“The Syrian revolution is a baby – it needs nourishment”

Article from a friend of the blog who was in Syria learning about the revolution there and writing about what is going on. A shorter version was published in the New Statesman- 1. http://www.newstatesman.com/2013/07/syria-our-revolution-baby-it-needs-nourishment

We're in Ma'arrat al Numan, a front-line liberated town in Idlib
province, Syria. Once home to 120,000, the population is now between
4-10,000. Families who couldn't afford to flee live in ruins, makeshift
shelters and even caves. Destruction is everywhere; piles of rubble
daunt the streets between bomb-axed minarets and burnt out shops.
Part-collapsed apartment blocks reveal gaping living rooms. Shelling
echoes daily from the Wadi Deif regime military base close by. It's
mostly local Free Army fighters holding the line, along with Ahrar al
Sham, and Jabhat al Nusra playing a smaller role. The scant weaponry
ranges from regime-raided machine and hand guns to the "Cannon of Hell"
– a launcher made out of a tractor, with cooking gas canisters for
missiles. The city's sub-station, water plants and pipes have all been
destroyed. Repairing the pipes is impossible due to their proximity to
Wadi Deif.

The injured are ferried by fighters or medical volunteers to a
"hospital in hiding" – far back from the frontline, where operations
are carried out in a basement with a lamp made out of a satellite dish
with half a dozen light bulbs stuck in it. The service runs on a
drip-feed of aid sourced in Turkey and round-the-clock volunteer hours
spread between a few dozen exhausted doctors and nurses. Ma'arrat al
Numan is still a city at war.

We're in the gloomy garden of widow and mother of six Om Abid. Ahmad*,
an activist and volunteer with [3]Basmat Amal (Smile of Hope) [2], a
home-grown relief organisation, has brought us here. He's doling out
cash donations of 500 Syrian pounds sent from a wealthy Syrian woman
living in Saudi Arabia. It's a drop in the ocean. Cooking gas costs
£S3,000 per canister up from £S1,000 two years ago, bread is £S25.
water needs to be delivered by truck and costs £S500 a week and a box
of thirty candles, which once cost 70, is now hitting £S300. The dark
takes over at night.

Relief doesn't feel revolutionary but keeping it coming is a means to
stay put and keep up the front. Basmet Amal are one of four local aid
organisations feeding into a relief co-ordination committee that feeds
into a broader council including military-security, social affairs, and
media-comms committees.

Basmat Amal recognise the role aid can play in buying loyalties
according to a donor's agenda, and how depoliticising desperation can
be. Self-sufficiency is key. By opening the first primary schools in
Ma'arra since the revolution began, a low priced products supermarket,
cash for widows and a soap and shampoo factory in the pipeline, they
hope to create autonomy and strength for the community. They still see
themselves as part of a revolution that began with unarmed
demonstrations, but was met with bullets, then bombs, and then
warplanes, until street-protest-as suicide was no longer an option.
According to Basmet Amal, 850 people have been killed, and 2,000
houses, 20 schools and 15 mosques destroyed since November 2011. 'We
are fighting for our dignity' we hear again and again.

But what is the scope for people – especially women - to participate in
their own relief? Can people come together and make collective
decisions? "Everyone is locked in their own homes," starts Ahmed.
"Everyone just cares about their own problems". "But there are always
shared problems, no?" we suggest. "I suppose so, but just to get people
together in one place, to feel safe, is a struggle." Shelling and
gunfire rattles in the distance as he speaks. Neither landlines or
mobiles work in Ma'arra, but there is internet if you have a satellite
and generator. Otherwise comms are face to face, and door to door.
Kinship and neighbourhood networks have been fractured by the town
haemorrhaging so many residents. Who will look after your children? Who
will drive you home, when fuel and cars are in such short supply? And
even if you put together a group, with 90 per cent of your town in
exile, who are you representing?

