On the back of the flier we had "10 reasons to resist eviction", I will reproduce it here because I cannot say it better with my own words:
1. Because no one should loose their home, even if they cannot find work, are badly paid or loose their job.
2. Because no one should loose their home, even if they choose not do work which they consider meaningless or harmful.
3. Because we ignore the suggestion that we should live crammed in overcrowded houses or isolated in shoe box flats. Because we want to choose where we live, who we live with and how we live with them.
4. Because we are sick of being evicted so buildings can rot.
5. Because when we are evicted to make way for \u201cregeneration\u201d projects, it is so they can increase their capacity to spy on us, remove the places we can meet and destroy our interconnections.
6. Because we don't want to be pushed out so our freshly sterilised streets can be packaged and sold to yuppies excited by something a bit edgy and authentic.
7. Because we are sick of being treated like dirt and living with the bailiffs on our backs.
8. Because we have found that we cannot rely on the law or on the sympathy of landlords to protect us. Because letters, petitions and pleas don\u2019t work if the council knows we will do what we are told in the end.
9. Because resisting makes police and bailiffs less eager to begin new confrontations with us. Because when we resist, we raise their costs, take up their time, use up their resources and undermine their authority.
10. Because when we resist we find joy in our collective strength, the new relationships we forge and, maybe, find a force that one day can push aside those who bully us and hold us to ransom and build the neighborhoods that we want.
We called for people to come and help on the day before the eviction. Suddenly the place was filled with 20/30 people, all working extremely hard building barricades, securing doors and windows etc. For me, a complex mix of feelings. So glad that lots of people felt that this was an important place and that efforts had to be made to defend it. Lots of energy and enthusiasm. People coming and contributing the way they felt was the best. At the same time, I couldn't really stand being in the middle of all that. Everything being extremely noisy, the place getting trashed and made not usable, not practicable and very un-welcoming so as to protect it! Feeling a kind of atmosphere of "who's got the bigger drill and will stick the bigger screw in the wall?".
Then on the same evening, we had a very late meeting to talk strategy. Part of the meeting was people from the house trying to explain roughly the strategy we decided for the day: friends and supporters arriving in the morning on the pavement, a group in the garden with tea/biscuits/music, a group inside the building and a group on the rooftop ready to barricade themselves there in case bailiffs managed to come in.
On the very day, I'm in the garden. A funny day: nice atmosphere, lots of people, not much happening, a gate barricaded with a giant painted board and a boat, people very tired, lots of alcohol being drunk... all of that for 2 bailiffs and 2 police officers who just stayed few minutes and left! We had won!
But what did we win?
Suddenly it hit me. We "won" but this is already an empty building and an empty project. People were completely burnt out by the months of activities, the eviction coming, the organisation of the resistance, the stress of losing our home and potentially having to move out, the lack of sleep of the past few days. All of us had only one idea: leaving the building, moving on, getting some rest, not "organising" anything else... The building was in a complete mess, entirely dark, not suitable for any of the things it was used for. We had resisted, it sounded obvious that we had to. But why was it obvious?
How much of all of that was us, as a group, deciding what we wanted and how we wanted to do it. Was barricading the only solution? I don't really know if at the time or retrospectively people would have liked to do it differently, but I think I would have liked us to try to think about other ways we could have resisted. Ways that could have been more inclusive, less demanding and burning out. All kind of decisions would have been actually possible. Like: ok, there will be some bailiffs coming, and our number one priority in the process of facing this is:
- to have fun
- to be inclusive and work on making most people as possible feel part of the process
- to save the building and have none of it damaged
- to smash the bailiffs heads in
It might sound weird but I didn't feel very much included in the process. I'm not sure why, I took part in the discussions, the barricading, the resistance but it felt like the process and the days were happening and unfolding without me feeling part of it or having a real say, being confused and not knowing how to deal with it. Now we were left with a building I and others around me were sick of, together with a feeling of duty/guilt to keep it and defend it. I loved this building very much, but I needed to get away from it.
We tried to start a quite ambitious process. The idea was to get people to come and run the space for the time it had left. A crew of people who would be interested in running social centres in the area, not too attached to this building as this was a very insecure space, and ready to move on to another building after that. And not having residents in 195 Mare st anymore, so that it wouldn't be anyone's home (who would want to move in a space under such imminent threat of eviction anyway). Ambitious. And complete failure. We called out for a meeting to get people involved. Mixed success. The new crew had one not very well attended meeting in the space about 3 days before it got properly evicted on the 2nd of Septembre.
195 Mare st was gone, and I felt a mix of sadness, melancoly and relief.
I'm now living in a tiny squatted house. Only a small handful of us, a well deserved and needed break! But I already got involved in another project that would definitely deserve some similar piece of writing! A great experience with people who learnt lessons from the past, lots of discussions to set our aims and guidelines before actually creating the space, deciding some sort of political identity, thinking about closedness/openness, group dynamic and processes, focusing on an ongoing project rather than being attached to a specific building...
Thanks for reading this, and see you there
04-03-2011 18:02Minutes from the Brent Youth Parliament meeting, 22 July 2008, relating to the ARK Academy in Brent, is distributed to LCE Architects, who build schools in Libya
"Hill & Knowlton, then the world's largest public relations firm, masterminded the Kuwaiti campaign to sell the 1991 Gulf War to the American public. By the time their lies were exposed TV newscasters were waxing ecstatic over the rockets' red glare, computerized 'smart-bombs' bursting in air, and 250,000 people were dead."
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