Dancing life: Radical gestures of okupied social centres

Today okupied social centres play today a fundamental role in the renewal, constitution and radicalisation of social movements.  Where there presence is marked (e.g. greece, spain, italy), they themselves often constitute a challenge to both State and an economy based on the sacral nature of private property.  But beyond that, and perhaps even more fundamentally, they are temporary spaces for the making of autonomous and solidarity based ways of life in largely urban settings.  In the violence that is everyday life in the capitalist city, a violence both conscious and sub-conscious, somatic, they are moments of rupture, heterotopian spaces in the distopias of universally imposed salaried labour and consumption.  If they cannot offer a complete alternative to money and commodities, if they are admittedly politically fragile, they nevertheless can be, and frequently are, thresholds for freer ways of being.

We share below a reflection on one such social centre, in Rome, from a friend of autonomies …

Centro di Iniziativa Popolare (C.I.P.) – Centre of Popular Initiative, nothing more, nothing less than a building located on the periphery of Rome. But as peripheral as it is, it is a source of attraction for people coming from all parts of Rome, who go there as bees would go towards their flowers. This coming together of the ‘bees’ is already quite something if one considers the difficulty of moving in a city as large as Rome. But there is something strange about these bees. They don’t go to C.I.P. to do hard work, but quite the opposite… they go there to eat, drink, sing, play music and dance. But then, one would ask, what is so special, about these bee-like people and about the place itself?

In principle, one could say, there is nothing special in it, insofar as people, throughout their history, got together in various forms of feasting, with food, drinks and joy overflowing. But is this ‘nothing special’ still a part of our lives? A feast, where things mix, shake and flow, where all generations are present, where all are welcome, where people involved are the ones who create everything, from food to music. Is this feast and joy still a part of our lives? Is a society that lives its life between labour, commuting and consuming a joyful one? Does it have time and desire to share and create? To overcome all those barriers that separate us today, that condemn us to daily labour, daily exhaustion, daily depression, those barriers that dispossess us of all that is vital, from decent food to passing on skills and having friends, to overcome these barriers is to make a titanic effort, for one is going fully against the current.  If seen in this light, this ‘nothing special’ becomes a daily titanic battle of a small man/woman of a monster city; to try and build bridges with others, to make living not only something special, but something extraordinary.

C.I.P. is doing something very simple, but extraordinary at the same time. It tries to (re)-create communal life, to some degree ‘as it used to be’ and to some extent in its own way.  Among other things it does (bicycle repair shop, market, cinema, concerts, festivals, etc.), it also organises workshops of dance, music, singing. These are often traditions of southern Italy, but not only. During the events organised by C.I.P. all generations are present, children who were born just a few weeks ago, young, middle aged, old. No limits to nationality, race, handicapped and poor. The place has a kitchen inside, green space around and a bar-eating-dancing hall. Every Thursday all those who go to this place, if they can, carry a dish that they have prepared. They lay it out in the big room, next to other dishes, and next to a large pot of soup that C.I.P. offers on Thursdays. The room is then filled with sounds of pleasure, as the food is very tasty…. Long tables, populated with lazy’ ‘bee-guests’, who eat, drink and chat very loud. No one pays for food, only wine is for money, and the latter has an affordable price. But this is not all, the pleasures of palate and chatting are to be followed by those of gestures and voice. The ecstatic rhythm of tambourine breaks the joyful buzzing in the crowd and reminds everyone ‘it is time to move…’, to dance, to dance and to dance, until midnight and beyond… and the carnival begins. Those who play the music, those who sing and those who dance are either simply daily guests of C.I.P. or the same people who are students or teachers of the workshops. Moments of joy follow, moments fully created by those present, moments that are extraordinary…




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