Tagged: Indignados

A Charter for Democracy

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Movimiento por la Democracia

Whatever happened to the 15-M Movement? Where did Occupy go? Three years after the groundbreaking revolutionary ruptures of 2011, violent repression and media invisibility have relegated these thriving movements to a grey area. The perception seems to shift between mainstream derision and niche-group interest. Occupy’s roots have spread out and sprouted a multitude of initiatives, though perhaps the source inspiration is not always publicly recognized. But in Spain, the popular experience of austerity – the murderous palliative prescribed as a cure for the crisis – and the resulting political movements in reaction have been giving the lie to the mainstream narrative that 15-M is a “has been”.

The movement undeniably lives. Its form has been mutated, re-imagined, distributed, and coalesced into a swarm of activity and hacks to the system. We live here, we see it every day. These initiatives are not as easily seen, defined – or, for that matter, targeted – as a physical occupation may be; yet they permeate the hegemony, creating new possibilities and spaces. You need only look at the recent EU Parliamentary election results to see how Spanish voters have reacted to austerity and debt – and how that reaction contrasted strongly with that of some other European nations. One of the most important evolutions of 15-M is undoubtedly the “Movimiento por la Democracia” (Movement for Democracy).

Unsurprisingly, the Movement is hard to define. It clearly targets the political arena without desiring to become a political party itself. Their “Charter for Democracy” is an inspiring, thorough text on what politics should be. It proposes a politics for the people: squarely grounded in environmental realities and social justice, based on the Commons, defended from corporate interests and neo-liberal dictates. The Charter was written collectively through nearly 30 different workshops throughout Spain held over the span of a year, with the collaboration of some 200 individuals.

As Movimiento por la Democracia expresses, “It isn’t finished. We don’t want it to be finished; we want it to be a living document, in a constant state of discussion and production. We think it’s a good summary of the main demands the citizenry has put on the table over the last few years – our needs and desires. Now we need your help. The Charter can only make sense when shared widely, so it can stir extensive debate. If you find it interesting, we ask you to share it on Social Media, send it by email or get it into people’s hands in a thousand different ways. We ask you to comment on it, debate it, refute and if you like it, make it yours”.

To that end, we’re proud to present the Charter for Democracy in English for the first time, complete with its beautiful original illustrations by Clismón. Our role in this translation was something like post-production. We took the time to bring it together, polish and clarify it, to do service to the volunteer labor that went into the translation (see below for full credits). It’s serious reading, and essential reading for anyone passionate about true democracy and commons-based governance. As they say, please read it and, if you want to, make it yours.

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A CHARTER FOR DEMOCRACY

This Charter was born of a deep malaise: lack of prospects, mass unemployment, cuts in social rights and benefits, evictions, political and financial corruption, dismantling of public services. It was drafted in reaction to the social majority’s growing lack of confidence in the promises of a political system devoid of legitimacy and the ability to listen.

The two-party system, widespread corruption, the financial dictatorship imposed by austerity policies and the destruction of public goods have dealt the final blow to a democracy long suffering from its own limits. These limits were already present in the 1978 Constitution. They can be summarized as a political framework that neither protects society from the concentration of power in the hands of the financial groups, nor from the consolidation of a non-representative political class. This political framework has established a system which is hardly open to citizen participation, and unable to construct a new system of collective rights for our protection and common development. This is evident in the fact that, despite some very significant public demonstrations, the demands of the vast majority of the population have repeatedly been ignored.

Faced with this institutional stonewalling and the growing separation between the rulers and the ruled, it seems there’s only one way out: a deep expansion of democracy based on citizen control over political and economic power. Surely, since what’s left of democracy is constantly shrinking and attempts at internal reform would only mean repeating the same mistakes, we must take a chance on changing the rules of the game – a democratic change, geared toward returning to society the effective decision-making ability over all which concerns it.

Chaos and dictatorship are not the only alternatives to the current democracy. A democracy created among all people is possible – a democracy not reduced to merely voting, but founded on participation, citizen control and equal rights.

This Charter emerged from the desire to contribute to this process of democratization. In this sense, it contributes from a place of joy, from the energy of citizen mobilizations, from politics happening outside political parties, speaking in first person plural and trying to build a life worth living for everyone. No doubt the impetus is democracy itself. People have the ability to invent other forms of governing themselves and living together. This text was created with the assurance that today’s struggles are the basis of the coming democracy.

As this is a proposal of democratization, this Charter is presented as an unfinished, long-term construction project, openly inviting anyone to participate. This charter isn’t meant to be a political program or an exhaustive catalogue of rights, nor does it pretend to be a static State model. Given our investment in democratization, it simply points towards the basic, necessary elements needed to reconstruct a new institutional model that is open to the collective needs, proposals and capacity for self-governance that has recently found its voice throughout streets, squares and networks. Seen this way, the participative, deliberative process we yearn for matters as much as its content, which should always be a faithful reflection of the proposals and aspirations of the citizenry.

In essence, this Charter calls for opening a new process of debate, leading to a political and economic restructuring to guarantee life, dignity and democracy. It’s presented here as a contribution towards establishing a new social contract, a process of democratic reform in which the people — the “anyones”— are the true protagonists.

It’s time for the citizens to appropriate public institutions and resources, in order to ensure their defense, control and fair distribution. In the public squares and networks, we’ve learned something simple and conclusive which will forever change our way of being in the world. We’ve learned that yes, we can.

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Rights and Guarantees

A democracy worthy of the name requires universal recognition of a wide constellation of rights related to all areas of public life and social reproduction. The decline in access to benefits and social services, the plundering by the financial dictatorship, and the dismantling of public welfare systems by austerity policies in recent decades have all significantly undermined the means of effectively exercising these rights. Similarly, access to many of these rights is conditional upon nationality and employment status, which has ended up producing major exclusion. Moreover, the subordinate nature of social rights in the current Constitution has not allowed sufficient development of certain fundamental issues such as housing, employment and income.

In short, both the inherent limits of the current system and the impotence of the Spanish political regime in protecting the most basic of rights are strong enough reasons for the creation of a new institutional system of rights and guarantees that enable caring, the development of our lives, and access to political life.

This Charter puts forward a common starting point for defining a new system of rights. Today, these rights have arisen from the demands and struggles of society itself, and expressed through its multiple forms of organization and participation; as such they are the highest expression of the act of democracy.

These rights redefine social relations, the production and distribution of wealth, and relations between nation-states according to a concept of the human being as a subject with the right to autonomy, but still in deep interdependence with the common space s/he inhabits. To this extent, these rights oppose being characterized as merely individual attributions. These rights must be recognized from both a universal as well as a singular dimension.

In order to guarantee these rights, we require an institutional framework that recognizes and promotes access to an active and democratic political life, and the recognition of the right to collective and direct participation as a real opportunity for the expression of the citizens’ desire to decide on everything which significantly affects the community. This framework should also be fully inclusive; one that accepts that we live in a global world, and acknowledges people’s right to migrate and/or settle where they see fit, in order to live life fully. A framework that could safeguard a life – our own – which, being interdependent, requires protection. This would comprise institutions specifically designed to ensure social reproduction, while neither delegating care labor to particular social groups nor permitting the privatization of that labor. A framework which also guarantees and extends all the rights already recognized in existing frameworks, constitutions and declarations of human rights, and which also recognizes the environment wherein life takes place as a rights-holder that should be carefully defended. This framework must, in the end, recognize society as a source of rights, therefore it must be considered open and under constant construction.

The basic principles which inspire a new, robust Bill of Rights with a guarantee of institutional means are:

  • Universality. All residents will have the same consideration and access to resources that guarantee the effective exercise of their rights.
  • Singularity: Recognizing that there are realities, forms of organization and a diversity of needs, different types of rights must be taken into account, including specific forms of recognition as well as human resources and economic requirements, to the extent that we must preserve such diversity.
  • No regression. Public authorities are not entitled, once these rights are recognized, to interpret them restrictively or to reduce them.
  • Equality. Given that all rights — civil, political and social — are fundamental to the development of people’s lives, the relationship among them must be protected and cared for with the same constitutional and legal guarantees.
  • Multi-institutional and democratic guarantee. Rights should not only be guaranteed by jurisdictional means but also through citizen participation and extra‑institutional organisms created by the persons entitled to the rights themselves. The social participation in the recognition, extension and guarantee of rights through the institutions of direct election and citizen intervention procedures must be explicitly admitted.
  • Financial sufficiency. The development of these rights must be ensured with the necessary economic means. These means will be provided by fiscal reform measures established in the following paragraphs of this Charter.

Finally, it is understood that a subject of rights is also a subject of responsibilities, insofar as she or he is part of a community built around a common project. These responsibilities extend to the environment we inhabit, and include accepting the responsibility to care for it, protect it and enable its reproduction, and in doing so, our own. Such responsibility involves all citizens, but is distributed according to the differences of wealth and ability. Carta_por_la_Democracia_1pag-12red (1)

Political Democracy

The crisis has shown that the decisions of the political class are increasingly controlled by financial interests, and therefore, that democratic Government is conditioned by private enterprise. This situation has lasting repercussions, having provoked a major crisis of legitimacy and representation, aggravated by a state of continued corruption and underscoring the serious lack of existing democratic control.

In any case, the limits of the political system are not recent; rather, they’re structural. These problems can be summed up as: bipartisanship; one-party government in most autonomous communities; difficulty creating new political options; media monopolies; and, especially, the enormous legal difficulties in reforming a Constitution which, moreover, has never been approved by most of the current population.

This is compounded by the fact that political parties – the major players in political life – have turned into a self-serving class, primarily geared towards its own propagation. Without a doubt, institutional obstacles to direct participation hamper the imagination and formation of a political framework founded upon the direct involvement of ordinary people in public affairs..

The decline of the current democracy manifests itself in neglecting the demands of different sectors of society, thus magnifying the distance between legislated policies and what the people say they need. This growing gap between the rulers and the ruled results in the democratic deficit of a system that has prioritized governability over representation and respect for minorities.

The limits of the current democratic system cannot be resolved from the same position from which they arose. Therefore, in order to establish a true democracy, an overhaul is needed.

This Charter advocates a form of democracy capable of returning decision-making power concerning the fundamental aspects of life back to the population. A democracy based on participation in social and political life, one which enables joint decisions on how we want to live. It is, therefore, a wager on a new political agreement built in an open way and with the active participation of citizens. A new agreement based on the recognition of society’s capacity to organize, create institutions, and self-govern.

The construction of this democracy requires a series of agile, effective, and transparent mechanisms articulated on different levels and geared towards both deepening direct participation and the control of delegation, via representation, as deemed appropriate.

Some actions that could give shape to a new democratic political system are as follows:

1. Democratization of public authorities

  • Control of representation. Revocable mandates by a social majority and absolute transparency both in public accounts and the actions of the various organs of Government. Tightening of controls and penalties related to corruption, and the development of independent supervisory authorities with competence over different public institutions. Economic and temporal limits on political appointments: salary caps; an incompatibility regime before, during and after the appointment; and effective limits on the duration of the mandate.
  • Democratization of the internal functioning of the parties. Transparency in party financing, clearly democratic internal statutes, and autonomy of the vote of representatives to ensure the internal plurality of organizations.
  • Reform of the electoral representation system. Removing privileges accorded to parties in the assignation of representatives; modification of lists system; eliminating minimum quota of proportionality; mechanisms of recognition and respect of minorities, as well as balance between the different territories.
  • These mechanisms for democratization, openness and citizen control will be extended to other areas of collective representation, such as social and labor organizations, as well as the media, given their relevance in public life.

2. Recognition and extension of the ways of participation and direct democracy

  • Recognition and expansion of direct democracy tools, such as popular legislative initiatives, referendums and virtual tools of participation.
  • Recognition of citizen control instruments in all areas of the main branches of government, as well as on public accounts. The recognition of such instruments requires transparency laws and the development of flexible mechanisms for public hearing. Recognition of other social organizations acting as control mechanisms or political representatives.
  • Developing mechanisms for collective deliberation: Favoring the development of methodologies for democratic deliberation, both virtual and analog, that promote shared decision making. These mechanisms will be essential in the development of new legislations and their budgets.
  • Extension of the mechanisms enabling direct participation at all administrative levels, and management of public goods and common assets such as school boards, health councils, labor councils as well as local, regional and inter-regional councils.

3. Recognition of popular constituent power as the ultimate source of the constitution and the powers of the State

  • Promotion of a model of open constitutionalism which allows reformation of constitutional standards from below, prevents foreseeable constitutional stonewalling, enables citizen reform initiatives and promotes permanent deliberation.
  • The autonomous, independent forging of institutions for the self-regulation and development of rights generated by the social structure itself will be recognized and favored.

A mature political democracy will not only allow for the real and effective separation of the different powers of the state, but also for direct citizen control of the latter. According to this charter, the judiciary, state police, and security forces will also be subject to the same requisites of transparency, democratization and citizen control. Its ranking heads shall not be chosen by political representatives but directly by the citizenry itself.

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Economic Democracy

A democratic society cannot be conceived without the guarantee of the necessary material support for the development of a dignified and politically active life. A democratic society without a fairer distribution of wealth cannot be conceived.

The high unemployment figures, the widespread insecurity, the spiral of evictions, the debt slavery condemning a large part of the population, the privatization of public services, the enormous concentration of wealth and the subordination of public economies to banking interests all point in the opposite direction: inequality and economic subordination of the many (99%) to a few (1%).

The current democracy as well as the constitutional guarantees on which it is based have been completely ineffective in avoiding this situation. None of the mechanisms set out in the Constitution of 1978 – social rights, labor rights, public initiatives in the economic sphere and the subordination of the wealth to the social interest, among others – have been able to protect society from economic and financial interests. Neo-liberal policies have prevailed above any other criteria, including the common good. This despoilment is most evident now, in the midst of the crisis.

This Charter intends to recover the social resources which have been privatized and concentrated into a few hands, in order to make them available for a real democratic process. Thus, the framework proposed by austerity politics will not be accepted. Never before has there been so much wealth, but rarely has this been distributed so poorly and under such undemocratic and unfair criteria. Therefore, a full review of the functions of economic policies is required, in order to prioritize of the welfare of the population over private, financial and corporate profit. A real, and not just formal, recognition that the laws of the market must always be subsumed to the social functions of the economy is essential.

With the aim of promoting economic democracy, this charter considers five basic pillars:

1. Financial democracy

Financial wealth will be considered as a common resource, upon which the citizenship must have the capacity and ability to influence. “Who regulates are the people, not the market” is the maxim that inspired this point. To do so, procedures will be established for democratic decision making on the debt contracted during recent years, as well as on financial and real estate assets in public hands derived from the restructuring of financial markets and the banking sector. To this end, the following measures are proposed:

  • Citizen Debt Audit. This proposal allows distinction between those debts which are legitimate and those which are not. This audit will be articulated as a social process of democratic and financial education, whereby citizens may acquire greater capacity for decision making and control over the financial economy.
  • Creation of public utility institutions, with financial and real estate assets resulting from successive restructuring. These institutions, under strict democratic control, will serve the promotion of economic equality and social development.

2. Tax reform

The object of the reform entails the promotion of a broad redistribution of expenditures and benefits, so that a formal equality is also a guaranteed real material equitability with access to common and public goods.

  • Major proposals: the restoration of the principles of proportionality and escalation for both labor income and corporate profits; the implementation of new taxes on financial transactions and higher taxes on capital income; the decrease of indirect and consumption taxes, and prosecution of tax fraud. Tax reform will be based on a criteria of equality and equal tax treatment, as well as territorial solidarity.

3. Common and public goods

Privatization processes have shown that public administrations have not protected public resources against attempts at appropriation by private interests. The social recovery of these goods, as well as the democratization of their management, must guarantee their accessibility by the population as a whole.

  • All goods and basic infrastructure needed for the reproduction of life, political participation and the normal function of the economy will have the status of public-common goods. These public-common goods shall include: education, health, housing, security, transportation, information, and justice; important natural resources including water, atmosphere, soil, oceans, coasts, rivers and riverbanks, forests and natural areas of ecological and aesthetic importance; and major roads, highways, interchanges, railway infrastructure, ports, and the like.
  • Strategic resources and sectors of the economy, such as communications, energy, or mineral resources, will be reverted to a condition of public–common resources. The administration of those resources will be subject to a strict public and democratic control.  This will effectively reverse the tendency towards privatization that has been promoted in the last decades.
  • Public-common assets shall neither be alienated nor sold by public administrations. Being public-common property, they are considered the property of all persons residing in the Spanish State.
  • Public-common assets shall be managed in a democratic way, regulated and governed both by mechanisms of citizen participation and expert communities required for each case.

4. Promotion of the Social Economy and Democracy in Economic Relations

This Charter promotes citizen participation in business-related decision-making processes, especially in matters which could be crucial to the common interest. In addition, economic activity will be subordinated to criteria of integral profitability, i.e. social, environmental and economic.

  • It encourages the development of a new business model based on the principles of the social economy, cooperativism, and respect for the environment.
  • All companies should progressively organize around the following principles: equity, respect for the environment, transparency, and sustainable development. Equally, controls over wage distribution in companies will be observed, forestalling the present model of speculative accumulation and extravagant salaries, while rigorously vetoing the increase of precarious labor.
  • The fundamental principles of labor rights will be observed: the right to work freely or in exchange for just compensation; the protection of workers in situations of dependence; the right to rest and to retire; the right to autonomy and to dignified lives independent of wage labor, along with the right to strike, to form unions and to freely associate and assemble.

5. The expansion of social protection, the recognition of common resources, and the right to a dignified life

Our current system of Social Security is principally funded by income tax contributions and is only inclusive according to criteria of national legal identity. In a globalised context, where employment is scarce and non-remunerated work is seen as essential to the production of wealth, migration has become an elemental necessity for an impoverished population. As such, the prior bases of our system of social protection have proven to be increasingly inefficient and less inclusive.

