Zorg voor elkaar?

UPDATE 26/05

In these times when most of our communal spaces are closed, the streets are overflowed with positive messages recommending us of “Taking good care of each other”, of “sending a lot of hearts to the hospitals”, of “getting out of this together”. All these messages you see around the streets, while the shadow of the consequences of the crisis loom over our heads, while the capitalist system uses yet another crisis to reshape the market relationships.
Confronted with the reality of everyday oppression and with the perspectives of what’s going to come, these messages sometimes sound like the caress of the butcher to the lamb.

Now, we don’t believe that these messages are evil-minded, or that there is some kind of twisted direction behind this, we believe however that good thoughts by themselves won’t suffice, and that we need to struggle to create a world where we can take good care of each other, where we can put people over profit and build a system that’s not based on exploitation.

We’ve started reclaiming the streets with this challenge, and we’ve kept on trying to do what we can to support the people around us and protest against what’s happening.

We know that we’re not alone in this and we hope that even more people will start retaking the streets, and for whoever wants to get involved in all that we do, you can always send us a message at barricade@riseup.net

We also made a video, you can check it here: https://vimeo.com/420709927

Thanks to Alert Fonds for the support!

13/04

You’ve probably seen something similar around already. The “Utrecht zorg goed voor elkaar” (Utrecht take good care of each other) poster. Yesterday after cooking once more, in our free time, in solidarity with people who cannot stay at home because they don’t have (a safe) one and with people struggling because of this fucked-up system, we decided to make our own version of it.

To make clear what we think “taking good care of each other” actually means.

DO YOU WANT TO HELP US SHARING IT AROUND? you can download the A4 poster at this link

[NL]
Utrecht, zorg goed voor elkaar?

In deze tijd is het kraakhelder wie het hardst geraakt wordt, wie de meeste zorg draagt en wie moeite heeft om rond te komen.
Om goed voor iedereen te zorgen, hebben we een systeem nodig dat mensen boven winst verkiest; een systeem dat niet is gebaseerd op uitbuiting.

Zorg dat iedereen een veilige en stabiele woonsituatie heeft.
Zorg dat iedereen een inkomen heeft om zichzelf te voorzien.

Tijdens en na het virus.

Zorg betekent niet tijdelijke liefdadigheid.

Zorg betekent het eisen van sociale rechtvaardigheid.

[EN]
Utrecht, take good care of each other?

In these times it’s crystal clear who is hit the hardest, who is carrying most of the care work and who is struggling to make ends meet.
In order to take care of everybody we need to put people over profit and create a system that’s not based on exploitation.

Let’s make safe and stable housing accessible to all.
Let’s give everybody an income to self-determine themselves.

During and after corona

Care does not mean temporary charity.
Care means demanding social justice.

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Pizza en Participatiesamenleving: eerste reflecties over werken als solidariteitskeuken

The English version of this text is below.

Gisteren hebben wij pizzas gebakken. Ondertussen reflecteerden we op werken als solidariteitskeuken in de maand maart. Dit zijn onze eerste reflecties en gedachtes.

De Barricade bevindt zich in een nieuwe positie. Zoals de meesten van ons, hebben ook wij ons moeten aanpassen aan nieuwe tijden van isolatie, distantie en eenzaamheid. Jarenlang hebben wij het concept van ‘collectiviteit’ voortgezet, waaronder: collectief koken, collectief eten, collectief lezen of simpelweg samenkomen en ervaringen uitwisselen. Hiervoor gebruikten wij een grote, fysieke plek, waar velen langskwamen elke zondagavond. Door de nieuwe overheidsmaatregelen heeft onze gebruikelijke plek al een maand lang de de deuren dicht. Onze bijeenkomsten zijn verplaatst naar digitale platforms, waar wij manieren proberen te vinden om onze politieke overtuigingen voor te zetten. Daarnaast koken een paar van ons nog in de ACU keuken, maar nu onder andere omstandigheden dan hoe wij normaliter onze keukenactiviteiten zouden omschrijven en uitvoeren.

Sinds de sluiting van de horeca en het verbod op het samenkomen van grote groepen, zijn veel plekken in Utrecht gesloten. Dit zijn vooral commerciële bars, cafés en restaurants, maar ook een paar belangrijke plekken die kwetsbare groepen in Utrecht voorzag van de nodige basisbehoeftes zijn dicht. Ook het Smulhuis, een plek die elke avond een maaltijd gaf aan een grote groep mensen die niet of moeilijk toegang heeft tot goed eten, is in overleg met gemeente Utrecht dicht gegaan voor een deel van de bezoekers. Wij begrijpen de redenen hiervoor, maar zien hiernaast ook welke problemen dit met zich meebrengt. Naast dat het een kwetsbare groep mensen wederom op straat zet, zien wij weinig tot geen gemeentelijk ingrijpen hiervoor, noch enige vorm van kritische media aandacht omtrent dit probleem. In plaats van dat de gemeente haar verantwoordelijkheid oppakt in tijden van crisis, heeft het besloten haar beste joker op tafel te gooien: Nederland is een ‘participatiesamenleving’. Zoals de overheid het zou omschrijven, staat dit voor een samenleving waarin iedereen die dat kan, verantwoordelijkheid neemt voor en actief bijdraagt aan zijn of haar eigen leven en omgeving. Of zoals de critici het liever verwoorden: de ‘zoek het zelf maar uit’ samenleving.

ACU is veranderd van cultureel-politiek centrum tot solidariteitskeuken. Zeven dagen per week worden er take-away avondmaaltijden uitgedeeld voor mensen die niet of moeilijker toegang hebben tot goed eten. Elke avond maakt de keuken rond de 60 take-away dozen voor iedereen die het nodig heeft. De Barricade kookt nog altijd op zondag en geeft onder andere zelfgemaakte pizzas uit via de voordeur van het ACU. Aan de ene kant is het een fantastisch project en bewonderen we alle tijd en energie die veel vrijwilligers in de solidariteitskeuken steken. Aan de andere kant is het vreemd om plotseling deze verantwoordelijk op ons te nemen en vragen wij ons af: is dit hoe solidariteit er werkelijk uit ziet, of worden wij hier nu genoodzaakt de rotzooi van de gemeente op te ruimen? Onrechtvaardigheid is nog duidelijker in tijden van crisis, en het is nog helderder te zien waar het vooral plaats vindt en wie hier voornamelijk de dupe van is. Deze onrechtvaardigheid is niet nieuw, het is altijd al gaande geweest en wij zijn er van overtuigd dat, zolang vrijwilligers bereid zijn deze problemen maar weer op te knappen, de problematiek nooit bij de wortels zal worden aangepakt.

