Tagged: 15M 2nd Anniversary
Unity sans Convergence (Political Self-organization Models for Hyperlinked Multitudes)
Translated by Stacco Troncoso, edited by Jane Loes Lipton –Guerrilla Translation!
The 15-M movement seems to be at an impasse, unsure of how to make use of its multiple victories and enormous public support. To break out of this situation, numerous organizations, assemblies and collectives are repeatedly appealing to the ideal of unity (amongst the political left, the movement, the “bottom 99”) as a means of reaching the necessary levels of coordination needed for standing up to, and defeating, the government and markets. However, so far it doesn’t seem like their ideals-inspired efforts have led to any noticeable improvement in the organisational capacity of the movement. Prior to the birth of 15M, it was not uncommon to see initiatives by the political left coalescing around ideals of convergence, coordination and unity, with generally poor results. Our hypothesis is that these traditional modes of political organisation have grave shortcomings, needing urgent revision. What can we do when the old ways aren’t working anymore? Do we forfeit our experience? Go our separate ways? Surrender to the idea that revolution can only be chaotic and spontaneous? Nothing could be further from what we’re about to share here.
The fact is that since the birth of 15M, we’ve spent more than two years experimenting with radically new modes of mass organization. Crowds capable of synchronizing en masse, to attack or to defend themselves at specific moments and with blinding speed; initiatives that detach from the movement at strategic junctures to then develop on their own, opening new spaces for confrontation; mechanisms capable of mobilising huge sectors of the population when they’re most needed…new forms of mobilisation that have come to stay. We’re rehearsing the mass social self-organisation methods of the future, and we’ve managed to create a scenario for hegemony and social conflict the likes of which we’d never have imagined. An understanding of the organisational models that have led us here is paramount for forging ahead.
The reductionist focus: unity as convergence.
In our opinion, most attempts to coordinate unity amongst “the movement” (or “the left”, or “pick-your-favourite-social-subject”) stem from a terribly reductionist mindset: unity as convergence. The simplest structural example would be organizations with tree-like dynamics, where decision-making and consensus-building processes are redirected to a series of increasingly centralised nodes within the overall structure, from “collective coordinating” assemblies for citywide initiatives to state level structures that coordinate the activities of local nodes. Any time convergence is mentioned, it goes hand in hand with an appeal towards promoting narrative and discourse; for example, reaching consensus on collectively created manifestos is used as an prime example of unity. In the end, it comes down to creating space that functions as the ultimate representative for the movement. A kind of centralised brain that, ultimately, both hierarchically coordinates and makes decisions on behalf of all the other spaces. The problem is that this vision of unity though convergence, within tree-like structures, doesn’t work, at least not in the hyperconnected societies of the XXI century.
Convergence can work at a reduced scale or in simple organizational structures. However, in more complex scenarios, it generally leads to heavy, slow, expensive, and high-maintenance structures. These are usually marred by rigidly determined, inside-outside distinctions that quickly face major difficulties when needing to add new participants at moments of peak activity. And yet today, despite knowing full well the limitations of this model, we are witnessing a revival of this so-called convergence. This is especially surprising when we take into account that most of the mass-scale mobilizations we’ve seen across the world in the last few year, from Arab Spring and 15M to Occupy Gezi, hardly bear any resemblance to this type of organization. On the contrary, they’re processes of coordination and synchronization of large groups without any apparent formal organizational structure. In the best of cases, centralised structures only arise when the movements are on the wane, or losing their power of assembly. Faced with this scenario, we need new modes of unity to create unifying processes in societies where technological networks grant us an enormous capacity for large-scale social auto-organization.
Liquid, de-centralised unity: a dynamic nucleus model.
How do you organise a system comprised of millions of parts, with no hierarchical structure nor centralised controlling organ? The field of neuroscience faces a similar problem. The brain is a highly distributed and interconnected organ, capable of organizing itself to enable a great variety of complex, coordinated behaviors. Hundreds of thousands of neurons in the human brain are capable of coordinating and forming a single structure, but it’s highly unlikely for this to happen by means of converging structures. Convergence in the brain isn’t a plausible scenario, as there’s no central area to centralise the rest. Besides, it has been demonstrated that models of neuronal convergence lose most of their efficacy at large scales due to problems arising from combinatorial explosion 1. An additional, and major, problem is that convergence strategies aren’t effective at adapting to new situations that require unexpectedly different behaviours (that is to say, they’re not good at improvisation).
On the contrary, the brain lacks any sort of static, centralised structure. “Unity of mind” is constituted through instances of grand-scale synchronization, whereupon different neuronal areas act transiently in coordination 2. These instances of synchronization have a limited lifespan so the brain doesn’t get stuck in a specific sync-mode. They dissolve after a certain period of time to make way for a new mindstate characterised by the synchronization of different neuronal areas (Graph 1). This mode of synchronization is known as the “dynamic nucleus” 3 and it functions in a decidedly un-convergent manner, as not all parts of the system function simultaneously. Instead, it acts as a pole of reference where different neural areas connect and disconnect at different times. Should the opposite happen and if synchronization extends uncontrollably, trapping different neural areas in the process, it can provoke serious neuronal disorders such as epilepsy attacks.
Graph 1. Dynamic nucleus as an organizational form. Different parts of the system sync temporarily to later dissolve and make way for new configurations, with no need for all parts to be constantly synchronised.
Dynamic nucleus and poles of reference in the 15M movement.