It's an ongoing conversation throughout our trip, "How to build
participation?" If Basmet Amal have 30 volunteers now, how can they
reach 100 and more? Particularly under the lengthening shadow of
militarisation and sectarianism, and external regional and global
interests "all wanting to eat from Syria". How do you keep up a
revolution which you keep being told is a civil war, that it's gone, it
belongs to 'warlords' eating the hearts of their opponents and shooting
children in the face, that is going to break Palestine, and will be
Iraq mark two, is something you should never have started. This is not
your revolution is the message. For many of us in the West it's the
same, that it's too complicated, leave it to the big boys, you can't
relate to this, there's nothing you can do, this is not your
revolution. Isolation and disposession creeps and the work of creating
spaces of resistance and reclamation is eclipsed by a what-bleeds-leads
agenda.

It's a burning hot afternoon and we're in the languid garden of the
Kafranbel media centre talking solidarity with local organisers. The
centre is famous for its' viral banners. For UN Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi's
visit, locals raised: "BRAHIMI: 'NEVER MIND BURNING THE WORLD WILLINGLY
THAN HAVING ASSAD FOR ONE DAY MORE' GO FUCK YOURSELF." And "USA – YOU
LIVED SEPTEMBER 11TH ONCE, WE LIVE IT EVERY DAY." "We never get visits
from activists, only journalists," says local fixer Amer.* "We want to
show them our demonstrations but they just say, 'Take us to the
fighters'." It's a common obsession. This May Al Jazeera reported from
Raqqa, central Syria but focused squarely on Al Qaeda chopping three
peoples heads off and not demonstrations by public sector workers
demanding wages from money looted from the central bank or protests
against Sharia courts.

We discuss the idea of a joint news-behind-the-news project that can
profile struggles that mainstream media ignore. Mona* a local feminist
activist working on a children's support project called [4]Karama Bus
(Dignity Bus) [3] is lukewarm. 'Everyone in Syria knows what is going
on. It's a good idea but we do not have the capacity. We literally do
not have the people on the ground. Too many Syrian activists are
outside in Turkey or Lebanon. They need to be here'. We talk about
skills-sharing on facilitating meetings and organising but stress
unequivocally that this is dangerous territory for foreign activists
because it reproduces colonial dynamics of white Westerners telling
Arabs what to do and how to organise; the NGOised "facilitator" that
conducts, regulates and wields power over locals. But co-training with
Syrian and Arabic speaking activists, is agreed, could be useful...

The thread continues back in Ma'arra. We eat breakfast with a young
medic who treats fighters on the Front. "You were in Kafranbel? They
have three functioning hospitals there, we only have one and we are on
the Front! I don't understand why they don't help us," he says.
Emergencies take up energy. "Our revolution is a baby," he explains.
"It needs milk, it needs nourishment, it needs to grow. Of course we
want people to be organising their own representation, but that's
walking, that's further down the line. For now, we need to survive." As
if on cue a war plane tears through the sky above us. He starts to
utter prayers. His wife, an organiser, but still unable to go to the
internet café without a male relative, begins to breathe shallow and
fan herself. It passes over. We sip our tea in silence until we can
find our words to talk again.

*Names changed to protect identity

A shorter version of this piece appeared in last week's New Statesman
magazine

Please support Basmet Amal and Karama Bus - their facebook pages are
here:

[5]https://www.facebook.com/JmaetBsmtAml

Bank name : kuveyt turk katilim bankasi A.S.
Iban : TR37 0020 5000 0085 7799 4001 01

[6]https://www.facebook.com/alkarama.bus

References

1. http://www.newstatesman.com/2013/07/syria-our-revolution-baby-it-needs-nourishment
2. http://www.newstatesman.com/writers/113120
3. https://www.facebook.com/JmaetBsmtAml
4. https://www.facebook.com/alkarama.bus
5. https://www.facebook.com/JmaetBsmtAml
6. https://www.facebook.com/alkarama.bus

At Your Service (Tales from Community Service)

Article written by contributor who is currently serving a 120 hour community payback order, in which they are required to do a program of unpaid work for the terrible “community”1. This Article forms the First part of a short series detailing different aspects and analysis of the community payback program, from thinking about the actions being performed and their implications to offering a kind of insight into what this shit is actually like. Please distribute to anyone you know who might be about to get sentenced to community payback.

