ACU mayhem: a critical response from a possible ally

Opinie, gepost door: nn op 10/12/2013 12:09:26

As a person not living in Utrecht and therefore rarely, if ever, visiting events at the ACU, I feel nevertheless interpelated by the recent call-out published on Indymedia. As many Indymedia readers, I think it is important to try and keep the alternative public places that were secured through legalization in the 90s, as alternative and 'free' as possible, or (even better) as controversial and rebellious as we can make happen. The developpment and incidents vindicated in the call-out are rather disturbing ones.

But... the form and the tone of this call-out are so unappealing to me that I feel compelled to first react in a rather bitter way - at least I will have shown the very first bit of the solidarity that is asked for, which is to match the tone of those sending out the call-out in the first place. Please also note that english is not my first language, so I'm forced to simplify whatever it is I have to say.

So let's read this call-out:

> We 'critical' volunteers, ex volunteers, activists and other people
> involved with the ACU call out for a public meeting on the 6th of
> January. Starting at 19.30. Although the 'ACU' does not comply with
> this call out, we stress out the need for a public meeting.

For me the problems arising from this call-out start right here: who are these self-nominated "volunteers, ex volunteers, activists and other people involved"? Here we are made to think that there is a group that formed outside the regular ACU to discuss their discontent, because they felt it was not adressed properly by the rest of the ACU. But it also reads as if no-one in this group wants to take responsability for it, or even give him or herself a name - rather, it seems that this is the work of very few people who use anonimity on the assumption that they represent more people, but make no serious effort in making this assumption believable.

Moreover, the step ataken is kinda startling if you think of how such a 'public meeting' should look like: since the rest of the ACU has stated they do not comply with calling out for a public meeting, how is that meeting going to look like? As a person answering this call-out, what am I suppose to expect? Honestly, it feels a bit like I'm being asked to come and perform a violent take-over, or at best be a spectator at some kind of people's trial. None of these options is very appealing, nor is it one of the things that I'd like to do to express my solidarity with people who claim that there is an urgent situation of racism and what more in the ACU. So from the very beginning, the form chosen by this mysterious group makes me doubt their political beliefs.

> The future of ACU
> The discussion started after the publication of the article discussed
> on This article shows apart from
> a lot of frustration some of the real problems. The individual cases
> are not suitable to be discussed online, but this text will attempt
> to clarify a bit without going into individual cases.

Why are the individual cases not suitable to be discussed online? How can we be pointing fingers at people, accusing them of being racists (a grave insult in my own set of values), without giving some clues at what exactly happened? No wonder you get into 'a lot of frustration' if you forbid yourself to talk freely and openly about racist incidents.

> ACU background

Ok, that one is clear.

> Power structures Over time power structures developed. These power
> structures are based on several factors which include: understanding
> and further complicating the technical installations, living close to
> ACU, seniority, control of finances, not sharing skills, … Not
> everybody who ended up in a position of power has done so on purpose,
> but these power structures have made certain volunteers and their
> friends untouchable for criticism.

Mmmh, let me see: so these certain volunteers who have gained power by living close to the Acu and by understanding technical stuff, without doing so on purpose, are now untouchable for criticism. Do you mean that they are the victims of power structures that develop autonomously? So you suggest there should be a system that kicks people away as soon as they grow old ("gain seniority", yeah what a gain) or start to understand the financial stuff properly at last? Or is this written solely with the purpose of damaging this older crew ('they refuse to listen to my critics because they are in power') without attacking them frontally ('it's not their fault, they are victim of a process')? What does 'untouchable for criticism' actually mean? If it means that generally you are aware that people tend to grow stuck in some routine and are therefore less eager to change things, being able to make this observation also means that you seem very well able to make a proposal on how to change that. Proposing to crash the door at the next volunteer meeting with random people who answer an anonymous call made on Indymedia makes me think that you are not so much frustrated with the observed Power Structures problem, but that you are frustrated because your proposal to challenge these structures didn't make it. Without any details on what your critcism was and how it was not adressed, it is difficult to develop any empathy with your frustration, other than a vague feeling that you are frustrated because you didn't gain power yourself. If this is the problem, since you observed that some people gained power by seniority, there is an obvious solution for your problem: grow up.

