This is session is part of the Webinar "Dialogue on Alternatives in the Time of Global Crises".

Dialogue 3: Covid 19- moving towards a Commons future

with Ana Margarida Esteves (Portugal)

Third in a series exploring the opportunities of promoting and creating systemic alternatives, this dialogue explores the responses emerging the Commons Movement, particularly in Europe. How can it provide us the pathways to move towards direct democracy, social equity and ecological resilience?
  • Date: 15th May
  • Time: 13:30 (UTC/GMT)
  • Duration: 60 minutes

Download: [ Video ] (260Mb) | [ Audio only ] (50Mb)


Participants: Ana Margarida Esteves (AME); Vasna Ramasar (VR); Ashish Kothari (AK)

VR: So, this is part of the dialogue on alternatives that we have organized in the time of global crises and it is brought to you as I said by the Global TapestryThe weaving of networks of Alternatives of AlternativesAre activities and initiatives, concepts, worldviews, or action proposals by collectives, groups, organizations, communities, or social movements challenging and replacing the dominant system that perpetuates inequality, exploitation, and unsustainabiity. In the GTA we focus primarily on what we call "radical or transformative alternatives", which we define as initiatives that are attempting to break with the dominant system and take paths towards direct and radical forms of political and economic democracy, localised self-reliance, social justice and equity, cultural and knowledge diversity, and ecological resilience. Their locus is neither the State nor the capitalist economy. They are advancing in the process of dismantling most forms of hierarchies, assuming the principles of sufficiency, autonomy, non-violence, justice and equality, solidarity, and the caring of life and the Earth. They do this in an integral way, not limited to a single aspect of life. Although such initiatives may have some kind of link with capitalist markets and the State, they prioritize their autonomy to avoid significant dependency on them and tend to reduce, as much as possible, any relationship with them.. The premise for the work in the GTAGlobal Tapestry of Alternatives as well as for the webinar series is a recognition that we are living through multiple global crises ranging from the ecological, to the socio-economic, political, cultural and also at a very personal level; dealing with things like biodiversity loss and climate change due to the increased colonization and then alienation that the people feel at a very personal level. And now of course we have the Covid-19 pandemic. Whilst this is something that comes through as a medical emergency in many places in the world, we all recognize that it is closely linked to other global crisis. And as such we need to think about ways to respond to it that are beyond the bio-medical responses. Unfortunately, a lot of the responses are within the realm of business as usual, but we're interested in how people are actively choosing to resist that, to resist capitalism, state domination, patriarchy and other forces of oppression that are currently underway. Along with that is also the flourishing of other ways of being, knowing, working and dreaming, and the recognition of the fact that we do live in a pluriverse. Most importantly, there are a number of constructive alternatives that are popping up around the world, some that have been in place for a very long time and some that are new. This image of the map just shows some of the examples and today we'll be focusing on solidarity economy and some of the work that is happening in Europe currently. So, the Global Tapestry of Alternatives, what is it? It is first and foremost a process. It's not a project and not an organization, but it's meant to be an opportunity to create spaces for collaboration, learning and exchange. The intention with the GTA is to offer active solidarity, to give visibility to alternatives, and also help create a space for that shared learning so that we have a critical mass for macro change. It's also quite important about stimulating the collective visions of a just world. You can read more about what we're doing if you don't know so much already at the website and this is just an image of our webpage. Part of the response that we've made is to actually have this dialogue on alternatives in the time of crises. And I’m really pleased to invite you to this our third webinar on moving towards Commons futures. I’m more especially pleased to welcome Ana Margarida Esteves who is actually going to be giving the presentation today. Just so that I can give you a little bit of a background to Ana Margarida. She is a Research Fellow at the centre for International Studies of the University Institute of Lisbon. She’s also a Guest Assistant Professor of the department of political economy at the same institution. She has a PhD in sociology from Brown University and her research and teaching encompass the relations between the social and solidarity economy, the commons and the sustainability transition movements; synergies between nature, culture and technology; and the application of critical pedagogies, as well as strategies of non-formal education; to social mobilization and the promotion of participatory democracy. She is a founder and member of the International Editorial Committee of the journal “Interface: A journal for and about social movements.” She is also a member of the RC47: Social Classes and Social Movements of ISA – the International Sociological Association, and is part of its editorial platform Open Movements/Open Democracy. Ana Margarida, thank you very much for joining us today. The format that this session will take is that we will give Ana Margarida a few moments, say 10 to 15 minutes, to actually make a statement and share some thoughts with us, and then we’ll open it up to a much more inclusive discussion with everyone who’s part of this webinar. I’d like to ask that you all mute your microphones while we’re having Ana Margarida’s presentation and then once we’re done you could also put your comments and put into the chat so that we can sort of have a bit more of a facilitated discussion. So, Ana Margarida I hand over to you now. Thank you.