Part 1: Honor Amongst Thieves.

I’m going to dive straight in, it doesn’t really matter how I got to this moment; from the hands of thugs in blue uniform, to the loving embrace of the sham judicial system weighted against the poor/non white and indeed anyone who doesn’t fit the citizen factories standard model, through the hands of a lazy probation office more concerned about why I identify as  gender and sexuality queer than my welfare, broken wrist or what work I’d like to do; and finally into a council estate in Sydenham (South London) where i’m expected to clean railings for seven hours a day with one half hour break and a theoretical further two fifteen minute fag breaks for no money whilst some middle aged, wanna be screw gets on my case every time I miss a spot.

I arrive at five to nine,and spend ten minutes looking for the room that we’re supposed to be in; by the time i find it it’s about ten past nine- todays particularly jobs worth supervisor decides that time will be taken off my hours and will therefore have more to complete. Suddenly there is an explosion, five guys (two of the literally jumping out of there seats) start kicking off, fighting MY corner, telling the fucking supervisor that i don’t deserve to loose 15 minutes from my days work and that they should give me a break. After about ten minutes the arguing subsides and low and behold by the end of the day i’ve been given my full time- this is the vein by day begins in, I feel like one of the tribe.

Flash forward a day or to and I’m at another site in another part of the city sat under the shade of a tree, all of us (there are 4) convicts sharing a spliff and talking about our various crimes. I feel more at home here than i have in a long time, we take it in turns to watch each others backs, pick up the slack of the guy rolling the spliff, and cover for each other when someone wants to sneak off to the shop (an offense that can get you sent home, and therefore breached which means going back to court and potentially facing prison). Everyone here is friendly and helpful, of all the guys i’ve met on these “projects” not one has done any harm to an individual- all us are victims of a system that targets us for our poverty, ethnicity, or lack of complicity with our own oppression/refusal to assimilate.

Like in the workplace, or the community, organizing happens through a series of friendships, and through organization we are stronger. Similarly to the workplace our organization is most apparent when we are in opposition, when we must fight for our survival, when we come into direct conflict with the authorities that are enslaving us. When a supervisor attempts to send one combatant home for not working quickly enough, our collective action, our friendship, and our realization of what this would mean enable us to combat effectively the wishes of the supervisor (who in this case has no understanding of the loneliness and alienation of the court room, the bias of the judge, or the reality of  the prison) and protect our comrade through the threat of non compliance.

Isolation is a parasite. In the footsteps towards our current situations, each of us was singled out, plucked from the homogenous mass by the camera, the state thug, the security guard, the ticket barrier, the bank; isolated from our friends,our comrades, our lovers (physically in the cell, the prison, the courthouse, and mentally in so far as our charges, our convictions are our individual crosses to bear), and attempted to be individualized, demonized and disconnected. In finding each other, in sharing our stories and in experiencing struggle together we come a step closer to liberating ourselves both from our physical situations and our subconscious labels as outcasts; our hi visibility jackets become a symbol of our brotherhood where they were intended to mark us out, to other us and power shifts back into our favor, away from the hands of those who oppress us.

Friendship sticks, there is honor amongst thieves. Many friendships form from our “projects” which extend beyond the parameters of the seven hour days in which we are forced together. Many combatants drive each other to and from the days slavery, we socialize after “work” and we learn more about each others situations, we build solidarity, we advise each other on claiming benefits, personal security against state intrusion, and on basic methods of survival in the face of capital. Together we make each other stronger.

And then the state strikes me a blow. The phone rings “Hello Mr/Mrs/N/A ———, i’m just calling from the control centre to tell you that you have been redirected to an A.P placement 2(see footnote); from now on you will be working X/Y/Z day in a charity shop; you will be the only community payback member at this placement” End call. I protest to every level of authority, but thats just the problem I am forced cap in hand as an isolated individual to the feet of my oppressor, without my fellow combatants to back me up I inevitably loose my battle and I’m shunted to the charity shop a few miles from my home. It’s ok there (at the shop), the days are easier and as an individual I’m treated more fairly by those who own the rights to my body for seven hours a day than on the “projects”, but I’m isolated and alone in my struggle against my detention. I find some solace in my sisters, brothers, and gender fuckers enslaved on the workfare program 3/4 (what we share is of course that our bodies are the property of someone else, and our labour <which is of great value to our slave masters> does nothing to improve our material conditions) who are similarly the victims of their own low economic status; but it is not the same, because whilst our struggle is not connected; we are not organizing for the same freedoms or against the same oppression.

