15M Movement - Spain

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= square-occupation movements of the 'indignados' which started on May 15, 2011, in the Puerta del Sol in Spain

URL = http://15mayrevolution.wordpress.com/ Wikipedia

"the 15M is not a movement, it was a moment, an event. You must have heard the joke about the stranger who arrives and wants to talk to the 15M – but there is no 15M, it has no spokespersons and no address" [1]


= peaceful take over of central Madrid from 15 May to 12 June, when it disbanded of its own decision

"On 15thMay 2011, around 150,000 people took to the streets in 60 Spanish towns and cities to demand "Real Democracy Now", marching under the slogan "We are not commodities in the hands of bankers and politicians". The protest was organised through web-based social networks without the involvement of any major unions or political parties. At the end of the march some people decided to stay the night at the Plaza del Sol in Madrid. They were forcefully evacuated by the police in the early hours of the morning. This, in turn, generated a mass call for everyone to occupy his or her local squares that thousands all over Spain took up. As we write, 65 public squares are being occupied, with support protests taking place in Spanish Embassies from Buenos Aires to Vienna and, indeed, London."

2. Wikipedia:

"The 2011 Spanish protests, also referred to as the 15-M Movement or the Spanish revolution, are a series of ongoing demonstrations in Spain whose origin can be traced to social networks and the Real democracy NOW (Spanish: Democracia real YA) civilian digital platform, along with 200 other small associations. Compared with the Arab Spring and May 1968 in France, it started on 15 May with an initial call in 58 Spanish cities.

The series of protests demands a radical change in Spanish politics, as protesters do not consider themselves to be represented by any traditional party nor favoured by the measures approved by politicians. Spanish media have related the protests to the economic crisis, Stéphane Hessel's Time for Outrage!,[3] the NEET troubled generation and current protests in the Middle East and North Africa, Greece,Portugal as well as the Icelandic protest and riots in 2009. The protests were staged close to the local and regional elections, held on 22 May.

Even though protesters form a heterogeneous and ambiguous group, they share a strong rejection of Spanish politicians, the current two-party system in Spain between the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party and the People's Party and political corruption and firmly support what they call basic rights: home, work, culture, health and education.[8] One of the movement's ever-rotating spokespeople defined it as "non apolitical, but non-partisan". (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_Spanish_protests)

3. Summary of the events by Al Jazeera:

"Demonstrations were organised in 50 cities by youth group Democracia Real Ya ["Real Democracy Now"] with the slogan: "We're not merchandise in the hands of politicians and bankers", but the massive camp that formed in Madrid's main square - Puerta del Sol - on May 16 exceeded everyone's expectations. Locations, dates, and details about the protests spread through social media, flooding users with pictures, videos, and text updates from demonstrators in Madrid and the rest of the country. In the context of increasingly decentralised information, mainstream media have had a hard time keeping up with news and events, while citizen-led media has covered the protests effectively.

Using Twitter, organisers are calling for grassroots demonstrations and sharing news and updates. The hashtags #15m, #15mani and #democraciarealya have been used actively throughout the protests to share thousands of links to photos and videos of the demonstrations across the fifty cities, as well as news on the upcoming elections and citizen demands and insights. User Anon_Leakspin shared this on May 16: "First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they attack you. Then you win. Gandhi #acampadasol #spanishrevolution."

Later on, when demonstrators camped out at Puerta del Sol, #acampadasol turned into the most visible tag, inundating Twitter with thousands of messages and becoming a global trending topic. Since then, #nonosvamos ["we aren't leaving"] and #spanishrevolution have also become global trending topics, while an English tag, #yeswecamp, shows the increasingly global character of the Spanish movement - with messages such as this from user JalapaRevealed: "We're not against the system, the system is against us #acampadasol #yeswecamp #nonosvamos #DemocraciaRealYa."

While mobilisations gain momentum, organisers and activists work on defining specific goals and strategies. Protesters camping out have established citizens' committees to coordinate demonstrations, communications, food, cleaning, and legal issues. They are not alone. Renowned economists such as Jose Luis Sampedro have shown their support for the protests - and some of the most most highly regarded Spanish lawyers, David Bravo and Javier de la Cueva among them, have been helping with legal advice [Spanish] on the right of association and reunion [Spanish] and the steps that shold be followed to legally secure the camp. Both lawyers are part of a movement that is closely related to the current mobilisations: the campaign against the passing of the 2009 Sustainable Economy Bill [Spanish] (known by the Spanish as "Sinde Law"), which will most likely become effective by the summer and strike a major blow against net neutrality." (http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/05/201152264452749575.html)

3. Martin Varsavsky:

"The #spanishrevoution is an internet movement that was started by leading figures on the internet, including top bloggers and internet entrepreneurs, to harness the distress of the Spanish people into action ahead of this past weekend's elections. The most active supporters of the movement have moved from the internet to the streets to gather in camps at key locations of many Spanish cities, like the Plaza del Sol in Madrid, where they discuss the changes they want to bring about and are planning to stay for the time being. Each camp is autonomous, there is no central organ coordinating the movement and many sleep in public squares in protest.

The #spanishrevolution did not start as a unified movement, but is rather the result of an informal merger between different movements with similar, but not equal, goals. There seems to be broad consensus that the protests on May 15th (aka the 15M movement) organized by Democracia Real Ya (DRY) were the spark that ignited #spanishrevolution. The tagline of Democracia Real Ya is: we are people, not commodities in the hands of politicians and bankers (in Spanish: "no somos mercancía en manos de políticos y banqueros"). You can read the manifesto of that movement in English here. The protests were a huge success: more than 80,000 people all over Spain took to the streets to protest against citizens being left behind during the crisis and against corruption.

