Archive for the 'the "outside"' Category

Self-organization and self-government in Haiti to deal with the crisis

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

Haitians in makeshift camps organize ‘platoons’ to provide services

By Howard LaFranchi Staff writer posted January 31, 2010 at 11:41 am EST

Small groups have taken it upon themselves to establish security, organize aid deliveries, and maintain a minimum of sanitation in the sprawling ‘tent cities’ that cropped up in the wake of the Jan. 12 earthquake.

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Port-au-Prince, Haiti —As Haitians have accepted the stark reality that the camps that sprang up after the horrific Jan. 12 earthquake will be their home indefinitely, people have moved to get their new communities organized.Enter any camp here, from the sprawling, stewing expanse of perhaps 10,000 people in the capital’s central Champ de Mars, to others on soccer fields and golf courses and inside the security barriers of now-crumbled public buildings, and in most cases you’ll find “the committee” – the small group of men and women who have taken it upon themselves to establish security, organize aid deliveries, and maintain a minimum of sanitation.< ..more..!>

Behind these spontaneous and often basic attempts at self-government is a very human desire to put some order – and maybe even a bit of hope – into disrupted and disoriented lives.

“The first distributions of food here were complete chaos. The groups got out of here before emptying their trucks because it was such a mess,” says Ben Constant, president of the “committee” at the Sylvio Cator soccer stadium camp, a few blocks west of the collapsed presidential palace in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince. “That’s when we knew we had to get this thing organized.”

Mr. Constant, a well-known Port-au-Prince DJ who before the quake managed the stadium for the Haitian Federation of Football, sat down to figure out who was living in the camp – about 700 families, more than 2,500 people – what was needed, and who could do what.

Clean-up ‘platoons’

Clean-up and security “platoons” were established – the word “platoon” harking back to Constant’s years serving in the US Army and Vietnam (he’s a Haitian citizen who lived in the US for a number of years). A clinic with what he claims is now some of the best emergency pediatric care in the city was set up – open not just to the camp population but to all Haitian kids in need.

And families were assigned a number – it’s all written down by hand on a neat ledger – so that numbers are called when aid arrives, and the distribution is more orderly.

Constant says he felt compelled to organize day-to-day living at the camp because frustration was building “and something bad was going to happen.” The fact he and his family live at the stadium as well was another motivation. “We lost everything like everybody else,” he says. “We’re just trying to make what we can of this situation.”

In some cases, the camp committee members were involved in neighborhood governing boards before the quake, and simply transferred their skills and social-organizing abilities to their new residence.

Kermly Hermé is one of those people. Active in the Bel Air neighborhood before the quake, she is now the doyenne of at least a section of the sprawling Champ de Mars camp.

A large woman with a colorful muumuu and a massive bun fashioned of tight braids, Ms. Herme says the “committee” of nine she sits on has assigned itself such tasks as keeping the nearby port-a-johns “orderly” and getting the sick and wounded to clinics.

She herself has taken on the job of going to market to buy provisions – with the small “dues” the committee collects of camp residents – to prepare a daily hot meal.

Indeed, Herme suddenly excuses herself from an interview and moves to the bubbling pots a few steps away, where a rather forlorn-looking man holds out a Styrofoam takeout container. Without a word she scoops rice onto the plate and then ladles chicken in chickpea sauce over it. The man thanks her and walks on.

Camps outside of Port-au-Prince

The camp organizing is not limited to Port-au-Prince, but appears to have sprung up wherever Haitians find themselves without a house and obliged to join others in makeshift communities.

In Jacmel on Haiti’s southern coast, the 13 individuals attempting to put some order into the lives of 600 homeless people in the crushed center city have even given themselves a fancy title: Management Committee of the Victims at Toussaint Louverture Square.

As was the case with the stadium camp, impending anarchy prompted the committee’s formation.

“A truck from Doctors without Borders came with kits of supplies to hand out, but it was such terrible disorder they left in a hurry,” says Michelet Jerôme. “That got us going.”

The committee now has a security team – petty theft by “outsiders” was becoming a problem – and food, shelter, and health subcommittees.

Another important committee function is to advocate for the camp with the dozens of international assistance organizations that are bringing supplies and services into the city. “We have a serious lack of tents, but if you go into some of the streets in the higher [up the hill] neighborhoods, you’ll see them lined with red tents because they had good contact with the organization that provided tents,” Mr. Jerôme says. “We need a committee to establish relations with these groups.”

