Accessible Anarchists: Can Masdeu

by Paxus

from Your Passport to Complaining, November 9, 2016

It started with the asparagus and a hole.

For 50 years the lepers hospital had been abandoned, fenced off and losing the struggle against entropy.  Late in the fall of 2002, a handful of liberators cut a hole in the fence, letting themselves and the locals in. These mostly poorer pensioners from the outskirts of Barcelona had for years watched the fenced off asparagus sprout inside and go to seed.  Not this year.

But the story only begins with this “chance harvest”. While locals reclaimed and seeded this newly available agricultural land, the squatters planted roots of their own in this place they renamed Can Masdeu (house of many springs).  And as expected, before the first plants had sprouted, the police had arrived – not worried about the vegetables, but rather a different  “weed” taking root.  In April 2003, several dozen Barcelona riot police arrived to remove the illegal occupants from this long abandoned 3 story “mansion”.

can-masdeu-gardens
The gardens of Can Masdeu

What the police found was 11 people suspended on various platforms and perches designed so that to remove any one person, would cause another (or in some cases two other) people to drop from great height, potentially to their deaths.  To this day, there are chairs mounted on the outside of the building – outside the top floors, where protesters sat for 3 days, through a rainstorm and mostly without food – waiting for justice.  And finally it came.  A local judge ordering the police to retreat, declaring human life is more important than property. It did not hurt that the dozens of local and imported supporters at the squat were aided by very visible protests and lobbying going on inside the city of Barcelona and even the Spanish Embassy in Am*dam was under siege by sympathetic anarchists.

But as romantic and exciting as the origin myth of Can Masdeu is, it is the current projects and dreams which makes it such an important and seductive place. Two dozen young people (from 22 to 39) have built gardens and bread ovens, opened a community bike shop, constructed meditation spaces, planted fruit trees, installed solar cookers and reversed entropy. They have inspired a DIY/”we can do it” culture which manifests both cordial relations with the locals and deep connections to the rural squatting movement (which is more secure than urban squats, because Spain, like most places, is suffering from urban flight).  Meals at Can Masdeu are a cross between a noisy family reunion, a conspirators clandestine gathering and a polyglot’s wet dream, with the colorful players switching languages every few moments.

SONY DSC

The internal economics are pretty simple.   Everyone (visitors and members alike) pays 1 Euro (about $1.20) a day for the dry goods – mainly organic and bio regional foods which are collectively cooked by volunteers each day.  On our last night there no one signed up to cook and cheerful, last minute, self selecting recruits finished cooking at 11 PM. (Which is only an hour or two later than dinner normally is.  This is Spain – or more precisely Catalonia – after all.)  The food is good. It is mostly vegan of necessity since cheese is expensive – but there are no culinary restrictions placed on the group.

Though simple, the meals were wonderful.  Culinary success is fostered by a culture of joy and political action.  Stuff from the gardens, food left behind after the farmers market (in a novel twist, farmers don’t feel it necessary to put broken glass into food which they can not sell, to keep others from eating it as we are so fond of doing in the US), bread from their clay ovens, dry goods purchased with the money chipped in – all create a squat cuisine which kept us out of the wonderfully tempting Barcelona restaurants.

can-masdeu-performance
Every Saturday a free coffeehouse with local and intl talent

We were lucky to get in.  Jana and Frodo recommended the place, but June is one of their closed months.  They have been so popular that they need to control the visiting of folx so as not to get overrun with outsiders. Our boat into Tarragona arrived just as a closed month began – but we were generously granted an exception (which we had arranged by e-mail in advance).  We gave back to the squat with a presentation on Twin Oaks which was attended with great interest. They were trying to figure out many of the sharing systems that more mature communities have already developed.  At 1 AM I was still answering questions, Hawina having fielded the first hour of them, while I chased after Willow (at this writing was age 2), who seemed to get the infectious spirit and thought that he owned the place.

It is not utopia yet either;  one problem and benefit is the clash between the Spanish “manana culture” and the North European (esp. British and German) punctuality.  The squat is perhaps 2/3rds locals and 1/3rd internationals and Gesine (who was our host and is from Germany) was really struggling with the group’s ability to make decisions effectively.

