Published in Voices of Resistance from Occupied London, 31 May 2008
On the morning of the 9th of May, the Wominspace occupied social centre in Hackney was evicted. On the same hot summer night, a large group of women gathered by the canal, under the street lights shining on the locked up, fully surveilled building. We discussed, through the night, the future of the collective that had formed around opening up the squatted social centre.
The urgency of confronting capital has time and again resulted in the reduction and ridiculing of gendered experiences within our movements. Creating separatist spaces is one tactic where gender can be deconstructed, people become stronger in articulating their experiences and political positions – and this in turn feeds into and strengthens our common struggles. Gender oppression has never been entirely privileged as a political struggle, meaning that self-organising as women often ends in having to battle with those who persist on asking the question feminists have been answering for years: ‘so what are you then, an anarchist/politico or a feminist?’ For regular users of the WominSpace, anti-capitalist struggles have taken on a new significance. We no longer have to set aside our experienced reality for the sake of a larger, more urgent political purpose: our experienced reality is now part of this struggle.
Squatting a women and poly-trans space meant that the usual, and very gendered, divisions of tasks under pressed situations were broken… and the aim was exactly this. Having experienced activist, squat and social centre environments where urgency and action has often meant that the guy with the bolt croppers does the crack, the usual electrics man will do the electrics, and the person who speaks the loudest will be the one who is listened to, we felt the need for spaces and processes that confront and break those habits. The result was the decision of opening a poly-trans and women only social centre in London. Social centres and common spaces provide the opportunity for political alliances to be formed through practical projects. With a common understanding of the open and consensus based nature of the decision making processes, the WominSpace saw a wide variety of self-organised workshops and discussions: welding, a womens direct action group, feminist singing, discussions on trans-gender politics, photoshop and piracy workshops, stencil-making, film-nights and a DIY health weekend to mention a few.
This spring has seen eviction threats and actual evictions of squats across the borough of Hackney. But is has also seen the proliferation of occupied spaces and coordination of resistance through the North East London Squatters Network. After a night of planning and building barricades we resisted the first eviction attempt of the WominSpace on the 16th of April. With the support of friends, the NELSN, and local boat community we had a big breakfast in front and behind the barricades, effectively blocking the entrance for the police, bailiffs and the property owner. Since then the social centre was under constant threat, finally being evicted on the 9th of May. The project will now continue in the form of an anarcha-feminist collective, potentially opening up a new space in the future.
When a space is so short-lived it means that many political differences and disagreements do not fully materialise. Within a feminist movement that has been, and still is in many ways fragmented along lines of age, race, class, gender and politics, creating a common space can be a first step in trying to work through these differences. This was the potential of the space when seen as part of a feminist movement. But it was also part of the social centre, squatter, and anarchist movement in London, and played the role of putting gender back on the agenda within these. And on a more personal level it has been an experiment and practice of an everyday politics that refuses an otherwise dominating state of emergency, speed and competition that characterise life in the neo-liberal heartland._