Agora 99 Evaluation

"Another World is Possible". Billboard outside of Agora 99 entrance.

“Another World is Possible”. Billboard outside of Agora 99 entrance.

Rome, November 4

Dear people,

The Agora 99 has finished yesterday afternoon with a General Assembly. Today it’s time for a brief analysis.

First, the name ‘Agora 99’ as a reference to the meme of ‘we are the 99%’ is ridiculous. This was an encounter of a small and often self-referent revolutionary elite which had nothing to do with the 99% of the population.

In the opening assembly on Friday there was some talk about the necessity to create a new terminology. It echoed Slavoj Žižek’s message to the occupiers in Wall Street: “What one should always bear in mind is that any debate here and now necessarily remains a debate on the enemy’s turf; time is needed to deploy the new content.”

General Assembly of Agora 99, November 3.

General Assembly of Agora 99, November 3.

In reality, a lot of the terminology used during the workshops was either purely academic, or intentionally vague, or completely meaningless. The most popular terms of the weekend were ‘transnational’, ‘metropolitan context’, ‘technopolitics’ and ‘constituent process’.

What it all means in practice is not really clear. Many people had the sensation that we have been reinventing the same wheel we had already reinvented in Madrid last year.

Another issue was about geographic space. Officially, Agora 99 was a ‘European’ meeting about debt, rights and democracy. It caused a discussion about what ‘Europe’ exactly means and why this meeting should or shouldn’t extend its reach beyond the old continent, given the fact that ‘resistance, like capital, is global’.

One result of the Agora was an agenda for upcoming encounters online or in the square, none of them ambitious. The best that could come out of that would be some stand alone action, somewhere, on some topic. No serious efforts have been made to get the Joneses involved. On the contrary, within this so-called ‘99 percent movement’ you often sense a paradoxic adversity towards everything ‘main stream’. Yet the only way to make a real difference is to tap into the main stream on as many different levels as possible, and get people to become politically active themselves.

Conclusions

Conclusions

On the positive side, the Agora has served to consolidate and expand the existing network of international activists. Many participants already knew each other from the web, and this last weekend has been an occasion for them to meet face to face. And admittedly, it’s not fair to expect great things from an encounter like this. Nobody can foresee or plan an uprising. What you can do, however, is prepare a framework of international collaboration, to help spread an uprising whenever it occurs. That is what Agora 99 – and the continuous online activism throughout the year – is all about.

Also, the setting for the Agora was awesome. From an occupied theatre in Rome’s San Lorenzo district to an enormous occupied maintenance yard of the Italian railways. It was hard core industrial romance.

Most of the workshops were held in the large sheds of the railway depot on Saturday. They were fifteen in total, divided in three time slots on five locations. Despite many workshops being tedious, pedantic and unproductive they were usually very well attended until the end. The only people who tried a less theoretic approach were the Greeks. Their presentation about the occupied Embros theater in Athens was charged with emotion. It ended in song and dance.

Afterwards, the dancing would continue on a large scale when one of the sheds was filled with swinging 1960s surfing music. As if to illustrate a point that I have been making for a long time, and which I will continue to repeat.

“The revolution is rock ‘n’ roll.”

The Three Graces. Strike Social Centre, Rome.

The Three Graces. Strike Social Centre, Rome.

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Agora 99 Reloaded

Rome, October 31. 'Liberty leading the people'. Via @15mBCN_int

Rome, October 31. ‘Liberty leading the people’. Via @15mBCN_int

Rome, November 2

Dear people,

Whenever I am in The Hague I take a stroll past our parliament to look at the ‘State of the Constitution’. In the little square next to the entrance, the first article is sculpted in stone on the basis of a long bench. It has been there for twenty years, it was meant to remain for the ages, but every time I pass by, I notice that the text is fading. Already, the word ‘Constitution’ is illegible.

It leaves me concerned and wondering. Am I the only one who notices this? Can the people still see what remains of the text? Don’t they get the irony? Don’t they remember old Thorbecke’s prophecy?

