Tagged: Spain

A Charter for Democracy


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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

Medialab Prado: 10 Years of Social Innovation

The following article, written by our good friend Bernardo Gutiérrez, looks at MediaLab Prado, a very special hybrid space in our hometown, Madrid. This translation features additional original content by the author (not originally published in the Spanish media article), citing MediaLab as one of the spaces where the initial gestalt of the early 15M movement was collaboratively created. It has subsequently been republished in Shareable magazine, and the website for The 2013 Economics and the Commons Conference.

MediaLab PradoImage adapted from an original at Nómada Blog

It seems that “lab” is the word making the rounds amongst innovation buffs these days . Maybe the term “laboratory” isn’t the most appropriate analog, given that its dictionary definition, “a facility that provides controlled conditions in which scientific research, experiments, and measurement may be performed”, falls short in describing the present day use of “lab”, and what these spaces are about.

This divergence of terms originated with the foundation of the first Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in 1985, a space characterized by its convergence of technology, multimedia art and design. However, in recent years, MIT’s model seems obsolete and at a standstill, especially when compared to a newer and more relevant generations of labs. Madrid’s MediaLab Prado, currently celebrating its tenth anniversary at a new location -la Serrería Belga– stands out as the premier reference points for labs worldwide.

So, what is a lab, exactly? A technical laboratory? A multidisciplinary space open to the public? Rather than nailing down one definition, it may be better to observe some of these labs worldwide, and notice the local idiosyncrasies. Any city eager to reinvent itself and adapt to the networked society invests in an urban lab, such as the Laboratorio Procomún in Rosario, Argentina. Cultural centers like, for example, Ljudmila Media Lab (Liubliana, Slovenia) are currently mutating into places where the artistic paradigm goes beyond art objects.  Digital art spaces, such as the prestigious Eyebeam in New York, are recycling themselves following collaborative models. All of the above share a common source of inspiration: Medialab Prado Madrid.

This could likely be said about many other institutions, labs, universities and cultural centres around the world. Any city would be proud to host something like a Medialab Prado. What is it about this media lab’s DNA that makes it so desirable in areas as diverse as technological innovation, culture and civic participation?

Captura-de-pantalla-2013-04-18-a-las-07.12.11The key to MediaLab Prado’s success may be held in a definition first proposed by José Luis de Vicente: “it’s a community incubator”. In fact, both words, “community” and “incubator”, have been the trend amongst Silicon Valley circles and community managers alike. It’s also worth noting that, as terms, they are seldom seen together. And, as Juan Freire and Antoni Gutiérrez Rubí express in their book “Manifiesto Crowd”, in the age of networks, innovation walks a different path. “The factories that were churning out companies in the 20th century are dead. The 21st century is witness to the birth of spaces for collective innovation”. An incubator lacking a community will never be enough. This is the reason why a lab – both in its physical and digital realms – needs to be an open platform. And that is precisely why MediaLab Prado has become such a a relevant space for coexistence, innovation and mutual co-creation.

MediaLab Prado is both a physical and a digital platform. Physically, it’s a space where anyone can walk in, while online it functions as a laboratory for connecting ideas. MediaLab Prado is an interdisciplinary workspace for creation and innovation. And here’s an important detail: its strength doesn’t reside in its own programming, put together by stewards and specialists. It lies instead in the various working groups, projects and encounters collectively cooked up by the citizen communities who frequent Medialab’s headquarters, or participate in its digital channels. Every Friday, for example, there’s an open lab where anyone can collaborate with anyone else in the creation of new projects.

Another defining feature is its focus on prototyping – another digital culture and IT term. Prototyping culture doesn’t seek definitive or finished products; instead, it prefers to function in a transparent and collective  manner, employing open projects in a constant, citizen-fueled process of improvement. All in all, MediaLab Prado has become a catalyst for culture, technology, networks, science, education, and innovation.

Evidently, MediaLab Prado’s official areas of competence are both necessary and relevant. Interactivos? (a laboratory for creative and educative technological applications) Visualizar (data and citizenship visualization) or its Commons Lab (transversal investigation centered on the Commons) are clear international reference points. Additionally, self managed working groups, such as “Funcionamientos: Diseños abiertos y remezcla social” (Functioning: Open design and social remixes) or “Género y Tecnología” (Genre and Tech) are just as influential. MediaLab Prado cannot simply be described as a  “Cultural Centre”, as it is so much more than a building populated with works of art or technological infrastructures. It’s a connector, a hub, a platform for the collective intelligence that is transforming industry, economics, technology, education and art throughout the whole planet.

