This week, I visited the Academy of Fine Art in Vienna, Austria, where a group called Malen Nach Zalen (Colour by Numbers) have been occupying their university since 20th October over a variety of issues, the main one being the threat of a complete change of structure to their entire degree programmes. Following a demonstration around 100 people occupied the main building of the Academy and it has been a very successful move. There are a few lessons which I believe can be learnt by us whether or not ours ever involves an occupation…
At the Academy, the occupation has been so successful because of the solidarity between the students and the staff who have supported each other throughout. There has even been a group of ‘squatting teachers’ who have occupied the building with the students! This should be a lesson for us, for in the words of a girl from the occupation:
“The Director when the teachers and students joined together”
At first the group held General Assemblies every day to organise themselves, splitting into working groups and planning ahead. However it became apparent that not everyone felt able to speak in such meetings and they have discussed ways of getting around this… An idea is to split into smaller groups to discuss the agenda and to report back to the main meeting, which allows an opportunity for less confident people to speak and makes it easier for people to critically talk about what is going on.
The group in the Academy organised into working groups on a wide range of issues, Press, Website, Connections with other groups, Demands, Feminist Role, Documentation, General Theory and Cooking. Not all may be applicable to us right now but the point is that if we can make working groups a more important part of our organisation it will help us to bring new people in who are understandably not interested in long and drawn out general meetings. Giving people the chance to focus on one thing, rather than certain people trying to do a bit of everything also helps and will hopefully contribute to encouraging people to get involved.
Unfortunately the group faced some problems, with arrests at demonstrations, physical attacks from securtiy and police surveillance. Several members of the group have had their phones tapped by police and the email has also not been secure. A lawyer was also recommended!