DRY proposed to follow the lead of two role models; Iceland and the Arab revolts. In Iceland, citizens were able to make use of democratic powers to put some of the persons responsible for the crisis behind bars and to initiate important constitutional reforms. What DRY wanted to leverage from the Arab revolts was the incredible catalytic effect provided by the social networks, the mobile networks and internet in general.

Some of the most important figures/initiators of the 15M movement are Fabio Gándara (who has been part of the movement since the beginning), Jon Aguirre Such (DRY's spokesperson) and Olmo Gálvez (whom El País calls a social networking "crack"). It's interesting to point out that all three of them are quite young, between 26 and 30, and didn't know each other until shortly before 15M. The people who have joined #spanishrevolution, however, are very heterogeneous, covering all age ranges, professions and social classes.

After the May 15th protests, a small group of participants decided to camp out at the Puerta del Sol in Madrid (known as #acamapadasol). More and more people joined #acampadasol, and eventually the "acampadas" spread out to other cities all over the country on the 18th, fueled by a surge of outrage that spread like wildfire after police removed the peaceful protestors from Plaza del Sol. By that time, #spanishrevolution had already been born. While there are no exact numbers, it is safe to say that there are tens of thousands of people who have been or are at #acampadasol, and many more in other cities. Most of the sit-ins had food delivery donations and some even had their own daycare. They also received legal assistance from two lawyers, David Bravo and Javier de la Cueva. The movement has even found supporters in other countries, with protests popping up in cities like Berlin, Paris and New York to show solidarity with the movement in Spain.

While DRY never "officially" merged with #spanishrevolution and still wants to be a movement of its own, it basically has the same goals and therefore supports the movement. There was another movement that is often mixed with #spanishrevolution, called #nolesvotes. Fon my company, supports #nolesvotes by giving out free Foneras and passes so people have free access to the internet during their sit-ins. #nolesvotes translated means "don't vote for them", referring to all the political parties that passed a ridiculous law (the Ley Sinde, on which I will not elaborate here) which was a slap in the face for the rule of law in Spain. Just as with DRY, #nolesvotes, started by the lawyer Carlos Sánchez Almeida, is/was a separate movement, but again had goals that overlapped with the general idea of #spanishrevolution. Most people don't make a distinction between the individual movements anymore and rather see them as unified under the concept of #spanishrevolution now. Leaders of nolesvotes include my friends and partners Ricardo Galli and Eduardo Arcos, fellow professor at IE Enrique Dans and leading Spanish entrepreneur Julio Alonso." (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/martin-varsavsky/spanish-revolution-of-201_b_867156.html)


The first three months

"For the last three months Spain has been rocked by a wave of protests, occupations and direct actions carried out by a new grassroots political movement that is demanding a more participatory democracy and an end to harsh austerity measures. It is referred to as the M-15 movement, as it began on the 15th of May when tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets all over Spain. The demonstration was organised by an internet group called ‘Real Democracy Now’, who published a manifesto calling for an “ethic revolution” and critiquing neo-liberalism. The manifesto is short text that provides the ideological basis for the movement. The opening paragraph reads

We are ordinary people. We are like you: people, who get up every morning to study, work or find a job. People, who work hard every day to provide a better future for those around us. We are all concerned and angry about the political, economic, and social outlook which we see around us: corruption among politicians, businessmen, bankers, leaving us helpless, without a voice. This situation has become normal, a daily suffering, without hope. But if we join forces, we can change it. It’s time to change things, time to build a better society together. Therefore, we strongly argue that: The priorities of any advanced society must be equality, progress, solidarity, freedom of culture, sustainability and development, welfare and people’s happiness. (for full manifesto in English see http://european-citizens-network.eu/civil-en/spip.php?article42)

The generalist nature of the manifesto and the M-15 movement has enabled it to gain widespread support; with a poll on the 26th of June from the El Pais newspaper finding that 79% of people support its demands. The rapid growth of the M-15 movement is, in part related to the economic and political crisis affecting much of Europe. It is a response not only to the harsh austerity programs being implemented, but also the feeling that something has gone wrong with the democratic system. Elected officials no longer seem to represent the people they serve, and social and economic policies are determined by the market, rather than by the community. In Spain the situation is dire. Unemployment stands at 21.3%, political corruption is rife, basic services are being cut, and the political system is dominated by two very similar major parties. In this context, the success of the May 15th demonstrations prompted a small group of 100 protesters to spontaneously start an occupation of la Plaza del Sol, the main square in Madrid. Yet in the early hours of the morning they were violently evicted by police, with several arrests and injuries. The police brutality only strengthened the protesters’ resolve and a call to retake the square spread rapidly across the internet. The next day thousands of protesters returned and reoccupied the square. I arrived late at night when the camp was still under construction, with tarps, megaphones, chairs, beds and everything you can imagine coming out of nowhere to build an anarchic structure in the centre of Madrid.