We zijn al een maand verder sinds wij onderdeel zijn geworden van een solidariteitskeuken die maaltijden uitdeelt. Al zijn wij blij nog te kunnen koken en erkennen wij het privilege dat wij nog gepermitteerd het huis uit kunnen, willen wij toch een paar contradicties uitlichten die wij afgelopen maand zijn tegengekomen. Ten eerste willen wij onderstrepen hoe afhankelijk de gemeente blijkt te zijn van vrijwilligersinzet. De gemeente verbergt zich achter een, naar hun mening, goed excuus dat zij sommige kwetsbare groepen op straat niet kunnen helpen, namelijk: door landelijk beleid is het voor de gemeente verboden deze groepen te ondersteunen. Sterker nog: zij kunnen boetes verwachten, mochten zij deze groepen wel steunen. Daarom gaat de gemeente uit van vrijwilligerswerk en inzet van individuelen om de rotzooi op te ruimen waar zij zelf ‘niet aan mogen zitten’. Als collectief vinden wij dat, in plaats van dat de gemeente uitgaat van vrijwilligerswerk en hun verantwoordelijkheid zo wegwuift, zij moet eisen dat dit landelijke beleid moet worden herzien. Zolang er instituties als gemeentes zijn, dragen zij de verantwoordelijkheid om voor iedere burger in de stad te zorgen. Wanneer de gemeente niet de moeite doet om dit waar te maken, maar voornamelijk opereert als controlerend en bureaucratisch orgaan, vragen wij ons af in hoeverre de burger werkelijk wat heeft aan dergelijke instituties.

Daarnaast heeft de solidariteitskeuken een verbazingwekkend portie media aandacht gehad. Er is niet veel gaande in deze tijd naast de projecten die mensen zijn gestart om anderen te steunen, dus wij begrijpen ook dat het oog al snel valt op de solidariteitskeuken. Zo ook stond het marketing team van gemeente Utrecht onlangs op de stoep van ACU om een promotie video te schieten over hoe ‘Utrecht verbindt in tijden van crisis’. Hun eerste vraag: ‘wat zijn de vrijwilligers hier aan het doen?’ Het antwoord: ‘wij doen het werk dat de gemeente niet oppakt, namelijk: een goede maaltijd geven aan mensen die er zelf niet of moeilijk toegang tot hebben’. Het meest ironische aspect van het interview: om vragen te krijgen van een betaald medewerker van de gemeente, over hoe wij het essentiële werk oppakken dat de gemeente niet doet, geheel onbetaald en op vrijwillige basis. Wij willen niet worden omschreven als een liefdadigheidsproject dat goed doet voor anderen; wij verrichten al vier jaar dit werk in de keuken en zo ook in tijden van crisis. Dit is geen heldendaad, dit zijn onze politieke overtuigingen die wij omzetten tot handelingen. Wij willen geen complimentjes van de gemeente. Wij willen dat de gemeente zelf verantwoordelijkheid neemt voor deze taken.

We voelden de noodzaak om deze eerste reflecties publiekelijk te delen, omdat wij vinden dat vooral in tijden van crisis het belangrijk is om licht te schijnen op de kromme en oneerlijke werkwijzen van instituties, zowel op nationaal als lokaal niveau. Wij zullen blijven koken op de zondagen, omdat wij de noodzaak inzien van de solidariteitskeuken en wij het een waardevol project vinden om te steunen. Al zullen wij werken op grond van onze principes: als een collectief geïnspireerd door wasbeertjes en anarchisme. Wij zijn niet een liefdadigheidsproject.

Pizza and Participatiesamenleving: first reflections on working as a solidarity kitchen

Yesterday we made home-made pizza. Meanwhile we reflected on participating in a solidarity kitchen project during the month of March. These are our first reflections.

As the Barricade we found ourselves in a new situation. Like most people, we had to adapt to these new times of isolation, distancing and solitude. For many years we pushed the concept of collectivity, that is: collective cooking, collective eating, collective reading, or simply coming together and share experiences. For this we used a large physical space, where many people visited every Sunday evening. With the new governmental measures in place, our usual space has closed its doors to the public for already a month. Our meetings have moved to digital platforms, where we discuss how to still push our political standpoints. Apart from that, some of us are still cooking in the ACU kitchen, but under a different framing than how we normally describe our kitchen work.

Since the closing of horeca and the prohibition on meetings with large groups, many spaces in Utrecht have closed. These are mostly commercial bars, cafes and restaurants, but also some important spaces that provide basic needs for a more vulnerable group of people in the city. Also the Smulhuis, a space that provided dinner for people who have less access to food, has closed for part of their visitors in agreement with the gemeente (municipality of) Utrecht. We understand their reasons for closing, however, we also see what problematic effects this brings about. Next to that it leaves a group of vulnerable people out on the street, we also see little to no municipal intervenience to solve this problem, nor any critical media coverage about this situation. Instead of the municipality taking up the responsibility it should take in these times of crisis, it decided to play its best joker: the Netherlands is a ‘participatiesamenleving’ (participatory society / big society). As the government describes it, this means that everyone who has the ability to contribute socially to its surroundings, should take up this responsibility and act upon it. Or, how the critics prefer to frame this concept: ’figure it out yourself’ governing.

ACU has changed from a cultural-political centre, to a solidarity kitchen that hands out free take-away meals. It’s open 7 days a week and provides people who need food and have less access to it with a decent evening meal. Every evening, the kitchen produces around 60 take-away boxes for anyone who needs it, and we as Barricade still cook on Sunday, now handing out home-made pizza through the front door. On the one hand it’s a great project, and we fully acknowledge all the time and effort that many volunteers have put into it. On the other hand we find this sudden responsibility very questionable and wonder whether this is what solidarity looks like, or whether we are simply covering up the mess the gemeente leaves us with, out of emergency. In times of crisis, injustice becomes very clear and it’s easy to point out who mostly suffers from it. This injustice is not new, it’s been there even before the pandemic and we are sure that, as long as volunteers are willing to cover up for these problems, it will never be addressed at its very core.

It has been a month now since we started operating as a solidarity kitchen making take-away meals and, as much as we are happy and privileged to be permitted to go out of our houses and cook, want to share some of the contradictions of the ‘participatiesamenleving’ we have encountered. First of all, we want to underline the dependency of the gemeente on volunteer based projects. The gemeente hides behind an, in their opinion, valid reason to not help certain vulnerable groups out on the streets: they are simply not allowed to do so due to national governmental regulations. If they would help these people, they will be fined. Therefore the gemeente depends upon volunteer-run groups and individuals to clean the mess they are not ‘allowed’ to clean. We as collective think that, instead of depending on volunteer work and carelessly justifying their lack of responsibility as a result of these national regulations, the gemeente should put more effort in demanding a change in these very regulations. As long as institutions such as the gemeente are still in place, they should be the ones taking care of their citizens. If the gemeente is not making the effort to do so, but now mostly operates as a controlling and bureaucratic entity, we wonder what value such institution is giving its inhabitants in the first place.

