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‘Vulgarity makes the point polite conversation can’t’ — a conversation with Ugandan dissident Stella Nyanzi

Waging Nonviolence -

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Stella Nyanzi is celebrated across Africa. She is a heroine to sex workers and unemployed youth as much as she is to progressives scattered throughout the halls of universities and parliaments. The fierce Ugandan activist and academic known for her vulgar critiques of Uganda’s dictatorship recently completed a 16-month sentence at Luzira Prison, a notorious recurrent home for political dissidents.

When I last saw her in September, we were both harassed by prison authorities who wouldn’t let me in to visit. Her punishment for shouting at the guards was much worse than mine — physical torture and days added on to her sentence. As someone who puts in countless hours planning strategically for action with fellow comrades, I admire her solo improvisation when confronted with injustice. It has an actively poetic quality and prophetic power that I’m not able to bring to my work.

Previous Coverage
  • Imprisoned Ugandan academic urges ‘no revolution without a feminist revolution’
  • Nyanzi’s activist resume includes a sanitary pad drive to expose the dictatorship’s kleptocratic neglect of schoolgirls, various campaigns for LGBTQ rights, and countless social media insults of dictator Yoweri Museveni and his family and cadres. Surprisingly, it was the latter that landed her in prison — not her nude protest against patriarchy and institutional rot at the Makerere Institute of Social Research, where she has been employed for many years.

    Nyanzi, also a proud mother, has the largest social media following of any Ugandan, and she works professionally as a medical anthropologist and scholar of public health and sexuality. She received the 2020 Oxfam Novib/PEN International Award for Freedom of Expression, as well as Solidarity Uganda’s 2018 Activist of the Year Award. While in prison, Nyanzi secretly released a collection of poems, “No Roses from My Mouth: Poems from Prison.”

    Following her Feb. 20 release, I finally had a chance to speak to Nyanzi without prison guards interfering. Although our conversation occurred amidst the growing COVID-19 pandemic, the first Ugandan case of the outbreak and subsequent quarantines were still weeks away. As a result, Nyanzi kept the focus of our conversation on her own niche in Uganda’s growing anti-authoritarian struggle. Since then, however, she has reached out to say that the government’s “failings and blunders” with coronavirus only offer more “fertile ground” for her to “publicly criticize and critique the dictatorship.”

    Were you surprised that — of all the things you’ve done — a Facebook post landed you in jail for two years? Were you prepared for this?

    Because I had been arrested for a 2017 Facebook post calling Museveni a “pair of buttocks,” the second arrest [which was the result of a graphic 2018 post] felt like a big joke. I didn’t think there’d be another magistrate willing to engage with me as a defendant. I was shocked when the police would not accompany me to be reinstated at Makerere Institute of Social Research. I was shocked that the president wrote an order that resulted in taking me through a sham trial with so much malpractice.

    I was surprised by the sense of community within jail among convicted murderers and thieves. Even without their families around, there are structures of support.

    But maybe I shouldn’t have been shocked to be convicted for a Facebook post, because so many people had warned me not to be rude to the so-called fountain of honor [a common title for Uganda’s president]. I was shocked at the extent of my sentence. But this was not about a person writing a Facebook post. No, it was a culmination of so many things in this moment of widespread cyber harassment. I should not have been shocked knowing how far Museveni’s regime has come. Even high court judges should have way higher standards than the magistrate who tried me, but so many were scared to preside over my matter.

    What images of your time in prison stand out in your mind? Did anything surprise you?

    In 2017, I was imprisoned for 33 days or thereabouts. Having stayed later for more than a year, there are many things that still surprise me today. I still don’t understand how prison staff who are paid as public servants to ensure our safe custody are abusing their brown uniform, their duty of protection. Wardresses were caning women just for asking questions. I was beaten, punched and kicked for showing up at the gate to see you when you came to visit me. I was always asking why we didn’t have breakfast or water; I would be punished for this, including solitary confinement and the beating of my body. If you can do this to me, how much more can you do it to those without many visitors or the cover of the media?

    The levels of congestion in prisons have increased dramatically in recent times. Lack of medicine, the number of miscarriages, women prisoners dying — I was surprised. We had cases of escapees, which was also surprising in a maximum security prison. I was also surprised by the sense of community within jail among convicted murderers and thieves. Even without their families around, there are structures of support. I was “Ssenga” [paternal auntie] or “Mama” Stella. Other times I was “Bitch Boss.” The re-creation of family was impressive, full of love, laughter, jokes, dancing, singing and religious conversions.

    You’re known, at least publicly, for being vulgar and relentless. Is this personality something that arose naturally out of your experience, or is it tactical and politically deliberate?

    Previous Coverage
  • Nude protests, sex strikes and the power of the taboo
  • Often I have to rehearse, and look for words, especially when I’m doing this ad-lib character. I have to look for these words from people who use them. One of my go-to places for information is Facebook. I have access to boda boda [motorcycle taxi] guys and sex workers who know how obscene words are best used. The idea that people say “she’s losing her African values and cursing like a colonized white woman” is wrong because in Buganda [a region within central Uganda], a Nalongo [or mother of twins] has certain powers in her speech, body language and actions.

    The Victorian era did a lot of damage in terms of culture. Perhaps my scholarship around sexuality gave me access to the power of sexualities. Because sexuality is taboo for women, the woman has to enter that tirade boldly, in a way that demands attention. I learned early when a woman says “vagina” or “penis,” people are forced to stop and listen. People are bored with talking about politics!

    I learned early in Facebooking that if I threw in metaphors of intercourse, there is a larger response. Often there are those who are daring enough to explore the deeper language of sexual metaphors. I want to know who can get what I’m saying at the second or third level of meaning. I’ve crafted a particular woman who is bold and brazen in interestingly political ways, using my “clean African woman mouth” to speak dirty politics. People may not take the offense as offensive as it is. Some may laugh at it, knowing its political value. I’d rather make the point vulgarly even if I lose a few people along the way. If the sexual currency makes the point polite conversation can’t, so be it.

    Stella Nyanzi shortly after her release from prison. (Facebook/Solidarity Uganda)

    Some encourage you to pursue formal politics, either as an MP or as president. Do you have such ambitions?

    I think that I am an ideas person. What makes me tick is when I’m working with and shaping ideas. Scholarship is where my heart is at. The activist-academic is a concept I was struggling with for a while, and when I was doing queer activism around the anti-homosexuality bill, I realized one cannot simply live within the ivory tower.  There was no way I could only produce knowledge when people could be killed. This has influenced how I do activism. The anti-homosexuality bill beckoned me to come and do something. I would make Stella an academic in the university, but since the dictator kicked me out, the street and Facebook have become my playing field.

    As I await my job at Makerere — because I’m in court to get my job back — I want to keep poking the leopard’s anus, and to do politics hardcore. The coming 2021 elections are an opportunity one must not miss. Parliament? Why not? Perhaps a woman may come on board among the big boys going for the presidency, but I don’t know how serious I am when I say that. If it’s an opportunity for in-your-face competition for the dictator, perhaps I will.

    I have been invited by various people to stand as Woman MP for the Central Kampala constituency where Nabilah Naggayi Sempala came in. There are increasing rumors that she has been a sellout, or at least inactive, which I can’t yet verify because I have been behind bars in Luzira. The persons who are going to contest for any post should not do so lightly. It is important to reclaim the constitution and transform our laws. Do I want to run? Yes, but because of what I can get away with as a candidate. It affords some space to say the things that must be said. In other words, running for Parliament shouldn’t be mainly about getting to Parliament.

    Uganda’s opposition is fragmented, which you have sometimes attributed to male ego. What must it do to get the dictator out of power?

    The way I understood people power [which fueled the Togikwatako campaign against authoritarian constitutional reform] was that it was a movement to build opposition capacity to resist. It was supposed to be a unifying platform for the liberation struggle. That may have been my own naïve and simplistic understanding of people power, but I think it should’ve been that way.

    In terms of movement building, the women’s movements have done many great things, but in terms of exclusions … those with high heels sit up on thrones and those with sandals sit at their feet.

    I am disappointed that that simple unity idea seems difficult to achieve among the leaders. Away from the opposition leaders, I suspect that many of us are very aware that we cannot uproot Museveni through our own homogenous circles alone, but patronage politics is keeping Museveni in power, and people don’t want to give up those privileges. This makes uniting difficult.

    Suppose the opposition won’t unite. We have seen it before — old men take a slice of the cake and wait until the next electoral season. Can Ugandans coerce them into cooperating, if they won’t do it willingly?

    Parties are male dominated and will not give up their power to each other, so we need to build a new coalition that unites various opposition party players. We need to transform and reorganize opposition party work. How do we unite? In Sudan, it was about bread. Bread united us. Maybe we need something to unite us, perhaps blood. The question of insecurity may be a platform for all of us who don’t want to fear for our lives daily while crime and murders rise in Uganda. We are still struggling and still insecure. Even a person who loves the ruling party can have their brains blown apart.

    Much as politics in Uganda is patriarchal, you’ve also criticized Kampala’s women’s movement. Your poetry speaks of “feminists in high heels.” What do you mean by this, and if the women’s movement is to build more power, what must it do differently?

    “Feminists in high heels” is my own language about the classism and elitism and separation and exclusion within the feminist and women’s movements in Uganda. There is something happening around our long history of the women’s movement in Uganda. In terms of movement building, decentralization, etc., the women’s movements have done many great things, but in terms of exclusions — decisionmaking, its agenda, gatekeeping — those with high heels sit up on thrones and those with sandals sit at their feet.

    We need a common campaign that unites us first as humans. In Sudan it was bread; in Nigeria, it was oil. In Uganda it could be land issues that unite us as a people.

    We have to be honest with ourselves. The funding for “women’s movement-ing” emphasizes divisions because we are competing for a small cake against each other and must report back to donors. We are no longer allies but competitors. First of all, we have to think about how we all matter, no matter the size of the cake. All our work is important and should be allowed to flourish, even if the funds are little. We must be critical and look inward to ourselves, as opposed to the reports we give to auditors, NGOs, donors. We must look at ourselves as political actors and assess to what extent the things we are doing are empowering to grassroots women — and accountable firstly to the women we claim to speak and act for.

    Intersectionality is difficult, and one must always be conscious that all of our work is intersectional. I don’t know why we reproduce hierarchies of abuse and oppression, especially within feminist spaces. I don’t know if humans are just wired this way or not. How do we do things differently? So many resources are spent, but we are not evaluating our achievements, doing a cost-benefit analysis, or asking how we can reshape and refashion our strategies as much and as often as we need to.

    Uganda is incredibly diverse and heterogeneous. There are many languages and cultural barriers making mass mobilization and political coordination very difficult. You have been one of the unifying inspirations for Ugandans nationwide. What advice do you give to people around the world struggling with the difficulties of organizing within very diverse contexts?

    I want to reaffirm what you’re saying. Uganda is a collage, like when you make a quilt out of kitenge [African cloth] bits. We are very diverse. The odd colonial creation called “Uganda” is a collage. Opposition leaders Kizza Besigye or Bobi Wine can appeal to the entire nation, which is surprising and inspiring. People from all walks of life come to them like the way bees go to honey. In spite of all the language, religious, class and other barriers, we are united in our oppression. This should be a uniting force despite our differences.

    Every human knows about menstruation. This is why we needed a common campaign that unites us first as humans. In Sudan it was bread; in Nigeria, it was oil. In Uganda it could be land issues that unite us as a people. Whether I’m a farmer or a Mercedes Benz driver, land is a currency of importance in Uganda. We must identify one or two unifying issues and do a power analysis around those issues to understand how the oppressor is using them to consolidate his power. There is a commonality running through all of us. Abuse of power, nepotism and lack of jobs resonate with everyone.

    I don’t strategize and structure very well. I just do ‘I am angry and enraged and we must do something.’