AME: Thank you very much, Vasna. It’s a pleasure and an honour to be here. Thank you very much for your invitation. We’re living in times of crisis. Pretty chaotic times but, you know, like- like the- like the confusion- oh, sorry I just forgot the word. In China, there are people saying that crisis is also an opportunity. Above all, it’s an opportunity for us to realise that this strength we already had, which were undervalued in previous times, and which now come to the surface as the most valuable assets we have. It’s a- these times of crisis can be a great time to get rid of underestimation and to realize where true strength and also true resilience lies. And I would like to tell you about some case studies I know, starting with the local level here in the city of Lisbon, Portugal, where I live, and then to go up to the European level to pilot projects that are going on, pilot projects that were already in motion before the Covid-19 crisis but which are now gaining an increasingly more centre stage as the crisis progresses and its consequences become more tangible to everybody. And these solutions are based on the commons. Solutions which years ago were seen as utopian, as unfeasible, as, you know, according to people- to people on the neoliberal spectrum, not aligned with the so-called “human nature”, which is a very controversial topic, and which now are being held as sources of wisdom and sources of best practices even by those who used to decry, reject them, even months ago. Okay, so, I’d like to show you a little presentation I drafted, which includes some information which I invite you to really explore later on, not only during the question and answer session of this talk but also in the future. And you’re very welcome to contact me if you want. I can write my email address in the chat box. And you’re also welcome to get in touch with the organizers of this call if you would like to get more information about myself or about my work, or to get in touch with me directly or with my colleges at the centre for international studies. Okay. So, let’s upload- Oh, how do I do this now? Ok, I’m going to share my- I’m going to share the presentation now. Slideshow- Okay, let’s start with Lisbon. I would like to tell you about some autonomous or autonomist social centres that we have here in the city, and also some state funded community social centres, which more or less have the same role but they’re aligned- but they’re politically aligned with a different vision. One of them is Disgraca, which is quite close to where I live. It’s an anarchist social centre, which for more than a decade has organised rock concerts, art exhibitions, books clubs and so on, and which has had a social kitchen for a long time. Their purpose is to promote the decommodification of the satisfaction of basic human needs and also to delink the access to free food from the part of those who need from the shame which is normally associated with that form of satisfying this so basic human necessity. One thing that I noticed here in Lisbon in the past few weeks is that the line for food banks- The lines for food banks have substantially increased. I’m sorry? Hello?

VR: Sorry about that. There seems to be someone who is not muted. I think you can continue. I am not able to mute his microphone interestingly- I’ve now muted it.