Longer-term housing needs

The camp organizing is taking hold just as the Haitian government plans for the longer-term housing needs of perhaps 1 million Haitians during the country’s reconstruction period. Last week Haitian officials said they had already secured 400,000 tents from international donors, and had so far selected sites in Port-au-Prince for two large camps.

Some of the camp organizers say they expect many of the makeshift camps to remain, in part because they are often close to people’s neighborhoods. Others say they will be happy to turn over management to the government. Some, however, fear any attempt to build camps of several thousand families make things worse. Among the concerns: The new camps will be located far from the city center, transportation won’t be adequate, and distribution of food and other needs – still a problem in the makeshift camps – will deteriorate in camps with more people.

Hermé of the Champ de Mars says she can understand that 10,000 people can’t continue living in the city’s central public space, but she also says that past experience suggests to her that the government will have a hard time getting the new camps right.

“If they organize things well from the beginning, with good services and transportation, it can work,” she says. “But already we only find out about their plans on the radio, so it’s not a good start.”

And at the stadium camp, Constant is even less hopeful. “They’re going to try to do something that is impossible,” he says. “I know what we’re going through here with 800 people,” he says. “Can you imagine what it will take to succeed with 5,000 people living in the same camp?”

Granting vs confirming rights; commons and commoning; invisibility.

Friday, May 8th, 2009

Few days ago I posted I video of Louis Wolcher’s talk on the meaning of the commons, a discussion that find inspiration from The Charters of Liberty as studied by Peter Linebough in his book The Magna Carta Manifesto. I have extracted here the central part. This extract develops four points. 1) The importance of seeing the state not simply as “granting” rights, but as confirming rights; b) For the state (king) to reach a point of confirming commoners’ rights, implies the commoners were already commoning , i.e. took their own life into their own hands: “”to common was to engage in a form of life in which you took your life, your subsistence, into your own hands and you did not wait at the table for crumbs to drop from the powerful”; 3) commoning or the memory of commoning as a different life was central in building resistence to the later enclosures; 4) the problem is today that — in “ordinary people” at least in the US — there is much little memory of commoning, hence people instinctual reaction to “market failure” and crisis is “the market, more markets, different markets.”

Point 1, 2 and 3 are brilliant and simple points that could be put in the first pages of any handbooks on “how to change the world” if there was such a thing. I think that point 4 is problematic. Not in the sense that it does not reflect some true. It certainly does. But because the commoning is not lost in our lives: it permeates them to a variety of degrees as much as it is “invisible”. There is commoning among workers in offices and factories. There is commoning in schools and hospitals. In neighbourhoods, in social movements milieus, in domestic spheres and there is definitively both commoning and a memory of commoning among the indigenous people, the migrants from the global south and in their original communities. How can we recognise it, how can we reclaim it, how can we “own it” and how can we turn it into a social force?

Anyway, here is the text on “The meaning of the commons” by Louis Walker.

“The notion of the commons in the Anglophone legal tradition is rooted in the a particular kind of historical memory ⎯ one that goes back to the fuedual era and that took institutional form in two founding documents of the english constitution: Magna Carta in 1215 and the great charter of the forest in 1225. Now, these so called charters of liberty are widely remembered today, but they are remembered primarily in only one of their aspects. The aspect I am referring to that most lawyers are familiar with in this country is the one that drew the attention of the founders of our constitution. It is the idea that the king, the sovereign, grants people certain rights and put certain limits on his power ⎯ and so in the famous article 39 of the Magna Carta we find the origin of the due process of low for example and the idea of habeas corpus. So what we have there is the idea of the king, anointed by god, putting limit on himself, restraining himself, and granting you rights. Forgotten or, I should say, barely remembered, is the other aspect of the charter of liberty. It is the notion that the king did not grant but confirmed certain customary practices that people have been engaging in for hundreds of years and which were under threat. I am referring in particular to the right of the people in common to make use of the forests and the rivers for grazing, for firewood, for basic economic needs in common with other in the community.”