    They united a people to the cause of a naked woman. Not all of the people brought into the campaign loved my methods and the idea of my naked body, but they were attracted to the cause by a contract that was broken and that affected me. They understood what it means to be a Ugandan living under the normalization of employers violating contracts.

    Academia is severely crumbling in Uganda and around the world. How can we think about academia in a new way?

    I feel very cheated as a person who belongs to the university to see how much theory is being made on the streets and away from academics and board rooms. People are doing knowledge production on resistance. The story of Ugandans is being told by ghetto gurus who lack political science or anthropology credentials. It’s sad that we don’t have enough students, scholars and thinkers working with the various opposition fronts, like the feminists, queers and land right advocates. Not enough is going back to the university to enrich the existing knowledge we already have. The gap between the ivory tower and the struggling masses is growing bigger and bigger. Many Makerere students would love to sit down, watch and participate in protests and social actions.

    The bubbles are bubbling up — and may finally come together as a massive bubble big enough to take the dictator out. Why are academics sitting down and treating this moment as business as usual? Punishment has deterred critical thinking. Students asking tough questions are being penalized, expelled and punished. There are rewards, conversely, for being silent and dormant. There are punishments for those of us employing critique.

    Why aren’t more professors and PhD candidates joining at the frontlines? I was told “That isn’t what academics do; they write papers and go to conferences.” I think “No, academics would be enriched where the action and knowledge production is happening: at the mines, in the kitchens, on the streets.” Among the first things Museveni did was to shut up the minds and mouths of those who could criticize the establishment. The president himself is the one facilitating negotiations for Makerere faculty salary increments. Because we depend on the state for our bread, we have not held fast to the ability to think for ourselves. This is a dictatorial military state. A dictator would not want us to question his power.

    Are there any other thoughts you would like to add?

    I don’t strategize and structure very well. I just do “I am angry and enraged and we must do something.” I’m in the moment. I just know that we have to challenge power. I am excited to know there are now people building movements with thought and critique and structure. The refining is happening as we go along.

    Uk: Don’t believe the hype. Evictions continue despite moratorium

    House Occupation News -

    The ban is a lie. Despite the UK government declaring a “complete ban on evictions” due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, in the last 24 hours an autonomous homeless shelter in Brighton and an occupied space in Peckham have been illegally evicted by people claiming to be bailiffs, allegedly with the full support and cooperation of the Sussex and Metropolitan police officers in attendance.

    The government’s no evictions claim is really just the abdication of due process and the scant judicial protections formerly afforded to tenants, squatters and the under-class in general.

    Get ready. The bailiffs and their bosses are taking the law into their own hands, with the police in full support.

    Freedom received the following statement from one of the occupants of the Peckham squat:

    “On Thursday 2 April 2020 at approximately 17:00, police arrived at 1 Rye Lane in Peckham after being called by a group of 2 men who had arrived at approximately 16:03 and who had claimed to be the owners of this non-residential property without proof.

    The two men had been antagonising and threatening our group of 5 women and 1 man for occupying the building. We had been occupying number 1 Rye Lane since Wednesday 25 March 2020 and the police were aware of this, as around 12 police officers had arrived on Friday, 27 March, in 4 cars. They had gained entry to the property by taking out metal fencing and a wooden door. The police had gained entry without a warrant and had left after seeing our legal warning that highlighted that we were occupying the building and also highlighted the squatting laws.

    The legal warning stipulates that the government will not seek to criminalise squatting in non-residential buildings, such as disused factories, warehouses or pubs; that we were occupying the property, and at all times there is at least one person in occupation; that any entry or attempt to enter into these premises without our permission is therefore a criminal offence, as any one of us who is in physical possession is opposed to such entry without our permission; that if anyone attempts to enter by violence or by threatening violence can be prosecuted and may receive a sentence of up to six months imprisonment and/or a fine of up to £5,000; that if you want to get us out you will have to issue a claim for possession in the County Court or in the High Court.

    We believe that the entry by the police on Friday 27 March while we were occupying the building would have been caught by some of the numerous CCTV cameras in the area. When the police had illegally gained entry into the building they found us inside, at which point we explained that we were occupying it under squatting laws and they established this by seeing our sleeping materials. They left us at that point as they seemed to acknowledge the law.

    A group of us remained in constant occupation of this building, and the rest of us began to move our living and sleeping materials in. On the afternoon of Thursday, 2nd April, some men who claimed to be owners of the property turned up and they began threatening us with physical harm. This caused a lot of distress, particularly for the women in the group.

    The men who were claiming to be the owners also began threatening us saying they were going to call immigration officers which we believe was motivated by racism having seen that there was a woman of colour in our group who actually has a legal right to live in the UK and other Europeans who also have a legal right to be in the UK. This caused a lot of distress to the group and threats to people of colour and immigrants like this constitute a hate crime under hate speech laws in England & Wales, namely section 4A of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. We made the police aware of what had happened when they arrived, both the physical threats and hate speech. The police officers didn’t take it seriously and brushed it off.

    One of the people claiming to be the owner had illegally gained entry into the building while we were occupying it. The people claiming to be the owners had also ripped off our Section 6 notice and torn it up before the police came. After the police arrived and in full sight of the officers, the men who were claiming to be owners began to break the door down despite both the owners and the police being made aware of the squatting laws and that what they were doing was illegal. They broke the door down and gained entry and, with the help of the police, they illegally evicted us from the building.

    The police threatened us with arrest if we did not leave the building and we have video footage of Constable Ryan Taney threatening us and Constable Thorpe telling one of us to stop filming him making threats telling him to step back during the illegal eviction. Constable Taney is seen talking to one of the men claiming to be the owner who they had handcuffed for illegally gaining entry, the police later let him go without arrest and without charging him.

    It is evident that the police participated in the illegal forced entry of an occupied building and assisted in the illegal eviction of squatters. One of the officers is heard saying he is a police officer so he can gain lawful entry anyway, a statement which goes against squatting laws for non-residential buildings.

    When a non-residential building that’s not in use is occupied by squatters, the legal way to regain possession of the building by anyone claiming to be the owner is to take the occupiers to civil court. The people claiming to be the owners need to use the appropriate legal route which requires that they file a claim for possession in court and serve the correct papers to the occupiers of the building with a court date that they can all attend with a judge present to verify all of the information and relevant documents needed. The documents required in the court of law to claim possession of a property include title deeds for the property. The judge then scrutinises and verifies the legitimacy of the documents before granting possession. If the documents are seen to be missing or to not be legitimate, the judge then asks the claimant to provide the correct documentation at a later court date and possession of the building by the claimant is not granted without the correct proof of ownership through these legal documents. This is in place to protect both the people occupying the building from bullying, harassment, abuse or being illegally evicted like happened to us and also to protect property owners, as anyone can claim to be the owner of a building but without appropriate proof, it’s just a claim!

    The police claimed that they were not aware that we were squatters even though we had told them and even though they had attended the building nearly a week before and verified that we were occupying the building. We managed to record some clips of what happened and in one clip you can see the officer claiming to not have been aware it was a squat even though we told him when they arrived.

    Despite having a legal warning before the police arrived and before the owners had ripped it off the door and torn it up, there is actually no legal requirement to have such warning up if you are already occupying a building under squatting laws and we did tell the owner and police that we were squatting the building which they all ignored. It seems the lack of the legal warning after it had been torn up by the owners was being used as an excuse to illegally evict us. This is an abuse of power and completely against the law.

    Furthermore, it is shocking considering that special measures have been in place since 27 March 2020 that stop all evictions, including squatters, due to the major public health crisis we are all in during the current COVID-19 pandemic that’s disrupted everyone’s lives and is causing a lot of anxieties and deaths in the UK and all around the world. Evicting people unlawfully should never happen and doing so to put people on the streets at a time like this is inhumane and dangerous. The officers could also have put others as risk along with putting themselves at risk of spreading or catching the virus.

    We will pursue this injustice for as long as we can and as far as we can to ensure that such an abuse of power and unlawful behaviour from the police never happens to anyone else again! We would also like to highlight that police willingly ignoring public health measures in these unprecedented times of crisis is never OK no matter who you are along with not taking physical threats and hate speech seriously.

    We are very disappointed with the behaviour of the police officers and we hope you can put in place serious disciplinary measures to ensure they and the rest of the police force do not abuse their power and that they respect the law, which includes squatting laws, to protect the homeless and other marginalised people.”

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    Freedom News

    Monopoly houses, toy soldiers and Lego: the museum of plastic lost at sea

    The Guardian | Protest -

    The waste washing up on British beaches is a shocking but fascinating catalogue of our times

    Tracey Williams has been a beachcomber for most of her life. It started with school holidays to north Cornwall in the 1960s, searching for shells, sea glass and mermaids’ purses among the rocks and sand. In the 1980s, after her parents moved to a 300-year-old clifftop house in Bigbury-on-Sea, in south Devon, Williams and her father would seek out fossils in their back garden and down by the shore.

    “But I’d also find old bottles, figurines, medieval rings, and bring them in, clean them up,” she says. “You know, chance finds.” Then, 23 years ago, everything changed. “I started finding Lego pieces washed up on the shore,” she explains. “Flippers, scuba tanks, the occasional dragon or octopus. By that time I had two young children, and we could take buckets down to the beach and just fill them with the amount of Lego coming in.”

    We only see what floats ashore. How many billions of items from cargo spills are lying on the seabed?

    The collages aren’t meant to be beautiful. They are our history, but also my bewilderment, frustration, dismay

    Continue reading...

    Member of banned Turkish folk group dies after hunger strike

    The Guardian | Protest -

    Singer Helin Bolek, 28, of Grup Yorum, was protesting against government’s treatment of group

    A member of a popular folk music group that is banned in Turkey has died on the 288th day of a hunger strike. The singer and a colleague had started the strike while imprisoned to protest at the government’s treatment of their band, according to a post on the group’s Twitter account.

    Grup Yorum, known for their protest songs, said Helin Bolek, 28, had died on Friday at a home in Istanbul where she had been staging the hunger strike in an attempt to pressure the government into reversing its position on the band and its members.

    Related: Outrage over denial of amnesty for Turkish political prisoners

    Continue reading...

    How can nations best prepare to face a pandemic or climate crisis?

    Waging Nonviolence -

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    David Brooks, writing in the New York Times, envies the higher degree of social trust he observes among the Nordic people. It is a precious resource when facing an epidemic. It would also be valuable when facing disasters accompanying the climate crisis.

    The willingness of individuals to prioritize the protection of the community as a whole depends largely on social trust, and we’re far enough into this pandemic now to see that countries are showing varying levels of it. In Scandinavia, the grocery stores are not experiencing great rushes of people to stock up on food and toilet paper. Meanwhile, in New Jersey, we see not only panic buying but also angry shouting matches between city-dwellers rushing to their seashore summer houses and local dwellers trying to protect their hospitals.

    People trust a system that reliably supports security, solidarity and individual freedom to make major life choices. They learn that trust — or don’t — through how well the system comes through for them.

    The contrast between Nordics and Americans these days reveals their contrasting systems.

    It’s trust, along with self-interest, that made it possible in Denmark for political parties quickly to unite despite their differences to “bet the farm” — the integrity of their fiscal future — on a gigantic “freeze” of the economy. This revolutionary measure keeps workers on their employers’ payrolls even though the epidemic keeps them away from their jobs.

    The New York Times editorial board on March 25 praised the Danish approach as far superior to the American $2 trillion dollar package passed last week. The Times’ explanatory article a few days later emphasizes over and over ways that the ongoing Danish political economy is different from — and better than — that of the United States.

    Pandemic as a rehearsal for facing climate disasters to come

    The coronavirus is a run-through for the mega-disasters that will come if we continue carbon pollution. Subsidizing oil companies is like continuing a profit-driven health system — both ensure that the needless deaths that didn’t make the headlines last year will multiply when a crisis hits. 

    The Climate Change Performance Index, for example, in its 2020 report rates the Nordics in the top fifth of nations, while the United States is at the very bottom. This is why learning about different systems’ ability to generate social trust is essential.