In fact, it’s been one of the citizen hubs where civic activism slowly forged the 15-M/ Indignado movement that heralded Occupy Wall Street and the global revolution. To give an example, in early 2011, while Spanish mass-media ignored collectives such as Democracia Real Ya or Juventud sin Futuro, the Redada Encounters in MediaLab Prado transformed an incumbent and collective -as opposed to hierarchical- form of web activism into a palpable phenomenon. Open code practices, now essential to modern activism, have always been central to MediaLab Prado.

Serreria Belga

The challenges in this new chapter in MediaLab Prado’s history are undoubtedly many. One of the most important will be channeling corporate innovation and navigating new economic paradigms. At a time in which The Economist, no less, dedicates its front page to the sharing economy, MediaLab Prado is in a better position than many. By developing its own trajectory, it could well become a great catalyst for the future networks of innovation, open culture and citizen intelligence that will soon be needed in Europe. In fact, connections established within MediaLab Prado in these last few years have given rise to projects and citizen start-ups such as MLP, Play the Magic, Open Materials, Hackteria, Lummo, Muimota, Máster DIWO, Ultralab and Data Citizen Driven City, amongst many others. Certain working groups, like IoT Madrid (Internet de las Cosas) or exhibitory projects such as Impresoras 3D: Makerbot y Reprap clearly lead the way to the future.

Living at a time when most of the world’s population is concentrated in cities, urban innovation may well be MediaLab Prado’s greatest challenge. It’s no coincidence that some of the most influential labs in the world, such as CityLab in Cornellà, Barcelona or the BMW Guggenheimlab in New York, are focusing their efforts on urban innovation. This is the reason why Medialab Prado’s new location at the heart of historic Madrid is so essential. Its urban vocation is most evident in working groups such as Ciudad y Procomún, the new Ciencia Ciudadana (Citizen Science) station or projects like Hacer barrio or Quality Eggs.

The history of Barrio de las Letras -or “writer’s district”- where Medialab Prado is currently located, is another key facet. The scientific institutions of the 18th Century were responsible for the first major developmental push in Madrid, which then led to the expansion of Barrio de las Letras. During this time, the city witnessed the construction of the Botanical Garden, the Astronomical Observatory, the Academy of the Sciences (which now houses the Prado Museum) and the General Hospital (currently housing the Reina Sofía Museum) and the “Gabinet de Máquinas” a demolished Industrial Engineering museum from that era and situated quite close to the old Army Museum. All of this frantic building activity took place in less than 3 decades. MediaLab Prado´s new location in the Serrería Belga, an old abandoned industrial building, is another telling metaphor of an industrial era that left so many urban carcasses in its wake.

In summary, the conversion of an old,  abandoned, industrial space into an citizen innovation lab in the same area where literature and science flourished in centuries past, is a promising metaphor indeed. MediaLab Prado is one of the closest examples of the new Partner State proposed by Michel Bauwens, founder of the P2P Foundation. A State which guarantees the necessary space and resources to activate a P2P society’s collective intelligence for the improvement of the Commons.

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.


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.

Spain’s Micro-Utopias: The 15M Movement and its Prototypes

Image: Voces con Futura

Bernardo Gutiérrez

Translated by Stacco Troncoso, edited by Jane Loes Lipton – Guerrilla Translation!
Originally published in two parts at 20minutos.es. Part 1. Part 2

“The old protests, so dull and single-minded, have passed into obsolescence, and given rise to infinite possibility. We’ve rethought the concepts of action, protest, relationship, the public, the common…”

In the collective text,  This is Not a Demostration, we find a hidden corner of thoughtfulness completely ignored by mass media. This is Not a Demonstration isn’t an exercise in nostalgia. There’s no sense of longing for that Vibrant Mass that Occupied the Squares which formed that unpredictable collective body, the tangle of relationships some call “The 15-M Movement”.

This is Not a Demonstration has taken all-inclusive stock of actions, processes and projects which simply can’t be done justice by the old lexicon of protest. This is not a demonstration, we said: “And our imagination has totally overflowed the space of what’s possible, even as we build new worlds upon the carcass of the old”. This is not a demonstration. This is not a sum total. This is more than a rattling-off of victories. This is more than an echo of  “we’re going slow, because we’re going far”.

Some of the media is too quick to bury “what’s left of 15M”. After the second anniversary protest of May 12th, which took place all across Spain, some will rush to hammer the final nail in 15M’s coffin. After the headcount, they’ll pick the photo with the sparsest crowd. They’ll even go so far as to manipulate some images, like any dictatorship would.

