Interview with an organising member of Calafou

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Since 2011, the so-called ‘Colonia ecoindustrial postcapitalista’ – in short: Calafou – is located in the ruins of an abandoned textile factory. We interviewed one of the members (who would like to stay anonymous) of this post-capitalist community, situated near the tiny Catalan town of Valbona, 65 kilometres from Barcelona. The community encompasses among other things a social housing cooperative and organises events as well as workshops concerning their core values: feminism, free education and technological sovereignty. This includes ethical hacking, developing free software, autonomously working social media platforms and an own feminist internet server.

 

 

“Calafou’s goal is to produce knowledge, mostly about various topics that can circulate freely so people can access it and use it, and to facilitate the creation of knowledge about a particular matter which is not as developed in other places. We are gambling also with what we call ‘technological sovereignty’ and the appropriate technologies. Another value is feminism, in plenty of its varieties.

 

We organise a wide variety of projects: from research to more productive projects, such as carpentry or growing spirulina. There are a fruit pickers, soap makers and beer brewers. There is also the Hacklab, the software developing section and video producing section. We do a lot, because Calafou is about  people who find their place here, but each of us has many concerns. We learn a lot from each other as well.

 

“[W]e provide infrastructure for collective projects in Calafou. […] One of the things we’re asking is to have non-profit projects. [So,] even when you are organising something about folk wisdom or culture, […] it needs to be respectful and framed within a social and solidary economy or one of it’s varieties.”

 

Let’s say here we provide infrastructure for collective projects in Calafou. And the people here can use it. One of the things we’re asking is to have non-profit projects. We don’t want profit to be made, so we work with an open code, even when you are organising something about folk wisdom or culture, however, it needs to be respectful and framed within a social and solidary economy or one of it’s varieties. Here, for example, we can always pay with social currency. And when we plan events or any type of activity, people can use this social currency. We do refuse some project: projects with an obvious and stern hierarchical structure. We don’t support that sort of power structure. 

 

“We have organised almost 30 events now. Many of them were about hacking and technological sovereignty.”

 

We finance Calafou basically with the sweat of our brows. Our economic backbone is the housing cooperative, which is paid for by the majority of us. We also have some revenue from productive projects we loan. Two other means of income are events and workshops. The Esplai come here, they are a kind of boy scouts but secular and we teach them to organise themselves amongst other thing. We have organised almost 30 events now. Many of them were about hacking and technological sovereignty. We’ve hosted the Spanish Hack Meeting and Happy Earth. At the end it is about the development of appropriate technologies, the knowledge from the minorities. We’ve also had the ecomotores sessions and a gathering of trans feminists from all over Europe who were also interested in hacking. Like this we create a network: people come to us from all over Europe and it allows them to meet each other. This is also what happens in the digital public libraries. We’ve been doing this for six years now.

 

“Our [technological] tools are always for free. They come from free software. In the same way that any kind of knowledge production from or about Calafou needs to have a free license, to be open to allow it’s data flow.”

 

The purchase of our settlement has been made through the social housing cooperative and the cooperative decides who enters and rents apartments. They have defined criteria to become a member. We have an entry protocol for those who come and want to stay. Generally, people pay monthly installments of 175 euros. Plus a maintenance fee. We are also connected to the internet, which is an autonomous, free and public Internet provider. Our tools are always for free. They come from free software. In the same way that any kind of knowledge production from or about Calafou needs to have a free license, to be open to allow it’s data flow. That is a framework, isn’t?

 

“There is an anarchist tradition in Catalonia, not the individual anarchism, but social anarchism, based on the revolutionary self-discipline.”

 

If we talk about a theoretical framework, some of us come from the Okupa Movement (Squatting Movement), from the anti-authoritarian movement, from the anti-fascist movement, from the feminist movement, from the arts and culture as well. There are many people from many different backgrounds. There is an anarchist tradition in Catalonia, not the individual anarchism, but social anarchism, based on the revolutionary self-discipline. We have some social anarchists as well. To get to group agreements is a very interesting process, it’s very complex and slow. The thing is with Calafou that it has become quite big. The projects once started out very small with few people. But now, we’ve grown enormously, which means that all these theoretical frameworks are many and are a bit vague. They are more plural. It´s a work in progress, with difficulties and possibilities.