Do revolutions work like our brains do? Or, to put it another way, do we function as a collective brain when we enter a revolutionary climate? We’re still searching for answers even as new questions arise. For now, what we do know is that the mechanisms of unity in the human brain are very similar to the processes of distributed social mobilization we are witnessing. Regarding 15M, the movement has been a succession of different “dynamic nuclei” serving as poles of references during the periodic organisation of enormous processes of synchronized coordination: the summons for the initial protest by DRY, the encampments, the PAH, the Citizen Tides, the 25-S protests, etc. 4 Some of the reference poles have been global, others more local. Some have lasted weeks, others no more than a few days. Some have disappeared to rise again later, unexpectedly, and brimming with renewed strength. What they have in common is that they’ve all been capable of organising large sectors of the population — and not always the same ones — acting with coherent unity, as a great collective mind capable of overwhelming and seriously wounding the regime’s institutions.
But there remains a general perception that this is not enough. The old political parties still occupy the institutions, blocking any possible change. This is a fact, but we don’t think that the problem rests on the limits of this model of organized distribution. Rather, we think it’s a question of not having developed adequate mechanisms to act as poles of reference in a space with dynamics as particular as those of the electoral space. We believe it’s only a matter time until society organizes to dismantle the electoral space. There are, in fact, various initiatives underway with this purpose in mind. We predict that only those who have understood the logic of distributed, networked processes of self-organisation and participation will succeed.
We’ve spent two years organising in radically new ways, and the results have been astounding. We’ve built structures that have generated total hegemony amongst the movement and over the most crucial axes of social conflict (housing, education, healthcare, democracy, etc.) Structures endowed with the sort of on-the-ground organization capable of scuttling any attempt to hide, repress or criminalize the movement. This has just begun. The same neuronal synchronization we’ve described organises itself at different nested levels, and through increasingly influential protocols of auto-organisation built on top of previous, smaller ones. We have a model of auto-organisation that works, we only need to replicate, improve and understand it more deeply, to extend it to new levels.
We’re convinced that in the coming months and years we’ll keep on seeing vast advances in forms of networked organisation. To improve on them, it is essential to keep formulating hypotheses to create new poles of reference capable taking in and coordinating other areas of conflict. To keep listening to and analysing the process, in order to identify and interpret points of rupture. Being able to experiment and strategically connect or disconnect components from our dynamic nucleus to claim victories. To construct the sort of unity that won’t get trapped in a determined configuration, but which constantly transforms to keep moving forward. We’re at an historic juncture; we’re taking the first steps towards the construction of a collective, fluid and distributed coordinated social mind. Insisting on obsolete modes of organisation is a error. We are rehearsing the methods of massive social auto-organisation of the future, and the perspectives are more than optimistic. The dying bipartisan regime is confounded and entrenched. We only have to keep syncing.
Footnotes and references:
1. [Malsburg, C. von der. (1995). Binding in models of perception and brain function. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 5(4).]↩
2. [Varela, F., & Thompson, E. (2003). Neural Synchrony and the Unity of Mind: A Neurophenomenological Perspective. In The Unity of Consciousness. Oxford University Press.]↩
3. [Tononi, G., & Edelman, G. M. (1998). Consciousness and Complexity. Science, 282(5395), 1846–1851. doi:10.1126/science.282.5395.1846]↩
4. [These are all groups and collectives enmeshed within the 15 -M network. Briefly:
- DRY (Democracia Real Ya) is a grassroots citizens’ platform that, amongst others, organised the rally that sparked the 15M movement on May 15th 2011.
- PAH (Plataformas de los Afectados por la Hipoteca) is Spain’s anti-foreclosure network.
- Las Mareas or “Citizen Tides” are Spain’s post-syndical defense network for Education, Public Health, Feminism, Labour rights and more.
- “25-S” refers to the Occupy/Surround Congress protests of September 25 2012.
To read about these, and many other, initiatives taking place in Spain right now, read our translation of Bernardo Guitérrez’s “Spain’s Micro-Utopias: The 15M Movement and its Prototypes”]↩
This translation has been republished on:
Seeing the Invisible: on Unicorns and the 15-M Movement
Image: Marina Gullón
Amador Fernández-SavaterTranslated by Stacco Troncoso, edited by Jane Loes Lipton – Guerrilla Translation! Original article in eldiario.es
“A Chinese prose writer has observed that the unicorn, because of its own anomaly, will pass unnoticed. Our eyes see what they are accustomed to seeing.” (Jose Luis Borges)
In Spain, May is school exam month, and the 15-M movement is no exception. The celebration of its 2nd anniversary is an auspicious occasion for a bit of media judgement: Is 15-M still alive? Have they withered or grown? And what have they achieved? Their eyes see what they’re used to seeing: the event, not the process, identity, not metamorphosis, the spectacular, not the everyday, macro, not micro, quantity versus quality, results, rather than effects. The clinical view, the outside view, the paternal view; and the biggest problem is that we internalize these views, and conform to their standards. That’s why, the the other day, a friend protested by saying, “Screw the anniversary, we fight everyday, we could just as well celebrate on the 3rd of February or the 11th of June. If the media has pronounced us dead, fine, now we’ll be able to work in peace!”
A unicorn is not quite a horse. Likewise, neither are 15-M, the Mareas (Citizen Tides), the Plataforma Afectados por la Hipotéca or PAH (Spain’s game-changing anti-foreclosure movement) the familiar social movements, but names and masks endowing the users with a truly unprecedented process of social politicization. At once constant and in flux, a metamorphosis. The challenge isn’t in how to respond to the media’s endless lies and cilchés, but in learning to see ourselves, and tell our story differently. To learn to name, give value and communicate all that’s extraordinary about how we live, and what we do.