Alone in their cave, they’ll toast the funeral, reflected in the tarnished mirror of old-world media. They won’t see the details, the process, the steady drip. They will not take note. They will not listen. They will not read this text.

Surely, 15M is too complicated to be easily categorized, explained, translated. Besides, the eye sees what it’s used to seeing, as Amador Fernández-Savater reminds us in his highly recommended Seeing the Invisible: on Unicorns and the 15-M Movement. But it might just be possible to catch a glimpse of its transformative power by describing the little things, the modest dreams, the collective projects, invisible to many. There´s no need for that utopia of May 68, that ridiculous “Beneath the paving stones, the beach” which never materialised. There´s no need for it because 15M has already built its own: dozens, hundreds, thousands of networked micro-utopias. 15M has no use for a utopian model because it already has one, hundreds, thousands, of working prototypes. Micro-utopian prototypes, connected amongst themselves and (almost) in real time.

Keyword: Prototype.  “An early sample or model built to test a concept or process or to act as a thing to be replicated or learned from”. Digital culture, copyleft processes and the hacker ethic, so pervasive in the leadup to 15M, all imbued their spirit in this new revolution of the connected crowd. The working prototype, within this new, open, process-based world, replaces any fixed model. And 15M is still churning out prototypes. It has built them collectively, as a network and in an open way.

The initial Acampada Sol (encampment at Madrid’s Puerta del Sol square) wasn’t made up of groups protesting the collapse of the system. Within the encampments were prototypes for the new world. And the devil was in the details: its day-care centers, its open libraries, its food gardens, its video streaming, its analogue and digital mechanisms for proposing change. 15M –  whether seen as a signal, a movement, a state of being or a set of human interactions – has built its prototypes, and they’re many: judicial, urban, cultural, economical, technological, communicative, political, affective.

The true power of 15M doesn’t lie in its (necessarily) reactionary collective defense of the welfare state. Its real, and massive, hidden strength is in its creative, innovative, proposal-oriented nature. Given our willfully blind politicians and media, increasing the visibility of these real, shareable, living prototypes is crucial, now more than ever. But it’s not a list we need, it´s more like an act of poetic justice. A subjective inventory, giving shape to something so big we don’t yet have a name for it.

As we’ve been saying for some time,  being happy is our best revenge.

                                                               PROTOTYPE 1 / THE METHOD MICRO-UTOPIA

Image: Ondas de Ruído. Creative Commons Share Alike 2.0

The encampments of 2011, specifically their restoration of community assemblies, took the political old guard by surprise. Here were non-hierarchical, open assemblies that anyone could take part in. For the first time in decades, we saw political assemblies held in public spaces. Assemblies that turned into method, human hardware for uniting urban citizens.  The need for consensus arose from a spirit of dialogue and coexistence, born in reaction to the visceral antagonism of the old political class:  we won’t go until we reach an agreement. Following the erosion of the mechanisms of consensus during the encampments, the strategy of geographical and thematic diaspora came into being. #TomaLosBarrios (#TakeTheHoods). #TomaLaPlaya (#TakeTheBeach). #TomaLoqueQuieras (#TakeWhateverYouWant. Join with others. Open it up. And, from the hardships of coexistence, the slow nature of consensus, from decentralization, the workings of autonomy emerged..

In free software jargon, “fork” describes a peaceful deviation within a common project. The term was quickly adopted in 15M citizen politics. The newly formed Comité Disperso (Scatttered Committee) sums up 15M’s fresh ways of dealing with an assortment of processes. “You can be there without always being there.  You can be, without being the same. You can participate without needing to tie yourself to anything or giving up your autonomy. Acting from mutual respect, scattered organization allows varying degrees of collaboration amongst people and collectives, according to their own wishes, goals and abilities at any given moment”. It isn’t surprising then that Partido X, Partido del Futuro, which forked out from 15M, defines itself as “a method”.

                                                                PROTOTYPE 2 / THE URBAN MICRO-UTOPIA

Image: Campo de Cebada. Creative Commons Share Alike 2.0

The encampments led to a double mutation of urban space. First: the shift from public space into common space. Public squares, beset by excessive prohibitions and the privatization of their usage, were reborn as the urban commons. A leaderless, non-hierarchical citizen network organized this urban space “peer-to-peer”, consisting of interconnected public squares.