 

But the gist of it is that taking group decisions is very important. It points out a series of complexities when it gets concrete or certain actions are applied. Our core values are anti-authoritarianism, solidarity, mutual respect, empowerment and a willingness to open up education. We educate computer science, for example. Personally, I didn’t have any clue how IT worked at all, but slowly, step-by-step, I learned. Other people learn about basic feminism or anarchism. That is what makes us rich here. We don’t stop. Diversity spreads and creates. A lot of people visit Calafou. Although we’re 1,5 hours away from Barcelona by train, there has been a constant flow of visitors since the beginning. People come from other movements, projects and traditions. They enriched us a lot. We wouldn’t be where we are now if we wouldn’t have all this collective work. Here, you can’t be apathetic or neutral. Everything you do, everything you are, is political, all the time: work, free time…

 

“Our eventual goal is to take down capitalism and the patriarchy.”

 

Our eventual goal is to take down capitalism and the patriarchy. But since that is quite a big goal, we’re trying to generate an infrastructure along the way, which allows us to live outside of the capitalist system wherever that is possible. For us, the change is generating a lot of communities, a lot of autonomous projects, where we can have a skills federation in order to exchange resources, people and knowledge, so we can depend less on the system, which is drowning us and the planet. Personally, I try and achieve change where I can and where I feel I’m doing something good. It’s ethical and I really believe in it. That’s why a lot of us are here, besides seeing a lot of work to do, because there is nothing. But here, you can create a reality. It’s like here I live in my own bubble because I feel safe. I’m looking for a place where I feel safe and what we do has political purposes through experimentation. With this project, I want to generate a transformation. The space in the society is being reduced a lot everywhere around the world. So it’s important to generate safe places, where people are allowed to come and have a chance to experiment, research and work outside of the system. And what we are creating here, we are doing it for the community obviously, but we are also generating it for the movement.

 

“There is a lot going on about food sovereignty, equally accessible healthcare and free education. A weak spot, I think, is technology.”

 

There are many communities in Catalonia, certainly compared to other countries, where there are less projects and you feel more isolated. I feel there is more fuzz and more movement in that sense. There is a lot going on about food sovereignty, equally accessible healthcare and free education. A weak spot, I think, is technology. It’s not urgent. At the end of the day, we live with technologies all the time. In Calafou there has been here very consistent work around the appropriate technologies and technological sovereignty. It existed in many concepts: at a certain moment, the feminist server idea started here, autonomous infrastructure for feminist collectives. Colleagues are working around the ‘gyne-punk’ concept, which is about building developing DIYs to generate devices that have a different perspective about gynaecology, a feminist perspective. Some colleagues have been working on this here and I don’t think it’s a common topic. We tend to draw attention a bit more, compared to other communities, to the technologies. We also have our own wiki, where you can read about all our projects: from the carpentry to the gyne-punk, to the issues about privacy, digital security…

 

We are not specifically focused on farming issues, but we do have a network with the CIC, with the Catalan Integral Cooperative. We buy food there. We try to boost these consumption networks. Other networks beyond that as well, ecological networks for example.

 

[A] group [of hackers] started to work in free and federated social networks, which wouldn’t force you to be part of [a commercial social media] network in order to communicate with the people you wanted to. We also have here a feminist server.”

 

There have been many concrete projects because a lot of people have come and lived here for a while, for example some people of the hacker movement. There was a project for a while which has been a pioneer. This was developed in 2008 in Andalusia, which was an alternative to the commercial social media channels. When Facebook reached Europe in 2008 everyone saw the potential in social network platforms but Facebook was not the way to go. Then, a group started to work in free and federated social networks, which wouldn’t force you to be part of that network in order to communicate with the people you wanted to. We also have here a feminist server, and many people from around the world have worked with it. The server is not here, but it’s physically here. Because we consider that many attacks against feminist collectives are done because it’s easy to shut them down, censor the account, shut down the website, because they don’t have an autonomous infrastructure.

 

“The idea was that if people, citizens and social movements, that if we all depend on the use of information and communication to spread what we are doing, to make it visible, that people can understand what these tools are and how people use them, sometimes for good, sometimes for evil.”

