Lucha to the city
The end of the summer has come with good news. After more than a year of participatory planning, the Lucha alla città Committee, initiated by the Lucha y Siesta collective together with a number of associations, individuals and collectives from all around Italy, won the fight against the municipality to prevent the privatisation of the building that hosts its activities. On August 25th, the Lazio Region secured the property at an open auction organised by the Municipality of Rome after having committed to leave the building to the collectivity. Just a few weeks earlier, another municipal building had been bought off by Amazon to be turned into a sorting facility.
Lucha y Siesta is a women’s shelter and anti-violence centre started in Rome in 2008 by a group of activists through the occupation of an abandoned building. Over time, the experience of Lucha y Siesta has grown, becoming a material and symbolic place for women’s self-determination against any gender discrimination. A hybrid political project that promotes new forms of welfare and self-organisation, providing information, guidance, and hospitality, while carrying out a vast programme of educational and cultural activities open to the city and the neighbourhood. Working in close collaboration with social services and anti-violence centres, Lucha y Siesta has become a fundamental entity in the city social fabric and a vital space of transfeminist militancy.
Formally (still) an illegal occupation, Lucha y Siesta currently provides, with its fourteen rooms, nearly 60% of the existing accommodations for women and children escaping domestic violence in the whole city of Rome. It has been calculated that this represents a saving of approximately seven million euros per year for the Municipality. The centre is a key example of how self-organisation and collective engagement intervenes to make up for governmental shortcomings while ensuring basic social services and legal assistance, despite the continuous attacks to which it has been subjected over the years by means of legal charges, eviction threats, break of utilities and finally the auctioning of the building in which it operates.
After the acquisition by the Region, the next step will be the recognition of Lucha y Siesta as a ‘common good’, as established by a regional law of 2019. A form of collective management outside the public-private that has found renewed momentum in Italy in the 2010s with the movement of ‘common goods’ (movimento dei beni comuni), predominantly led by artists and cultural workers, and which found two prominent examples in the Asilo Filangieri in Naples, recognised as common good in the 2015, and in the Foundation Teatro Valle Bene Comune, sadly interrupted in 2014 after a long process of legal theorisation and of negotiation with the local government. The law, based on the principle of subsidiarity set forth by the Article 118 of the Constitution, promotes the shared administration of common goods through forms of collaboration between the regional administration, local authorities, and citizens. A significant step that would allow Lucha y Siesta to continue its activity, securing the necessary material and economic support while maintaining its political autonomy.
As I’m writing, in Italy a woman is killed every three days, eight in the last month, forty-nine since the beginning of 2021, all killed by men, often close to them. On the news, a little graphic aseptic widget on a corner of the screen keeps track. In a very popular afternoon TV programme, a woman suggests to us that we should check our behaviour, that women can be ‘exasperating’. In this context, the experience of Lucha y Siesta is even more relevant for it embodies a process of feminist self-determination, self-organisation, and reconstruction of relationships and communities. Gender-based violence is structural violence as it regulates the hierarchies of oppression functional to the reproduction of the capitalist system. Femicide is only one of the most visible expression of a broader system of coercion and control, that often operates through more subtle and pervasive mechanisms, through norms and regulations that make women more vulnerable to situations of exploitation, precariousness, and dependence, and that becomes even more brutal in times of crisis.
The interconnection of violence, precarity, and the right to housing was also at the core of a meeting hosted on September 22nd by the Glasgow Women’s Library in partnership with Living Rent. The workshop Open Forum: Housing is a Feminist Issue was organised as part of a programme of activities connected to Martha Rosler’s If You Lived Here… (1989 – present), re-imagined as part of the exhibition Life Support: Forms of Care in Art and Activism (14th August – 16th October). Together with artists, activists and theorists, the event explored housing activism as part of feminist struggle, enhancing the importance of safe and affordable housing for the exercise of agency and political power. Separation from social networks, limited social capital, and bureaucratic barriers to housing, which mainly affect gendered and racialised subjects, prevent access to a legally secured tenure, reiterating vicious circles of instability and abuse which further isolate already vulnerable people. Hence, to recognise the house as a key site of capitalist extraction, traversed by dynamics of exploitation, control and dispossession, is essential in making it an important place of feminist and class struggle.
The story of Lucha y Siesta starts from a home to evolve into a process of self-determination and collective creation, showing the crucial role that these spaces can have in the formation of supportive and resistant communities against the patriarchal-capitalist culture. There is still a long road ahead, probably paved by far less joyful results, but for now we can celebrate.