Second mutation: hybrid space. These weren’t squares made of paving stones. These squares were of bits and atoms. Analogue and digital life were intimately intertwined, inseparable. During the encampment at Sol, theTwittómetro connected networks and public squares, virtual and physical spaces. The #AbreTuWIFI, (#OpenYourWifi) campaign, which encourages people to open their home WI-FI access during protests to allow easy communication, nurtured this new hybrid urban space. Another good example is the #Voces25S map, created to protect mass groups from police violence. You only had to tweet from your GPS-activated mobile phone to lay out the “digital rug” over the physical city-space.

The first of the two mutations described above is building a network of former public spaces, now transformed into self-organising, self-governed places bristling with activity, like Madrid’s Campo de Cebada, recent winner of Ars Electronica’s prestigious Golden Nica Award in the Digital Communities category. These spaces are often supported in part by stale, dried up public institutions desperate for new ideas. The second mutation is branching out through Convoca!, a mobile app that allows you to check in at gatherings, protests, events or encampments. Both mutations coalesce in a melting pot of networked spaces, connecting peers locally and globally, beyond institutions or boundaries, on the fringes of commercial logic.

                                                       PROTOTYPE 3 /THE COMMUNICATION MICRO-UTOPIA

Image: Fotomovimiento.org

Very few countries have put into practice sociologist Manuel Castells’ concept of “mass self-communication” at the same level as Spain. Under the nose of a mass media trapped in its clichés and corporate compromises, 15M created an historically unparalleled system of mass communication. It introduced transparency as a method: video streaming of assemblies, open minutes and documents for every meeting, a transparency at once action and communication. From the get-go, 15M produced better live-streamed media of protests than anyone else. TV grew increasingly irrelevant when compared to on-the-ground video streaming as exemplified by People Witness or Toma La Tele. The revolution had finally been televised, contrary to Gil Scott Heron’s prediction (The Revolution will not be televised).   What’s more, some written media, after seeing the global impact of SolTV and citizen-streaming, felt the need to catch up by aping the method and providing live video too.

A good number of photopress agencies lost some lustre to the explosive, poetic material showcased by FotoMovimiento. Meanwhile Audiovisol, Agora SolRadio or the printed-paper Periódico 15M have set the new standard in intelligent mass self-communication.

Some new media such as ElDiario.es, La Marea, Reset Project, Revista Números Rojos or Café amb Llet were born steeped in the micro-utopic communicative spirit of 15M. And if that wasn’t enough, let’s not forget 15M’s role as a global Twitter-trending-topic machine, planned on collective pads such as this one, and which are already being studied in the communication programs of universities worldwide.

                                                               PROTOTYPE 4/ MICRO-UTOPIA IN FEMININE

Vídeo: presenting the Zorras Mutantes (Mutant “Ho”s) in Sol General Assembly, 3rd of May 2012.

Spanish, being a gender-based language, was hacked to be gender-flexible (from nosotros to nosotras) early on in the encampments. We started seeing men speaking very naturally in feminine/gender inclusive forms of speech, a hugely significant detail. It’s a symbolic mutation, a step onwards from competition to collaboration. This is the tip of the iceberg of a new worldwide paradigm. I’m not referring to it as a Feminine Micro-utopia, because this shift runs much deeper than that. At the very least, we’re witnessing a remix of classical feminism, which, at times, has constructed the same kinds of antagonistic and categorical walls as “machismo”. 15M is creating a grounded, intuitive outgrowth of Donna Haraway’s utopian cyberfeminism.

The existence of assemblies such TransMaricaBollo (composed of LGBT collectives in Madrid) is another example of the micro-utopian aggregate,  inclusive and genre-transcendent, that 15M as a movement is striving for. While not being central to the movement,  the Zorras Mutantes assembly, which plays with the queer movement, polyamory and the jargon of “cyborg-feminism”, is another spark within this #PostFeminist, #PostPatriarcal micro-utopia. Here’s an extract from their manifesto: “We’re animal-human-machine-software hacking the limits of established norms (…) We’re on strike, striking against species and gender: we renounce our binary gender and human categorizations, arbitrary classifications of an imperialist tradition (…) We abhor subject-object dualism, possessive individualism and the right to own property, and we declare ourselves as metabodies.”.

                                             PROTOTYPE 5 / THE COLLECTIVE CULTURE MICRO-UTOPIA

Copyleft culture – conceived as a reaction to copyright – directlly influenced 15M. Copyleft idealism and its legitimization of copying and recycling content was at an all-time high in the months leading up to 15M, due to the threat of the antipiracy Sinde Law. These intuitive, collective and unplanned tenets formed the backbone of the #GlobalRevolution. Public squares acquired copyleft traits, becoming ctrl+v spaces constantly mirrored in their digital doppelgangers through texts on how to camp, how to videotape in a constant and unprecedented barrage of infectious creativity.