While we were there a couple of Dutch co-counseling instructors were there teaching a class.  But their meeting techniques did not seem to take hold the way some of the squatters had wanted. I found myself wanting to be able to materialize Tree and plant her in this place for some months.

Squats, especially large ones which are likely targets for eviction are generally a mix of disheveled and broken stuff – and that which has been repaired or renovated.   There is dodgy wiring and the same “second world” plumbing style as East Wind (running water inside, but outside composting toilets).    But these folx were fast on their feet.  At one point Willow charged into one of the living rooms, with cushions missing from chaotic couches, piles of papers on the dirty floor.  An hour later we returned and the couches were complete and positioned for a meeting, the floor cleaned and cleared, a meeting agenda on the easel in front of the space.  And in my favorite anarchist tradition, no one was claiming credit for the magical transformation. It just sort of happens, because it needs to.

can-masdeu-dinner

It is not hardware or architecture which makes Can Masdeu important, it is the culture creation, the social relations and the politics which does.  “We don’t just wear black,” says Gesine, explaining that part of the perceived threat of the squat to the establishment is that they are media friendly, accessible to (and in fact supporting of) locals from different ages and classes and constantly doing outreach.  Barcelona is one of the most heavily squatted cities in Europe. The combination of poverty, speculation on rising real estate values and a legal system which does not deify property rights has caused an explosion in squatting and the anti-military service campaigns.  The moneyed class does not want popular, accessible squats like this one – it emboldens folx to take matters into their own hands.  Squatters are supposed to be dangerous fringe criminals, not helpful, friendly, folx fixing people’s bikes and respecting each other and the land and local tradition.

can-masdeu-pedal-washing-machine
Bike powered washer — like Quercus had

Even during their closed month there are tours and workshops every Sunday.  There was a series of sessions on healing arts when we were there – taught not by folx from the squat, but by Barcelona practitioners using the space with the squat assisting in promotion for the event.  The local school has several student groups who choose (and are encouraged) to meet there, in the café and ample conference spaces.  There is a growing book library, a free shop (a commie clothes look alike), and a tool library as well as all the squatting propaganda you could possibly want.  One of the rooms is for storage and construction of giant protest puppets and is also the flamenco dancers practice space.  These types of multicultural mixed use spaces are common.

My last day, by good fortune, I ended up in a long conversation with Martin from the UK, who spent a year looking for this place before actually squatting it. His was an amazing and tragic tale, complete with getting cut from the rope which was blocking the G8 from arriving at their Swiss retreat.  He dropped over  60 feet into two feet of water, broke his back and was lucky not to be paralyzed, much less alive (see www.aubonnebridge.net website for the amazing and disturbing video of the action). We talked about the culture of Can Masdeu, the meetings and process, the hopes and relations with other projects.  For me it was the perfect arrival to Europe.  People who had a very high level of commitment to radical political work, but were not stuck in old boxes, which would for example, keep them from the media, or distance them from the local population.  We talked about his desire to protect this ecosystem, which he felt was at the edge of its carrying capacity with the gardens which had already been planted.   And how amazed he was at what they had so far created.

And it might all end in October.  After 5 failed criminal cases have been run against them, Can Masdeu now faces a civil suit, which it may be nearly impossible for them to win – because in fact they don’t own the property and someone else does.  The police might not evict – this happens sometimes.  But the most likely future is that in the winter of 2004/05 there will be a call to defend the squat.  They hope hundreds of people will help defend the house and if they resquat there may be a popular action, hopefully with many hundreds of people especially people from the barrio. They have grown deep roots.  My guess is many more than the original 11 people who risked their lives will be in dramatic and dangerous positions, with more than 3 days food and a very enthusiastic and very large group of people all around them supporting them.

can-masdeu-squating-apple
Follow the graffiti which looks like this

I’ve seen the future and it is off the end of the metro green line in Barcelona

Update Nov 2016:  The police did not come.  To this day Can Masdeu continues to host events, political protests and a dynamic scruffy band of anarchists, who are now joining 20 other Catalan communities to build their movement.