Secondly, the media attention the solidarity kitchen got was striking. As not much is going on these days apart from projects people have started to support others, we understand that attention is easily attracted. Likewise, the marketing team of gemeente Utrecht decided to show up at ACU’s front door to shoot some video material for a promotional video on how ‘Utrecht is connecting people in times of crisis’. Their first question: what are the volunteers doing here? Answer: doing the work the gemeente is not doing, which is, providing people with food who don’t have access to it. Most ironic part of the interview: being interviewed by a paid worker of the gemeente Utrecht, on how you are doing the essential work the gemeente is not doing, on unpaid, volunteer basis. We do not want to be framed as a charity that does good to others: this is something we have been doing for four years and yes, in times of crisis we are still doing this work. This is for us not a heroic act, but a political standpoint we have always been pushing for. We don’t want any compliments from the gemeente for this work, we want them do take up their responsibility themselves.

We felt the necessity to share these first reflections publicly, as we think that especially in times of crisis, it’s important to expose and criticise the unfair ways of how institutions operate, be it on national or local level. We will stay in the kitchen and continue cooking on Sundays, as we think the solidarity kitchen is a good and necessary initiative to be part of. However, we operate under our framework: as a collective inspired by raccoons and anarchism. We are not a charity.

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Towards a Quarantine Resistance – Report from the 2nd Online Assembly

On Wednesday April 1st we had a second online assembly, (after the first one we had) here are the notes from what was discussed in the hope that, even if super-incomplete, they might be of help to other people.
In general we ended with a call to everybody of reclaiming the public space in these times of physical distancing using any possible tactic. We encourage any action that goes in this way, like the one below.

At the start, people expressed their feelings of going back and forth between the need of acting and apathy or despair towards the situation. Some of the issues contributing to people feeling down were the realization that this situation will last for long, and that therefore a lot of things people were looking forward to were not going to happen in the end, and of course the lack of interpersonal contact. Someone also mentioned the feeling of being overflown with too many broad political analyses without the possibility of directly acting on stuff. On the other hand some people had also some positive feelings mostly about perceiving that people are starting to act and still pushing for a radical leftist point of view.

Then we discussed some thoughts that people had about the current situation, to later move more concretely on things that we can do now and how to frame a leftist narrative in these times.
About the current situation, somebody mentioned how an external crisis, such as the corona-virus pandemic, is also resulting in a strong resistance to capitalism. We see many examples of mutual aid, solidarity and self-organisation rising up all over the world, that are undermining the usual rhetoric that wants us competing with each other, and putting under pressure the principles of a system that puts profit over people.
For example, in the Netherlands, people are starting to realize that a lot of underpaid jobs are the ones that are really needed right now (healthcare workers, cleaners, supermarkets’ employees, teachers…).

We also see neoliberal politicians contradicting themselves constantly to still keep a human face, like for example Boris Johnson stating the other day that “there is such a thing as society”, despite his tatcherian views of brazen individualism (“there is no such thing as society”), this coming few weeks after the same British prime minister was advocating for eugenicist plans of herd immunity.
The same trend we see with VVD retracting constantly what they say. First, for example, affirming that freelancers (ZZP’ers) chose to be self-employed and as such they should face the costs of it in times of crisis, then stating (after lots of criticism) that nobody will be left alone. The same thing happened with the discussion in the EU over eurobonds and financial measures to support Southern European countries, where the Dutch minister Hoekstra has been heavily criticized even by major Dutch economists, and had to retract there again. Beside these and other examples, however, it seems like Rutte and the VVD are being very careful with the things they say, and also saying things that they would have never said before. This is contributing to a big group of people in the Netherlands having trust in the way the government is dealing with the crisis, and it seems even that the VVD is rising in the opinion polls. We do see such a trend as worrying since the way the Dutch government is dealing with the crisis is very questionable and we think that it’s important to expose them.

We also discussed quite a bit the imperialist perspective that is coming out of many speeches by the Dutch government, manifested for example in a certain feeling of being untouchable, in thinking that the pandemic could never hit a country like the Netherlands that bad. This overconfidence on the impossibility of this crisis coming puts all our bodies at risk. The same perspective was also noticed in the overuse of the term ‘intelligent’ or in phrases such as ‘something that the responsabile dutch people can do’, implying that other countries didn’t have responsible people, or that their policies were not intelligent.

We then discussed briefly the example of Ede where small-scale markets were forced to close while big supermarket chains are the ones that can stay open. In general there’s the feeling that small food shops are less visited than before, and even if we didn’t discuss this further, we think it’s important to find ways to address this issue. We also discussed the situation where a lot of people are finding themselves confined in their nuclear family unit, having to deal with problematic dynamics and at the same time unable to rely on their usual support networks. Also this is a topic that we would like to go back to.

The second part of the assembly was mostly focused on how to best frame a leftist narrative as a response to this crisis. We recognized the importance, in this context of general confusion and despair, of using a positive framing instead of an angry one, in order not to overflow people with negative messages. Being already full of worries and sadness people might not be very open to receiving them.
Nevertheless, we also shared some frustrations regarding certain positive messages that we hear and see all around us way too often these days, only focusing on ‘being together’, vague solidarity and so on. The heart-lines distributed in houses in Lombok to connect the neighborhood through harts hanging from the windows was brought up as an example of this. Messages like this one are very empty, since society is not equal and people are not all affected in the same way. Sharing love messages without political intentions of change won’t do much sadly.
One of the good ways proposed to address this and at the same time confront the hypocrisy of politicians is that of using humor, possibly including statements used by politicians themselves.  Another one was the tactic of reclaiming mainstream slogans and discourses filling them with a political meaning. An example of that has been the action of Leiden voor14, where messages of vague support to supermarket employees that were going around having been linked to the campaign to raise the minimum hourly wage (see here). More about Détournement and Cultural Jamming can be read on Beautiful Trouble.

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Towards a Quarantine Resistance – Report from the Online Assembly

Yesterday we had an online assembly to discuss together the current situation of the Corona-crisis in the Netherlands, how this is affecting us and other people around and what we can still do.
It was a nice opportunity to listen to each other and we also had a good response from other people that joined us. In a society that wants us isolated not just now, but even when there’s no necessity of physical distance, it is so important to create spaces to connect and collectivize thoughts, and now more than ever.

In the following we put down some notes from what was discussed in the hope that, even if super-incomplete, they might be of help to other people.

We started by sharing our personal feelings about the situation. Feelings of worry and confusion were mentioned by many people. It was also noticed by many how this crisis was making more visible the social injustices that are already present in the society. The fear was there that these conditions might only get worse, and people were torn between hoping that these moments might lead to some systemic change and just despair or fear that things will just go back to how they were before this whole thing started.
Also, as people are seeing their economic situation under threat, some felt the tension between on one hand needing to ask for help from the state and on the other hand just wanting the system to collapse.