Born in the wake of 15M’s explosive appearance, Fundación Robo (or, “Steal this Foundation”), diluted the concept of individual authorship, churning out songs authored by the collective identity of Robo (Steal). Freely downloadable songs, under open licenses. Meanwhile, Asalto (Assault), Robo’s literary counterpart,  was born soon afterwards, with its collective literature and poetic snippets remixed into intense “Collective Assaults”. And Plazas Invisibles (Invisible Squares), as written by Italo Calvino with the 99%. And VocesConFutura, visual shout-outs by inspired graphic creators camped within 15M pixellated environs. And Bookcamping.cc created to answer the innocent question, “what book would you take to the square?” With its book-filled shelves, its playlist of titles, its guided visits, Bookcamping.cc stands as a prime example of the new web-created and commons-oriented culture. But, it’s possible that 15M.cc, – a transmedia project composed of a book, a documentary and the 15Mpedia – may well be the best across-the-board representation of the collective, open and collaborative spirit of 15M’s cultural micro-utopia.

Remixing – A copies B, B recreates A’s original work – turns flaws into virtues. Remixing becomes an homage, a co-creation – and, why not, a battle cry. What could be better than #cutandpaste a fragment from “Asalto nº 4, Lorca remix” in support of Marea Verde and its defense of public education. “Green that I love you Green. Green wind. Green branches. Education needs your hand, to help avenge it, to expel those seeking the failure of the masses”.

                                                            PROTOTYPE 6 / PARTICIPATORY MICRO-UTOPIA

The assemblies, celebrated in public squares, marked a previously unheard of politicization of public space. Even taking into account that their consensus building mechanism didn’t end up directly influencing the democratic process, the creation of new spaces for political dialogue soon made the old institutions look dated. The project/process Parlamento a la Calle (Take Parliament to the Streets) for example, is a true master stroke against a static democracy that only allows for dialogue within the chambers of parliament. Besides, public-square assembly did manage to consolidate certain specific mechanisms.

This yearning for participation is the essence of Propongo (I Propose), a tool and platform for the collection and implementation of political ideas by a collective voting system. Propongo inspired the Rio Grande do Sul’s (Brazi) Digital Cabinet. Meanwhile, Asamblea Virtual (Virtual Assembly), a participatory online system where proposals are drawn, debated and voted on, has become an invaluable laboratory for techno-political participatory systems. Similar initiatives, such as Ahora tu decides (Now You Decide), a platform for non-state-mediated digital referendum, the urnas indignadas, physical voting booths placed on the street last November to vote on the proposal against foreclosures, or ballot information tables set up by public health defenders, Marea Blanca, make an important symbolic statement capable of forcing change in the system’s participatory mechanisms. Finally, Graba tu pleno (Record your Plenary Session) which encourages transparency by inciting citizens to video every single convention of assemblies, could also be considered another 15M prototype.

Demo4Punto0 (Democracy 4.0) is perhaps the most innovative initiative of them all. A hybrid participatory strategy and mechanism, it would allow any citizen to digitally vote on any parliamentary proposal or law. Based on each political party’s ratio of seats in Parliament, the mechanism proportionally discounts a seat for every 150.000 that participate in a vote. These citizen votes represent a proportional part of a congressman’s constituency. It’s no coincidence that the regional government of Andalucia (in the south of Spain), has commissioned the groundbreaking Andalusian Digital Democracy Report from the founders of Demo4Punto0.

                                                  PROTOTYPE  7 / FUN-TIVISM MICRO-UTOPIA

Non-violence has always been an inspiration to 15M. The Movement resurrected peaceful resistance and adapted it to the Internet age. Repudiating weapons and classic urban guerrilla tactics, 15M made protest creative, constructive and, unmistakably, fun. Networked emotions and viral actions that amplified and altered their own effects. Culture Jamming, the remixing of logos and  commercial symbols as exemplified by Adbusters, morphed into something else in Spain. 15M’s culture jammers became virtual DJs, spinning memes and emotions. We saw how Flo6x8, a flash mob collective, was able to flamenco their way into a bank. We saw a crowd throwing a party in a Bankia branch, to promote its #CierraBankia (#ShutDownBankia) campaign. Bankia was Spain´s own big-bank-bailout debacle, going from public bank to private entity, subsequently bankrupting itself and then controversially being rescued with public funds, concurrent with the imposition of austerity measures. We were delighted by the parodical Ballot Box ATM: if it´s the banks that really govern us after all, why not just vote directly while at the bank?