> Secrecy There is a culture of secrecy in ACU both towards customers
> as to volunteers. This secrecy is both a means to ignore criticism
> and a process which enables people to remain in their positions of
> power. There is secrecy about problems, finances, techniques and
> ordering of drinks. The reaction tot the the article discussed on
> shows how secrecy and denial is a
> reflex of ACU.

Secrecy is on old squatters weapon, which as any weapon may very well be misused. But it is in no way an evil thing just by itself, something which you seem to agree with since you take the trouble of explaining that in the case of the ACU it is misused as a means to ignore criticism and keep power. Now it seems very reasonable that some stuff be kept 'secret' from customers, or at least not actively made public. It seems weird that all information is not shared with volunteers, but here again we fall short of judgement since no detail is given to us. What are the questions you asked about finances that have not been answered? Which technical stuff do you feel you should be more actively involved in mastering? What is unclear about the ordering of drinks?

> Personal attacks Volunteers who want to discuss problems within the
> collective are met with denial. If they don't back down after this
> denial the next step is personal attacks during meetings and by
> email. These attacks include verbal abuse, ridiculing, (threatening
> with) physical violence, blackmail, forcing people to relive trauma,
> etc. This has caused many volunteers to leave.

Again, elaborate. Problems being 'denied' may also very well mean that you are the only one who has a problem. It's hard to face, but if you take the other volunteers seriously, you do have to ask yourself this question. Then, upon insisting on what you perceive as a problem and others apprently don't, you notice that others are upset: that seems not more than normal, since you do not respect their opinion. Now how exactly did people 'verbally abuse' you? Is this email I'm writing a form of abuse, because I don't agree with you? Oh, and someone even dared to 'ridiculise' you, like, they made a joke, right? Would you consider the eventuality that people purposedly tried to relieve the tension caused by your problem by using humor? Then we step up to physical violence, blackmail, and trauma: these are very serious accusations, and they lose their credibility quickly when you don't give at least a hint at what has exactly happened. And what to think of the "etc" that ends this series of very serious accusations? Are the readers supposed to imagine themselves what for more horrible things happened, relieving you from the apparently difficult task to name facts?

> Decision making ACU is supposed to be a consensus based collective.
> This is not how decision making works in ACU. When volunteers wants
> to force their opinion this is done by over shouting other volunteers
> at meetings, repeating oneself and talking so long that other people
> just say yes to end the discussion. When people don't like decisions
> which are made they just ignore the decisions, this sometimes leads
> to actual sabotage of other volunteers' work.

Mmmh, sounds like just another not very well functioning collective. Fair enough. Also sounds like yourself are an acting part of the described mechanisms. The rant you've started is by far more agressive than talking loud at meetings.

> Racism There is both subtle and blatant racism in ACU. The blatant
> form of racism include the use of racist derogatories to describe
> both customers and volunteers to other volunteers. When people are
> confronted the tendency is to deny the racist nature of their
> comments.

So, you are an authority on the matter? Please enlighten us and describe what is it that people say and why it is 'racist'. Otherwise we are stuck with just another general description, where rather academic vocabulary seems to be used only in order to mask the lack of serious facts.

> Other forms of discrimination Apart from racism all other forms of
> discrimination (including homofobia and sexism) are perpetrated in
> ACU, partly by volunteers. When people are confronted the tendency
> again is to deny the discriminatory nature of their comments. A sign
> to make clear that discrimination is not tolerated in ACU has been
> trashed and later removed by ACU volunteers.

'All forms of discrimination'. Please take at least yourself seriously, and think twice before making a fool of yourself. This general accusation doesn't make sense. Then there is the (by now famous) sign that contained so many forbidden 'isms' some people genuinely believed it was a good example of what the dutch call 'zelfspot' (making fun of yourself). I have understood that the sign was replaced with a much shorter one _after_ several long negociations in the ACU meeting. Not even mentionning the discussions about it makes your plea rather weak. In fact, it seems like you're blatantly denying other peoples opinion and actively try to hide facts.

> Harassment There are severe cases of harassment happening in ACU on a
> daily basis. Usually this is amongst customers and sometimes ACU
> steps in and tells the harasser to leave.

