This should ring true for every Chicago Anarchist:

 

Seattle’s Wildcat Social Center is Closing

Sat, 08/03/2013 – 10:34Anonymous (not verified)

As members of the Wildcat collective, we are both relieved and bummed to announce that everyone’s favorite too-tiny social center will be closing its doors by August 15.

Since opening in February 2012 near the politically-charged intersection of 23rd and Union in the Central District of Seattle, the Wildcat has hosted dozens of speaking events, dinners, and films. It also housed L@s Quixotes, a radical lending library with a great collection of anti-authoritarian books and consistent open-hours. We opened the space during the crucial ebb-time between the eviction of the Decolonize/Occupy Seattle camp at Seattle Central Community College and May Day 2012. Without the Occupy camp or the Autonomia social center, the city’s growing and loosely-formed anti-state/anti-capitalist network desperately needed a meeting place to continue to encounter each-other and discover new affinities. For a time, the Wildcat was exactly that. True to our mission, our three-room cubbyhole was “a springboard for comrades to meet and launch their collective struggles toward freedom.”

Throughout the spring of 2012, the Wildcat was a clearinghouse for posters promoting what would be an unforgettable May Day. The space bustled on summer weekends as folks circulated in from the Food for Everyone BBQs that took place down the street in front of the mostly-empty Horace Mann building, a site of historic contest in the Central District. Along with the Umojafest PEACE Center across the street, the Wildcat helped to spread anti-police and anti-gentrification sentiment in the neighborhood. Upstanding citizens complained about all the graffiti, posters, and demonstrations.

Unfortunately, developers are currently planning to destroy the southeastern block of 23rd and Union in order to build a giant apartment building similar to the ones on Capitol Hill. This development may ultimately destroy Umoja and the black- and brown-owned businesses currently located next to it. While we have no love for capitalist enterprise in general, we recognize that this development is yet another step in a process that is rapidly transforming Seattle into an over-priced, sterile, white-washed dead zone. In this context, it is really sad to see the Wildcat go. The yuppies would have really, really hated us.

It’s no secret that the space has been experiencing financial difficulties since last fall. We think this happened mostly as a result of the onslaught of repression against anarchists in the northwest that began just after May Day 2012. The impressive amount of energy and fundraising that we all put towards grand jury resistance unfortunately sapped a lot of life from the Wildcat, and we have never really recovered. Sadly, this is exactly the sort of damage state agents intend to inflict when they initiate counterinsurgency operations like this grand jury investigation.

The state mobilizes its repressive forces not only to spread fear, discourage action, and stifle rebellious energy, but also to send us into a hyper-reactive tizzy that too often disrupts longer term goals and infrastructural projects. And indeed, while we were busy scrambling to support our comrades and take care of each other, we sometimes neglected the space and didn’t properly promote our events. Thankfully, the new anarchist café Black Coffee was there to pick up a lot of slack. Its size and location (only blocks away from the former site of the Occupy camp in Capitol Hill, Seattle’s densest residential neighborhood) makes it perfect for hosting the large events that would overflow the Wildcat’s cramped quarters. But because we mostly relied on donations at large events for funding, the landslide began. Now we’re up to our necks and ready to call it quits.

It all sounds pretty depressing, but don’t despair! Every ending opens opportunities for new beginnings. There is already talk of opening another social center in Seattle, so keep your ear to the ground.

This leaves us wondering how we all can strengthen our projects so they’ll still be standing when the next crisis clears. How can we create sustainable antagonist infrastructure in an expensive city like Seattle? What kind of social center models could or do work well here? What do we need in an anarchist space that isn’t already provided by Black Coffee and Left Bank Books? How can an anarchist space become relevant to the neighborhood surrounding it? These are the questions that need to be answered as part of figuring out what will be necessary to open another space. [Poster’s note: Within the next month, there will likely be an open discussion about anarchist space in Seattle that aims to answer some of these questions.]

In the meantime, please come out to the Wildcat’s Bye-Bye Bash on Friday, August 9, starting at 8pm. And, if you wouldn’t mind, bring a few dollars for drinks and treats so we can pay our insane electricity bill. Or, if you can’t make it to the party, make your last donation here: https://www.wepay.com/donations/87344

Solidarity forever,
The Wildcat

Just a little something to add to the discussion:

http://indyreader.org/content/dovetail-interview-kate-khatib-red-emmas

all best to all,

fj

For those who don’t know him, Dave has been involved in the Philadelphia anarchist environment for a long time.  He is an original member of the LAVA space, (the Lancaster Avenue Autonomous Space, http://www.lavazone.org/) . LAVA zone is a three story storefront which houses offices upstairs for the taxi drivers union, some other grassroots political groups and a national human rights group. 

