WRITE-UP ON CONVERSATION WITH PO
After a long day of talking at an international seminar, trying to restart a collective map as part of the Web Ring process we retire back to the ESC space where I ask Paolo to tell me more about different activist experiences in Rome and what’s going on with the student movement, activist research & cartography, & everything else.
He scrambles for two beers- we cheer, chug and the story starts –
First- the Scene: where we are. ESC (www.escatelier.net) is a squatted warehouse in the neighborhood of San Lorenzo- right by the Sapienza university- the largest university in Europe (and one of the largest in the world somewhere after the UNAM).
A series of struggles around 2002/3 in universities in Rome start the process that will lead to the squatting of the ESC space toward the end of 2004- by students (undergrad and grad), researchers, cultural workers, and intermittently employed folks. Soon after ESC gets going as a project- in 2005 there’s a large strike at the Sapienza with departments and buildings taken over for weeks/months at a time. ESC gets enmeshed in all of this of course- so when they are threatened with eviction can muster up thousands of people in support. So for the moment- the squatted status navigates a sort of tense legal space.
The idea of ESC operates on a sort of two fold plane. Principally it serves to act as an interface between the “university” and the “city”. Being that the two increasingly make each other and currently- if all the talk about cognitive capitalism, creative class etc. has any merit to it- then the university itself and its spaces begin to reform/remake metropolitan spaces in order to drink from that boiling pot of creative relations. So ESC serves as a switchboard or transit station between movements, activities, interventions, within and without the university, making a strategic choice to intervene in questions around the university due to their analysis of its current role in economics, politics and class formation as well as being a part of its most members’ vital experience.
On the second hand ESC is also part of a series of new social centers that try to reorient the politics of social centers away from a sort of counter-culture politics and towards a more out-reaching extraverted approach towards the city. This includes strategic uses of autonomy as opposed to a more “purist” approach.
Besides a lot of work around the Bologna process (the EU’s institutional attempt to create a European Space of Higher Education) currently ESC has begun a series of very interesting projects- many focused around their idea of “autoformazione”. “Autoformazione”- or self-formation/teaching- is for ESC the creation of autonomous spaces for research and education. Spaces of training/workshops/classrooms, etc. that can aid in building people’s capacities as well as strengthening struggles. Their approach towards “AF” lets call it, includes fighting with the university or others on occasions for recognition of the material taught in spaces such as ESC so that people can claim official university-like credit for what they’re doing.
(we’re not sure if this would be the same as some sort of internship credit- it could be problematic- but there are a series of arguments around claiming recognition for autonomous education spaces- how they would avoid or deal with other groups they don’t agree with -‘right-wing groups or what have you- claiming their own “autonomous education” is unclear).
Not only has ESC done this with La Sapienza but has also helped to found a network called LUM- Libera Universita Metropolitana. LUM includes other Sapienza-university based groups as well as organizations from Roma III (the other big Roman university) and a few other places.
LUM not only attempts to create the sort of space of “autoformazione” as described above- their classes additionally try to challenge divisions between mental and physical/ material and immaterial labor. So they will have courses on things like contemporary Marxist/operaist thought, another class to get basic electrician skills, and another on DJing. Tests to pass a course can include: for example connecting the electricity in houses/squats/etc. where the electricity has been disconnected. Flyers for the course on DJing speak of “Knowledge- for us, by us”. So as a corollary to questions of militant research the idea of self-formation in some of these Roman groups takes a center stage.
Later, ESC and LUM form part of a broader recently formed national network between several cities called UniRiot (www.uniriot.org) “network delle facolta ribelle” which is a sort of tool and news sharing network for different university movements that are following somewhat similar paths of autonomy, questions of knowledge, anti-capitalism like campusactivism.org but more focused and with denser political affinities amongst the groups. (They’ll actually be posting some of 3C’s info there for use by groups in Rome, Bologna and another city or two).