Hey! something positive! So the ACU is not hell on earth. How many bars do you know (yes, also alternative ex-squatters bars, we have quite a few of them in netherlands) where the crew is so active upon cases of harassment?

> This does not happen in the majority of cases.

Err, this is startling. Either you have some kind of figures or several examples, or (which seems more probable) your assumption that 'a majority of cases' is not dealt with appropriatedely does not refelct on reality or observation but solely on some severly ideologically driven wish that this is the case. Obviously, it must be questioned wether people who try to carve a reality where even more harassment takes place than what already happens, have any right to call themselves 'progressive' or anti-something-ist at any rate.

> An other form of harassment is perpetrated by ACU
> volunteers, who sometimes use their position as ACU volunteer to
> enable the harassment. There have been instances of harassment by ACU
> volunteers which would fall under the legal definition of rape, or
> attempted rape. These cases are met with denial and secrecy.

Again, this is a very serious accusation, where the writer deliberately blurs the limits between harassment and rape, while calling upon 'legal definitions' to mask the deliberate bluring. Without entering into details about the dutch legal system when it comes to harassment or rape (it admittedly has a rather poor record in absolute terms, but some deem it far better than many other countries), what is striking here is that this accusation of harassment carries the very same mark of 'secrecy' that it denounces. If the supposed cases have been denied and fall under the legal definition of attempted rape, I'm sure you would have acted upon it, wouldn't you? Or at least you would denounce them now? But no, you too choose to keep them secret. Pity.

> Lack of political awareness Despite ACU being set up as a political
> centre where party-politics are not welcome, and still advertises
> itself that way, there is a severe lack of political awareness
> amongst volunteers. These volunteers argue on a regular basis in
> favour of nights of political parties, or discriminatory political
> groups, who argue ACU should be a place open for everybody so should
> also host nights which explain why discrimination “makes sense”.

Please elaborate? It seems very good that these arguments are talked about over and over. And as much as I myself dislike party politics, I definitely deem it a good idea to debate amongst ourselves why we dislike them or not. If you are such an authority that you can judge upon others' state of political awareness, then for sure you must be able to come up with a better strategy to explain what's wrong with party politics.

> Finances There is a lot of secrecy about finances. The books are not
> presented when asked for at the meeting. The purchase prices of
> drinks are not provided when asked for in meetings. The costs of the
> huge amount of expensive lighting (there is more in ACU then in
> Tivoli which is way larger) are unclear except for the people buying
> those lights. The mortgage is said to be really high, but hardly any
> volunteer actually knows how high. It is unclear to most ACU
> volunteers how a volunteer-run (so no wages to be paid) place with
> prices comparable to any other bar does not make huge amounts of
> money which could for example be used for political activities.

Actually, after reading the whole text, this is possibly the only thing that I can relate to. So you are volunteering somewhere and you'd like more insight in the finances. Fair enough. But should the finances be made public or should everyone be able to know everything about it and why? Could it be that ACU has a complicated financial structure that's intertwined with Strowis and 'upstairs', and that different subgroups have a rather financial autonomy, with good reasons? If you've been volunteering at ACU, you sure know more about this, and if you don't say a word about it to your readers how do you expect them to support your call for 'less secrecy'?
Well, good luck with making this point at the volunteers meeting. I really don't understand why doing a call-out on Indymedia for random people to come to the monthly meeting would solve this specific problem.

In conclusion, I may say that what distresses me most in the call-out, is the heavy use of generic concepts that I (and I'm sure many Indymedia readers) immediately feel solidary with (anti-racism, against homophobia, etc), without delivering any clue whatsoever on what exactly happened and without proposing anything to deal with other than 'come to the volunteers meeting, where you are not invited'. For those of use who actually take such issues serious, it's obvious that such a call-out brings more damage to our struggles than anything else. It also damages the ACU. Upon reading carefully, it seems to do so only for reasons that lie much more in the personality and in the individual ideological beliefs of the writer(s) than in any serious anti-racist or progressive, liberating struggle. I can only hope the ACU will deal generously with so much anger and frustration, and that we'll all meet some day on the barricades, doing something really useful.

Tags: ACU rant

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