    It’s not an accident that Denmark, which re-designed an approach to globalization, also innovated when facing the coronavirus pandemic by “freezing the economy.”

    A century ago the Nordics’ political economy, which was free market capitalism, did not earn people’s trust and therefore didn’t get it. True, those countries were small and homogeneous, but the common people’s trust in their system was in the toilet, as surveys find that our trust is today. Enough Nordic people rose up against their establishments to shift the power and create a different, trustworthy system.

    Fareed Zakaria, however, doesn’t believe they have a different system. In his Washington Post column “Bernie Sanders’s Scandinavian Fantasy” he observes, correctly, that the Nordics have some characteristics that are found in free market capitalism. His article then focuses on individual aspects of the Nordic model rather than looking at the system as a whole. That prevents him from seeing that the Nordics like to design their systems to prevent problems that, in the United States, we’ve tried to come up with specific remedies to correct.

    The minimum wage is one such remedy. Classic capitalism doesn’t include a minimum wage because it interferes with the free market. The labor movement, rebelling against workers’ poverty, demanded the minimum wage. Our economic elite accepted it — late and grudgingly — and is still fighting against those calling for a standard of $15 per hour.

    The Nordic countries don’t have a legislated minimum wage. Aha, cries Zakaria. They must be free market economies!

    He doesn’t even try to explain how it can be that in Copenhagen, McDonald’s hamburger flippers earn $20 per hour. This is characteristic of his article: By focusing on individual features, Zakaria misses the system. As the old saying goes, he “can’t see the forest for the trees.”

    We can understand the Danish hamburger flipper and the high wages of all workers if we stand back and look at the Scandinavian forest. We notice the very high density of union membership there, and also the Nordic model’s commitment to full employment. In that kind of system, if McDonald’s wants to sell hamburgers in Copenhagen, they’ll have to pay to get the workers.

    The Nordics love design that enhances good living through incentives. That happens at many points in their system, which is why they get high marks in the business world for relative “freedom from regulation.” You don’t need to over-regulate, bogging down the system in bureaucracy, if you have an overall design that incentivizes good behavior.

    It especially helps if people’s movements have already won so many battles with the economic elite that they’ve won a democratic system. Matt Bruenig, who also responded to Zakaria’s column, helps us to see the forest, writing, “In Finland, it is the business lobby that pleads for the creation of a minimum wage and the unions that repeatedly slam the idea as a right-wing ploy meant to undermine the wages of workers. The lack of minimum wage is not because of market liberalism. It’s because the labor institutions in the country are so far left that the minimum wage is seen as conservative by comparison.”

    While many capitalist enterprises are alive and well in Finland, they also have a widespread co-operative movement. In fact, there are more member-owners of co-ops than there are Finns!

    Considering how important globalization is in today’s economic world, Zakaria’s complete misunderstanding of the Nordics is mind-boggling. It is caused, once again, by his fascination with individual trees and an inability to see the forest.

    He’s right that globalization has left most nations engaged in a “race to the bottom,” in which jobs are moved from one country to another to exploit workers and the environment.

    The Nordics at first tried to keep jobs at home by subsidizing their corporations to keep factories open. Denmark, pessimistic about that strategy’s viability, made a major change. The government, instead of subsidizing corporate owners, re-directed its resources to the workers.

    When a factory closed, Danish workers received from the government a very high percentage of their wages while re-training for other available jobs or going back to school, including their famously free universities. Of course workers retained health care (universal), pension payments (universal) and other supports. They also got a relocation grant if their new job was in another part of the country.

    New jobs keep appearing in Nordic countries because they are far more supportive of start-ups than the free market capitalist United States. The title of Inc.’s report on entrepreneurs got it right: “In Norway, Start-ups Say ‘Ja’ to Socialism.”

    The result is something called “flexicurity”: continued high employment in high-paying quality jobs, with both start-ups and the workforce keeping pace with technology and global trends.

    Zakaria, writing about such a complex and sophisticated re-design of the Nordic model, sees only one thing: corporate investment in Danish factories is freed up to be reinvested. Free capital is the tree he sees, so score one for free market capitalism and zero for “Bernie’s socialism.”

    Without Bernie’s socialism, however, there wouldn’t be flexicurity. The Dutch deserve credit for the first draft of the idea, but the more socialist Denmark strengthened it considerably. We learn also from the next series of events: Sweden and Norway quickly picked up on flexicurity. The European Union recommended it without success to its member states. The United States also took a pass, as we’ve seen in the Rust Belt where Donald Trump picked up the electoral votes needed to win in 2016.

    Contrary to Zakaria’s conclusion, flexicurity reveals another systemic divide between the Nordics and the countries committed to free enterprise. It results from the Nordic model’s deep commitment to the well-being of workers.

    Previous Coverage
  • As coronavirus opens the door to big changes, the left’s most attractive vision faces pushback
  • I don’t think it’s an accident that the Denmark that re-designed an approach to globalization also innovated when facing the coronavirus pandemic by “freezing the economy.” Nor that the Nordics are in the vanguard in responding to the climate crisis.

    Nordic corporations that free up capital by closing factories sometimes take it to the Global South and invest it there. I don’t believe Zakaria would approve of the response from the socialist-inclined Norwegians: a law requiring Norwegian corporations operating abroad to live up to the same (very high) standards for treatment of workers and environment that they must adhere to at home. The law empowers individual Norwegians to become whistle-blowers.

    Still Viking at heart, Norwegians (and other Nordics) love to travel. Imagine you’re a Norwegian tourist visiting Chile, and you learn that there are Norwegian-owned fish farms there. Curious, you visit, and discover that the farms are polluting the water, or underpaying the workers or forgetting about occupational health and safety.

    When you return home you visit the government-supported nonprofit that monitors corporate behavior abroad and report what you learned. The agency investigates and — if it finds that you are correct — forces the corporation to make amends and change its behavior.

    Holding capital accountable is in line with the thinking of Nobel-winning Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal, who almost a century ago argued that capitalism’s design had its priorities upside-down. It made the well-being of capital most important and gave labor the job of supporting capital. Myrdal argued that the priority needs instead to be the well-being of workers and farmers who produce the wealth. Capital’s job is to support the common good.

    This turning-upside-down of priorities is fundamental to the success of the Nordic model and explains both how different it is from free market capitalism and why it is so much more successful.

    Getting there is the hardest part, as it was for the Nordics too

    The New York Times recently published an op-ed headlined, “Finland is a Capitalist Paradise.”

    Here Finnish journalist Anu Partanen, who wrote the delightful book “The Nordic Theory of Everything,” partners with her American husband Trevor Corson to tell us why they have a much better life in Helsinki than in Brooklyn. Theirs is a glowing account: “What we’ve experienced is an increase in personal freedom.”

    What’s problematic about their article is how their description gets in the way of us actually gaining that personal freedom here in the United States.

    For starters, their branding is an issue. Who imagines a free market “capitalist paradise” to have a government that owns nearly a third of the nation’s wealth, or has one in three workers employed by the state, or features major state-owned enterprises?

    The authors are right to say that many capitalist enterprises are alive and well in Finland, but they ignore the widespread vitality of the cooperative movement: There are more member-owners of co-ops than there are Finns!

    The average adult is a member of two co-ops. Finns, like their Scandinavian neighbors, have employee-owned as well as customer-owned enterprises. They use co-op banks, department stores, hotels, groceries and insurance companies. In a country larger than the United Kingdom, there’s a co-op within two miles of everyone.

    Partanen and Corson also leave out the full story of struggle accounting for how Finland became such a happy place. (2020 is Finland’s third year in a row at the top of the international happiness ratings.)

    Previous Coverage
  • US opinion is shifting in favor of the Nordic model — can activists keep up?
  • To their credit, the authors — alone among the writers discussed in my previous two articles — reveal what happened in the bad old days when the capitalists were fully in the saddle. As in the other Nordic countries, Finnish people were oppressed, rebelled and were met with violence.

    Unlike the people’s movements in other Nordic countries, some Finns turned to violence, and the struggle became civil war. The authors tell what happened in 1918: “After months of fighting, the capitalists and conservatives crushed the socialist uprising. More than 35,000 people lay dead. Traumatized and impoverished, Finns spent decades trying to recover and rebuild.”

    The good news is that, despite the victory by the Finnish economic elite, it was unable to prevent a gradual resurgence of the labor unions. By the 1950s, as Tatu Ahponen recently explained in Jacobin, unions organized a nationwide 10-day metalworkers’ strike. They then organized a general strike of half a million workers. Both forced major concessions.

    Finland created a publicly-funded (mainly through taxes) health care system that gets good marks in international ratings. Today, for example, the United States allows substantially more of its citizens to die for lack of health care than does Finland, in relation to differences in population size. The numbers on preventable deaths show a grisly comparison between the capitalist, profit-driven approach to health care in the United States and the Nordic model.

    The new form of centrist resistance to a manifestly better system is to refuse to name it as different.

    The decade from 1966-76 became a “catch-up time” for Finland, with the unions pushing hard and the largest political party — the Social Democrats — able to win more of the elements that other Nordic countries already enjoyed: annual national wage negotiations, universal elementary education, universal day care and the like.

    By downplaying the recent decades of struggle between the classes in Finland, the authors present a picture of enlightened capitalists welcoming a win/win in paradise. That could mislead Americans who long for the degree of justice, personal freedom and equality that the Nordics enjoy.

    Finns, like us now, needed to struggle. They organized people’s movements that rebuilt the political economy so it reliably comes through for them, and therefore builds social trust.

    They are not done. The labor movement’s power now represents 90 percent of the workers. The new Social Democratic prime minister, 34-year-old Sanna Marin, suggested in January a new goal: a flexible six-hour work day and four-day work week. She stimulated a vigorous national debate that caught the eye of Forbes, which noted the stress due to overwork experienced by many Americans.

    The debate over models helps us prepare for the pandemic and climate crises

    Centrist Democrats want us to believe that the present American political economy deserves our loyalty. They say “yes” to liberal reforms that leave the system intact: equal wages for women, more educational opportunity for people of color, universal pre-school for children and expanded Obamacare.

    Never perfect, the Nordic struggle is available to witness. What they learned is ours to use.

    At the same time they’ve consistently said “no” to measures that make it easier to organize unions and ending subsidies for fossil fuels — even when they controlled the White House and both houses of Congress. This is because those changes would mess with our economic model’s intention to put profit first. Even in the midst of the pandemic and its exposure of our inadequate, profit-driven health care system, their loyalty to the free market prevails.

    The writers critiqued in this series don’t want to call the economy shared by the Scandinavian countries “democratic socialism” or “social democracy,” or even, as academic economists often do, “the Nordic model.”

    Their new form of centrist resistance to a manifestly better system is to refuse to name it as different. This way of defending the status quo reminds me of how homophobia manifested itself to me as a young gay man urged to stay in the closet: “We’re happy to accept your contribution, but we don’t want to know who you are.”

    As many oppressed peoples have learned, naming something and giving it an identity increases its power. People address reality in a new way. The difference becomes an alternative. Naming suggests that “another world is possible.” The refusal of a name reflects profound resistance.

    The U.S. economic elite shows no more inclination to find a win/win than the Nordics’ elites did in their day. Over there, most people who wanted change realized they would simply have to fight, and they knew they were not fighting for just a laundry list of good ideas: It was an alternative system they were aiming for.

    Outside Scandinavia, we can allow ourselves to be inspired by knowing the results of their fight so far — results they couldn’t be sure would come about. The economic elite lost its dominance and the people won a historic level of health and security, democracy, economic justice and individual freedom.

    Now they innovate to lead the world in meeting pandemics and climate adaptation. Never perfect, their struggle is available to witness. What they learned is ours to use.