Then we started talking about the current situation and three topics were discussed more in depth.
We started talking about how the Dutch government and the mainstream media have been framing the corona-crisis. We have been seeing a lot of criminalisation of individual behaviour and for example using people’s ‘anti-social behaviour’ as scapegoat for a change in policy and measures that were taken way too late. This all without considering the situation of people still needing to leave their house to go to do completely non-essential jobs just to keep the economy running. Activities the suspension of which has never even been mentioned so far.
This is similar, despite the obvious economic and political differences, to the situation in Italy, where people are still forced to work in sectors like the weapon industry putting their health at risk everyday, while at the same time there is an increasing militarisation of the streets and criminalisation of people who leave the house even just for a run alone.
We discussed ways to counter this narrative and also to raise awareness on workers’ conditions (also those same workers who are now hypocritically called ‘heroes’ whose working conditions and salaries have been victims, like those of many other workers, of unstopped budget cuts and other neoliberal reforms).

Then, starting from our situation as Barricade collective, we reflected a bit on what does it mean to offer help at this moment in the ‘Participatiemaatschappij’. Since two weeks we have been part of the Solidarity Kitchen, an effort that was set up to respond to some of the consequences of the measures: namely that many places where a lot of homeless and undocumented people usually got a meal had to close their doors, leaving them without any. Beside the usual tension that we feel between a certain charity work versus mutualism, we also reflected on the fact that the gemeente was not taking any responsibility and indirectly putting volunteers to work without having to care about their own safety nor about the safety of people without a home.
Once again here, the pandemic is only exposing something that was already there, that is the policies of ”Participatiemaatschappij’ (also known in the UK as “The Big Society”), a set of neoliberal policies put in place to hand out the disappearing welfare system more and more to institutionalized volunteers organisations. A twisted kind of people’s self-management, since there is no real autonomy from the state, the state just drops its responsibility on certain aspects of welfare while still keeping the control in the end.
We reflected on the necessity of exposing this contradiction.

The last point we discussed was the necessity of making radical leftist ideas accessible and understandable to everybody, yet again a renown problem but one that becomes more necessary now. It was underlined with many examples the general disconnection that there is between activists and a big part of society, especially the one that might need support in this moment. An example was made with the huge number of support projects sprouting online with many people ready to help and very few people asking for help. Online communication does not make it accessible to everybody and moreover it is typical of online platforms to reinforce self-enclosed bubbles, the probability of reaching people outside of our circle in this way is quite low.
We also discussed the necessity of finding ways to reclaim the public space, in these times of isolation, by spreading relevant information in different ways.

With these ideas in mind we concluded the meeting, we’ll try to put some stuff in practice (as always) and see to continue creating spaces online as a way to collectivize reflections and community care.

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Rojava Everywhere: Report

On Sunday 23rd of February we hosted Rojava Everywhere, a day in solidarity with the revolution in Rojava. The program consisted of many lectures and discussions on the ideas that inspired the revolution, on how they are put in practice there and on what we can learn and put into practice here.

We had comrades from the Internationalist Commune of Rojava visiting. The Internationalist Commune of Rojava is a self-organized collective of internationalists in Rojava, trying to support the revolution and also spread the ideas of the revolution outside of Kurdistan. They facilitate the participation of internationalists in Rojava and have also launched many campaigns over the years, the current ones are Make Rojava Green Again, Riseup4Rojava and Women Defend Rojava. We were also joined by a person from Ecologie Sociale Liege and by some people active in DemNed (the Kurdish Federation in the Netherlands) and the Kurdish Liberation Movement.

The day started already in the morning with a Seminar on Rojava and Ecology given by some comrades of the Internationalist Commune of Rojava. The seminar was meant specifically for people actively involved in the climate justice movement here in the Netherlands.
After lunch we continued with a lecture on the birth of Democratic Confederalism as a theory and its application in the region of Bakur given by some Kurdish comrades, followed by a talk about the ideas of Social Ecology and the Social Ecologist movement in Belgium. Finally, comrades from the Internationalist Commune of Rojava gave a talk about the role of Internationalists in the Revolution in Rojava and what can be learnt from there, and about the campaign Make Rojava Green Again. Also during the whole afternoon, people collectively participated in the making of a banner in solidarity with Rojava for the Climate March in Utrecht of February 29th.

The day was well attended and it gave people from different contexts and collectives the opportunity to exchange ideas and contacts. Many things were said and it’s impossible to give a complete recount of it, but we’ll try to mention some things in the following, these are of course just brief notes, we’ll add some links for people interested, for a more in-depth introduction we recommend the Make Rojava Green Again book that we have at our stand.

The Ecological Crisis as a Crisis of Capitalist Modernity

Something that was made clear in different talks during the day is the impossibility of understanding ecological problems as separate from the social structures in which they are originated.

This idea was already developed by Murray Bookchin in the 80s, where in his book The Ecology of Freedom he starts developing Social Ecology as a theory. Even if heavily inspired by Social Anarchism, Social Ecology is fundamentally marked by the reflection on the relationship between society and nature. Humans and society, according to Bookchin, were not to be considered “alien” to nature, but a continuum of it, making therefore ecological problems strictly dependent on social problems.

This same notion is also present in the Kurdish movement. The so-called Crisis of Capitalist Modernity is therefore understood as a combination of multiple, interlinked crises:

  • the Ecological Crisis, with the ongoing destruction of the environment, the alienation of people from nature, etc.
  • the Political Crisis, with people in larger and larger numbers not feeling represented anymore by institutional politics
  • the Societal Crisis, with the growing individualism, leaving many people isolated, unhappy, anxious, etc.
  • the Economical Crisis

There is no way of addressing one of them without considering the others and without considering the way in which society is organised. In his reflections, Abdullah Öcalan thinks back at the relation between the birth of the nation-state, the emergence of the class system and patriarchy and sees them as strictly interlinked. These systems all subjugate to domination the freedom of the individual and its relationship to nature and to others. It becomes therefore clear that, in order to address the Ecological Crisis, it is necessary to radically change the social structures that generated it.

The work of Make Rojava Green Again outside of Rojava is exactly that of spreading these concepts and notions in the ecological movement.

Democratic Confederalism as a concrete example for a Radical Change

Democratic Confederalism was introduced as the ideological paradigm of the Kurdish liberation movement as a way to radically change the structures regulating our society and make way for a radically democratic society based on women’s liberation and ecology.

Democratic Confederalism originated as a theory from reflections that Öcalan and other members of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) had between the end of the ’90s and the beginning of the 2000s. Until then the PKK had been organized as a national liberation movement, with a Marxist-Leninist ideology, whose goal was the creation of an independent Kurdish State. However, after reflecting on the oppressive nature of the nation-state it became clear that it was not the Turkish State alone the problem, the problem was the nation-state itself. Creating a nation-state for the Kurds would therefore not end the other systems of domination (patriarchy, class system…) that were foundational to the nation-state as an organisation.

Therefore, influenced by thinkers such as Bookchin and Foucalt, Öcalan began envisioning a libertarian system of social organisation independent from the nation-state. Hence, Democratic Confederalism seeks to organize society from the bottom up and on a grassroots level based on self-management and mutual aid, with the goal that decisions should be taken at the lowest possible level (neighbourhood communes, city communes, etc.).