AME: Okay. I was wondering if he had a question or if he would like to make some comment about what he saw in the slide. So, Disgraca is- has been running its social kitchen for a long time but it wants to deconstruct the shame and the social stigma that is associated with the access to social kitchens, which is always, you know, associated with charity, with the kind of top-down relationship, with dependence, with, you know, with being unable to take care for themselves or being a “looser” in the social game. Here in Portugal, like in many other places in the world, a lot of people have lost their jobs because of Covid-19 or have been put into lay-off, which is a situation that although it implies a social protection from the state, it also implies a decrease in revenue and therefore a decrease in the ability of bread winners to put food on their tables as well as that of their families. So, like I was saying, I saw the lines for food banks and also those mobile trucks from, you know- from charity organisations, from the Catholic Church or even from the state who help homeless people or people in need, increased substantially in the past few weeks. Disgraca advertises its services, which is not a service, which- they don’t advertise it as a service, for them it’s a- you know, it’s a community building exercise, on social media. And they advertise it as something celebratory, as community building, as sharing, as celebration of, you know- of food, of flavour, of conviviality, which is something which has- kind of- which has kind of been under threat in the past few week. Of course they don’t say that this is a service that they offer to the people most in need. They say that it’s an offer of food to anyone who wants to come near the social centre, which has- which is going to be closed until next Sunday, until the next phase of, you know, of what we call desconfinamento, the next phase of transition into the new normal. So, they’ve been inviting people to come- to come to their doors and just socialize outside although respecting the social distance, which is- you know, the physical distance which is recommended in order to decrease the transmission of Covid-19. And another social centre which is following very much the same strategy is RDA 69. RDA stands for Regueirão dos Anjos, which is the name of the street where they’re located. You can see a picture down here on the lower left corner of people lining up to get food from RDA. This social centre has also been serving food for very low prices for more than a decade. It’s a place where a lot of young people, students, artists, academics and so on like to gather, to listen to music, to organize book clubs, to watch art house movies and so on. And right now, as the- you know, the physical place, the room, has been closed for a few weeks because of the pandemic, they have- changed their, you know, the food aspect of their conviviality to the outside, to the streets. Right now, I believe that they’re not charging any more for food, they’re just offering food to the people who wants to come- especially to the people who need it. These two organisations, Disgraca and RDA, they ask for donations. There are many people who- there are a lot of anonymous donors who just give them food so that they can prepare meals for those who need. And although they don’t state it very clearly- although they don’t state it directly in their communication that this food is for the people who just can’t afford to buy it anywhere else or people who just can’t afford to have it for an exchange of money. The way they communicate their activities on the internet, it makes it very clear that they trust people’s ability to self-regulate and to be aware that if you’re not in a situation of need, if you go there to get free food, you’re taking it away from someone who might be in a much worse situation than yourself. So, this is something that I find very interesting and very impressive. The way in which their communication has implicits of trusts in people’s maturity, ability to self-regulate, and solidarity and empathy and the ability to put themselves in the place of the other and you know- and not to take the place and the resources that would benefit a lot more those who are in a greater need than them. And I also would like to call your attention to Centro Social Laura Alves. It’s a social centre which- which functions in a way that is very similar to Disgraca and RDA although politically it’s aligned with a totally different world view. It’s part of the municipality. It’s a neighbourhood social centre run by what we call junta de freguesia which is a kind of neighbourhood level municipal- municipal administration and assembly. They’re also running a social restaurant right now in which they give free food for people in need. But in this case, people have to prove that they are in a situation in which they can afford to buy food for themselves. They’re also running a space in which homeless people can find shelter so that they can protect themselves from Covid infection and also from other diseases and other discomforts they can face while they’re on the streets. And they also have a section in which people can self-isolate in case they have been in contact with people who have been infected and also in case they show symptoms of Covid-19. I would like to call your attention to this picture here on the lower right corner. There is a plate that says isto não é um bar. It's a kind of surrealist- it´s a kind of- It’s a kind of illusion to René Magritte and to surrealism. Okay, of course it looks like a bar, but in practice it’s not a bar because it’s supposed to be a place of community building and not a place of commodification of food and drink. And I also just- just out of curiosity and just- just as an informative note I would like to tell you that Disgraca is one short kind of surrealist take of the word desgraça in Portuguese, which means disgrace. So, they changed it. Instead of d-e-s it starts with a d-i-s. So, it’s a play not only with- It’s a kind of subversion of the meaning of the word disgrace. By changing one single letter from e to i, they make a reference to the neighbourhood where they’re located, which is the neighbourhood of Graca. Disgraca, it would mean something like belonging to the neighbourhood of Graca, or a place of gathering in Graca. And RDA 69 is also- also alludes to the- to the former- It’s also a play with the acronym of the former German democratic republic. Since it’s an anarchist social centre they want to subvert the meaning of a political entity which was associated with totalitarianism, surveillance and repression, and just to turn it upside down and make it a name for a place which is supposed to be about liberation, self-empowerment, expressiveness, community building and sharing. Okay, I started with local level. Now, let’s go to the transnational level. I know it’s a huge jump but, you know- we’re not isolated. No person is an island and no city is an island. And that’s what the fearless cities network is about. It’s a global municipalism movement which met for the first time in June 2017 in Barcelona at the invitation of Barcelona En Comú, which is the- which is the coalition which is currently in power in the municipality of Barcelona. And it’s a gathering of neighbourhood movements, of mayors, of local counsellors, of social movements and political parties which aim to promote a just and socially inclusive and democratic transition to sustainability around the world based on the commons. And it’s a- and the project of this network is to promote the creation of new commons as a strategy to radicalize democracy, to feminize politics and also to stand up to populism and the far right. I would like to show you now a short introductory video of the fearless cities’ gathering that happened in June 2017 in Barcelona and which also says the basic principles of this movement. In this- slide you also have a link to a youtube channel which has the recording of all the speeches and all the interventions that took place during the inaugural conference in 2017. Just hold on a second. I’m going to show the video right now- Okay, so it started by showing the first gathering that happened in Barcelona and then the second gathering in Brussels. Just a second. I would like to show you the webpage of the- of fearless cities. It has an interactive map where you can access the- the different- the different movements and networks which are associated with fearless cities. For example, let’s see the Netherlands. You have here in Rotterdam, Delfshaven which is a municipal opposition which is a political party that is part of the municipal assembly of Rotterdam, which is in opposition to the current municipal government. Here in Amsterdam, the counter-municipalist platform is working outside the institution so they’re not part of the municipal assembly but they’re mobilizing and organizing at the civil society level. Let’s share another country. Brussels. We Brussels, which is also a counter-municipalist platform working outside institutions. And then a very interesting case study that I would like to show you. Let’s see- let’s see if I can just decrease the size of the map. Italy. Naples. Democrazia and Autonomia. It’s a political party which is currently in power and promoting a very interesting commons transition strategy for the city. I very much recommend that you access this webpage and interact with this map and access all the information that you can- that it can link you to. Okay, now back to the presentation. Okay. I also would like to share information about some research and pilot plans on commons and Covid-19 adaptation. One of these is Municipalities in Transition from the- which is an initiative from the transition network, which is a pilot plan that is gathering municipalities in Italy, Spain and Portugal and not only municipal governments but also citizens’ assemblies outside the- outside municipal assemblies with the purpose of development- with the purpose of developing common space transition plans. In the region of Emilia Romagna in Italy, this project has already bore a lot of fruits. One of them is a charter that has been signed by more than 300 mayors, which states a plan to promote Covid-19 adaptation measures and strategies in the cities based on the commons. And another one that I would like to tell you about is the Social and Solidarity Economy Action Plan, which is been promoted by the Catalan Solidarity Economy Network, which aims to make cities, towns, as well as villages, more resilient not only to pandemics but also to social crises and environmental crises, through the promotion of cooperatives, of solidaristic producers’ associations, of consumer cooperatives, of local currencies and also of direct consumer-producer links based on local and regional level supply chains. The purpose of this action plan is to promote resilience based on the relocalization of supply chains and also the promotion of cooperative practices and organisational structures. And, last but not least, I would like to tell you about UrbanA Sustainable and Just Cities which is a research project funded by the European Commission of which I am proud to be part of. I’m a- I’m an external consultant for this project Sustainable and Just Cities. The name says it all. On the 4th and 5th of June we are going to have an online event coordinated by our colleges at the Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona, the Autonomous University of Barcelona. We were supposed to gather in Barcelona during those days but unfortunately because of the pandemic, each of us will have to stay home and we’ll meet remotely through Zoom. And the main topic of this two-day event will be Covid-19 adaptation at urban level through the promotion of new commons. And mainly that’s it. I could also show you the link to the webpage of Municipalities in Transition. You have a lot of resources over here, case studies, the pilots- the pilot projects, you have case files. You also have an interactive map where you can explore for example there’s the- There’s the citizens assembly of Telheiras also here in Lisbon. There’s another one in La Garrotxa, which is a regional level network in Catalonia in a rural region. Another one in Valsamoggia, Italy. In- Is this? Yes, this is Slovakia. Transition Kispest. And here is a webpage of the Covid adaption strategy promoted by the Catalonia Solidarity Economy Network. Unfortunately, it is only in Catalan but I believe you can easily get a translation through Google Translate. And that’s it. And so, now I’m waiting for your questions and comments. Thanks for listening.

