Prague Having been to Prague before in the winter and the fall where rain, cold, and snow were the default conditions, a sunny spring day was a surprise. Looking out the window from the 13th floor of the cooperative apartment block where organizer Michal Ulvr lived the endless buildings in yellow, blue, and green were somehow beautiful now where they had seemed depressing before.
All of which left me in good mood although unprepared for the contrasts of the day. After a brief visit to the site of Occupy Prague last year and a walk by the national government building where normally there is a daily protest, although it seemed to have been called off for spring, our first meeting was with a group of four women activists who were pushing initiatives around corruption, which they saw as a central, core issue in changing government. Talk of organizing and alliances with ACORN Czech were a hard slog. There experiences had been hard and their patience was exhausted. One woman, an accountant, said they were working towards a revolution that came from the streets. The others with experience in coffee roasting, beauty salons, and organic farming, were equally adamant. They proposed what they called “chaos.” An eruption for change that would come from the streets, cleanse government, and let them start anew. The problems of building a popular democratic base in an organization seemed a waste of time to them. They were in a hurry. People were afraid and apathetic. The notion that in chaos, others who were better organized would organize the new government and direct it, were a diversion.
And, of course who was I to say. I might have felt I was in a time-warp back to the 1960’s, but these women had seen governments in Prague rise and fall in the streets before, so talk of revolution was more a part of common conversation for them than I could have imagined. They occasionally were putting a couple of thousands of people on the street to follow their call. We would just have to see.
On the other hand we were meeting in the space of the Alternatives Below, essentially an organization that worked with many of these groups, that advocated change coming from the bottom and in the words of Professor Illona Svihlik, our last meeting at close to 9pm, was more of a “think tank” working with mayors, groups, and anyone who would try something different be it a cooperative, green space, or participatory budgeting plan. She was a bridge to many diverse forces. I had seen her 18 months before advising a group of labor and party leaders. We listened to a discussion of the problems of debt where she was on a panel speaking before our visit.
ACORN Czech could be a bridge to all of these groups as well, but that would take a clearer focus, and their core of 55 activists were being pushed and pulled in all sorts of directions between all of these various forces and their own struggles with the gallery, sustainability, and the challenges that are formidable for a volunteer group of organizers. It was exciting to spend time with all of these folks for a couple of days, but while there I couldn’t help wondering if ACORN or any of the others would be able to hunker down sufficiently to the daily grind of building a base, community by community, member by member, so that people in Prague could win day to day, even as so many seem to be waiting for the revolution next time.