Welcome to Albania

Protest over housing demolitions in Tirana
Credit: Malton Dibra/LSA

Tirana       Leaving Frankfurt was easy and painless even in the early dark rush hour.  My kind host accompanied me all the way until I had my ticket in hand at the counter in the giant airport.  It may not have been necessary, but it was nice to simply be a sheep in the herd on my way, rather than trying to figure out which train, which stop, and the whole shebang.  I was encouraged in Germany.  Exciting possibilities in an exciting time in the country for organizing.

            Getting in and out of Tirana, the capital of Albania, isn’t easy.  I had thoroughly investigated buses and trains both from Frankfurt and then ongoing to my next destination in Sofia, Bulgaria.  I’m exaggerating to say that you can’t get “there from here,” but it isn’t easy for sure.  There were no direct trains and any that would take you in or out would take you forever and on a peculiar and circuitous routes through Greece or other countries.  Buses were the same.  It was almost as if they would stop in the middle, give up the ghost in Skopje, Macedonia, and hope someone would come fetch you some day in the future, depending on when the snow in the mountain passes.

            So, the only easy option is flying and in that case it’s a puddle jump to end up in the capital of Slovenia which is spelled Ljubljana, and may or may not be pronounced Ljubljana.  The Frankfurters laid down a challenge for the next time we meet for me to spell, Ljubljana, which will be easy, so thankfully they didn’t bet me on saying it correctly.   On the other hand, the flight, even though bumpy, into Slovenia was gorgeous.  Looking out the window for miles there were row after row of beautiful jagged, dragon teethed, snow covered mountains until we landed in the plane where the small capital is situated.  We left the plane, went through passport control and then were at the gate to Albania without having to reenter security, which seemed strange, but given that half of the waiting crowd for various gates was composed of the military, no one seemed to mind.

            Landing in the wind and rain, I have no clear sense of Triana yet.  We made it through traffic to one of the inner road loops that circle the city center like rings of Saturn, though that wasn’t exactly the description of the experience.  There had been protests and road blocking on the main road into town.  The government wants to expand the road, but the problem of confused property rights given the on again, off again rule under Communism and now the current Socialist government meant that many had been living for decades not exactly as squatters but without title and facing counterclaims from previous owners.  Now everyone is in the same stew as the government exercises imminent domain and feels the need to compensate no one.

Once the clouds clear, and we get around and about, we’ll try to sort out what is really happening in Albania, for now, we’re as confused about up and down and all around, as the government and these beleaguered, and now, homeless, families are.


Bootstrapping Campaigns

graffiti on center wall

Frankfurt     The organizing workshop for more than a half-dozen activists from Frankfurt, Munster, and Bremen was all about the basics in the morning and early afternoon. What is ACORN, and what do we do?  How does the ACORN Model work and what are its elements?  What is the structure of a doorknocking rap or home visit, then some role-playing in teams to become more comfortable, underling the point that practice makes perfect?  All of that was invaluable to the team and engaged them fully.

At one of the breaks one of the folks asked me how many times I had done this workshop?  I didn’t have a quick answer.  They asked if it was thousands?  Certainly not.  Maybe a couple of hundred?  Every time seems different and unique to the people trying to learn, so they don’t fit the memory in the same way.   And, of course there are all of the times other ACORN organizers, leaders, and trainers did the same basic workshop with their own spins and inflections, just as I do mine, which must be thousands.  It was great to hear Robert Maruschke, the community organizing specialist in Germany now working for the left party, Die Linke, tell me that he uses a quote from the ACORN Model about the need for a plan in all of his workshops and training sessions, also helping keep that 46-year old document relevant today with a hard-thumping heartbeat!

After the role-playing and a brief break, then it got more interesting for me as we moved into a long stretch dedicated to various questions they had and some that they had been debating for a while.  Given that English is a mandatory subject in German schools and many of those in the room had also gone to university, they spoke beautifully, so I was surprised when one of the early questions asked me to define the word, “rap,” because many for a long time had thought I was saying “wrap.”  That was the easiest one that came my way, thanks to a generation of rap singers and the worldwide phenomena of that distinctive American-bred musical expression.  Others mentioned weird translations in the documentary, “The Organizer,” where power was often translated as electricity, tipping off because giving a tip, among other moments of hilarity they had discovered.

practicing raps

I got on a tangent as we talked about campaigns.  In several of the cities where they had begun to engage tenants, they had ended up tangling horns with the German housing giant, Vonovia, Germany’s largest residential property company.  These efforts are small and isolated, but at one-point Vonovia had whined publicly about pressure from tenants and others about its work, and threatened to stop investing in housing in Germany and move its developments to Sweden, where they claimed they would be more appreciated.  I gave them examples of bootstrapping very local campaigns nationally, from the early 1970s ACORN campaign to downsize Entergy’s White Bluff coal-fired energy plant by engaging their top investors at Harvard, Princeton, and Yale.  Why not reach out to housing and tenant allies in Sweden and have them loudly proclaim that Vonovia was unwelcome there unless it did a better job in Germany?  The same tactic could be used in having organizations in cities declare Amazon as unwelcome based on its bullying in New York City as it tries to extort more tax exemptions.

taking a break

What’s exciting about tactics in big and small campaigns, is the opportunity to bootstrap them wherever needed to turn up the pressure on the target.  It’s always fun to find myself in a conversation that veers in that direction.