VR: Thank you very much Ana Margarida. That was really good to get such concrete examples in the presentation. So, I think now what we will do- we have about half an hour so I’d like to open it up for a conversation, comments, questions, any discussion points that others would like to bring up.

AME: Okay, and I just shared my email address on the chat box.

VR: Great. So, if people would like to raise a question or comment. Should we start in the links- in the chat? Or anyone wants to raise their hand or just put something out? Shrishtee, maybe you could facilitate the chat discussion? Shrishtee: Yes, sure, but there is nothing yet so- I think people should feel free to ask anything-

AK: I have a question if nobody else is going.

VR: Yes, please Ashish.

AK: Ana, thanks a lot for thatand full of hope. That is what we really need these days.

AME: Yes, absolutely. Ashish: So, one question. I read somewhere that Portugal has given full citizenship to refugees and migrants who didn’t have it earlier because of Covid. It sounds pretty amazing. Can you tell us a bit more about that? What are the numbers we’re talking about and what does it mean? And how did it happen?

AME: Well, I’m not aware of- Sorry?

AK: And is there a commons angle to it?

AME: Okay, well, I- I can’t tell you about numbers. All I know is from what I read in the news. Indeed, because of the Covid-19 crisis, all the people who are currently residing in Portugal including immigrants and including those who do not yet have legal status, have the same rights as any citizen or legal immigrant to access health services and also to access housing, public or private, and education, so that they can remain safe during the pandemic.

AK: It’s really amazing.

AME: Yes, it is. Also because- also because, in two weeks ago, it was revealed that one of the hotspots for Covid-19 transmission here in the city were hostels where a lot of non- of- well, I don’t like the word illegal immigrant, I really hate this expression so I will use non-regularized immigrant, which is also not exactly politically- politically correct expression. But anyway, you know- People came to Portugal to work and they still don’t have their papers. A lot of them were living in hostels in very cramped conditions because they didn’t have the official papers they needed to access- you know, to rent an apartment for example. And- so, those hostels became hotspots for Covid-19 transmission because people just couldn’t keep the physical distance necessary to prevent being infected in case one of the people living their got infected. So, the purpose of this measure is to try to prevent this kind of situation as much as possible.

VR: Great, thank you. We have a question from Tamara Logaswami and she asks- ops and it’s moving very fast with lots of questions.

AME: There’s one from Steve Cleese, from Elias and Tamara Logaswami.

VR: Yeah, so I’ll start. I go one by one if that’s okay with you. So, I read it out. Her question is: there’s a certain ethical sub-position or foundation in this whole rhetoric of the commons. How does one nurture and cultivate these ethics?

AME: I believe it’s through education from an early age and also from nurturing people’s self-esteem not based on our outwork aspects like achievements or appearance or symbols of social distinction, but on their intrinsic value and capacity to contribute to the whole. I believe that we promote the commons and the commons-based solutions by educating people to love themselves and to love others for their humanity and not because of signifiers of status.

VR: That’s really the fundamentals, isn’t it? Then there’s a question from Tim Weldon: I was curious about the legal status of the Lisbon centres. Are they squatted social centres or authorized spaces?