    Calais: Coronavirus, housing and deportations

    House Occupation News -

    For more than two weeks now, France has been on lock-down. With most French people unable to leave their homes, migrants in Calais are still being evicted from theirs. Human Rights Observers in Calais have counted 45 deportations since March 17th. A police union, Synergie-Officiers, has called for an end to these daily deportations, but the department and prefecture still insist they continue. The PAF (Police Aux Frontiers) have stopped carrying out these daily deportations in the city, initially retreating to their work in the detention centre. This just means different cops do them (CRS and Gendarmerie).

    The crisis that is the states’ response to the coronavirus pandemic does not show any signs of letting up. Additional powers are being granted to states from now. As one example (stay aware of others) of the state using the pandemic to meet its goals that could not otherwise be easily achieved, Greece used it to justify evicting many families from the Politechnio squat.

    In Calais, health and sanitation have already been used as excuses for deportations. Despite a later ruling against the closing of shops and restaurants in the jungle, armed police seized food, water, gas, cigarettes in 2016, under pretext of “sanitary control.” Calling it a humanitarian intervention, in 2014, the state evicted about 650 people because of scabies and sanitation. Neither then nor now, the state took responsibility for creating these conditions for people or gave solutions.

    Mayor Bouchart has been pressing the national government to permanently clear migrants from the city, although not doing anything herself to try and get people off of Calais’ streets and into actual housing. Now, a new shelter is opening in Pas de Calais during the ‘confinement generale’ where migrants will go (from Calais and Grand Synthe).

    On Tuesday, associations came to the camps with government officials, distributing information. A bus from the Prefecture took some people (limited to 14 per bus, on a first come basis) to the shelter. Due to concerns over two individuals exhibiting symptoms, everybody was turned away on arrival to the center and sent back to Calais. The buses will continue. It is unclear what the shelter entails, what will happen to people after the confinement period when the centers close. It is clear that there is not enough place to house everyone.

    Refugees related groups:

    Calais Migrant Solidarity

    Brighton: Another illegal eviction

    House Occupation News -

    Yesterday (1 April) the DiY Kodak Collective (previously on S!N) were again illegally evicted from a building. This is the second time in a week. This time it was a squatted basement flat, part of the complex which used to be the Hostelpoint at Pool Valley coach station in central Brighton.

    Three men claiming to be the owners came by at noon to threaten violence unless the squatters left by 9am on 2 April. They then came back at 7pm the same day with a sledgehammer and smashed their way in. While they did so, a passerby flagged down a police car. Instead of arresting the angry men brandishing a sledgehammer, the police entered the squat, quoting PACE 17 which is complete nonsense. The legal warning was on the door stating that anyone using force to enter was breaking the law. No-one wanted to stay and wait for more violence to come, so we decided to leave.

    As a sidenote, none of the four police or three other men wore any masks or gloves, and they weren’t social distancing. Also, we’ve lost a lot of stuff in this eviction. It’s no surprise that owners act like thugs or that police don’t respect the law. It is a shame that local media create an atmosphere where this can happen by happily reporting on the illegal eviction of the former Globe pub a week ago.

    Thanks to Canary and Freedom for publishing decent news.

    Thanks to all our supporters!

    Solidarity to all squatters!

    DiY Kodak Collective
    (link to fundraiser)

    Meet the civil rights activist jailed in Singapore over a Facebook post

    Waging Nonviolence -

    The day before presenting himself at the High Court to be taken to prison on March 31, Jolovan Wham was running errands for some friends in town. He seemed relaxed and cheerful, as he usually is.

    “Of course there’s still some degree of nervousness,” he said about his impending short stint behind bars. “But ever since I was arrested in 2017, I have been preparing for this day … so that’s why the effects, the stress, are not so great.”

    Wham will be serving a week in jail, and — while it’s his first time — it’s likely not going to be his last. The civil rights activist still has a number of other cases against him, largely to do with his involvement in “illegal assemblies.”

    These events, deemed so offensive by the state, would hardly merit comment in many other countries: an indoor panel discussion on civil resistance to which Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong Skyped in, a silent protest on an MRT train to draw attention to the issue of detention without trial in Singapore, and a 15-minute candlelight vigil outside Changi Prison the night before the morning execution of a death row inmate.

    Wham’s willingness to resort to direct action, despite the risk of arrest and prosecution, sets him apart even from the majority of Singaporean civil society.

    While he’s already been convicted for the first event mentioned above (but is in the midst of an appeal), the other two charges have yet to even go to trial. There’s also an ongoing investigation into yet another alleged illegal protest, involving him posing for a photo outside the State Courts holding a sign in solidarity with two other Singaporeans charged with criminal defamation.

    Under Singapore law, there’s only one park in the entire country in which Singaporean residents are allowed to assemble without prior permission. While one can technically apply to the police for a permit to protest, it’s highly unlikely that any such permit will be granted. In this environment, Wham is an anomaly.

    A long-time activist for migrant workers’ rights, he’s since branched out to work on the issue of civil liberties (or lack thereof) in Singapore, drawing attention to matters like freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. His willingness to resort to direct action, despite the risk of arrest and prosecution, sets him apart even from the majority of Singaporean civil society.

    This time, Wham’s trip to Singapore’s Changi Prison is a choice: He’d been sentenced to a fine of $3,500 after the courts found that a Facebook post, in which he’d compared the independence of Singapore’s judiciary unfavorably with its Malaysian counterpart, was in contempt of court. Wham refused to pay the fine, deciding to serve a week in prison instead.

    “Some people have said that it is unnecessary [to choose prison over the fine], because I have already raised awareness of the issue through the court case. So what’s the point of going to prison then?” he said of the comments he’s received from friends and acquaintances.

    “I think going to prison is a continuation of the resistance. To say that you do not accept the legitimacy of the judgment,” he continued. “And this is basically me saying ‘fuck you’ to the establishment. I think there’s value in this kind of resistance … there’s something good and noble about wanting to sacrifice and do something for what you believe in.”

    Previous Coverage
  • Protest culture in Singapore — wait, what?
  • The Singapore establishment isn’t exactly used to someone who would so actively and unapologetically give them the finger. The same ruling party has been in power since 1959, and over the years civil resistance campaigns or movements have been clamped down on and isolated, weeded out of society. Today, a more petitionary system exists, made up of “proper channels” to send feedback up to technocratic policymakers in the hopes that they’ll take your proposal into consideration and work it into their own plans. Tactics like protesting are seen as disruptive and destructive, and activists are often dismissed as noise-makers and rabble-rousers, a “lunatic fringe” that’s just making trouble for trouble’s sake.

    “It’s not making trouble for the sake of it, because when you do something like that [civil disobedience, or choosing to go to prison], you force it into the public consciousness,” Wham insisted. “Actions like these cast a spotlight on the injustice. And you can, of course, cast a spotlight on injustice by writing articles, you can have discussions. I don’t see anything wrong with these things — of course we can do that — but going to jail helps to magnify it, and forces you, provokes you to think.”

    In doing all this, Wham sees himself not as a popular figure, but someone in the vanguard of pushing boundaries. “I’m not expecting support from the majority of Singaporeans, that’s for sure,” he said. “But I think it’s precisely because these kinds of things don’t get support that it’s important to do them.”

    Essentially, activists like Wham aren’t interested in waiting for the “right” time to participate in direct action. Questions of whether it’s the “right” time or the “right” strategy or whether Singaporeans are “ready” for such “radical” action are common in Singapore, even among activists. They’re sometimes legitimate questions about movement-building and trying to get as many people on their side as possible, but they can also become an easy crutch to rationalize an unwillingness to take greater risks or offend the powerful. Being able to tell the difference between one motivation and another — or, on an even more basic level, to realize that this tension between savviness and fear exists — lies at the heart of the Singaporean activists’ internal struggle.

    “Change doesn’t really come because a majority of people want it,” Wham explained. “But it always starts with a minority of people who push for it, and then eventually it gathers momentum, and then change comes. This could take years. It could take decades. But I don’t think you do it because you want to see it happen in the short-term, or maybe even in your lifetime.”

    Interestingly, the Singapore establishment itself is likely aware of the potential power of even small acts of resistance. Under consecutive People’s Action Party administrations, civil liberties have been restricted and the freedom of assembly curbed to the point that even solo protests can breach public order laws. Recently, two young people, aged 18 and 20, were called in by the police for interrogation after they separately posted photos of themselves in public places holding up signs drawing attention to the climate crisis and the presence of Big Oil in Singapore as part of the local chapter of the Fridays For Future movement.

    “It shows that such actions can be very powerful,” Wham said of the authorities’ response to the young climate strikers. “The fact that the state is so eager to clamp down on even one person protesting shows that they know the power of public protests and public assembly … That’s why more Singaporeans should be empowered to do this, so that you can realize the goals and your aims and your aspirations for your community.”

    Wham holding a smiley face sign after climate activists were arrested for holding signs at the same location. (Twitter/Jolovan Wham)

    To express solidarity, days before he was due to go to prison, Wham headed down to the same spot that one of the climate strikers had been photographed in. Wearing a blue surgical mask — just like the original protester had — Wham, too, held up a cardboard sign. But instead of carrying any political message, all that had been drawn on the sign was a smiley face.

    “I wanted to inject some humor into protests. It’s not just about angry people, foaming and frothing at the mouth,” Wham said, bursting into laughter again at the idea. “[The smiley face] is also a symbol. It shows that we come in peace. We’re not just troublemakers. Underlying the request for change is that we want people to be happy. We want people to have fulfilling and enriching lives. So there’s nothing wrong with fighting for what you want for the betterment of the community.”

    This time, by choosing to go to prison, Wham hopes to erode some of the fear that presents such a solid barrier to many other Singaporeans. In a country where activists can generally carry out their work with relatively little worry for their physical safety — unlike many other countries, including those neighboring Singapore, there are no reports of activists being kidnapped, brutalized or even murdered — the threat of prosecution, fines and jail time can still be a great obstacle for many people to get over.

    The social stigma against going to prison is one major factor. “Whenever we talk about prison, we think about people who are criminals, who may find it hard to get a job in the future, who may not even be able to travel,” Wham pointed out. It might not be just prison itself that scares activists — who, for the most part in Singapore, will only be doing this on the side, while having to hold on to day jobs — but the implications of having a criminal record and being seen as an ex-convict, and the thought that this would limit future options.

    “I think that these fears are exaggerated,” Wham said. “There are lots of people who have been convicted in the court of law who’ve gone to jail, but have had successful careers, have been able to find a job, still can raise families, still can travel.”

    To him, it’s important to demonstrate that spending time in jail for your cause and belief isn’t a stain on your personal history, but a legitimate part of activism. At the end of the day, it’s about showing, through your own actions and choices, that such possibilities exist.

    A version of this article has also been published by We, The Citizens, a newsletter covering Singapore politics, democracy, civil society and social justice.

    UK: Evictions held over, hotels for the homeless — Covid is upending housing

    House Occupation News -

    The legal situation has been changing so rapidly that even full-timers are struggling to keep up, but with the introduction of Practice Direction 51Z it looks like eviction proceedings are finally off the table for now and we have time to take stock of what is now utterly uncharted territory in British housing.

    Minutes after I’d finished an article regarding the situation regarding squats and ongoing evictions in Britain the information became outdated, as emergency procedural changes were brought in by the government, in theory protecting everyone, squatters, renters, and the street homeless, from the risks of being out on the streets during this period. Let’s explore what each of these measures might realistically mean.

    Up until this moment, the government had promised a three-month breather for mortgage repayments, and then – under pressure – caved and stated that tenants who fail to pay rent will be protected from eviction for the next three months. This does not mean a lot in practice, as the rent still needs to be paid, and agreements for doing so settled on. Under a regular Section 8 eviction for renters there is a two-month notice period anyway, thus the Coronavirus Act 2020 only grants a further four weeks notice. This still leaves many in hugely stressful positions, knowing that come the end of the grace period there will be a lot of landlords looking to make up for lost time in pursuing possession orders.