After my first day I call up a friend from one of my old projects. I discover that they too have been moved onto an A.P placement and are finding the adjustment similarly hard. We hang out and we chat about it, and we conspire to fight it, and we vent; but our ability to act in solidarity with each other has ultimately been stripped from us and it is hard to feel that same feeling of camaraderie when we are not fighting shoulder to shoulder any more.

I continue to meet my fellow combatants from the “service” of the terrible community, and i will continue to do so; the state can not take that away from us. I will continue to talk with them, to share with them, and to publish with them tales from our enslavement; we will never surrender.

My advice to anyone about to start on the community payback program would be to try your dammed hardest to get on a project, not an AP placement. You can help this process along, by answering your initial assessment questionnaire (which will be done by your case manager) in a way that makes it seem like you may need supervision. If they think you are likely to steal anything (bring up previous convictions or fixed penalties for theft if you have them), hurt yourself or anyone else or anything similar to this, you will almost certainly have to be put on a “project”. Good luck to all future combatants.

Combatant A, South London Forced Labour Camp.

1.)theoaklandcommune.files.wordpress.com/ http://theoaklandcommune.files.wordpress.com

/2011/3/tiqqun-theses-on-the-terrible-community-1.pdf

2.) AP or agency placement means a program of work that is not directly supervised by serco/the state; it is outsourced to a charity or other organization who feels it can benefit from our slave labour in order to lower its running costs and maximize profit; from sercos point of view these placements are goldust since they reduce staff costs massively (taking away the need for supervisors, much of the infrastructure etc) and from the states point of view they are a perfect tool in isolating, alienating, and reducing our power; if we don’t see each other we can’t organize.

3.) For more info on workfare see http://johnnyvoid.wordpress.com/

4.)For More info on workfare see http://www.boycottworkfare.org/

Resistance is Fertile- (News From the Zad)

The Zad or Zone A Défendre (Zone to defend) is a large protest site in rural wetland outside the 
French city of Nantes.  The site is the location chosen by French Company Vinci on which to 
build a second airport for the city. The airports building would mean the loss of many miles
of grassy wetland, and displace hundreds of residents and local farmers. 

[TW police brutality\graphic detail] So it just kicked of again in the
ZAD, heres a first hand account of what happened. It’s a bit long and
probably has grammatical errors..

My ZAD experience this time has been completely different juxtaposed to
last years adventure. Hitching from Nantes to La ZAD this time a year ago
no one new about the anti-arport occupation where as this year everybody
was talking about it [after the evictions in November the ZAD was national
front page news].

I had to get dropped off slightly outside the zone because the police had
set up a check point on the road. After spending too long walking over
fields with all my tools and backpack. I finally got onto the D281, the
whole road is in the control of the ZAD residents. At first I passed a few
stacks of branches blocking parts of the road, I thought it was pretty
cute. Then every 10-50 meters would be a new barricade usually bigger than
the last until I was see huge piles of tires, haystacks and other
burnables with spikey shit jutting out of it and  painted messages all
over the road, trenches dug deep through the tarmac and stone until they
hit water, projectiles lying in wait everywhere!

There is an air of militancy around the ZAD that wasn’t there before, this
is a real reinvention the meaning of “barricaded up to fuck”. Yet despite
this need for defenses there is still a lot of really cool projects going
on. There is still the ZADs own bakery, farm, bike workshops, libraries,
pirate radio, bars, internet cafe/comms van and probably loads more that I
haven’t stumble across yet.