Political Jiu-jitsu, or defeating an enemy by turning its strength against itself, is the tactic used by the Metro de Lujo (Subway DeLuxe) campaign. Elegantly attired individuals protested the Madrid subway’s inscrutable price hikes by dressing up and toasting champagne to welcome the new “aristocratic” pricing. Or, how about the ultimate fetid vengeance, exemplified by the #TubasuraalBanco (#TakeYourGarbageToTheBank) campaign – which, ultimately, made it as far as Portugal (#OLixoAosBancos). Another hilarious example is the #ManiFicció/#ManiFantasma (#FicticiousProtest/#GhostProtest), a fake protest announced as a total urban guerrilla outing,  which managed to ridicule and embarrass Catalonia’s riot police (Mossos D’Esquadra), when they arrived to meet the dangerous enemy to find… no one!

15M has creatively and humorously reinterpreted the tenets of Saul Alinsky classic “Rules for Radicals”, or The Guerrilla Communications Handbook. amongst other direct action classics. Additionally, it has birthed a particularly active army of Twitter troll activists. Profiles such as @barbijaputa or the @ikastrolla collective are prime examples.

                                                                     PROTOTYPE 8 / RESILIENCE MICRO-UTOPIA 

Faced with the unjustified rising cost of public transport, classic resistance-based activism would respond with barricades, protests and setting things on fire. On the other hand, resilience-based activism uses adaptation, micro-attacks, and hacking, expressed through cracks and loopholes in the legal system. “Translegal”, rather than illegal. IGetOn YouGetMeoOn… non-payment tactics for public transport. If you get fined, there’s a co-op that will handle the cost of the fine.  It works out cheaper to make a monthly contribution to the MeMetro (IGetOn) co-op than paying the regular monthly pass. Adapted from an identical initiative in Greece, the YoNoPago movement fights against the rising cost of highway tolls and public transport, another sign of resilience. When the VAT was raised 21% for Spanish freelancers, a new “bacterial” web-based network called #HuelgaAutónomos (Freelance Strike) sprung up to deal with the problem by paying individual taxes collectively, or by refusing to declare income on certain months (Freelancers in Spain are required to pay a disproportionately high fixed monthly fee to able to work legally).


Imagen: Marea Verde, by Andrés Arriaga. Licensed under: Creative Commons.

The Citizen Tide phenomenon, especially in Madrid, has not been thoroughly studied by social anthropologists, but it should be. As far as mass media is concerned, apparently it isn’t even worth analysing.  The Marea Blanca (defending Public Health), Marea Verde (Public Education),  Marea Azul (against the privatization of water) and the Marea Violeta (feminism), are permutations on the traditional protests and marches declared by unions or political parties. 15M turned everything upside down. It modified the source code of protest and spread the virus to the rest of society. That’s the reason the Mareas work within horizontal, non-hierarchical networks. These mobilizations create new sets of visual associations (green equals “education”), and no one displays any union or political party paraphernalia during marches, whether they’re members or not. Their texts and objectives are written collaboratively and with absolute transparency. The Citizen Tides are a new form of social mobilization. Could we be witnessing the birth a radically different form of syndicalism? As for me, I haven’t the slightest doubt that the Tides represent a form of networked post-syndicalism that marks the beginning of a new era.

#TomaLaHuelga, a summons by 15M to attend the protests organised by the official government sponsored – and highly inefficient and corrupt – unions, as a differentiated “critical march”, is another clear-cut case of post-syndicalism.


Stop Desahucios (Stop Foreclosures) map, built on Ushahidi. A SMS alert shows foreclosed individuals and families the location of empty bank-owned apartments in their area.

The popular, and subtly reactionary, eighties Spanish children’s TV program “La Bola de Cristal” (The Crystal Ball) introduced the phrase “sólo no puedes, con amigos sí” (you can’t do it alone, but you can do it with friends”) into the burgeoning Spanish collective unconscious. Those youths, now grown, repurposed the phrase from the start of the movement. Maybe that’s why we’ve seen such a natural shift from DIY (Do it Yourself) to DIWO (Do it With Others). Here’s an interesting distinction: 15M has consecrated the value of “multitude” over “masses”. In contrast to the “mass-man”, as portrayed by Ortega Gasset, we see the emergence of the “multitude man”. as exemplified in the Smart Mobs of Toni Negri and Howard Rheingold. The Smart Mob forms an autonomous whole, bigger than the sum of its parts. 15M’s Smart Mobs brought to life the concepts of “swarm” (Kevin Kelly / Steve Johnson) and “collective intelligence” (James Surowiecki, Pierre Levy) like never before.  Initiatives such as Stop Desahucios (mass gatherings to physically prevent foreclosure eviction proceedings), actions like the “Eschaches” (public humiliation and condemnation of corrupt politicians and bankers) and campaigns such as Toque a Bankia are palpable demonstrations of swarm and collective intelligence initiatives in full gear.

