“We barricade the house every night before we go to sleep,” Alessandro said, shuttering the windows from the outside before sliding a steel gate across and padlocking it shut.
“Why?” I asked, knowing the answer almost as the words came out of my mouth.
“Police, bandits, vandals, whoever…” was his reply.
I left the perceived security of the main house and walked across the yard to the un-barricaded, un-shuttered, and slightly drafty guest house. This was the first of 2 nights I stayed at the Vegan Villa Squat in the semi-industrial northwestern section of Milan, and I didn’t sleep very well that night.
It had nothing to do with the slightly lumpy mattress I lay on, or the sound of trucks downshifting as they roared down the road and rattled the aging walls of the semi-reclaimed garage-cum-guest house.
For the first time in over a year of hitch-hiking countless times, finding myself homeless on numerous occasions, and running into strangers late at night, I felt genuinely vulnerable.
This wasn’t my first experience staying in a squat, either. Almost a year ago Lizzie and I spent our last night in Paris with some squatters in a converted pharmaceutical lab in the southern outskirts of Paris. We felt safe, but more importantly, welcomed by a colorful bunch of people best described not as anarchists, but simply anti-capitalists.
They were certainly against the cycle of materialism, consumerism, and the 9-5 work week, but they were happy living outside the system without trying to destroy it.
In Milan, the inhabitants of Vegan Villa went a bit beyond my comfort zone. To their credit, they obviously had no obligation to host me, but did it out of kindness.
I found them on this travelers’ forum and made contact the last time I was in Milan, 6 months ago and on the same day a massive anti-fascist protest took place.
The people at VV Squat took themselves very seriously. When I arrived they were planning a rally in support of one of their colleagues who was currently incarcerated for some form of violent dissent or another.
While I’m all for saving the environment (veganism is one way to do that), rescuing animals–they had over a dozen chickens destined for slaughter that now roamed the yard–spending less money on stupid things you don’t need, enjoying life more and working less (unless you truly love what you do), I think that society is long past the point where capitalism will ever be replaced.
Perhaps if this was Barcelona in 1936 and I found myself in George Orwell’s shoes–an outsider walking into the midst of a bona fide people’s revolution–I would be more inclined to go along with the anarchists, or hell, even take up arms with them and fight fascism (and in their eyes, capitalism, which are one and the same).
But the time for revolution is long gone. We live in a post-1984 world: Our governments watch us closely. Big companies sell us an endless array of shiny gadgets that don’t make us any happier. We eat processed food that is empty of nutritional value. Anti-depressants keep us on an even keel and shift us away from the natural highs and lows of living. Our short attention spans can hardly cope with the advertisements which bombard us, and when we do need to focus, they have pills to help do what once came naturally.
The people at Vegan Villa Squat want to change all this, when they might have better luck tunneling through a mountain with their bare hands. It’s one thing to step away from the system, but it’s another thing to risk everything over a war that was already fought and lost decades ago. As this brilliant anarchist comic ‘zine puts it, anarchists either sellout, go to jail, die, or turn crazy. But win? Nah.
Does this mean I’m a complete sellout? No. For as long as I live, I want to pick up hitch hikers after being one myself. Once I stop traveling I can’t wait to host couchsurfers. Depending on where I live, I hope I can grow at least some of my own food and herbs or rely on locally raised products. There will probably never be an anarchist revolution, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make the world a better place.
edit, May 2016: Viva Bernie Sanders!
7 thoughts on “I’m Not Cut Out For This Shit: My Brief Stay With Milanese Anarchists”
the difference between our civilization and the ones that came before us is that we have the ability to destroy all life on earth. if we reach the tipping point of collapse, there will probably be a nuclear holocaust accompanying it. In other words, there’s nothing we can do about it. So hopefully that doesn’t happen during our lifetimes.
I wonder Nathan what you’ve read about anarchism, that makes you think anarchists (I’m one, e.g., so is Chomsky, so is Naomi Klein, etc.) want to “destroy” anything? I also wonder what you’ve read about capitalism that makes you believe it’s here to stay! Not even Paul Krugman thinks that, and he’s just a cosy Ivy League liberal. I like your blog, but there were some things taken for granted in this one that can’t be taken for granted any more–very large numbers of very interesting people have been writing about these matters for some years now, and everything they’ve prophesied has, so far, come to pass. Capitalism can’t survive because the ecosystems of the world can’t support it much longer–even if the desperation of the oppressed everywhere (except in Europe and the US/Canada, where the majority–by a thinning margin–aren’t desperate) doesn’t topple the infrastructure, including the cheap labor infrastructure, that sustains its intolerable late stage. There are, in fact, limits to growth. Or do you imagine us colonizing other planets and exploiting their mineral resources in your lifetime? If you do, you should say so. As it stands we have no way of knowing why you think the things you do.
Hey Isobel. I agree that capitalism in its current form is unsustainable–both in terms of social inequality as well as its blind consumption of finite resources. I also think, however, that the solution to combating it lies less in rising up and directly confronting police on the streets, or breaking into industrial animal farms to release animals (the sort of thing which the anarchists I stayed with do). As for the question of the tipping point, I think we’re already here. Occupy Wall Street, the People’s Climate March, were perhaps just the initial tremors to what will become a broader global movement against capitalism. On the other hand, they may also have represented the high tide of popular unrest against capitalism in the 21st century. The people who run the oil companies, the banks, the politicians who have been bought out–they’ve done a very good job convincing almost half of America that the very evils of capitalism which hurt everyone from the working class all the way up to the middle are morally sound. It’s unlikely in my mind that there will be a revolution given the current state of media–because regardless of how shitty must people have it, as long as they’re brainwashed like they are now, they will never even consider the massive injustices which they face.
Glad you came to Parma 😉
Me too! 🙂