An expansion of the pension system to comply with just and sufficient standards is required. Another requirement is an expansion of the support mechanisms and infrastructures for collective caretaking, which presently falls almost exclusively on families (particularly, women). Child-rearing duties are a collective responsibility with the following two requirements: the necessary budgetary development and allocation, and the creation of common infrastructures.

The production of non-GDP quantified wealth (in areas such as research, study, cultural, informational or communicative production) shall also be acknowledged through mechanisms for the recognition of all such non-remunerated wealth (such as a Basic Income), along with the creation of all the necessary infrastructures for the development of such mechanisms.

This new system of guarantees will be financed by the proposed measures for fiscal reform, especially through the taxation of financial profit and its circulation, while also reducing the proportion of income tax.

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Territorial Democracy

The current financial and economic crisis has shown the weakening of democracy at every level, as well as the fragility of territorial wealth-sharing mechanisms. The dictates of financial governance through austerity policies have established an extraordinary geography of inequality, plunging some countries and regions into the economic and social abyss.

The result is an important territorial split opening up both at the European level and in the Spanish state. In Europe, the absence of democratic intervention mechanisms and the crisis of sovereign debt have created a growing rift between a protected center and an increasingly impoverished periphery. In the Spanish state, the heavy indebtedness of municipalities and regions is leading to the dismantling of social protection systems and the sale of many public goods.

Both cases show a growing loss of territorial solidarity and the legitimacy of government institutions. This threatens a collapse that can only be addressed through a complete institutional reorganization based on democracy and territorial stewardship.

This charter invites discussion for a new territorial agreement at all levels, based on a radically democratic model. It is based on the assumption that decisions about the management of resources and services should be developed at the minimum level of the territorial unit, and forms of the distribution of wealth must be organized within the larger Commons to ensure equity between the territories.

In this way, it is intended to minimize the inequalities between them, compensating for the inequalities generated by models of territorial jurisdiction.

The new territorial agreement model shall be the result of democratic consultation and cooperation among the various territorial units. It should acknowledge the widest possible plurality, and build itself up from its residents’ right to democratically decide on their belonging or not to the different territorial units.

Territorial Democracy will be based on the following principles.

  • Joint responsibility and equality. Membership in the political association involves the acceptance of certain rules and communal constitutions, as well as the acceptance of a taxation system and a communal budget sufficient to correct social and territorial inequality. The new tax system shall be based on progressiveness and fiscal equity.
  • Subsidiarity. The management of resources and services as well as decisions on matters of public interest must be reduced to the minimum territorial unit in which it is most accessible to those residents responsible for such management or decisions. All services that can be better managed at smaller territorial scales will be managed at this level.
  • Financial autonomy and sufficiency. Each territorial unit must have an appropriate budget for the provision of those services for which it is responsible. This budget will be autonomously administered by the democratically managed citizen organisms established for this purpose. Moreover, this budget will not only be guaranteed by its binding resources, but additionally by territorial compensation mechanisms established at different territorial scales. Autonomy in the management of said budget does not exempt those territorial units from the provision of certain services and fiscal obligations to the supra-territorial treasury.

The institutional development of the different territorial scales will be carried out starting from the following principles:

1. Deepening of political democracy: self-government

  • To reclaim and develop all areas of participation and decision at every scale, building on the aforementioned formulas: the democratization of public powers and the extension of citizen participation and direct democracy mechanisms.
  • In accordance with the subsidiarity principle there shall be an inclination, whenever the scale of the processes and resources involved allows, toward developing local and direct democracy at a scale closest to the people, i.e., local governments and towns.
  • The democratic re-founding process is proposed not only at the Spanish State level, but also for the rest of the territorial scales.

2. Acknowledgement of the different scales and territorial realities and solidarity among them

  • The forms of political union which may result from these democratization processes shall take as their aim the rejection of the current forms of territorial competition, as well as wealth redistribution at all levels; from the supra state levels, to those which are immediate to people, such as townships.
  • European Union. The establishment of real fiscal, budgetary and banking cohesion directed at the practical elimination of the growing economic and social inequalities between countries, as well as of the controlling interests of the financial sector.
  • The Spanish State, the current autonomous communities and whichever territorial entities that shall arise from the territorial constitution processes. The principle of fiscal equity shall be accepted, the existence of a joint budget, and the wealth redistribution according to the equitable methods of the territorial distribution.
  • Municipalities. Financing and budgets, besides being subject to strict citizen control, will be guaranteed by distributive mechanisms accorded at the highest scales (regional, state-level and European Union) so as not to be dependent on property and land speculation.

3. The European scale of the process

  • In the European sphere, a new constitution shall guarantee all the fundamental rights for every part of the Union, the political participation possibilities, the share-out conditions and the distribution of wealth, and a thoroughly democratic political structure.
  • In the case that these minimums would not be guaranteed by the European Union, the various comprising territories could develop new territorial alliances from their own constituent political processes, in order to guarantee the previously mentioned principles and therefore their own collective survival.

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This translation has also been republished in:

 


Guerrilla Translation/Related:Overcoming the Shock DoctrineSoy PúblicaIntegral Revolution/ Enric DuranPhyles and the new communalism/ David de Ugarte & Carla Boserman

 

Overcoming the Shock Doctrine

Soy Pública

Lately, we’ve been talking about the techniques of manipulation used by the government and mass media, regarding the privatization of public education, and all public benefits.

In these first months of legislature, the better part of this manipulation has been aimed at rendering us into a state of shock, after which, intimidated and paralyzed, we would not react against the losses of rights brutally imposed on us. The measures, announcements and declarations of the autonomic and central governments are meted out to us day by day, gradually, like a poisonous drip of constant anxiety.  Relentlessly, the media – in some cases, better to say “propagandists” – continues their tireless preaching, like a disheartening echo of bad news from on high (from the council of ministers or the rating agencies).

Naomi Klein explains in her book, “The Shock Doctrine”, how neo-liberalism, unable to convince people by means of argument (since these neo-liberal measures are essentially anti-people), has only been able to impose itself via coups d’etat, declarations of war, situations of catastrophic natural disaster, or other traumatic phenomena, leaving the public in the grip of anxiety and fear.

And what, if not fear, are they trying to inoculate us with in this country? Fear of losing our jobs, for example, or of never again being able to find work, or of being offered nothing more than exploitation, plain and simple; fear of losing the right to healthcare,l or being unable to provide adequate education for children; fear of ending up foreclosure victims, sleeping on the street; fear, finally, of being unjustly arrested for peacefully protesting at a demonstration.

In this article, we examine how the shock doctrine takes effect on us under the name “learned helplessness”. But also, how we can escape this state of despondency if we learn to correctly attribute the causes of our malaise.

Learned Helplessness, a weapon of mass destruction

It’s true enough that the powers that be treat us like dogs, or at least like the dogs in Seligman’s experiment.

At the end of the Sixties, psychologist Martin Seligman carried out the following experiment. Inside a lab cage, a dog was exposed to a series of unavoidable electric shocks. Meanwhile, in a different cage, another dog would be able to interrupt these shocks by pressing a lever. Later, both dogs would be situated over an electrified surface from which they could escape by simply jumping over a barrier. The dog that had been able to control the electric shocks would jump the barrier, while the other dog, instead of looking for a successful exit from an adverse situation, stayed, passively bearing the shocks. This dog had “learned” his helplessness. Why waste the energy trying to escape from the negative stimuli when you know (really, more like believe) that you can’t?

Learned helplessness leads to depression. Not doing anything, because you think it’s all useless.

In the following video, we see a teacher inducing learned helplessness on a group of students through a simple activity.

From this we can infer that, given the current power of media propaganda, it’s feasible to induce a state of depression in large sectors of the population. Thanks to this video, it’s easier to understand why the victims of Nazi Germany accepted their deaths with little resistance, in much the same way that abused women often accept their fate with resignation:

To activate English subtitles, press captions button at the lower right

It’s terrible, isn’t it? But not as terrible as realizing that this inoculation by way of learned helplessness is, precisely, what’s being done to us. Right now. They’re trying to convince us to passively accept the loss of our rights and the privatization of public services with no resistance or protest. The slogan is: it’s useless no matter what we do.

We, like the dogs in Seligman’s experiments, are submitted to shocks, better known by their euphemisms “adjustments” or “cuts”. These shocks are apparently unavoidable, no matter how many times we go on strike, take part in informative actions or protests. Furthermore, many protesters become victims of unjustified arrests and preemptive prison sentences, hardly compatible with fundamental human rights.

Greece, which has suffered this commons-stripping for far longer, has seen depression spread like wildfire among the people. The suicide rate has skyrocketed. In his article entitled “¿Y si no hiciésemos nada?” (And what if we didn’t do anything?), philosopher Amador Fernández-Savater echoes this desperation that has taken hold of the Greeks.

More than 10 general strikes in Greece, but has anything been achieved? Alexandra-Odette Kypriotaki has taken part in the movement since 2008, only to move to London with that very question in mind. “In my country, you can’t even find a job as a waitress”, she told me. I met her in a meeting organised by thinker-activist Franco Berardi (Bifo) in Barcelona. Her presentation there was as evocative as it was challenging.

Reflecting on the underlying logic of conflict and protest, both impotent in preventing social devastation, repression and destruction, Alexandra proposed a new start from a different angle. “Neither fighting nor confronting, but deserting; neither demanding nor pleading, but unfolding, here and now, the world we want to live in. Neither taking action nor mobilising, but giving ourselves over to abandon. Turning our weakness into strength.”

Capitalism demands from us a constant disposition towards desire, contact, production. Where time is permanently occupied and under pressure to deliver results. Nowadays, being happy, optimistic and positive is obligatory. We must constantly project the image of knowing what’s up, that everything is going fine, it’s all under control, and we’re strong. But, doesn’t political activism often demand the same? Struggle, results, a ready answer for everything, constant high morale, rejection of the meek, doubtful and melancholic…

Couldn’t we muster up an army of the weak, the clumsy, the ignorant? The rallying cry could be, “Yes, we’re depressed, so what?” The program: “I don’t know”. The strike, doing absolutely nothing, not even mobilising ourselves. Do nothing day… Wednesday, then Thursday and so on.”

The figure of the helpless punisher

Arbitrary electric shocks, administered at regular intervals and beyond our control. Shocks, or the looting they call “cuts” or “deficit control”. Psychological abuse, bordering on the limits of, what just a few months ago, would have seemed like dystopian fiction: “IMF Requests That Pensions be Lowered Because of “The Risk That People Will Live Longer Than Expected”.

Rating agencies, international organisms (IMF, WB, OECD, WTO) in service to the financial elite, the European commission and the ECB… they all subject us to a series of demands and adjustments, gradual though inexorable. Of course, we are assured there is nothing we can do. On the other hand, cases like Iceland are silenced in the mass media.

What is the role of our leaders in this situation? Simply, to be efficient executors of this pillage ordered “from above”. “We have to do what we have to do”; “The European Union demands it from us”; “We must increase confidence in the markets”, etc.

There’s no point labelling the politicians who carry out these tasks as “evil” or “sadistic”, although it’s often tempting, given some of their statements. In her book Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt expressed her concept of the banality of evil: a mediocre Nazi civil servant like Adolf Eichmann was perfectly able to perform mass murders, not out of cruelty, but simply because he acted from within the rules of the system he belonged to, without reflecting on his acts. What Eichmann did was expertly carry out orders given from superiors, just as politicians in government do with the mandates of those representing the interests of financial capital. And they are unable to question the rules they follow, having been blinded by the tenets of the dominant ideology, neo-liberalism, which additionally legitimises the fact that these same leaders – or their friends and family – profit from it in ways which we would consider immoral, thanks to the loss of social rights of the citizenry and the privatization of the public sector.

Adding insult to injury, the government can even present itself to public opinion as mere victims of learned helplessness. This is typified by phrases like “I’d like to do something else, but I can’t do anything; the orders come from above. If I acted differently, the consequences would be much worse”. These selfsame heads of state become public models for learned helplessness. And, as we well know, the best way to lead is by example. This was the case when former Spanish president José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero was called by Barack Obama. But now, with our current president, Mariano Rajoy, this phenomenon has been so exacerbated that he himself has become a living example of helplessness and weakness, with his cheat sheets at public appearances, his absences, his gestures and actions. Here we see him in the Senate, running away from journalists eager to ask him about the latest budget cuts in education and healthcare:

In conclusion, what these politicians are showing us by “playing helpless” is that our country is no longer sovereign, but subject to the orders of those truly in charge: the famous “markets”. So why not be honest and consistent, and simply resign, and let Spain become a protectorate of financial capital just like Italy and Greece? Perhaps our role within the shock doctrine has not yet been totally fulfilled. We’re still not fully subject to learned helplessness. But how can we prevent it from defeating us completely?

Better living through attribution

To fend off learned helplessness, Seligman applies Fritz Heider’s attribution theory. In Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, he studies three dimensions or characteristics of the attributional style, also called causal attribution:

  1. Personalisation: whereby internal or external causes are attributed to good or bad events. Either I feel guilty when I do something wrong “because that’s the way I am”, or I’m able to externalise the problem and hold myself responsible for making changes. This dimension is related to self-esteem. Attributing bad events to external causes increases immunity to learned helplessness.
  2. Permanence: the duration, stability or instability in time which we attribute the causes underlying good or bad events. Extreme examples are expressed through discourse in the always – never poles. Thinking that the causes behind bad events are stable, permanent or even definitive, makes us more vulnerable to learned helplessness.
  3. Penetration: how many areas in our lives are affected by our good or bad luck, whether these causes affect us globally or specifically. Expressed through discourse in the all-nothing extremes.

On the other hand, in their paper on learned helplessness and its immunisation in human subjects, José Ramón Yela Bernabé and José Luis Marcos Malmierca also refer to the importance of our controllability of events.

1) Depersonalisation: the problem lies in the situation, not within us

Another strategy used by the powers that be to trigger learned helplessness is encouraging us to blame ourselves for what is happening. We’re told that we’ve “lived beyond our means”, when in reality, the means allowed to those at the bottom were well below the standards of a decent life, as evidenced by low wages and the lack of basic resources such as housing.

Geographer David Harvey offers his systemic explanation for what is happening. According to him, we’re living through a process of accumulation by dispossession. With the fall in wages since the 70s, increases in profits are being absorbed by the capitalist class due to the privatization of common goods, the financialization of the economy, the management and manipulation of the crisis, and the uneven redistribution of resources. The author gives an overview of the current crisis in the following video:

Authors such as Vicenç Navarro have pointed out that the lack of resources amongst popular classes has provoked rising debt levels, and not the other way around. Had we enjoyed a public policy defending universal access to decent housing, people wouldn’t have gone into such levels of debt, and the housing and credit bubbles that led to the crisis never would have occurred.

So, we shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking that the blame for this “crisis” (accumulation by dispossession) is ours. We must get beyond the mass media information overload, and analyse the underlying causes of the current social, economic and cultural model so we can help mitigate the harmful effects, and even propose new and different alternative models.

2) The crisis is also a crisis of the dominant economic paradigm

Regarding the stability of the source of our problem, we must ask ourselves: can this accumulation by dispossession go on forever? Are we now at the endpoint of history? Far from it. Many have pointed out that we are living through a global crisis in capitalism owing to ecological limits which impede the model of infinite accumulation and growth. The late Spanish ecologist Ramón Fernández Durán has, like many others, indicated that the predictable depletion of fossil fuels will lead to the collapse of our civilisation.

The documentary “The Story of Stuff” does a fine job of describing the human and ecological limits of the current mode of production:

So, instead of worrying about what’s happening, shouldn’t we be looking for alternatives already?

3) Opportunities for emancipation

Regarding the penetration of the problem; is our entire being negatively affected by this pillaging of the Commons?

While the crisis/scam is undoubtedly affecting a good portion of our lives, due to unemployment, ever worsening public services and the loss of human rights, it’s also worth remembering that there is life – a lot of life – beyond the crisis.

Now is the time to explore new ways of relating to ourselves, to others and to our environment. The time to look for new modes of life.

This economic model, even at its peak, was still the cause of dissatisfaction. Beneath the surface of consumerism, mutated into a pyramid scheme thanks to the abundance of easy credit, lurked a modern version of King Midas. Everything touched by the model was converted into goods, right down to our lives and the most intimate corners of our minds.

Alienation has never reached such extremes. While in the times of Fordism and mass production, the worker was alienated during his or her work time; nowadays, capital extracts profits from the totality of our lives.

The Commons, that which we all share, is what’s being “expropriated” by some, the 1% of the population, to keep on accumulating capital. Advertising appropriates our common culture to invade our brains with consumer programming. We relate to others under the criteria informed by rentability, and we ourselves become merchandise to be sold off in the labour market or when we try to draw benefits in our personal lives.

The part of our lives affected by the crisis is, therefore, miniscule compared with everything that this crisis of the system can offer us:

The best way to increase happiness is through interpersonal relationships. Fostering cooperative relationships instead of those based on competition. All that’s given shall not be lost.

Not allowing cognitive creation (our thoughts, arts, and knowledge) to be expropriated from the common intellect by means of so-called intellectual property; an illegitimate appropriation that answers to the interests of big corporations dedicated to the production and distribution of cultural and technological products.

The promotion of commons-based economy, where instead of rentability, value resides in a model of cooperative enterprises dedicated to improving both society and the environment.

Ending the predominance of financial economy over productive economy. Overcoming the scam that is the private issue of money as debt which enslaves persons and peoples through its mechanisms.

