Visions for a participatory, grassroots, democratic and egalitarian citizenship

What could urban citizenship look like?

What would a city rebuilt on the principle of urban citizenship for all look like?What does it mean to live in a city where all people have an equal right to a good life, regardless of their nationality or papers? How could the spirit of this mutant city grow like a seed within, against and beyond already-existing cities and form a network of solidarity and resistance? In these texts, a group of researchers, cultural workers and activists explore the promises and the practicalities of mutant urban citizenship.

Our Process

For our workshop at BGCON17 we considered the question “who risks mutant citizenship?” In order to open up this question, the facilitators posed the scenario that the participants design a utopian city based on two principles: The Right to Movement and Freedom from Precarity for all people. The scenario was framed around the possibility of transforming a de-industrialized city in the Global North in economic decline with a shrinking population.

On the first day, we developed four inter-connected spheres of concern and began to elaborate some institutions, considerations and ideas for each: the sphere of civic infrastructure and services; the sphere of culture, information and communication; the economic sphere; and the sphere of governance and values.

We arrived at a vision of a city that is participatory, grassroots, democratic, egalitarian and organized and activated by its inhabitants at the basic level of neighbourhoods and workplaces. Our city would provide everyone with the necessities: health, housing, transportation, communciation and care. It would have robust public and common institutions, while also being aware that it would have to somehow still exist within the global economy as it is. The city would develop new frameworks for belonging, new “mutant citizenships” that would be based on participation, not where one is born.

On day two we introduced the (increasingly likely) scenario that in the next decades hundreds of millions of people will be displaced or choose to move, and the need to revisit our design and dreams based on this reality. This led us to develop the idea of a decentralized city whose “mutant citizens” are not only clustered in one geographic location or a “big island” but also existing in smaller units or “islands” inside other zones, such as other existing cities.

These “small islands” would share the values, the currency system, and many resources with the “big island” and also organize mutual aid in their territories or cities. These “small islands” may take the form of community-groups, cooperatives, companies or other organizations, but share a common vision and connectivity. Like the “big island” the “small islands” would aim to, to the best of their ability, create a grassroots infrastructure for the right to movement and against precarity for everyone, wherever they are. They would also seek to “scale up” to become powerful and resilient, perhaps transforming their host-cities into new “big islands” (eg. perhaps gaining governing or economic powers).

The dream is to create a light-weight set of ideas, values, principles, plans and infrastructures that could, on the one hand, animate an entity the size of a “mutant city” and also, on the other, animate grassroots movements working within other cities, towns and zones.

Mutant citizenship, then, is not simply a “thing” people have or hold. It is comething that people do, together.

Mutant Island Big island model

In 2020, we, a group of 250 like minded people together decided to move to ‘shrinking city’. From the day of our arrival on ‘shrinking city’ has been called Mutant Island. We’ve had already established close and friendly relations to the remaining population beforehand and shortly after our arrival, we won the democratic elections for the city goverment.
Since then we have been working on developing an new framework of social institutions: from economics to healthcare, from education to journalism, from democratic governance to digital infrastructure. We have the opportunity but also the challenge to redraw the rules and possibilities to create a truly solidarity city.

While utopian in imagination, we strive to have practical methods to realize or at least approach our ideals.
Our immediate, short-term strategy of transitioning from the status quo is based on four layers:

First: Establishmend of Neighborhood-Community-Organizing
In order to allow people to learn practices of collective self-organizing, we established Neighborhood Assemblies and Co-ops. These Neighborhood Associations collectively organize care-work for children, sick and elderly people. The Neighborhood Associations is also responsible for collectively organizing one part of the food supply. It establishes relations with neighbouring farms on the countryside that work on the basic concepts of community supported agriculture.

Second: Decommodification of Housing
In order to be able to guarantee housing for everyone and start a process that will eventually lead to the decommodification of housing in Mutant Island, we use the strategy of the ‘Mietshäuser Syndikat’ in Germany. In this strategy, more and more houses are taken off the real estate market every time a new housing project ist started. We established a syndicate with financial capital that helps groups who want to start self-organized house projects, by either buying existing houses or developing new ones. In the end the houses, while belong to the individuals who live in them, are not their private property, but the propery of the whole syndicate. They can not be sold by anyone, and will continue to solve their purpose of guaranteeing people spaces to live forever. So far, already 50% of the housing in Mutant Island is part of the syndicate.

Third: Transitioning from Capitalist to Cooperative-based Economy
Much like the strategy we use for transforming the housing market in Mutant Island, our plan is to change the current economy thorugh turning capitalist-owned businesses into worker-owned cooperatives one by one. We established a cooperative which gives credits as well as advice to either businesses that want to transition to a coop, or people who want to start a coop. All public services are already running as coops.

Fourth: Creation of a mesh networked communication infrastructure
We created a mesh networked communication infrastructure for all citizens of Mutant Island which, among other things, through a ‘Task Rabbit’ like platform helps to coordinate basic neigborhood- but also city-wide services and tasks. We also started Loomio-like groups on different topics that are relevant to the citizens.