Over the next week a radical transformation took place; the space became a kind of liberated zone and its own world. Every day more people joined the occupation and the camp continued to grow, with between five and fifty thousand people occupying the square at all times. The mainstream media began referring to it as ‘the republic of Sol’ and the ‘Spanish Revolution’. Kitchens were set up to distribute free food, the main billboard was covered in the words ‘Europe Rise Up!’ and ‘peoples’ assemblies’ were held almost constantly to decide the direction of the movement. The government directed the police not to intervene, due to the backlash from the previous eviction. The protests expanded to nearby plazas, people brought sound systems and central Madrid turned into a massive street party. In other squares there were political theatre workshops running or people blockading banks. The occupation movement started in the capital, but spread rapidly across Spain. Within a few days, similar occupations sprung up in the main squares of over 20 cities. The timing of the protests was a key factor. One week before regional elections were due to commence, the movement called for changes to the electoral laws, which would in theory end the dominance of the two major parties. The slogans of the movement became ‘no nos representa’ (‘you don’t represent us’), ‘la lucha esta en la calle’ (‘the struggle is in street’) and ‘democracia real ya’ (‘real democracy now’). The protest movement, which developed as a direct challenge to the electoral campaign, had its desired effect. The Age headline of 22nd of May hit the nail on the head – “Huge Spanish Protests Overshadow Election”.

From the beginning the M-15 movement practised a politics of direct democracy. ‘Peoples’ Assemblies’ became the main forum for making decisions, organising actions and formulating demands. These assemblies were crucial to give shape to a movement which started with only a very general manifesto and no formal political organisation. Demands were passionately debated and agreed upon in the streets. A whole range of commissions, each with their own assemblies, were formed to deal with the practical and the political. The occupation in Madrid had some 22 commissions which were meeting almost constantly. One night, I stumbled across the Commission for the Economy – some two hundred people had gathered at 3am to debate the best way to nationalise the entire banking system. All of the Commissions would report to the General Assembly, the highest decision making body, and a space for discussing the most important issues of the movement. General Assemblies were held daily and comprised of mass meeting of thousands of people. The assemblies and commissions functioned using a mix of consensus or majority rules vote and had a very horizontal structure, with no leaders and a rotating spokesperson. The M-15 movement is first and foremost an experiment in radical direct democracy.

After 4 days, the occupation in Madrid was declared illegal and ordered to disband. However, a General Assembly of thousands decided unanimously to ignore the ban and continue the occupation. Every day the camp became bigger and more complex. A library and childcare centre were set up, solar panels installed and ‘respect officers’ trained, to provide conflict resolution. The degree of organisation and infrastructure needed to run the occupation was incredible – by this stage it had become the size of a small town. The movement was faced with the practical reality of up to thirty thousand people gathering together in a public space. How could they all be fed? Where would they go to the toilet? What was the best way to resolve problems in a community with no police? Everything functioned in a kind of organised chaos, through direct democracy and people volunteering their time, skills and resources. The occupation became the functioning example of the alternative world the protesters wanted to create, and largely, it worked. Everything was free and it was proudly pronounced that money had been abolished in ‘the republic of Sol’. At one stage, the organisers had to ask people to stop bringing food because there was just too much being donated. The atmosphere was part protest, part music festival and part utopia. Many Spanish commenters have made the comparison between the M-15 movement and May ‘68 in France. Nigel Town goes so far as to argue that “the current Spanish movement may be able to triumph where the French movement failed” in his article ‘The M-15; A new May 1968?’

On the 27th of May the occupation in the Barcelona was violently evicted by riot police. Fifteen people were injured, as protesters used non-violent resistance to defend the occupation. The level of police of brutality can be exemplified by pictures taken of a riot officer breaking a protester’s wheelchair. This potent image, along with the twitter hash tag #Bcnsinmiedo (Barcelona without fear) spread rapidly through the internet, becoming one of the most popular global twitter topics for that day. Within hours, solidarity protests were planned in every city across the country under the banner ‘We are all Barcelona’. I went to a demonstration organised in a small university city called Salamanca, where more than 500 people came to show their solidarity. In Barcelona 35,000 people returned that night to retake the main square, and begin to rebuild the occupation.

These events showed not only the strength of the movement, but also the importance of the internet in organising it. From the beginning social network sites like facebook and twitter had been crucial organising tools, by the 10th of June the Real Democracy Now facebook group had 400,000 members. Most occupations had their own website, twitter account and facebook group, which were used to provide information, organise new actions and discuss tactics. One interesting project that continues to be worked on is the ‘wikiparliament’. It is an experiment in online democracy, in which people will be able to contribute and vote on the movement’s motions online. The internet provides a means to document, and in turn counteract, repressive police behaviour – protesters are able to rapidly share evidence of such incidents, and organise solidarity actions. After the failed eviction in Barcelona the police have used a much less confrontational approach in dealing with the protests.

The M-15 movement seeks a mix of practical reformism and utopian revolution. It has a list of very pragmatic demands, such as removing corrupt politicians from the electoral list, but at the same time maintains revolutionary aims such as giving ‘All power to the People’. It attempts to be as inclusive as possible and rejects the classic left versus right dichotomy, by positing participatory democracy as the key organising tool and demand. However, many of the more detailed policies, such as a universal right to housing, would typically be considered as progressive, or left-wing, policies. The movement is characterised by diversity in terms of class and gender, but it is primarily being driven and organised by young people. Helene Zuber argues in her article for Der Spiel that we are seeing a “fundamental change taking place as a European generation takes to the streets.” The M-15 movement is mix of many other social movements, using ideas and tactics from each. There is a strong link to the anti-globalisation movement, with a similar critique of neo-liberalism, global economic institutions and the current state of democracy. Anarchism has a long history in Spain and has definitely influenced its leaderless, horizontal and autonomous nature. There are also strong feminist and environmental tendencies. Workers’ rights, internet freedom and confronting racism are all issues that are crucially important to the movement. It is truly a broad, diverse and all-encompassing movement that seeks to radically change the world.

