The Feminist Caravan in Köln

Fem Van   Wednesday October 14th, 2015   No Comments on The Feminist Caravan in Köln

From 13 to 18 July we were in Cologne, where we took part in a very varied program of activities and events.

The first public event and a very special occasion was the presentation of the new edition of Maria Mies’ book Patriarchy and Capital, translated into many languages since 1986 when it first came out. This famous feminist activist and writer is also one of the founders of the subsistence theory, which strongly promotes food sovereignty and denounces the reification of commons by the capitalist and patriarchal society. It was very interesting and inspiring to meet her, listen to her and share ideas about the link between theory and practice in the feminist struggles and on how both dimensions are interdependent. The presentation was followed by a debate on the host structures and shelters for women victims of violence and into prostitution.

After the public meeting some of the wymyn expressed their interest to go on with the discussion and to organize feminist actions. They have met several times since and their first action will be a monthly cafe with refugee wymyn and to mobilize wymyn lesbian forces in a blockade of a fascist demonstration.

The next day we visited Germany’s largest coalP1130831 mine, an open-pit site for brown coal extraction, located northwest from Cologne. Known with the name of Garzweiler (I and II), like the village it replaced, it now occupies a surface of over 100 km². This vast extraction site has been exploited for years now by the energy company RWE AG and is planned to go on until around 2045. The coal extracted from here is said to be used entirely for electricity generation in the nearby power plants, although opposition claims the amount extracted is exceeding the demand. The electricity that is generated through this coal is used mainly for the weapon and automotive industry. The activists don’t only question the coal extraction, but the whole capitalist idea of growth and production.

Thousands of livelihoods have been destroyed by this surface mine, as well as kilometers of forested areas now converted in wasteland, entire villages were abandoned and people forced to relocation. The vast space occupied by this extraction site appeared to our eyes like an alien landscape, an inhabited planet with huge excavators reigning over the horizon. After the completion of the project, the water extracted from the underground during all these years is supposed to form a recreational lake, which is a gloomy and distant promise to those who are suffering the consequences of this mining project and trying to stop it.

P1130848Happily, we also learnt the stories of struggle against this brutal project, divided in different areas northwest and southwest of Cologne, and we had the opportunity to meet some of the people resisting on site within a permanent protest camp (Hambach). Several informal groups, activists and organizations have organized resistance camps and actions, like occupying the huge diggers, along the years here, like Friends of the Earth or WAA (Workshop for Action and Alternative). Unfortunately, they haven’t managed to stop the enlargement of the site yet and were forced to leave many times, when the excavators arrived. The case was taken to Court several times without success, and now that the company is losing money on its old and inefficient lignite plants, it might receive a public bailout…

This year’s climate camp took place in Cologne in August, with discussions, direct actions and also intense confrontation with the police.

On a happier note, on the 15th we were lucky to be invited to a Wen-Do training class, after which we attended the projection of the documentary “Hunger”, about the rose farms in Kenya and its devastating impacts on local people. Lydiah Dola, singer and young feminist activist of the World March of Women Kenya started the debate afterwards by presenting the agricultural situation and the food sovereignty struggle in Kenya.P1130893 Nathalia Capellini, also an activist of the WMW in Brazil and France, continued the debate by explaining the link between food sovereignty and feminism. 

The next day we were invited to visit the women’s community and housing project Beginenhof, in the outskirts of Cologne. It was impressive to meet the more than 20 women living there, sharing space and life in this women-only community. They each have their own apartment, but share some common spaces and work together for enlarging and passing on their feminist project. For more information about this women housing project, have a look at their website: Later in the evening we had a presentation of the Lesbian Spring that was held in Belgrade in April, when the caravan was there.

The 17th was a special day. Our local host, also a member of the caravan, took us to a refugee center to meet some of the women and girls being hosted there. Most of the refugees in this center come from South-Eastern Europe (Albania, Serbia, Kosovo). Many of them are Roma people escaping poverty, discrimination and persecution. To overcome the language barriers, we used drawing, music, and we managed to understand each other and share our wishes for the future through a mix of English, Serbian, Farsi Türkish and German. The words freedom, school and home were present in all of them.

Our last day in Cologne we had the chance to introduce the project of the caravan at the Human Rights Festival, which celebrated its 3rd edition. It was a good opportunity to meet local activists, give visibility and raise the issue of feminism and women’s rights as a crucial and unavoidable approach for HR activism. This day of exchanges, workshops and live-music was crowned by an improvised and unforgettable concert of our Kenyan sister Lydiah Dola, who gathered dozens of people around her, willing to dance and – probably without being aware – cultivating that much needed joy in activism, which magically reinforces any common struggle.

(Ioana Pop, Romania)

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