FRANCE: Autonomous Social Center CREA, Toulouse
Posted by tahriricn
The CREA, WHAT IS IT?
Presentation of the idea and activities of Collective for Requisition, Mutual Aid and Self-Management and its Autonomous Social Center established again and again, after each eviction, in occupied public buildings to house immigrant homeless families and to create together a new egalitarian community.
Preview of the Initial Project of CREA from 26.06.2011
The Autonomous Social Center is organized by ourselves against all forms of misery. The future of CREA, Collective for Requisition, Mutual Aid and Self-Management, is in our hands. Faced with the continuing expansion of economic, social and political misery and disengagement of the state, people are discovering that they must fend for themselves and join hands. Self-managed social centers have become a necessity: we need free and open places to stay, to organize ourselves, to invent egalitarian ways of life and to lay the foundation for a collective emancipation. On the other hand, in the dominant countries, speculation and privatization leave more and more empty and unused buildings. We, the CREA have commandeered a building belonging to the Ministry of Cohesion and Solidarity (sic!), abandoned for two years, located at avenue des Demoiselles 70 in Toulouse. With the help of residents, social workers in struggle, militants and bystanders, we redesigned it so it can accommodate families of the street, members of the collective and all kinds of free and gratis activities directed to the neighborhood and the city. Forty of us lives now together, of all ages and all regions of the world. We welcome a dozen associations, workshops and collectives, without asking anyone for money, because we do not require any subsidy. We invent together a little bit different society based on communality, sharing, mutual aid and solidarity. The general objectives of the Autonomous Social Center are:
– to participate in reclaiming our lives and our cities,
– to help ourselves to organize ourselves and to fight against all forms of misery and domination (capitalism, racism and sexism)
– to promote of creating popular areas, sharing knowledge and mutual resolving more particular objectives’
– requisition of empty places to accommodate them for families and the precarious
– to invent practices of collective life based on equality and self-managemnt
-to welcome free cultural and sporting activities.
Faced with poverty, only struggling for several years, members of the CREA tried with others to create a place for a self-managed social center of Toulouse. On 31st March 2011, social workers of the Group for the Defense of Social Work (GPS) decided to occupy St. Stephen’s Cathedral to denounce the closure of several accommodation facilities hosting the most vulnerable people, because of lack of budget to operate. They were expelled by the police a few hours later and the prefecture remained deaf to their demands. On 20th April 2011, the same social workers have commandeered some older headquarters of the AFPA, located at Goudouli st. 4a, in Toulouse. They belonged to the Ministry of Social Cohesion and Solidarity and were left empty and unused. They currently host 25 people whose health and dependence require to create for them an immediate shelter. Remember that 22 “old precarious” died this year! It was therefore urgent to house them, but claims of the GPS apply also to all persons of the street. For these workers in struggle, the state does not fulfills its commitments to provide shelter for all. This movement has gained many supporters, including members of the CREA. We proposed, at the second General Assembly, to occupy the second part of the premises of the AFPA, a 5-storey building located at Allée des Demoiselles 70. We presented the CREA and our project of Autonomous Social Center that would house families with children. This initiative was adopted, welcomed and encouraged. We started to settle down on 23rd April and to welcome first families and the precarious. Apartments, places of collective life and activity spaces were built. To evict us, the state, through the prefect of the Haute-Garonne, Henry Michel COMET, assigned five persons identified by name on the place to the Administrative Tribunal of Toulouse. On 10th May 2011, their representative explained that we had to return to the street, because these premises did not meet the “health and safety” standards and that the State had renovation projects regarding to them. The record and the arguments of the state were empty. At that point the judge rejected the request of the prefect and gave us an opportunity for declaring that there was no urgency to expel us and there was no evidence of concrete plans for this location. We then met with Ms. Touchefeu, deputy mayor in charge of solidarity and urban policy in order to present our project and ask for support of the mayor at the next trial. No clear commitment was given us. We were then invited, together with GPS, to the prefecture. The discussions were quite heated and led to no solution. The Secretary-General was proposing a 3-day hotel for 3 families, so we left the scene. We replied that it was necessary to find solutions so that no one should be forced to live on the street. GPS has, meanwhile, been able to defend its project on May 31 during a round table at the prefecture: “The housing project, in the center of Toulouse, for people living in very precarious conditions.” Since then, the adventure of social center continues! Organised by ourselves !
