Spaces for daily life. Feminist foundation of the project.
We propose to maintain and improve a self-managed feminist space by and for women in the neighborhood of Lavapies. But what is a feminist space?
Urban space hides itself in an opaque neutrality. We move through it so naturally that it is difficult for us to see that this space is not neutral at all, but rather the product of decisions and policies, struggles and demands, an accumulation of history and an incarnation of power. It forms us and transforms us; we are molded by the spaces through which we move, which structure our daily life, which determine whom we encounter and in what terms. Thus the space we live in is something intimate which constitutes our subjectivities at the same time that urban space – the streets, the squares – are “the public” par excellance, precisely that which is recognized as political.
To make explicit this unity, this non-differentiation, between “the public” and “the personal” and to insist that it is in this complex environment that ‘politics’ is done, is, like so many feminist struggles, a matter of making visible the invisible, of denaturalizing what passes for ‘natural,’ just as is revealing the hidden economy of domestic work or the concealed anguish of sexual violence. To speak about space as a feminist is a question of valuing and politicizing the quotidian; recognizing that that which each one of us experiences -- instability, violence, little annoyances, isolation – is that from which the productive and reproductive order is created, and also that from which resistance arises. Creating our own spaces is a matter of insisting that citizenship is a daily practice collectively built through the active and conscientious habitation of space.
Thus when we speak of a feminist space, we speak of a space in which the quotidian is recognized and approached as political, and where the political shows itself to be a daily matter: brought down from the heights, from the abstraction and the alienation, and occupied as a living space. Politicizing daily life – relationships, work, neighborhoods – requires a space from which to develop knowledge collectively, from which to reflect and think, from which to organize and experiment with new forms, new interventions.
Living life as political is a potent challenge, taking up the spirit of so many feminist, anti-racist and anti-homophobic struggles which have insisted in NOT accepting violence, exclusion or annoyances as “normal.” If these struggles have achieved important changes in society it is thanks to many years of fighting and wagering on the collective. But lets not fool ourselves; much remains to be done, it is not time to rest on our laurels.
We find ourselves facing innumerable problems, among them employment which is less and less secure, life which is more and more expensive, the privatization of social services and of public spaces. Well we know that women suffer disproportionately the effects of these ills, overburdened with multiple part-time employment and the domestic and caretaking tasks which, after decades of feminist struggle, are still almost exclusively women’s turf. Women, precarious people and immigrants bear the weight of each social cut-back. Housing, thanks to wide-spread speculation, is expensive. Employment is scarce and precarious and requires special training which is also expensive. Health care is minimal and its purveyors are overwhelmed. There are barely any daycare services much less services for the elderly. And for those who have time for such things, leisure activity is limited, for lack of public spaces, to consumerism, which is also expensive not to mention boring and condescending. Institutions and advertising invite us to think of this whole situation as a series of problems for each individual to manage as she can.
This is not so. We must insist again: in this daily life resides the political. But that it may be recognized as such, that we may build bridges and break our isolation, that this may be conceived as the practice of citizenship, there must be spaces for us to meet each other, see each other, recognize each other. They must be public spaces open to all from which to continue the thrilling labor of forming bonds and relations between different people. They must be common spaces because the social fabric is woven upon the loom of what is shared. And the better equipped these spaces are, the less their users will be obliged to battle the walls which fall down around them.
The Eskalera Karakola has maintained itself as such a space for six years now, but in a situation of physical insecurity which irremediably limits our inventive capacities. The project which we propose would augment the functions and possibilities of a social space continually in construction. It is a bid to equip more infrastructures and thus to create an ever wider community which uses and maintains them. An auditorium, a library, a computer center: besides being urgent necessities in this neighborhood, these are also things which in diverse ways create community through their use.
And why do we insist that there be a space only for women? One response is that it brings us joy, strength and inspiration to be, create, speak among ourselves: we are comfortable, which is important in an often unfriendly world. But that’s not the whole story. We are also restless, agitated, upset. We fight our bid for collectivity, its difficulties and its limits. We stretch ourselves, mobilizing and pushing ourselves, daring ourselves to share our concerns and express our desires. We are many, different, each one with her story; the alliance is neither natural nor a priori but rather a continuous process of recognition and communication into which we launch ourselves again and again, committed to a strategy of uniting ourselves.