The movement has always had a strong international focus, and from the very beginning attempts were made to extend it beyond Spain’s boarders. One call out for an international day of action on October the 15th, reads, “Only a global revolution can confront global problems. Therefore, we are calling on people everywhere to occupy public spaces and create spaces for debate, assembly and reflection.” It has been greatly inspired by the recent democratic revolutions in the Arab world and there is a strong desire to build solidarity between the two continents. On the 15th of June a video link up was set up between Tahir square and the occupation in Madrid. The movement has also spread to other European countries, included Greece, France, Italy, Belgium and Portugal, which have all had demonstrations of several thousand people, occupations of main squares and people’s assemblies under the same banner of ‘Real Democracy Now’.

On June 15th, the M-15 movement in Barcelona decided to blockade the regional Parliament, which was set to pass measures that would drastically cut spending to social services. The demonstration started in the early hours of the morning. Several thousand people created a human chain and barricades were constructed, blocking all entrances to the building. After hours of tense stand offs the riot police dispersed protesters by force. The police created cordons and tried to escort the legislators safely into the parliament. Protesters ominously chanted the Death March from Star Wars, as politicians surrounded by riot police, entered the parliament. Sporadic outbreaks of violence erupted as protesters started to create moving barricades. These were so effective that twenty-five politicians had to be transported by helicopter, including the President of the Chamber, Artur Mas. Although the action was largely peaceful and successful, it was the first time that protesters had been responsible for acts of violence. The Interior Minister, Felip Puig accused the M-15 movement of trying to start an “urban guerrilla war”. This was a gross exaggeration, but it was clear that the atmosphere was much more confrontational than other protests, with people chanting “What do want? Popular revolt!” Up until this point the M-15 movement had been explicitly ‘non-violent’ and the violence at the blockade caused internal debate and division. From the assemblies I went to, it seemed clear that the vast majority of participants rejected violence as a tactic and wanted the movement to continue using non-violent civil disobedience. However, if events in Greece are any indication, it is evident that the question of violence, and its place in such popular movements, will be a recurring one.

Although the large scale occupations of main squares continued throughout Spain for around one month, after about two weeks the initial energy and spirit had waned slightly. It’s difficult to maintain that kind of intense political action and euphoria 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. People had to study, go to work and look after their families. The media stopped reporting on the protests and the movement began to discuss the need to change tactics and continue to expand. The first idea was to strengthen the movement at the grassroots level through the establishment of ‘Assemblies of the Suburbs’. In Madrid more than 40 separate local assemblies have been set up, which each hold weekly meetings in public spaces to deal with local problems. The next strategy is to try and achieve small, yet concrete changes. This has manifested itself in the anti-eviction and immigrant support actions that the movement has undertaken. As of the 7th of July the M-15 movement has been working with the Platform of People Affected by Mortgages and has already stopped banks from repossessing 47 houses by creating human chains at evictions. The third tactic is continued mobilisation. On June 19th, the movement took to the streets again in an international day of action to protest against the ‘Euro pact’ – neo-liberal austerity measures being imposed all over Europe. El Pais reported that more than 200,000 people participated in protests across the country. In Barcelona alone a massive 100,000 people marched. These rallies were very important because they coincided with the end of many of the large scale occupations and showed that the movement was not diminishing, but rather it was changing. The 19th of June saw one of the biggest protests in the country’s history.

The M-15 movement has had a profound impact on the politic situation here in Spain. Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets and created a new model of democratic participation. It is a beacon of resistance to the harsh austerity measures that are stripping away people’s rights across Europe. The ruling elite has started to pay attention, for on the 21st of June the Spanish parliament unanimously passed a motion to undertake a study of the movement’s demands. I do not know whether this movement will be strong enough to achieve the radical changes it seeks. Yet what is certain is that new and powerful social movement has been born here in Spain and it will continue." (http://www.europeanrevolution.net/?p=1325)

The four convergent trends that constituted 15M

Joan Subirats:

"There were basically 4 major trends that converged in the 15-M : First the anti-globalisation movement, the oldest one, very interesting because a large number of the new political leaders have come out of it, with forms of political mobilisation different from the traditional ones.

Then there was the « Free Culture Forum » linked to issues regarding internet which was very important here in Barcelona – with Simona Levy and Gala Pin, who is now a municipal councillor – that is important because here digital culture, network culture, was present from the very beginning, something that didn’t occur in other places.

The third movement was the PAH (Platform for People Affected by Mortgages) which emerges in 2009 and had precedents with Ada Colau and others who organised « V for vivienda » (like the film « V for vendetta », but in this case vivienda – housing), an attempt to demonstrate that young people were excluded from social emancipation because they didn’t have access to housing. Their slogan was « you’ll never have a house in your whole f’king life ». And the forms of mobilisation were also very new, for example, they occupied IKEA because at that time IKEA’s advertising slogan was « the independent republic of your home », so they occupied it and slept in the beds there. So this was more youthful, alternative, more of a rupture, but then in 2009 with the creation of the PAH they started to try to connect with the immigrant sector and people who were losing their houses because of the mortgage hype, it was very important because it’s the movement that tries to connect with sectors outside of youth: the poor, immigrants, working class… with the slogan ‘this is not a crisis, it’s a sting’. So the PAH is very important because it’s the movement that connects with sectors of the population outside of youth: workers, immigrants, the elderly… For example, here in Plaza Catalunya in 2011 the only major poster rallying people who weren’t youth was that of the PAH.