    Squatters were (again, until now) not considered part of the equation. The Pie ‘n’ Mash Autonomous Cafe in South London was evicted on the day it was to become the first Mutual Aid Centre (following the rise of the autonomously-organised Mutual Aid groups to assist people affected by the coronavirus) — the same day that it was announced that renters would be protected from eviction. Multiple evictions took place in the following days across the country, including the brutal eviction of a squatted homeless shelter in Brighton just days ago, seemingly a rush by owners and bailiff companies to finish their business in the case that the government prevented them from doing so in the future. More cases were confirmed to go ahead in the court system, even as the courts closed services, and challenges launched by the Advisory Service for Squatters fell on the deaf ears of the particularly anti-squatter judges.

    A leak from a property management company to the newspapers also showed that owners were also keen to push through as many rental evictions as possible before it became too difficult to do, and as a result were hiring more and more bailiffs to carry out the evictions before total lockdown. Bailiffs are not known for their empathy, and across the nation evictions took place, with those executing them happy to remove people from their homes while wearing protective face masks and rubber gloves.

    However, as of March 27th, under the instruction of the Master of the Rolls a new civil procedural rule was brought into place – Practice Direction 51Z. PD 51Z came in with immediate effect, putting a 90-day stay on all possession proceedings, seemingly including squatting cases, as they are somewhat inseparable from other trespassing cases. The question still remains as to whether a writ that has already been issued in the High Court can still be enforced by the bailiff companies (the High Court Enforcement Officers Association believe they can be). On top of this, there is the risk that without a legal framework in place, there is the possibility of a rise in illegal evictions as landlords take matters into their own hands (one person in an organising whatsapp chat already had the locks changed on them).

    And of those who sleep on the street? New instruction from central government on the same day was that all local councils were to take responsibility for housing every rough sleeper in their borough, whether in hostels, hotels, or night shelters. This request came without any guarantee of funding of reimbursement. With some night shelters closing down due to their communal nature and therefore risk of contracting the virus, the council would be left to financially convince hotels and the like to remain open. Previously grassroots organisations managed to wrangle beds for rough sleepers in the Islington borough, but the reality is (having spoken with some people working with them) that with lack of access to funds a lot of the people offered places just ended up back on the streets anyway as that is what is familiar to them, and it’s how people get money. Presumably the same issues will arise in simply ordering that every homeless person be housed this weekend. Without addressing the wider issues it fails to actually solve the problem.

    So we are left with a situation that has some promise of safety and security for the crisis period, but let’s not give credit to the government, who only took these certain steps after massive pressure from the public. It all leaves a lot to be desired. Rent arrears, illegal evictions, and continued homelessness. What can be done then, or is being done?

    Across the country Mutual Aid groups have sprung up, to coordinate assistance between neighbourhoods during this time. Some groups have been procuring items for NHS workers, others for those in isolation, or who are sleeping rough and don’t have access to necessary goods.

    The London Renters Union is organising to provide support and build pressure to have rents frozen. A separate affiliation of anarchist groups have pushed for a Rent Strike in London (sorry for the London-centric info, use your local Mutual Aid group to find or organise a rent strike in your area!). Joining these groups and their actions is important, but organising within your local housing community is also just important, as these things can only work with a reliance on the people around us.

    Shelter has provided a good guidance sheet regarding your housing rights during this period, and is worth a read.

    With the 90-day break on eviction proceedings, squatters are looking to open up more buildings in the hope that they can be used to house safely those that need to isolate more extremely during this period, whether from other squats or people who are street homeless. In Berlin anarchists and squatters achieved this on Saturday 28th as part of the Housing Action Day 2020.

    The important thing that we must take from all this is that we can’t just write this off as a crisis to be recovered from, to get back to normal. The system is broken and we need to create new ways of living, of fighting. In 3 months time we don’t want everyone to face an inevitability of mass evictions as landlords seek to make up for lost time and money. We must build strong relationships with people in our local areas, create and strengthen networks to resist evictions, and move forward with a conviction that all should be housed including the homeless.

    Groups in London:
    Events in London:

    Groups in UK:
    Events in UK:

    Freedom News

    Berlin: 12 places squatted

    House Occupation News -

    #StayAtHome is not possible for everyone in times of Covid19. Especially if you are homeless. That’s why we squatted one Airbnb, 9 empty apartments and 2 houses in Berlin and gave them for those who need a safe place.
    Solidarity will win!
    #besetzen @besetzenberlin

    South Africa: Evictions mark first day of national lockdown

    House Occupation News -

    Even as police let loose with rubber bullets and beatings against shoppers yesterday in an effort to enforce the new national Covid-19 lockdown, in Durban they were turfing people into the street.

    The eThekwini municipality evicted residents from the Ekuphumeleleni settlement near Shallcross in Ward 17 on Friday when, at 2pm, nine vehicles linked to Calvin Security arrived at the contested site, which was first established as a land occupation in October 2019, to tear down people’s homes. No court order was produced and residents say the evictions were illegal and criminal, as well as being in violation of rules governing the national state of disaster.

    Eight shacks were torn down while 17 others were marked with an “X” and “ABM” indicating that Calvin Security are planning to come back to evict again. The building materials for the eight shacks that were destroyed were pulverised and left in small pieces. A number of people have been left with injuries.

    The community in Ekuphumeleleni had occupied a number of vacant Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) houses following gross corruption in the allocation process. The community say they took the action after all other attempts to address blatant malpractice in the allocation process had failed. After the occupation however the municipality refused to allow services to be provided, so it was decided instead to self-organise connections to water and electricity. The Municipality had tried to evict the community but the movement was able to prevent the eviction.

    Under the latest guidelines published on March 25th, the government notes that every person should be confined to their place of residence and that the State must identify and provide hygienic temporary space to self-isolate. for anyone who is homeless.

    The eThekwini municipality however has defied the national call for social-distancing during the state of disaster issued by President Cyril Ramaphosa. They have also refused to follow recommendations by the Minister of Justice for a moratorium on all evictions, and ignored calls by the UN Special Rapporteur on Housing to ban evictions worldwide during the crisis.

    In a statement, land housing campaign Abahlali baseMojondolo said:

    “To our knowledge the eThekwini municipality has become the first state organ to break the law and all the precautionary measures that the President of the country has directed all of us to obey. The eThekwini Municipality is a gangster municipality that has no regard for the law and consistently engages in violent attacks against impoverished people.

    “Last week similar unlawful evictions were carried out by eThekwini municipality in a number of settlements and people were injured. On Sunday Calvin Security were demolishing in Ekuphumeleleni. One of our members was hospitalised after this eviction when a Calvin Security employee hit him on the forehead with a spade.

    “The government tells us that we must all stay inside our homes during this health crisis and yet, at the same time, they are demolishing the homes of impoverished people. This makes no sense.

    “It is not possible for us to trust a municipality that destroys our homes during a crisis like this. We are left with no choice but to continue to resist oppression during this crisis. We will organise our resistance in the safest possible way, but we will resist. We are currently experimenting with holding meetings online via cellphone apps, and have already consulted our lawyers. Of course, people whose homes have been destroyed now have no other choice other than to reoccupy and to rebuild.

    “[On Friday] a taxi driver who had loaded 16 people in his taxi was arrested. A butchery owner was also arrested for raising prices during the crisis. We call on the national government to act decisively against the recklessness and cruelty of the eThekwini Municipality. If the national government is serious about what they have said they must also arrest the municipal officials who gave the order for this eviction, and the head of Calvin Security.”


    Thessaloniki: Authorities use COVID-19 lockdown to crack down on self-managed Vio.Me factory

    House Occupation News -

    While the Greek people are placed under quarantine due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the Greek authorities continue their agenda against the social movements in the country. The state has found the perfect timing to conduct its new attack on the self-managed Vio.Me. factory in Thessaloniki: early this morning, accompanied by two squads of riot police, employees of the state-owned electric company have cut off the power to the factory.

    The Vio.Me. factory has been operated directly by the workers since 2013 and from the beginning it has oriented itself towards ecological production at the cheapest possible price so as to show its solidarity to the crisis-stricken Greek society. As one of the brightest contemporary examples of economic direct democracy, the factory has been attacked by all governments (including the Left SYRIZA), but has persisted due to the strong grassroots support it enjoys.

    Now the right-wing New Democracy government has found the perfect setting in which to operate as all Greek citizens have been placed under lockdown, which requires certain paperwork to be filled before one can leave her home, or risk a fine.

    There are already several cases of this dirty strategy. On 15 of March, just two days since the lockdown was first introduced, police forces evicted refugees who were sheltered in the historic Politechnic University at the heart of the rebellious Exarcheia neighborhood. A few days later, on 19th March, the authorities arrested 11 Kurdish and Turkish left-wing political refugees.

    Everything shows that the State will use the opportunity given to it by the pandemic, not to help the thousands of sick people, but to increase the militarization of Greek cities and to deal with the social struggles that have been paralyzed by the lockdown. Now is the moment to show our solidarity and be vocal about the government’s excesses.

    Below is the announcement of Vio.Me. after the power shut-down:

    “The vampires of power acting in the dark found the “right” moment to cut off the power of the self-managed factory of Vio.Me. at 6:30 in the morning 30/3/20. They had the crane ready and with the support of 2 SWAT squads, which means a political command, they functioned like the Greek governments of the 50s who executed the fighters in the dark so that the people would not react. We also denounce the PPC “colleagues” who collaborated as executors in the same act.

    We demand the immediate reconnection of the power supply.

    And all this while we are in the process with the Ministry of Labor for the full legalization of self-managed factory of Vio.Me.

    And while they know that we produce personal and home hygiene products, which are of primary importance to society.

    In solidarity,
    Workers at SE Vio.Me

    Yavor Tarinski


    US opinion is shifting in favor of the Nordic model — can activists keep up?

    Waging Nonviolence -

    Surprisingly, for a mainstream daily newspaper, the Philadelphia Inquirer ended its March 22 editorial on the coronavirus by calling for system change, writing, “This crisis has laid bare some hard truths: that we’ve built a society that has removed protections for workers, supported the creation and growth of the gig economy, kept wages low and has continued to shrink basic supports for essential needs.”

    The editorial went on to call the COVID-19 epidemic “a public health emergency that has exposed the weaknesses inherent in the system as a whole,” and say “It’s clear the system will have to be rebuilt. We only hope that can begin in the near future.”

    A big-city, mainstream editorial board is talking “system change.” We activists need to be able to answer such an invitation not with piecemeal policies, but with a system alternative — one that delivers what the pandemic has shown that we need.

    The most attractive starting point in such a discussion, I’ve found, is the political economy of the Nordic countries. They’ve generated more shared prosperity, justice, climate adaptation and individual freedom than anybody.

    Previous Coverage
  • As coronavirus opens the door to big changes, the left’s most attractive vision faces pushback
  • In response to the coronavirus, Denmark reached into the socialist planning toolkit to take a bold economic initiative. The Danish plan to maintain jobs — which I described in my first article of this series — was lauded the next day by The New York Times!

    The editorial board prefers Denmark’s employment “freeze” strategy to that of the U.S. government’s bailout approach, which has an almost-equivalent price tag. The editorial’s headline is a direct challenge to Congress: “Why Is America Choosing Mass Unemployment?

    It can be hard for activists to keep track of how the ground is shifting beneath our feet, giving us a new opportunity. Some of us who want more radical change than the Nordics have so far achieved may fall back on our critiques of those countries: not racing fast enough to zero carbon emissions, still retaining armies, not yet fully empowering workers in firms outside the coop sector.

    But the Scandinavians are the first to tell you they don’t live in utopia, and radicals there work to leap even farther ahead. Consider the remarkable initiative of Greta Thunberg.

    In the United States, where activists are embedded in a climate-denying empire that structures in poverty and entrenched domination by the economic elite, the awakening of our fellow citizens to the possibility of something much, much better offers a breakthrough moment.

