Helping keep neighbourhoods undesirable. Hip-hop. Anarchism. Community is the answer.
This week’s guest is Liam Barrington-Bush, a Bristol-based activist who helps organisations think more like people, and has loads of real-world experience of how people can govern themselves, build their own systems, and get closer to achieving what they want, without having those systems handed down to them.
After years of community activism and disillusionment with political systems, Liam discovered that people were capable of remarkable things when they weren’t being told what to do. Mark and Liam discuss the way the Internet has enabled or changed activism, but allowing information to spread to places that wouldn’t ordinarily be affected or invested. They also examine what happens after the dust has settled.
In the early 2000s, the Argentine economy tanked, and capital fled, so a number of factory workers began to challenge the notion of why they needed bosses in the first place, forming democratic assemblies to determine how to run the factories and even what they should produce.
Following mass unemployment in Spain, a group of bloggers put together a manifesto calling for a demonstration. Thousands turned up, making camp in a Madrid square, and refusing to leave. The protests turned into a political movement with the English-translated name of “We Can”.
In 2006, a teachers’ strike was exacerbated by the Mexican government dropping tear gas from helicopters onto the strikers. Although public will wasn’t initially behind the teachers, protests began to form in reaction to the government’s heavy-handed approach. Protesters eventually ousted the police and military forces from the city of Oaxaca, built their own barricades against the country’s military, and started holding twice-daily community assemblies.
In the mid 1980s, the then USSR was relaxing its laws on free speech in the hopes of quelling unrest. Meanwhile in Estonia, fear and anger over the dumping of phosphorite led to protests in which people would gather and sing Estonian protest songs. The movement spread to other baltic countries, until 1991, when Estonia regained its independence from Russia.
In 2015, Liam was involved with a community in Barnet, London, who were fighting eviction and forced relocation to housing outside of the city. Once evicted, property developers who owned the buildings would make the flats unliveable, by destroying fixtures and fittings, so as a group, the remaining residents decided to occupy and rebuild the homes, together, as a way of demonstrating that these properties were still fit for purpose. Within days, people who’d been forced to relocate banded with the current residents, community members and squatters, using whatever they had to hand to give the properties the attention they needed and maintain dozens of them as homes for over 7 months.
At the height of housing shortages in the 70s, over thirty thousand people were living in squats in London, which led to the formation of the Advisory Service for Squatters which published the Squatter’s Handbook , and were instrumental in the Sweets Way occupation.
From his Turkish prison, guerrilla Marxist and Kurdish freedom fighter Abdullah Öcalan began reading writings on communalism by New Yorker Murray Bookchin, and developing a model for building a free society for the Kurdish people, which involves making decisions as close to the ground as possible, and has led to greater empowerment of women, a focus on environmentalism, and transformations in the justice system.
Even in the midst of a warzone in Northeast Syria, hundreds of thousands of Kurds (and other regional residents) have managed to practice a direct and localised form of democracy for several years, while being at the forefront of the succesful fight against ISIS’ advances in the region.
In May 1968, protests at a Paris university led to its shutdown, with students refusing to leave, and as the conflict escalated, the French government responded with aggression. Sympathy with the protesters spread, leading to workers striking in solidarity, calls for a new government, and the fleeing of then President Charles de Gaulle. A full-on revolution was prevented after the government collapsed, and the message, translated into English as “under the paving stones, the beach!” became emblematic of the protests, as people tore up the paving slabs to find sand beneath.
After a factory in Thessaloniki, Greece, was set to fold following the bosses’ desertion in the wake of the financial crisis, the workers took it over, and renamed it to Viome, bringing in some of the people who’d help reform the factories in Buenos Aires. The people fought off attacks from the returning factory owners and the local community rallied around them. As a result, they transformed the output of the factory from toxic adhesives to affordable, eco-friendly household cleaning products.
Following years of ITV shows deciding what should be the UK’s Christmas #1 — back when that felt important — a Facebook campaign was setup to encourage people to buy or download Rage Against the Machine’s 1991 hit Killing in the Name , so that it could beat the then X Factor winner Joe McElderry’s single The Climb. In some ways this was a spiritual successor to 2005’s story of Nizlopi whose JCB Song was, contrary to Mark’s memory, kept from the top slot by that year’s X Factor winner.
More of Liam Barrington-Bush
- David Graeber, anthropologist, anarchist activist, and author
- Accidental Anarchist, a film by Carne Ross
- Teaching Rebellion
- Anarchists in the Boardroom, Liam’s book