Hosting families and members of the CREA collective. The families are hosted on three floors (2nd, 3rd and 4th) where they can settle down free and distribute the space among themselve. Upon arrival, the families meet members of the collective who presented them the place, the project and the rules to live together far better. The families presented their stories, economic, social, administrative and medical conditions as well as their aspirations. Each family has an apartment with the necessary furniture for comfort (beds, wardrobes, tables, heating …..). They have no obligation of enter and exit hours but with the respect of lives of all inhabitants. Each family may, if requests, be assisted in some purchases regarding children’s education and regulation of their immigration status.
The education of children in the current context is more difficult because the families are often not French speakers and do not speak (or very poor) English. They rarely know the necessary steps to ensure the education of their children, some of whom must go through adaptation classes. Therefore, residents or persons from outside assist parents in these efforts to resume as soon as possible the way to school for their children. During the time of suspended education, it is also necessary to invent other ways of creating and transmit knowledge. The CREA organizes twice weekly literacy classes and support for children and parents who wish it. The administrative status of families differs. Some of them live in asylum, some pass the procedure of obtaining a residence permit. Upon arrival, a point is made with the inhabitants of the collective. So that families can get faster access to their rights, and steps for obtaining the legal permanence can be started before handing over the baton to the CIMADE and lawyers specialised on these issues and working in partnership with the CREA.
Hosting the members of the collective. The first floor is dedicated to members of the collective, each of whom has a single room with a comfort necessary for their personal development. To ensure logistics, organization and communication the CREA created a shared room with multiple computers, a printer and internet connection. Hosting members of the group is based on the investment in the project and is not intended to compensate for the absence of existing solutions for people in precarious condition.
The self-managed collective of the place. The life within the building is organized to allow a collective, dynamic, intercultural and intergenerational life. These dynamics are built through the daily management of the site (a), infrastructure development (b) and usability projects (c).
a) Management of every-day lay of the place encompasses the food supply of the population, cooking and building maintenance. The supply of the inhabitants is based on the principles of self-management and collectivization. Each family give its stone to the building by bringing food parcels which are available for all. In addition, all the inhabitants participate, in their turn, in recycling of unsold products of various traders. Several organizations also provide us with food aid. Finally, we will soon put into life a system of SEL (exchange of services with fruits and vegetables) with gardeners wanting to support the Autonomous Social Centre. To prepare meals the CREA has built a community kitchen for all. For the security reason the meals cannot be prepared in other parts of the building. The meals are prepared by the inhabitants and consumed individually or collectively, but lead, as often as possible, to moments of sharing and conviviality.
The maintenance of the living areas. All the common areas are cleaned daily. The teams consist of one or several family members as well as a person of the collective. A charter of housekeeping was written in different languages and each enforces it. During common meals and various events, spaces are maintained by all involved.
b) Development. When we arrived, the building was an empty complex of offices For the welfare and development of all of us, spaces have been created, designed and furnished by community residents. First, a bathroom (showers, sinks) and a collective kitchen (sink, work table) were quickly created by the inhabitants. Then, for the welfare and development of children and families, we have created a classroom, a playroom-mediatheque, a multicultural library, a thrift store, a free-box zone and a sewing room. We unpaved the courtyard of the building to construct a shared garden, with a kitchen garden and floral space. It seems important to regain a taste for self-production, the pleasure of gardening and reacquire the basic skills of cultivating the land for food. In the courtyard, a small inflatable pool is now available for children. Two adjoining rooms have been converted into a classroom and a cinema room. Furniture was made during carpentry workshops. We built chests, shelves, bedside table, fence for the garden … The showers were installed by us with the aid of families through recicling of shower trays and electric hot water tanks. Sewing workshop can now make curtains for apartments that still do not have them. The internet lounge allows you to write pamphlets, translating texts, communicate by email or to update our blog. A recording studio is being installed.