They probably don’t. It’s an old story, like the famous myth of the crows and the Tower of London. Whenever the crows leave the Tower, the kingdom will fall. Likewise, our great liberal statesman Thorbecke, father of Holland’s modern democracy, reportedly foretold on his deathbed that the constitution would one day be captured in stone. And that if ever the text would fade, Holland would descend into chaos and ultimately be swept away by the sea.

Now the text is fading. It says: “All persons in the Netherlands shall be treated equally in equal circumstances. Discrimination on the grounds of religion, belief, political opinion, race, or sex or on any other grounds whatsoever shall not be permitted.”

Johan Rudolf Thorbecke (1798-1872). Via Wikipedia.

Johan Rudolf Thorbecke (1798-1872). Via Wikipedia.

While I was determining our Constitution’s irreversible decay, white people painted black were demonstrating on the Malieveld in defence of Black Pete, Santa’s Little Helper. It was an embarrassing spectacle and fortunately only few people were there. On the whole, it was an even bigger flop than Troelstra’s mythical attempt at socialist revolution in 1918.

A week later. This time I’m in Rome, fully backpacked. When I approach parliament, I notice riot police in full gear blocking the street, and I immediately feel at home. What happened? It was a ‘Siege on Parliament’ by the movement for affordable homes. The parliament square was packed, and notably there was a large participation by blacks and latinos. I start to check what happened, and this is the story.

Around one o’ clock, police vans blocked a demo heading towards parliament. A warning was issued to vacate the area. When it went unanswered, pepperspray was employed and a charge ensued. Now, the curious thing is that the warning, the charge, and the pepperspray didn’t come from police. They came from the protesters. People with clubs wearing Guy Fawkes masks climbed on the police vehicles to smash them up while covering the cops with pepperspray. It was an epic moment. Pepperspray is an excellent offensive measure. It hurts like hell for hours.

Police responded with tear gas and a counter charge. Nine people were arrested. For the rest of the day, people blocked parliament and created traffic chaos all around until those who had been detained were released.

It was fun, but it’s not why I’m here. I’m in Rome for the Agora 99, international meeting on debt, rights and democracy. It’s the second edition after last year’s meeting in Madrid. Yesterday was the official opening. The people from the Roman social centres did an great job organising working spaces, accommodation and food. The workshops are held by participants themselves. 20131101_112917

Aside from the locals, there are over a hundred people here from all over Europe, in particular Spain, Britain, Germany and Greece. Some of them I remember from the previous edition and other occasions. And I must say I have the same feeling that I had last year. The energy is right. This meeting is another excellent occasion for the exchange of experiences and the preparation of future actions. The Agora is already a success. The workshops are of secondary importance.

As you might know, I don’t have the patience to sit through workshops and assemblies, simply because I can’t stand bullshit. This is not to say they aren’t interesting. It’s just that it’s very hard to engage listeners with the spoken word, and only very few people are capable of doing so. Most others suffer from ‘verbal obesity’. Some of them try to show off with a grand academic analysis of Occupy and related movements by stacking one complicated concept onto another. It takes about five minutes for the audience to get restless. Some people start to leave. some people fall asleep, most people put on a serious face out of politeness, and only a small minority actually listens.

In my personal opinion, attempts at profound analysis are best left for print. If you want people to listen, don’t speak to the mind. Speak to the soul.

Today is the big day featuring most of the workshops. Tomorrow there will be a General Assembly in conclusion of the Agora. In the meantime, I move through the corridors, which is always where the most interesting and productive encounters take place.


Nothing To See Here

Homage to Caravaggio by C215, via outsidermag.blogspot.com

Homage to Caravaggio by C215, via outsidermag.blogspot.com

Rome, August 15

Dear people,

While our Muslim brothers are being savagely massacred in Egypt, I have re-emerged in Rome. Here, all is quiet. I move around and there is art whirling through my head. In particular the works of Magritte. I see the images of tanks, bulldozers, snipers, machine-guns, and these awesome Armoured Personnel Carriers donated by Uncle Sam. I see images of dead bodies, some of them charred, and doctors and nurses covered in blood. I see images of weeping women, and of courageous protesters at the barricades continuing their resistance all through the day with stones and petrol bombs. Then I see a text in light projected on a building, saying “this is not a coup.”

The images dissolve. Around me is Rome in the dead of August. Nothing to see here. Please move along.

