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Not just clowning around

21.06.2015 by Dan Hancox

Photo by Julio Albarrán (cc)

Report about table 2 of the #ReclaimtheCommons Hackcamp: Guerrilla Care Campaign

I was never going to turn down an invitation to a conference in Seville called Caring for the City: Reclaiming The Commons . It promised to combine so many of my interests: the need to return public space to the public, the astonishingly successful anti-eviction group PAH and the wider Spanish left, and the arguments advanced by David Harvey and Anna Minton on late capitalism’s sustained assault on civic democracy. Also, tapas.

It was only once I had touched down in Andalusia that the itinerary was made clear: this would not be a traditional conference, but a heavily participatory Hackcamp – like a corporate retreat for activists. We would be put into groups with strangers, play getting-to-know-you games, luxuriate in «networking time’ and over three long days, work together to create a «guerilla care campaign» to help save a local «cultural space... with particular emphasis on the circus, performing and visual arts». So, in essence, we were tasked with creating a flash mob for clowns.

I wondered what it would mean in practice. Would we have to fit the entire Spanish organised labour movement into a comically small car? How can you throw a custard pie at an abstract concept like neoliberalism? The night before the Hackcamp began, reclaiming the commons by drinking beer outdoors on the streets of Seville, with friends from Barcelona and Amsterdam I tried to work out what why clowns have such a bad reputation. For one thing, from Canio in Pagliacci to John Wayne Gacey, Pennywise, Crazy Joe Divola and Sideshow Bob, they don’t have a great record as warriors for social justice.

Of course, the carnivalesque has always been part of any truly public folk culture – and so, an injury to Koko is an injury to us all. And if you want to defend the importance of play, and performance, you have to do a bit of it yourself. «Care», observed one friend at ZEMOS98, is just code for «mutual aid» and «solidarity» – more familiar concepts from the anarchist lexicon. And so, our group worked together like elementary school teachers, using spray pent, felt tips, post-it notes, red clown noses and brainstorming sessions. Appropriately enough, it was through working together with new friends from across Europe that I learned the most – in the little conversations, the reflections on activist experiences in people’s hometowns.

Photo by Roi Guitián

In the end our guerilla action, like all the people I met, was terrific fun and far more useful than I had anticipated. We used helium balloons to hoist a giant banner demanding a new home for La Carpa (the circus space) in one of Seville’s tragically numerous abandoned public buildings. The locals loved it, we successfully spread the word about a good cause, no clowns tried to murder me, and I even climbed down off my high horse and wore a red nose – for ten minutes, sheepishly. Workers of the world, unite – you have nothing to lose but your stripey braces!

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