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<nettime> Radical Democracy: Reclaiming the Commons

   Radical Democracy: Reclaiming the Commons

   A new project seeks to amplify the message of local struggles between
   citizens and urbanisation processes in Poland, Spain, Turkey and the
   United Kingdom.

   The world seems to be flooded by an unending wave of indignation and
   political unrest. The media sphere extends beyond the printed press and
   television news, into our personalised social networks, evoking a
   constant stream of images: fluctuating markets, stagnating economies,
   vibrant multitudes, insurgent violence. It is all too overwhelming to
   take in, as the simultaneity of events reduces voices to
   indistinguishable frequencies in a wall of noise. It's as if anything
   can spark widespread revolt, like a park in Istanbul, a squat in
   Barcelona, or the price of a metro ticket in Rio de Janeiro.

   The Radical Democracy: Reclaiming the Commons project tunes out the
   broader context of global unrest and tunes in to the local level at
   which the protests take place, so we may hear the common theme that
   binds them. That theme is citizens seeing their right to decide what
   kind of communities they want to live in denied by faceless processes
   far-removed from local reality, and certainly not accountable to it. As
   social ecologist Murray Bookchin once put it, "city space, with its
   human propinquity, distinctive neighbourhoods and humanly scaled
   politics -- like rural space, with its closeness to nature, its high sense
   of mutual aid and its strong family relationships -- is being absorbed by
   urbanisation, with its smothering traits of anonymity, homogenisation,
   and institutional gigantism."

   In the midst of the wildcat general strikes and decentralised
   occupations that defined May 1968 in France, the sociologist Henri
   Lefèbvre wrote that these types of protests were claiming people'
   "right to the city", which he defined as a demand for "a transformed
   and renewed access to urban life".

   In more recent years, David Harvey has revived the concept, writing

   "The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to
   access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing
   the city. It is, moreover, a common rather than an individual right,
   since this transformation inevitably depends upon the exercise of a
   collective power to reshape the processes of urbanisation."

   These concepts, together with the understanding that protest is
   fundamentally a form of caring for our communities, are what guide
   Radical Democracy: Reclaiming the Commons. With support from the Open
   Society Initiative for Europe and the European Cultural Foundation, the
   project highlights and empowers social agents who are proposing radical
   changes in the way society participates in common spaces. These social
   agents come from Poland, Spain, Turkey and the United Kingdom. The goal
   of Radical Democracy: Reclaiming the Commons is to increase the
   visibility of their local struggles and maximise their social impact
   using the networked medialabs of the Doc Next Network to produce
   socially engaged media with a lasting impact on public debates.

   Poland: Opening the heart of the city

   In the heart of Warsaw, tucked away in the lush green tangles where
   John Lennon Street meets Jazdów, lies a community of small rural
   houses. Established by the USSR in 1945 as a part of Finnish war
   reparations, they form an enticing island of tranquility in the
   capital's urban landscape, and a living monument to the city's 20th
   century history. Yet in recent years, city officials have decided that
   they would rather replace this area with the glass skyscrapers so
   typical of large city centres. In response to this, social activists
   responded by organising Otwarty Jazdów (Open Jazdów), a grassroots
   initiative that includes current and former Jazdów residents,
   community organizations, local activists and young politicians trying
   to stop the demolition of the houses by promoting Jazdow as a common
   space for the city's inhabitants. It is a process that is similar to
   what activists are doing in the neglected, formerly industrial Ursus
   district. Starting in 2012, people in this district have been
   organising actions that criticise the urban decay it has been subjected
   to, informing the public of residents' unmet needs and promoting the
   district's history through the bottom-up creation of a Social Museum.
   As each of these campaigns uses the institutional and grassroots tools
   at their disposal in their disputes with city officials, Radical
   Democracy: Reclaiming the Commons will help amplify their message so
   that they can achieve their goals.

