update – zagu’s statement for dec13

here’s another written statement for the meeting dec13:

Report from the outside in solidarity with Milla on the outside

A report and analysis of the valtaus house meeting on September, 8th by one member of the international Milla supporters group

This text is an absolute subjective report on my experiences within a valtaus house meeting (September, 8th) as a supporter of Milla. At that meeting I presented the petition for a fair trial together with signatures and words of support from international activists. The petition is just one of the results of Milla’s international call for solidarity. Actually I didn’t decide to travel from germany to Finland because of that call. Milla and I met in summer 2007 and we stayed in contact since then. Although we have certainly some tough issues of dissent and constant discussion I consider her to be a really inspiring person (I highlight this because Milla is often presented as a person with whom it is impossible to discuss). That’s why I wanted to show her that she is not alone out there and that her actions and thoughts mean a lot to some people – even if they seem to be far away.

I’m absolutely aware of the impossibility of judging that conflict as an outsider. There will always be some sides I can’t take into account, some perspectives I can’t listen to. For sure it’s Milla’s perspective I know best. Some might say that this approach is very limited. But even within the really limited time I spent with some people from the squatting scene in that meeting there were pretty obvious methods and social dynamics going on which have to be criticized. These structures should be named and challenged by anyone who has an upright interest in creating a progressive emancipatoric space and process.

That’s what I’m up to do in this text: making a contribution to such a process. Although I’m not a part of that particular scene I’ve got an interest in solving this conflict and pushing things forward apart from my solidarity with Milla. I consider many problems and issues not only as connected to basic forms of oppression such as sexism but also as rooted in basic leftist forms of organising and decision making. In this text I’m going to concentrate on the latter problem, which is certainly interconnected with the first one.

My arrival at valtaus and the situation before the beginning of the „official“ meeting:

When I arrived at the house there were already some people waiting for the meeting to begin. I didn’t know any of these persons and I was asked about my background and intention. When I said, that I’m not on vacations but travelled to Helsinki to support Milla and present the petition I got the reply „This is fucking crazy.“ Immediately another person tried to demotivate me in a relatively subtle way. I was told that there are so many other things to talk about that evening, so that I would have to wait a long long time before I could bring up my issue. When people argument like this, they try to act as if they don’t have any principal problems with some specific content (in this case: Milla) but that there are some obstacles they can’t make disappear. As if there is a rule that conflicts have to be discussed at the end of a meeting. As if agenda of meetings isn’t set up by the people at the particular meetings. But in that argument it sounds as if that agenda is set up by some force far out. It also makes clear, that dealing with the conflict is not considered to be an important one issue. I was not surprised at all that there were just some standard organising items set up on the list later like fixing some post box. If these are the most important things which have to be discussed I wonder why there is a house meeting at all. Luckily there was another person (A.), who seemed to see things differently and supported my suggestion discuss the petition first. Thanks for that.

At that point of time T. entered the house and was informed immediately about my mission. It was the first time I met T. but she had been introduced to me by Milla beforehand. She was described as having a NGO-background, dominating the conflict resolution group and being one of the persons quite eager to exclude Milla. I was also informed about her denial of acting that way and her sometimes subtle methods of exclusion. This information made it a lot easier to disbelief her words of understandig and caring for Milla’s case. While she expressed her compassion for Milla, she tried to block a discussion about the petition even before the meeting started. She suggested that the conflict is too difficult at that moment and she doubted that there could be any progress within that meeting. When I showed no interest in these arguments she also tried to demotivate me by referring to the decision making process (consensus) highlighting the enormous amount of time necessary for that process. This strategy has the same message like the one explained above: „You’ll have to pay criticism with many hours of your life time.“ Apart from that she tried to deligitimize Milla’s demands for a fair trial and to ridicule them. I pointed out that I didn’t want to discuss these things at that point of time „in between“ but properly at the meeting. My following report and analysis will deal a lot with Ts words and actions because she seems to have an important and dominant role within the group and the conflict and for sure played that role during the meeting.

The meeting:

While T. failed with her first attempts to stop my support for Milla some more people joined the group, so that there were 10 – 15 persons gathered when the meeting began. T. volunteered for moderating it, which was accepted by the others. No one else seemed to be interested in that function, although it is a really important and powerful one. If you moderate you can dominate discussions very easily. Hence it was no surprise at all that T. wanted to moderate on that evening. I guess that she might have gained quite some experience in moderation during her NGO-work, which is a skill enabling to create/affirm hierarchies and dominance inside a group. Apart from that T. was also one of the persons, who talked most that evening. This behaviour and her role within the group should be discussed and reflected.

Despite the attempts I described above I was allowed to present the petition as the first item of the agenda that evening. T. continued her strategy just after I had read out the petition, the signatures and comments. She argued that there is no sense in a petition, which pleads for opening the case of Milla in the house meeting again, because it was never really closed and that people are still working on it. I responded that Milla didn’t recognise any visible progress in the past months. T. reacted with an argument which was repeated several times that evening, which says, that there aren’t enough people to do conflict resolution at the squat, so that it is impossible to cope with the conflict. With reference to the petition I responded that Milla was not asking for conflict resolution but for a fair trial. When the „not enough people“-argument was repeated at some other point of time I put emphasis on the problem, that it is an easy way to silence criticism and to block a progress by complaining about having not enough people. There were 10 to 15 people sitting there but this didn’t seem to be enough. The radical left in Europe is absolutely marginalised since the collapse of the soviet union. In almost all countries the scenes are fighting to survive. So it is pretty odd to talk about people missing to do this or that. Because it was like this the past decade and it will certainly continue.