Rallying for initiatives such as basic income, so that people may work freely, and not be forced to work for subsistence. Natural resources are a common good.

And, to complement this basic income, why not propose — as F.D. Roosevelt did in his day —  a wage ceiling, to be taxed at a rate of 100% once surpassed? As J.J Rousseau wrote in The Social Contract, “…in respect of riches, no citizen shall ever be wealthy enough to buy another, and none poor enough to be forced to sell himself.”

Value ecological proposals such as degrowth: consuming less, manufacturing less, designing totally recyclable objects and using less energy. Developing local economies.

Constructing autonomous distribution channels independent from the large-scale distributors that control practically all commercial activity, from production to retail.

Reconstruct the public sphere in a truly democratic manner, with the participation of everyone and as equals.

The future is, partly, in our hands

Finally, what is our capacity for control of our situation? In the previously cited article, Yela Bernabé and José Luis Marcos Malmierca argue that, in order to immunize ourselves from learned helplessness, the best thing is to have encountered neither success nor failure exclusively. Be conscious that there are things which we can control, and things which we cannot. As Epicurus remarked: “We must remember that the future is neither wholly ours nor wholly not ours, so that neither must we count upon it as quite certain to come nor despair of it as quite certain not to come.”

There are many examples of resistance to accumulation by dispossession that have triumphed in the world, such as the water in Bolivia or the insurrection in Chiapas. Never forget that history is mostly written by those above, who are happy to remind us only of the defeats suffered by those who struggled for emancipation.

Here in Spain, despite the clumsy first steps of a child learning to walk, the 15 M movement has obtained some notable successes as well as international projection. It has raised awareness about the root of our problems among a large sector of the population, it has put together very diverse social movements and it represents an excellent starting point for the development of cooperatives and solidarity networks.

Of course, we will make mistakes, but errors are what make us wiser.

Acting to open possibilities

In summary, faced with the fear that surrounds us, we must always remember that what is happening is not our fault, that the crisis is a crisis of the current economic model –  which is not stable, it is anything but stable – and that this change can be an opportunity for a new, more humane world, free from the tyranny of money and other goods.

And, above all, let us never forget Alain Badiou’s teaching: we must act. Our actions do not have to fall within what’s possible; instead, the action itself can open up a new space of possibility. “A subject is a point of conversion of the possible into the possible. The fundamental operation of the subject is to be at the point where something impossible becomes a possibility”.


Guerrilla Translation/Related:https://guerrillatranslation.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/unity-without-convergence-e1383342540180.jpgUnity sans Convergence/ Madrilonia/@PinkNoise RevDisneyland: An Immunized UtopiaJuan Domingo Sánchez EstopStrength and Power: Reimagining RevolutionAmador Fernández-Savater

A call for the World Record of people shouting, “You’ll never own a house in your whole fucking life”

Ah, the joys of homeownership and mortgage payments. We at Guerrilla Translation take these issues very seriously, so we’ve brought in an expert to tackle this ever pressing concern.

Artivitist Leónidas Martin is the co-author of our recent translation “12 Inspired Actions to Outsmart Repressive Situations and Laws”. In the following lines (and videos), Leo reminisces about an illustrious career characterised by smashing world records, and interviews some of his buddies addressing the housing crisis in their own peculiar way.

First up, we have the TV ad leading up to the world record…

“A call for the World Record we set for the most people shouting, “You’ll never own a house in your whole fucking life” (sadly, Guinness wouldn’t recognize our feat). An event that gathered hundreds and hundreds of people in cities all over Spain to shout, collectively and publicly, what had been experienced until that moment as a personal problem.”

How did this illustrious event come into being?

The baby says "The mortgage is KILLING ME!"

The baby says “The mortgage is KILLING ME!”

An anonymous email started making the rounds on the net, summoning thousands of people to protest against rising home prices and speculation on May 14th 2006, at the same hour, all across Spain. The protest was repeated during many a subsequent Sunday and, lo and behold, something like a social movement had sprung up, with a regular assembly organising a bevy of activities (marches, press conferences, actions, media appearances, etc). Within this context, it didn’t take us long to realise that we were a varied bunch: graphic designers, teachers, activists, hairdressers, actors… the lot. This held a potential, a cornucopia of riches that we immediately exploited; this is the origin of all the design and creative elements that made Vdevivienda 1 such a visible phenomenon (graphic campaigns, videos, action staging, etc). Every production made within this open, creative, diverse and cooperative framework was an example of collaborative creation. It was delightful.

And to wrap it up, this thrilling Ramones-song-length documentary on the making-of the World Record. Here’s what Leo has to say on the subject:

The "Fuck-o-meter". You saw it here first.

The “Fuck-o-meter”. You saw it here first.

On October 6th, 2007, we beat a new world record. Thousands of people in cities all across Spain simultaneously shouted: “You won’t own a house IN YOUR WHOLE FUCKING LIFE!” The decibels radiating from this collective cry were registered by an interactive meter, baptised “The Fuck-o-meter” for the occasion. The sheer intensity and volume of this vociferation was reflected in real time and projected on a massive screen by a stage, whereupon a group of actors, showmen and activists hosted the proceedings for this grand public intervention. That was a day we made ourselves heard; man, did we ever make ourselves heard…

Bonus! We didn’t translate this one, because Leo is possessed of full English-speaking Ninjahood. See him here, waxing lyrical on the joys of the Spanish revolution….

1. [Or “H is for Housing” a wordplay on V for Vendetta.]

Las raíces internacionales del 99%

https://guerrillatranslation.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/las-raices-internacionales-del-99-3-e1389046033982.pngJeffrey Lawrence

El 19 de septiembre de 2011, dos días después del comienzo de la ocupación de Zucotti Park en Nueva York, dos de los españoles del 15-M que participaron en la organización de Occupy Wall Street estaban preocupados. Como los demás simpatizantes del 15-M que asistían a las reuniones preparatorias, Begonia Santa Cecilia y Luis Moreno-Caballud habían imaginado que el campamento en el corazón de Wall Street sería algo parecido a las acampadas que habían visto en España ese mismo año: espacios hospitalarios y abiertos en plazas públicas donde se congregaban grupos diversos de gente. Sin embargo, las cosas no eran así. El parque estaba rodeado de furgonetas de policía y los escasos y homogéneos manifestantes gritaban a los agentes y a los curiosos que pasaban por allí. Además, las propias asambleas se habían vuelto rápidamente conflictivas. Moreno-Caballud y Santa Cecilia decidieron proponer un cambio de táctica, enviando un email al grupo de trabajo de Extensión, que se ocupaba de comunicar el mensaje de Occupy al exterior.

El propósito de ese email era simple. Occupy tenía que enfatizar que no era una protesta más “contra el sistema”, sino un movimiento que estaba creando un espacio físico y conceptual en el que la gente podía encontrarse para hablar, escuchar y formular soluciones alternativas a la crisis económica y política global. Releyendo los emails organizativos y pensando retroactivamente sobre los debates de las asambleas preparatorias, los dos españoles decidieron revitalizar un slogan que había sido formulado a través de un proceso colectivo en los días previos a la ocupación: “Somos el 99%”. Enviaron un email con el asunto “#Occupy Wall Street sobrevive transformándose en #Somos el 99%”:

“Parece que #Occupy Wall Street necesita urgentemente una operación masiva de ampliación para sobrevivir. La clave para el éxito del movimiento es que sea inclusivo. Ahora mismo el movimiento es demasiado homogéneo, debido al imaginario y al lenguaje “activista” con que se identifica… Propongo que empecemos hoy una rápida y masiva campaña de extensión con esta idea: #SomosEl99% -Este es el plan: ponemos toda nuestra energía y recursos en anunciar el día de #SomosEl99%, que tendrá lugar el próximo sábado 23, en nuestro espacio en Zuccotti/Liberty Park.”

Dos días después, Justin Molito, otro miembro del grupo de Extensión, empezó a imprimir flyers. Para el fin de semana, la campaña del 99% estaba en marcha y #WeAreThe99% (“SomosEl99%”) era “trending topic” en Twitter. En dos semanas, aparecieron acampadas en más de cincuenta ciudades norteamericanas. Se coreaba “Somos el 99%” en todo el país, y después en todo el mundo. El movimiento del 99% se había hecho global.

Resulta útil pararse un momento a recordar lo profundamente que caló el slogan “Somos el 99%” en la conciencia nacional americana, a partir de los meses de octubre y noviembre de 2011. Quizás estamos todavía demasiado cerca de esos meses de Occupy para entender completamente cómo, en un país que se enorgullece de hablar en nombre de la clase media, la retórica del 99% y del 1% ha reconfigurado el vocabulario político. De hecho, parece probable que dentro de unos diez años esos meses sean vistos como el momento clave para las elecciones presidenciales de 2012: el momento en que un Obama muy tocado por los desastrosos resultados de las elecciones legislativas y por su fracaso en el conflicto del “techo de deuda” con los republicanos pudo por fin apuntarse un tanto populista, gracias al vocabulario introducido por Occupy. Pero, ¿cómo llego a suceder todo esto?

Hay muchas percepciones falsas sobre la historia del movimiento Occupy en EE.UU. Desde los primeros días de Occupy Wall Street, cuando la periodista del New York Times Gina Belafonte se refirió al campamento de Zucotti Park como “la protesta política convertida en espectáculo”, los medios masivos norteamericanos presentaron a Occupy como un hatajo de individuos insatisfechos y con dificultades para encontrar un propósito en sus vidas. Al mismo tiempo, los simpatizantes del movimiento a menudo han dado una versión sobre sus orígenes que gira en torno a las actividades de un grupo de organizadores americanos que consiguieron de alguna manera capturar la imaginación pública. Este texto propone una narrativa diferente: la historia de cómo un grupo de extranjeros que trajeron tácticas y experiencias de movimientos sociales recientes en otros países articularon algunas de las ideas más persuasivas y de las prácticas más duraderas que iban a surgir del movimiento Occupy.


I.  Los participantes internacionales de Occupy Wall Street

http://tropicsofmeta.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/we-are-the-99.pngDesde el 13 de agosto al 10 de septiembre de 2011, asistí a los encuentros de la Asamblea General de Nueva York (AGNY) en el parque de Tompkins Square, en Manhattan. En estas “asambleas generales” semanales, abiertas a cualquiera que quisiera participar, un grupo de unas cincuenta o sesenta personas planeó la acampada y la ocupación de Wall Street para el 17 de septiembre. Fui, por tanto, testigo de la prehistoria de Occupy Wall Street, aunque reconozco que fue más por curiosidad que por convicción. Hasta ese momento yo me hubiera calificado como miembro de la izquierda “distraída” −había dedicado tiempo y esfuerzo a varias iniciativas políticas y sociales sin sentirme totalmente responsable de esas causas (y sin que nadie me lo exigiera). Las asambleas previas a Occupy Wall Street me abrieron los ojos, pero como aún me resistía a intervenir en los debates y las deliberaciones tácticas, me limitaba a intercambiar opiniones con otros participantes antes y después de las asambleas. Gracias a mi tendencia a mantenerme al margen del reducido núcleo de estas reuniones, pude observar la dinámica asamblearia desde una perspectiva que la mayoría de los integrantes más activos no pudieron permitirse. Aunque he seguido participando en asambleas, grupos de trabajo y convocatorias de Occupy a lo largo de un año y medio, me he mantenido mayormente en la periferia del movimiento. Desde esa posición de participante a la vez que observador, he podido constatar lo poco que se sabe aún de los inicios de Occupy Wall Street.

La historia estándar de Occupy Wall Street en los Estados Unidos es que la izquierda americana fue capaz finalmente de promover un movimiento colectivo para combatir los abusos de las élites político-financieras, en la estela de la crisis económica de 2008. Incluso los artículos que han reconocido las conexiones internacionales de Occupy normalmente las han caracterizado en términos de inspiración indirecta de los movimientos sociales de 2011 en Egipto, Grecia, España y otros lugares.

Sin embargo, lo que yo vi en estos encuentros y lo que he sido capaz de reconstruir estudiando los primeros documentos de la Asamblea General de NYC, es que cerca de un 40 o 50% de los participantes en las asambleas de agosto y septiembre de 2011 provenían de lugares que no eran Estados Unidos: España, Brasil, Irán, Grecia, Armenia, Japón, India, Palestina, Argentina, Rusia e Italia, además de la nación Choctaw y Puerto Rico. Solamente un artículo aparecido en los medios durante el primer mes de Occupy Wall Street se enfocaba parcialmente en las raíces internacionales del movimiento, “Cómo empezó realmente Occupy Wall Street”, publicado por Andy Kroll en la revista Mother Jones el día 17 de octubre. Bajo mi punto de vista, su provocadora pero legítima afirmación de que los participantes extranjeros eran al menos tan importantes como los americanos en la organización de Occupy Wall Street, no fue tomada en serio en ningún otro lugar.

Lo más sorprendente, quizá, sea el modo en el que destacados intelectuales de la izquierda, y muchos del movimiento mismo, comenzaron a ensayar ese relato de la inspiración indirecta, y no la participación directa, una vez que Occupy se extendió por el mundo. Al contrario de lo que uno esperaría, los principales teóricos académicos de Occupy se han basado en gran medida en la versión mediática de los orígenes del movimiento, aunque hayan dado más relevancia al impulso internacional del movimiento, frente al nacional, e idealizado lo que la prensa ha tendido a demonizar. Me inquietó que el académico y teórico político norteamericano Michael Hardt hablase de las “continuidades invisibles” de los nuevos movimientos sociales durante una charla sobre “El derecho a los comunes” en la Universidad de Princeton en noviembre de 2012, como si Occupy solo se pudiera conectar con Madrid y Atenas mediante una analogía. En su ahora famosa “Declaración” de mayo del 2012, Hardt y Antonio Negri emplean un lenguaje metafórico casi idéntico al de los medios de comunicación masivos para describir los movimientos sociales de 2011: las acampadas “se inspiraron en” las revueltas, los ocupadores de Wall Street “tomaron el relevo” de los indignados europeos, y los manifestantes de todo el mundo “reconocieron la resonancia”. En su empeño por atribuir los movimientos alrededor del mundo a una “multitud” horizontal, sin rostro ni nombre, Hardt y Negri no parecen contemplar la posibilidad de que alguno de esos manifestantes hubieran tomado un avión. ¿Los historiadores materialistas no dan ninguna importancia al hecho de que la participación de extranjeros en estos movimientos no fue sólo virtual sino también presencial?

NingunPero mi objetivo aquí, en cualquier caso, no es simplemente recuperar la importancia de los participantes internacionales. Desde los primeros días de la Asamblea General de NYC y de la organización de Occupy Wall Street, existieron visiones distintas sobre los propósitos del movimiento. Paradójicamente, aunque la mayoría de las interpretaciones de Occupy han tendido a marginalizar a las voces extranjeras del movimiento, fueron éstas las que resonaron más profundamente tanto en Estados Unidos como en el resto del mundo.  Al relatar la historia de los participantes internacionales, espero ofrecer algunas posibilidades futuras para la actual ola de movimientos sociales que están latentes en estos personajes olvidados de la historia de Occupy. Me centro concretamente en los españoles que contribuyeron a Occupy Wall Street porque creo que sus ideas y sus prácticas fueron absolutamente cruciales en las fases emergentes del movimiento ─el contingente español solía constituir entre el diez y el veinte por ciento de los asistentes a las pequeñas asambleas organizativas─ y porque presencié esas prácticas de cerca. Al igual que Moreno Caballud y Santa Cecilia, otros españoles acababan de retornar de España, donde habían participado en el movimiento 15-M, conocido también como el movimiento de los indignados, que estalló el 15 de mayo de 2011 con una manifestación a escala nacional contra la corrupción de las élites políticas y financieras del país y que desembocó en el levantamiento de numerosas acampadas en las principales plazas de ciudades de todo el estado. Para julio de 2011, el 15-M había conseguido el apoyo del 80% de los ciudadanos españoles y se estima que el movimiento ha llegado a atraer a entre seis y ocho millones de personas a las acampadas de Madrid, Barcelona y muchas otras ciudades. Además del entusiasmo y la convicción nacidos de haber sido testigos de ese movimiento verdaderamente popular, el contingente español de Occupy trajo también un principio que se había gestado en las acampadas españolas.

Este principio era lo que estos españoles comenzaron a llamar “la política de cualquiera”: la creencia en que los movimientos sociales deberían estar compuestos por cualquiera que quiera participar en ellos. Aunque “horizontalidad” se había convertido en un palabra clave en los movimientos autónomos y anti-globalización de los 80’s y 90’s para referirse al proceso de creación de consenso en las asambleas populares, la concepción de Occupy que tenían los españoles estaba menos orientada hacia esas actividades internas de las asambleas –grupos “autónomos” que practican la “acción directa”- que hacia la participación de la gente en general, estuvieran o no en las asambleas. Es decir, les preocupaba más la inclusividad que la horizontalidad del movimiento. Para ellos un movimiento “sin líderes” era importante no sólo porque estableciera un protocolo para asambleas no-jerárquicas, sino sobre todo porque desdibujaba los límites entre el “dentro” y el “fuera” del movimiento.