Democratic Confederalism, beside being an interesting libertarian theory, it is a theory that is being put in practice at the very moment. It is the theory behind the revolution in Rojava and the one through which, consequently, the Autonomous Administration of North-East Syria is currently organised. We also heard about the struggle for democratic confederalism in Bakur, and some concrete examples of how it was put into practice there, before the repressions by the Turkish State.

Learning from the Revolution: Rojava Everywhere

Organizing this event for us was a very nice experience and, beside giving the opportunity of speaking with a lot of comrades, and hearing and reflecting on very interesting topics, made us even more conscious on the importance of establishing stronger connections with the Kurdish movement here in the Netherlands.

In a context where we are deprived of the possibility of fully practicing the ideas we believe in, learning from concrete experiences becomes crucial and we think that there is a lot to learn from the experiences of the Kurdish movement. More important than analyzing the perfect ideology, it is much needed to hear from people that have experienced with their own eyes a whole society (and not organisations of tens, or hundred people) trying to put self-management and autonomy into practice, taking themselves and their commitments seriously, believing that what they’re striving for could actually be achieved.

Also, it becomes more and more clear, the need for the radical left to approach problems with more pragmatism and less ideological purism. To get out of certain bubbles of self-assuredness, of believing to be free in the small islands that have been created over the years. To rethink what one perceives as radical and what not, to learn again how to engage with broader parts of society and to really start creating the alternative we want to live.

Links

 

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There’s no fighting climate-deniers without fighting capitalism

Identifying climate denial exclusively with the various far right politicians that in the recent years rose up worldwide, would be naive and absurd. It is capitalism itself to be denying the climate crisis.
Capitalism is sometimes explicitly a climate-denier: this is the case, for example, of Exxon Mobil and other giants of the fossil fuel industry that have been financing for years the activity of presumed “skeptical scientists”. Mostly, however, Capitalism is implicitly denier, due to its fundamental logic. It is so in the way it keeps moving forward despite everything, in the way it takes itself for granted as the one and only possible mode of production: eternal, despite its destructiveness.

The culture of “capitalist realism” is all around us.
It is not only the politicians’ debate to be full of denial (their passivity, their going forward as automs, if not their direct servitude to the interests of big polluters) but the public discourse as a whole.
Let’s debunk any misunderstanding from the start: “climate-denial” does not exclusively mean denying that climate disruptions are currently happening. Today most of the people are aware that something serious is going on. Media are talking almost every day of the disastrous consequences of global warming.
The problem is that these are being framed as the single extraordinary episode breaking for a moment the triviality of the day to day. It breaks down the picture, it fragments the image of climate collapse and describes each single piece with words that sound alarmist but are actually reassuring. Media talk about “sea storms”, “heat waves”, “dry-seasons”, in short, about “emergencies”: things that appear sudden, momentaneous and local. Because emergencies will eventually ‘get back to normal’, after covering news about climate, one can move to something else.

This moving to something else is the core of the dominant ideology manifesting itself in the media. Treating the climate catastrophe as one of the many possible topics is the most wicked form of climate-denial.
The same fragmentation of the picture is at work in the practices of green-washing of Shell and other companies, in the empty promises of politicians, in the totally superficial plans of “ecological sustainability” done by local municipalities and governments. The spectacle of the adoption of this or that “mitigative measure” is there to tell us: «Don’t worry, the problem can be dealt with without changing the system, without upsetting completely our routine, without giving up to business-as-usual».
Business-as-usual that then comes back reassured and strengthened.
This also applies to the so-called “climate emergency declaration”, as with this, despite the good intentions of the movements pushing for it, the risk is to serve green-washing on a golden plate to the institutions that can use the nice gesture as a diversive.

And this is indeed what we’ve seen in Utrecht. The gemeente of the “linkse lente”, after declaring climate emergency went straight back to the business-as-usual. So back to work on pushing forward with Utrecht as the “fastest growing city in the Netherlands”. Back to work with gentrifying neighborhoods, replacing social housing with houses for rich people – but now with a park, and no cars! (see Croeselaan). Back to promoting Utrecht as a tourist destination with La Vuelta – but let’s make it sustainable!

These and other policies are all manifestations of “green neoliberalism”, of the politics of who wants to tame deregulated capitalism with a green face under the “Green Capitalism” brand.
The moderate demands formulated in this context quickly reveal that the sacred principles of the market, hidden behind the “cloak of feasibility”, should not be touched in this process. But the contradiction between profit interest and ecological sustainability is always resolved within the system at the expense of the environment and ultimately everybody.

It becomes therefore clear that we cannot trust politicians nor businesses to solve the problems that they contributed to create and keep on creating. What do we do then if arguments are not enough, if formulating demands does not change anything?
What we want is not the “march through the institutions”, but rather to become a movement that can implement an alternative itself. Not to trust in the state, to know one’s own strength and to be able to formulate concrete alternatives is one of the most inspiring things that we see now happening in Rojava. The revolution in Rojava proves that people, in the harshest conditions, are still able to self-govern themselves and build their own institutions for a radical democracy that makes space for women’s liberation and fights for an ecological future.
But we cannot stand idle and hope to be in another place or in another time. We need to do what we can here to start refusing and fighting this climate-denier capitalist system and to start building those alternatives. Like the people that are distributing Zapatista coffee or Vio.me soap to sustain here anti-capitalist economies, like the people that occupied the Lutkemeerpolder and created a community garden on what the “green” gemeente of Amsterdam wants to become yet another space for capitalist speculation, like the work we do with our kitchen and library, using capitalist’s trash as a way to feed people and create spaces following different logics.

Capitalism is destroying everything,
Act now!

The Barricade

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Kitchens’ Reflection Table #2– Report

This is the report of the conversation we had, for the introduction text, see here

Escaping the service dynamics: what to do when people see you as a service and not as a collective effort?

Introduction:

The modern city is full of restaurants and other places where food gets commodified and inserted into capitalist dynamics. This dynamic is both exploitative towards the workers, and exclusive towards those who can get access to this food: every restaurant has its cooks, waiters and dishwasher, doing mostly low-paid, pressuring and alienating work for the few people that can afford to eat out.

VoKus (VolxKüche, people’s kitchen) are an attempt to get the meal and its production out of these twisted, capitalist dynamics and make a good, vegan meal accessible for everyone. These kitchens have existed for long and can be found in many squatted or social spaces in the Netherlands. They are collectively run and do not perceive themselves as a service which can simply be ordered from the menu. Still, in a city where the concept of ‘eating out’ is mainly perceived as a service and dominated by restaurants, it’s difficult for VoKus to not automatically be seen as a restaurant too.

During this reflection table, several VoKus in the Netherlands came together to talk about being perceived as a service, how to escape this dynamic and, most importantly, how to get people into collective cooking.

Part 1: the Hotspot
Being perceived as a service: experiences from the various kitchens.