 Dave works presently with DECARCERATEPA, an anti-prison group (http://decarceratepa.info/). Chester House is a collective house at 53rd St. and Chester Ave in Philly, with garden, solar heating and electric, and other sustainable technologies.  It was rehabbed from a fire sale.

Here’s his letter, dated January 15th, 2013.

good to hear from you.  cool to hear about the space project in chicago. it sounds  alot like the beginnings of LAVA. We had a space exploration group in the early days which became responsible for finding what is now LAVA. And some of the concerns thrown out sound pretty familiar. A whole bunch of thoughts come to mind after years of LAVA’s ups and downs. Just off the top of my head:
Focusing on the space being explicitly anarchist. I think depending on the strength and enthusiasm of the anarchist community in Chicago, being explicit about anarchism is something I feel pretty mixed about. I think it often narrows down the available players and helps create a counter culture focus regardless of the intentions of the group (like calling a space a “trotskyist” or “punk” space would). That’s a big political question, but i think it’s also relevant when talking about security culture. One reason that anarchists have been successfully targeted by the state is not that they pose a threat to the state necessarily, but they are more easily isolated politically. Having a space that operates on anti-authoritarian principles and where the broader movement feels they have a stake in its survival will no doubt help the space thrive and be less susceptible to attacks by the state. Could also help spread (lower case a) anarchist methods and qualities to the general movement.
I think identifying needs and desires first is important. Is the space for culture, doing community organizing, offices, etc. who needs the space (and are they committed enough to contributing)? In the notes you passed on, it feels like people are putting the “need” for a space before the material needs of orgs, entities, people who would use it. But if the desire for a space comes before a need and material commitments, i think the logistical weight of the project could be overwhelming. at LAVA the energy has seriously waned in different respects, but the organizational day to day of the member orgs have kept it it alive even though there are no real currently active LAVA centric projects going on right now.
I think incorporating and implementing legally explicit shared ownership of LAVA has been good in avoiding some of the issues of power dynamics referenced on the blog. At this point there is little collective memory of who’s on the board even. But that also doesn’t help with leadership. ie: who’s taking initiative, who keeps things moving, who responds to infrastructural, legal, etc. issues (sometimes no-one).
That said I think being very conscious of expanding people who run the space from the get (like having periodic new member orientations or trainings) and making sure new folks are moved towards being conscious of their own personal stake in the project is important (something LAVA has profoundly failed at).
I have lots more to say, but not so much internet access down here. However just also want to say, most of the above is from how i’ve processed LAVA’s failures and strengths over the years. So much I would try to do differently over the years if i had the chance. If I were to start something similar again, I would collect a ton of orgs and start with a strategy session to map out goals and a path to those and do whatever work necessary to have a ton of orgs/people with a stake in the project and who’ve arrived there together.
of finally: if you’re buying a shell, seriously consider if you have the collective energy to fix it AND do the project you want to there. At LAVA we burned out generations of enthusiastic folks fixing up the building. it almost did the whole project in.
websites for searching properties:
http://www.trulia.com
homes.com
as for chester house, we investigated by breaking into empties we wanted to squat then chose to write to owners. may be a whole different situation chicago.
in phila the city has a property database one can search with backtaxes and owners listed. could be useful if trying to targeted absentee landlords to give up their shells to a social project. a few successful campaigns have done this here.
we got Lava by flyering and disrupting sheriff sales (announcing loudly with flyers and banners not to bid because we want the building for a community center)
Best of Luck!

First, it seems like the days when groups of people pitched in their extra dough and opened social centers in Chicago is pretty well over.  A new paradigm is required, which is anti-capitalist and at the same time fully cognizant of the heightened surveillance state.  There just isn’t the extra cash around for these semi-permanent places in which to hold shows, lectures, films, social services info., radical reading and informational materials, etc.  If one can put it so crassly, “either a space lives close to a strong revenue stream or its going to be very temporary.”

Both ideas seem worth researching: a) the viability of a space which houses a series of not-for-profit businesses (and really attempts to guarantee their successes); and b) temporary month-to-month spaces which bend the rules a bit and move on.