AME: I think, I’m not sure but I think that they started as squatted social centres and then became legalized spaces. From what I know. And the centre Laura Alves of course is not- has never been squatted, so the building is- the building belongs to the municipality.

VR: I just want to say to people, I’m reading out the comments as they are in the chat but you are also very welcome to raise your hand and ask the question yourself. So, having said that, I’d like to open it up to H Halley who’s raised a hand and maybe can ask the question or make the comment herself/himself/themself. And we’ll come back to the other question in the chat. Halley: Hi, good afternoon everybody, thanks for that really interesting presentation. My name is Halley and I am at the university of Johannesburg and I was interested in- what you see as, I guess, for a scope for alliances with countries in the global South. I see there’s some activity on the map in South America, but I guess I’m interested to know whether you’ve had any interest from southern Africa and South Africa particular. Because the context here is of course very particular, shaped by the post-apartheid concerns and the whole idea of commons is very different here. There’s a preoccupation with getting access to land, getting access to water, much of which is dominated by the extractive sector. So, yeah, I wondered if you had anything to say about that?

VR: And maybe, sorry Ana Margarida, before you answer that, Frances Dust from Zambia also had a question related. Is there any work or case studies in African cities beyond South Africa?

AME: Yes. Not that I’m aware of. But I know that Fearless Cities is an intercontinental platform and that there are many- and that there are municipal administrations and municipalist movements from the global South which have joined the network. And there is of course an openness to get as many organisations from the global South as possible. And right now- there’s a huge discussion in activist communities and also amongst scholars of social movements about how to increase North-South solidarity during the pandemic and also in the post-pandemic period. And there’s an emerging consensus that commons-based projects will become even more important as a locus of activism especially because, you know, large-scale protests right now are unfeasible. So, you know- so prefigurative politics mainly through the so-called new commons, both physical and also online, will become more and more a space not only of protest but also of refiguration of a more just sustainable and inclusive world.

VR: Great. We’ve got several questions now. Cali Burman was wondering if and when and in what ways tourism might be discussed in the states you discussed. Are commons, communities re-imagining its role or the level of its importance for the economy and community development?

AME: Okay, wow, that’s a very important question and one that is very close to my heart because my family- most of my family lives on tourism. I grew up in a touristic area, I grew up seeing the destructive effects of mass tourism. And I’m a huge proponent of sustainable tourism. I don’t think that tourism in itself is bad like some people claim. Tourism can be a huge force for peace and development as long as it’s not destructive, as long as it’s not totally massified. I believe that we can have a kind of tourism that is non-elitist, that doesn’t lead to the kind of, you know, client-servant relationship that we see so often in southern Europe, South America, Asia and many other places. There’s an emerging discussion here in Portugal and also in Spain, Italy, Croatia and Greece about how to make tourism more sustainable, not only ecologically, but also socially after the pandemic. So, the pandemic just put mass-tourism on a hold which is leading to huge economic mayhem as you may guess and- but a good- It’s leading to a lot of rethinking. A good thing is that there are some groups which are starting to consider community and cooperative bases of- sorry, approaches to- Sorry? Okay. Cooperative and community approaches to tourism development. But we need much more. We need many more groups and many more organisations and social movements discussing those approaches to tourism. There’s an example in north eastern Brazil. A little town called Prainha do Canto Verde. I visited that place in 2012 and I was really impressed. The whole town mobilized to turn the whole- to turn itself to a big cooperative. So the citizens gathered as an assembly to develop- to set up an economic development plan for the town based on tourism which is community led and based on cooperatives and producers’ associations, not only what regards hotels and restaurants but also- but also the production of food. There’s a- It’s a supply chain that connects community- like cooperatively owned hotels and restaurants with local farms with the local association of fishermen and so on in a very interesting local level supply chain. We need more of that in Europe, really. There is an author called Daniel Christian Wahl which is one of the main scholars on regenerative development at the moment, which has some recorded webinars available on youtube about the topic.

VR: I think we’ll get those links from you and make sure that we post it when we post this video as well so people can follow up on that.

AK: Vasna, there’s a request for Ana to repeat the name of the Brazilian town. Maybe she can type into the chat.

VR: Yeah, maybe if could type it into the chat. That would be very helpful.

AME: I’m gonna type it and I’m also gonna type the name of that scholar. Brazilian town. And I can search on the internet right for the links.

VR: Well, there’s several other questions so what I’d like to suggest is that we post the links onto the webinar page afterwards so people can access it there and the we can get to some of the other questions that people have for you. Yeah? Great. If I can continue- we then have a question from Steve Cleese who wants to ask: what situations are amenable to commons solutions? Jason Hickel writes of how scarcity is constructed and suggest that most situations are amenable to commons solutions. What about global problems like climate change?

AME: I’m sorry, could you repeat that again?

VR: He asks: what situations are amenable to commons solutions and specifically what about global problems like climate change?