Collective intelligence also powered the 15Mpedia or the Vivero de Iniciativas Ciudadanas (Open Hatchery for Citizen Initiatives) Glossary, and played an essential part in the formation of WhatsApp IM groups used in protests to assure the protester’s bodily safety. These are telling examples of the kind of collective intelligence that feeds the parallel, alternative and sustainable world mapped on projects such as MeCambio.Net, a listing of companies and services founded on ethical and sustainable values.

                                                                            PROTOTYPE 11 / THE MICRO-UTOPIA OF THE COMMONS

“Out of chaos, we’ve seen actions, constructions and turnarounds arise with clear, integral, non-corporate intentions, all marked by a tendency to organise into community”. These words, recently expressed by hacker Marga Padilla, give credence to the theory that 15M has acted as a springboard for communities. A steady stream of communities where neighbours share their wifi thanks to Wifis.org, use community currencies (like Seville’s PUMA, and many others), analogue/digital barter systems such as Nockin or cooperative practices like the No.Ma.Des Project (a wordplay on nomadism and and “No More Unemployment) which seeks to find meaningful, constructive activity for the hordes of Spanish unemployed.

References to “the Commons” were omnipresent in all the initial debates of the 15M movement. The construction of interrelated communities stems from a marked desire to improve on the wealth of the commons. The Carta de los Comunes (A Letter for the Commons), a text signed the Madrilonia.org collective and edited by copyleft publisher Traficantes de Sueños, is an excellent example of the concrete – if, at times, cleverly subtle  – prototypes reflecting the commons via their intellectual content.

                                                                          PROTOTYPE 12 / THE LEGAL MICRO-UTOPIA

15M has shaken up one of the pillars of the Western State: the legal establishment. The existence of The Comisión Legal Sol, (Puerta del Sol Legal Commission), was an impromptu creation on the first night of encampment, when one camper offered legal advice to another.  This marks a shift towards collective methods in what is traditionally perceived as a very individualistic profession. In Spain, certain groups of lawyers were already pooling their talents, sharing resources and incentivizing the use of free licenses in their documentation. The arrival of 15M has multiplied this free, open and collaborative legal micro-utopia.  We can see a good example of this in the legal strategies collectively designed to benefit the Stop Foreclosures movement. Op-Euribor, a collective initiative organised and disseminated by online working groups, is another spectacular example of 15M’s burgeoning legal micro-utopia.

Toma Parte (Take Part) is another fascinating example. On the one hand, it’s a networked collective of lawyers functioning anonymously. On the other, it acts as a platform and tool for the activation of collective intelligence: “Toma Parte is a tool designed so we, as citizens, can pool our resources to find solutions. Our team of legal advisors will provide the necessary knowledge to determine the best legal course of action to implement these solutions. Anyone can make an online proposal, which will then be voted on by the community at large, completing it with evidence and testimony and funds generated through crowdfunding campaigns. All the documentation pertaining to the proposals – made available under Creative Commons Licenses – will be freely reusable”

But the most spectacular and ambitious example of this legal micro-utopia is, undoubtedly, the 15Mparato campaign. Launched through crowdfunding platform Goteo.org, the campaign gathered more than the necessary 16.000€ in less than 24 hours, collapsing Goteo’s servers in the process. These funds are being used to finance a lawsuit against Rodrigo Rato, former IMF Managing Director, head of Bankia and nominated by Bloomberg as one of the worst CEOs in the world (2012), for his mismanagement and accounting irregularities at the time of Bankia’s merger. We are talking about a mass lawsuit designed and funded online, that quickly gained the support of 50 shareholders who stepped forward as plaintiffs, as well as a host of internal witnesses. Spain’s networked citizenship shifted from defending itself to taking on the enemy. This, the first crowdfunded mass lawsuit, showed that the economic political elite isn’t as cozily secure as it thought. Or, as we can read in 15Mparato’s site: “Fear has switched sides in the struggle between those who are the bottom and those who are at the top”.