The question about not-for-profit businesses seems to hinge on whether they’re self-identified as anarchist (where they’ll be discriminated against) or not.  Temporary spaces don’t do well for habitual visitors but maybe that will have to be OK.  Maintaining good relations with landlords might be an issue.

It will be interesting to hear back what people think and to see what people come up with in terms of info-gathering projects.  It was really evident at the meeting that more anarchist space was desired.  So we’ll keep on.  We may be able to learn from spaces like Red Emma’s Cafe and Bookstore in Baltimore and The Wooden Shoe Bookstore and LAVA autonomous space in Philly.

Minutes to the Informal Meeting

Concerning Anarchist Space in Chicago

12/2/2012

 

1. The meeting began between 6 and 6:30pm with a sharing of food and conversation among the various participants.  Seven Anarchists from a variety of backgrounds and skill-sets were present. After the meal, the table was taken down and a more serious discussion ensued. Two who were supposed to leave early to catch a train were offered a ride and stayed until the end, around 10pm.

The first question raised was, “Why are there no Anarchist spaces?”

 The answers given were as varied as the participants.  One responded that Anarchist spaces in the past have attracted police repression (A Zone, etc): from having long lines of people waiting to get in to shows, large groups of people outside smoking, runaways wanted by the police, a crossover population with connections to repressions of larger group actions like NATO, etc.

 Another mentioned the fatigue involved in paying expensive rent month after month, thereby requiring constant fundraising efforts. S/he also said that historically, from the very beginning of Anarchism in Chicago, Anarchist spaces have been harassed and broken by the efforts of the dominant hierarchy.  Maintaining an Anarchist space has always been an uphill struggle.

 A third person stated a view of Anarchists held by the general population: people are generally xenophobic toward Anarchists, even when they share many of the same beliefs, experiences and desires for freedom.  Therefore, Anarchist spaces and events are generally unpopular and under attended with the exceptions of the Matches and Mayhem/ Finding Our Anarchist Roots-style major events.  Fundraising with unpopular events is a poor revenue stream.

2. That having been said, there was still a unanimous desire for more Anarchist space in Chicago and in the surrounding areas:  spaces for cultural events, films, skill sharing and generalized mutual aid;  spaces in which one can invite and interface with interested persons from the larger society; spaces which house Anarchist resources and productive activities from which one might address the contemporary crises in the larger society. 

 Some mention was made of the need for a higher level of security culture to respond to the presently raised levels of surveillance, including a questioning of the uses of internet.  It was presumed that all Anarchists are now on watch lists.  Another mentioned problem-solving around the issue of Anarchists whose behavior is threatening to those who work with or interact with her/him.  Historical examples were given.  Teach-ins and readily available literature on how to deal with the law/police were discussed.

 One person suggested a variety of spatial solutions:  a) retrofitting post-industrial space for use as live/work space; b) using living spaces for activities other than sleeping; c) storefront; d) squatting;  and e) forming a collective for the purpose of purchasing distressed or delinquent properties (fixer-upper or tax distressed properties).  All of the above were said to have their related problems and it was suggested that while being as careful as possible, Anarchists should keep in mind that the procuring, maintaining and protection of an Anarchist space will be a learning curve.

 The meeting continued with people sharing freely from their thoughts and experiences until almost 10pm.  All present agreed that they would like a copy of the notes taken for the meeting.  It was stated that the notes would be made available to the participants before being archived with a link to the Anarchist list serve.  All present were invited to edit and contribute to the notes before being linked to the list serve.

 From this writer’s perspective, one point missing from the discussion which would be fruitful for other meetings and groups is a show of rough numbers, that is, the costs associated with the different spatial solutions with a geographic representation of the numbers, neighborhood-wise.  For instance, a range of cost/sq ft of industrial, living, storefront and purchased spaces.  This would require a research gathering group who could make the information available to Anarchists.

In solidarity,

jones

 

My apologies for not making the meeting today.  But I wanted to contribute to the discussion of anarchist spaces, with a few observations about the pros and cons of collectives I’ve known or experienced, depending on ownership styles.  Three ways that this can be divided are: rented spaces, squatted spaces, and owned spaces.  Uncle Stanley’s Falling Sky Asylum is a collective house founded in 2008 and still continuing to the present time that is an owned space.  I and my partner have owned the space since the beginning, and it has created unique problems as well as having unique advantages.  I will speak of them now:

 

Advantages to Owned Spaces

–Greater Permanence and Stability: a greater opportunity to remain viable as an ongoing anarchist space.  In rented spaces, there is always the possibility of eviction, and this is even greater with squatted spaces.  With owned spaces, eviction is much more difficult for the authorities to effect.