AME: Okay. Commons based solutions can actually decrease the carbon footprint substantially. For example, community kitchens in co-housing developments, the sharing of washing machines, collective transport. It has been found out- it has been found out that at least- There is some evidence that- that domestic appliances actually produce- that taken all together, actually produce a much greater ecological footprint than all the aviation industry taken together. So, now it’s a question of re-learning on how to be together and how to share those appliances. It’s a question of rethinking- rethinking what is a private and the collective’s sphere. There are some examples. There’s an ecovillage in south western Portugal called Tamera where they- I don’t know if anyone has ever heard of that place? I published a couple of articles about Tamera. They- they have a test field there called the solar village where they are testing technologies like solar- a collective solar kitchen for villages and for refugee camps run on biogas and on solar energy. This is an example. Another example is something that is- that one can find very often in housing co-ops in Scandinavia, which is the sharing of washing machines between neighbours.

VR: Great. Elias has a question. Is there a sense that the Covid crisis means we need to focus on mutual aid projects around social care in particular?

AME: Yes, indeed. Yes, indeed and that has been multiplying like mushrooms in the past few weeks. Here in Lisbon, there have been a lot of new initiatives in neighbourhoods, you know, peer to peer initiatives to care for the elderly and for people who have- who are restricted in their mobility or have other kinds of special needs. Neighbourhoods level groups which are making sure that the elders and the people with special needs in their neighbourhoods have access to food and to medicine. They go- they do their shopping for them for example. Many junta de freguesia, you know the neighbourhood level municipal administrations, are calling those people and- nearly every day. I spoke with some elderly ladies here in my neighbourhood and- I asked them if they needed me to their shopping for them or something and they said: oh, don’t worry. I have that kind lady from the junta de freguesia who calls me every day and asks how I’m doing. Sometimes she just calls just for a chat. They also take the mental health of the elders into account, especially of those who live alone. And the lady I was speaking to she lives alone. I believe she might be a widow- I believe she might be a widow or single or divorced. And she said that they call them every day sometimes just to chat about the weather or the news or how their pets are doing, and they have people coming to their houses to do cleaning, to administer medicine or- or to take care of some errands they might have, to do shopping and other needs. So, there’s a multiplication of initiatives. Not only among the autonomous groups, not only in the civil society, but also in the state. It’s very interesting to see that the state is now adopting a lot of strategies which used to- which used to be a characteristic of autonomous groups or even anarchist groups. This is pretty interesting.

VR: Yeah, there’s fantastic openings coming up because of that.

AME: Absolutely.

VR: Vivec has his hand raised. Vivec, would you like to ask your question? Vivec: Yeah, yeah. There’s a very excellent discussion here. I was thinking about this- transitioning for tourism industry into ecotourism, the two senses of ecotourism. Because I come from ecological sciences background and follow research in the topic of rice ecosystems in South East Asian countries where they consider- many South East Asian rice landscapes are very good tourist attractions but they are being degrading gradually because the youth who belong to rice cultivating villages are now shifting completely to the tourism industry and there is no manpower, a human resource, to maintain those landscapes with the massive beauty. So, here- Because, when we take fisheries as an example where we have fishing holidays where we do a certain window period to make the national fish stocks to- like- on growing numbers. We won’t catch in that- fishing in that window of period. It is fishing holiday. Like that there should be some tourism holiday. During the peak cultivation periods, tourism holiday should be- could be and create the- Communities could come together and they could build up their natural ecosystems and they could strengthen their natural value and then they can attract more tourists, which could be sustained, that tourism could be sustained.

VR: Thank you, Vivec.

AME: Yeah, I believe, in my personal opinion, which is not only mine but also of people like Daniel Christian Wahl and others, tourism can become a sustainable economic sector and actually contribute very positively for- very positively to the rich energy of the development of communities if it’s very closely connected with other basic activities like agriculture and fisheries. If instead of relying on globalized supply chains to provide the food and- and the drink and everything else that is needed to make sure tourists are fed and comfortable and so on. If hotels and restaurants establish direct relationships with local producers and if tourists are well-integrated in the everyday life of the communities, if they welcome this part of the community instead of someone who is there to be entertained and pampered, I believe it can be a great source of hope. Vivec: Yeah, yeah. That’s excellent.

AME: And the source of- and the source of very positive synergies. Like in Prainha do Canto Verde. Vivec: Thank you, thank you.

VR: We’ve still got a couple more questions in the chat so if I can continue asking some of those. And the first one is actually three questions from Melannie Bush-

AK: Vasna?

VR: Yes.

AK: Sorry, Vasna. If I can- because tourism was on. If there is the question or the point on tourism that Dell has raised can just be dealt with if that’s okay. Because she says I fear that, she or he I’m not sure, even community-led and cooperative based tourism will still have a huge ecological footprint. So, Ana I think this is certainly- I think there are two issues that are still concerned. I mean, I totally agree with you about the potential for community-led ecotourism. But if the tourists are still coming from far away, it is number one ecologically still problematic and number two still fragile as we see right now with the Covid crisis. So, people who are actually doing community-led ecotourism in many parts of India are suffering right now because there is no plane going there, which would be a ???, right? So- I think the localization even of visitation and tourism is something that would have to be in the long run tried or attempted.