    It’s in the interests of the 1 percent that we not use the Nordic model as a way to talk about vision. They’ve watched with alarm the growing public appeal of Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, which are partial versions of the Nordic model. Especially now, they don’t want us to expand, to talk in an appealing way about system-change.

    Efforts to ‘head us off at the pass’

    Seeing the attractiveness of the Nordics to Americans, liberal establishment pundits have been swinging into action. In the first article of this series I described their new rhetorical strategy. Here, I want to analyze another example of that strategy: a famous journalist — Thomas Friedman of The New York Times — claiming that “Joe Biden, not Bernie, Is the True Scandinavian.”

    Through evidence-based planning, the Nordics almost abolished poverty, while the free-market United States, mired in poverty for all its wealth, has an establishment that vetoes what works.

    Co-optation seems to be the goal of Friedman’s recent column. He argues that the United States and Nordic countries already share the same model: a market economy. He acknowledges that Denmark, for example, has a superior social safety net compared to ours, but sees such an arrangement within our reach if led by liberals like Biden who believe in the wealth-producing character of free enterprise.

    In his column, Friedman doesn’t explain why Denmark — with historically far less wealth than the United States — has enjoyed its safety net for over half a century while the United States doesn’t even try to build it here. Biden, for example, opposes the Danish single-payer healthcare system for Americans despite its consistently superior results.

    A false choice

    Friedman demands that Bernie Sanders choose either the free enterprise system or central planning, i.e. “socialism.” By posing this either/or, Friedman claims something he wouldn’t do in describing an automobile: Cars must be powered either by gasoline or by electricity — no hybrids allowed.

    Happily for Nordic economists, Friedman’s either/or is a false choice. Nordics mix what they see as the positive features of both approaches. They believe a market for trading some goods and services can be a good thing; it’s flexible and doesn’t ask planners to be God. For some purposes, like health care, a market is terrible. Be pragmatic: Research to find out where the market can be useful.

    Planning is also a good thing, because it can set goals that support the well-being of the whole, and can structure the market in a way that prevents it from wrecking people’s lives.

    In actual free market countries like the United States, the client is capital. In the Nordic model, however, the client is the common good, as expressed through democratic discussion and decision.

    For example, the Nordics redesigned their economies with a goal of abolishing poverty, realizing, as I show in a chapter in my book “Viking Economics,” that no one method will do the job. They replaced means-tested services — what we call “welfare” — with universal services, and a whole lot else besides. Through evidence-based planning, they’ve almost abolished poverty, while the free-market United States, mired in poverty for all its wealth, has an establishment that vetoes what works.

    In another example of planning, the Norwegians distinguish between what they call the “real economy” and the financial sector. Norway designed its hybrid so its stock market stays small and can’t distort the real economy. There’s also the precaution of Norwegian public entities like governments owning about a third of the stock market.

    Norway refuses to join the European Union partly because of EU loyalty to the free market. Norwegian family farmers would virtually disappear. A majority of Norwegians value their family farmers, for cultural reasons and food security.

    For the Nordics these are design decisions, like hybrids and plug-in cars are. A professional association of Nordic economists invited me to Norway to keynote their international conference, and I found them to be very pragmatic. They appeared to me to be people who would rather be like engineers or architects than preachers.

    Like architects, they ask their client what its priorities are. In actual free market countries like the United States, the client is capital. In the Nordic model, however, the client is the common good, as expressed through democratic discussion and decision.

    Friedman quotes former Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen saying at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, “I would like to make one thing clear: Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy.”

    In 1920 the Nordics genuinely had free market economies. The economic elites ran those countries, with no intention of giving up their privilege and dominant position.

    It’s strange to hear a Danish leader resort to that false dichotomy. But the Nordics are small countries trying to manage alliances with large countries in a complex world. Their spokespeople are usually diplomatic, minimizing differences and maximizing commonalities.

    Their political discourse is also quite different from ours because their spectrum is skewed to the left. To over-simplify a bit, among the major players in Nordic politics, the so-called “right wing” has the politics of the Democratic National Committee in the United States.

    I wish journalists reporting from the Nordic countries made that clear to U.S. listeners. After a Nordic election, when journalists report that “the political right gained seats in parliament,” it’s the equivalent of saying that “the election showed growing strength by moderate Democrats” in the United States.

    I remember a Norwegian Conservative Party leader telling me she wished Barack Obama were Norwegian since he would be a splendid member of her party.

    A century ago Denmark was, in truth, a free market economy, like the United States. Rasmussen’s modern-day political economy is hugely different from those days, but it’s understandable that he would minimize the difference from the United States when he was speaking at Harvard.

    Thomas Friedman claims the Nordic model is a triumph of evolution, not revolution, but the real story is quite different.

    Friedman tells us he was invited to a Danish retreat at the prime minister’s residence where he found “all the country’s stakeholders — corporate leaders, national union leaders, educators, social entrepreneurs and cabinet ministers” gathered to think together about the future of Denmark. He was amazed by a conversation that took into account the “balancing of all their interests” and wishes he could find that here.

    A century ago Friedman would not have found that assembly in the prime minister’s house. In 1920 the Nordics genuinely had free market economies. The economic elites ran those countries, with no intention of giving up their privilege and dominant position.

    Mass struggle created the Nordic model

    What changed? Friedman claims the Nordic model is a triumph of evolution, not revolution, but the real story is quite different.

    In Nordic history as in our own, the economic elite used every trick — even calling out the troops — to maintain its power and privilege. (See my description of the Danish mass struggle in my first article in this series.)

    Previous Coverage
  • How Swedes and Norwegians broke the power of the ‘1 percent’
  • The history of the largest of the Nordics, Sweden, also contradicts Friedman’s impression. In the early 1900s farmers organized co-ops and industrial workers organized unions. When Swedish employers decided to reduce wages in 1909, hundreds of thousands of workers resisted by going on strike, without success. Conflict continued between the rich, who made the decisions, and the farmers and workers, who were tired of insecurity, long work days and poverty. Unwilling to give up, socialist-inspired workers discussed their emerging vision of an alternative, just system — with input from outstanding economists like Nobel-prize winning Gunnar Myrdal.

    In 1931, in southern Sweden, 4,000 striking lumber mill workers picketed the owners and the political authorities who backed them. National soldiers were mobilized to crush the strike, killing five and injuring five more. Thousands attended funerals of the slain workers.

    The workers’ grief and outrage might have become a moment to turn to violence, but instead the alliance of labor unions called a massive general strike throughout Sweden. The government fell.

    An election was called and Swedes elected the Social Democrats in 1932, who began to implement the Swedish version of the hybrid Nordic model. They proceeded to lead the country almost without a break until 1976.

    In short, the conversation among stakeholders that Friedman enjoyed, now common in all Nordic countries, was made possible by successful nonviolent campaigns against the economic elite and the free market system that it owned. The common people and their allies, inspired by a democratic socialist vision, needed to generate a power shift that forced a compromise and the implementation of the hybrid model.

    If Friedman wants that enjoyable stakeholder conversation in the United States — and believes it won’t take a power shift — he first needs to read the Princeton “oligarchy study,” which found that the United States makes nearly all its major decisions according to the wishes of its economic elite. To import the hybrid Nordic model to this country, Friedman would find the same resistance here that the Scandinavians tackled there.

    I doubt that waging a nonviolent revolution to overthrow the dominance of the economic elite is what Joe Biden has in mind.

    The Rev Paul Nicolson – a campaigning life in letters

    The Guardian | Protest -

    ‘Rev Paul’, who died this month, wrote thousands of letters to newspapers campaigning against poverty. Many of them are republished below. Today, as his funeral takes place, many people will celebrate his life online with the hashtag #RevPaul

    For more than 20 years, one retired but indefatigable vicar, the Rev Paul Nicolson, sent thousands of letters for publication to newspapers – just one aspect of his work for two organisations that he set up to campaign against poverty: Z2K (the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust) and Taxpayers Against Poverty (TAP), which was launched by means of a letter in the Guardian.

    “Rev Paul”, as he was simply known to many, died suddenly at the start of this month. Plans for his funeral – which takes place today, 30 March 2019, in Tottenham, London – had to be scaled back because of the coronavirus outbreak, and so his children have asked those not able to be there to join them virtually on the day by posting online with the hashtag #RevPaul. Here is an extract from the message they sent out via TAP:

    Possibly the UK’s most social media-literate octogenarian, Dad was actively engaged with his supporters (and detractors) on social platforms, working with allies to improve the lives of those who are now most affected during this time of crisis. Therefore we feel it is fitting to give those not able to be with us at his funeral a voice via these channels.
    And you can join us. Do post on Facebook or Tweet or record a short video message answering one or more of these questions:
    • How should Rev Paul’s community respond to the current crisis?
    • How will you follow in Rev Paul’s footsteps?
    • How has Rev Paul touched your life?

    On Monday 30th March post your text or video tagging Dad’s Facebook and Twitter handles [Twitter: @taxpayers_a_p
    Facebook:] with the hashtag #RevPaul. Dad requested that people give to Z2K and TAP rather than buy flowers or cards so please include the link on all your posts.

    Related: Refusenik rev: the vicar ​whose council tax protest could put him in jail

    Related: Retired vicar loses case over non-payment of Haringey council tax

    Related: More freeloaders than free market. How Britain bails out the business chiefs | Aditya Chakrabortty

    Related: In the shadow of Spurs’ new stadium local residents fear for future | David Conn

    The following letter is the one that established Taxpayers Against Poverty.

    The following letter is the final one by #RevPaul that was published by the Guardian

    Continue reading...

    Brighton: Police and security firm evict people onto the streets in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic

    House Occupation News -

    Police and security guards have evicted a squatted homeless shelter, throwing people onto the streets as the coronavirus pandemic takes over the UK. The unbelievable eviction came one day after the government announced that people will be fined for not observing orders to stay at home.

    The eviction also took place just before the government announced that it has asked all local authorities to house rough sleepers.

    The eviction

    Brighton’s DIY Kodak Collective have been squatting commercial buildings since December 2019. They have been providing safe shelter for people who have no fixed address (NFA). The tiny city of Brighton has a staggering 665 empty commercial buildings. So the collective use some of these empty buildings to house themselves.

    But on Thursday 26 March, the police used force when apparently assisting security firm Resolve Security to evict the squat.

    The Kodak Collective’s Kate Barnes told The Canary:

    Without warning, and completely ignoring the posters on the building (which stated it was a legal occupation of a commercial building), they started attacking the front doors with crowbars and angle grinders.

    As they made their way in there was a struggle as people in the squat tried to stop them coming in, as they didn’t have legal grounds. One of the police officers knocked our disabled friend to the floor, and she has been in pain since. They also tore off the printed notices we’d stuck to the building.

    ‘Bypassing the proper legal procedures’

    The Kodak Collective is deeply concerned that the police and property owners are using the current crisis to ignore the law. Barnes stated:

    It seems like they’re using the halting of court cases at the moment to bypass the proper legal procedures and evict squatters without any prior warning. It is really hard for NFA people to self-isolate safely, so places like ours have offered a space to do so, where residents could be comfortable, look out for each other and receive outside support.

    The Canary asked both Sussex Police and Resolve Security if they would like to comment. The police force told us that it had very limited information because it was a civil matter. Resolve Security did not reply by the time of publication.

    The government isn’t doing enough

    The government announced funding of £3.2m on 17 March to help rough sleepers self-isolate. But as The Canary has already pointed out, this figure is dwarfed by the estimated £428bn bailout announced for British businesses.

    On 27 March, Sky News reported that:

    The Government has written to all local authorities in England asking them to house all people sleeping rough, those in hostels and night shelters by the weekend in a bid to protect people during the covid-19 outbreak.

    But this is only a temporary fix. Besides, government statistics of the number of people who are homeless are largely inaccurate. Barnes highlighted:

    Official stats around how many homeless people there are in one place are really untrustworthy. There are many homeless people who go uncounted and undocumented and they do not include people sofa-surfing, living in hostels and in emergency accommodation. Brighton and Hove council says that there are 88 homeless people in Brighton. But a couple of years ago a group organised by those in the NFA community counted more than 300 people.