The current political situation, the personal impact brought to actions, protests and organization – today´s social malaise is shared not only among friends in bars, but among strangers in the street. They are spurred into action. This isn’t mechanical, automatic, or necessary, it shouldn’t be this way. In fact, this isn’t happening in other European countries affected by the crisis/scam. More usual is the widespread sense of fear, resignation, guilt and individuation. That’s the process of neutralization achieved by spreading the official line, “we’ve lived beyond our means”: we’re sinners with no right to protest, we can only find atonement through punishment. Thus we welcome with open arms the cuts of Rajoy and Merkel (allowing them the role of the punishing father). But that narrative has failed to emerge as the new hegemony. What was once private is now common and shared. Depression is politicised. While the belief system that fueled our existence (property, success, consumption) sinks into oblivion, we strive, together, to create a new one. We set out from the spaces we inhabit to take charge of this collective situation. Accountability versus guilt (in fact, and likely thanks to this, the assumption that suicide rates are on the rise due to the crisis doesn’t quite hold up to statistical analysis).
Hippies, public workers, firemen, police, medical staff, judges, teachers, ordinary people…the participants in 15-M, PAH and the Mareas are the 99%. These struggles aren’t collectives of like kind, but rather inclusive of various elements, and all for the common good. First, they unite people of diverse ideologies around common values and concrete objectives. This effectively neutralizes the contrived clash between the “two Spains“, so useful to the powers that be. Secondly, they break the traditional split between political actors and spectators: the backbone of the education-focused Marea Verde (Green Tide) includes parents, teachers and pupils. Marea Blanca (White Tide), which protests against fiscal cuts and the privatization of Spain’s public health system, includes doctors, medical staff and users. Meanwhile, the PAH unites foreclosure victims with activists of varying backgrounds and everyday people. The list goes on. Finally, they share mutual moments of public protest (like the last 23rd of February), modes of action (assemblies, traffic stoppages, lock-downs) and a common narrative on the present situation in Spain: “We are not commodities in the hands of politicians and bankers”.
This isn’t mechanical, automatic, or necessary, it shouldn’t be this way. What’s expected is self-referencing, and material or ideological fragmentation. Struggles that go about their business, never aligning with others, lacking a common concern about our world; never coming up with viral possibilities for collective action, never going beyond the strictest of definitions for any problem. That’s what’s to be expected. Recently, a Greek activist passing through Madrid remarked that Syntagma square has always been divided amongst groups: anarchists, communists, etc. He was surprised when told that in the 15-M squares, we create an open and inclusive community where differences are both recognised and transcended.
And, isn’t the 99% vs. the 1% narrative, this resymbolization of the commons from the ground up, what may have squashed the possibility of a Spanish version of Greece´s Golden Dawn, with its scapegoats and street violence, from ever being born? The Greek activist explained that the neo-Nazi group is very much sponsored by the police. He was flabbergasted when we listed the some of the unheard-of gestures we’ve seen coming from some agents of the law: protests, criticism against politicians and higher-ups, acts of disobedience, the refusal to carry out foreclosures, etc. You find your enemy above (1%), not by your side.
What is expected, as mass media keeps reminding us, is for a “social explosion” to take place. We’re not quite sure what they mean by this, but lets hypothesise: looting and pillaging, an uncontrollable rise in delinquency and all out war. Consequently, the state’s authority as the necessary arbiter of society would once again be legitimized. It isn’t happening. On the one hand, a new network of formal and informal social solidarity has been created, dealing with material concerns such as precariousness and poverty (everything from economic solidarity networks, to networks of everyday family and friends). On the other hand, what those on high usually call the “anti-political” (I’m thinking here of PAH) can work social malaise into collectivity, creativity and dignity, reviving happiness even in the midst of desperation.
In “The Shock Doctrine”, Naomi Klein explains how “disaster capitalism” takes advantage of social panic and depression to catalyse a leap towards the neoliberal transformation of society. In Pinochet’s Chile, in Post-Soviet Poland, in Katrina-devastated New Orleans, a melting pot of repressive and economic shocks left whole populations knocked out, wrecked social solidarity, spread paralysis, resignation and fear of others, all of which fostered dependence on a protective father figure. The main objective of the Shock Doctrine, as explained by Klein, is to sweep away autonomous narratives, and the ways and customs by which common people make sense of their world. Advantage is then taken of the ensuing confusion, to push “every man for himself” as the dominant definition of reality
The Shock Doctrine hasn’t quite triumphed in Spain as it should. We can see it in the inherent irritation evident in neoliberal economists’ analysis of Spanish society and the crisis. Their problem with us is our persistent refusal to see ourselves as isolated atoms, with neither collective rights nor close ties among people or places, motivated only by notions of success and individual self-realization (using terms like “normative rigidity”, “insufficient geographical mobility”, “limited entrepreneurial spirit”, “parental financial cushion”, etc.)
There’s no shock because there’s politics. According to French philosopher Jacques Rancière, politics makes three moves. First, it interrupts what’s perceived as inevitable (this-is-the-way-things-are, it’s-the-economic-crisis, there’s-no-money, we’ve-lived-beyond-our-means…). Second, it creates an alternate map of what’s possible: things we can possibly feel, do or think. For example, taking notice of a foreclosure and forced eviction where, otherwise, we wouldn’t have seen anything but the “routine execution due to lack of mortgage payment”. Being able to feel that foreclosures are intolerable, incorrect, unnecessary and not inevitable, and they concern us all. Goading us to band together and stop them. Third, it invents new political subjects: redefining who is able to see, feel, do or think. Politics is not the expression of those subjected to earlier or preconstituted constructs (whether ideological or sociological), but the creation of subjective spaces where none existed before, where the supposedly “incapable and ignorant” speak up and take action, turning from victims to actors.
Politics allows us to map a new set of connections. The fact that there are many groups doing many things in Spain isn’t as profoundly relevant as the fact that a climate of politicization that transcends social divisions has been created. At once it is a highly charged, conductive space where words, actions and affections circulate; an ecosystem that’s more than the sum of its parts; a field of forces and resonances; and a common sense-building tale of what’s going on (with us). The air is charged with electricity.