Most VoKus in the Netherlands cook vegan. As the vegan diet became more popular among the big-city dwellers, so grew the attention towards spaces that provided the left-wing movement with a cheap, vegan meal. Several VoKus at the table noticed a change in their usual crowd, more and more ‘yuppies’ came to visit the space and the word spread quickly. With the new crowd, came a new dynamic: people visited briefly to have a cheap meal, without making any connection to the space nor the kitchen group.

One VoKu figured out they were listed on a popular blog for vegan hotspots in Amsterdam, without any further notice from the blog editors. They were simply described as a cool and alternative, yet a cheap and vegan place to eat. The next question was whether to stop this commercial development and remain safely within the left-wing scene, or whether to accept the new ‘customers’ in and ask for a price for the meal, to start a solidarity fund from that money.

Not all VoKus agreed with the pricing-plan, but more VoKus did share having to deal with the same question: are we staying within the movement, even though spreading the idea of cooking collectively would benefit a larger crowd, or are we accepting the new visitor in and hopefully getting them into collective cooking, while also running the risks of being co-opted?

We started to share some of the small steps people from different kitchens took to convey the message of not being a restaurant towards their new crowd. First and foremost, the kitchen groups simply started to talk to the people. Inform everyone: tell them that we’re not a restaurant and tell them how collective cooking works. This was either done with one-on-one conversations, or during the announcements before dinner. Some kitchen’s also mentioned examples of having a clear, written a statement about the topic in your restaurant, for example on the door through which people enter. Also mentioned was being conscious of what words to use: how to describe your collective in a way that doesn’t imply a restaurant hierarchy. Some actively avoided the word ‘helping’: say “we need cooks”, don’t say “we need people to help the cooks”.

Another tactic that was discussed, was to blur the division between volunteers and non-volunteers. Several VoKus brought in very practical steps to do so: set up a dishwashing station, have a clear and visible sign-up sheet/board or ask people from the crowd on the spot to do something (“we need 3 more people to serve the food, we need 5 more people for dishwashing…”). These actions show that anyone can join the kitchen at any time and that there is not a ‘fixed and exclusive group’ that is always running the kitchen. Having the kitchen visible in the space was also seen as a big plus: people who came for dinner could actually see the labour that was put into the meal. Some people working in a kitchen space that is separated from the space were people came for dinner, talked about how they sometimes struggled with making the kitchen work more visible. They felt that because their work is invisible, less people coming to dinner saw the need to lend a hand with doing the dishes or with cooking.

Another kitchen mentioned their concern about creating a space where people feel forced to do something. They agreed with blurring the lines between volunteers and non-volunteers, but they also emphasised the importance creating a setting where people feel free to relax. They wanted to avoid the idea of “if I come for dinner, I must…”. People should feel free to come and help out, the kitchen can’t force people to do stuff if they don’t want to. Some people volunteering in kitchens struggled with finding the balance between the feeling of being taken for granted, and on the other hand not judging the people who don’t want to help out. They realised that even if people are not involved, it didn’t mean they are unthankful for the food. It also meant becoming more carefree themselves, instead of becoming bitter or hostile to others: if I volunteer in a kitchen, I should focus on what I want to give, not what I’m expected to do.

We started to discuss the definition of ‘service’. Is ‘service’ inherently a bad word, a word that implies an imbalance? Some kitchens disagreed: service does not mean slavery. Giving a service doesn’t have to mean you are giving something against your will or being exploited by. The risks is doing stuff in the kitchen you don’t want to do, doing more than you can take on, or expecting something in return that you won’t get anyway. As long as you avoid those three things, providing the service of cooking a meal doesn’t have to be an imbalanced action. For some it worked even counterproductive to be afraid of the word ‘service’. It’s important to have a clear understanding of what you want your definition of ‘service’ to be, and therefore to set clear boundaries for what you want to do in the kitchen and have realistic expectations as a VoKu. Some people suggested to replace the word ‘service’ with ‘creating an infrastructure’: within the radical-left wing movement, some people are doing the front-line work, other people are working behind the stage. We all need these tasks to be done, we need this infrastructure to be in place, whether it’s organising actions, doing the legal work, cooking the meals or printing the posters, and they are all equally valuable.

Part 2: Getting people into the kitchen.
How to move away from the kitchen as a professional space, and move towards a kitchen as a communal space?

We moved on to talk about getting people into the kitchen and how to cook collectively. One of the first things that came up, was that a lot of people felt that the kitchen is being perceived as a professional place, as space that demands certain cooking skills and already some work experience from you. If they invited people to come cook in the kitchen, they saw some uncertainty coming from them: could they work in a big kitchen, even though they’re not really good at cooking? Two tactics to counter this were mentioned: 1. let people clearly know what you want from them and 2. letting go of getting a good product.

The first tactic came hand in hand with a discussion about kitchen hierarchy. In the commercial restaurant, the kitchen is a highly hierarchical space, with chefs and sous-chef, people doing the ‘mise en place’ and cleaning the dishes. Working in a kitchen where this hierarchy is suddenly missing, can be quite confusing and even off-putting for someone joining for the first time. For some people it was therefore important to have some clear expectations mentioned. These don’t have to be phrased as “I want you to do…”, but they could be more suggestive, for example: “you can support someone with making a dish”, “we could use someone to make a salad”, “you can make your own recipe with these ingredients” or “you can chop those vegetables…”. One person phrased setting expectations as followed: “I want to give you the recipe, but I don’t want to be your boss.” Another person mentioned to still have problems with finding her role in the kitchen: “what are my structures when there is no traditional service dynamic?” Especially for people who are more shy, it’s something comforting to have someone to guide them in the kitchen.

We all agreed that it’s difficult to figure out how to work as a harmonic collective, when the service dynamic we all know, also made us forget how to cook for ourselves, trusting our own cooking skills and work collectively. Hierarchy in kitchens is easily established, some people take on more or have a more dominant voice or opinion. Some kitchens mentioned that they would rotate roles in the kitchen, to break the hierarchy. Other kitchens emphasised the importance of randomness: you never know who will join your kitchen for cooking that day and who will be taking on what task, that just happens during cooking.

The other tactic that was mentioned, was letting go of getting a good product. A traditional restaurant is a space where the staff should ‘deliver’ a good product. This expectation can be easily transmitted to any VoKu with a professional kitchen set-up. You have the feeling that you should deliver a three course meal, that the dishes should be complementary to each other and the flavours should be in balance. Always putting focus on creating a good product, might scare people away from cooking. They would think they can not live up to a certain standard and decide not to join the kitchen anymore or at all. Being less professional makes it easy for people to attend cooking, which also means letting go off the pressuring thought that you always have to make ‘a good meal’.

Part 3: Setting Expectations
Overcoming unrealistic expectations and disillusions and cooking happily, collectively ever after.