                                             PROTOTYPE 13 / THE FREE KNOWLEDGE MICRO-UTOPIA 

Free Knowledge, Free Licenses, Free Access. 15M squarely positioned itself against copyright from the very beginning. Many individuals and collectives within 15M have played an important role in lobbying for a more thorough transparency law. These groups have also been instrumental in the fight against restrictive proposals like the SOPA-like Lasalle Law. 15Mpedia reflects a healthy amount of free-culture and free-access related initiatives, like this list of online libraries which offer free downloads.

15M and the Marea Verde are defending universal access to public education by incorporating some important new details. The “Ciudad del Aprendizaje” (City of Learning) – education partaken on the streets, without walls and free from traditional hierarchy – is already up and running. On March 9, Spanish universities took to the streets as part of the #UniEnLaCalle (#CollegeInTheStreets) campaign, with 575 public squares and urban meeting points serving as the backdrop for innumerable master classes.


Video: Iaioflautas The Rebel Grandparents from Magma Multimedia Productions /Creative Commons Non-Commercial, Non-Derivative License

“We may be old, but we have no fear” This is the collective motto often used by the Iaoflautas / Yayoflautas collective, and it demolishes every stereotype about the 15M movement being made up of unemployed, lazy youth with nothing better to do than protest. The eruption of the Senior Citizen Iaoflauta collective in Barcelona dismantled the media’s repetitive, closed-minded mantra that 15M is a collection of crusties and and dirty hippies (“Perroflautas”). “Yayo” is an affectionate word for “Gramps” in Catalonia. It didn’t take long for the Yayoflauta phenomenon to spread throughout the rest of Spain. It marked the arrival of a new revolutionary meme within an old, withering Europe. Could it be that the meme that demolishes the Troika and takes over Brussels won´t come from a student, but from a grandma empowered with social media skills by her grandson?. The #LaBolsaolavida (#TheStockExchangeOrYourLife) action that kicked off the Yayoflauta prototype had such symbolic impact that I don’t think we’re quite able to grasp its implications yet. The image of a group of pensioners invading a Stock Exchange is so unprecedentedly shocking, it sounds like something out of a cyberpunk novel. But no dystopian future vision could have imagined something like this, and #ItsHappeningRightNow.


15M has dissolved international borders. It has woven transnational communities together and eased the exaggerated nationalism that the system likes to promote during crisis. First, 15M expanded its network around the world, ignoring nation-states. The proclamation, “We aren’t commodities in the hands of politicians and bankers” was immediately understood across all nations and languages, enabling networks and breaking down borders. At the heart of this global network, the Spanish node that is 15M has always embraced diversity. It’s protected its immigrants from police abuse, it’s campaigned against Alien Detention Centers, it’s founded Neighbour Brigades for the Observation of Human RIghts. There are even doctors who’ve declared themselves as conscientious objectors due to the recent cut in immigrant public health rights, and have vowed to treat illegal immigrants, in spite of new laws prohibiting this. 15M is forging a new Internationalist movement, as far-reaching as the workers movement of the late 19th century, but endowed with an historically unmatched set of tools and connectivity. The video embedded above, showing German citizens in solidarity with Spain, was filmed as a direct response to one of 15M’s videotaped assemblies, and is visible proof of the new international micro-utopia we are forging together.

15 MImage by Olmo Calvo

I have presented 15 Prototypes, 15 for 15M.  I could describe more, many more, but this text is not intended as a list, or 19th century inventory. This text is in construction. This text longs to be a candle, a lantern. A faint ray slipping through the cracks in the system to throw some clarity on the building blocks of the world that’s coming. There could be as many prototypes as there are individuals. It only takes a certain attitude to pick up the lantern, shine some light into a corner, and try to see the change.

Guerrilla Translation/Related:https://guerrillatranslation.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/strip-unicornsjpg-e1383342203680.jpgSeeing the Invisible: on Unicorns and the 15-M Movement/ Amador Fernández-Savaterhttps://guerrillatranslation.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/unity-without-convergence-e1383342540180.jpgUnity sans Convergence/ Madrilonia/@PinkNoiseRevhttps://guerrillatranslation.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/globalp2p-e1383342891247.png#GlobalP2P, The Wind that Shook the Net/ Bernardo Gutiérrez

This translation has been republished on:
  • The Economics and the Commons Conference’s site (Published in two parts: part 1, part 2)
  • TAHRIR International Collective Network’s website  (Published in two parts: part 1, part 2)
  • The P2P Foundation blog (Published in two parts: part 1, part 2)
  • TakeTheSquare.net (Published in two parts: part 1part 2)
  • Occupy.com (Published in three parts: part 1, part 2, part 3)