In a world in which over 2 billion tonnes of food are wasted each year while 15 million children die of hunger; in which the homeless seeking shelter are forcibly removed from the millions of abandoned buildings in Europe’s urban centres, it is refreshing to encounter attempts at reusing the discarded and putting it to good, and political, use. That has been the main point of this blog from the outset, to document the current happenings in Europe and around the world, to describe the projects being organized at the grass-roots level to make the world a bit more just and equal. Perhaps it is naïve on my part, but I think these types of projects are fundamental and will, in the not so distant future, be the key to reorganizing our society, abolishing inequalities and redistributing resources and wealth in a way that makes more sense to all of us.
During my recent visit to Madrid this holiday season, I set out to see how the indignados movement (famous for organizing street protests and mobilizations in favour of a more participatory form of democracy) is reclaiming space in Spain’s capital and putting unused buildings to practical use. Squatting and occupations have a long history in Spain, as well as the rest of Europe. Many occupied buildings, ranging from small residential flats to abandoned warehouses capable of housing hundreds, are occupied and evicted continuously around the continent. Upon arriving in Madrid, I was quickly informed that several popular squats around the Lavapiés and Leganés neighbourhoods had been evicted, but the most recent and active ‘Okupa’ was now functioning in the neighbourhood of Moratalaz. After a quick metro ride, I found myself in the huge abandoned schoolhouse E.S.A Salamanquesa, a hotspot for indignados’ activism, organizing, learning and cooperation.
Considering that this huge building in southeastern Madrid was once a school for children, it seems appropriate that it should now be used as a space for reflection, learning and what is a clearly boundless amount of creative energy. Upon entering the building and seeing the vast stores of literature, classes offered, and even an extensive library, one can’t help but gain the impression that this is the place where Madrid’s activists, determined to put pressure on the country’s regime and reclaim Spanish politics for the good of the common people, come to think, plan and theorize.
The symbolic act of occupying a school becomes even more poignant upon taking into consideration the state of the education system in Spain. The quality of Spanish primary school education has diminished dramatically during the last several years, due to the policies of Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party. Esa Salamanquesa’s mission statement denounces the cramped quarters in which students are now forced to study, and the laying off of hundreds of qualified teaching professionals because of government sponsored financial cuts that aim to reduce the deficit.
The squatters in Esa Salamanquesa hope to use the building to foster a love of learning, and are now offering a plethora of classes ranging from the academic to the artistic and cultural. Some of these include economics, feminist history and theory, guitar, photography, yoga, circus arts, gymnastics, boxing and self-defence, urban arts, story telling for adults and IT. All are welcome; a fact that I can testify to after being warmly invited to lunch only five minutes after my arrival, and anyone who has anything to contribute has a voice in Madrid’s newest social centre.
Like so many other squats that put unused buildings to good use and make a humble attempt at giving back to society, it is unclear how long this building will remain occupied before the Madrid authorities attempt to evict its occupants. What is clear, however, is that the varied and ever-growing group of individuals that is running Esa Salamanquesa has made a mark on its local community.
The dedication and passion for creating a more just world, in which an affordable and quality education is available to everyone, will remain long after the squatters are evicted. It is their drive and commitment, along with the concentration of vast stores of talent and creative energy in one spacious building, which guarantees the sustainability of these projects and of social movements around Europe.