Numerous wise people have affirmed that the purpose of travelling is not so much to go some place new, but to return to some place you know. And at a day like this, I adhere to that. Suddenly,without expecting it, I see the city from her most beautiful side. Not the centre, where tired old stones are patiently prostituted to generation after generation of pilgrims, but the city’s soul. The popular quarter of Pigneto, outside of Porta Maggiore. The neighbourhood of the students, the artists, the anarchists, the immigrants. A neighbourhood at the frontier of gentrification, trying hard to resist.

I’m here with people I met in Istanbul a few weeks earlier. They show me around. On this hot summer day, when cars for once have abandoned the streets of the city, we go by bike. It’s a truly cinematographic experience. I can feel the phantoms of De Sica, Monicelli and Fellini lurking behind the corners with their camera crews as we come whizzing by on our hand-crafted bicycles. Not so long ago, it would have been hip to tour Rome in Vespa, but those days are gone. The bike has the future.

My contacts take me to the ex-SNIA, one of Rome’s many occupied social centres. Also here, there is not much to see. It’s dark, and the resistance is on holiday. One of the people left behind in the scorching city has opened up the factory to water the plants of the vegetable garden. Life will resume here in September. There will be music. There will be art. There will solidarity. The park next to the factory is one of the few green spaces of Pigneto. It was mainly used by drug-addicts, and now it has been cleaned of needles by the social centre’s volunteers. Now the park is being maintained not by the municipality, but by the committee of neighbours. Le mamme mostly, the parents of the youngsters who are active in the social centre.

From the old factory we cycle on to an ancient Roman tower, a community gathering place just outside the city walls. On the meadows around, there are people eating local produce at gentrified prices, there is a small concert, a stand with books and one with clothes. No-one here believes that Italians will ever rise up. They will simply go on to complain to each other over a cappuccino and a cornetto at the bar. As always they will find a way to get by, by being shrewd and by avoiding the rules. Only if some day for some reason there is a shortage of food, the Italians are likely to take the streets. In Italy, you can take away a man’s freedom, you can take away his honour, his dignity, his mental and physical health, his ideas, his dreams, his pension and his ambitions. But if you try to take away the polpette di carne, he will definitely fight back.

To counter the general apathy there is also a small minority of Italians which is very politically active, and has been so for centuries. Usually, these activists suffer from the syndrome of Guelfi e Ghibellini. This is a typically Italian predisposition to divide oneself in different factions, and then to fight each other. Reasons are not really important. At a certain point, the rivalry regenerates itself.

Aside from local and football rivalries, the most important social clash of the last century was about fascism. There is a persistent share of people in Italy who continues to lean towards fascism. And the explanation for this is pretty simple. Italy has always been a mess, and still is. Only during the twenty years of fascism, things seemed to work relatively well. The economy provided for the basic necessities, there was little social unrest and not too much corruption, public works projects were executed without any hassle, the mafia had been temporarily neutralized, the trains departed on time, etc. The downside of the whole thing was the absence of political participation, the repression of dissent, the exaltation of the state and the race, the glorification of violence and so forth. But many people don’t even consider these to be downsides, and still think that Italy can be saved by the iron fist of a strong leader.

Ever since fascism fell apart, many activists from the far left have seen it as their primary duty to fight the spectre of fascism, wherever it may appear. And in doing so, they have started to resemble them. As anti-fascists they use fascism to define themselves, they are intolerant as fascists, they use violent methods like the fascists, they often even dress like them. You can imagine the outrage among left wing activists, when the fascists occupied a social centre of their own in 2003: ‘Casa Pound’. Now imagine their outrage when the fascists of Casa Pound started to engage in community projects for the neighbourhood, and when they began to address political issues, first in Rome, later all through Italy. It resulted in heavy clashes between the two factions. The same rivalry that has been going under various guises, forever.

There is also a more positive development going on in the social centres. Some people from the latest generation are tired of defining themselves in opposition to something, and prefer to spend their energy on the creation of an alternative. Hence, there are little barter markets sprouting up, and consumer groups for organic produce, and victory gardens, and bicycle workshops.