El contingente español a menudo repetía la frase: “nos importa menos el propio Occupy que lo que Occupy genera”. Les había impresionado la manera en que, durante el 15-M, los activistas habían cedido autoridad y agencia a cualquiera que llegaba para participar en las acampadas, y exigían que el lenguaje del movimiento fuera accesible para quienes no eran activistas ni académicos. Por todo ello, consideraban que la acampada en Wall Street no debía ser sólo un lugar para protestar contra los excesos de las instituciones financieras americanas, sino también, más fundamentalmente, un espacio para la construcción de una sociedad alternativa en la que la cooperación y la ayuda mutua sustituyera a la competición económica. En cierto sentido, esta idea concordaba con los principios anarquistas de auto-gestión que su compañero de asambleas, el antropólogo David Graeber, expuso en su ahora ya icónico artículo “Las raíces anarquistas de Occupy Wall Street”. Graeber, una de las caras más visibles del movimiento en la escena internacional, ha reconocido por lo demás en numerosas ocasiones la importancia de la contribución de los “indignados” españoles a la creación de Occupy Wall Street (por ejemplo, aquí). Pero a la mayoría de los españoles de Occupy les preocupaba que un énfasis exagerado en los procesos asamblearios pudiera crear un aislamiento de la comunidad “radical” en lugar de un movimiento inclusivo. El éxito de Occupy Wall Street, pensaban, no consistiría en “traer a gente al movimiento” para que escuchara su retórica, sino en expandir el movimiento –sus propósitos, su vocabulario y sus prácticas- para que cualquiera pudiera contribuir a su construcción.

Me resulta difícil explicar tales principios por escrito ya que la eficacia del contingente español de Occupy residía sobre todo en cómo decían lo que decían y cómo hacían lo que hacían. Recuerdo a un americano que hablaba en términos casi religiosos de la “fe inquebrantable” de los españoles, y a otro (algo menos entusiasta) que señaló que él era uno de los pocos asistentes a la AGNY que no hablaba español (estadounidenses incluídos). Sin duda, anécdotas personales como estas suelen dar una impresión distorsionada de los múltiples significados, fuentes e interpretaciones de un acontecimiento político. Estos puntos de vista tienen tanto de interpretación como de observación, como diría seguramente el antropólogo Clifford Geertz. Sin embargo, también soy consciente de que el tipo de teorización global sobre Occupy ofrecida por Hardt y Negri tiende a simplificar las complejas trayectorias y contingencias de los movimientos sociales. Cuando hablé con Hardt tras su ponencia en Princeton, me comentó que sabía de la presencia internacional en la prehistoria de Occupy pero tan sólo de manera “anecdótica”, una respuesta que me dejó un tanto insatisfecho. Una de las preocupaciones más acuciantes para cualquiera que desee comprender el movimiento Occupy es precisamente cómo relacionar la enorme escala de los nuevos movimientos sociales con la creciente sensación de que expresan las crisis que nos afectan en nuestro día a día. Es por eso, creo yo, que debemos estar abiertos a explorar alternativas tanto a la teorización abstracta como a las típicas reconstrucciones periodísticas del movimiento que tienden a elevar lo anecdótico al fijarse en el detalle pintoresco, la entrevista al “tío más siniestro de la acampada”, o el dramático tira y afloja de los debates entre militantes. Combinaré, por tanto, las observaciones personales con el análisis, reflejando así no sólo los conceptos centrales del movimiento sino también cómo y cuándo se pusieron en práctica (o no) estas ideas.


II.  Occupy ama al 15M

El tránsito de estas gentes, prácticas e ideas entre España y Estados Unidos en el verano de 2011 generó mucha de la energía que iba a impulsar los esfuerzos organizativos de Occupy en agosto y septiembre del mismo año. Por supuesto muchos tipos de protesta y tendencias políticas diferentes convergieron en la formación de Occupy Wall Street. El movimiento debe mucho a las campañas anti-globalización de Seattle y Argentina en el cambio de milenio, a las protestas pro-democracia de la primavera árabe cuya onda expansiva circulaba ya por Occidente y a la llamada a la propagación de acampadas de protesta americanas realizada por la revista canadiense Adbusters durante los calurosos días del verano de 2011. En julio, la coalición New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts (“Neoyorquinos contra los recortes de presupuesto”) probó la idea erigiendo unas pocas tiendas de campaña junto al City Hall: el campamento que llamaron “Bloombergville” (en referencia al alcalde de la ciudad, Michael Bloomberg).

Pero incluso antes de estas iniciativas norteamericanas, el impulso para lo que se convertiría en el movimiento Occupy empezó en Nueva York con una manifestación en solidaridad con el movimiento 15-M en Washington Square, el día 21 de Mayo de 2011. Durante las seis semanas siguientes, un grupo de españoles reunidos bajo el nombre “Democracia Real Ya – NYC”, entre ellos algunos que llevaban bastante tiempo viviendo en Nueva York, se dieron cita semanalmente en el salón de actos de un bar español para solidarizarse con el 15-M y comentar la posibilidad de que un movimiento similar pudiera suceder en Estados Unidos. César Arenas-Mena y Moreno-Caballud comenzaron a asistir a las reuniones de New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts hacia mitad de julio, y el día 27 del mismo mes, tuvo lugar una charla informativa sobre el 15-M en la librería feminista de Manhattan Bluestockings. El momento clave de esta fase previa, sin embargo, lo constituyó un encuentro organizativo en el espacio de arte y activismo situado en el corazón de Wall Street 16Beaver, el día 31 de julio. El encuentro, llamado “For General Assemblies in Every Part of the World” (“Por asambleas generales en todas partes del mundo”) y organizado por Ayreen Anastas, Rene Gabri, Xavi Acarin y Moreno-Caballlud, entre otros, reunió a participantes en acampadas españolas con griegos que protestaban en la plaza Syntagma, además de activistas japoneses, palestinos y americanos (algunos organizadores de Bloombergville entre ellos). En esta reunión se anunció la primera asamblea de la Asamblea General de Nueva York (en aquel momento conocida como la Asamblea General Popular sobre los Recortes), que iba a tener lugar el 2 de agosto.

Durante los días siguientes, la frase más icónica y duradera de Occupy, “Somos el 99%”, fue acuñada por una serie de participantes de la Asamblea General de NY. El contingente español fue absolutamente crucial en esta articulación. El 4 de agosto, se inició un hilo de emails titulado “Una única demanda”, en la recién creada lista de correo “Septiembre 17”.  Uno de los aspectos más fascinantes de esta serie de correos es que desmonta la teoría de la ingenuidad del movimiento por rehuir la formulación de una “demanda oficial” porque deja constancia de la intensidad y la perceptividad con la que los integrantes del movimiento debatían la necesidad de presentar demandas en la fase inicial de Occupy Wall Street. También demuestra que la idea de Occupy Wall Street como movimiento del 99% no fue “inventada” por un solo manifestante sino que, de hecho, fue desarrollada pacientemente por varias voces a lo largo del tiempo. Así pues, al contar la historia de los orígenes de la frase, resisto la tentación de tratar de identificar a un “pionero” pero sí quisiera documentar las contribuciones concretas de un amplio conjunto de personas al concepto de un movimiento del 99%.

El americano Willie Osterweil, recién llegado de las acampadas en Barcelona, comenzó la discusión señalando que esta “única demanda” del movimiento debería ser lo suficientemente amplia para incluir a todo el mundo: “No queremos observadores, queremos participantes”. Lorenzo Serna, un miembro latino e hispanohablante del grupo de Extensión respondió diciendo que tal vez lo que necesitaba no era una única demanda sino un mensaje único, algo que pudiera ser “fácilmente transferible de mi a cualquiera”. Isham Christie entonces enfatizó la diferencia entre una “demanda”, “que se dirige al estado o a las élites económicas” y un “mensaje”, “que se dirige a la gente que intentamos traer al movimiento”. En definitiva, el consenso “online” al que se llegó fue que Occupy Wall Street debía definirse menos por el qué de su posición política que por el quién de sus participantes. Moreno-Caballud sugirió entonces que la identidad del movimiento se definiría según su capacidad de generar un mensaje que fuera fácil de entender y que combinara lo político con lo económico, como había hecho el 15-M con su “No somos mercancías en manos de políticos y banqueros”. Amin Husain añadió un eco populista de la constitución americana ofreciendo el slogan: “Nosotros, la gente, estamos tomando las calles porque el gobierno no nos escucha”. Finalmente, David Graeber, inspirado por un artículo del economista Joseph Stiglitz sobre “la política del 1%”, propuso la expresión que se convertiría en sinónimo de Occupy:

“¿Qué os parece “el movimiento del 99%”?”. Graeber continuó: “Los dos partidos políticos gobiernan en nombre del 1% de americanos que han recibido casi todos los beneficios del crecimiento económico, que son los únicos completamente recuperados de la recesión de 2008, que controlan el sistema político y la casi totalidad de la riqueza económica. Así que si los dos partidos representan al 1%, nosotros representamos a ese 99% cuyas vidas han quedado esencialmente fuera de la ecuación”.

Al día siguiente Santa-Cecilia y Moreno-Caballud imprimieron un flyer, añadiendo el pronombre “nosotros” al 99%, creando así una “identidad colectiva” para el “todos” y el “cualquiera” que formaría parte del movimiento: “Nosotros, el 99% llamamos a una asamblea general el 9 de agosto a las 7:30 en el Potato Famine Memorial”. El concepto del 99% empezó a circular por las calles de Nueva York. Más tarde, el activista y bloggero Chris lo transformó en su forma final: “Somos el 99%”, que dio nombre a una página de Tumblr. Estas fueron las palabras y el concepto que Santa-Cecilia y Moreno-Caballud recuperaron en su email de septiembre, durante la primera semana de la acampada.

  ser    Aunque el “mensaje” único del 99% fue una de las constantes que unió a los participantes de la AGNY desde dicho email del 4 de agosto hasta la ocupación del 17 de septiembre, los distintos contingentes de la asamblea variaban en su manera de ponerla en práctica. No es casualidad que la presencia española fuera la más fuerte en el grupo de trabajo de difusión Occupy Outreach, encargado de desarrollar el mensaje de la asamblea para llevarlo a otras comunidades fuera del movimiento. De los aproximadamente diez integrantes del grupo de Difusión en agosto y principios de septiembre, tres eran españoles. Además de Moreno Caballud y Santa Cecilia, Lauren Dapena Frais también participó activamente en el grupo. He de reconocer que cuando Moreno Caballud y Santa Cecilia, que no son ciudadanos estadounidenses, me hablaron en agosto de su plan de distribuir folletos en las salidas del metro de Brooklyn, me preocupé por su seguridad. ¿Cómo iban a reaccionar los neoyorquinos ante dos personas con acento marcadamente español instándoles a asistir a reuniones para la ocupación de Wall Street? No obstante, el contingente español persistió en sus esfuerzos más que nada porque, fieles al espíritu del 15-M, creían que el movimiento debería identificarse no sólo con los asamblearios, los manifestantes o los acampados sino, ante todo, con el conjunto de la población que es sometida a la manipulación de la élite político-financiera. Durante las asambleas de Tompkins Square Park, mientras gran parte del debate se centraba en cuestiones tácticas y logísticas de la ocupación, a Santa Cecilia se le veía, a menudo, repartiendo folletos a transeúntes curiosos que pasaban por el parque, hablándoles de las razones de Occupy. La idea era que la asamblea debía mantenerse abierta al 99% de la población, considerada la protagonista del movimiento. De hecho, aunque Moreno Caballud y Santa Cecilia acabaron uniéndose a las manifestaciones y la acampada del 17 de septiembre, albergaban serias dudas sobre las connotaciones imperialistas del nombre “Occupy” así como sobre la idea de levantar la acampada en “territorio enemigo”. Como habían pasado gran parte de su tiempo en España asistiendo a las asambleas más pequeñas que se extendieron en distintas localidades tras el desalojo de las acampadas masivas de Barcelona y Madrid, Santa Cecilia y Moreno Caballud siguieron propugnando el lema del 99% y propusieron esfuerzos por crear y apoyar asambleas locales más allá del distrito financiero de Nueva York.

            No me parece del todo casual que el grupo que más se preocupó de la inclusividad del movimiento, y más se esforzó por ella, haya sido excluído, en efecto, de los principales relatos sobre los orígenes de Occupy. ¿Por qué es así? En primer lugar, el 15-M fue más drástico que otros movimientos de 2011 en su creencia en un movimiento sin líderes hasta el nivel orgánico; al ser entrevistados, los acampados españoles solían negarse a dar sus apellidos, una práctica que fue replicada inicialmente por el contingente español de Occupy.  Especialmente en los primeros días del campamento de Zuccoti, esta táctica de despersonalización fue habitualmente recibida con confusión, hostilidad y, sobre todo, indiferencia por una sociedad americana fuertemente afectada por el culto a la celebridad. La falta de auto-promoción por parte del contingente español de Occupy supuso la progresiva disminución de su visibilidad y su influencia en el movimiento. Para el momento en que Occupy Wall Street había capturado la imaginación popular, en los últimos días de septiembre, los españoles ya no tenían una presencia decisiva en los principales órganos del movimiento, ni en Zucotti Park ni fuera del parque. Este giro confirmó, en parte, la efectividad de su concepto de un movimiento del 99%. Pero, por otro lado, el hecho de que fueran menos visibles que otros participante hizo que los medios globales –y en consecuencia, los activistas y académicos que, a pesar de toda nuestra retórica, continuamos estando fuertemente atados a esos canales estrechos de información- básicamente ignoraran las continuidades entre el 15-M y Occupy.

En el primero de mayo de 2012, durante una marcha a través de las calles de Manhattan, un grupo de participantes de Occupy intentaron reconstruir los puentes entre los dos movimientos. Preocupados por el hecho de que la gente tanto en Estados Unidos como en España siguieran viendo a Occupy como un movimiento local enfocado en el sistema político americano, llevaron una pancarta que decía: “Occupy Loves 15-M (Spain)”. Tengo fotos del contingente español llevando esa pancarta desde Union Square por todo Broadway hasta Zucotti, pero no creo que mucha otra gente reparara en ellos. La pancarta era una especie de testimonio de cierta derrota. Siendo cierto que muchos en Occupy “amaban” al 15-M, se había vuelto ya casi imposible afirmar una verdad mucho más profunda: que el 15-M era, o al menos era una parte fundamental, de Occupy Wall Street.


III.  Activistas, académicos, y cualquiera

Una de las principales características que distinguen al contingente español de los demás participantes de la AGNY es que la mayoría de los españoles del movimiento nunca habían sido activistas antes de los acontecimientos de 2011. Como muchos otros españoles en casa y en el extranjero, el 15-M les atrajo precisamente porque el lenguaje de las acampadas se había despojado del tradicional discurso de la izquierda. Casi todos los miembros españoles de la AGNY tenían estudios de posgrado —Santa-Cecilia, Moreno-Caballud, Lauren Dapena Fraiz, Ángel Luis Lara, Maleni Romero, Lucia Rey, Vicente Rubio, Manuel Levin, Xavi Acarrín, y Nikki Schiller— y sin embargo, todos se sentían cautivados por los lemas e ideas que salieron de las acampadas del 15-M. Al igual que los demás participantes de la AGNY, los españoles estaban imbuidos de la tradición de la política radical, habiendo leído desde  Marx hasta Franz Fanon, Gilles Deleuze y Felix Guattari, desde Gayatri Spivak y Jacques Rancières hasta Hardt y Negri. La diferencia fundamental, a mi modo de ver, era la forma en la cual los participantes se identificaban con esos teóricos políticos. Mientras que la mayoría de los activistas empleaban una retórica anti-capitalista en prácticamente cada frase que pronunciaban, había otro grupo, representado en el email de la “Demanda Única” por Lorenzo Serna, Isham Christie y Moreno Caballud, al cual le preocupaba más cómo se podrían modificar, reformular y traducir dichas ideas en lemas “fácilmente comprensibles”. Dentro del contingente español, este deseo de hablar un lenguaje cotidiano solía manifestarse en un rechazo deliberado a identificarse como intelectuales, activistas o académicos, a pesar de que varios de los españoles desempeñaban profesiones académica.

Aunque sería fácil calificar ese rechazo de hipócrita y engañoso, la precariedad de su situación era muy real en esos momentos. En los primeros días del movimiento Occupy existía el temor legítimo de una represión del gobierno, en especial hacia quienes no poseyeran la ciudadanía estadounidense. Y lo que es aún más importante quizá, el 15-M ya se hallaba en vías de reconfigurar la relación entre académicos, activistas y el resto de la población. Los debates acerca del papel del intelectual en los movimientos sociales se remontan a La Nueva Izquierda británica y norteamericana, pasando por Gramsci, Lenin y más allá, pero han adquirido una urgencia mayor en el mundo de habla hispana a raíz de las guerrillas de los años 60 y 70, la insurrección Zapatista de los 90 y los recientes movimientos populistas en Latinoamérica. Grupos como el Colectivo Situaciones de Buenos Aires, que empezó a combinar los esfuerzos organizativos y la militancia política con iniciativas de investigación tras la crisis financiera argentina de 2001, han atacado tanto a la izquierda ortodoxa como al establishment académico debido a su desinterés por interactuar con las personas sobre las que escriben. Siguiendo la pauta de estos movimientos en el mundo hispanoparlante, el 15-M fue notable por el papel secundario que asumieron los activistas y académicos del movimiento al ceder el paso a los indignados que llegaban a las acampadas y rechazando intencionadamente el tradicional concepto izquierdista de una vanguardia revolucionaria.