Escaping the service dynamic is not only about telling your crowd that you are not a restaurant and making the kitchen more open to everyone, it’s also about managing your own expectations. As mentioned above, letting go of always having the feeling to deliver a good product is one step in doing this. One kitchen group suggested to always have a moment of reflection before cooking for an event or a group. To start, think about the following: who are you cooking for? Are you cooking for the movement, or are you cooking for the out-group? What does this group already know about collective cooking, and what not? What message do you want give to this group about collective cooking and to which extend are you willing to amplify your voice and to which extend are you willing to give in? Will you fight anyone who sees you as a service, and if so, what will be your gain? The group also mentioned that when cooking for the out-group, they would always set clear and tangible goals, such as: “have 5 new people in our kitchen every day of the event” or “talk to 20 people about what a VoKu is”, and not: “getting everyone who partook in the event into our kitchen and spread our message”. Setting unrealistic goals would only devalue your efforts as a kitchen afterwards.

Creating a moment before taking part as a kitchen in a certain event, will help to escape the service dynamic. If your role and intentions as a kitchen in a certain setting is clear to you, you will stand stronger as a collective. When you have a clear objective of what you want to bring to the event or a place, you won’t fall in the trap of becoming the people ‘who cook nice meals for free’, which is a frustrating position we all want to avoid. Many kitchens said that having this early moment of reflection, would have avoided some of the mistakes kitchens have made in the past, mostly on cooking for people who did only see them as a service, or even losing kitchen spaces by being co-opted.

On that note we closed the reflection. We were surprised that many of the problems and frustrations around being seen as a service were shared among the kitchens. We valued the reflection moment to share or experiences and moreover, to share constructive thoughts and practical actions on how to overcome the service dynamic.

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Kitchens’ Reflection Table #1 – Report

This is the report of the conversation we had, for the introduction text, see here

Politics of food: How can we use our kitchens and the food we cook with to bring forth change?

At this table we were with quite some kitchens with different experiences, from the ones getting food through dumpster-diving to kitchens buying from small-scale farmers or from food co-ops.

We started discussing dumpster diving, how it is still not a complete solution and it doesn’t bring us close to what most of us considered more or less ideal to reach, an exploitation-free small-scale agriculture that makes healthy food accessible to everybody.

We also discussed a bit Veganism, that is something that wasn’t mentioned in the text but that all the kitchens present are practicing. We recognised that cooking vegan is helping in reducing exploitations (both on animal but also partially on land and human, if we consider the shortening of the chain – from “veggies => animal => people” to “veggies => people”). This, however, while having it clear that reducing exploitations is not the same as removing them and that simple vegetables like tomatoes bought in supermarkets still underly a lot of exploitation, from the land where they are grown, to the people who harvest them, to the people working in the distribution centers and so on.
Furthermore we discussed the necessity of keeping in mind how the capitalist food production system is also adapting to these new needs in the consumer market, how vegan products are more and more available in supermarkets or in big fast food chains, not breaking at all with the usual exploitation logics. We could find similar dynamics with labels such as ‘local’ or ‘green’ that are not positive values in themselves if separated from a context of rejection of the above mentioned exploitation logics. As an example we mentioned the Food Future Lab at the Utrecht University Canteen, an attempt to make available there ‘sustainable’ and local food, done in the context of Sodexo, the multinational company having the monopoly on food at the University, the same one renown for various abuses all over the world, and especially in jails they manage in the UK.
Similar dynamics were also mentioned regarding ‘food waste’, with on the one hand expensive restaurants appropriating the concept, like Instock that is just helping the Albert Heijn brand in looking more sustainable, and on the other hand assistentialist models like Voedselbank.

It seemed like most agreed that, as collective kitchens, to bring forth change we need to recognise the importance of working on two levels: on the one hand exposing and boycotting the industrial food production system, on the other hand trying to build an alternative.

Exposing and Boycotting

Regarding the first level, we briefly discussed the necessity of finding ways to enlarge our outreach beyond the people normally visiting our spaces. Ideas mentioned were more public events, like for example cooking or serving food on the street from time to time to raise awareness.
We noticed differences among the anti-foodwaste kitchens in how far people felt safe to go in exposing the situation, while some were more open, others stated the fear of legal repercussions one might eventually face.

Alternative Economies

About the second level, the one of building an alternative, we started by exploring some of the options that do exist now, or that could exist on how to give access to healthy organic food. Examples that are known are community supported agriculture (both with people receiving weekly boxes of food in their neighborhoods, or with people harvesting themselves), local farmer markets or urban community gardens. People also liked to think of the possibility of kitchens running autonomous farms collectively as a mean to get healthy exploitation free vegetables.

While mentioning these examples we did not go in depth into the issues of each of these approaches singularly, but we did spend some time talking about the main problematics, that we always run into, when trying to build alternatives in the existing society: money and time constraint.

We recognised the question of compensation to farmers and more generally of money and sustainability under an economic point of view as a central node. While getting food from local farmers, how to be able to provide fair compensation for their work and still serve meals that are economically accessible to everybody, escaping the exclusive logics of organic food?
This is a problem of no small importance, that ties to many specific issues. One issue is the matter of donations for the meals that are cooked in our kitchens, it is not always an easy task, when having to pay for the vegetables, to get back enough money to cover all the costs, even more so if this happens at benefit dinners, where the idea is to use food to gather money for other causes: when the price of vegetables goes up (because they come from different circuits) this tension is of course bigger.
Another issue that came up, and on which we reflected, was the tension between operating in our kitchens on volunteer basis (not as charity work but as a way to escape salaried labour dynamics) and using this free labour to support farmers, doing their work not as volunteers but as paid workers. Of course it was mentioned that volunteer work is not a value of itself and that working to create different economies in the long run also implies trying to create the conditions such that we (just like anybody else) do not have to work oppressive jobs to survive while doing our political work in our free time, but that’s a broader discussion. We discussed then what were the reasons that, in our context, don’t make possible running farms on a volunteer-basis: running a farm is not something that can be reduced to a 8 hours a week activity, but it’s a work requiring a constant engagement and a certain degree of knowledge that most of the people have lost. This is something to keep in mind, even if we don’t want to idealize farm work.

Moreover, local organic farmers trying to escape exploitative dynamics do struggle to make a living out of their job to begin with. Access to land is a big issue in the Netherlands, a context where a big part of the farmable land is used for large-scale intensive agriculture. Also, it’s often the case that projects of community supported agriculture are run with the support of local municipalities (usually giving either land or subsidies for the project).
It doesn’t help either the fact that there isn’t a broader and more stable support network to these projects, this usually leads farmers to selling their vegetables wherever they can, and also to them having to undergo all the market logics of organic farming.

Starting from direct experiences we also discussed the problems around organic certification. This implies the strict following of a lot of regulations mainly meant for industrial agriculture that cannot be ignored if one wants to sell certified organic food. In this context the necessity to engage at a policymakers level and to push for changing policies around organic farming was raised. This was a point of debate and the contradiction between trying to create a new society and dealing at policymaking level inside the current one came out. The example of the Genuino Clandestino (Genuine and Clandestine) network in Italy was also brought up in this regards, as an example of shifting from state controlled regulations to farmers and consumers self-regulations. Farmers in Genuino Clandestino are refusing the organic certifications and deciding by themselves the criteria and procedures to follow to be part of the network.

