We have learned quite a few things about New Cross and commoning, and now we are preparing a publication to document this knowledge but also to think how to make use of it.
There are two important things we haven’t got yet with the New Cross Commoners:
1) a more diversified engagement with locals and 2) a material resource to collectivize.
1) To engage with the diversity of people living in New Cross, or, in De Angelis’ terms, to bring together a “non-homogenous community”, we could start from our needs, from personal needs and the attempt to collectivize them: what would become of personal needs when they are discussed together? We might find out that behind what seems to be a basic and simple need (e.g. “I need more money!”) there might be a more composite set of needs easier to deal with in themselves and collectively. We might also find out that there are needs we cannot take care of as a small group, and we will have to ask the help of someone else, or we will have to reclaim for public institutions to provide for the public good as they are supposed to. And we might realize that need and desires are not necessarily opposed.
2) A resource to be collectivized could be a space we could get from Goldsmiths, the Council, a private: we have been talking about this before the summer, and we also made a map of possible places. To take care of a space would imply a higher level of engagement as commoners, and we need to make sure to have the energy and time to embark in something like this. Another issue with the space is this: we shouldn’t stop our activities as nxc until we get a space because this could take a long time, or it could never happen unless we occupy it. But to have a space would also give an opportunity to engage with more and different kind of people. It could also give the opportunity to consolidate the nxc through a different kind of continuity, closer to our everyday life in the neighbourhood. Even before getting a space we could try to engage with a single issue, e.g. personal/collective needs (as above), for more than a meeting, instead of “offering” different activities every time. In a way it would be a matter of consolidating the nxc into an institution of the common, where by institution we (after Negri + AAA) understand something that can function, transforming itself, even if the people involved in it are not always the same.
How to set up a nxc space that can open up the possibility of engagement with different people living in New Cross? By starting from our / people’s needs, organized according to the four main categories of the commons and commoning we have been dealing with so far as nxc: a) learning (e.g. New Cross Library), b) housing (e.g. Sanford Housing Coop), c) eating (e.g. Burgess Park Food Project), d) caring (e.g. NXL Poetry Workshop). The nxc space would be a place where we could deal and experiment with our needs by collectivizing skills and resources, and by bringing those four categories together in a dialogue.
Learning: the nxc so far has been a process of learning from the neighbourhood, rather than from an institution like the neoliberal university. We could now think of offering a course put together collectively, a course that would bring together people’s knowledge and skills with people’s issues and needs. An interesting model of militant and communal learning we could look at could be the Black Panthers’ Freedom School, discussed by our comrades of the Radical Education Forum http://radicaleducationforum.tumblr.com/post/36996169440/monday-december-3-freedom-school-1964
Housing: to experiment with housing in a hands-on way the best thing to do could be to squat a place in New Cross. But also with a nxc space we would get, let’s say, from Goldsmiths, we will learn how to inhabit it collectively and how to organize it even without living there permanently. Housing is also inhabiting, and as nxc we inhabit the neighbourhood itself, and we could explore ways of inhabiting collectively the urban space. Map making can be used as a tool not just to critically analyse the harmful impact that the market and the state have on the production of urban space, but also to discover the transformative potentials the interaction with the urban space can offer.
Eating: we could organize people’s kitchen with food we could get from local shops, cooking lessons, free breakfasts (free porridge has been already suggested), pickle and jam making with fruit harvested in New Cross, but how to turn all this in militant activities? See here for an amazing discussion organized by some comrades about the Black Panthers’ Free Breakfast, where feeding people ceases to be charity and becomes part of a militant pedagogy: http://radicalcollectivecare.blogspot.co.at/2013/01/the-blackpanthers-freebreakfast-for.html Growing food, harvesting, cooking and eating together, all this implies a thinking of ecology understood also as social, against domination in all its forms, and against a food industry based on the exploitation of human labour and natural resources.
Caring: care is something that has to do not only with children, disabled and old people: everyone in a city like London, to different extents and in different ways, gets affected and suffers, psychically and bodily, from neoliberal capitalism, from control and exploitation. Against a medicalization of the body lead by the pharmaceutical industry, against the neoliberal segregation of individual bodies, and against a privatization of health services that grants professional care only to those who can afford it, how can we learn to take care of each other collectively? What can be the role of art in dealing not with individualized but with socio-political pathologies? See this interview (in Spanish!) for a discussion of the “non-instrumental” relation between art and therapy http://www.esquizobarcelona.org/entrevista-a-franco-bifo-berardi/
But is it all this, I mean what we do as nxc, unpaid labour? Would be important to carry on with the nxc without using money? Whenever we deal with commons and commoning our livelihood and subsistence is at stake: can we gradually make the nxc something that would sustain the livelihood of the commoners? What would be the limits and what the political potentials of getting funding and dealing with public institutions? Can we think of accepting donations, of barter, of a gift economy as ways of sustaining our lives? Can we think of something like a profit making activity as part of the nxc? Can we think a worker cooperative where work becomes something else than work? This in Solano, Argentina, is an interesting example of a “Community Health Centre” which functions also as a social centre, whilst including a shoe workshop (in Spanish again!): http://futurearchive.org/
Finally: it would be important to cultivate connections with other radical collectives, in London and elsewhere, to think the possibility of inviting them, hosting them, learning from them and from each other. Along this line of the importance of creating connections beyond New Cross, we should continue documenting the whole process as a way to offer tools that can be picked up and used again in different contexts and by different people.