To maintain a space where women can cultivate this kind of alliance is necessary because the general lack of meeting spaces is especially acute in the case of women, who either because we are between several precarious jobs or because we are confined to our houses and domestic tasks, because we feel threatened in the street or because we are marginalized within political organizations, have fewer opportunities to create the networks of support and solidarity which we need. It permits us a space from which to think through the multiple singularities of our lives, to create strategies and tools to politicize them, to explore new ways to express ourselves and relate to each other. A space for women is a deliberate space, a space which, because it situates itself outside the ‘normal,’ may function as a laboratory of social, political and artistic relationships.
In order that this space may maintain its function as a laboratory it must continue to be self-managed. This is not a social service center; there already are some of those, if not enough. Nor is it a cultural center in the strict sense. It is rather a necessary space in which each may express her fantasy and realize her project, creating political potency in the confluence of projects which this space houses.
Many projects of investigation and feminist study meet in the Eskalera Karakola. The house’s unique position as a self-managed feminist space makes it an important convergence point between the feminist movement and feminist thought, which in other environments are often divorced from each other by institutional policies which habitually separate the ‘active’ from the ‘reflective.’ The breadth and flexibility which self-management permits has also permitted stunningly diverse projects to arise out of the Karakola, and has permitted the cultivation of far-flung networks of feminist cooperation. The capacity to fit all these projects and concerns under one roof has produced a rich process of recombination and mutual feedback which transforms and strengthens all. This flux of knowledges, this collectivity of abilities determines the projects which arise from the Karakola and the political forms in which they take to the street.
This flow of knowledge and abilities also contributes to the management and maintenance of the house itself. In the six years which we have occupied the Karakola we have made innumerable reforms, big and small, of the roof and the rafters, the plumbing and the electricity. We learn among ourselves, each one bringing what she knows, collectivizing our abilities and knowledge and leaving the neighbors quite surprised: ‘Those girls!’
Our project is a bid for public and self-managed spaces in general and also a bid for this house in particular, for its history and its structure, and for this neighborhood of Lavapies with all the specific problems it faces at this historic moment.
In other parts of this text (see sections 2.2.1 and 2.2.2) we present a sketch of the problematic of Lavapies, which faces a process of ‘rehabilitation’ which denies the active participation of the residents and turns its back on the urgent necessities of the neighborhood’s present inhabitants, opting instead for a transformation of the neighborhood which will imply expulsion and homogenization of its population. Innumerable urban investigations show that the homogenization of neighborhoods, that is, the reduction of diversity both of population and of use of space, impedes the formation of social density and leaves even more vulnerable all those who are not young, mobile, male heterosexual natives with steady employment. Women, precarious workers, migrants, handicapped people and elderly people prosper in environments in which we can all live, where all can cover our needs nearby and at decent prices, where there are sufficient social infrastructures like clinics, daycare centers and parks, where there are spaces for meeting and for organizing, where it might be possible to create a social fabric of mutual care and social cooperation and not of police control. We are talking about spaces in which an active, participative citizenship might be constructed.
Too many policies attempt to resolve the social needs of women through endowments for the family. These endowments are important and would that there be more of them, but in no way do they resolve the need which women have for our own spaces of encounter, creation and political and social organization. Not all women are mothers and all women are much more than mothers. The problems of family management are just some of the many which we face. The generalized flight of women from the traditional family and from reproduction makes ever more absurd this kind of attempt to speak of the necessities of women as if they were identical to those of reproduction in the bosom of the family. This practice constitutes an effort to deny and invisibilise the tremendous diversity among women, we who are young and old, who are singles, lesbians, transsexuals, migrants, students, precarious workers and so much more.
From this diversity, which is not merely a display of pretty colors but a convergence of intimate experiences, a complex and uncontrollable multitude, a yet imminent alliance, we throw down this challenge to whomever would invisibilise or pathologise us: Here we are. We will make spaces for ourselves.