            Esta nueva forma de pensar y actuar de los españoles respecto a los movimientos sociales ha tenido, no obstante, sus teóricos. El más importante, con diferencia, para el contingente español de Occupy era Amador Fernández-Savater, un escritor y editor independiente de Madrid que publicó una serie de apuntes en su blog en mayo y junio de 2011 titulados “Apuntes de acampada sol”. Aunque Fernández-Savater cuenta con una larga trayectoria como activista, su modo de pensar, escribir y participar en acciones políticas cambió radicalmente tras varios años de colaboración con las víctimas del atentado de la estación ferroviaria de Atocha, Madrid, en 2004. Los apuntes de Fernández-Savater consistían a menudo en breves frases que había oído al pasear por las acampadas (“Sin vivienda, no hay viviendo” o “Somos personas”) seguidas de una explicación sobre cómo estos pronunciamientos en lenguaje cotidiano expresaban un sentido común alternativo en el movimiento. Solía autodenominarse “recogedor de citas”, un oyente que recopilaba y glosaba lo que otros expresaban en las plazas. En la primera anotación de su blog, Fernández-Savater reflexionaba sobre el significado de recoger estas palabras y expresiones encontradas:

“Discusión con un amigo militante. Me dice que le chirría el lenguaje que se emplea. Lo encuentra muy pobre: “democracia”, “ciudadanía”, etc. Se lo discuto: desde el “no a la guerra” son precisamente ese tipo de enunciados “planos” los que abren espacios donde todos cabemos y que mueven las cosas. Es verdad que me parece más potente “no vas a tener casa en la puta vida” que “no somos mercancía en manos de políticos y banqueros”. Pero me parece que hoy está claro que las palabras tienen fuerza no tanto por lo que dicen, sino por quién las dice y desde dónde las dice.”

Este intento de encontrar un lenguaje en el que “cabe todo el mundo” fue un distintivo del contingente español de Occupy.

            Se podría decir que el énfasis del contingente español sobre el lenguaje cotidiano y la gente común no era nada nuevo ya que las corrientes teóricas más significativas de los últimos veinte años han luchado por el poder colectivo de los grupos marginados que no hablan el idioma de la élite culta y que a menudo son excluidos de las historias de los “grandes hombres”. El énfasis sobre el anonimato y la marginación, fortalecido por el renovado interés por el marxismo tras la crisis financiera mundial de finales de 2007, puede verse en el concepto de Hardt y Negri sobre la “multitud”, los estudios poscoloniales sobre lo “subalterno” y en las teorías de Henry Lefevre y Michael de Certeau sobre las prácticas de la vida cotidiana. Todos los españoles conocían estas corrientes, y sus palabras y escritos reflejaban el lenguaje de esos autores. De hecho, se podría decir que el proyecto de Fernández-Savater en “Apuntes de Acampada Sol” fue articulado en constante diálogo con la creencia de Jacques Rancières en la “igualdad intelectual” de todas las personas y la insistencia de Michael de Certeau en “llevar las prácticas y el lenguaje científicos de vuelta a su tierra natal, la vida cotidiana”. Sin embargo, sería un error interpretar el discurso español como una simple aplicación de esos principios teóricos, porque el logro del 15-M fue, de hecho, invertir lo que Rancière y de Certeau se propusieron hacer. En lugar de formular una teoría sobre la vida cotidiana y el lenguaje común, llevaron dichas teorías académicas a la práctica en el mundo real. Además de traducir los sentimientos populares de las acampadas en España, el contingente español de Occupy fue también capaz de traducir las contribuciones intelectuales de una generación de teóricos ─muchos de los cuales respondían a los movimientos sociales de 1968─ al idioma cotidiano de los movimientos de 2011.

            Quizá la mayor lección que Fernández-Savater aprendió a su paso por las acampadas fue que el anonimato y la despersonalización no eran los únicos medios para combatir el culto a la individualidad de la sociedad contemporánea. En su introducción al libro Las voces del 15-M, publicado en su blog el 6 de junio de 2011, Fernández-Savater ofreció una alternativa a lo que denominó la práctica del “anonimato radical”. Refiriéndose a la larga serie de experimentos literarios y académicos con “la disolución del yo en procesos y tramas colectivas”, Fernández-Savater escribe:

“Conozco, comparto, he practicado y practico esa modalidad de anonimato. Pero hoy también me pregunto si es la única vía posible para escapar de la maldición del “autor individual y propietario”, si es la única articulación interesante y liberadora entre yo y nosotros, lo común y la singularidad. Veo que en las redes sociales y los blogs hay un uso de la primera persona, con la potencia que tiene ese tipo de enunciación muy encarnada, pero como un nombre propio más, como uno cualquiera; y además conectado a un flujo de conversación colectivo, aportando a un gran relato coral (blogosfera, hashtags, etc.). Quizá podamos pensar hoy también lo colectivo como un sistema de resonancias entre puntos singulares y no sólo como un mural dibujado a muchas manos.”

Mani NYSegún Fernández-Savater, las nuevas tecnologías sociales ofrecen un buen modelo para comprender la relación entre lo individual y lo colectivo en los recientes movimientos. Estas tecnologías le permiten a uno situarse junto a otros, convertirse en un nombre propio más “como cualquier otro” más que perseguir una especie de fusión definitiva de la energía humana en la que nadie puede determinar quién es quién. Su referencia a los hashtags es reveladora; el retuit de Twitter funciona simultáneamente como afirmación del nombre propio y expresión de una opinión común. Aunque se podría argumentar que el “sistema de resonancias” del que habla Fernández-Savater no es más que un nuevo envoltorio para la industria de la cultura denunciada por Max Horkheimer y Theodor Adorno, el análisis de los medios masivos como engaño masivo que realizaron estos autores se desmorona cuando nos fijamos en los casos concretos del 15-M y Occupy. De hecho, el “sistema de resonancias” no tardó en literalizarse en Zuccotti Park mediante el llamado “micrófono popular”, una creación improvisada de las primeras horas de la ocupación para sortear la prohibición oficial de altavoces en espacios públicos. Los participantes se levantaban y expresaban sus opiniones y propuestas, haciendo una pausa tras cada pocas palabras para que la muchedumbre o la asamblea las repitiera, transmitiendo así el mensaje a un círculo de personas cada vez más amplio a modo de eco. Aunque el “micrófono popular” estaba sujeto a diversas formas de manipulación, fuera por el temperamento de la asamblea, la elocuencia de la persona que hablaba o una simple interferencia de sonido, su característica más innovadora, quizá, fue que apartó a los medios casi por completo de la mediación entre lo personal y lo colectivo. Moreno Caballud escribió posteriormente que fue esa misma modulación de la voluntad de la asamblea la que actuaba de conducto para el mensaje del movimiento: “Lo interesante del micrófono popular es que funciona como el movimiento: no se trata simplemente de unos individuos moldeados a un grupo claramente identificado e identificable, sino que articula una composición colectiva variable que crece en proporción directa a cuántas personas suscriben lo que se propone —en voz más alta, mayor acuerdo— o por el contrario, disminuye cuando una propuesta es inviable u objetable —en voz más baja, menos acuerdo—.”  Yo añadiría que este mecanismo de “comprobación” que suponía el micro popular es precisamente lo que media entre la voluntad individual y la colectiva, un pensamiento expresado por un individuo que, a continuación, se incorpora (o no se incorpora) al discurso de la asamblea.

El acento sobre el lenguaje de la calle, la idea de que las formulaciones del movimiento tendrían que ser lo suficientemente amplias como para que “todos quepamos” y la política de lo que Fernández-Savater denominaría “el anonimato en primera persona” eran los principios de funcionamiento del contingente español de Occupy Wall Street. Todos estos principios eran congruentes con la creencia de que el mensaje del movimiento sería determinado no sólo por lo que se decía sino también por quién lo decía. La tremenda importancia que el comité de Difusión confirió a la cuestión de convertir el lema del 99% en un 99% real demuestra el compromiso de los españoles por ir más allá de la acampada para expandir la geografía del movimiento al vecindario, la ciudad y el país entero. En su email del 19 de septiembre, cuando el lema del 99% no se había popularizado aún, Moreno Caballud advirtió del riesgo de excluir al 99% si se seguía empleando una retórica primordialmente académica y activista. El siguiente correo me sigue pareciendo la expresión más emotiva de las ideas centrales de Occupy, una afirmación que sintetiza tanto los peligros como el dinamismo del movimiento y un reconocimiento de su necesaria temporalidad: “Hemos atraído mucha atención en internet e incluso en los principales medios de comunicación. ¡Aprovechemos esto ahora, antes de que pase! Construyamos un movimiento masivo y realmente inclusivo.”

¿Qué habría sucedido si Moreno Caballud no hubiera enviado ese email? Quizá no habría cambiado nada. Como hemos visto una y otra vez durante los últimos años, en pleno fervor de la agitación social, los acontecimientos e historias más improbables pueden surtir los efectos globales más profundos. La contingencia, sin embargo, no es lo mismo que la casualidad. La recuperación por parte de Moreno Caballud del lema del 99% en aquel momento pone de manifiesto su creencia de que deshacerse de la identidad cismática del “ocupador” como activista y académico no se podía anunciar sin más; había que repetirlo en voz alta y ponerlo en práctica en el entorno del movimiento mismo. El éxito de dicho email se puede atribuir no solo al “acontecimiento” de la formulación del lema, sino también a la pura tenacidad de repetir el lema del 99% por encima de la retórica activista que se había instalado inicialmente en la acampada. Se pueden decir muchas cosas acerca del legado de Occupy, pero lo que es innegable es que en esa semana de septiembre se hizo un llamamiento a un movimiento “masivo”. Otra cuestión distinta es si la transformación de las “identidades tradicionales” del activista y el académico sucederá o no. Eso, aún está por verse.


 IV. Problemas y progreso

Demonstration on May 1st 2012Aunque las iniciativas comunitarias creadas por Occupy a finales de 2011, como Occupy Sandy (para ayudar a las víctimas del huracán) o Strike Debt (Elimina la deuda), infundieron nueva energía al movimiento y obligaron tanto a los medios como a los académicos a replantearse su descripción de Occupy como un proyecto fracasado, no cabe duda de que las aspiraciones de plena inclusión que motivaron el mensaje del 99% se han topado con serios obstáculos. Ya en el primer mes de la ocupación de Zuccotti Park, muchos participantes y comentaristas observaron  el reducido porcentaje de personas de color en el movimiento, sobre todo de afroamericanos. En una columna de opinión del Washington Post titulada “Por qué los afroamericanos no se están sumando a Occupy Wall Street”, Stacy Patton señaló que, mientras que la población negra de EE.UU. constituye el 12,6%, las encuestas mostraban que representaba tan sólo el 1,6% del movimiento Occupy. Tras sugerir que muchos afroamericanos desdeñaban Occupy Wall Street por considerarlo un “movimiento blanco” que comenzó cuando los blancos empezaron a sufrir algunas de las dificultades económicas que los negros llevaban ya años padeciendo, Patton concluye que “si el movimiento Occupy no cree en la solidaridad con otros colectivos de personas explotadas y oprimidas, y si la América negra no concibe nuevas estrategias de liderazgo para abordar los problemas de hoy, la sabiduría de Frederick Douglass seguirá siendo cierta: la poderosa corriente de raza y clase subyacente en la sociedad estadounidense impedirá que tanto negros como blancos sean libres.”

Ahora los comentarios de Patton sobre la distancia entre el movimiento Occupy y la comunidad afroamericana me parecen acertados en gran parte; mis propias observaciones durante los primeros días del movimiento coinciden bastante con esa impresión. Recuerdo que en las reuniones de agosto en Tompkins Square Park hubo varias propuestas de trasladar las asambleas generales de la ciudad de Nueva York a otros barrios fuera de Manhattan basadas en un supuesto que sigo considerando correcto: los participantes variarían mucho según el lugar donde se celebrasen las asambleas. La inercia general de la AGNY respecto a estos temas confirmó algunas de las acusaciones de las que posteriormente fue objeto el movimiento. La idea de que “los afroamericanos se sumarán al movimiento cuando vean lo que estamos haciendo” siempre me pareció reductiva, y lo sucedido en los días iniciales del movimiento demostraron que esa creencia no se cumplió. De hecho, incluso me atrevería a argumentar que la presencia española en Occupy Wall Street pudo haber exacerbado el problema debido a que el discurso del 99% el “todos” y “cualquiera”— sonaba demasiado al lenguaje de los derechos universales que frecuentemente han sido traicionados en la práctica, aunque no por principio. Resulta significativo que la ahora extendida norma asamblearia de “step up, step back” (da un paso adelante, da un paso atrás) en el que a los participantes varones de raza blanca se les pedía que cedieran el turno para que se pudieran oír otras voces, no se implementó hasta mucho después de las asambleas de Tompkins Square Park.

Pero las apariencias engañan a veces. Cualquier persona que haya pasado tiempo en las asambleas de estudiantes reconocerá lo crucial que han sido los afroamericanos en la expansión de los grupos de educación y de deuda del movimiento y, como señala Graeber, los líderes del histórico sindicato negro Transit Workers Union of New York fueron “algunos de los primeros patrocinadores y entusiastas de la ocupación, con un ávido apoyo de sus bases”. Asimismo conviene recordar que el artista de hip hop Lupe Fiasco fue una de las pocas celebridades que ofrecieron apoyo ideológico y táctico a Occupy Wall Street antes del 17 de septiembre. Por último, un momento destacado de la infancia de la acampada de Zuccotti fue la convergencia de los manifestante de Occupy con la protesta del 20 de septiembre en Union Square contra la ejecución de Troy Davis, un afroamericano acusado de matar a tiros a un agente de policía de Georgia en 1989 y cuya inocencia defendían muchos activistas, grupos de derechos humanos y gran parte de la población negra. Muchos participantes del movimiento Occupy recuerdan la increíble energía que se desató cuando, tras recibir folletos repartidos por integrantes de Occupy, un amplio grupo de los manifestantes contra la ejecución de Troy Davis decidieron seguir su marcha hacia Zuccotti Park. Unos días más tarde, los integrantes de Occupy les correspondieron sumándose a una convocatoria a favor de Troy Davis. Dado que ese intercambio tuvo lugar en la calle, lejos del puesto de los reporteros, los medios de comunicación lo obviaron casi por completo.

Otro argumento discutible que Patton presenta en su artículo es que la relación entre Occupy y los afroamericanos ha sido un reflejo de las clásicas divisiones de la sociedad estadounidense. Su tesis de que el movimiento se originó en, y representó a, “la América blanca” fue, como ya he mencionado, inventada de forma retroactiva, en parte por algunos integrantes del movimiento y en parte por los principales medios de comunicación. Un ejemplo perfecto de la insidiosa fusión entre los relatos de Occupy y los de los medios se encuentra en el libro Occupying Wall Street: The Inside Story of an Action that Changed America (Ocupando Wall Street: La historia desde dentro de una acción que cambió América). Aunque el libro es “anónimo”, escrito supuestamente por los “Autores del 99%”, la contraportada contiene una nota de Johathan Lethem, un abanderado de la cultura vanguardista de la América blanca, que describe el libro como “Un relato de primera mano esencial e incitante sobre cómo el oxígeno volvió a fluir repentina y milagrosamente al cerebro americano”.  Los capítulos sobre los orígenes de Occupy titulados “Los comienzos” y “Ha nacido una ocupación” no sólo alimentan la extendida creencia de que los movimientos internacionales de principios de 2011 sirvieron sólo de “patrón” para AGNY, Bloombergsville y Occupy, sino que idealizan el papel de los conectores de la cultura blanca de Estados Unidos que lograron transformar las protestas extranjeras en un mensaje capaz de llegar directamente al cerebro norteamericano. Según cuenta el libro, el protagonista de la prehistoria del movimiento es el anteriormente citado Willie Osterweil, el manifestante estadounidense que había pasado varios meses en las acampadas de España. Los autores del libro citan a Osterweil: “En España resurgió mi urgencia y reconocí realmente (no intelectualmente) la naturaleza del momento histórico y las posibilidades que teníamos a nuestro alcance en EE.UU.” Aunque ya he aludido al papel crucial que desempeñó Osterweil en la formulación del lema del 99%, el libro no hace ninguna referencia a los participantes españoles y latinos que realmente (no solo intelectualmente) estaban presentes en la AGNY junto a Osterweil. La transfusión de oxígeno entre estadounidenses blancos y estadounidenses blancos se completa en el primer párrafo de “Ha nacido una ocupación”, en el que los autores hablan del “nacimiento” de la ocupación gracias a los esfuerzos de “un reducido grupo de hombre y mujeres mayoritariamente jóvenes y blancos, que hicieron planes de última hora para el sábado 17 de septiembre”. Es decir, al ocupar Wall Street, el movimiento se auto-blanquea.

Estas versiones de los orígenes de Occupy no las considero como indicativas de la perspectiva histórica de todos los miembros del movimiento sino más bien como el relato que a una facción del movimiento le gusta contarse. De hecho, el estallido de popularidad que Occupy experimentó entre finales de septiembre y octubre de 2011 coincidió con el creciente interés de autores como Lethem y otros exponentes de la vertiente “cool” de la cultura blanca estadounidense plasmada en ciertos medios como la revista neoyorquina N +1 o la revista McSweeney’s de San Francisco. Estas publicaciones literarias y culturales tendían a reproducir las impresiones de la “segunda ola” de ocupadores, mayoritariamente blancos, cuyo compromiso con el movimiento comenzó cuando Zuccotti Park ya estaba convirtiéndose en un circo mediático, un momento en el que a todos (me incluyo) nos resultaba difícil distinguir entre la forma y el contenido de la acampada. No quiero decir que esos participantes no estuvieran comprometidos con las causas del movimiento sino que representan a uno de los muchos sectores demográficos del movimiento y su relato es uno entre los muchos que se podrían contar sobre la trayectoria del movimiento. Los medios de comunicación que informaron sobre las primeras semanas de Occupy Wall Street padecieron, en general, de la necesidad de confirmar sus ideas preconcebidas; se dirigían a Zuccotti Park para retratar a un colectivo de manifestantes blancos, modernos, sobre-privilegiados e infra-informados y buscaban exclusivamente a personas que se ajustaran a ese perfil.