AME: Yes and- yes to localize tourism a bit more, to substitute train travel for plane travel whenever possible and also to transition beyond that kind of monoculture, that kind of economic monoculture based on tourism like we see in southern Spain, southern Portugal and parts of Greece. Instead of making- instead of basing the local economy all on tourism, to diversify the economy and to create local level supply chains so that tourism will not become like the soul or the main source of income. And of course, this means that we have to transition beyond mass tourism but we have to be careful in that transition so that travelling and learning and meeting people will not again become something elitist so that we won’t reverse back into the old days of the grand tour of British and German aristocrats who travelled to Italy, Spain and Greece in search for antiquities. And in that sense, I believe that there’s a huge potential if- if the education sector and the tourism industry join forces in creating educational experiences to make tourism not only about entertainment, but about, you know, about educating yourself. But also this means rethinking the whole economic system, rethinking the work-leisure dichotomy, rethinking the commodification of labour.

AK: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for that.

AME: The values that- that currently shape our lives.

VR: And I think this links into a comment from Peter Darren who says: the power of the commons and commoning is in the first instance the imperative of deconstructing problems as they are presented by capitalism. So, too many people are very well-rewarded, you know, for asking the wrong kinds of questions.

AME: Exactly.

VR: We are at 4:30 now but there are still some very good questions in the chat so I wanted to just ask you Ana Margarida as well as the other participants if you’d be willing to stay on for a few minutes more and take one or two more questions.

AK: Vasna, I think we have- were we not supposed to go on another half an hour? We’ve only done one hour yet.

AME: I just would like to add something also- also as a follow-up to the comment that Tamara just wrote on the chat box. I believe that the underlying motivation of mass tourism is the search for the kind of release- yes, for a kind of release from the accumulated stress and frustrations from- that results of one’s engagement in commodified labour. Because people have to sell their labour for most part of the year and very often, you know, and therefor alienating themselves from their own creative capacities, they feel the need to have like- to have a few weeks in the year in which they just “woooo”, in which they just release all that pent-up energy. And that’s why the mass tourism industry exists with aberrations like Benidorm in southern Spain or Armacao de Pera and Quarteira in Portugal. So, rethinking the tourism industry has to take place- has to be integrated in a whole overall rethinking of labour relations and of the market economy as we now it.

VR: And I think this ties in very importantly- Sorry, and I was gonna say this ties in also very importantly as threads that we’ve had in the first two webinars as well. This is about alternatives to the system and understanding the deep flaws in the current system.

AME: Exactly. And it’s really a pity that travel, which can be such an opportunity for learning and for encountering other realities and for mutual enrichment, has been turned into entertainment in which are just there to satisfy some primal urges, you know, of just- of just forgetting about your everyday worries and, you know, and making it all about food, rest and way often sex with very destructive consequences for the local communities. To make it once again an educational experience. But that implies also that throughout the year, you live in a way in which will not accumulate stress and frustration so that when you- so that you when you have free time from your- you know from your usual obligations, instead of wanting to just alienate yourself even further you will want to feed your curiosity and to truly meet others instead of just using them to satisfy some primal needs. And that’s it. Yeah, Shrishtee wrote, mainstream tourism consumes the natures and cultures. Absolutely. And what a pity that is.

VR: I’d like to sort of move a little bit away from the tourism discussion and pick up a broader issue which David has asked. If you could speak about the tensions and differences between city governments and commoners in terms of political vision and exercise of power. And also, how might spontaneous social commons acquire some institutional stability and resources, so they don’t wither post-pandemic?

AME: Well, network, network and network. Create alliances. Don’t get stuck in ideological nitty-gritty. It’s all about creating networks not only at the local and national level but also transnational level. That’s how we build political power and create critical mass. Create ecologies of resistance.

VR: Fantastic. Related to that, and I’m not sure I’m getting the question quite right here, but Vicky asked- She’d like to know more about strategies by civil society organisations to move the- I think municipalities towards these approaches.

AME: Okay. I suggest that she consults the Fearless Cities’ website. And also the one from the Solidarity Economy Network of Catalonia and the UrbanA website as well. And I would like to invite her to contact the UrbanA team and, who knows, maybe become an UrbanA fellow and take part in our seminars. Vicky: Oh, nice. Thank you.

AME: Yeah, if you access the UrbanA website, you’ll have all the contacts over there and email addresses. Vicky: Thank you.

AME: You’re welcome.

VR: Just linked to that, Laura asks about the Fearless Cities network as being influenced by Murray Bookchin and communitarianism work and if you can say a bit more about that?

AME: I believe it was. Not only by Murray Bookchin but also by other authors. But of course Murray Bookchin’s municipalism has played a role but- but from what I know of the Fearless Cities networks, there’s a- there’s a quite a large diversity of ideological perspectives. But yes, it’s one source of influence among others.