We can only see what we’ve been habituated to see. The normal, never the impossible. But, since the 15th of May of 2011, we’ve been living the impossible. Contemptuous of all probability, inevitability, destiny. Therefore we need a “belief in the impossible”. A school of thought to break us of seeing what’s habitual to our eyes, so we can see (and value) what’s happening and what should not be happening, what isn’t happening and (by logic) should be happening. A de-naturalizing school of thought, the ability to see creation where before there was repetition, action rather than social or causal determinism. To feel the power of our actions, to make it persist and grow in unpredictable ways.
Spain’s Micro-Utopias: The 15M Movement and its Prototypes
Bernardo GutiérrezTranslated by Stacco Troncoso, edited by Jane Loes Lipton – Guerrilla Translation! Originally published in two parts at 20minutos.es. Part 1. Part 2
“The old protests, so dull and single-minded, have passed into obsolescence, and given rise to infinite possibility. We’ve rethought the concepts of action, protest, relationship, the public, the common…”
In the collective text, This is Not a Demostration, we find a hidden corner of thoughtfulness completely ignored by mass media. This is Not a Demonstration isn’t an exercise in nostalgia. There’s no sense of longing for that Vibrant Mass that Occupied the Squares which formed that unpredictable collective body, the tangle of relationships some call “The 15-M Movement”.
This is Not a Demonstration has taken all-inclusive stock of actions, processes and projects which simply can’t be done justice by the old lexicon of protest. This is not a demonstration, we said: “And our imagination has totally overflowed the space of what’s possible, even as we build new worlds upon the carcass of the old”. This is not a demonstration. This is not a sum total. This is more than a rattling-off of victories. This is more than an echo of “we’re going slow, because we’re going far”.
Some of the media is too quick to bury “what’s left of 15M”. After the second anniversary protest of May 12th, which took place all across Spain, some will rush to hammer the final nail in 15M’s coffin. After the headcount, they’ll pick the photo with the sparsest crowd. They’ll even go so far as to manipulate some images, like any dictatorship would.
Alone in their cave, they’ll toast the funeral, reflected in the tarnished mirror of old-world media. They won’t see the details, the process, the steady drip. They will not take note. They will not listen. They will not read this text.
Surely, 15M is too complicated to be easily categorized, explained, translated. Besides, the eye sees what it’s used to seeing, as Amador Fernández-Savater reminds us in his highly recommended Seeing the Invisible: on Unicorns and the 15-M Movement. But it might just be possible to catch a glimpse of its transformative power by describing the little things, the modest dreams, the collective projects, invisible to many. There´s no need for that utopia of May 68, that ridiculous “Beneath the paving stones, the beach” which never materialised. There´s no need for it because 15M has already built its own: dozens, hundreds, thousands of networked micro-utopias. 15M has no use for a utopian model because it already has one, hundreds, thousands, of working prototypes. Micro-utopian prototypes, connected amongst themselves and (almost) in real time.
Keyword: Prototype. “An early sample or model built to test a concept or process or to act as a thing to be replicated or learned from”. Digital culture, copyleft processes and the hacker ethic, so pervasive in the leadup to 15M, all imbued their spirit in this new revolution of the connected crowd. The working prototype, within this new, open, process-based world, replaces any fixed model. And 15M is still churning out prototypes. It has built them collectively, as a network and in an open way.
The initial Acampada Sol (encampment at Madrid’s Puerta del Sol square) wasn’t made up of groups protesting the collapse of the system. Within the encampments were prototypes for the new world. And the devil was in the details: its day-care centers, its open libraries, its food gardens, its video streaming, its analogue and digital mechanisms for proposing change. 15M – whether seen as a signal, a movement, a state of being or a set of human interactions – has built its prototypes, and they’re many: judicial, urban, cultural, economical, technological, communicative, political, affective.
The true power of 15M doesn’t lie in its (necessarily) reactionary collective defense of the welfare state. Its real, and massive, hidden strength is in its creative, innovative, proposal-oriented nature. Given our willfully blind politicians and media, increasing the visibility of these real, shareable, living prototypes is crucial, now more than ever. But it’s not a list we need, it´s more like an act of poetic justice. A subjective inventory, giving shape to something so big we don’t yet have a name for it.
As we’ve been saying for some time, being happy is our best revenge.
PROTOTYPE 1 / THE METHOD MICRO-UTOPIAImage: Ondas de Ruído. Creative Commons Share Alike 2.0
The encampments of 2011, specifically their restoration of community assemblies, took the political old guard by surprise. Here were non-hierarchical, open assemblies that anyone could take part in. For the first time in decades, we saw political assemblies held in public spaces. Assemblies that turned into method, human hardware for uniting urban citizens. The need for consensus arose from a spirit of dialogue and coexistence, born in reaction to the visceral antagonism of the old political class: we won’t go until we reach an agreement. Following the erosion of the mechanisms of consensus during the encampments, the strategy of geographical and thematic diaspora came into being. #TomaLosBarrios (#TakeTheHoods). #TomaLaPlaya (#TakeTheBeach). #TomaLoqueQuieras (#TakeWhateverYouWant. Join with others. Open it up. And, from the hardships of coexistence, the slow nature of consensus, from decentralization, the workings of autonomy emerged..
In free software jargon, “fork” describes a peaceful deviation within a common project. The term was quickly adopted in 15M citizen politics. The newly formed Comité Disperso (Scatttered Committee) sums up 15M’s fresh ways of dealing with an assortment of processes. “You can be there without always being there. You can be, without being the same. You can participate without needing to tie yourself to anything or giving up your autonomy. Acting from mutual respect, scattered organization allows varying degrees of collaboration amongst people and collectives, according to their own wishes, goals and abilities at any given moment”. It isn’t surprising then that Partido X, Partido del Futuro, which forked out from 15M, defines itself as “a method”.
