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Social Centres as Spaces of Participation: Expression of Solidarity with Làbas, Bologna (Italy)

Social centres are social spaces self-managed by young people  for young people, therefore expressions of political engagement and civic responsibility as well as opportunity structures for political social innovation.

In May 2017, during the Bologna consortium meeting of the PARTISPACE project we had the opportunity to visit the Làbas social centre and to understand the value of this experience as innovative form of participation showing what young people can do if they are really free to participate.

On August the 8th, Làbas that had been occupied in 2012 by a group of young people and since then tolerated by local authority, has been brutally evicted. Early in the morning, the police broke into the building forcing the young activists, the migrants hosted in a shelter created within the centre and an international group of young people participating in a volunteering work-camp to leave the place.

In the last five years, young people had managed to turn an abandoned barrack into an effective answer to the housing needs of many young people (who could no longer afford the increasing housing rents in the city). They also opened a community centre for the public which has been recognised as one of the most popular and lively spaces of the city.

The young people renewed a large part of the abandoned building, where different types of leisure, cultural, social and political activities started to take place. Since the beginning, cultural initiatives and political debates have been organised and several projects have been started addressing the surrounding neighbourhood such as:

  • Orteo, an organic garden managed together with the neighbours;
  • Làbiopizzeria, an organic pizzeria offering also workshops and courses for young people and migrants interested in job training;
  • Schiumarell, a micro-brewery producing organic beer;
  • Làbike, a bike shop and repair;
  • Làbimbi, a social children’s playroom where volunteers organised activities for children and parents;
  • Accoglienza Degna, a dormitory and shelter for migrants, refugees and homeless people.

Thanks to the enthusiasm and efforts of the young people, Làbas turned to be not just a popular space both in terms of “doing politics” and in providing an attractive and affordable leisure and cultural offer, but also a social and political laboratory through which young people have tried to reclaim their “right to the city” and contributed to meet urgent social needs.

The eviction has destroyed five years of political activities, five years of dreams, five years of projects, five years of production and redistribution of social wealth, five years of hard, mostly unpaid work of activists, volunteers and citizens of every age. In fact, Làbas has always prioritised the dialogue with and the services for the civil society. The eviction in the name of a “principle of legality” will leave only empty spaces, sadness, and disappointment. Probably, the space will be, once again, occupied and populated by pigeons and mice.

The eviction signals a lack and refusal of recognition not only with regard to the benefits of this experience for the neighbourhood and for the whole city, but also with regard to young people’s ideas of community, of politics, of justice and their efforts and commitment. The same institutions that constantly underline the need of engaging young people in the “decisions concerning them and the life of their communities” (European Commission 2001, White Paper on Youth) have demonstrated their inability to see young people as legitimate political actors.

For all these reasons, we want to express our solidarity with Làbas in this difficult moment, strongly criticising the eviction. Apart from this, we ask for sharing the evidence from our scientific research with the local institution: young people’s involvement and engagement are not self-evident and natural social resources but depend on prerequisites and conditions. Youth participation’s careers rise and fall with experiences of recognition. In contrast, experiences of authoritarian and legal management foster experiences of alienation.