Furthermore this argument is the perfect tool to postpone decisions forever. When people don’t want to think about or even solve a conflict they will never have got the impression that they finally found enough people to deal with it. Not a single participant specified how many people they think to be necessary for dealing with the conflict.

But there weren’t only these people capable of conflict resolution missing. There weren’t any sincere opponents of Milla either. Milla told me about that phenomenon beforehand: when you ask people involved in the scene, why they banned Milla, you’ll always get the same response „It wasn’t me. Someone else did it. I don’t have a problem with Milla (at all).“ I became a witness of that miracle, when T. brought up a different remark. She said that it will be really difficult to formulate the precise accusations against Milla because you’ll have to find the people, who have got a problem with her. Most of the other participants agreed and confessed that they all don’t have a (real) problem with Milla. I still don’t understand why at the same time T. was so sure that Milla would be banned for ever from the scene in case of an „official“ decision. As far as I understand the principles of leftist decision making, it often goes like that: the people who form some kind of group at some point of time make decisions for that particular group for that particular point of time. Most activists just spend some years of their adolescense in the scene and leave for their family and career afterwards. So there is almost no continuity inside a group and therefore an obvious need for flexible rules and decisions. If all the people who are sincere opponents of Milla don’t go to the house meetings: why does anyone care about them? The house is, who is active in it.

And if all the people at the house meeting say, that they don’t have a problem with Milla: why should Milla be banned for ever in case of a „final“ decision? If I’m not mistaken a „final“ ban „for ever“ should be impossible in itself when the people who are active in a project make the decisions. Because these people won’t be the same for ever, so decisions have to be questioned again and again.

There was another basic principle of leftist decision making people (especially T.) referred to in an absolutely naive and affirmative way: the consensus. I don’t know which type of consensus is practiced in valtaus but all forms are certainly not the golden solution of group decisions. Unfortunately there is really rare reflection on this problem in many collectives because consensus appears to be so much more egalitarian than the majority/minority-decisions. This might be true sometimes but consensus is absolutely not free of hierarchies. When you have a decision to be made it is really important who formulates the question how. For an example (consensus with block-system): if you ask „Do we want to ban Milla from the scene?“ you need just one person to block this and Milla will stay. If you ask „Do we want Milla to stay in the scene?“ you need just one person to block this and Milla is banned. Sounds fairly simple but makes a big difference if you’re not deciding just on fixing post boxes.

These were just some examples of really problematic argumentations during that meeting. Despite Ts attempts to block discussing Milla’s case at all I was able to bring it back into the public and consciousness of some people at the meeting. The decision on the petition wasn’t important in the end to me and said something like this: Milla will get a fair trail, when there will be some volunteer to collect the tons of problems all these invisible people have with Milla. It was even discussed to collect these accusations anonymously, so that people don’t have to fear the terrible wrath of Milla. Why seem so many people (who don’t even go to Milla-free-meetings) be afraid of Milla, while there is a guy owning an important role in the scene, who is not only verbally dominant but also physically violent? When you use anonymity, which means freeing people of responsibility, the ones who fear to loose their own privileges and dominant positions within the community won’t hesitate to make up even more absurd arguments than the ones I mentioned above to keep Milla out. But I don’t want to discuss this decision any longer because it is formed around the idea of searching for people outside the house meeting to affirm decisions within the house meeting, which was already criticized in depth beforehand.

This was my personal report and attempt to analyse how some people in the scene behaved when they had to deal with Milla’s petition. Although it might be just one small episode within that conflict I’m pretty sure that it is full of patterns which structure the whole conflict and keep repeating. That’s why I hope that these words help to realise these patterns and break through them.

For sure I am an outsider. But outsiders very often see some things people, who are stuck in a situation, don’t (want to) realise. Activism very often takes place from such an outsider position. So activists should also start listening to outsiders.

The first step for activists in the Helsinki squatting scene then is to start listening to Milla. To stop leaving her alone on the outside. Because she has many things to say, which are important for a politically progressive scene. I absolutely agree with her, that scenes should care less about houses but more about community buildig. If there is a collective which is able to deal with dissent and conflicts in a productive way it almost doesn’t matter if there is a space squatted or not. The catch phrase „The house first“ is just the most boring of the thousands of phrases to avoid conflicts and criticism and maintain power structures. This might pan out some time with more and more people leaving the scene frustrated. On the long run this structure will turn against itself. So it’s time to change not only for Milla’s but also for your own sake.

In solidarity with Milla and all the people in solidarity with her.

Zagu

For words of support, question and critique write to zagu (A) riseup.net

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One Response

  1. […] Janne >> Ignored !! ;  Jules >> Ignored !! ;  Zagu >> Ignored !! […]

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