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.



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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 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?


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 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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No Border Camp 2019: Report

Freedom of movement is not a right; it is a real living force. Despite all the obstacles that states put in people’s way — all the barriers of barbed wire, money, laws, ID cards, surveillance and so on — millions cross borders every day. For every migrant stopped or deported, many more get through and stay, whether legally or clandestinely. Don’t overestimate the strength of the state and its borders. Don’t underestimate the strength of everyday resistance  –   A No Border Manifesto

Restricting migration is a priority for the Dutch government and the EU. The walls of Fortress Europe are rising taller, rescue-missions by aid organisations are counteracted, and refugees are locked up and deported. Thousands of people die in the Mediterranean Sea or in the desert, or they are stuck in horrible conditions. Politicians instigate hate against refugees, while weapons-companies are in the mean time making big money on militarizing borders. Rich Western countries keep fueling the reasons why people flee through unequal trade, weapon exports, causing climate change, and military interventions.

To get into action and oppose these tendencies last year we helped organizing the No Border Camp, a three-day event around the No Border struggle that took place at House Ivicke in Wassenaar, at the beginning of August. The purposes of the camp were multiples:  exchanging knowledge and learning from each others through workshops and talks, enforcing connections among people active or interested in the struggle and doing protest actions, all on a extra-parliamentary and anti-authoritarian basis.

Some time has passed, and we don’t really have notes, but we’ll try with this small report to give back some impressions from the camp, but also about what we experienced in helping with the organization, mainly to save them from being forgotten. 

Let’s maybe start with the Camp then. It is always amazing to see what a bunch of people can set up autonomously, and how these camps work out through self-organization and participation of the people attending the event. The First two days where structured as following: first a delicious breakfast prepared by the action kitchen Le Sabot, then the general assembly, where the various work groups that helped with the organization gave some information and small updates about their work. Right after that, the day program started with the first two slots of the program, followed by lunch and then three more talks/workshops slots in the afternoon. Then, after dinner, a cultural program took place with concerts ( one evening Your local Pirates, the next one The Kush Band) and the theater performance Our Footsteps. The talks and workshops were well attended and served as a mean to exchange knowledges, but also to create some space for people to reflect together on how to support each other in specific struggles. Next to the program, every day some actions were done, for examples a noise demo at the foreign detention center in Rotterdam, or a flyer-action at Otto Workforce to denounce the bad working conditions of migrant workers. It was very nice as well to see that next to the organized program some workshops and actions came up spontaneously. On Sunday, the last day of the camp, most of the people took part in the bigger action, targeting the NATO/TNO building. 

For most of us, this experience was the first time being actively involved in the organization of such a big event, and we generally had a good impression of how things turned out. With the talks and workshop program, although far from being exhaustive, we tried to cover a variety of related struggles and to point out how the oppressions perpetuated in the capitalist society we live in are connected. We also received many proposals for talks and workshops from people and collectives active abroad that decided to join us for the camp; this really showed us how knowledge exchange and international connections are needed and valued by people active in the struggle. 

We focused mainly on three thematic fields: migration and migration policies, intersection to other struggles and practical workshops.  

The first thematic block consisted of a nice mixture of speeches about borders dynamics (such as externalization of the European Union borders or criminalization of sea rescue missions) about the struggle of people living on their own skin the effects of those policies (with talks about the situation in Turkey and the Evros route, the situation of women and atheists in Iran, the forced migration in Venezuela and the struggles of living as an undocumented person in Amsterdam) and of people and collectives organizing to oppose border policies (like the experiences of people showing solidarity to migrants detained in detention centers and people cooking at the border to support people trying to cross)

In the second block, we focused on the intersections between the migration struggle and other struggles with session about e.g. the connection between migration and capitalist exploitation, climate change and weapons export by western countries.

The last block, contained a variety of useful workshops to acquire practical skills ranging from how to improve group dynamics in a demonstration and how to squat, to how to set up a migrant solidarity network or how to do ‘Naming and Shaming’ to companies from border control systems. 

One of the biggest node we had to confront ourselves within this experience, and that we think is important to talk about, is definitely the one of the relation between the ‘dutch radical scene’ and the migrant communities. The more and more we found ourselves reflecting on how to best involve migrant communities in the program, the more the disconnection between the latter and the ‘radical scene’ became evident. To try to start untangling this node, we decided to host as part of the program a reflection session on the relation between No border activism in the dutch radical left and migrant communities. Unfortunately, the reflection session did not turn out as expected and the discussion could not really start, leaving this topic unspoken. Nevertheless, we see this issue as a central one and well keep thinking about it in our further steps. In the meantime, here the text we prepared as a starting point for the reflection session, that we still believe is worth reading.

Reflection Session on No Border Activism – Introduction Text


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Reflection Session on No Border Activism – Introduction Text

1.  One of the core beliefs of every fight for social justice is that the people that are directly affected by these oppressions should be at the forefront of that struggle. 

Coming from an environment in the Netherlands where the majority of the people involved in “no border activism”*** are from Western countries, and thus mostly not people who had to confront with their bodies the border system, we felt the need to discuss among ourselves what does it mean to do “no border activism” in this context, what are the dynamics that bring and brought to this situation and what are the practices to overcome these limitations?

 ***(We mean here by no border activism struggles that are mostly carried on by groups and people related to an anti-authoritarian, extra-parliamentary left. We do not think that these enclose all the struggles ongoing against borders, but we’re gonna use this term for simplicity) 

 We want to use this reflection session as an opportunity to discuss on these issues and think of possible solutions. Hereafter are some points of reflections to help the discussion

 2. We acknowledge the existence of a long-lasting gap in the No Border Activism in the Netherlands between traditional western activists and the migrant communities. We believe that there are many reasons for the existence of this gap. 

  •  The interiorized categorization that leads leftists to view political migrants as refugees in need of help and not as political subjects, or the reluctance to create bridges of real solidarity (thus as an occasion for mutual learning and support) for struggles of political migrants that are not 100% in line with one’s own ideology.
  •  The systematic pressure exercised by the “integration” policies, the effects of racist conditions, language barriers and social isolation experienced by migrant people.

By the above-mentioned factors the groups are ultimately separated from each other and the mutual ignorance and prejudices are maintained or strengthened by missing points of contact.

3. We realize that the question on how to involve migrants communities in ‘traditional western no border activism’ relies on problematic assumptions, implicitly stating that “they” need to come to “us”, assuming that they are not already resisting and fighting.

4. The Netherlands is perceived as a country far away from the border, it is not a European Union border country nor a transit area, but rather an end destination. (This of course doesn’t mean that people don’t die in The Netherlands because of border policies or that people oppressed by the border system are not faced with day-to-day problems) At the same time though, the Dutch state not only plays a big role in European border policies, it also has a big influence in destabilizing countries where migrants come from.

Given that the gap between our communities exist, in the context we are situated in, what can we do to establish better connections to each other? How to care for each other? We would like to reflect on practices to accomplish this. 

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