Si volvemos a fijarnos en los participantes de la AGNY que contribuyeron al hilo de emails sobre la Demanda Única, queda claro que los “ocupadores originales” distaban mucho de tipificar la América blanca. Isham Christie es un Choctaw (aborigen norteamericano) de Dakota del Norte, Amin Hussain es estadounidense de origen palestino, Lorenzo Serna es latino e indio americano, Moreno Caballud es español. Graeber y Osterweil son los únicos que se aproximan al perfil estereotipado de Occupy Wall Street. Por otra parte, la narrativa generalizada en EE.UU. ha pasado por alto los estrechos vínculos entre Occupy y la comunidad latina, creados sobre todo como consecuencia del empeño que los primeros integrantes españoles y latinoamericanos pusieron en llegar a los barrios de habla hispana por considerarlo crucial para la supervivencia del movimiento. Ya desde los comienzos, Santa Cecilia y el puertorriqueño Pablo Benson ayudaron a organizar el grupo de trabajo de Occupy en español, en el que participantes de Puerto Rico, México, Argentina, Uruguay, España y otros países (así como estadounidenses de habla hispana) celebraban asambleas, concedían entrevistas a medios hispanoparlantes y debatían sobre cómo crear redes con organizaciones y movimientos sociales latinoamericanos fuera de EE.UU.

Uno de los grandes éxitos del movimiento Occupy de Nueva York ha sido su capacidad de conectar con establecidas organizaciones latinas y de inmigrantes, entre ellas, los colectivos sociales La Indignación, La Unión de Brooklyn y El Centro de Staten Island. Durante el pasado año, el grupo 16 Beaver Street ha celebrado reuniones abiertas con miembros de la cooperativa de tratamiento de agua de Cochabamba, Bolivia (), y del Colectivo Situaciones de Buenos Aires. La gran corriente subterránea de Occupy sigue siendo la comunidad hispana, que a partir de unos pocos españoles y latinoamericanos involucrados inicialmente en el movimiento se ha extendido a inmigrantes sin papeles, agrupaciones políticas locales y participantes de acampadas fuera de EE.UU. entre otros. Más recientemente, el contingente hispano de Occupy ha dedicado gran parte de su tiempo y esfuerzos al foro pro-commons Making Worlds, que ha reunido a escritores y teóricos como Silvia Federici, George Caffentzis y James Quilligan junto con miembros de la sociedad, artistas, docentes y académicos. Este giro hacia los “commons”, sistemas de intercambio regulados por el usuario (como por ejemplo, Wikipedia) considerados como una alternativa tanto al estado como al mercado, refleja un intento consciente de desarrollar las ideas y las prácticas solidarias de Zuccotti Park  — la cocina comunitaria, la asistencia médica, y demás servicios gratuitos— más allá de la retórica reinvindicativa de Occupy.

      Lo que muestran los párrafos anteriores es que muchas de las cuestiones de “relaciones públicas” a las que se ha enfrentado el movimiento Occupy no sólo tienen relación con las prácticas y creencias del movimiento mismo sino también con las historias que se han contado dentro y acerca del movimiento. Estas historias influyen en la opinión pública sobre Occupy y, de un modo mucho más encubierto, en las teorías sobre Occupy que circulan entre académicos y activistas. ¿Cuál es, entonces, el papel del académico respecto a Occupy Wall Street? Recuerdo una frase que Moreno Caballud me repitió en numerosas ocasiones durante los primeros días de la acampada: “Más que nuevas teorías, necesitamos nuevas narrativas”. Mi crónica sobre el contingente español de Occupy es, o al menos pretende ser, una de esas narrativas, pero hay otros cientos de historias que se podrían contar. No sólo historias sobre los orígenes de Occupy, sino también relatos acerca de la repercusión que los múltiples movimientos, acciones y teorías del pasado han tenido en los movimientos sociales del presente. Quizá no hablemos el mismo idioma hay claras diferencias metodológicas y disciplinares que condicionan nuestras formas de escribir acerca de estos movimientos— pero quienes nos consideramos estudiantes y profesionales de la cultura tenemos la especial responsabilidad de trasladar estas narrativas de forma comprensible a personas ajenas a los círculos académicos y activistas. Nuestra formación y nuestra trayectoria nos permite analizar de forma seria, y crítica, los movimientos sociales que están transformando nuestro mundo. Los académicos no podemos ver todo lo que sucede sobre el terreno, claro está, pero sí podemos reconocer los límites de lo que vemos y tratar de ampliar nuestra visión en lo posible. Esto no nos hace héroes de la revolución, pero al menos nos permite ser partícipes de nuevas narrativas sobre la sociedad en la que vivimos, sea a nivel local o global, y sobre las complejidades de la transformación que está experimentando.   


Guerrilla Translation/Relacionado:Occupy, la deuda y los límites históricos del capitalismo/David GraeberStrip: Rushkoff in Real Life“El objetivo del juego no es tener un juego con objetivo”/ Douglas RushkoffStrip Capitalism works¡El capitalismo me funciona!  Verdadero/Falso/ Steve Lambert

1. [El artículo publicado en Tropics of Meta es una versión condensada de este texto completo. Partes de esta traducción se publicaron hace unos meses en El Diario.es. ]

12 Inspired Actions to Outsmart Repressive Situations and Laws

Amador Fernández-Savater & Leónidas Martín

The Spanish government’s latest round of anti-protest laws are as worrying as they are laughably predictable. On top of criminalizing passive resistance, the new regulation considers actions such as uploading images of police violence to YouTube, or even Tweeting about a protest, to be punishable by fines as high a 600,000€, if you decide to protest in front of any so-called “Democratic Institutions”. As George Orwell argued, “A society becomes totalitarian when its structure becomes flagrantly artificial”.

Given that this trend is growing internationally, and rather than play a cat and mouse game where normal people have the losing hand, we can turn the tables and ridicule these sorts of reactionary, short sighted, desperate measures with our greatest assets: imagination, humor and the fact that we’re the good guys. The following article, written by Spanish art-ivists Amador Fernández-Savater and Leónidas Martín, offers 12 examples drawn from the last five decades poised to inspire and provoke. And check this out: so many people are eager to learn more about the how-to and history of this approach, that this has been the single most widely Facebook-shared article in eldiario.es’s history! We’ve also included some English hyperlinks to follow up on some of these leads and subtitled the one video in Spanish. Although written in reaction to the passage of the new law in Spain, we believe that their application and appeal is universal. Read on…

The objective of Spain’s new Citizen Security Law is very simple: to proscribe politics by criminalizing it, and withdrawing anything other than politics by politicians from circulation. This stunted, meager concept of democracy declares that decision-making is the exclusive right of political parties, public opinion the monopoly of experts, and that the sole role of the citizenry is to vote every four years.

The law was immediately dubbed the “Anti 15-M” law in social networks. In effect, these measures don’t hold up to the general and abstract character of a proper “law”. Instead, they’re very specifically directed against the new forms of on-the-ground citizen politics we’ve seen emerge in these last two and a half years: 15-M, Mareas (Citizen’s Tides), PAH, for example 1. While critics of the 15-M movement dismissed it as something meek and inoffensive, it’s now evident that its open, creative, and inclusive modes of action have posed a challenge to the powers that be.

It is certainly not the first time in the history of politics – and by this we mean, the surging increase of debate and decision-making by the people on issues of common life  – that politics have come under threat: dictatorships, authoritative regimes and repressive laws, police management of public space, and so on. What then can we do when open, frontal confrontation is neither possible, nor the best of all options (because it’s useless, because it makes us feel despondent and crushes our voices, because it only leads to a trail of wounded, imprisoned protesters, etc.)?

In other, infinitely harsher situations than ours, the people managed to come up with subtle, intelligent and imaginative strategies to bypass repressive situations and laws. Below we present 12 stories of actions that can inspire us today to disobey the new law with humor, beauty, mobility, and a bit of camouflage.


Humour (or How to say it without saying it)

1: Fuck Communism in the USA

In the United States in the 60s, two words were absolutely forbidden. One, literally, was the word “fuck”. Writing it or saying it aloud could carry fines, or even prison sentences. The other was, both culturally and symbolically, “communism”. It was the great taboo, the evil spirit which the House Committee on Un-American Activities had decided to eradicate (and magnify, in considering anyone and everyone to be a suspect).

The Yippies, which was the creative activist group led by Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, decided to take matters into their own hands by organizing a citywide sticker and billboard campaign with the following slogan: “fuck communism”. There was a poster designed by Paul Krassner.

They were saying the forbidden (sometimes as a feint or while saying it without saying it), dodging censorship and criminalization, seeking complicity with intelligent observers able read between the lines and appreciate the genius of this operation.

For further investigation: Read Kurt Vonnegut’s thoughts on this poster.

Decir (sin decir) lo que no se puede decir

2: The Orange Alternative in Poland

In the 80s, you needed guts and killer smarts if you wanted to go up against the Communist regime of Poland. Without them, you’d almost surely end up in prison for the rest of your life – or worse. Members of Pomaranczowa Alternatywa (Orange Alternative) stood out for their whimsical approach to protest and their creative use of the absurd.

They kicked off their career by painting dwarves over the regime’s attempts to whitewash all antigovernment graffiti away. These omnipresent dwarves soon took on lives of their own as symbols of Polish dissent. Hundreds of people dressed up as orange dwarves started to protest in the streets, demanding things such as the overthrow of Gargamel (!)

By using metaphor and allegory, saying without saying, they carried out dozens of protests without running the risk of being arrested  – that is, without those arrests making the authorities look pretty ridiculous in the process. Really, how can anyone take a police officer seriously after seeing him arrest a protester for “participating in an illegal gathering of dwarves”?

For further investigation: Join “The Orange Alternative Revolution of Dwarves

3: The Tighty-whitey Block in New York City

A few days before the protests against the World Economic Forum in February 2002, the Major of New York City digs up an old law (drafted in 1847, no less!) prohibiting the use of masks in the course of any public event. The restoration of the law has a very clear objective: to allow the police to compile a thorough photo archive of protesters.

The New Kids on the Black Block, a group of anti-globalization activists wise in the ways of guerrilla communication, scrutinize the law with the utmost attention. What the law literally says is that the “use of any kind of mask” is strictly prohibited. But, with a bit of creativity, many things can be pressed into service…and thus, the Tighty-whitey Block is born.

“Tighty-whities” is US slang for old school underpants. In a matter of hours, the New Kids acquired a truckload of more than a thousand of these underpants, had them printed with subversive messages and distributed among the protesters. What’s more, they produced a gigantic underpants-shaped banner as a rallying point for all who wanted – or needed – to protest in anonymity, even if it was with a pair of underpants covering their mugs.

Tighty-whities: underpants though they may be, masks they most definitely are not. So, the police are left impotent as hundreds of protesters march by with underpants over their faces. They can’t make arrests, much less build that photo archive – certainly not the kind of mugshots they were expecting!

El Tighty-whitie Block en Nueva York


Camouflage (or, how to break the rules of the game from inside) 

4: Argentina’s 501 Movement

Voting is compulsory in Argentina, but the National Electoral Code exempts anyone who’s 500 kilometers or more away from their home. On election day 1999 a group of young people invited anyone feeling dissatisfied with the electoral routine to make their way to a location 501 km away from their place of residence, as a way of expressing that the true meaning of democracy can’t be reduced to choosing from among what are, essentially, identical options every four years.

All the participants certified before police that, on election day, they would be 501 km away from their place of residence. Free, collective travel arrangements were provided from Buenos Aires to Sierra de la Ventana, where a festival was held. Unsurprisingly, they were accused of being “anti-political”, “anti-democratic”, and blah, blah, blah. But they countered, in their “Open Letter to Voters”, that right there at kilometer 501 they had reclaimed the true meaning of democracy, not as a perfunctory formality of the Necessary and Inevitable, but rather as a transformation of the extant, by everyone and for everyone.

For further investigation: “El movimiento 501, la “Carta a los votantes” y la spanish revolution” (in Spanish).

5: The Sex Pistols on the Thames

It’s mid-1977, Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee is drawing near and the Government and the Royal House are desperate to avoid any critical actions. Following this logic, the Sex Pistols, authors of the song “God Save the Queen”, are expressly forbidden from playing on the British mainland.

The Pistols’ reaction to the ban is legendary. Instead of throwing in the towel, the band rent a boat for the occasion (aptly named the “Queen Elizabeth”), and on the 7th of June, the same day as the Royal March, they play a gig smack in the middle of the River Thames. Lest we forget, while the official order expressly prohibits them from playing on British mainland, it doesn’t say anything about rivers and waterways.

The stunt was so successful that it sent shockwaves through the media. That same week, their single “God Save the Queen” reached number one in the British charts. But, given that the song was banned, their chart-topping success could neither be announced on television, nor played on the radio. It was the only time in history that there has been no number one song.

6: Belarus’ Revolution Through Social Networks

Belarus, July 2011. Frustration over the economic crisis reaches its peak. President Alezander Lukashenko’s authoritative regime forbids all types of protest, while police repress all dissent. In response, the “Revolution Through Social Networks” appeared, a public call to gather in the streets to applaud, or to synch all mobile phones and make them ring at the same time. In this (apparently inoffensive) manner, thousands of people managed to turn a handful of everyday gestures into powerful expressions of dissent.

Mobility (or how to not become a target for your adversaries)

7. Lavapiés 15, Madrid

Located at its namesake address in the Lavapies district of Madrid, Lavapies 15 was a squat back in 1996. An official eviction order was drawn up within six months of its existence. The dwellers of Lavapies 15 sealed the door and pretended to hole up inside, the standard procedure for squats at that time (very heroic perhaps, but both useless and frustrating in the end).

So, as a hundred police agents and a helicopter searched the house, the squatters made their escape over rooftops, making obvious the disproportionate, unjustified and repressive deployment. It’s even rumored that some squatters actually stood by the door, mingling with the rest of the onlookers, to witness their own eviction.

“Resistance doesn’t have to equal suffering, taking the piss is another form of struggle”, they explained in regards to their action.

For further investigation: Read a short excerpt from “The Exteriority Crisis: From the City Limits and Beyond” on “The Ghosts” of Lavapies 15.

8: Chile’s National day of Protest

Chile, July 1983. Pinochet’s dictatorship is 10 years old, and the copper mine workers celebrate the anniversary by holding a national strike. The copper mines were the backbone of the country’s economy at the time, so the dictator’s response was swift. Hundreds of troops and various police forces surround the mines, with orders to shoot anyone supporting the strike. Bloodshed seems inevitable. However, it didn’t turn out that way.

Barely a day before the beginning of the strike, the leaders and spokespersons of the worker’s movement decide to change strategies. Rather than having the miners work stoppage be the only means of protest, they called for the first National Day of Protest, with many decentralized actions throughout the country. For example, people were encouraged to drive their cars at a snail´s pace through the main highways and thoroughfares of Chile, creating epic traffic jams all over the country; or to turn the lights on and off in their houses; or to incessantly bang pans and pots at nightfall. This was the birth of the cacerolazo, a mode of protest still very much in use nowadays.

Llamada a la protesta en Chile, 1983

9: The (non) Battle of Puerta del Sol, Madrid

Tuesday, August 2nd 2011, the police unceremoniously clear out the remains of the recent occupation of Puerta del Sol, Madrid’s famous main square. Specifically, the info booth left there by the 15-M Movement. They tear down the beautiful plaque that read “We slept, we awoke. The square is taken”, and dump it in the trashbin. Thousands of citizens, feeling suddenly erased from the map, spontaneously gather to reconquer the square.

Lines of police blocked all entry points, while armored police vans stood guard over an empty square. Suddenly someone shouts, “Ciao, ciao, ciao, nos vamos a Callao” (“Ciao, ciao, we’re moving to Callao” – one of the neighboring squares). The slogan is quickly picked up. Rather than confront the police, protesters decide to turn their backs on them. Change of perspective, change of scenery, change in the dialogue, change of interlocutors, and change of emotions. Instead of uselessly screaming in the face of impassive policemen, 15-M decides to branch out all over the city. A seemingly helpless situation turns into one of empowerment. A joyous evasion.

The police garrison at Sol remains entrenched in position, protecting nothing. A day goes by, then two, three…such a level of police presence is unwarranted, and on the fourth day, they are told to stand down. Then, on the night of August 5th, the people happily re-enter the now liberated square in a great march.

For further investigation: a text Amador wrote describing the events (translation not ours)

The (Non) Battle of Sol as seen by Enrique Flores. The bubble reads “We Reserve the Right to Refuse Admission”


Beauty (or how art disarms brute force)

10: The pianist at Gezi Park (Istanbul)

During the June 2013 protests and prior to the final eviction of Gezi Park in Istanbul, president Erdogan had given an ultimatum to the demonstrators.

7 P.M. on the 12th of June was the chosen hour. Everything was primed for a police charge: emergency crews, gas masks, media, barricades…but just as the clashes began and the teargas exploded, there came a sound – neither war cry nor firearms, but music: The Beatles’ “Let It Be”.  A piano had appeared from nowhere, and a hooked-nosed skinny kid with a hat was playing “Imagine” by John Lennon and “Bella Ciao”. Just then, everyone stopped what they were doing and gathered: they sat, applauded and sang together.

The pianist was a German of Italian origin, who’d been travelling throughout Europe carrying a message of peace. He had made the piano himself, asserting that his music calmed the police and, somehow, protected the demonstrators. Erdogan didn’t dare crush this community sprung around music. It would have been too brutal an image to expose to the world.