 

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Accessible Anarchists: Can Masdeu

European Income Sharing Communities Contrasted with US Ones

by Paxus Calta, from Your Passport to Complaining, August 19, 2014

GPaul has just returned from his summer adventure in Europe visiting urban income sharing communities. He just gave a wonderful report contrasting the US communes with their European counterparts. Here are some of the highlights from his talk:

GPaul about to take off

* There are perhaps 40 or 50 secular income sharing communities in Europe and national and language boundaries largely keep them from networking together or even knowing about each other

* These communities of size 60 to 80 members (and of course much smaller) use consensus decision making without any problem. [Many small US communities, including Acorn, worry that they can not grow without consensus failing them, and almost all of them are far smaller than this].

consensus group line drawing

* One of the maxims suggested was “The commune is rich, the communards are poor” The objective is great shared wealth, not increased personal/private wealth.  Look here for a strange post on anarchist communards advising bankers.

* None of the 6 income sharing communities visited had a labor quota (though one had a non-specific requirement for members to work full time). Most FEC communities have labor obligations and several have quota – though in Acorns case it is a “soft” and untracked quota.

group in rings photo

* European urban income sharing communities are also both asset and debt sharing (unlike their US counterparts). The US based income sharing communities (most of them in the FEC network) were culturally founded during the rise of cults. Thus part of the desire to not be asset sharing at that time was to distinguish income sharing communities from cults (which took members assets).

* Very few people move to communes in there 20s (unlike in the US where this is our biggest demographic) instead they move in during their 30s when they want to settle down and have kids.

* Minimum stays at European communes tend to be much longer (on the order of 5 years) in sharp contrast to US communities where it is often just 12 or 18 months.

This is sort of a poor representation of some of the key ideas of GPaul’s presentation, but there is more i will elaborate on in future blog posts.  Especially the transnational nomadic anarchist cyberpunks.

no i dont know why there is a label marked

European Income Sharing Communities Contrasted with US Ones

Every Eight Seconds


from the Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC) website Posted on by Aurora DeMarco

“The problems of aging present an opportunity to rethink our social and personal lives in order to ensure the dignity and welfare of each individual.” —Daisaku Ikeda

Every eight seconds, another baby boomer turns 65. Seven in 10 of us will need home care assistance at some point in our lives, due to disability or the simple process of getting older. Much of the time this reality is described in negative terms; the sentiment is “what a burden to society this will pose.” However, this situation can offer a great opportunity to once again advance the idea of communal living. Baby boomers spawned many social change movements that shifted our thinking on issues of personal freedom and choosing alternatives to the traditional nuclear family. Boomers may also be the generation to lead the way for changes in how we age in our society.

According to Caring Across Generations, a national advocacy organization to improve elder care in this country, we need to develop a comprehensive plan to make sure that we all age in dignity and are cared for. Currently, elder care is geared to those people who live in traditional families where there is a spouse and/or children who can provide and care for their sick and elderly loved ones. Often paid home health aides care for the sick and elderly in home-based care. Many also end up in institutional-based care settings such as assisted living or retirement homes or hospitals. Unlike the spirit of connectedness and caring of intentional communities, these institutions often strip seniors of their rights to self-determination and governance. Many arrive there as a last resort, frail and no longer able to provide their self-care needs. Many do not want to burden their family members and some have no family members at all.

Intentional communities offer an alternative to the isolation and loneliness that many seniors experience as they age and need more assistance. With fewer and fewer people coming from traditional families, now is the time to reinforce that intentional communities can be an antidote to social isolation and loneliness.

Every Eight Seconds

Fortunately there are existing models, like kommune-niederkaufungen, which generates income with its elder care worker collective (www.kommune-niederkaufungen.de/english-informations), and the Fellowship Community, whose elder “members” contribute about 35 percent of the community’s income in the form of different fees (www.fellowshipcommunity.org/our-elder-members.html). Furthermore, existing communities are carving their own paths towards care as members age and need care. My daughter is part of the care team for the elderly and disabled in her intentional community, which has built a separate building that offers care from birth to hospice when their members need it. Moreover, new communities are forming with the intention of offering elder care to their members.

At the 2014 Twin Oaks Communities Conference a group of us met to discuss how to provide elder and hospice care in intentional communities. We created a list of ideas for helping existing communities and for advancing the idea of intentional communities as a new model for senior living. It is by no means comprehensive, but rather a beginning of a much larger conversation about providing elder care in intentional communities.

