Feminist travels in times of pandemic
Last night I made a virtual trip to Berlin's anarcha-queer feminist space, Liebig 34 (courtesy of North West Film Forum, Queer Zine Archive Project, Goethe Pop Up, Three Dollar Bill Cinema and Antioch College). I haven't traveled beyond the UK since the pandemic started, but even more so, this proved to be a really amazing trip (as much as a virtual one can be considered travel anyway!) - an opportunity to explore a queer feminist space in Berlin from home! Whatever you might want to call it, I was transported and inspired.
I was introduced to the meaning of a queer feminist space in a completely different country. Berlin is somewhere I've never been to before. Yet, the setting - both of the space and the wider socio-political context - seemed strangely familiar.
The neoliberal onslaught on spaces considered 'unproductive' by the powers that be is a phenomenon without borders... At last night's event, screenings of a couple of short films on Liebig 34 were followed by a presentation on the history of the Berlin squatters movement by Luisa Rossini, who's part of a project studying squatting history internationally - the Squatting European Kollective's Research Agenda. As Luisa's presentation made clear, the squatters movement in Berlin was very strong historically - with something like 650 squats around the city since the 1970s! But it is also haunted by the same forces we see in London: neoliberalism, gentrification and the rising rule of big developers enabled by policy makers who increasingly seem to perceive any property use that is not commercially-focused - and by extension the people in it - as criminal.
The space itself was described by the members of its community with words and phrases (that I documented in this wordcloud) that also seemed very familiar, for much more positive reasons. For my years at the Feminist Library in London have been filled with similar experiences - struggling for the space to survive, but finding in it a community, a meeting place where one can exchange experiences and common ideas, free of patriarchy (as much as possible in the context anyway!), trying out another way to work and live. My work with the Feminist Libraries and Archives network has further enriched the feeling of belonging - to something bigger, beyond just a single feminist library, and into a world of feminist herstory spaces across the UK, and beyond. And my involvement with the Social Centres Network has introduced me to a wider world of possibilities - through connection to other spaces that might be broadly called 'alternative' or 'radical'.
I've been blessed. To visit and experience many of the spaces and meet all the wonderful people working in and on them. To be able to see those spaces as a necessity, a right even... I read something this morning which made me realise just how lucky I was, despite the continuing struggle. Kawthar says:
"Perhaps we could be excused for believing that such a space is unthinkable. The ability to perform imaginative work is after all a form of resistance. And our belief in the impossibility of a queer Sudanese space cannot be separated from various contextual factors."
Glimpses of international spaces like that offered by last night's event make me even more amazed and aware of the radically transformative potential of these places. I just wished there was more time last night to explore other spaces. The short film on La Zad - a space in France - offered a magical glimpse onto something that looked truly incredible. But it was sadly so short it left me wanting more! The space is more than just a squat - it's a squatted forest! Collective of collectives occupies the place to keep it safe from airport expansion. And it seemed like a world of its own... Imagine a whole town or city, but filled with people driven by the mission to build a better world. Truly utopian, one might say.
Spaces - feminist spaces and other 'alternative' places - have been a bit of an obsession of mine for years. Now - thanks in no small part to events like these! - this passion of mine is coming together into something new and not entirely expected - a study of queer feminist futures and utopias. My hope is that it will contribute to the huge efforts already happening to stop and reverse the trend of neoliberalism and gentrification that is killing spaces that help us envision what a feminist world might look like. Watch this space for more on this coming soon!
You can keep up with the ongoing struggle of the Liebig 34 community here.
The wordcloud is also going to be included as part of the upcoming International Queer Solidarity Zine, currently being produced at my feminist home, the Feminist Library - to be launched on the 27th with a bit of a party (if you want to join us, sign up here)!