    People don’t just need temporary accommodation for the duration of the pandemic, they need safe, secure, permanent homes. People often feel much safer in their own squats than they would a hostel.

    Protect squats

    The Kodak Collective told The Canary that the NFA community is “set to be hit the hardest by the Coronavirus pandemic.” She has urged the public to show solidarity when it’s most needed:

    We need strong community support and resistance against situations like this eviction, where people were thrown out of their home and onto the streets, putting them at greater risk. The government needs to take responsibility, not just for housing the NFA community, but for protecting their autonomy and rights.

    Squats are not mentioned under the new legislation, which suggests that the NFA community have been overlooked or simply deemed not worthy enough.

    The very least the government can do is to guarantee that people won’t be evicted from squatted homes. In the longer-term, the government needs to reassess its laws which criminalise squatting. Everyone has the right to a home, not just those who can pay for it.


    Berlin: “We will squat…

    House Occupation News -

    … until we no longer have to.” That’s what we have always said. In times of “emergency”, this wording can be expanded to an appeal: “You have to join in!”

    Covid-19 is hitting more and more areas of the world and it turns out that the so-called emergency is the rule. For, where people are called by the supposedly necessary and strict father state: “Stay at home!”, not everyone has a home. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the state itself has been pushing up for a long time the numbers of homeless by evicting them. At the same time, the state closes day-care centers that the homeless need for the measly bread of mercy and a little soap and water. In its brazen double standards, the state then exhorts patriarchally, “Pay attention to hygiene!”

    “Avoid social contacts!” That’s what the governments demand. But where should refugees retreat to, when they are penned up in camps and deportation prisons at Europe’s external borders and the German periphery? With human rights – such as asylum, freedom of movement and housing – they were also deprived of the opportunity to effectively protect themselves against Covid-19.

    The catastrophe in Germany is, that not even the last broken-down remnants of its healthcare system are accessible to everyone. It is a social farce that doctors*, paramedics* and nursing staff, who declared the state of emergency in healthcare long before Covid-19, were ignored. So, they are the least responsible for this emergency situation and therefore deserve our full solidarity. As in Italy, they will soon be forced to make decisions about who can live and who must die. That alone is catastrophic.

    The Catastrophe is called capitalism. And it’s the rule.

    For days now, tenants*, social organizations and social democratic parties have been demanding the confiscation of holiday homes and vacancies in order to make them available to the homeless and asylum seekers. While apartments offer the most effective protection against the corona virus, the city of Berlin has created 350 places in a youth hostel and a cold aid facility. Selling that as solidarity is cynical.

    In the current situation, the confiscation of empty apartments and buildings is a social duty.
    That’s why we will squat and you have to join in!

    Groups in Berlin
    Events in Berlin

    Groups in Germany
    Events in Germany


    Amid the coronavirus crisis, mutual aid networks erupt across the country

    Waging Nonviolence -

    As the first coronavirus cases came to Washington state, the government response was both slow and confused. That’s when community members knew they were going to have to build something themselves if they wanted to get through this pandemic.

    “We recognized that we couldn’t rely on our current systems in place and needed to take care of each other directly,” said Janelle Walter of Tacoma Mutual Aid Collective, an all-volunteer organization of community members sharing resources. Mutual aid means creating “a network that can be mobilized immediately, without needing permission.”

    Set right near the Puget Sound, Tacoma is a working-class city down the road from Seattle that does not have a large left-wing political scene like other West Coast metropolises. They were hit with the first wave of what would become a nationwide, and global, pandemic — shutting down social services, forcing people out of their jobs and leaving entire communities struggling to hold on. This was a crisis of catastrophic proportions that no one was prepared to deal with, and it came on like an avalanche over just a couple of days.

    “Human cooperation, solidarity, and communalism is built deep into our DNA, and mutual aid is just what that aspect of humanity looks like in practice.”

    The Tacoma Mutual Aid Collective formed quickly from people who wanted to create a strong system for supporting those most affected, and immediately started doing grocery and prescription pick-ups and deliveries for people who could not risk going out in public. They began a Saturday grocery and school supply distribution in front of the local McCarver Elementary School, where families could drive up, grab what they needed and head out without violating the new rules of “social distancing.” The goal was to listen to those they shared the neighborhoods with, to hear what people needed and to start a system of sharing.

    “Mutual aid is community,” Walter explained. “Relying on each other builds trust and capacity. It removes the need for paternalistic approaches to aid, like we see with nonprofits and other state programs. We are seeing mutual aid projects pop up all over — several here in Tacoma — and it’s because folks are realizing that our systems collapse in emergency situations, whether it be a pandemic or a natural disaster. Systems that are already inefficient and officials who are already incompetent are unable to meet basic human needs, so we need to take care of each other.”

    The community of helping

    The United States, the world’s largest economy, has been driven to a practical halt as every single state is dealing with outbreaks of a deadly coronavirus, called COVID-19. As the global death toll rises to the tens of thousands, and people are reminded of earlier flu pandemics that knocked percentage points off of the world’s population, governments have scrambled to figure out what the best course of action could be.

    This bureaucracy has left many communities behind, particularly as “shelter orders” come down and businesses close, leaving many people without income to support their families. This is one of the worst case scenarios for a public health threat, and most communities have been left to fend for themselves.

    The clarity of this situation has led people active in their community — some political and some simply looking for the best tools for survival — to start developing a series of “mutual aid” groups to help each other meet their basic needs.

    “Mutual aid is the idea that humans should help humans, even and especially outside any market forces,” said Breht O’Shea, of Nebraska Left Coalition, who also hosts the podcast “Revolutionary Left Radio.” “Human cooperation, solidarity and communalism is built deep into our DNA, and mutual aid is just what that aspect of humanity looks like in practice.”

    Mutual aid is the idea that when we support each other’s needs in a reciprocal relationship, but without obligation or exchange, we have the best chance to survive and flourish. Mutual aid projects have been a staple of radical social movements for decades — from food distribution services like Food Not Bombs to the “Survival Pending Revolution” programs of the Black Panthers, which included free health clinics and breakfast programs. When the state fails to meet the needs of the public, many communities will build resources themselves, and in doing so will build an alternative to the hierarchical bureaucracies of the government.

    An illustrated summary of our #WeGotOurBlock mutual aid training. (Twitter/Becca Barad)

    “Mutual aid is a reciprocal, respectful relationship, and it is distinct from charity or government programs,” said Devin Ceartas of Triangle Mutual Aid in Piedmont, North Carolina. Mutual aid avoids the bureaucratic inefficiencies we often see in governments and large non-governmental organizations, and instead hopes to build community. “Every event that stresses our system forces us to choose: Will we hoard toilet paper and sanitizer, bolt the door and embrace the National Guard enforcing curfews? Mutual aid chooses instead to plant gardens, pool our resources, prioritize those most in need,and protect those most vulnerable,” Ceartas continued.

    In almost every city around the United States mutual aid networks have started to form — ranging from projects for resource distribution to simple options like fundraising, compiling lists of resources and contacts, and creating “chat threads” so that people in the same area can stay in contact with one another. The speed with which these groups have arrived, and the depth of care that many of them offer, have started to show what options communities have when the large institutions around them fail, or are unwilling to deal with the disaster.

    Getting what we need

    The COVID-19 crisis is unlike many others because it affects everyone, shuts down business and government in a massive sweep and prevents us from coming together because of the risk of cross-infection. This has created an urgent need for resources that is massive in scope, including everything from medical supplies to food and childcare. This is why many of the groups that first formed focused on centralizing all the resources that were available, letting people know how to get a hold of each other and any services that are at their disposal. 

    “This project is serving as a hub or clearinghouse of information, as opposed to other organizations which are directly providing aid. We do not have the people, time or money to directly provide assistance, but we can help people find the resources that they need,” said Andy Rutto of NYC United Against the Coronavirus, which came together on March 12 to create a master resource document. “I believe we have already passed the point where our governments — at the city, state or national level — can adequately meet the needs of society under this ongoing coronavirus pandemic. That means that we will need to take care of each other, and we will need to keep each other safe.”

    Previous Coverage
  • Coronavirus is a historic trigger event — and it needs a movement to respond
  • COVID-19 can affect some people with underlying health conditions uniquely hard, so it is up to many people in the mutual aid organizations to volunteer to do errands for them, such as picking up and delivering groceries. Many of the organizations have created a system where volunteers can sign up to do specific duties or “shifts,” and then they connect the people in need with the people offering the aid.

    “Every day we are getting endless amounts of volunteers,” said Kevin Van Meter, who is working with the Benton County Family Response Team in Corvallis, Oregon. This mutual aid organization was started by the Coalition of Graduate Employees, a graduate student union at Oregon State University, which has been doing mutual aid work before this crisis to help support the struggling student workers. Now they have 150 volunteers ready to do runs, more than the requests coming in. “That’s probably changing now for the fact that this stuff is starting to shut down. People are having a stay at home order. The crisis is deepening in their own lives and now they have to lean on these services like never before,” Van Meter added.

    The Mutual Aid Network of Ypsilanti, or MANY, in Michigan, predated the crisis and was created by people involved with other organizations, including the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Mutual Aid Disaster Relief and the Industrial Workers of the World. MANY, which actually has a 501(c)3 status, was able to respond quickly to the pandemic because they had already been doing the work of building community connections in advance, doing support work for local food pantries and providing meals.

    Ypsilanti has faced the same tough economic circumstances that many cities in the Rust Belt have, with a 30 percent poverty rate and a 13 percent of students being homelessness. Before the coronavirus hit, the community was still grasping for resources that were not available through government programs.

    “Because we’ve spent the last year building intentionally, we plan on responding to the pandemic with the same slow-moving processes we’ve used to build this project out,” said Payton MacDonald, an organizer with MANY. “We are committed to a ‘solidarity, not charity’ approach to organizing and won’t claim to be the experts on mutual aid since we believe that it is an inherent part of life. It’s important to stress that we don’t ‘give’ mutual aid to the ‘less fortunate.’ Our existing programs are still taking off, and this global crisis is testing their limits.” 

    Health resources are particularly scarce, including basic sanitation tools, such as cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer, which were sold out in many places within days of the pandemic starting. In Portland, groups organized in a coalition, including the Democratic Socialists of America, Symbiosis, Pop Mob, and Portland Action Medics have begun a network that delivers resources and creates materials from scratch — including making their own hand sanitizer using a World Health Organization recipe.

    People’s Breakfast Oakland prepare hygiene packs for the houseless community. (Twitter/@BlakeDontCrack)

    “A really simple thing you can do is contribute to any efforts to get food or sanitation supplies out into the community. We need to slow the spread, which means making it easier for people to avoid close proximity and keep their hands clean,” said Aya Leigh, a street medic who was helping to put on a resource fair to hand out important tools before the “shelter at home” orders were put in place. “Each of our actions affects others. We’re all on this planet together. We’re all in this pandemic together, and we need to start acting like it. The more we take care of each other, the better off we’ll all be.”

    Volunteers from the network are now distributing supplies, including the hand sanitizer, and working to create dependable drop-off locations that people will know to visit when in need.

    As 3.3 million people are laid off because of coronavirus closures, the need for money is going to become as pressing as food and medicine. That is why several of the mutual aid organizations have simply prioritized fundraising efforts to get money where it is most needed. The Baltimore Mutual Aid & Emergency Relief Fund was created by members of the Food, Clothing & Resistance Collective – Maroon Movement, which formed in 2015 to do ongoing mutual aid work like food distributions, garden support projects and group meals.

    “We are part of the community as opposed to some outside entity doing charity work or bougie handouts,” explained member Sima Lee, who was inspired to get involved because of the basic need for resources that many marginalized communities have — particularly communities with indigenous people and people of color. “We are just looking out for our people. We are fiercely anti-capitalist, so our work emphasizes doing things in a cooperative manner without money always being involved.”

