Co-Working, Platform Activism and Refugees

New platforms must be built in order to enable seminal types of cooperation and alliances among civil society actors, allowing refugees and others alike to become co-workers. Such platforms (and the type of cooperation they catalyze) are needed for organizing mobility, care work and resistance to border regimes.

What role do refugees and underprivileged actors in general play in this scenario? How can emancipatory roles actually be realized? The workshop brings together “welcoming citizens”, activists and platform initiators.

1. Context

We live in historical times, with various transitions taking place on a global scale . Multiple crises in the globalized world led to the biggest movements of flight and migration since the end of World War 2. By the end of 2015 around 65 Million people were on the move, with 50% of them being children.

Instead of finding protection and a better live most of them were confronted with racism, violence, uncertainties and social exclusion. The massive exclusion of refugees from the most important spheres of public life – because of holding loops of registration, application for residency, integration courses, housing and jobs – damaged the standards of human rights and gave rise to a nationalization of achievements of democracy.

Movements of right wing-populists are rising and try to take over liberal societies. In this political atmosphere refugees will be reduced to numbers, quotas and statistics. What is it that societies need to understand and what is it that we all need to do in order to create a better, fairer and more human future for everyone?

2. Challenges

Crisis of democracy
The democratic societies worlwide are in a state of crisis. The concept of the monocultural “National us”, that seems to be an underlying factor of many democracies, is heavily challenged by newcomers and other marginalized groups of society that dare to speak up. The questions comes up who is able and allowed to participate in procedures of democracy, as well what is the scope of state citizenship in times of massive globalized migration. It seems that a top-down representative democracy can not manage these challenges.

If we talk about the crisis of democracy, we also need to discuss the crisis of the nation state as well as a crisis of representation. Which political actor are representing refugees? They need to be involved in the our procedures of democracy!

The rise of nationalism
The more democracies are falling apart, the stronger national movements grow. Right-wing organizations and networks are reaching out to different groups of society and especially address those that feel left behind. Their influence and power is currently growing and it’s surprising how well connected and organized many nationalistic groups are. At the same time, there seems to be a lack of political alternatives, especially within the left movements.

Misleading information
Migration has been an integral part of social innovation, since the beginning of mankind. Once could also say that migration is natural or even “normal” to a certain level (without meaning to over-simplify the situation of those that need to flee from war or harrassment in their respective countries or face forced displacement.) However, our public narrative stresses that migration and displacement is solely a “problem”, a “crisis”, a “burden”. We need to critize misleading information and asssumptions by public bodies and the media in order to stir debates about stereotypes, power games etc.

Integration might not be a solution
What we usually refer to as “integration” is very often a one-sided obligation, not a mutual effort. Like that, “integration” mainly reinforced the concept of post-colonial othering rather than providing solutions and frameworks to help refugees feel at home.

Missing sustainability strategies
Refugee activists very often have to take immediate actions – how they can find support, support, recognition and relaxation?
How can we help streamlining networks and organizations in order to strengthen them? How can we make sure that scaling movements up does not automatically lead to deradicalisation (especially if money is involved)?

Lack of spaces, lack of time
Whenever we talk about helping to support the self-organization of refugees, we think of “building” something for them. Real self-organization however would rather mean to provide the space and time that those structures can emerge out of the refugee community itself. Distribution of funds, labelling of projects, missing co-curation of refugees.

3. Actions, Tactics, Resources

Online resources
It is necessary to build strong online resources, repositories for campaigning and public information (proving infographics, data, personal stories) in order to connect, inform and empower people. On the one hand it’s important for those who are affected by boarder regimes, on the other hand e.g. for ‘welcome citizens’ who need information.
Best practice examples from the workshop:<ahref=””> / / refugee academy etc.

Engaging groups and individuals in conversations,
Engaging people in conversations was identified as one of the most important strategies, especially across nationalities. It was found that the entire help/ care-system that is usually organized around refugee work does not support conversations enough. However, there are interesting projects going on in that field, such as the TANDEM program by MitOst.

Developing new cultural formats
There are many forms of cultural expression that are being tested as strategies to bring people from different cultural backgrounds together, such as the idea of a “democratic salon”, an open communication cirle that promotes political debates in the public or projects like EED BE EED (hand in hand). These kind of formats help bridging gaps of understanding.

Building social movement power
Just as the Tactical Tech Collective has shown in the field of digital rights campaigning: it is essential that refugee activists have access to all sorts of campaigning tools, instructions for concrete actions of civil disobedience, infographics information and help hotline, regular meetups, etc.

Developing strategies of self-care and mutual support
In order to increase longevity of refugee activists movements it is crucial to recognize that those movements need to fueled with support, resources, recognition and even fun and relaxation. Otherwise, activists are constantly facing burnout. However, this is also a very crucial point: How to measure levels of exhaustion within activist circles and how to take care of one another in such a way that we act BEFORE symptoms of burnout kick in?

Creating offers around basic human needs
Instead of creating ideologically overloaded, well-meaning concepts of integration let’s rather cater for basic needs like a café that offers only coffee, tea and free WiFi. This famous café, that was installed in a refugee camp in Eastern Europe, clearly showed that all it takes for people are docking stations to the most basic needs and then diaologues & networking emerge all by itself.

Acting against nationalism
Counterposing to the monocultural “National Us” we need a new “Big We” – A big WE based on creating horizontal and pluralist politics. Gaining a clear understanding of right-wing populism/nationalism, drawing on the horizontal movenments of the squares, the new skills in overoming borders, in pluralist politics in the name of prefigurative politics. Creating united neighbourhoods ourselves. We must(Re)-invent forms of political action and expression
How to translate this into action? Example for a good practice case:(Britz-Neukölln neighbourhood alliance was mentioned:
Creating collective pluralist moments of pleasure out fo the skill of being vulnerable to the Other.
This presents a certian challenge to the Laclau/Mouffe emphasis on the uniting negative in Gramscain notions of hegemony.

Creating spaces and formats
Spaces have power, because they provide visibility. We particularly think of spaces that allow for alternative cultures and emergence of debates, spaces that allow for ownership, membership and identification and belonging.
We need to look at spaces as a common good. What is needed is good governance and curation, and the support of the state – so that access for vulnerable groups is unconditional and open.
While having access to a space is important, community building and reaching out to groups is as equally important. Depending on who uses the spaces health and security issues also need to be taken into consideration.

4. What`s next?

· We continue the research and the conversation and revisit the agenda one year from now.
· Each member will take the results of the common work and take it back to their own communities.
· Each group will use the pad as an ongoing resource.

5. Credits

This essay was collaboratively created by Rosemary Bechler (editor, openDemocracy, London, UK), Andrea Behnke (activist, diem25/DSC, Hamburg, Germany), Sabrina Dittus (director, pepperlint film, Berlin, Germany), Friederike Habermann (economist/historian, p2p Foundation, Berlin, Germany), Tabea Grzeszyk (founder,, Berlin, Germany), Diana El Jeiroudi (filmmaker,, Berlin, Germany), Julia Molin (researcher, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany), Martina Staneva (coordinator, Pavilion 19, Sofia, Bulgaria), Elena Veljanovska (curator, Kontrapunkt, Skopje, Macedonia), Harsha Walia (activist, No One Is Illegal, Vancouver, Canada) at the Workshop “Co-working, platform activism and refugees”, facilitated by Ela Kagel (curator, Supermarkt, Berlin, Germany) and Christopher Senf (researcher, Berliner Gazette, Berlin, Germany).

The workshop took place at the TACIT FUTURES conference hosted by Berliner Gazette in 2016.

The content of this project is licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0.


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