“It seems to me that it is extremely important to draw the distinction that I have just drawn between the state, or the sovereign, or the king granting people rights, and confirming rights that people themselves take. In the XXI century, certainly in America, we have been beaten up so much by a positivistic conception of the law and of the state that it is hard for us to think of “rights” as anything other than creation of people that are more powerful than us, creation that are given to us by the powerful. But the customary rights that were confirmed in Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest, were not given by anyone. They were taken by the people, and they forced the king to confirm what they had already taken. The commons, in this sense, as Peter Linebough so eloquently put in his book, is best expressed as commoning, not a noun, but a verb. People actually expressing not a set of property relationships, but rather a form of life in which autonomy and the ability to meet basic subsistence needs, was something that was in the grasp of the commoners themselves, not something that had to be given to them by a superior authority. Compare that for example to the widespread idea that “welfare” in our society is something that is given by the state, controlled by the state, and that can be taken away by the state. Now, the common in this sense ⎯ and I want to stress this as a matter of law, or rather of legal theory ⎯ was not property held in common. This is an important point. The commons in this original sense was not a tract of land or a forest that the king granted a deed to a group of people, villagers for example, to go in and root around and satisfy their basic subsistence needs. It was not held in common because the very notion of property, of private property is what must be put in opposition to the commons in its original sense, in its original historical memory sense. So, commoning, as a verb ⎯ I guess is a gerund ⎯ to common, how is that? ⎯ to common was to engage in a form of life in which you took your life, your subsistence, into your own hands and you did not wait at the table for crumbs to drop from the powerful. This was what was conferred in the charter of the forests and the Magna Carta in their forgotten or nearly forgotten dimensions.”

“Now the point about this . . .is that the people that commoned and that in some sense were confirmed in their commoning in these charters in the XIII century, their joined cultural memory enabled them to form a point of resistance to effort to extinguish what they have done, to estinguish their form of life. And when the landed nobility in England engaged upon the process known as the enclosures, which in our terminology would be the creation of private property rights owning their ultimate force to a grant from the king, there was a resistance possible precisely because people could remember in their life-time, or in the life time of their parents and grand parents, a different form of living.”

“ . . .Now I think that the distinction I have drawn between the commons and commoning goes to the very hart, in my interpretation at least, of the meaning of the commons. And its most important salience for us today in a world that is melting, is its political importance. If we think of the commons as commonly owned resources then we imagine begging government, the powerful, the technocrats, for a solution to our problems, as we cowar in our homes waiting for the floods to raise. On the other hand, if we think of commoning in its original sense of an ungranted, unscripted form of life, then the possibility just begins to open itself. For us to freely create the future in common with one another . . .”

“There is however a very grave problem with this distinction that I have drawn between commons and commoning, the commons as some sort of property concept and commoning as a form of life. In the XIII century in Europe commoning as a social practice was bread into the bones of the people, it was one of the elements of social construction of reality that people did common. They accepted it as normal, as part of life. And so when a threat came to it, they had a memory, something to fall back on. We are in a less fortunate position. Because the enclosures, the marketisation and globalisation of this world with the notion of private property and global capitalism has eclipsed the commons imagination to such a degree that we have lost contact with this earlier memory if ever we had it . There is nothing for us to fall back on, or, to put it differently, for most people, ordinary people, the only solution they can think of to the failures of the markets that are rawling us right now in so many different ways is the market, more market, different markets. And so, unlike the medieval peasants or the medieval commoners we do not have this cultural memory of a different way of being, or at least the average person does not in the United States. And that present a problem”.

uncoupling at the party

Sunday, November 9th, 2008

I went partying last night in the dome, inside the castle mountain in Graz, where tunnels and bunkers have been carved out by the Nazis during the second Word War and now are used as dance floors and conference spaces. This is music that — given the sheer volume and the drum&base pumping — passes through you, or at least, it does so if “you let it”, as someone told me (ehm, shouted at me) on the dance floor. Now here is a thought. In the morning I had a workshop on my book as part of the Elevate festival, and among other things we discussed the idea that the capital relation, or the value struggle, passes through us. Mmhh, so, what happens when in the evening the music passes through you? It happens that it is banging the capitalist relation out of ourselves, at least momentarily, leading to the momentary uncoupling from the temporal dimension of capital, the one that requires schedules, deadlines, responsibilities that have no or little meaning as well as endless struggle against it. If you add the fact that in music, rhythm constitutes the commons (see this blog entry), then this is it! The dance/rave culture that lives its nights and morning floating from one dance-floor to another, is the contemporary manifestation of what in the 1970s was called “il bisogno di comunismo” (the need for Communism) . . or “commOnism” . . .

Indian farmers against export processing zones

Monday, May 12th, 2008

I do not know what happened since last year, when the news came out of Indian farmers refusing to sell their land in order to develop export processing zones and thus forcing the government to do a U turn. In any case, this is an interesting piece of news here

Happy May Day

Tuesday, May 1st, 2007


The “worker’s may pole” (1864) captures the hybrid green and red tradition of May Day, so well described in this classic account by Peter Linebough.

The World Social Forum: a fantasy letter to the cosmopolitan bourgeoisie

Thursday, February 8th, 2007

wsf.jpgThis year edition of the World Social Forum was held between 20 to 25 January in Nairobi, attended by about 60000 people. There is a good article by Patrick Bond, which accounts for the limitations and contradictions of this year edition. The article also reviews some of the debates within the movements on the way forward.