Next to money, there is also a time problematic. We underlined the necessity of a cultural shift on how people relate to food and its production: from having finished products already on the table, to learning to cook and reserve time for it. Of course, this is not something that can be changed easily without changing the dynamics that are imposed on us under the capitalist system we live in, where we’re constantly out of time or energies due to our condition of exploited workers.

After all these discussions on the many issues and problems we however recognised that creating an alternative economy is not something that can be done overnight. It is a long, hard process when starting from scratch.
A person reminded us of the historic example of the phenomenon of Pillarisation in the Netherlands, when between 1850-1960 different communities regulated themselves. This example was brought up to point out how different economies can co-exist at the same time with the support of a community. Even if Pillarisation is something very far away from both what could be deemed as ideal and from the current system, it was meant as an invitation to learn from history and not underestimate the power of self-determination of a community.
In any case, confronted with the problematics of a long, hard process, the necessity to start from small actions was stated. As an example we talked about the difference (and all the implications) between buying products like dish-washing soap from supermarkets or buying them from the self-managed factory of Vio.me in Greece. Just this decision would imply shifting the flow of economic resources from supporting the capitalist system to supporting a political project with similar goals as ours. The same reasoning could be applied to all the dry products (like rice, lentils, etc.) that kitchens need to buy anyway. Related to this also the importance of supporting projects that are politically close to us was underlined, understanding political proximity as a value to keep in mind next to the geographical one.

Furthermore, during the discussion we also realised that certain informal networks and connections between people in kitchens and farmers do exist already but a broader and more concrete network is lacking. It would be nice therefore, in continuing the work and the reflections started with this session, to strengthen the connections already existing by confronting ourselves with each other, exchanging knowledges and ideas among kitchens. Also the idea of creating a collective zine about VoKus in the Netherlands was proposed as a way of putting together many knoweledges and information.

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Kitchens’ Reflection Table #2 – Introduction Text

Escaping the service dynamics: What to do when people see you as a service and not as a collective effort?

“All the restaurants that have had flowery write-ups in the newspaper, that serve only organic, wheatfree, vegan food, that cultivate a hip atmosphere with suggestive drawings, still have cooks, waiters and dishwashers who are stressed, depressed, bored and looking for something else.” (Abolish all Restaurants)

The modern city is full of restaurants and other places where food, one of the main aspects of social reproduction, gets commodified and therefore inserted into capitalist dynamics that are both, eploitative towards the workers, and exclusive towards who can get access to this food.

Our Vokus are attempts to get the meal and its production out of these dynamics and make space for their collectivisation. We see this as a step to gain back some autonomy on our lives. We want to run them without cooks, waitress, cleaners and guests, but with the partecipation of the people that all can differently contribute.
To achieve this, the involvement of everybody in the space is essential.

However, living in the society we live in, this involvement is not something that comes automatic, be that because of lack of time and energy, or because we forgot what collective self-management is and became unaccostumed to putting it into practice.

The feeling of being perceived as a service, a simple free meal, often pops up, delegitimizing the conflictual role we want to assume inside the city. While we don’t want to criminalize people that for one evening are coming for a free meal and nothing more, we deem it necesessary to reflect together and find practices to not lose this conflictuality and push forward an idea of collective self-management

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Kitchens’ Reflection Table #1 – Introduction Text

Politics of food: How can we use our kitchens and the food we cook with to bring forth change?

We want to express a strong and firm critique at the current standardized and industrialized food production system, harmful for everybody’s health and even worse for the communities living in the territories where this food is produced. This terrible food quality is due to the usage of chemicals and techniques based exclusively on principles of cost minimization and quantity maximization. This is also a system that wastes more than one third of what is produced. Perfectly fine fruits and vegetables fill bins everywhere around the city everyday.

However, we deem necessary overcoming a simple critique of the food production system, especially in these years where the global capitalist paradigma redefines itself around apparently ecologist instances. In the new “green economy” food gains a fundamental role, and labels like “organic” or “local” or “anti-foodwaste” are nowadays seen as economically valuable even from those businesses and governments that in the past and even now greatly contribute to devastation of lands. And for this reason then, in the case of food-waste we have been seeing a lot of business models (ads in supermarkets, fancy anti-foodwaste restaurants, anti-foodwaste apps…) coming up trying to make money out of food-waste pretending to solve the problem.
Moreover, not even the so called “organic food” is immune to heavy contradictions and power dynamics enriching the few and usual suspects. The certification system is placing the organic production in the exactly same dynamics of the usual food industry; this critique, limited as it is to the healthiness of the product, is nothing more than the rhetoric of (presumed) “quality food”  – that of course only very few “lucky” ones can afford, on the basis of the usual equation (low income :  bad food = rich people : certified organic food) – if it does not come with a firm and fundamental refusal of any logics of exploitation, logics that all these discourses on green capitalism do of course never question.

We do think that any meaningful discourse on food should start from this: the industrial food system and its production and distribution are completely centered on the wildest exploitation: of land, of water, of animals and of human labour. Making it greener won’t change the dynamics.

In many VoKus this critique is manifested in different ways, even if partially. We ourselves dumpster-dive every week, getting fruits and veggies, still perfectly fine to eat, literally out of the trash bins. This allows us to expose foodwaste, one of the most visible contradictions of this food production system (and its supposed efficiency) and at the same time to serve a free dinner with what is considered to be waste. While, by reclaiming this waste, we firmly reject the large-scale retail trade and all the exploitation it directly or indirectly perpetuates, we do recognise that this is not building complete alternatives to this food production system.

Other VoKus do the same thing we do, others use local products from small-scale farmers, others are buying most of their food from the supermarkets.
It is also necessary to confront the contradiction arising between the support that the food bought in supermarkets gives to the ipercapitalistic economy, thus the excessive power of the large scale distribution imposing woldwide new forms of slavery (from fields in the Global South to the distribution centers of Jumbo or Albert Heijn) and the ideas and experiences circulating in the spaces where our kitchens are operating, and where, despite everything, we still do find ourselves buying, from time to time, from the supermarkets.

For these reasons, we deem necessary to reflect together on ways to collectively refuse the existing and build new possible alternatives starting also from food.
All this implies in our opinion questioning what it means politically to choose which products to use in the kitchen, that is, considering how doing grocery is a political act, how all these choices can have an impact when they are situated inside collective processes, in this case, to build a network of relations between producers and consumers/cooks at a local level, creating communities of solidarity based not only on economic relations but on sharing political goals, and making it possible, for real, to give everyone access to a decent meal.
We would like to discuss on this and other ideas and try to think together on ways in which we can start creating alternatives through food.

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