On questions of activist research ESC, jointly with other strictly campus-based groups, is embarking on a process of “incheista”- or “survey”. This is inspired from the tradition of “inchiesta operaia” -workers’ survey- a tool of “coricerca” (coresearch). The idea is a survey about current conditions and transformations at the university that is not based solely or even primarily on obtaining objective quantifiable data—rather the survey itself is a tool for the surveyed to begin to ask themselves questions on how they feel about things such as: access to spaces for student use, university fees, types of education, incursions of -or partnerships with- private sector banks and corporations, etc. The survey fulfills a rather different purpose then (in some sense at a micro-level this is what we may have been gesturing at with the surveys we did for the Labor Day drift). For ESC this new survey will form part of a larger process of work dealing with the Bologna Process.
Additionally, a radical mapping project is going to begin soon focusing on- what do you know,- rethinking the university and its current transformations. For the moment they’re considering two layers, or foci anyway, as far as I’ve understood it:
1) the effects of current university expansion on the city’s spaces, urbanism, gentrification-like processes, etc. (For example- in Roma III, in order to support the building of the ‘creative class’, there are plans to create “la citta dei giovani” (the city of the youth)- a sort of engineered bohemianism criss-crossed through by the university);
2) is a map of layers of types of knowledge being produced (we didn’t quite get where they might be taking this or how they’re conceiving it but it sounds interesting). Right now the map is in initial stages but they were psyched by the 3Cs project as inspiration.
They’ve done some other smaller map-ish initiatives- schematic for the time being- of university spaces within the metropolis- in both Rome and Paris between groups in both cities- – to show the density of university related spaces and their effects on a neighborhood a grosso modo
Movimento della Pantiera-Posse & Toni Negri’s stories on the way to jail?
We got to talking about forgotten histories of struggles- I think I was mentioning the ’71 general strike and other smaller happenings since then and we got to talking about a very impressive though near forgotten movement from Rome in 1990?!
Though most people make reference to the ’77 movement- or the long ’68, Paolo began to talk about another unique experience. In 1990, a large movement burst out of La Sapeinza university and other places- basically a general strike of the university commences lasting a good while with buildings occupied for months, generating a series of practices and networks in the midst of the post 80’s/’89 malaise in ‘the West’. During the strike a panther (black?) escaped from the Rome zoo, and the panther became the mascot for the movement.
After the strike ended- something of a new generation of activists had come into their own, and just going back into a sort of early 90’s malaise wasn’t going to cut it for them. The generation that struck during ’90- after the strike and after university (some people finishing degree others apparently not) ended up squatting approx. a hundred social centers throughout Italy in rapid succession. This was the second generation of social centers. In addition a whole cultural scene emerged with self-managing/self-producing music groups proliferating, the most famous known as Posse 99. These practices became known as the Posse movement based on an old Latin phrase I can’t quite remember (like essere- posse- ??…) and means to be able to- to have the power to. Posse is also the title of one of the principal theoretical journals of current Italian autonomous thinking (Derive Approdi probably being the other). Despite the strength of those movements, almost no trace has been left for newer folks to learn about it- virtually no books, films, zines or articles, few if any workshops by participants, etc- no key spokespeople really emerged from the movement in the same way that they had from ’77 (folks-men- like Negri, Tronti, Virno, Bifo, etc.). Its not quite so much that those experiences were lost necessarily but is interesting to see how the experiments with political/economic autonomy continued and developed after the 70’s in a generation prior to the global resistance movements.
At this point- Paolo shares a copy of Posse with me, we chat some more, and he tells me the entertaining story of how when Negri came back from France when he had to spend nights in jail in Rome during a legal process, him and another mate from ESC accompanied him many nights to take him back to jail. This was in the late 90’s, before Negri became so famous either in Italy or abroad- so they had personalized seminars on the way to jail every night for a while (during this time must have been when he was drafting Empire with Hardt), kind of cool.
Some very cool stuff happening and very cool ideas- though virtually everything can seem like more than it is- so no need to exaggerate. The space itself is quite humble but there’s definitely a lot going on and an effort to generate continuous activities and spaces of contagion between education and urban-community issues.