c) Usability. Within the social center, projects are designed to develop camaraderie among residents and neighbours. In partnership with the Group for the Defense of Social Work (GPS) and in order to inform about the CSA and its activities, we organize every Thursday evening at 18h “Solidarity Thursdays.” They are open to all for creating social ties in the neighbourhood. We then present a small show (concert, projection, theater, puppet show …), followed by a meal in the form of potlach (everyone brings what s/he wants). These parties also allow people to feed the solidarity fund with the free participation of everyone. Activities are organized to strengthen the friendship between the members of the CREA and families. Since the opening, some activities have been implemented: common meals (barbecue meal cuisines), visits to the Natural History Museum and Botanical Garden, excursions for swimming and picnicking in Clermont Fort. In the future, other projects are already planned: a nature camp “Tipi-Horses”, 10 days in July 2011, with families and members of the collective for implementation of the project “Grandparents of heart” that will allow to retiree with the time, to create affects, and to transmit the knowledge for children.
Activities towards the neighbourhood and the city. The CREA provides space for workshops and permanent necessities to live for residents. These places are self-managed by the organizers of the workshops and participants. Until now, the inhabitants and other persons have already implemented boxing and dance classes, literacy classes, tutoring, gardening workshops, storytelling and writing, painting, a film club etc. The CREA offers for free all the 5th floor for anyone, a resident or not, for organizing diverse and varied activities on the basis of liberty, anti-racism and anti-sexism. This space is also self-managed by organizers and participants in respecting the life of families and members of the collective.
Hot-lines. The hot-lines are organized to provide free services to all residents of the district. Until now, a legal hot-line is already in place, where the families or anyone else may get an initial legal analysis of a situation and be directed to the right people (CIMADE specialized lawyers). Soon, a health hot-line (doctors, psychologists) will be set up with our partners.
Link to the full text of the project in French.
Since then, the social center and the campaign have changed. The Avenue des Demoiselles 70 and its inhabitants were expelled by the Prefecture on 28th August, and a new social center was opened in September 2012 at Rue des Demouilles 22 in the old building URSSAF (Organizations for the Payment of Social Security and Family Benefit Contributions).
Expelled by a great blow of CRS (riot control forces), a helicopter and all police brigades available that day, the campaign and the project of autonomous social center with one hundred of habitants of the URSSAF are run in the Bonnefoy neighbourhood. A dozen houses are open today housing more than 200 people through the Campaign for Requisition and the third social center was opened in mid-January at rue du Faubourg Bonnefoy 2, where now about forty people live and the campaign and activities are hold.
But the CREA or Campaign for Requisition, Mutual Aid and Self-Management, what is it exactly?
The CAMPAIGN is, let’s say, a social movement, a collective with all those who want to participate: the inadequately housed, families left homeless by the state and capitalism, people who can no longer afford their rent, people who are tired of this system of interdependent people, old people, children, students, the unemployed, the poor workers, the galériennes.
for REQUISITION: there are more empty homes, more and more people on the street and in shit. So we expect nothing of the state and authorities who do not care about us. We commandeer empty buildings directly with those in need. To accommodate us but also for all kinds of activities, workshops free and available to neighbourhoods. This form of housing can empower us to take time to think about other forms of life, organization, etc.
ASSISTANCE: We do not receive any subsidy and we do not want to. We rely on solidarity, on recycling and sharing to have food, to have clothes, to make parties, to furnish, to meet each other, to learn, to share and develop the knowledge.
and SELF-MANAGEMENT: We have no leaders and we do not want to. Everything is decided at General Assemblies open to everyone. We are members of the CREA trying to overcome this pyramidal society based on money, power, racism and sexism. We all look for ways to destroy these oppressions that we meet.
We believe that the state is not a solution. It is a very part of the problem and no one can take care of us better than we ourselves. Then we replace all that, here and now, through solidarity, equality and autonomy, real and concrete ones.
Come meet us. Let’s organize ourselves!
Everything for everyone! Power to the people!
Source and French original: creatoulouse