I was anxious about coming because I’ve had reports of the ZAD [at the
moment] being hard for people turning up who don’t already know people on
la ZAD especially if [English is not your 1st language]. This is a bit
true but I think if you have a little self confidence and an initiative to
get up and do stuff you’ll be alright.

The weekend just saw an event called “Seme Ta ZAD” inviting the public to
come for a day of demonstration and various gardening events. Tonnes of
people of all ages and backgrounds rocked up and the event was really
successful. During the weekend the cops left their usual permanent check
point on the D81 road. ZADians and their supporters wasted no time
reclaiming the road with barricades and trenches dug out with pick axes.

Monday morning I woke before Sunrise and cycled the several kms to the
freshly liberated road. People were already standing around, some masked
up, watching figures on the opposite hill. At 1st I was unaware what was
unfolding. It later transpired that people were harassing the cops before
the could have their pre-raid breakfast. The cops aimlessly chased the
figures around the field a bit firring tear gas and concussion grenades.
Then the avant garde came running back and thats when things kicked the
fuck off.

The cops rocked up in vans in front of the 1st barricade and ran into the
adjacent woods and field trying to flank and rush us. Bricks, bottles and
the first molotov came out. In the confusion or out of stupidness a unit
of the filth rushed into the middle of crowd [now aprrox 30 and growing
rapidly]. Two hero cops jumped a combatant and all 3 ended up in a large
ditch on the side of the road. Then the next thing I know our friend has
made it out of the ditch and the cops are getting beaten hard by their own
battons! A cop across the road is also getting a kick in. The rest of
their “courageous” unit have bricked it returned to the safety of the
woods. The two manage to stubble out of the ditch and as they ran off one
gets hit with a molotov and is a burning cop. The crowd cheer.

Moments later the cops move in with force carpeting the road in tear gas
fired out of launchers. The stormtroopers dressed head to toe in armor and
gas masks make a slow advance under a hail of stones, fireworks and
flares.

More and more gas is fired, a lot ending up in puddles in the ditches, a
lot getting thrown straight back [careful that shit burns even with
gloves]!
In a filed by the cross roads I see a person no less than 5 meters have a
stun grenade blow up in his face ripping it open. Luckily there where
medics to hand including a doctor, none the less this guy needed hospital
treatment his eyebrow was hanging off [an ambulance was quick to respond].

The tear gas isn’t too bad if you just catch the periphery but it’s nasty
shit when your in a cloud of thick white smoke coughing up a lung getting
rushed by pigs. I had to change masks several times due to them getting
contaminated. People were carrying round saline solution to flush the
eyes. The concussion grenades are a different kettle of fish. They are
essentially a less lethal frag grenade without the outer casing. They
still fire off nasty bits of shrapnel that cut people open and when goes
off you know about the bang for miles around, not fun for standing next
to! Apparently a ZAD resident lost some toes in the evictions due to one
of these bastards.

After the filth had taken back the cross roads with now hundreds of police
they continued their advance into the Grand Forrest and down some other
roads. Barricades where set alight and the cops halted at just after
midday. There where 3 injurys on our side 3 on theirs and 4 arrests. The
ZAD has issued a press release stating the the invasion of the cross roads
by the police is an act of military occupation. Demonstrations took place
outside police stations in over 10 cities across France  including the
blockading of one with a tractor. Also I believe there was an occupation
of a police station.

Things are a lot calmer on the ground now. Although the cross roads is to
be avoided as the cops are controlling people and arresting them if they
do not show ID.

More to follow…

Introducing The Urban Gorilla Concept

Intro

The Urban Gorilla Concept is an artistic, political, and anti social idea based around the reclamation of space and recalibration of the urban environment. Observing and experiencing processes that occur in every concrete jungle, Town Square, and abandoned factory the Urban Gorilla concept is a framework in which to view, and create various types of grass roots space interaction (from squatting and urban exploration, to graffiti and free running) and to act as a platform for the facilitation of greater space reclamation (a meeting point for all those wanting to engage with the landscape in a more meaningful way).