 

There was also here a few years ago quite an important meeting that was called ‘The Backbone – Free Infrastructure for the Free Internet‘. This gathered people from around the world, who are working in autonomous servers, who are Internet providers, who are developing alternatives for privacy and digital security. This event helped those to meet in a venue, which was clearly politicised to the left. Because there are other hacker events that don’t want to be involved in politics. Or don’t want to discuss it. In which you end up with an odd mix between people from the right and the left wing. Both agree that information needs to be free. We’ve done ‘Hackathons’ here, with people who came to develop certain tools and needed a space. A manual about digital security with genre perspective has been edited here. A book about digital security we’ve done three years ago. And it was a bit like the concept of technological sovereignty. The idea was that if people, citizens and social movements, that if we all depend on the use of information and communication to spread what we are doing, to make it visible, that people can understand what these tools are and how people use them, sometimes for good, sometimes for evil.

 

“We should change on every level, global and regional. To change the world, however, you need to start with education.”

 

If I were given carte blanche to change the institutions, I would try to change them all. I think they are not working. That’s why I’m here: to try to change that. From medicine to how we are ruled, to how we work, that’s why I build my own alternatives. I mean, I think I would need to have a lot of freedom, I cannot do it with just one carte blanche. I wouldn’t settle for that. There is much more to be done: how the renting prices are calculated, how we are educated, I would change it all. I’ve always been a bit against everything, and now I know why. Over the years I’ve understood why I’ve bounced so much in the world. We should change on every level, global and regional. To change the world, however, you need to start with education. Having a network is important to try and achieve this all. We were part of the anti-capitalist platform, Noya. We are part of the Catalan Integral Cooperative. On a personal level each of us is part of thousands of movements.

 

“I think the civil society in Spain is used to manage themselves. It doesn’t depend much on subsidies. It’s quite a Mediterranean model in that sense: if the state doesn’t cover what you need, and neither does the market, people organise themselves.”

 

The local authorities who’re responsible for this area is the Valbona town hall. It’s a very small town. In Catalonia, there are not many right-wing politicians, that allows a better understanding with us. We are not such a strange or radical entity. The town hall likes us, actually, they propose us to do things locally. And we do our best to keep everything as legal as possible. We do that not because we are pro state, but because we want to provide a safe place for those people who don’t have that, and are looking for it in Calafou. I think the civil society in Spain is used to manage themselves. It doesn’t depend much on subsidies. It’s quite a Mediterranean model in that sense: if the state doesn’t cover what you need, and neither does the market, people organise themselves.

 

“Living in a community is an experience that makes you value more things in your life: the way you move, the way you buy. Be more conscious and more respectful.”

 

Sometimes I’m overwhelmed here, and then I go out on a trip and I come back saying: “Oh my god, actually the society in Catalonia and Spain is amazing!”. Because people are used to finding solutions, organise themselves and fight together. They don’t wait around to have things done. I’m not against the welfare system. I’m not saying it is wrong. I’m surprised there are no more people living in communities, that’s all. I mean I don’t get why a lot of people stay in the city, fighting to maintain their flat, fighting to get the money, with a precarious job. This system will collapse eventually and more people will come and live in communities. For me, it’s a solution. It is, however, difficult sometimes. It’s difficult to get together and have the freedom of deciding the conditions of your collective governance. We decide how to do everything together. It may feel overwhelming sometimes. It’s not like the system teaches you to do that. You don’t go to school and negotiate with your teacher how life in school will be. But the moment of being here, putting our heads and hands and decide things collectively, that’s when it’s great and really empowering. That when we’re at our best.

 

On a personal level, I believe it’s important people understand there is only one life. Because I have the feeling sometimes people believe they have seven or eight. I’m quite conscious I only have this life, so I can’t wait for the next generation and I cannot wait for somebody to do it for me. Hope, for me, should come from the people who are willing to change their daily attitude. Living in a community is an experience that makes you value more things in your life: the way you move, the way you buy. Be more conscious and more respectful. Don’t be alone in your own apartment where you need to go and make a living, so you can buy everything, but it’s actually just about you you you. Start talking about a collective you, and for me, I think, that would be a big change. For me, that’s the beginning and I believe a lot of people should experience that, not only to spend some holidays, but to really understand what the personal work implies.”

Interview and photos by DeWereldMorgen.be

 

Read More

Blog on Calafou by DeWereldMorgen.be: ‘Feminism and cyber activism in a textile colony’ (in Dutch).