PROTOTYPE 2 / THE URBAN MICRO-UTOPIAImage: Campo de Cebada. Creative Commons Share Alike 2.0
The encampments led to a double mutation of urban space. First: the shift from public space into common space. Public squares, beset by excessive prohibitions and the privatization of their usage, were reborn as the urban commons. A leaderless, non-hierarchical citizen network organized this urban space “peer-to-peer”, consisting of interconnected public squares.
Second mutation: hybrid space. These weren’t squares made of paving stones. These squares were of bits and atoms. Analogue and digital life were intimately intertwined, inseparable. During the encampment at Sol, theTwittómetro connected networks and public squares, virtual and physical spaces. The #AbreTuWIFI, (#OpenYourWifi) campaign, which encourages people to open their home WI-FI access during protests to allow easy communication, nurtured this new hybrid urban space. Another good example is the #Voces25S map, created to protect mass groups from police violence. You only had to tweet from your GPS-activated mobile phone to lay out the “digital rug” over the physical city-space.
The first of the two mutations described above is building a network of former public spaces, now transformed into self-organising, self-governed places bristling with activity, like Madrid’s Campo de Cebada, recent winner of Ars Electronica’s prestigious Golden Nica Award in the Digital Communities category. These spaces are often supported in part by stale, dried up public institutions desperate for new ideas. The second mutation is branching out through Convoca!, a mobile app that allows you to check in at gatherings, protests, events or encampments. Both mutations coalesce in a melting pot of networked spaces, connecting peers locally and globally, beyond institutions or boundaries, on the fringes of commercial logic.
PROTOTYPE 3 /THE COMMUNICATION MICRO-UTOPIAImage: Fotomovimiento.org
Very few countries have put into practice sociologist Manuel Castells’ concept of “mass self-communication” at the same level as Spain. Under the nose of a mass media trapped in its clichés and corporate compromises, 15M created an historically unparalleled system of mass communication. It introduced transparency as a method: video streaming of assemblies, open minutes and documents for every meeting, a transparency at once action and communication. From the get-go, 15M produced better live-streamed media of protests than anyone else. TV grew increasingly irrelevant when compared to on-the-ground video streaming as exemplified by People Witness or Toma La Tele. The revolution had finally been televised, contrary to Gil Scott Heron’s prediction (The Revolution will not be televised). What’s more, some written media, after seeing the global impact of SolTV and citizen-streaming, felt the need to catch up by aping the method and providing live video too.
A good number of photopress agencies lost some lustre to the explosive, poetic material showcased by FotoMovimiento. Meanwhile Audiovisol, Agora SolRadio or the printed-paper Periódico 15M have set the new standard in intelligent mass self-communication.
Some new media such as ElDiario.es, La Marea, Reset Project, Revista Números Rojos or Café amb Llet were born steeped in the micro-utopic communicative spirit of 15M. And if that wasn’t enough, let’s not forget 15M’s role as a global Twitter-trending-topic machine, planned on collective pads such as this one, and which are already being studied in the communication programs of universities worldwide.
PROTOTYPE 4/ MICRO-UTOPIA IN FEMININE
Vídeo: presenting the Zorras Mutantes (Mutant “Ho”s) in Sol General Assembly, 3rd of May 2012.
Spanish, being a gender-based language, was hacked to be gender-flexible (from nosotros to nosotras) early on in the encampments. We started seeing men speaking very naturally in feminine/gender inclusive forms of speech, a hugely significant detail. It’s a symbolic mutation, a step onwards from competition to collaboration. This is the tip of the iceberg of a new worldwide paradigm. I’m not referring to it as a Feminine Micro-utopia, because this shift runs much deeper than that. At the very least, we’re witnessing a remix of classical feminism, which, at times, has constructed the same kinds of antagonistic and categorical walls as “machismo”. 15M is creating a grounded, intuitive outgrowth of Donna Haraway’s utopian cyberfeminism.
The existence of assemblies such TransMaricaBollo (composed of LGBT collectives in Madrid) is another example of the micro-utopian aggregate, inclusive and genre-transcendent, that 15M as a movement is striving for. While not being central to the movement, the Zorras Mutantes assembly, which plays with the queer movement, polyamory and the jargon of “cyborg-feminism”, is another spark within this #PostFeminist, #PostPatriarcal micro-utopia. Here’s an extract from their manifesto: “We’re animal-human-machine-software hacking the limits of established norms (…) We’re on strike, striking against species and gender: we renounce our binary gender and human categorizations, arbitrary classifications of an imperialist tradition (…) We abhor subject-object dualism, possessive individualism and the right to own property, and we declare ourselves as metabodies.”.
PROTOTYPE 5 / THE COLLECTIVE CULTURE MICRO-UTOPIA
Copyleft culture – conceived as a reaction to copyright – directlly influenced 15M. Copyleft idealism and its legitimization of copying and recycling content was at an all-time high in the months leading up to 15M, due to the threat of the antipiracy Sinde Law. These intuitive, collective and unplanned tenets formed the backbone of the #GlobalRevolution. Public squares acquired copyleft traits, becoming ctrl+v spaces constantly mirrored in their digital doppelgangers through texts on how to camp, how to videotape in a constant and unprecedented barrage of infectious creativity.
Born in the wake of 15M’s explosive appearance, Fundación Robo (or, “Steal this Foundation”), diluted the concept of individual authorship, churning out songs authored by the collective identity of Robo (Steal). Freely downloadable songs, under open licenses. Meanwhile, Asalto (Assault), Robo’s literary counterpart, was born soon afterwards, with its collective literature and poetic snippets remixed into intense “Collective Assaults”. And Plazas Invisibles (Invisible Squares), as written by Italo Calvino with the 99%. And VocesConFutura, visual shout-outs by inspired graphic creators camped within 15M pixellated environs. And Bookcamping.cc created to answer the innocent question, “what book would you take to the square?” With its book-filled shelves, its playlist of titles, its guided visits, Bookcamping.cc stands as a prime example of the new web-created and commons-oriented culture. But, it’s possible that 15M.cc, – a transmedia project composed of a book, a documentary and the 15Mpedia – may well be the best across-the-board representation of the collective, open and collaborative spirit of 15M’s cultural micro-utopia.