(Here you can see the Solfónica, Madrid’s own protest-march classical ensemble and choir, producing the same effect during the Spanish general strike of November 14, 2012)

What you have just read is a fragment of a chronicle of those days in Istanbul written by our friend José Fernández-Layos. You can read the full account here in Spanish

11: “Standing Man” in Istanbul

When Erdogan finally – without warning – attacked Gezi Park and evicted the occupiers, he issued a threat: anyone trying to enter Taksim Square (adjacent to the park) would be accused of terrorism. Thousands of people tried to enter forcibly or via the barricades, but it was all in vain. Until one man waltzed through, posing as any other tourist, with no gasmask or bandanna covering his face, and simply stood in front of the Atatürk building, just standing there quietly for hours. It soon became a trending topic on Twitter and the police arrested him, but it was too late: many other “standing men” or “still persons” like him replicated the action in an incessant dribble on squares throughout the country. Bit by bit, Taksim was reclaimed. It was practically impossible to steer public opinion that these people were terrorists, when it was plain to see that they were simply people standing there…although, in fact, everyone knew that they were defying the government.

What you have just read is a fragment of another chronicle written by our friend José Fernández-Layos about those days in Istanbul. You can read the full account here in Spanish

12: The Reflectors in Barcelona

Around the time of the first anniversary of the 15-M protests, the powers that be had flipped the switch on their repressive countermeasures to criminalize street protest. Playing into this dynamic robs the streets of plurality, “de-democratizing” protest and reducing it to small groups, very homogenous and easy to identify and codify. Enter The Reflectors with the slogan, “We won’t play that game, let’s break the codes”.

The Reflectors look like superheroes out of a Marvel comic book, but they are in fact normal people with two or three very un-normal characteristics: their brilliant costumes made out of aluminum foil, the Reflecto-Ray and the Reflecto-Cube.

Used correctly, the Reflecto-Ray reflects sunlight over police cameras recording protesters. The Reflecto-Cube can be used in two different ways: as a festive prop when any protest starts getting boring, and as an antidote to police charges.

This second application of the Reflecto-Cube was put to the test for the first time in Barcelona, during the last general strike on November 14th, 2012. The populist protests of the morning had finished, and police entered the Plaza de Cataluña square in full force, striking everyone in their path with their batons. People panicked. Terrified protesters started running towards neighboring Paseo de Gracia and, at that exact moment, the Reflecto-Cube erupted onto the scene. After a good while trying to get to grips with it, the riot police decided to dispose of it by pushing it back towards The Reflectors, who proceeded to send it back to the police, starting a game of absurd beach volleyball that radically transformed the atmosphere in the square from sheer panic to all-out party in less than a minute.

For further investigation: Find out more about The Reflectors’ adventures here.

Do you know of any other similar actions? Tell us your story in the comments, and we will try and update this article with them.

This first compilation was written by Leónidas Martín Saura (Enmedio Collective) and Amador Fernández-Savater, with the indispensable help of Sabino Ormazábal and his horseflies, Juan Gutiérrez, Frauke Schultz, Lawrence of Arabia, Nuria Campabadal, Beautiful Trouble, José Fernández-Layos, Margarita Padilla and Franco Ingrassia.

The principles of the Guerrilla Movement are, ultimately, two: mobility as the best defensive weapon; and thought, as the best kind of attack. Neutralizing the enemy’s targets and the conversion of each individual into a sympathizer and friend are the keys to victory.

BONUS! Here’s a coda of sorts to this compilation, written by the co-author Leónidas Martín and published in our Metablog: A call for the World Record of people shouting, “You’ll never own a house in your whole fucking life”


Guerrilla Translation/Related:Overcoming the Shock Doctrine/Soy PúblicaStrength and Power: Reimagining RevolutionAmador Fernández-SavaterThe Interruption of the Dominant Narrative, an interview with Colectivo EnmedioAmador Fernández-Savater interviews colectivo Enmedio


1. [These are all groups and collectives enmeshed within the 15 -M network. Briefly]:

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”]

The Path to the RealWorld™

@Ciudadano_Zer0

“World War III will be a global information war with no division between civilian and military participation.” (Marshall McLuhan, 1970)

My associates at Informa’t! BCN have proposed that I write about the War and the Internet. How online communication is changing offline politics and, specifically, how social media is structuring new forms of social conflict in the wake of the #15M Movement. In other words, they’re asking me how these “get-a-job you dirty hippie!” types go about waging their digital war. How, lacking any means, you can conquer, hold and make use of the political hegemony these social movements, the opponents to the Spanish regime and pro-democracy activists, have on the Internet.

Enthusiasts of the Internet as both political tool and battlefield, and I count myself among them, are fond of making grand statements such as: “this will change everything”, “it’s tyranny’s greatest nightmare”, or “the Internet is not just a tool, it is an epoch in history”, convinced that it’s the greatest weapon that we — those at the bottom — have ever had to defend democracy and defeat the enemy. The Internet is what Lawrence of Arabia must have been dreaming about all along. But observing the effects, day after day, isn’t enough. There’s a parallel struggle wherein we, day after day, have yet to convince our analogue colleagues and sceptics alike that these effects are not only real, but that what happens on the Internet doesn’t just stay on the Internet.

In daily practice, or at least in my daily practice, this is the digital divide that worries activists to no end, and this is what the debate is all about. There are two spaces: Internet and the RealWorld™, and many perceive them as discrete, separate compartments. Dividing them, they must imagine an unbridgeable chasm “while not everyone has Internet access”. In my opinion, this argument is the equivalent of what, in an old-style conflict, would have been expressed as: “stop using radio communications, not everyone has a radio receiver”.

I suspect that “Taking our fight to the streets and away from the keyboard” or “Forget about Twitter, come out to the streets” are just slogans. Are you telling me these people don’t know that there’s Internet on the streets too? How do they think anyone’s going to know about what’s going on at street level if there’s no one to tweet about it?

Then there’s those who say that people tend to stay at home because they can watch the protests streamed directly to the comfort of their living rooms. Do you think they’ve noticed that their argument is suspiciously similar to the one often repeated by the musical industry? That every time you download a song, that’s a song you haven’t paid for?

Me, I think that the Internet is an unbeatable way to get to people who don’t have Internet. That’s the way it’s always been, from the origins of marketing and in two-step flow of communication theory, and that’s how it should be in guerrilla marketing. Fashion campaigns aren’t geared to influence boys and girls, but to influence boys and girls who influence boys and girls. Political marketing campaigns don’t seek to convince voters, but to convince voters who convince voters.

Pizarro 1 didn’t know how to read. But Cortés’ strategy was read to him, he cloned it and that was his grand tactical advantage. In the same manner, parents keeping their offspring away from the influence of television by disallowing them to watch television don’t realise that TV’s influence on the child originates with his peers, not the TV set. That’s how culture and human social behaviour work, and that’s how they’ve always worked. We live within networks because we’ve evolved within networks. Regardless of whether you’re connected to the Internet or not, the culture you live in is connected to the Internet, as a fish is connected to water.

Ideas change the world. I know this because I’m monitoring it in real time, day in, day out: Some ideas are born on a Saturday at 5 a.m. in that seedy, but authentic, dive that is 4chan. The following day, a few discuss the idea in the skyscrapers of Reddit as they work in their offices. Someone who’s seen it hoists it up to the cover of Menéame 2. Once past the bottleneck of Menéame’s shantytown filters, it automatically spreads over the vast fields of Twitter. That same night, it will be all over the walls of the suburbs of Facebook, where more people will see it than in any of the previous stops. Staying there is not the objective, though. If you only make it up to here, you’re not achieving true virility, just a very broad type of endogamy, but endogamy all the same. You still have to get to the RealWorld™, because that’s where the rest of the world is.

When you see the idea has spread to WhatsApp 3 groups, you’ll know it’s just about made it. There’s one last stop: the old and eternal email chain letters that serve as the gateway to the Internet. Everybody who’s on the Internet has an email account. Congratulations! You’ve now arrived at the RealWorld™ by making the reverse journey from the Internet. The idea you’ve fought for has triumphed over its enemies. People are talking about it in the street and down at the bar.

There’s shortcuts. For example, we can take an aspect of our agenda via Twitter (whether its healthcare, education, housing, rights, democracy…) and make it leap from the Internet to paper media in one step. We’re obviously not using Twitter just to spread memes amongst Twitter users. Getting a Trending Topic has never been the objective, the objective is to rewrite the agenda. That’s a shortcut we take every day. There’s another shortcut between Menéame and TV newsrooms. I’d like to write about all of this in another occasion.

Depending on the idea and the strategy, traversing this route can take anywhere from a couple of hours to a few years, but I’ve always observed a marked constancy along the way. If there’s a divide between the Internet and RealWorld™ it isn’t more insurmountable than the divide between Twitter or Facebook, or the English speaking or Latino blogospheres, to give a couple of examples.

It was all over in Barcelona on the #15J, 2011, at 1600 hours 4. We had fallen into the trap. Mass media had criminalised the protest in Parlament and public opinion had shunned our action. By 1500 we had been wiped from the streets and were at the keyboards, desperately deploying for a last ditch computer counterattack. By 1900, this video was out. Just minutes after making the front page of Menéame, it spread over Twitter and, within the hour, started getting plastered all over the walls of Facebook. The next morning I overheard two old people talking about the video at the entrance to the supermarket. I don’t know how it happened, but I can guess: Not every person in the world is on the Internet, but every person on the Internet is out in the world. Simply put, those pensioners live with people who are connected, and that’s more than enough. Not only did we make it through that day but, since then, and going through #QueSoyCompañeroCoño 5, the concept of the provocateur has gone beyond protest circles and is now part of global political culture. It’s an example of an idea that made it.

In my opinion, the RealWorld™ is just another layer. But, out of all the interfaces, it’s the one with most users, more bandwidth, better graphics, and it’s the only one in which you can have a beer.

http://informatbcn.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/nodosmultinivel.pngMap of the descent to the RealWorld™ as imagined by @toret Source: DatAnalysis15m

1. [Francisco Pizarro, 16th century Spanish conquistador best known for his conquest of Perú, and for initiating the decline of Inca culture. See here for more.]

2. [Basically, a Spanish take on Reddit’s system of upvoting stories and links. Here’s their site.]

3. [Whatsapp is an instant messaging smartphone application that’s insanely popular in Spain. See here for more.]

4. [On June 15th, 2011, thousands of protesters in Barcelona physically blocked access to the Catalonian Parliament where a series of austerity cuts were about to be voted on. See here for more.
]

5. [Hashtag which, translated, means, “I’m one of yours”. It refers to a viral video of an infiltrating policeman, dressed up as a violent protestor and getting arrested during the 25th September 2012 protests in Madrid while he pleads his allegiance. See this article for more.]


Strength and Power Reimagining Revolution

deshaucios_OLmoCalvo_Diagonal-585x390Image by Olmo Calvo

Amador Fernández-Savater

Translated by Stacco Troncoso, edited by Jane Loes Lipton – Guerrilla Translation!

Original text in Spanish

How is it possible that fifty people can stop a forced eviction? Not just once, but over and over again (as many as six hundred times). This question has been on my mind for a while. During the 25-S protests in Madrid 1, we saw for ourselves that the police can evict any number of protestors from anywhere. So, exactly what sort of strength allows those fifty people to stop a foreclosure eviction? What does it mean to have strength, if it’s not quite the same as having power (physical, quantitative, economic, institutional, etc.)? The following is my attempt at an answer that, by no means, fully exhausts the question. That is to say, there’s room for more answers and, above all, to keep asking the question – this, I believe, is the most important thing.

War of Position and War of Maneuver

I’m veering offroad for a bit before heading back to the highway, that being the question of how a handful of people have the strength to defend a home. Let´s look at the debate on the meaning of revolution carried out in Marxism between the two World Wars, where we’ll focus on the approach favoured by the Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci. At first it may seem like an odd jump, but it concerns a debate that is markedly contemporary, that the past doesn’t quite “pass”; it’s a rich deposit of images and knowledge, prone to updates and renewed sense-making from the perspective of our present problems and necessities.

Gramsci enters the debate making a distinction between a “war of maneuver” and a “war of position”. The concept of class struggle as war, described in military strategy terms, was prevalent in the Marxism of the time. What’s more, Gramsci was writing from Mussolini’s prison, and continually obliged to come up with new metaphors to evade censorship. Paradoxically, his use of cryptic and elusive language, rather than classical Marxist vocabulary, made Gramsci’s work a thousand times more useful as a source of inspiration for future readers.

Okay, so, the key features of the “war of maneuver” are: speed, limited appeal, and frontal attack. Gramsci makes his arguments via Trotsky’s “permanent revolution”, George Sorels’ general strike, Rosa Luxembourg´s worker insurrection and, particularly, the Leninist power grab. These images of revolutionary change clash, time and again, with European and Western reality: the bloody repression of the Spartacist movement in Germany (1918), the disbanding of worker’s councils in Italy during the Bienno Rosso (1919-20), and so on. To avert a predictable sense of frustration and to keep actively aspiring to social change, we have to reimagine revolution.

Writing behind bars, Gramsci reflects that the war of maneuver can only succeed where society is relatively independent from the State, and civil society (ie., institutions interrelated with State power: justice, media, etc.) is basic and unstructured, as was the case in Russia. By contradiction, Western Europe’s civil society was extremely solid, and acted as an “entrenchment and fortification to protect social order. It seems as if economic catastrophe has decisively breached the enemy position, but this remains a superficial effect, for behind it lies an efficient line of defense”.

Gramsci critiques the “historical mysticism” (revolution as a miraculous enlightenment) and economic determinism (the supposition that economic collapse will trigger the revolutionary process) and posits a new strategy, an alternate image for social transformation: the “war of position”. The defining feature of the war of position is the affirmation and development of a new vision of the world. Each of our daily actions, according to Gramsci, holds an implicit vision (or philosophy) of the world. Revolution disseminates a new vision – along with other expressions – of the world that slowly leaks power away from the old vision to, finally, displace it. This process is described by Gramsci as the “construction of hegemony”. No power will last long without hegemony, without control of the expressions of everyday life. It’d be domination sans legitimacy, power reduced to pure repression and fear. The taking of power must, therefore, be preceded by a “taking” of civil society.

Christianity and the Enlightenment

To illustrate his argument for another idea of revolution, Gramsci offers two examples: Christianity and the Enlightenment.  It’s quite curious: he utilizes a religious reform and an intellectual overhaul as models to conceptualise the political revolution he longs for. In both examples, the determining catalyst of change is a new definition of reality.

In the case of Christianity, it’s the idea that Christ has resurrected and there is life after death. Christianity coalesces around this “good news” that filters through every crack left behind by the old pagan world. The interesting feature is that the first Christians avoided power. Instead, their actions ultimately led power to come to them, as exemplified by the conversion of Emperor Constantine in the 4th Century A.D. The lesson of the first Christians would be: don’t fight directly for power, be the message-bearer of a new concept of the world, and, finally, the power shall fall (into your hands).

In the case of the Enlightenment, it’s the idea that all persons are of equal worth, as beings gifted with reason. The Enlightenment was the movement that spread this idea, in salons, clubs or encyclopediae. In the end, remarks Gramsci, once the French Revolution actually took place, it had already be won. Domination has no legitimacy because this new concept of the world has silently displaced the old, overtaking the powers of the Old Regime without them even noticing. The lesson from the Enlightened would be: the revolution is won before the revolution takes place, through the elaboration and expansion of a new image of the world.

These are the examples mentioned by Gramsci, who died in prison in 1937. But the 20th century has surely offered us other examples much closer to our own experience. Take, for example, the Gay Rights Movement. A movement both seen and unseen, formal and informal, political and cultural, that completely transforms the common perception regarding affective and sexual differences and goes on to effect legislative change. Or the Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King Jr. explained that the irresistible strength of the movement resided in overcoming the deeply internalised feelings of inferiority by confronting the opponents as equals (in civil disobedience campaigns, for example). An uprising in dignity that spurred modifications in the laws of the land.

Thus, the war of position, unlike the war of maneuver, is more an infiltration than an assault. A slow displacement, rather than an accumulation of forces. A collective and anonymous movement, rather than a minority and centralised operation. A form of indirect, everyday and diffuse pressure, rather than a concentrated and simultaneous insurrection (but, make no mistake, Gramsci doesn’t exclude insurrection at any stage, but subordinates it to the construction of hegemony). And, above all, based on the building and development of a new definition of reality. This, as explained in the words of the philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis as “what counts and what doesn’t count, what makes sense and what doesn’t, a definition not inscribed in books, but on the very being of things: the actions of human beings, their relations, their organization, their perception of what is, their affirmation and search for what counts, the materiality of the objects they produce, use and consume”.

15-M as cultural revolution

Let’s return to our first scene, keeping this detour to Gramsci in mind. I think that if fifty people are capable of stopping a foreclosure eviction, it’s because, in some way, it had already been stopped.  That is, 15-M, when taken as a new social climate rather than an organization or structure, has redefined reality. What before was unseen (the very fact of foreclosure evictions happening) is now seen. What before was seen (in fact, normalized) as a “routine foreclosure of an outstanding mortgage”, now feels like something intolerable. What once was presented as inevitable, now appears as something contingent. The 15-M climate, using Gramsci’s analysis, has led the institutions of civil society to a state of crisis: policemen who disobey orders and won’t take part in evictions, judges taking advantage of any crack in the legal code to favour the foreclosed, journalists and media who empathise and amplify their messages, etc. Ultimately, fifty people in direct connection with the climate of 15-M, both in regards to the what (what they’re fighting for) as to the how (the way they fight) are not just fifty people. They are accompanied by millions, unseen. It’s what the philosopher Alain Badiou calls “a majority minority”. An agent of change: capable of infecting because it is itself a carrier.

So, going back to our initial question, we can define strength as the capacity to redefine reality: what’s worthy and unworthy, possible and impossible, seen and unseen. 15-M’s climate probably hasn’t got much power (physical, quantitative, institutional or economic), but strength, definitely. It isn’t just a social or political change, but also – above all – a cultural (or even aesthetic) transformation, an adjustment in perception (the threshold of what is seen and what is unseen), in sensibility (what we consider compatible or intolerable in our existence), and in the idea of what’s possible (“yes, we can”) 2.