The bike is becoming a symbol of sustainability and resistance, at least here in Pigneto. Almost every social centre in Rome has its own workshop. There are a handful of artisans in all big cities who make bikes by themselves. They are serving a growing market worldwide. Especially in the States. If you want to be hip, really hip, then you can’t do without your own bike designed and manufactured by an Italian craftsman.

At the Roman tower I spoke to a mechanic who had constructed his own two-story bicycle. A bike like a giraffe, with which he had toured all through Europe, collecting smiles wherever he went. A most extraordinary point of view. And I realize that if the aeroplane was invented by two bicycle constructors, it must have been for a reason.

We cycle on, to San Lorenzo, the university quarter, with particular focus on street art. There are a few dozen artists active in the streets of Rome, working on everything from elaborate graphic novels covering entire blocks, to small scenes sprayed on public mail boxes using different layers of stencils, to pure repeated symbols.

You can find the little phantom from Pacman with his mouth zipped up, you can also find mosaics of the monsters from Space Invaders, which has become a street art classic in cities throughout the world. Some things last for a while, most things don’t. But all of it can be repeated, and it often is.

It’s an ongoing battle. On the one hand the state tries rigidly to conserve the acknowledged masterpieces of mankind in the mausoleums of art, and on the other hand it persecutes contemporary art by covering it up. There’s nothing wrong with that. There will always be another artist ready to leave a mark. It stimulates evolution. And at this particular time of year, when the daily assault of noise and pollution and of hurrying people comes to a halt, it makes it well worth the effort to check out the state of the art, especially with a bike.

On our tour through the alleys around Piazza del Popolo we found many funny, critical and beautiful pieces. We were even lucky enough to find some of the last traces of homage to the great Caravaggio.

Invader, via tafter.it

Invader, via tafter.it


Tutti a Roma!

Tutti a Roma, April 20, photo via @_0Marco0_

Tutti a Roma, April 20, photo via @_0Marco0_

April 20, 2122 hrs

Dear people,

It’s going down, right now, in Rome.

Seven years ago, the Berlusconi party cried wolf when Giorgio Napolitano was elected president without Berlusconi’s consent. I still remember the headline of his personal newspaper. “As from today, the hammer and the sickle are flying over the presidential palace”, in reference to Napolitano once having been a member of the Italian Communist Party.

Now, Berlusconi has been one of the architects of Napolitano’s re-election, together with Mario Monti and left wing leader Bersani. They hadn’t been able to convince their backbenchers to agree on two other candidates who would guarantee the status quo – and impunity for Berlusconi – so they settled on the 88-year old incumbent president, simply because he hasn’t made trouble for anyone during his first mandate.

The Italian gerontocrats will do everything to cling on to power, and to prevent change from happening. Because they know that when it happens, they will all be swept away into the gutters of history, like had happened to the previous generation of Andreotti/Craxi over twenty years ago.

The people’s candidate, investigative journalist Milena Gabanelli, proposed by the Five Star Movement, had previously declined the honour. So the movement proposed the next on the list, professor Stefano Rodotà, by far the cleanest of all candidates, and as such, the most dangerous for the establishment.

If the left wing party had decided to vote Rodotà, it would have been a clear signal that they were willing to commit to change. But they are not. They prefer to strike deals with a criminal like Berlusconi and a banker like Mario Monti. It leaves the Italian people no option but to rise up and make revolution.

That is what’s happening at this moment. Tens of thousands of people are converging on parliament to demand an end to twenty years of backdoor deals, corruption, impunity and a sell-out of the country to organized crime.

Beppe Grillo is descending on Rome from Friuli and inviting everyone, anywhere, to join him, in order to sweep away the dinosaurs and pave the way for a new Italy.

Of course, he is very well aware of the eery historical comparison that a ‘March on Rome’ evokes… In October  1922, in the midst of the economic and social chaos that followed World War One, Benito Mussolini led his ‘blackshirts’ to the capital, demanding to form a government. The king, afraid more of the communists than of the fascists, consented…

There are hardly any fascists now any more, only the same old class of politicians against a people that is sick and tired of business as usual. So keep an eye on Rome, and if you’re there, join it. Now is the time, finally, to dump these decrepit politicians on the junk yard of history. It’s where they belong.