1. Encourage communards to have advanced directives and co-caring agreements in case communards need elder/hospice care. These directives/agreements can help avoid conflict later on. This may be especially true for those who have families who may disagree with their choices. Many people have chosen to live in community because they have different values and lifestyle preferences than their family of origin or family of procreation. Advanced directives and co-caring agreements give individuals the opportunity to spell out clearly their wishes on medical interventions and how they wish to be cared for. One communard’s son called the police on her when she notified him of her choice of voluntary starvation and dehydration to expedite her dying process—a legal practice which does not contribute to suffering among the dying and might actually contribute to a comfortable passage from life. Having her wishes put in writing and shared with her family members might have helped her family members understand and respect her choice to die as she wanted.

2. Put together a work exchange for people wanting to visit communities in exchange for helping to care for disabled/elderly communards. Volunteering time in exchange for room and board is a good way to travel inexpensively. Living in community offers opportunities to explore different regions, socialize, and be of service. Being part of a care team is one way to volunteer and could be a way for communities to have their labor needs met. Many people want to put their big toe in the intentional community waters and this may offer a clear way to volunteer and be of service, while also experiencing communal living.

3. Develop an exchange program with other communities who can send caregivers to help with hospice care/elder care when communities are in need. Often various communities send help to fellow communities when there is a need. One communard spoke about his wife’s end-of-life care. She was a beloved member of the intentional communities movement and when she needed end-of-life care a few members traveled from their home communities to assist her. This is a great way for communities to support one another.

4. Reach out to networks of retired nurses who may want to still practice nursing in the more pleasant settings that communities offer as opposed to the harsh conditions of institutional-based care. Most nurses I speak with say they love nursing, but dislike their workplace environments. In the community I live in, a long-term community member who is in her 90s is cared for by three home health aides. All three women are valued members of the community and enjoy the openness, kindness, and caring that my community is especially known for. During our Thanksgiving celebration a special word of gratitude was given to these hardworking caregivers.

5. Be aware that hospice is always paid for through Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance plans, and charity pools. Hospice care includes four hours a day of a professional home health aide, as well as the help of physician, nurse, social work, pastoral care, the training of nonprofessional caregivers, and pain relief, as needed. When I have traveled to intentional communities to talk about elder care, I am shocked at how many people are not aware that hospice is paid for and that it is an option that most people don’t know they have.

The beauty of aging is that it can be a time of life where the demands of work and family are behind you. Yet culturally people still follow a paradigm that may not work for them. Rather than retirement being a time of exploration and connectedness, many seniors feel depressed as a result of feeling unproductive, isolated, and uncared for. Many of these issues are explored further in the article “Communities and Old Age: Opportunities and Challenges for People over 50” by Maria Brenton (see www.ic.org/wiki/communities-old-age-opportunities-challenges-people-50). I would like to end with a quote from this article, because it captures the spirit that needs to be harnessed so that people over 50 can create communities that work for them:

“Being part of an intentional community in old age is a way to challenge the isolation and social exclusion that many older people experience in our youth-oriented western societies. Living in an intentional community is a way to maintain personal autonomy as well as add an active, vibrant, companionable dimension to one’s later life. While group living is not everyone’s cup of tea, if you are interested in it don’t wait until you are really old to explore the available options. Anticipate and take action to join or start such communities while you have plenty of drive and energy for new opportunities, challenges, excitement, and personal growth. Don’t wait for the future to be decided for you. Shape it for yourself. There are other people out there with whom you can share the experience.”

Aurora DeMarco has over 30 years of community organizing experience. She has written and published on various topics including health care, child care, migrant workers, parenting, women’s issues, and cyberbullying. She has worked with senior advocates pushing for Health Care for All and was successful in getting a single-payer bill through the New York State Assembly. Aurora is a Licensed Massage Therapist with a specialty in working with Trauma Survivors. She has worked as a Grief Counselor for Hospice of New York, and developed and presented workshops on working with trauma survivors in hospice settings. She most recently facilitated a workshop on providing elder and hospice care in intentional communities. She lives at Ganas, an intentional community on Staten Island, New York and is working with Point A, a collective dedicated to building more intentional income-sharing, egalitarian urban communities.

Every Eight Seconds