Only Connect! Live in fragments no longer.
By Alan Moore ( Featured in Lumpen 129, the “Our First 100 Days” issue. )
I’ve been studying the squatting movement in Europe for nearly ten years. My zine House Magic and two books (all available as free PDFs online) detail the vitality of this tactic and the life and culture it enables. In the U.S. it barely exists – politically. My book tour last year failed. No one seemed interested in hearing about how the social movement of squatting works, how it’s been done over decades and generations of activists. I whined, went back to Europe for the summer—but could not see a way to crack the indifference in the U.S. Now we see sadly that this bland disinterest, this U.S. disconnect from international radical movements, even floating in the amniotic warmth of the coastal blue bubbles, has consequences.
At a talk this spring in N.Y.C., folks were more interested in “stealth squatting.” Staying out of sight seemed the preferred strategy. Now, in the hard hard winter of ’16, as the bios of the dead in the Ghost Ship disaster in Oakland come out, we learn that the late Denalda was a squatter, until she couldn’t any longer and had to rent in a firetrap. Right after the fire, city governments nationwide cracked down in a new wave of evictions. And suddenly a network that had hoped to stay out of sight, demographically isolated, “making do” without telling anybody, was revealed. In a bad way, that is: politically unprepared for repression. The network of derelict industrial spaces where creative and active people live and work came into view as it was being blown to pieces by bureaucrats tipped off by Pepe the Frog-loving informers, in an all-out assault on the marginal living people who make up Ghost Ship-type communities nationwide.
More than “having to” is needed to sustain productive creative life in cities now, as well as political engagements. And staying out of sight is no longer an option. But how to become visible? And more, in order to organize, how do we get to see all of each other in any place we are?
I am writing something for Chicagoans now, but I’ve been living in Milwaukee and Madrid. I am in full addicted subscription to the “technology of separation,” since I live online when I am in the Midwest. I need techniques of extension, new modes of reception—ways of meeting and working with people who themselves are isolated, suspended like flickering bulbs in the alienating pseudo-social world of online media.* We are now all apart, and together only in our opinions, occasional insights, and references. Too much of this is simply helpless rancor and outrage. It’s making me sick. There is no longer any time for that. Action is necessary. This winter I’ll have to follow U.S. events online. But when I’m here in Milwaukee, that reflex action keeps me in my house, away from others. “Personal relations are the important thing for ever and ever and not this outer life of telegrams and anger,” wrote E.M. Forster in 1910; I’ve cribbed his words for the title of this text.
So here in this Midwestern city, meetups are being organized (MoveOn, Working Families Party) which I’d be in if I stayed. That’s how it goes in the privatized sphere of U.S. social life. There’s nowhere else to go to meet radical folks unless you want to spend your nights drinking.
As an elder, I can now really only support: sit, talk, react, advise, listen, and when plans are laid, promote and connect. Being present, being engaged. I know a lot, too much, really, but I can’t share it effectively in a tavern. And the coffee houses are full of people on their devices—they don’t want you should talk so loud. It’d be nice if there was still a radical bookstore. One might be able to start an “anti-university” study/action group. But here they recently lost their lease and folded up after nearly forty years. As you lose your infrastructure due to economic insufficiency—no longer in university, can’t “run a business,” too poor to subscribe and not rich enough to pay the whole freight—and disuse from organizational bunkering up, what do you do? Maybe drink? Even drink at home and watch TV . . .
That’s the other side of the failure to squat, that is, to develop a space-based social movement or even to maintain the spaces opened by movements past (or to share them). You can’t be present if there’s nowhere to go. There is almost no political infrastructure, open to whatever, that could become citizens’ assemblies, stepping stones to popular power. That’s a stage beyond resistance. Some doors could be opened, y’kno. But the hinges are rusty. You gotta push hard. Risk some middle class privilege (which you’ve likely got if you’re reading Lumpen).
As we await Trump’s designs, some slump into paralysis while others crouch in readiness to react. That is not enough. I have to advise self-organization. That can give you nearly everything—energy, economy, spirit. Every place has a proud tradition of it—Chicago especially, still home to the head office of the IWW. Learn that past, commemorate it, re-animate it. Slip loose all controls as best you can. Jump fences—real ones and those in your mind. Then demand the right to live as you want: to live as you can make, not pay.
If you can’t manage that, just wait. The black diaper babies are coming.
* I consume it (and am consumed by it), but I try to think about it—e.g., Geert Lovink, “What Is the Social in Social Media?” (2012). Of course he lives in Amsterdam, which has generous amounts of free political space.