Report – DO (MORE) STUFF – The Spinhuis Collective

 Report of the workshop The story of the Spinhuis: how to involve and politicize students

The Saturday afternoon conversation with the Spinhuis Collective resulted in an inspiring call for action. The members of the group had made sure that the audience was sitting in a circle, according to their way of decision making within the collective itself. The goal of the talk, as pointed out by one of the speakers, was how to activate students in the Netherlands. They were happy to share their thoughts with the crowd, as was expressed when ? said: “Finally we can openly say that we squatted the place with the intention to radicalize young people. When we talk to journalists we cannot say that.” After this warm welcome they went on to describe the set-up of the lecture, which was divided in to four parts:

  • a sketch of the Spinhuis situation within the Dutch context of student apathy
  • what to do about it
  • Importance of having autonomous social spaces
  • How to connect to wider struggles

The Spinhuis was historically a common room for the anthropology and sociology students of the University of Amsterdam (UvA). This common room was at one point closed and left without destination. There were rumours about it being turned into anti-squat apartments. As a reaction, a couple of activist students decided that they should take it back and squatted the place. The Spinhuis Collective was born.

They managed to remain autonomous 4 months before being evicted. As was explained during the talk, the action was a huge success: much bigger than the collective had anticipated. They hadn’t thought out their tactics, but just went into action because it felt right. After they took over the building, many ‘outsiders’ expressed their interest in organizing events there. The lack of plans resulted in a space that was open to everyone (“If say, the JOVD wanted to organize something here we wouldn’t turn them down). The group recounted the story of how this approach actually lead to an increase in activist mindsets amongst the student population. By coming to parties in the Spinhuis, people were familiarized with an activist environment without feeling threatened or excluded. “All of a sudden you’d see ‘normal girls with fur coats’ making paint bombs.”

Then the floor was opened for a discussion of the causes of the depoliticization in the Dutch student body. Someone remarked that because of current policy decisions it is impossible to study for longer than 4 years. This means that no one is able to do work for student organizations for long. People just take up positions to put it on their resume. Another person said that there is no critical education, that uni’s are a factory for diplomas. Then someone drew a parallel between the university environment and the Zuidas architecture: “If there is no difference between the university and the corporate environment, it makes sense that everyone goes into business after school.”

At that moment the discussion shifted to the question around MBO and HBO students. How are they represented within the activist community? Someone remarked that their schools are even worse milieus for activism to take root. A female squatter from Rotterdam then explained that those people do feel anger but that they have no means to express themselves. They need witnesses, she said, and bridges between the middle class squatters and labourers are needed.

Someone from the Spinhuis collective reacted that it is best to look for places where people already show frustrations and work from there. Then someone brought up that sometimes experienced activists can have a complaining and exclusionary attitude towards the ‘newer’ ones.

The Spinhuis Collective is an example of how activism is stimulated when the threshold is lowered for outsiders to enter. They have shown that by engaging people in fun activities that have an activist touch but are not exclusively activism-focused, those people will be familiarized with the activist environment and will be more likely to become politically active. Their other lesson teaches us that you do not have to have a plan that’s thought out well, for it to become a success. Just do (more) stuff.