The wording urban gorilla concept is chosen for two fold reasons, firstly because the UGC is about struggle, resistance and battling against the powers that control the landscape around us, (famously the Urban Guerrilla Concept was a phrase coined by a variety of South American revolutionary movements and by the Red Army Faction in their struggle against state power in Germany and this name similarity is a deliberate choice by its authors to make a connection between space reclamation and revolutionary struggle), and secondly to attempt to portray the notion that for many of us the city has become our natural habitat (hence the animalistic reference).

Philosophy/Politik

The city is our natural habitat, we were born inside it and many of us will spend our last hours in the shadow of some monolithic glass and metal part of it. For us, lampposts are our trees, skyscrapers our mountains, and railway lines our winding paths through rolling hills. Where once the “hunter gatherer” meant carrying a spear and a makeshift bow, to chase down ones prey; today it means taking a bike and a torch to rummage through the waste of every consumer outlet. And yet, we have been forced into a position of disconnection to our habitat, confined to mere passive consumption of our surroundings. We are alienated from those lamppost trees; those skyscraper mountains because they belong not to us, like foxes on the ice plains of the artic our habitats belong to someone else. Ever they price us out of the communities in which we grew up through the gentrification process; whilst ever expanding their bland consumptive office structures and corporate cafes through the centrification process (the process of the centre of cities becoming bigger and bigger, to expand their business potential, whilst taking away residential habitat).

Beauty is in the street. For every bike punk sticker on a rusty lamppost, for every graffiti stencil in an abandoned alleyway, and for every shadow jumping across a rooftop there is a story. That story is a story of struggle against the ideology of passive consumption, of reclaiming the urban habitat (ever more becoming an urban prison) that has been built around us, and of resisting and combating the norms of spatial interaction. The first step is to kill the cop inside our head. The road bends left towards the shopping mall, as the crow flies our home is to the right, but the shape of the road dictates we must first pay homage at the alter of spectacle (the mall): what stops us jumping that wall, dodging through the car park of the shiny offices and slipping down the darkened side alley home- what restricts us is our own imagination of the possible. In combating reality, we must first understand why it is a certain way, the road bends left because the citizen factory requires that we go left- so go right and avoid its clutches if only for a moment. Like this, to be an Urban Gorilla is simply to challenge, to confront, to defy expectation. From the psycho geographer analyzing how a building is used, and by who, and why, to the small child painting a chalk hop scotch on the concrete outside his house, to the person imagining itself in a night time- time trial race across London on its cycle ride home from work: we can all be Urban Gorillas.

The citizen factory is everywhere and always against us: through cameras, wide roads with no escape routes, and fines on our imagination which they term trespass and criminal damage (whilst criminal companies plaster their ideologies of destructive consumption over our walls and trespass on our communities with skyscrapers and condom machines) they attempt to destroy us- their ideology must be everywhere or else it is nothing. As Urban Gorillas in ravaged habitats, we must constantly evolve, imagine, reflect and grow; where their advertisements are compulsory and everywhere our graffiti must be optional, replaceable, removable, and adaptable. Where their roads say turn left at the junction an into something particular ours must be a hundred different routes over roves, behind walls, between office blocks and into nowhere or anywhere whichever we like. We must make their cameras pointless by moving in places they don’t know or don’t see any reason for us to want to travel such roads- in sewers, in gardens, by canals, on roof tops we can find our liberation in evasion and active ignorance (ignoring the presence of cameras). Where they see meaning in objects only in so far as they create value (e.g. a lamppost is valuable in so far as it makes travel from the trendy club to home possible) we must see objects as part of our giant playground as a value in our fulfillment (the lamppost is a paint-able canvas, a climbable tree, a perfect post from which to hang a street volley ball net). Under the cobblestones is the beach, but we need not tear up the concrete to unveil it- we can built within it, recreate it until it is in itself a beach.

So let us run at night into the private square and paint a chess board on which everyone can play, let us turn the shopping mall into a dance hall, an amphitheater, a whatever the fuck we like, let us make that piece of corporate art a climbing frame and that water feature a swimming pool, let us make the urban jungle what it was always meant to be.

Climb to the roof of that abandoned building at the end of your street- I promise the view will be worth it.