And the fourth movement – the most ‘authentic’ 15M one – was that of the « Youth without future ». People who organised mainly in Madrid, typical middle-class university sector with post-grad studies, who suddenly realised that they wouldn’t find jobs, that it wasn’t true that their diplomas would open doors for them, they were in a precarious situation.

So those were the four major currents that converged in the basis of the 15M. But what made it ‘click’ was not just those 4 trends, but the fact that huge numbers of other people recognised the moment and converged on the plazas and overwhelmed the movements that started it. The most surprising thing about the moment was that those 4 movements – that were not all that important – were rapidly overwhelmed by success of the movement they started and new people who spontaneously joined. That was what really created the phenomenon, because if it had been just those 4 movements, if it had been like ‘Nuit debout’ in Paris where people occupied the plaza but without the sensation that people had steamrollered the leaders. So, when the plazas are evacuated, the idea becomes ‘Let’s go to the neighbourhoods’. So all of a sudden, in the neighbourhoods of Barcelona and Madrid, assemblies were organised where there was a mixture of the old neighbourhood associations that were no longer very active and whose members were older (my generation) and new people who brought new issues like ecology, energy, bicycle transport, cooperatives, water and a thousand different things and who created new spaces of articulation where people who had never thought that they would meet in the neighbourhoods began to converge." (http://www.remixthecommons.org/2017/06/interview_subirat/?lang=en)


"According to one Spanish RTVE poll, up to 7 million participated in some way, 20 per cent of the population, and it had over 70 per cent approval. In July the Economist reported 80 per approval." [2]


The Real Democracy Manifesto

""The priorities of any advanced society must be equality, progress, solidarity, freedom of culture, sustainability and development, welfare and people’s happiness.

  • These are inalienable tr...uths that we should abide by in our society: the right to housing, employment, culture, health, education, political participation, free personal development, and consumer rights for a healthy and happy life.
  • The current status of our government and economic system does not take care of these rights, and in many ways is an obstacle to human progress.
  • Democracy belongs to the people (demos = people, krátos = government) which means that government is made of every one of us. However, in Spain most of the political class does not even listen to us. Politicians should be bringing our voice to the institutions, facilitating the political participation of citizens through direct channels that provide the greatest benefit to the wider society, not to get rich and prosper at our expense, attending only to the dictatorship of major economic powers and holding them in power through a bipartidism headed by the immovable acronym PP & PSOE.
  • Lust for power and its accumulation in only a few; create inequality, tension and injustice, which leads to violence, which we reject. The obsolete and unnatural economic model fuels the social machinery in a growing spiral that consumes itself by enriching a few and sends into poverty the rest. Until the collapse.
  • The will and purpose of the current system is the accumulation of money, not regarding efficiency and the welfare of society. Wasting resources, destroying the planet, creating unemployment and unhappy consumers.
  • Citizens are the gears of a machine designed to enrich a minority which does not regard our needs. We are anonymous, but without us none of this would exist, because we move the world.
  • If as a society we learn to not trust our future to an abstract economy, which never returns benefits for the most, we can eliminate the abuse that we are all suffering.
  • We need an ethical revolution. Instead of placing money above human beings, we shall put it back to our service. We are people, not products. I am not a product of what I buy, why I buy and who I buy from.

For all of the above, I am outraged. I think I can change it. I think I can help. I know that together we can.I think I can help.

I know that together we can." (http://democraciarealya.es/?page_id=814)



What follows is a text by Emmanuel Rodriguez and Tomas Herreros from the Spanish collective Universidad Nomada.

  • 15TH May, from Outrage to Hope

"There is no doubt that Sunday 15thMay 2011 has come to mark a turning point: from the web to the street, from conversations around the kitchen table to mass mobilisations, but more than anything else, from outrage to hope. Tens of thousands of people, ordinary citizens responding to a call that started and spread on the internet, have taken the streets with a clear and promising demand: they want a real democracy, a democracy no longer tailored to the greed of the few, but to the needs of the people. They have been unequivocal in their denunciation of a political class that, since the beginning of the crisis, has run the country by turning away from them and obeying the dictates of the euphemistically called "markets".

We will have to watch over the next weeks and months to see how this demand for *real democracy now* takes shape and develops. But everything seems to point to a movement that will grow even stronger. The clearest sign of its future strength comes from the taking over of public squares and the impromptu camping sites that have appeared in pretty much every major Spanish town and city. Today, four days after the first march, social networks are bursting with support for the movement, a virtual support that is bolstered by its resonance in the streets and squares. While forecasting where this will take us is still too difficult, it is already possible to advance some questions that this movementhas put on the table.

Firstly, the criticisms that have been raised by the 15thMay Movement are spot on. A growing sector of the population is outraged by parliamentary politics as we have come to known them, as our political parties are implementing it today, by making the weakest sectors of society pay for the crisis. In the last few years we have witnessed with a growing sense of disbelief how the big banks received millions in bail-outs, while cuts in social provision, brutal assaults on basic rights and covert privatisations ate away at an already skeletal Spanish welfare state. Today, none doubts that these politics are a danger to our present and our immediate future. This outrage is made even more explicit when it is confronted by the cowardice of politicians, unable to put an end to the rule of the financial world. Where did all those promises to give capitalism a human face made in the wake of the sub-prime crisis go? What happened to the idea of abolishing tax havens? What became of the proclamation that the financial system would be brought under control? What of the plans to tax speculative gains and the promise to stop tax benefits for the highest earners?