Remixing – A copies B, B recreates A’s original work – turns flaws into virtues. Remixing becomes an homage, a co-creation – and, why not, a battle cry. What could be better than #cutandpaste a fragment from “Asalto nº 4, Lorca remix” in support of Marea Verde and its defense of public education. “Green that I love you Green. Green wind. Green branches. Education needs your hand, to help avenge it, to expel those seeking the failure of the masses”.
PROTOTYPE 6 / PARTICIPATORY MICRO-UTOPIA
The assemblies, celebrated in public squares, marked a previously unheard of politicization of public space. Even taking into account that their consensus building mechanism didn’t end up directly influencing the democratic process, the creation of new spaces for political dialogue soon made the old institutions look dated. The project/process Parlamento a la Calle (Take Parliament to the Streets) for example, is a true master stroke against a static democracy that only allows for dialogue within the chambers of parliament. Besides, public-square assembly did manage to consolidate certain specific mechanisms.
This yearning for participation is the essence of Propongo (I Propose), a tool and platform for the collection and implementation of political ideas by a collective voting system. Propongo inspired the Rio Grande do Sul’s (Brazi) Digital Cabinet. Meanwhile, Asamblea Virtual (Virtual Assembly), a participatory online system where proposals are drawn, debated and voted on, has become an invaluable laboratory for techno-political participatory systems. Similar initiatives, such as Ahora tu decides (Now You Decide), a platform for non-state-mediated digital referendum, the urnas indignadas, physical voting booths placed on the street last November to vote on the proposal against foreclosures, or ballot information tables set up by public health defenders, Marea Blanca, make an important symbolic statement capable of forcing change in the system’s participatory mechanisms. Finally, Graba tu pleno (Record your Plenary Session) which encourages transparency by inciting citizens to video every single convention of assemblies, could also be considered another 15M prototype.
Demo4Punto0 (Democracy 4.0) is perhaps the most innovative initiative of them all. A hybrid participatory strategy and mechanism, it would allow any citizen to digitally vote on any parliamentary proposal or law. Based on each political party’s ratio of seats in Parliament, the mechanism proportionally discounts a seat for every 150.000 that participate in a vote. These citizen votes represent a proportional part of a congressman’s constituency. It’s no coincidence that the regional government of Andalucia (in the south of Spain), has commissioned the groundbreaking Andalusian Digital Democracy Report from the founders of Demo4Punto0.
PROTOTYPE 7 / FUN-TIVISM MICRO-UTOPIA
Non-violence has always been an inspiration to 15M. The Movement resurrected peaceful resistance and adapted it to the Internet age. Repudiating weapons and classic urban guerrilla tactics, 15M made protest creative, constructive and, unmistakably, fun. Networked emotions and viral actions that amplified and altered their own effects. Culture Jamming, the remixing of logos and commercial symbols as exemplified by Adbusters, morphed into something else in Spain. 15M’s culture jammers became virtual DJs, spinning memes and emotions. We saw how Flo6x8, a flash mob collective, was able to flamenco their way into a bank. We saw a crowd throwing a party in a Bankia branch, to promote its #CierraBankia (#ShutDownBankia) campaign. Bankia was Spain´s own big-bank-bailout debacle, going from public bank to private entity, subsequently bankrupting itself and then controversially being rescued with public funds, concurrent with the imposition of austerity measures. We were delighted by the parodical Ballot Box ATM: if it´s the banks that really govern us after all, why not just vote directly while at the bank?
Political Jiu-jitsu, or defeating an enemy by turning its strength against itself, is the tactic used by the Metro de Lujo (Subway DeLuxe) campaign. Elegantly attired individuals protested the Madrid subway’s inscrutable price hikes by dressing up and toasting champagne to welcome the new “aristocratic” pricing. Or, how about the ultimate fetid vengeance, exemplified by the #TubasuraalBanco (#TakeYourGarbageToTheBank) campaign – which, ultimately, made it as far as Portugal (#OLixoAosBancos). Another hilarious example is the #ManiFicció/#ManiFantasma (#FicticiousProtest/#GhostProtest), a fake protest announced as a total urban guerrilla outing, which managed to ridicule and embarrass Catalonia’s riot police (Mossos D’Esquadra), when they arrived to meet the dangerous enemy to find… no one!
15M has creatively and humorously reinterpreted the tenets of Saul Alinsky classic “Rules for Radicals”, or The Guerrilla Communications Handbook. amongst other direct action classics. Additionally, it has birthed a particularly active army of Twitter troll activists. Profiles such as @barbijaputa or the @ikastrolla collective are prime examples.
PROTOTYPE 8 / RESILIENCE MICRO-UTOPIA
Faced with the unjustified rising cost of public transport, classic resistance-based activism would respond with barricades, protests and setting things on fire. On the other hand, resilience-based activism uses adaptation, micro-attacks, and hacking, expressed through cracks and loopholes in the legal system. “Translegal”, rather than illegal. IGetOn YouGetMeoOn… non-payment tactics for public transport. If you get fined, there’s a co-op that will handle the cost of the fine. It works out cheaper to make a monthly contribution to the MeMetro (IGetOn) co-op than paying the regular monthly pass. Adapted from an identical initiative in Greece, the YoNoPago movement fights against the rising cost of highway tolls and public transport, another sign of resilience. When the VAT was raised 21% for Spanish freelancers, a new “bacterial” web-based network called #HuelgaAutónomos (Freelance Strike) sprung up to deal with the problem by paying individual taxes collectively, or by refusing to declare income on certain months (Freelancers in Spain are required to pay a disproportionately high fixed monthly fee to able to work legally).