–Greater Access to Space: Our house is on a corner lot in a Westside Chicago neighborhood, which is a double-lot—giving us the chance to have a healthy garden and to build a permanent house for our chickens.  In rented spaces, there is often less outdoor access for gardens and permaculture, and in squatted spaces, it is less stable or permanent.

–Greater Contact with Neighbors: In working class neighborhoods, with emphasis on families, it is a truism that the longer the you stick around, the more you will be trusted.  Unlike a lot of other anarchist spaces, our Asylum has a lot of organic connection to our neighbors—many friends whom we’ve made over our four years here.  These contacts can only help the process of spreading an anarchist message, and learning from folks whom we might otherwise not have known.

 

Disadvantages to Owned Spaces

–Difficulty in Fostering a Sense of Collective Ownership and Mission: We’ve had a lot of troubles over the years encouraging folks here to be invested in the house and its projects.  I think this is due to folks’ inability or unwillingness to see the house as not belonging to “the owners’”—my partner and me.  My partner and I pay rent along with everyone else, the funds collected into a pool from which we pay the taxes, insurance, and other expenses of the house.  We also make all our decisions collectively, with consensus as a rule.  Yet, my partner and I have often felt like the only people who are permanently invested in the space—a feeling we continue to find uncomfortable and inadequate for the responsibility of the house.

–Difficulty in Finding Motivation for Projects: Another drawback to ownership is that those who do not feel they “own” the space often look to us, my partner and me, to do the projects the house needs.  My partner has often complained that there is little interest in the garden, historically, among the members of the house, and projects usually have to be bottom-lined either by my partner or by me.  In the past, even basic chores fell on my shoulders; this led me to going “on strike” for a few months, where I didn’t pay my share of the rent, until people agreed to pitch in.  My reasoning was that “janitors” many times are given “free room and board,” to do the jobs that are expected of them, even in capitalist enterprises.  People did kick in with their share of the work, then, and I agreed to go back to paying my share.  But that extreme measure of protest on my part led to several communards leaving the collective, and moving elsewhere—rather than contribute their share of work.  The folks now are motivated to help with their chores; but ongoing major projects still have the disadvantage of having to bottom-lined by me.

–Power-Dynamics, and Factionalism: Real or perceived, or some combination of the two—ownership has made the issues of power in a capitalist world feel very real in our house.  This cuts both ways.  There has been accusations that my partner and I wielded authority over the house; but there is also the feeling in myself, but even more in my partner, that, unlike everyone else here, we are “stuck” here—and can’t go leave and travel as everyone else is free to do.  There have been the same kinds of factions and in-fighting that can occur in any collective, rented, squatted, or owned—but issues of identity politics, sexism and racism, divided our house in the last few years, and I used what “power” I had to try to keep balance and fight for the rights of disadvantaged people in our house, who I believe were victims of racism and gender-oppression on the part of others in the house.  The “ends justifying the means” might have dubious ethical considerations from an anarchist perspective; but without my ability to defend my friends of color, a great tragedy might have taken place in the house.  Looking back, I’m glad to have done what I could to prevent that tragedy.

–Differences in Expectation/Life-Goals, Revolving Around Ownership: My partner and I are “old” for the anarchist scene in Chicago—myself 40, my partner 41.  Historically, no one in the house has ever been older than their early thirties, and mostly folks have been in their twenties.  Whilst ageism back and forth has been minimal, there ARE differences as one goes through different phases of one’s life.  On a purely physical level, my partner and I have less ability to do work around the house and on projects; yet, we are still the ones who are looked to to “take care of” things.  Most people our age are not living in collectives, and are looking towards different life-goals than we are.  But my collective housemates, whilst being similar in goals to us in the sense of wanting to sustain a collective rather than wanting to start a biological family or otherwise live a “straight” life, preparing for retirement—even so, the fact that folks are in their twenties seems to encourage a more temporary mindset in the folk who’ve lived here—not wanting to commit to living here long-term, not seeing their life in the future connected to our particular collective—even though they might see it connected to some collective or other in their future.  While it would be lovely to pretend fifteen years of living is no object between my partner and I and these other folks, it would be wishful thinking to do so.

 

Hopefully these ideas will encourage further discussion amongst y’all.  Thanks for allowing my comments to be part of the discussion.

 

Yours in Revolution,

Sid Prise