Secondly, the 15thMay Movement is a lot more than a warning to the so-called Left. It is possible (in fact it is quite probable) that on 22ndMay, when local and regional elections take place in Spain, the left will suffer a catastrophic defeat. If that were the case, it would be only be a preamble to what would happen in the general elections. What can be said today without hesitation is that the institutional left (parties and major unions) is the target of a generalised political disaffection due to its sheer inability come up with novel solutions to this crisis. This is where the two-fold explanation of its predicted electoral defeat lies. On the one hand, its policies are unable to step outside a completely tendentious way of reading the crisis that, to this day, accepts that the problem lies in the scarcity of our resources. Let's say it loud and clear: no such a problem exists, there is no lack of resources, the real problem is the extremely uneven way in which wealth is distributed, and financial "discipline" is making this problem even more acute every passing day. Where are the infinite benefits of the real estate bubble today? Where are the returns of such ridiculous projects as the airports in Castelln or Lleida, to name but a few? Who is benefiting from the gigantic mountain of debt crippling so many families and individuals? The institutional left has been unable to stand on the side of, and work with, the many emerging movements that are calling for freedom and democracy. Who can forgive Zapatero?s words when the proposal to accept the "daci?n de pago" was rejected by parliament on the basis that it could "jeopardise the solvency of the Spanish financial system"? Who was he addressing with these words?

The millions of people enslaved by their mortgages or the interests of major banks? And what can we say of their indecent law of intellectual property, the infamous Ley Sinde? Was he standing with those who have given shape to the web or with those who plan to make money out of it, as if culture was just another commodity? If the institutional left continues to ignore social movements, if it refuses to break away from a script written by the financial and economic elites and fails to come out with a plan B that could lead us out of the crisis, it will stay in opposition for a very long time. There is no time for more deferrals: either they change or they will lose whatever social legitimation they still have to represent the values they claim to stand for.

Thirdly, the 15thMay Movement reveals that far from being the passive agents that so many analysts take them to be, citizens have been able to organise themselves in the midst of a profound crisis of political representation and institutional abandonment. The new generations have learned how to shape the web, creating new ways of "being together", without taking recourse to ideological cliches, armed with a savvy pragmatism, escaping from pre-conceived political categories and big bureaucratic apparatuses. We are witnessing the emergence of new "majority minorities" that demand democracy in the face of a war "of all against all" and the idiotic atomisation promoted by neoliberalism, one that demands social rights against the logic of privatisation and cuts imposed by the economical powers. And it is quite possible that at this juncture old political goals will be of little or no use. Hoping for an impossible return to the fold of Estate, or aiming for full employment like the whole spectrum of the Spanish parliamentary left seems to be doing, is a pointless task. Reinventing democracy requires, at the very least, pointing to new ways of distributing wealth, to citizenship rights for all regardless of where they were born (something in keeping with this globalised times), to the defence of common goods (environmental resources, yes, but also knowledge, education, the internet and health) and to different forms of self-governance that can leave behind the corruption of current ones.

Finally, it is important to remember that the 15thMay Movement is linked to a wider current of European protests triggered as a reaction to so-called "austerity" measures. These protests are shaking up the desert of the real, leaving behind the image of a formless and silent mass of European citizens that so befits the interests of political and economical elites. We are talking here of campaigns like the British *UK Uncut* against Cameron's policies, of the mass mobilisations in Portugal, or indeed of what took place in Iceland after the people decided not to bail out the bankers. And, of course, inspiration is found above all in the Arab Uprising, the democratic revolts in Egypt and Tunisia who managed to overthrow their corrupt leaders."

Participatory Democracy in the Camps

1. Via Wikileaks World:

"In Sol, the organizers, overwhelmed by the volume of the crowd, quickly started organizing a community by dividing the workload into different commissions (all made up of volunteers): cleaning, security, legal advice, infrastructure, food, external and internal communications. This last one set up a speaker in the middle of the square, so as to communicate between each other and to deliver important messages to the community. The infrastructure commission built large tents, made for shelter and to house each group’s “office”, food and blankets were provided, people brought mattresses and sofas from their homes, as well as sleeping bags, tents and cardboard boxes to coat the floor. The legal team held a brief meeting and afterwards communicated basic advice just in case the police were to crackdown on the campers. Meanwhile, external communications organized workshops to prepare volunteers for talking to the media, arranged teams of translators who would start working on social media sites and went about promoting the event on the web. The result was that in a few hours a totally self-governed mass of people, without any visible leaders, was fully functional and able to sustain the main reason behind the whole movement: the formation of public assemblies that were to enunciate the feelings and ideas of everyone present and turn them into proper policies.

Slowly, the crowd spontaneously organized itself in open and democratic debate groups that merged throughout the night into a big general assembly that started around 4AM. These assemblies served many purposes and the participants talked about many things: they used them to vote on details regarding the internal workings of the new system; they used them to express their feelings of anger without any coherence (not that it was necessary) making them the direct way of participation in the growing movement. In this sense they worked very well, knitting the community tightly around ideals and ideas that grew out of popular debate. The general assembly, however, failed, mainly because the lack of leadership made it difficult for them to concentrate on the real issue, that is, reaching a consensus large enough for a real manifesto or proposals for reform. Instead, in this first large assembly, the internal workings were discussed, maps were planned and an order of the day was voted and approved, it was intensely democratic in the sense that whenever one of the speakers said something they deemed was unacceptable, he/she was immediately removed and someone else was given the microphone. Acceptance, on the other hand, was greeted with a shaking of open palms, no applause. The meeting ended at 6AM with some serious doubts. First of all no real proposals emerged and it seemed that they would be hard to achieve without real leadership, after all, in most cases protests are held with a manifesto already prepared. How would one emerge from a crowd that was so individualistic and resentful towards anything that sounds like authority?