PROTOTYPE 9 / THE NETWORKED POST-SYNDICATE MICRO-UTOPÍAImagen: Marea Verde, by Andrés Arriaga. Licensed under: Creative Commons.
The Citizen Tide phenomenon, especially in Madrid, has not been thoroughly studied by social anthropologists, but it should be. As far as mass media is concerned, apparently it isn’t even worth analysing. The Marea Blanca (defending Public Health), Marea Verde (Public Education), Marea Azul (against the privatization of water) and the Marea Violeta (feminism), are permutations on the traditional protests and marches declared by unions or political parties. 15M turned everything upside down. It modified the source code of protest and spread the virus to the rest of society. That’s the reason the Mareas work within horizontal, non-hierarchical networks. These mobilizations create new sets of visual associations (green equals “education”), and no one displays any union or political party paraphernalia during marches, whether they’re members or not. Their texts and objectives are written collaboratively and with absolute transparency. The Citizen Tides are a new form of social mobilization. Could we be witnessing the birth a radically different form of syndicalism? As for me, I haven’t the slightest doubt that the Tides represent a form of networked post-syndicalism that marks the beginning of a new era.
#TomaLaHuelga, a summons by 15M to attend the protests organised by the official government sponsored – and highly inefficient and corrupt – unions, as a differentiated “critical march”, is another clear-cut case of post-syndicalism.
PROTOTYPE 10 / THE COLLECTIVE INTELLIGENCE MICRO-UTOPIAStop Desahucios (Stop Foreclosures) map, built on Ushahidi. A SMS alert shows foreclosed individuals and families the location of empty bank-owned apartments in their area.
The popular, and subtly reactionary, eighties Spanish children’s TV program “La Bola de Cristal” (The Crystal Ball) introduced the phrase “sólo no puedes, con amigos sí” (you can’t do it alone, but you can do it with friends”) into the burgeoning Spanish collective unconscious. Those youths, now grown, repurposed the phrase from the start of the movement. Maybe that’s why we’ve seen such a natural shift from DIY (Do it Yourself) to DIWO (Do it With Others). Here’s an interesting distinction: 15M has consecrated the value of “multitude” over “masses”. In contrast to the “mass-man”, as portrayed by Ortega Gasset, we see the emergence of the “multitude man”. as exemplified in the Smart Mobs of Toni Negri and Howard Rheingold. The Smart Mob forms an autonomous whole, bigger than the sum of its parts. 15M’s Smart Mobs brought to life the concepts of “swarm” (Kevin Kelly / Steve Johnson) and “collective intelligence” (James Surowiecki, Pierre Levy) like never before. Initiatives such as Stop Desahucios (mass gatherings to physically prevent foreclosure eviction proceedings), actions like the “Eschaches” (public humiliation and condemnation of corrupt politicians and bankers) and campaigns such as Toque a Bankia are palpable demonstrations of swarm and collective intelligence initiatives in full gear.
Collective intelligence also powered the 15Mpedia or the Vivero de Iniciativas Ciudadanas (Open Hatchery for Citizen Initiatives) Glossary, and played an essential part in the formation of WhatsApp IM groups used in protests to assure the protester’s bodily safety. These are telling examples of the kind of collective intelligence that feeds the parallel, alternative and sustainable world mapped on projects such as MeCambio.Net, a listing of companies and services founded on ethical and sustainable values.
PROTOTYPE 11 / THE MICRO-UTOPIA OF THE COMMONS
“Out of chaos, we’ve seen actions, constructions and turnarounds arise with clear, integral, non-corporate intentions, all marked by a tendency to organise into community”. These words, recently expressed by hacker Marga Padilla, give credence to the theory that 15M has acted as a springboard for communities. A steady stream of communities where neighbours share their wifi thanks to Wifis.org, use community currencies (like Seville’s PUMA, and many others), analogue/digital barter systems such as Nockin or cooperative practices like the No.Ma.Des Project (a wordplay on nomadism and and “No More Unemployment) which seeks to find meaningful, constructive activity for the hordes of Spanish unemployed.
References to “the Commons” were omnipresent in all the initial debates of the 15M movement. The construction of interrelated communities stems from a marked desire to improve on the wealth of the commons. The Carta de los Comunes (A Letter for the Commons), a text signed the Madrilonia.org collective and edited by copyleft publisher Traficantes de Sueños, is an excellent example of the concrete – if, at times, cleverly subtle – prototypes reflecting the commons via their intellectual content.
PROTOTYPE 12 / THE LEGAL MICRO-UTOPIA
15M has shaken up one of the pillars of the Western State: the legal establishment. The existence of The Comisión Legal Sol, (Puerta del Sol Legal Commission), was an impromptu creation on the first night of encampment, when one camper offered legal advice to another. This marks a shift towards collective methods in what is traditionally perceived as a very individualistic profession. In Spain, certain groups of lawyers were already pooling their talents, sharing resources and incentivizing the use of free licenses in their documentation. The arrival of 15M has multiplied this free, open and collaborative legal micro-utopia. We can see a good example of this in the legal strategies collectively designed to benefit the Stop Foreclosures movement. Op-Euribor, a collective initiative organised and disseminated by online working groups, is another spectacular example of 15M’s burgeoning legal micro-utopia.