The import of all this hasn’t been well understood by those who are critical of 15-M’s excessively “emotional” slant, starting with Zygmunt Bauman, the famous sociologist. What we loosely label affective or emotional – or, the unconscious base of our communal living – is precisely what moves us to consider a person who doesn’t live nearby as our neighbour anyway, and to then show up at their door to protect them from a forced eviction. The feeling that each of our lives doesn’t result in a single, isolated self, but rather, is interconnected with many other unknown lives (“we are the 99%”).

Politics isn’t, first and foremost, a matter of making allegations and raising awareness; there is no one straw that breaks the camel’s back, and what’s bad can be tolerated indefinitely. Instead, it is a sort of shedding of the skin, by which we become sensitive to this or allergic to that. Nor has it much to do with convincing (discourse), or seducing (marketing), but rather with opening all sorts of spaces to experience another way of living, another definition of reality, another vision of the world. In the struggle for hegemony, the skin – yours, mine, everyone’s – is the battlefield.

Some references:

  • The basic ideas for this text, as always, arose from conversations with friends, in this case, specially with Juan, Leo and Ema. I presented them for the first time at the 15MP2P conference.
  • If you enjoyed this text, you may be interested in these others: “Waves and Foam” or “Seeing the Invisible: On Unicorns and the 15-M Movement”
  • Guerre de mouvement et guerre de position, Antonio Gramsci & Razmig Keucheyan, La Fabrique (2012).
  • The “Antonio Gramsci’s Commitment” chapter from the book The Company Of Critics: Social Criticism And Political Commitment In The Twentieth Century by Michael Walzer, (Basic Books, 1988)
  • I think that John Beasley Murray’s arguments against the idea of hegemony being reduced to a question of ideological discourse are essential. They can be found in his book Posthegemony Political Theory and Latin America, (Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2011). See here for more information.
  • The Introduction to L’Expérience du mouvement ouvrier by Cornelius Castoriadis (Union Générale d’Éditions, 1973)
  • On Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Civil Rights Movement, I found the “The Spiritual Discipline Against Resentment “ chapter from Christopher Lasch’s “The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics” (1991)  to be a very inspiring read.

1. [ “25-S” refers to the Occupy/Surround Congress protests of September 25 2012.]
2. [“Sí se puede” was originally used as the motto of the United Farm Workers and, notably, during  Cesar Chavez’s 24 day fast in Phoenix, Arizona (see here for more details). It was then taken, in its English version, by the Obama “Yes, we can!” 2008 campaign. Finally, the 15-M movement has reclaimed the phrase, back in its original Spanish form as a rallying cry to celebrate its successes. See this video, for example..]

Unity sans Convergence (Political Self-organization Models for Hyperlinked Multitudes)

15 MImage by Olmo Calvo

Madrilonia/@PinkNoiseRev

Translated by Stacco Troncoso, edited by Jane Loes Lipton –Guerrilla Translation!

Original text in Spanish

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:

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:

The Interruption of the Dominant Narrative, an interview with Colectivo Enmedio

“The interruption of the dominant narrative to create our own is the sort of politics we’re interested in”

Amador Fernández-Savater interviews colectivo EnmedioMembers and collaborators of Enmedio, taking part on the “Paro Monumental” (Monumental Unemployment” action. The text on the balloon reads: “Spain, champions in unemployment”

Amador Fernández-Savater/Colectivo Enmedio

Translated by Stacco Troncoso, edited by Jane Loes Lipton –Guerrilla Translation!

Frustrated by the lack of connection between art and political action, Campa, Leo, Mario y Oriana created, among others, the colectivo Enmedio (“InBetween collective”) (Barcelona)  to explore the transformative potential of images and tales. They recently hacked the statue of Columbus in Barcelona and, amongst many other initiatives, they are also responsible for the striking visual campaign used by Spain’s anti-foreclosure movement, the PAH, to highlight and publicly shame corrupt politicians responsible for maintaining Spain’s draconian foreclosure laws. We talk to them about art’s power to politically intervene, both practically and potentially, in the crisis.

A space in Barcelona, an art collective, an action group, what exactly is Enmedio?

Leo: The name says a lot about us. Enmedio is born of heartbreak. We’re all image professionals (designers, filmmakers, artists, etc.) who’ve left our usual work behind. We found no meaning in the spaces we were assigned: the art academy, the advertising agency, the production company. So we got out of that and came up with a new space where can do what we want, a bit of an uncomfortable and difficult space in a no-man’s-land.

Campa: There’s no politics in the established spaces for art (though there’s no lack of politicking!) nor will you find a whole lot of concern about aesthetics in political spaces. This is what pushed us to create a third space, to be in-between art and politics.

Mario: Visual work can be very powerful and that’s something that we want to keep exploring. It’s our thing, it’s what we do best and the way we relate to the world. But we need to take that to other places and mix it up with other things. “Enmedio” makes reference to that unknown space we want to occupy, that has something to do with photography or vídeo, but it isn’t just that, although it has that too, I don’t know if I’ve made myself clear….

Oriana: We’ve been exploring this edge for some ten or twelve years. Some of us come from collectives like Las Agencias, Yomango, V de Vivienda, etc. There are  people who’ve been involved in squats, or the anti-globalization protests, or Latin American movements, like Zapatismo, and people with no political history, or otherwise informed by today’s movements: V de Vivienda, 15-M, etc. This mix of different creative and political backgrounds breaks our individual roles when working together and produces some surprising effects; that may be our strongest suit.

Does symbolic political intervention make a difference during a crisis like this, which touches and affects the most material and real sides of our lives (housing, salaries, etc.)?

Campa: Capitalism drives us to this sort of misery, to these foreclosures and this suffering, through images and tales. It’s a master storyteller with an impressive capacity to fascinate. Lots of people got mortgaged because they bought the story, built on words and images, that we got from banks and advertising on a daily basis. Advertising creates images of desirable worlds, and that collective image generates economic paradigms and social situations.

Leo: It’s not like on the one hand we have this fiction, and on the other, reality. Fiction is the hard nucleus of reality. From a protest (an act of street-theatre) to the writing of a political speech (which deals with images and popular imagery), it’s all fiction. What’s important is the effect of these fictions, whether we can re-appropriate them or not, whether we believe in them or not, whether they generate confidence or impotence in ourselves. The basis for social change is cultural: the stories through which we make sense of our lives and the world we live in.

Mario. That’s the reason why we work in two directions. First, to interfere with the dominant narrative, the official explanation for the world, through guerrilla communication, with signs, catchphrases, messages, etc. Second, contributing to the production of an autonomous imagery. Not as much breaking down a narrative as bringing in a new one. This is what’s most important and most difficult: to represent ourselves, create our own story, our own explanation of what’s happening. A narrative we can inhabit.

Let’s explore all this in more detail, by way of your own actions. If you want, we can start with the party at the unemployment agency INEM [1] that you organised in 2009

Fiesta en INEM. Press the close-caption button to activate English subtitles.

Oriana: Maybe the most interesting thing was the moment: the crisis erupts, but there’s no reaction in the street. There’s fear and paralysis. Our idea was to find a place that condensed and represented that fear. We chose the unemployment office, and what better solution to fear than throwing a party?

Campa: Enmedio functions through self-representation. What I mean is, it wasn’t a party for the unemployed. We’re also unemployed, we live precariously, etc. We’re not lecturing anybody. We start by looking at ourselves, and then we invite everyone else to join. In the vid you can see people smiling, participating, cheering or telling us “you’ve cheered up my day”. We look for that empathy by starting with our own worries, problems and woes.

Leo: That video got an amazing amount of views. I think we touched on something that vibed with a shared feeling: if you start with what’s bothering you personally, you can communicate it to others. What’s most intimate is, at the same time, most common.

Mario: We want our actions to be inspiring and contagious. We plan and design them as seeds that can take root elsewhere. Once the 15-M movement got started, we saw parties thrown at an INEM office in the Canary Islands, and other similar actions.

Tell us about the Reflectors.

The Reflectors, ready for action.

Leo: The Reflectantes (Reflectors) is an action group that sprang from a series of creative activism workshops we called “Como acabar con el Mal” (How to end Evil) where we tried to pass on creative activism experiences and practices to younger people who got into politics after 15-M and whatnot. It’s linked to a long tradition of character creation which acts in protest spaces, from Prêt a Revolter to the New Kids on the Black Block, proposing new ways of taking to the street, filled with joy, colour and creativity.

Mario: The Reflectors have a lot to do with the moment they came out, around the first anniversary of 15-M. The powers that be had, by then, gone full thrust with acts of repression and criminalization, in order to end street protest. Bringing in that kind of dynamic leeches the natural plurality from the street, “de-democritising” protest until only small and very homogenous groups remain, easily identified and codified. That’s where the Reflectors come in, saying, “We’re not gonna play this game, let’s break the rules”.

Campa: The Reflectors play with the imagery of superheroes and fan culture. They’re normal people, but armed with a set of tools which allows them to combat Evil: inflatable cubes to deflect the police if they decide to charge, mirrors to blind surveillance ‘copters, disguises to break the codification, etc. They both dramatise and de-dramatise protest by using humour and generating new feelings, making street presence desirable again, while, at the same time, putting elements into play that help to channel moments of tension and violence.

Oriana: A lot of people joined the Reflective Block on the 15-M anniversary march. We also met people we didn’t know who had seen the costumes on the Internet. Nowadays, the Reflectors are an autonomous group, very close to Enmedio, but independent. That’s quite interesting too.

What can you tell me about the Party at Bankia? [2]

Fiesta en Bankia. Press the close-caption button to activate English subtitles.

Mario: The same week the government announced cuts of 20 billion Euros in healthcare and education, we found out that they were going to bail out Bankia with 23 billion Euros in public funds. Like most people, we were furious, so we decided to do something about it.

Leo: We got together with like-minded people and started thinking about what we could do to damage Bankia’s image. We thought that the only way we could affect a bank, and show our rejection of the bailout, was by encouraging people to close their accounts. And the best way to do that would be…throwing a party (as you can see, we just love to throw parties).

Campa: So, one day, a group of people went to a Bankia office, and patiently crouched and waited for a client to close her account. Then we went in and threw a party for her. She couldn’t believe it. We were in there for four minutes at the most, that’s how long the song lasted. We lifted her up and carried her out over our heads, and got out of there the same way we came in. We then cut a video out of all this and it got more than 100.000 visits in 24 hours and hasn’t stopped since. The YouTube page is full of comments. The vid was shown on various TV channels, and other “Cierra Bankia” parties took place in cities all across Spain.

Oriana: The idea was to show that something as intimate and private as your bank account can be used as a political statement; that closing an account can be a public act, and, above all, a lot of fun!

What was the Discongreso (De-congress)?

Photocall 25-S

Mario: Enmedio joined the 25-S campaign: “Ocupa el congreso” (Occupy Congress). It was a call to action that coincided with our own internal debates: We felt that 15-M had fallen into some repetitive inertias and that 25-S could be a good occasion to break out of them. The problem was that it was a very insular call to action, both exclusive and codified. Our work there was to use communication as a way of opening it up. WIth the posters, a graphic campaign and a proposal to occupy the space in a different way, we wanted to come up with a different story, reappropriate the event, and make it both open and desirable.

Oriana: Design-wise, it was a very simple campaign. We replaced “Occupy Congress” for “Surround Congress”, because for us it was never about taking power but a removal of power. Then we added. “On 25-S we’ll surround Congress until they resign. Period. In the poster we had a series of different coloured dots, representing a plural society, surrounding a centre.

Campa: Those dots actually become pictures later on. We put out a photocall inviting people to take pics showing their own reasons for going to an event like 25-S. We took the photocall out to the street, and we put the word out on social media so people could take their own pics and add their reasons. We wanted to highlight diversity and open up an event that, at first, had felt very exclusive.

Leo: And finally, the dots were turned into frisbees on which people wrote their demands. We then sent these on to Congress, flying over police barricades during the actual protest on September 25th. Since, by land, there was no way to get into Congress so they’d listen to us, the only option we had was by air!

Tell me about the “We are Not Numbers” Action Photography Workshop.

Pasting bills at Caixa Catalunya

Oriana: Working with photographs and, in collaboration with PAH, we wanted to reverse the dehumanised and victim-like portrayals of people affected by foreclosure that the media puts out. We portrayed people about to be foreclosed, or who had already been kicked out, and we pasted those portraits, all blown up, on the banks that had led to their situations, showing that the foreclosed have faces and eyes, that they’re not just statistics. And from those pictures, we’ve also designed a series of postcards where we tell these people’s stories. These were directed, first of all, to the banks, and later (during the escraches), to politicians.

Campa: These photographic interventions work in two ways. On the one hand, they empower the affected. They come to the workshop, they pose, see their photographs, then they’re pasted up on the banks, and like this we break the wall of shame, they create a presence in public space. On the other, it’s guerrilla imagery in the struggle between different depictions of the crisis, the day-to-day battle held on the walls of the cites, associating a face with the organization responsible for the foreclosure (foreclosures are often talked about in the media, but they never mention the names of the banks).  The interruption of the dominant narrative to create our own is the sort of politics we’re interested in.

Leo: For us, the real key isn’t the quality of the portraits or videos, but their coordination with social processes as powerful as PAH. But we’re also quite careful and exacting about form. We don’t share the sloppiness of those that think that “the content” of the picture or poster is the only worthwhile thing. We’re concerned about aesthetics, not out a love for aestheticism itself, but because of the very politics of aesthetics: the “how” of relating these things, the “what” we’re given to see, the “what” we’re led to feel”. Lacking form, there’s only naked rage and no communication.

You’ve also designed the popular red and green signs used by the PAH in their escraches[3]. A friend, after being in a escrache, told me “Those simple signs are so important; without them we’d just seem to be a furious mass, and little else”

.

PAH’s colours read: Green: “Yes, we can” (Stop foreclosures. retroactive nonrecourse debt, social rent). Red: “But no, they don’t want to”.

Leo: The problem with housing has always been central to us. Some of us took part in the graphic commission of V de Vivienda-Barcelona [4], where we came up with the famous slogan: “You’ll never own a house in your whole fucking life.” So, during the “No somos números” (We’re not numbers) workshop we formed a direct relationship with the PAH, and they asked us to take care of the visual side of the escraches. It was a very important proposal for us and, at the same time, a very delicate one.

Mario: The idea was to lay out the conflict with a very simple visual statement. On one side we have the “Yes we can” from the PAH (the million signatures, the social support, etc). On the other side, the “But they don’t want to”, coming from the political elite, totally deaf to society. Green and red: walk and stop. A lot of green signs against a lone red one: 99% and 1%. The signs and stickers weren’t so much designed to point to any specific politicians but, more than anything, to gather and serve the outpouring of social support the PAH has had.

Oriana: In the original Argentinian escraches, the neighborhood played a crucial role. In this case, it was very much the same idea. being able to surround your representative with green buttons on your own neighborhood. That shopkeepers (the baker, the hardware guy, the newspaper vendor) could put the sticker up on their shops. In other words, so that the whole neighborhood would be denouncing the representative, inviting him or her to push the green button. The important thing about the escraches is to pile on people, people from the neighborhood, people who walk by, so that anyone can be part of the “green tide” as represented by the PAH. That’s the effect we wanted to have with the signs.

Campa: Again, the production side of this has been very important, how you put this to work. The materials are simple and cheap, the design is up for grabs in PAH’s website, so anyone with a printer, some paper and a bit of cellotape can go and make their own signs. We’re just as concerned with the concept (the “what”) as with the production (the “how”).

How about wrapping up by going through some of the main influences or reference points for your work, between images and social concerns, between art and politics?

Oriana: Zapatismo, due to having lived though it myself and because of its meaning. To come from the frivolity and disenchantment of the 90s, to suddenly finding a new way of doing politics and communication. The importance of words and symbols, in the harshest living conditions. Working within and working from the true imagination of the people you work with and the people you want to reach. How central processes, not just results, are.

Mario: Pop music. I see my work as being very related to that, pop culture, what’s popular. This desire to get in touch with the whole of society, the will to push emotions and desires, the yearning to come up with juicy representations where you see yourself reflected, wherever you want to participate, so you can get moving…

Leo: The Yippies, a group created and active in the midst of 60s American counterculture, whose aim was to politically radicalise the hippie movement. Yippies understood social change as a struggle between symbols, and flexed most of their activist muscle creating myths, rumours and fictions to shortcircuit the dominant narrative, and to put in circulation autonomous images. Coming from a very different context, I pretty much think the same way.

Campa: Regarding what I’m concerned with, and given that Zapatismo has already been mentioned, I’d say punk. Not so much in a musical or aesthetic sense, but having to do with sheer attitude, that nerve, freshness, immediacy, nonconformity, DIY culture, the intensity of a 3-minute song. I think that ties in rather well with what we do at Enmedio.

[1] INEM: “Instituto Nacional de Empleo” is Spain’s National Institute for Employment: “Administrative body coming under the Ministry of Labour , set up in 1978 to develop and follow up employment policy , to co-ordinate and run public employment offices and to administer the unemployment benefit system.”

[2] Bankia is 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.

[3] “Escrache”, an Argentinian term, describes a mode of protest wherein people go take their concerns directly to their representative’s homes and neighborhoods to condemn and publicly humiliate decision makers on their unethical choices. Read more here.

[4] Or “H is for Housing” a wordplay on V for Vendetta. Read more here

This translation has been republished on:

Seeing the Invisible: on Unicorns and the 15-M Movement

Image: Marina Gullón

Amador Fernández-Savater

Translated 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.

Miracles

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.

The impossible

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.