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State of Things, December 2021

Update and changes

The late Jan Ritsema once told me that it takes at least two or three years for a project like the Foundry to really get going. While Covid messed up many timelines, I think he wasn’t too far off. During the first years, our focus was on making the place liveable. While there is still some construction work pending (new roof, point walls, fix one more big building), the house is now comfortable, and our focus is shifting to events, giving a use to the outbuildings, and increasing our collective self-sufficiency.

Despite Covid, the summer was full of activity. Pavel organized several blacksmithing workshops. Hugo made a dome. The Zapatistas came. There were conversations about alternative education. Our friends at Dispersor helped us grow mushrooms and gave agro-ecological advice for the garden.

Two hectares of forest have been added to the Foundry (to stop them from becoming a plantation); we’ll plant fruit trees and build some cabins for those who find the house too noisy. The 4 to 5 hectares we now have should be enough to provide most of our fruit and veggies. From spring 2022, it might be good to have one or two people working continuously on the forest and garden, as it’s hard to cultivate when people change all the time. In general, we need to think about how to pass on knowledge and create continuity in an ever-changing community.

The main goal for next year will be financial sustainability. Depending on what we include in monthly costs (Car insurance? Fire insurance? Heating fuel?) and on how much electricity we use, our monthly costs are currently around 700 euros. Adding a few hundred for maintenance, I think we should aim for a monthly income of at least 1000 euros. One day we might start making and selling furniture, food and drinks, but for now, money comes in the form of contributions from people staying at the Foundry. So far, people are free to contribute money, work, or a bit of both. It might be necessary to formalize this.

I would suggest a model in which first-timers can stay one week to check things out (this first week is always paid). If you decide to stay longer, you have three options:
1. A paid residency (with fixed daily fee) where you are free to work on your projects.
2. A volunteer residency, where you spend some hours working on the house or in the garden.
3. A project residency, where you work on your own project but leave something behind or organize events to share your knowledge with the rest.

With enough paying guests, the price per person can be reduced – or we can aim for more than the bare minimum. Being a nonprofit, the Foundry cannot make money, but if more comes in than goes out, we can use what is left to organize events, buy tools, or support other projects. Non-paying guests contribute by sharing knowledge or helping out. I don’t think we need to fix the number of hours one is expected to work, as it depends on everyone’s personal situation; that being said, 20 hours per week sounds reasonable. The one week try-out allows us to coordinate between the needs of the community and those of the project while hopefully avoiding the need for applications. Of course, as we still don’t have any staff, everyone is expected to keep the place clean and organized.

This would be my suggestion, but it’s on the agenda for the general assembly in January, where you can share your thoughts.

Political horizon and spin-offs

In November, a delegation of Zapatista women came to talk about their struggles in Chiapas. I have long admired the Zapatistas for their combination of internationalism and rootedness (and their beautiful ironic prose). For the Zapatistas, freedom begins with the land. The land feeds us; the land produces everything around us; the land is where we live. This strain of thought has been an inspiration in several other projects I’ve been working on.

While I try to separate my politics from the politics of the Foundry – which is a space, not an ideological boot camp – there was a vision when I started this project: a vision of freeing space, creating pockets of autonomy where people can work without some of the pressures and alienations that come with urban life under late capitalism. Power no longer resides in institutions, as a group of friends once wrote; it resides in infrastructure. By controlling the infrastructure that keeps society going, capitalism forces us to sell ourselves and reduces our ability to imagine something different. My aim with the Foundry was to build some kind of counter-infrastructure; to see what happens in a space where some of the constraints of market and grant-giving institutions do not exist (or at least do not exist in quite the same way).

There are many projects working in a similar vein, but they are often working in isolation. To underline their shared horizon and stimulate the formation of networks of mutual aid, I have been working on FreeingSpace, a map of spaces that are non-profit, non-state, non-discriminatory and democratically governed. While some claim there is no outside of capitalism, this map is an attempt to visibilize precisely that outside. On a more local level, some Galicians have recently launched a local currency called A Sabia Galega. The aim of this currency is to take power over money into our own hands, away from state and financial markets. A Sabia favors mutual aid, small business and local consumption. I would suggest accepting A Sabia at the Foundry, but we should discuss this at the general assembly.

Finally, inspired by groups like the Mietshäuser Syndikat and Sostre Civic, we are working on a legal structure with the aim of permanently taking land and real estate off the market. This structure will be designed to do two things: guarantee the organizational autonomy of the projects that join it, and make it impossible to sell the land of those projects. Any person or collective who owns land or a building can join, and we will try to support collectives who want to start new projects with know-how, material support and access to money. The collectives that join keep their freedom when it comes to running their projects, but selling their land will become legally impossible. It took centuries for people to get used to the idea that land can be bought and sold. Perhaps it is time to realize how unnatural this idea is, and to embrace the idea that (as the Zapatistas say) the land belongs to those who work it.

This legal framework will be called Sindicato de la Tierra, or Union of the Earth. A union not of exploited workers, but of the exploited earth (an earth that includes its inhabitants, in whatever form they come). Once the structure is in place and the Foundry has been running smoothly for at least five years, it will join this union. From that moment, the space will legally belong to the people that use it: They grow it, they take care of it, they keep it alive. And I am thankful to all of them.

The next general assembly will take place late January. I would suggest the following topics:
-How to reach financial sustainability.
-A new model for residencies / volunteers.
-How to collectively manage finances in the future.
-How to retain knowledge of what works in the context of an ever-shifting group of residents.
-What should we organize in 2022?

If you want to add to the agenda, please get in touch.

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