   Turkey: Making the city liveable

   The neoliberal city is the motor of Erdogan's Turkey. Its booming
   economy is the result of a massive construction bubble fed by
   mega-projects operating on a city- and even country-wide scale, and the
   increasing surveillance and repression of dissent are constant
   reminders of the authoritarian impulse behind this urbanisation. It is
   a transformation that is having profoundly inegalitarian results, with
   middle-class flight into gated communities, deteriorating public
   facilities and increasing insecurity in the streets beyond the gates.
   In these circumstances, making the city liveable can be a form of
   dissent. Sokak Bizim ("Streets Belong to Us") is an NGO focused on
   human-centred cities and streets in Istanbul, which they engage from
   the perspective of pedestrians, cyclists, children, elderly and
   disabled people. They are best known for their "Streets Belong to Us
   Once a Month" events, in which they transform lifeless spaces subsumed
   by the functionality of neoliberal urbanisation into festive ones, to
   promote community-building activities and create common spaces for
   citizens. Radical Democracy: Reclaiming the Commons intends to amplify
   Sokak Bizim's message through the work of its networked medialabs and
   interaction with the other local hubs.

   United Kingdom: Finding a home in the city

   In London, urbanisation is pricing citizens further and further away
   from the places they called home. Housing prices have soared recently
   by up to 20% from one year to another, yet nearly 12% of residents have
   too few rooms in their dwellings for the number of people living in
   them. As waiting lists for council housing grow endless, council
   housing itself is being privatised along with social housing. Though
   some policymakers and urbanists consider this to be just another part
   of a process of "urban regeneration", many citizens are fed up with
   their powerlessness and the lack of rights for renters. In some cases,
   they have begun to organise and disobey. In Hackney, squatters occupied
   the Central Police Station citing that they simply could not find
   affordable housing. And many of the squatters who occupied Carpenters
   Estate in the fall of 2014 cited a lack of social housing as the motive
   behind their occupation. As London's housing and renters' rights
   movement progresses, Radical Democracy: Reclaiming the Commons seeks to
   both champion and connect London's often disparate tenants
   organisations, and respond to the city's increasingly polarised housing

   Spain: Taking back the city

   For the last several years, Spain has been a laboratory for bottom-up
   organisation and empowerment. The 15M movement that began in 2011 not
   only managed to set the political agenda by framing the euro crisis and
   austerity as contrary to democratic principles, but also generate
   countless neighbourhood assemblies and amplify pre-existing
   assembly-based movements, such as the multicoloured mareas (tides) for
   social rights and the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (the PAH
   or Mortgage Victims' Platform). However, the ability of these movements
   to gather support from the vast majority of the country's population
   did not translate to much in the way of institutional change, despite
   their efforts to use all of the formal mechanisms at their disposal. As
   people grew increasingly frustrated with the indifference of the
   political class, many began to perceive an institutional glass ceiling.
   Thus, 2014 saw the emergence of new electoral experiments that not only
   spoke the language of the post-2011 social movements, but also
   contained some of their most familiar faces. This is especially true in
   the case of Guanyem (Catalan for "Let's Win") Barcelona and Ganemos
   (Spanish for "Let's Win") Madrid, municipal candidacies composed of
   prominent activists, community organisations and some political
   parties, which seek to activate citizen control in Spain's two largest
   cities through a bottom-up politics of proximity and direct democratic
   practices. Radical Democracy: Reclaiming the Commons will document this
   process as experienced by the ordinary citizens it engages.

   Over the coming months, Radical Democracy: Reclaiming the Commons will
   act as a microphone for the voices involved in all of these local
   struggles. By doing so, and by offering a common framework for
   interpreting what these apparently local struggles mean at a more
   global level, the project hopes to lower the volume on the noise that
   currently dominates the media sphere to offer the clarity needed to
   take steps towards making radical democracy a common reality.

   ZEMOS98 | Gestión Creativo Cultural
   +34 954 22 74 93

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