Toma Parte (Take Part) is another fascinating example. On the one hand, it’s a networked collective of lawyers functioning anonymously. On the other, it acts as a platform and tool for the activation of collective intelligence: “Toma Parte is a tool designed so we, as citizens, can pool our resources to find solutions. Our team of legal advisors will provide the necessary knowledge to determine the best legal course of action to implement these solutions. Anyone can make an online proposal, which will then be voted on by the community at large, completing it with evidence and testimony and funds generated through crowdfunding campaigns. All the documentation pertaining to the proposals – made available under Creative Commons Licenses – will be freely reusable”
But the most spectacular and ambitious example of this legal micro-utopia is, undoubtedly, the 15Mparato campaign. Launched through crowdfunding platform Goteo.org, the campaign gathered more than the necessary 16.000€ in less than 24 hours, collapsing Goteo’s servers in the process. These funds are being used to finance a lawsuit against Rodrigo Rato, former IMF Managing Director, head of Bankia and nominated by Bloomberg as one of the worst CEOs in the world (2012), for his mismanagement and accounting irregularities at the time of Bankia’s merger. We are talking about a mass lawsuit designed and funded online, that quickly gained the support of 50 shareholders who stepped forward as plaintiffs, as well as a host of internal witnesses. Spain’s networked citizenship shifted from defending itself to taking on the enemy. This, the first crowdfunded mass lawsuit, showed that the economic political elite isn’t as cozily secure as it thought. Or, as we can read in 15Mparato’s site: “Fear has switched sides in the struggle between those who are the bottom and those who are at the top”.
PROTOTYPE 13 / THE FREE KNOWLEDGE MICRO-UTOPIA
Free Knowledge, Free Licenses, Free Access. 15M squarely positioned itself against copyright from the very beginning. Many individuals and collectives within 15M have played an important role in lobbying for a more thorough transparency law. These groups have also been instrumental in the fight against restrictive proposals like the SOPA-like Lasalle Law. 15Mpedia reflects a healthy amount of free-culture and free-access related initiatives, like this list of online libraries which offer free downloads.
15M and the Marea Verde are defending universal access to public education by incorporating some important new details. The “Ciudad del Aprendizaje” (City of Learning) – education partaken on the streets, without walls and free from traditional hierarchy – is already up and running. On March 9, Spanish universities took to the streets as part of the #UniEnLaCalle (#CollegeInTheStreets) campaign, with 575 public squares and urban meeting points serving as the backdrop for innumerable master classes.
PROTOTYPE 14 / THE SENIOR CITIZEN’S REVOLUTION MICRO-UTOPIAVideo: Iaioflautas The Rebel Grandparents from Magma Multimedia Productions /Creative Commons Non-Commercial, Non-Derivative License
“We may be old, but we have no fear” This is the collective motto often used by the Iaoflautas / Yayoflautas collective, and it demolishes every stereotype about the 15M movement being made up of unemployed, lazy youth with nothing better to do than protest. The eruption of the Senior Citizen Iaoflauta collective in Barcelona dismantled the media’s repetitive, closed-minded mantra that 15M is a collection of crusties and and dirty hippies (“Perroflautas”). “Yayo” is an affectionate word for “Gramps” in Catalonia. It didn’t take long for the Yayoflauta phenomenon to spread throughout the rest of Spain. It marked the arrival of a new revolutionary meme within an old, withering Europe. Could it be that the meme that demolishes the Troika and takes over Brussels won´t come from a student, but from a grandma empowered with social media skills by her grandson?. The #LaBolsaolavida (#TheStockExchangeOrYourLife) action that kicked off the Yayoflauta prototype had such symbolic impact that I don’t think we’re quite able to grasp its implications yet. The image of a group of pensioners invading a Stock Exchange is so unprecedentedly shocking, it sounds like something out of a cyberpunk novel. But no dystopian future vision could have imagined something like this, and #ItsHappeningRightNow.
PROTOTYPE 15 / THE NEO-INTERNATIONALIST MICRO-UTOPIA
15M has dissolved international borders. It has woven transnational communities together and eased the exaggerated nationalism that the system likes to promote during crisis. First, 15M expanded its network around the world, ignoring nation-states. The proclamation, “We aren’t commodities in the hands of politicians and bankers” was immediately understood across all nations and languages, enabling networks and breaking down borders. At the heart of this global network, the Spanish node that is 15M has always embraced diversity. It’s protected its immigrants from police abuse, it’s campaigned against Alien Detention Centers, it’s founded Neighbour Brigades for the Observation of Human RIghts. There are even doctors who’ve declared themselves as conscientious objectors due to the recent cut in immigrant public health rights, and have vowed to treat illegal immigrants, in spite of new laws prohibiting this. 15M is forging a new Internationalist movement, as far-reaching as the workers movement of the late 19th century, but endowed with an historically unmatched set of tools and connectivity. The video embedded above, showing German citizens in solidarity with Spain, was filmed as a direct response to one of 15M’s videotaped assemblies, and is visible proof of the new international micro-utopia we are forging together.Image by Olmo Calvo
I have presented 15 Prototypes, 15 for 15M. I could describe more, many more, but this text is not intended as a list, or 19th century inventory. This text is in construction. This text longs to be a candle, a lantern. A faint ray slipping through the cracks in the system to throw some clarity on the building blocks of the world that’s coming. There could be as many prototypes as there are individuals. It only takes a certain attitude to pick up the lantern, shine some light into a corner, and try to see the change.
Guerrilla Translation/Related:Seeing the Invisible: on Unicorns and the 15-M Movement/ Amador Fernández-SavaterUnity sans Convergence/ Madrilonia/@PinkNoiseRev#GlobalP2P, The Wind that Shook the Net/ Bernardo Gutiérrez
This translation has been republished on:
- The Economics and the Commons Conference’s site (Published in two parts: part 1, part 2)
- TAHRIR International Collective Network’s website (Published in two parts: part 1, part 2)
- The P2P Foundation blog (Published in two parts: part 1, part 2)
- TakeTheSquare.net (Published in two parts: part 1, part 2)
- Occupy.com (Published in three parts: part 1, part 2, part 3)