Watch the livestream:


The Cuckoo’s Nest

Feline on the Hood

Rome, January 20

Dear people,

We have all been admitted to a former mental institution in the north of Rome. Fortunately, the gates are open. Since 1978 the use of closed mental hospitals has been abolished in Italy. It turned out that people who were relatively sane went completely nuts in these places. What’s left, here in Rome, is a quiet park with all the typical pine trees and about forty buildings. It would make a great place for a postrevolutionary university.

We are housed in the former lavandry. It has been occupied for seven years by a cultural organisation that offers a wide panorama of initiatives to the local community. Their great wish would be to turn this entire park into a cultural centre. But that’s not going to happen in the short term. Many of the buildings are closed, some are used by the city council and others still have some kind of psychomedical purpose. One of them has been turned into the ‘Museum of the Mind’.

A mental institution is an excellent place to reflect on contemporary Italian politics. And so I did.

I will keep it short, I will stay on the main roads, because Italian politics as a whole is an intricate maze full of shady alleyways, corpses in closets, masonic conspiracies, lost notebooks, screams in the dark and women at their balconies. You can get lost in it and never get out. Neither will I touch on the breakdown of values that was caused by twenty years of berlusconism. All things in due time.

So, in general you have the old left, the old right, and the puddle of parliament in between. The old left is composed of a myriad of communist flavoured parties and unions. The old right is made up of another myriad of fascist flavoured parties and action groups. And parliament is the place where the elected parties divide the pieces of cake among each other.

Lacking a true liberal democratic tradition, Italian politics is centered on strong personalities. Like a kind of universe where the minor characters revolve around the big ones until their suns burn out and everyone rearranges itself around another leader.

Political generations last very long in Italy. In the northern countries the parties are always the same even though their politics converge, but the faces change at least once every decade. In Italy there have only been about three political generations since WW2. De Gasperi/Togliatti, Andreotti/Craxi, and Berlusconi. Over here, the faces never seem to change, even though the parties have lately been reinventing themselves at every election. Even now, on the billboards and in the press I see the same names that have been around since the early 90s. Or maybe longer. They are not worth mentioning, but they seem to last forever.

Italy is an old country, in every sense. Statistically the population is the oldest of the world. It’s being weighed down by its own history, and it seems to advance with its back towards the future. The left is nostalgic of old industrial age ideologies and dreams of a working class paradise, the right is obsessed with ancient aspirations to nationhood and empire, while parliament is in the final act of selling the country to the banks.

The left and the right are both fiercely hostile to the government of Monti, but they hate each other more than they hate the banks. It all goes back to the years of civil war 1943-45, when communist and other partisans fought the loyalist fascists in the context of World War Two. Since then the animosity between fascists and anti-fascists has been passed on from father to son to grandson. But even within the left and the right, there’s often more hatred between the various denominations than between them and ‘the common enemy’, be it the other side or be it the government. All in all, it’s a mad house.

In the midst of all this, the indignados are only a very small and unorganised bunch. But we have one strength. We are something new. We don’t look at the past, because we don’t have any history yet. We have no flags and no idols. We’re citizens. And we’re fed up with the old way of thinking. Communists, socialists, fascists, liberals, conservatives, socialdemocrats. To hell with them all. We want a new paradigm.

Lifting camp at San Giovanni

Cleaning the monument

Goodbye to San Francesco


The Giant Squid

Rome, January 18

Dear people,

The Agora Roma officially ended yesterday. There haven’t been any spectacular actions or events in the final two days. Many people have already left, either for home or for other revolutionary fronts.

In the end the experience has been okay. The Vatican action was undoubtedly the main highlight. It came out well, it got the attention of all major Italian newspapers besides from the Washington Post, and the reports on it were pretty objective. Better than we could hope for, given the fact that the church is always a very sensitive subject in Italy.

I had been preparing something spectacular as a conclusion. The idea was to occupy the Forum, in the middle of night. This because our movement claims the public space and the Roman Forum was the public space par excellence in antiquity. Only since a few years you have to pay to enter. The plan was ready in detail. I had identified the weak spot where we could cross. First we would have taken the Palatine, the hill of the emperors, we would have planted a flag on top, saying ‘Free Palatine’, and then we would have descended to the Forum to camp.