    They have also been working with Baltimore Safe Haven to support sex workers during the crisis, who have the added difficulties of finding shelters and being without income. 

    Sima Lee with cleaning supplies, food and diapers ready to be given to those in need in Baltimore. (Facebook/Sima Lee)

    “Our examples and my personal mentors were the Black Panther Party and their survival programs that would help take care of the needs the state would neglect while also providing political education in the process,” Lee continued. “We are about horizontal power for the people. We don’t just show up at a disaster for a photo op. We are always here!”

    As these projects sprout up, or build on the work they have already been doing, people are building new methods of coordinating between them and trying to construct relationships to allow these groups to be dependable beyond the next few weeks. Adam Greenburg created the COVID-19 Mutual Aid Coordination Slack channel — an instant message service popular in the tech world — to start building those bridges between groups so that people would have a central place to share resources.

    “My hope is that with this Slack, organizers can make their needs known and people can swarm towards what makes sense for them,” Greenberg said. “This could look like more modular distribution templates for direct, needs-based aid, or consolidation around a set of progressive demands to keep our communities safe.” The difficulty will be in responding to circumstances that are changing quickly, particularly when the response from public officials and law enforcement changes daily.

    A radical imagination

    While the practical utility of these mutual aid groups is what has received attention and inspired participation, the motivations run a lot deeper for many of the organizers involved. As income inequality increases and periods of climate and economic crisis expand, many are feeling pulled to build a strong community that can remain vibrant as much as it centers the bonds of solidarity. In a world where preparing for disaster, or “prepping,” has a lot of consumer cache, those who practice mutual aid believe that it is actually the relationships and commitment of support people rely on that is the most critical to our survival.

    “This can serve as a model for others because we hope to provide an impetus to overcome the cultural inertia associated with individualism,” explained the prison-support and antifascist group Nashville Anarchist Black Cross in a recent interview. “If anything positive can be gleaned from the COVID-19 outbreak, it is that our bodies are extremely connected, and we should be more mindful of the numerous ways we can and do love collectively. That is empowering for us to recognize that we are only as strong as the most vulnerable in our community, therefore we all need to take part in actions to protect our community as a whole.”

    “The crisis is bigger than the virus … We have to start now deciding what things will look like long after this is over.”

    They have used their resources to create hygiene packs, hand sanitizer, and other tools to hand out to anyone who needs them — with the understanding that fighting a pandemic requires everyone’s participation and that everyone needs support.

    The coming weeks are going to be difficult, yet the actual results will depend on how people on the ground respond. For radical activists at the center of many of these projects, there is a desire to simply apply the principles that have been learned from social movements to do their best to support the community in crisis. In doing so they can open the door to the world they want to build, one that puts value on each member of the community and finds its strength and resilience through collaboration.

    “Mutual aid shows you there is more than enough to go around and that we all have more in common than the elites and bosses would have you believe. It is much easier to organize around other issues when that rapport is built,” said Sima Lee, who emphasized that the long-term effects of the coronavirus are going to be felt for months, maybe years. “I fully expect to see rent strikes and more after so many neighbors have connected over disaster mutual aid during COVID-19. The crisis is bigger than the virus. The crisis is 400 years of white supremacist capitalism and all the contradictions are falling apart before our eyes. We have to start now deciding what things will look like long after this is over.”

    The impact of mutual aid efforts can do far more than meet immediate health needs. They can build the kind of bonds that all mass movements emerge from — the willingness to stand in solidarity and struggle as a community. As weeks turn into months, and we potentially enter a new era of recession, job losses and evictions, those relationships that have been formed doing mutual aid can also be used to push for the deeper, more systemic change that is so desperately needed.

    Uk: Squatting, Evictions, and the Coronavirus

    House Occupation News -

    Some days after granting a 3-month breather for mortgage payments the government caved to pressure and stated that renters who fail to pay rent will be protected from eviction during the next 3 months. This meant very little to squatters, and as explained later, still means very little to renters.

    The Pie ‘n’ Mash Autonomous Cafe was evicted the morning of that same announcement, the same day that the cafe (having closed for safety reasons some days earlier) was to become London’s first Mutual Aid Centre, to complement theanarchist-instigated and autonomously-organised Mutual Aid groups that had sprung up around the city, and now the country []. The council (who without a doubt had a hand in effecting the eviction of the Pie ‘n’ Mash) announced the very next day their own initiative of a centre to assist Mutual Aid groups in distribution of needed goods, co-opting the idea to suit their own agenda and save face in the eyes of the public.

    Things have not gotten better for squatters by any means in the following days. Multiple evictions have taken place on buildings that have been awaiting bailiffs for weeks, seemingly a rush by owners and bailiff companies to do business in the case that the government prevents them from doing so in the future.

    All the stops are being pulled out by the lawyers and the bailiffs to ensure they still have something to do during this period. As the courts are shutting down a lot of services they have suggested that new possession proceedings will not be accepted. In reality this is not the case. Telephone hearings have been set up, and this allows claimants to go through the process without providing proof of service (a squat recently received a copy of a possession order granted, despite never having been served the initial claim paperwork, thus denying them the chance to attend). Other squats have been calling the courts, to be told their cases will be going ahead.

    Attempts to argue for a stay on execution of the possession orders have so far been unsuccessful, with one particularly anti-squatter judge rejecting the idea without so much as a second thought, despite the clearly outlined human rights and health and safety arguments. More challenges will be, and are being launched by members of the Advisory Service for Squatters however.

    And it is not just the squatters that are at risk. With the Coronavirus Act 2020 now enacted , the relevant schedule regarding evictions simply states that those with residential tenancies should be entitled to 3 months notice rather than the already-required 2 months [].A leak from a property management company to The Guardian suggests that owners are trying to push through rental evictions at a huge rate before it becomes too difficult to do, and as a result are hiring more and more bailiffs to carry out the evictions before total lockdown. The Master of the Rolls has just announced that the court service will suspend all ongoing housing possession action but this certainly does not look like it applies to cases of trespass, and it remains to be seen whether it prevents a writ that has already been issued from being enforced by private High Court Enforcement (if it has reached that stage).

    In one case a group were told by a bailiff that they did not wish to carry out the eviction, but the overwhelming trend is that the bailiffs do not care, and in fact are probably quite happy to still be employed, carrying out evictions kitted out in gloves and masks. There must be a lot of out of work security who are keen to take up the role.

    Despite all this squatters in the city have been coming together (in the metaphorical sense more so than physical) to ensure that squats in the same neighbourhoods are linked up to co-ordinate and make sure each crew has enough to eat, enough space, and be aware of the health conditions of the members of the crew. Health and safety precautions are communicated to each other so if there is contact between people then everyone is aware of the risks and the care taken to mitigate them. Buildings are being opened to provide more space for those who need greater isolation. While some forms of organising have obviously had to take a back seat, those skills are being put to use to help each other stay safe.

    Squatters, tenants, and the street homeless alike, everyone needs protection and the ability to keep social distancing during this crisis. Creating homelessness does nothing but exacerbate the issue. The plan to house the homeless in hotels is all very well, but without addressing the issues surrounding homelessness it does not guarantee safety from infection. And while Travelodge is happy to shut doors and evict without notice many families in temporary accommodation, we know that there is no security in any measures the government opts for at this point.

    Occupations and rent strikes. These are measures we can take to protect ourselves and each other. We must continue to build strong eviction resistance networks in our neighbourhoods, and push back against any attempts to further marginalise those on the fringes of society during this time.

    Groups in UK:
    Events in UK:

    Athens: Anti-Covid19, network for Mutual aid and Struggle

    House Occupation News -

    In the unprecedented social conditions we are living in, the spread of coronavirus has taken critical dimensions for the national healthcare systems and the capitalist mode of production as well as social organisation in general. For the system to survive, state and bosses implement totalitarian politics and a further devaluation of our lives.

    – Lack of health facilities for the big majority of the population
    – Militarisation of our everyday life, with a ban on transportation enforced through economic, surveilled and penal repression
    – Mass layoffs, intensification and dire conditions for those working in hospitals, super markets, fast food restaurants, telecommunications
    – Creation of concentration camps for migrants and mass incarceration in prisons without any health provision
    – No meaningful measure for the homeless, drug users, sex workers
    – Increase of domestic and gender violence cases as well as psychological breakdowns due to the prolonged confinement of people in their homes

    All of the above make up a dystopia to which we deem necessary to respond to in a direct and collective way, self-organised and in solidarity with every subject that is experiencing the physical, psychical and mental consequences of totalitarianism; and at the same time to fight to break the unproductive and totalitarian management of the present crisis by the state. For these reasons we want to communicate and create a network for solidarity and struggle, with initial aims the following:

    – Food and medicine collection and delivery; or meals from social kitchens
    – Psychosocial support. Converstation through phone and even face-to-face private meeting, adhering to the healthcare measures
    – Reporting domestic and gender violence cases and direct interventions
    – Collect and publish information from concentration camps and prisons

    The responsibility is not collective as the state is shamelessly trying to manipulate us through the horror-loving coverage of the virus by the media, but it is first and foremost the state’s responsibility. The pointed shifting of responsibilities from the state and its representatives to each individual for the acquittal of the systematic underfunding and understaffing of the healthcare system is unacceptable and vile. We are not to blame for the shortages of permanent medical staff, intensive care units, medical equipment but the particular governments that spent thousands of euros to save banks or for military equipment instead of staffing undervalued public hospitals.

    We put forward as a direct collective action a freeze in payments, debts, rent, electricity, water, internet, public transportation. According to us these basic services should be free anyway and let alone in a situation of financial destabilisation like this. All people of the exploited and non-privileged class have to spare their money for basic consumer goods like food and medicine, since the future is uncertain.

    We put forward as a direct collective action a freeze in payments, debts, rent, electricity, water, internet, public transportation. According to us these basic services should be free anyway and let alone in a situation of financial destabilisation like this. All people of the exploited and non-privileged class have to spare their money for basic consumer goods like food and medicine, since the future is uncertain.


    – Permanent socialization of all private healthcare facilities and health products units.
    – Unemployment benefit to all laid-off workers and the unemployed.
    – All goods to be sold at cost price, super market bosses do not profit off our backs.
    – Compliance with the demands of workers for pay, working time, even the cessation of employment for their self-protection.
    – Closure of all capitalist structures (factories, shops etc.) that don’t cover basic needs.
    – Compliance with the demands of prisoners and release of all high-risk individuals, prisoners with charges of less than 5 years, and all those who await trial. Setting up healthcare facilities for prisoners and provision of sanitary products.
    – Closure of all concentration camps and papers to all migrants.
    – Transformation of airbnb and hotels to self-containment facilities for people with symptoms, high-risk groups, people affected by domestic and gender violence and people facing housing issues.

    Tsiodras shed crocodile tears for the people who are to get sick and invited us all to assume our responsibilities for the protection of public health. Recognising that public health includes also people in factories, prisons and concentration camps, we announce that if the state doesn’t care about public health in total, we have the collective responsibility to take actions to ensure this. We also inform that we will necessarily move on to organise and escalate similar actions in case the state continues the exploitation of the state of emergency to repress its political enemies, anarchists and fighters, and to pass laws that it wouldn’t be able to pass in times of mobilisation. The movement and the people of the social base are already organising mutual-aid and resistance structures for the current crisis and the upcoming impoverishment and no martial law can stop them. The survival of the repressed and the exploited in times of a general crises depends directly on their self-organisation, thus any attempt to repress must be answered in defiance of any restrictions.

    Open assembly of squats, collectives, internationalists, migrants and solidarians
    Exarcheia, Athens
    (+30) 6945276127
    synsquat [at] riseup [dot] net

    Some squats in Greece:
    Groups in Greece:
    Events in Greece:

    Indymedia Athens