VR: Great. I’m not sure that I’ve covered all the questions that have been put into the chat. There’s also a rich range of suggestions and comments from people that we will try to also gather and put onto the website. But if I have left anything out, perhaps if anyone would like to raise their hand or add their comment or question themselves, now would be a good time to do it. I don’t know that there is but I- then there is another question which Melanie Bush had which is more about the demography of the projects themselves and about how gender, religion, generational, class, ethnic, race etc. are part of it. And just if you could comment on that, you know, how are they deliberately thought about and what it is currently.

AME: From my experience of from what I know- these networks are brave feminist. Although in terms of participation there’s a certain balance of genders. There’s a deliberate effort to bring feminist approaches into the core of the discussion. But in terms of the actual composition, in terms of age, in terms of genders, in terms of ethnicity and religion, I believe it varies a lot from place to place. I guess that the interactive map of the Fearless Cities project can link you with the information about the demographic composition of each project.

VR: Great. So, I think that is most of the questions that we’ve had.

AK: Vasna, there is one on urban gardening.

VR: Oh, great. Thanks, Ashish for picking that up. Vicky had a follow-up question on urban gardening. If you could say something in relation to that.

AME: About urban gardening?

VR: As a way or relocalization.

AME: Absolutely. It’s a way of producing food locally. There have been several attempts here in Lisbon. Some of them have failed unfortunately. Others are being- others are being recreated. I believe that in Telheiras there’s an effort to create a community garden. But a prime example of that is the city of Detroit in the United States which is being reborn as a phoenix from the economic back hold due to urban gardens which is- I visited Detroit in 2010 and I was really impressed by those urban gardens which are a way for- for many people to have access to fresh food in the middle of such a food desert. And it’s commons-based. Some of those urban gardens are promoted by the James and Grace Lee Boggs Centre which has been mobilizing the youth to urban reconstruction. And there are videos online about for example the Detroit summer which promoted community mobilization based on the arts on local agriculture and also the creation of worker’s cooperatives. For example, a bakery.

VR: Great, thank you.

AK: There’s also some excellent examples in Greece. Ex-militaries’ homes squatted by people and taken over for urban gardening by families- And many of the transition towns I think focus a lot also on recommoning-

AME: Absolutely. I think that promoting urban gardening is a core dimension of the municipalities in transition project.

VR: Good. Are there any other comments or questions? Again, we’ve had some more suggestions and concrete examples added to the chat so people can also read some of those website links and we’ll try and put them onto the webinar page as well.

AME: Yeah.

VR: But then I think if there’s no more questions right now or discussion points to bring up then it’s also a good time for us to try and keep within our time limits and say a very big thank you to you Ana Margarida for this really rich contribution today, as well as to everyone else for the inputs that they’ve been making. Because this is about us sharing our learning together and actually helping each other. And as you said, networking, networking, networking. So, hopefully that will continue. It’s also- I just want to say that we will continue the webinar series. The next one will be on the first of June and it will be on Zapatista autonomy movements and how they’re responding to the current crisis. It’s lesson for radical democracy and indigenous visioning- There will be more information on this put on the Global Tapestry of Alternatives website. So, on that not, if I could ask people to turn on their videos quickly so we can do a quick hello and see everyone’s face and goodbye and maybe also just making sure this- I suppose you can put on your microphones as well. But- Thank you for all the wonderful participation today.

Everybody: Bye bye. Thank you.

VR: Thank you, Ana Margarida. Bye.

In detail

European Commons Assembly

Many people are engaged in commons-based alternative practices as part of the struggle for ecological, social and cultural transition within their communities. In these fields, the commons approach offers a new vocabulary for collective action and social justice. It opens up ways of reshaping processes for the governance of resources by communities themselves. Commons-based practices respect values of sharing and cooperation, equity and diversity, transparency and sustainability.

In November 2016, a group of 150 commoners from all over Europe gathered in Brussels to lay the foundations for a united and strong European commons movement. The European Commons Assembly was born.

The European Commons Assembly is an ongoing process that facilitates pluralistic debate regarding the strategy and agenda for a united political vision. Its goal is threefold:

  1. support the decentralised activities of commoners and their engagement in concrete, collaborative and bottom-up actions.
  2. give a voice to and increase the visibility of the commons movement
  3. channel the needs and demands of socially and ecologically sustainable initiatives to the political arena.



Ana Margarida Esteves

Ana Margarida Esteves is a Research Fellow at the Center for International Studies of the University Institute of Lisbon, ISCTE-IUL and Guest Assistant Professor of the Department of Political Economy of the same institution. She has a Ph.D. in Sociology from Brown University (Providence, RI, USA). Her research and teaching encompass the relations between the social and solidarity economy, the commons and the sustainability transition movements; synergies between nature, culture and technology; and the application of critical pedagogies, as well as strategies of non-formal education, to social mobilization and the promotion of participatory democracy. She is a founder and member of the International Editorial Committee of the journal "Interface: A journal for and about social movements". She is also a member of the RC47: Social Classes and Social Movements of ISA - International Sociological Association and part of its editorial platform Open Movements / Open Democracy.

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