It is now Thursday and the camp has lasted for almost five days without police intervention. Today more than ten thousand people showed up. The square has been entirely occupied, the external communications commission has encouraged people to make their own signs and proposals and hang them around the walls, metro stations and ads. The tents have grown everyday and the facilities are better (for example, private companies have donated portable bathrooms for the camp) and well organized, with maps explaining the location of each commission. The flow of people has gotten progressively bigger, and because the media has finally paid attention, older people are appearing and are very curious about what the younger generations have to say. To their surprise they seem to agree with most of it and are willing to participate actively. Best of all, what seemed to be the problem (the lack of concrete political solutions) is turning out to be the strongest point: the assemblies have started producing, out of popular debate and participatory democracy, solutions for different aspects of life in society. Some of these were already floating about several webpages affiliated with the movement (the Proposals section of Democracia Real Ya, for example) but now they have been generated by autonomous popular will and voted for consensus by the general assembly, giving them the power of legitimate ideas. They will be posted here as soon as they are made official.

This same process is happening in every camp around Spain, and it is a fascinating one to watch. People from many nationalities, immigrants from Ecuador, Colombia and many other European and non-European nations such as Romania or Morocco are participating, something impossible (or contradictory) in a regular “democratic” election. This is partly because the problems being referred to are global issues, made transparent by Wikileaks’ revelations and felt by every person living in a major city. The old meanings of democracy and freedom have changed, politicians and corporate managers (specially in the press and media, one of the biggest foes of this movement) are now naked and are being shown in a new light. What will come out of all this is still to be seen, particularly towards the regional elections that will be held on Sunday. The people in Sol have vowed to stay until they make themselves heard, that is, even after election day. Meanwhile protests with the slogan Real Democracy Now are popping up around Europe (#italianrevolution #frenchrevolution #germanrevolution #ukrevolution) and demonstrations have been called for in Mexico and Argentina." (http://wlcentral.org/node/1786)

2. Via OpenDemocracy, Ryan Gallagher:

"The camp at Puerta del Sol functions like a micro-society. Food and water is provided for free, donated by sympathetic local businesses; there are fully functioning kitchens; toilets; a media and communications tent; a children’s nursery; and even a library.

It is divided up into six key working committees, each tasked with a specific area: politics, economics, education and culture, social policy and migration, environment, and health. Every committee has a ballot box outside, into which people are encouraged to deposit suggestions for change. Every suggestion is looked at and discussed, with conclusions taken forward to a meeting with heads of each respective committee. After more long and gruelling discussion, the conclusions are then eventually brought before a general assembly – during which the entire camp (or anyone else for that matter) is able to vote on each commission’s suggested proposals.

There is no distinct leader or figurehead; all decisions are made by consensus, meaning every single person has to be in agreement. If one person does not agree, the group will simply keep discussing until they form a compromise and are able to move forward. The meetings often take hours, with the activists working through the night, debating, discussing and pouring over the hundreds – perhaps thousands – of suggestions they receive daily through the ballot boxes.

“The leadership is our assembly, where the decisions are taken by consensus,” said one of the activists, Juan, 22. “Many people think that this doesn’t work – the reality is we are where we are because of this consensus.”

A key element to the success and growth of the camp seems to have stemmed from its rigorous organisation and serious ethos. The media-savvy organisers are keen to discourage alcohol consumption in the square, because they feel it could be used to negatively portray them as irresponsible young people, just looking for a good time and an excuse to get drunk and party.

In order to counter any negative perceptions, they keep the square meticulously clean and actively encourage pacifism and non-violence. Volunteers sweep the area almost constantly and remarkably most people adhere to the no-alcohol rule – at least until well after dark.

While most of the key activists in the square are young – between around 20-35 – there are also many older people spending time at the camp. Its rigorous organisation and serious ethos seems to have won the demonstrators the respect of many older members of the Madrid community.

One 66-year-old man, Manuel Ferreira, described how the scene reminded him of Paris in 1968 – though he said it was “more peaceful” due to less conflict with the authorities. Ferreira also said he believed the Madrid protests were of greater historical significance, something he attributed to the way internet technology today can propagate movements and make them global within such a short space of time. “I think I am living a new world order,” he said. “I am sure it will spread.”

The peaceful nature of the camp must to some degree be attributed to the police’s response, for they stay behind barriers to one side of the square. So long as Puerta del Sol is full of families, children and older people, the activists believe the authorities will be likely to stay away. Only a few days after the protests began, the police tried to block off the square – but this only encouraged more demonstrators to come out into the streets. As such, the authorities appear to have realised that their presence within the camp only antagonises protesters, and so have been forced to simply let them get on with it.

“They saw that they could not control this with police,” said Beatriz Pérez, a 29-year-old spokesperson for the movement. “So I think they took the opposite strategy: to let the movement be pacifistic, because we are a pacifistic, non-violent movement. They cannot move us out, so the police have no duty here.” (http://www.opendemocracy.net/ryan-gallagher/some-kind-of-revolution?)