The plan was very romantic, but it was finally voted down, because of the possible negative repercussions on the movement and ourselves and the bad precedent it could set. Touching ancient Rome is almost as sensitive as touching the church.

Instead, we prepared an action against Goldman Sachs, which we executed this evening. One of us dressed up in a tent, symbolising a giant squid. Other comrades were attached to his tentacles wearing masks of Mario Monti, Mario Draghi, Papademos and Obama. We had prepared a flyer with information on how the former three all have a past in GS and how the bank of banks was the major contributor to Obama’s campaign.

It went on to explain how Goldman Sachs helped the Greeks to trick their budget, how it gets countries ‘hooked’ to loans they can’t pay back, how it acts as a financial hitman and how it finally places its pawns directly in the nerve centres of power. Not to speak about the speculation with food prices.

And so the squid went for a tourist trip through the centre of Rome, from Piazza Barberini to Termini. One of the slogans was a quote by John Adams, the second president of the United States. ‘There are two ways to conquer a nation. Through war, or through debt.’

Now we’re back at the camp. It’s the last evening here in the square. Tomorrow we move to a location in Rome as yet unknown. The march will probably depart next saturday, January 21.

Pantheon

 

[Publico aqui los flyers sobre Goldman Sachs en italiano y en castellano. Necesiterían ser trabajados un poco más]

flyer GS in castellano

flyer GS in italiano

 

y una foto del grande pulpo:

Squid at Termini

 


Carnival of the System


Rome, January 15

 

Dear people,

 

The tourists in Rome don’t get to see a swinging fancy dress party very often. But today, for once, they turned away their camera’s from the landmarks and pointed them at us.

We took the streets with joy. We had a drumband, and we had people dancing all the way from San Giovanni in Laterano to Piazza del Popolo.

 

 

This was our carnival. We made fun of the banks and the financial system, and we transmitted energy. Positive energy. We held up traffic, but no-one honked to blame us. On the contrary. Some people got out of their car and started dancing with us.

We were not a big crowd, about two hundred people, mainly the indignados from the acampada, but at least we interrupted business as usual for a day. And it changed the city.

I might not be really fond of contemporary Rome, like I said, but Rome without traffic is absolutely fabulous. We brought it about, and even though our demonstration was technically illegal, the authorities let us have our way. Police were very cooperative and discreet. We were escorted by only a handful of civilian officers. There was always back-up nearby, but never visible.

Only at the colosseum we witnessed an almost surreal scene. A couple of our clowns climbed over the fences to create some chaos among the bewildered tourists. They were already on their way out when a platoon of riot police appeared inside the colosseum, behind bars. As if they expected that we were going to storm the place.

 

 

It was hilarious. We had a laugh and danced on to Piazza Venezia. The square is named after the Palazzo Venezia, the former embassy of the Republic of Venice. In 1940, Mussolini appeared on the balcony to announce that war had been declared on England and France. The square was packed and people went crazy with enthusiasm. Today, our indignant pope stepped forward in the middle of the square to unite the characters of Merkel and Sarkozy in holy matrimony. The ring was provided by the European Central Bank. Mario Monti acted as a witness.

After the cerimony we took the Via del Corso. The beat of the drums echoed between the houses. And me, I could discern a little historical echo as well. Because once upon a time, the Roman populace celebrated carnival in grand style. Part of the festivities consisted in a horse race through the Via del Corso. It was famously described by Goethe in his Italian Journey, but over time the tradition was lost. Only now, generations later, the indignados have brought a bit of the spirit of carnival back to Rome.

 

"We have the freedom to expand our freedom"

Near Piazza Colonna, we are blocked by police. This is the red zone near parliament. We don’t make any problems of it. Police have been generous all week. They never made trouble, so we don’t have any reason to do so either. We take another street, and end up in Piazza di Spagna, once again to the enjoyment of the tourists who are sitting on the steps.

The carnival ends a little further up at Piazza del Popolo, where the march had entered the city a week before. We hold a symbolic assembly, then it gets dark and cold, and people go back to San Giovanni for the afterparty. Live jamming in the square.

Popular Assembly in Piazza del Popolo