Few days ago, another article by Immanuel Wallerstein appeared on the International Herald Tribune, in which he celebrates the alter-globalist hitting their stride. The substance of the argument put forward to the readers of this great newspaper of the cosmopolitan bourgeoisie, is twofold. First, we have many networks. Second we have many manifestos, hence “alternatives”. mmmh, I am wandering whether these are real advances in relation to previous editions of the WSF. But also, what is the purpose of writing to the cosmopoltan bourgeoise in these terms? In light of the many disheartening facts reported by the Patrick Bond article I was fantasizing, in a political fiction fashion, what a different type of social force would the global movements be if the substance of our argument put to the IHT was something like this: (more…)

Communist Manifestoon

Thursday, January 18th, 2007

video_button_white_dred.gifI found this 8 minutes video, voice over text from Marx and Engels 1848 Communist Manifesto and images from a broad range of Golden Age XXth Century Hollywood animation. And what a pairing this is!

A not so old debate

Wednesday, January 17th, 2007

video_button_white_dred.gifThe following two videoclips are an extract of a debate held in Holland in 1974, between Michel Foucault and Noam Chomsky. What is interesting for us is that they capture a quite current contraposition between two approaches to politics, that of a politics of immanence (Foucault) and of transcendence (Chomsky). For Foucault concepts such as justice and human nature are socially constructed within our civilisation, class society and form of knowledge, hence we cannot appeal to “these notions to describe or justify a fight which should — and shall in principle — overthrow the very fundamentals of our society.” To Chomsky instead, there is a fundamental absolute basis, “ultimately residing in fundamental human qualities” in term of which the “real notion of justice is grounded”. The current class based system of justice also ambody a “kind of a groping towards the true humanly valuable concept of justice, and decency, and love and kindness and love” that Chomsky believes are real.

If we take constituent struggles as our starting point — as struggles constituting the outside of capital in the here and now — both perspectives are useful, and limited. From Chomsky’s critique of Foucault we derive the need to create an outside to capital’s civilisation. From Foucault’s critique of Chomsky we derive the need to recognise this outside within. From the perspective of struggles that posit values outside capital (hence other senses of justice, human nature, etc.), struggles constitute frontlines, hence posit absolutes in the here and now at the same time.

Part 1

Part 2

report of an autonomous government

Sunday, January 14th, 2007

encuentro2006.jpgI report here an English translation of an article from La Journada reporting on the Zapatista’s “an encounter of resistances and rebellions against global capitalism and neoliberalism, which has prepared for and planned the death and destruction of humanity and the natural environment” (from narconews)

Thousands Rebel Against Neoliberalism in Chiapas

Almost 13 Years After the Armed Uprising, Achievements of the Autonomous Governments Are Illustrated

By Hermann Bellinghausen
La Jornada

January 12, 2007

Oventic, Chiapas, MX. December 30, 2006: One day before the 13th anniversary of its armed uprising, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) welcomed followers from 30 countries, all adherents to the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, which Lt. Colonel Moisés, in name of the “Zezta Internazional,” called (more…)

Thoughts on Workerism after Mario Tronti’s talk

Monday, December 11th, 2006

lenin-in-inghilterra2.jpgIt has been suggested to me, in the corridors of the Historical Materialism conference held over the week end, that what distinguishes what we may call, broadly speaking, autonomist marxism with other marxist approaches is the argument that the “working class” is the agent of transformation that pushes capital on the defence and forces its “economic” development rather then, on the contrary, being capital that “overdetermines” the rest by means of its agency. This suggestion furthermore is accompanied by the claim that this view is false, since capital has “more power”. In my view, the insight of 1960s operaismo with respect to working class agency were not falsified in light of 1980s capital’s agency, they were simply temporally bounded. Class struggle, in a process-like manner, have at least two broad actors, not one, and their tragic-comic struggle develop through highs and lows for both sides, “scoring points” for both sides. The process of this historical development of struggle, this very process of “point scoring” for one or the other, is the stuff of capitalist development. The problem is that acknowledging this does not give us any hint of how to go beyond capital and the very specific form of struggle shaping its development.

And I think it is at this point that it is important to underline that what distinguishes “autonomist marxism” in its operaiste roots to other forms of marxism, is a specific theoretical attitude, one that takes the processes that traditionally we understand as “political” and “economic”, as one. Its unique political methodology is one that allows to ask research questions as part of a heretic research program, (more…)