Revolutionary Implications of the Movement

Anthony Barnett:

"Previously, like many I suppose, in a perhaps lazy way I had assumed that mutualism and cooperation might work on a small scale. What I sensed in Madrid is they work best on a very large scale. An extraordinary construction, being built, mended, cleaned, fed, secured, was looking after itself - no alcohol was allowed within - it was a collective gift that showed real democracy is possible.

But what are its politics? I asked myself. Evidently revolutionary: it embodies a rejection of the way existing society is run and a desire, supported by large numbers, for it to be run differently. As good a definition of revolution as you can get.

While many of the words and slogans that decorated the Sol were familiar leftist proclamations they seemed to me not just unrealistic and unrealisable but also unrepresentative of the care, seriousness and good humour of what was taking place.

What is being offered by Sol, I felt, isn’t socialism: it isn’t centralised, it isn’t planned, it is free and inventive. It isn’t anarchism, even of the mutual aid variety, it is well governed, purposive and engaged with the future of the country.

When my colleague Tony Curzon Price went to Occupy Wall Street earlier this month he discerned an aspect of this originality. Occupy sees America’s existing democracy as responsible for the ills of our day: financial crisis, environmental degradation, war, identitarian strife and corporatisation of the State. All permitted by what Tony terms the “thick-skinned” nature of US democracy, “thick” because it relies on everyone believing that “whatever is permitted is both right and good”. Against this democracy of personal liberty that is indifferent to others, the Occupiers want a society where we are “thin skinned” and the experience of others is our concern.

I’ve probably lost everyone who has not experienced what I’m talking about, or sat in as Tony and I did on the sessions of careful and considerate facilitators, whose culture is so different from the shouty confrontation that the media transmits.

There are at least two problems in trying to assess the originality of the revolutionary implications of the Occupy movement. The first is to keep it in proportion. One function of the extraordinary media coverage is to balloon it. The media distrusts any form of fame and distinction that which it has not itself created. It then tests it to destruction by exaggeration and distortion while preparing to discard it as - what else? - exaggerated.

Second, there is the myth of revolution itself. It is deeply powerful and attractive for many and celebrated in the cult of the “meme” the imitative, spontaneous transmission that bypasses thought to unleash the Marxist apocalypse. You can hear a demand for a cleansing showdown in the criticisms of the Occupy movement for being ‘unpolitical’, shying away from the politics of antagonism.

I’d suggest that on the contrary its potential resides in its refusal of traditional opposition. The power of the movement comes from its openness, its claim to represent almost everyone, its refusal of traditional left/right politics. One aspect of this is its non-violence, which gives a Gandhian form to its challenge. Another is leaderlessness, which ensures it isn’t captured by a Gandhi.

Its non-violence is an immense strength. Manual Castells called it “fundamental” speaking to the Spanish movement in Barcelona as a veteran of May 1968, just days after the indignados began. Naomi Klein, whose serious Shock Doctrine documents how it is the “corporatist crusade” that seeks and profits from rupture and crisis, sung the “wisdom” of the Wall Street Occupiers when she spoke to them earlier this month, “You have committed yourselves to non-violence. You have refused to give the media the images of broken windows and street fights it craves so desperately…. Meanwhile, support for this movement grows…”.

The movement’s dedication to being leaderless may confuse those who have not experienced its assemblies into thinking it is headless even mindless. On the contrary to be leaderless and take decisions demands a great effort, patience and dedication. One great advantage is that here too it refuses what the media craves.

However, in Europe two aspects of the myth of revolution remain very attractive to the movement: pure internationalism and revulsion from the market. Ironically so, as national experience and market style enterprise are positive drivers of the Occupy experience.

What we are witnessing is evidently national. Across the Middle East there is an Arab but not a pan-Arab awakening. It is surely a sign of the health of the young people fighting in the streets that there is little of that hysteria of displacement onto the roles of America and Israel, who seem as almost as irrelevant as bin Laden - even if this leaves western anti-imperialists gnashing their teeth. Nationalism isn’t a problem for Occupy Wall Street, either, where the Stars and Stripes proudly decorated tents in Zuccotti Park. But it is in Europe. Spain’s M-15 was distinctly Spanish but refused to see itself as such. " (http://www.opendemocracy.net/anthony-barnett/long-and-quick-of-revolution)

More Information

  1. Manifesto, http://democraciarealya.es/?page_id=814

Directory of related sites and movements

Compiled by Amaia Arcos:

http://takethesquare.net/ - "the official" English channel it seems (both Democracia Real YA and tomalaplaza Madrid link to them sometimes and it came out of n-1.cc)

https://n-1.cc/pg/groups/world/## - a social network created by hacksol,

http://www.europeanrevolution.net/ - seem to follow what is happening..

http://www.world-revolutions.info/ - Super active producing daily papers and disseminating info on Twitter. A mix of languages.

http://www.eurevo.org/ - have been very active promoting #europeanrevolution , related to people organising #europeanrevolution in Facebook (event followed by more than a 100.000 that disappeared, every Sunday demonstrations, etc.)

http://acampadabcninternacional.wordpress.com/category/english/ - random publishing of some translations

http://roarmag.org/ - doing a great job reporting in general

http://15mayrevolution.wordpress.com/ - quite up to date news in English from Spain

http://www.peoplesassemblies.org/category/communities/europe/ - pick on news and actions too,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_Spanish_protests - was being updated fairly regularly