Small Island Model

  • A “distributed” aspect of The City – to plant seeds in other zones (cities/systems) that are in an economic, social, trade, ideas relationship w. the “Big Island”
  • Could grow into their own “Big Islands”
  • Built upon and within existing cities/economies/infrastructures
  • Based on participants bringing what they have (resources, skills, energy, enthusiasm) to the table
  • DIY, P2P, flexible, participatory, responsive, grassroots, horizontal, autonymous
  • Act as hubs for mutual aid to “replace” the (promises of the ) nation-state providing/producing/appropriating: Housing, Health/care, Food, Means of communication, Support (legal, administrative, literacy, education, etc.)
  • This is something we can do “now,” along-side or on-our-way to the utopian city.
  • Different stages or forms of participation (a) participate in mutual aid; (b) adopt the valiues of “citizenship” – not rules so much as adherence to principles, values, roles
  • Building an alternative within and beyond
  • Acts as hubs of the broader Movement
  • Specialized production hubs to trade w. both the wider global economy and the Big Islands/other small islands (mutant economy)
  • Takes form sometimes as private companies, cooperatives, community-groups to carry out this work
  • Create a respository of knowledge, best-practices, skills; frameworks for evaluation and recalibration/ renewal
  • Small islands act as outreach and education for the broader Vision and Movement; also as ambassadors to institutions, governments, etc. to create partnerships, collaborations, mutuality
  • Discover and plan how to set this in motion

Citizenship

Citizenship today is:

  • nation-bound
  • territory-bound
  • promotes nation languages and encourages ethnicity
  • technology to identify, locate and follow the individuals
  • citizenship is a privilege

Mutant citizenship:

  • is accesible and open to everyone, (eg. ‘No one is illegal’)
  • is not bound to territory, kinship, ethnicity, language, class
  • can emerge from commitment, choice or result of life circumstances
  • has a fluid format (can change over time)
  • is transferable
  • is non-identitarian
  • is a cultural and political decision
  • can be remote or grounded
  • provides a feeling of belonging
  • is symbolic: it is not on paper, coin, but in the heart
  • implies political participation
  • is based on the commons/ the importance of the commons
  • is not ideological
  • is decentralised
  • is based on the self-actualising citizen (spatial citizen)
  • is fun

Inclusion policy:

fast social and professional inclusion services for each newcomer

Datos Mutantes

First of all, the telecoms never went away; they only got stronger. The mutant city definitely needs resilient, local, proximity-based networks; but many of our citizens also have SIM cards and 30 euro/mo ulimited texts and data over 5G. There’s also fiber in the ground under our feet, laid by Google, DT, etc. that we tap into to connect to Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Digital Ocean. We are mutants because we’ve evolved from what was there before. We are mutants, but we are not an entirely new species, and old habits die hard.

Our mutant city provides coverage to its citizens via mesh networking. Rather, several mini-meshes connected via access points, which act as bridges between individual mini-meshes that can “see” one another. Internet-facing nodes route their traffic through VPNs we administer, built on a cluster of servers somewhere “in the cloud” thanks to Digital Ocean’s ample capacity. When we build new structures in the mutant city, we pay special care that the architecture can support our connectivity; we think about how height, materiality, and visibility can help.

The mutant city is smart, but we own our data. Our data is *actually* housed in a sanctuary. We also use techniques like differential privacy when our civic engineers have to make predictions about where to deploy the public bikes to next Tuesday. We understand the huge value of data, but we’re mutants: we don’t like to keep data around after it’s served its purpose. We have a very tight data retention policy because we care about your privacy, and also, because we can’t physically store all that data forever– we need to make space.

In our homes, some of us mutants connect smart devices. But, to avoid the common privacy and security pitfalls of the corporate internet-of-things, we use Tor hidden services to do a lot of the heavy lifting.

Like the majority of the western world, we have phones. But, we’re mutants, so we know that end-to-end communication is the only way to ensure to protect what we say from prying eyes– no matter what network we’re on. We support open source. We use F-Droid. In fact, our mutant city has its own repository there, where mutants can download our ride-sharing apps; our fork of Wire for calls, text, video, and file-sharing; and a mutant version of Fiver that serves as a marketplace for our mutual credit system. Teenagers love it.

We verify safety numbers and fingerprints; not only because it’s the only way you can be sure you’re talking to whomever you intend to talk to, without being eavesdropped upon. We verify safety numbers because we like the intimacy of the ritual. We are mutants.

This project was conceived at the Berliner Gazette annual conference 2017 entitled FRIENDLY FIRE. Check out http://berlinergazette.de/friendly-fire.

Guests: Laura Burtan, Harlo Holmes, Matthew Linares, Frauke Mahrt-Thomsen, Valentina Pellizzer, Brett Scott, Jaroslav Valuch, Elena Veljanovska. Moderators: Max Haiven & Nina Pohler.

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