Protest Camp

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= "The public space recovered. People take to the squares of their cities and install permanent camps that turn into spaces for discussion, meeting, organization and life." [1]


Description

Willie Osterweil:

"“Yes We Camp,” one of the witty twitter hashtags of Spain’s 15 May movement, sums things up well. Inspired by the Arab Spring, galvanized by crisis, unemployment and austerity, fed up with the ineffective, corrupt, and often misanthropic political process, we are leaving our homes and moving to the street. In a blend of last-chance desperation and optimistic empowerment, we are building autonomous, totally democratic camps in city centers across the world. In these camps total inclusive democracy is praxis, everything is shared, and we build revolutionary consciousness everyday.

Perhaps no country is better suited to the radical democratic camps than Spain. A relatively young democracy, Spain has a rich political history of autonomous revolt and a strong cultural tradition of shared outdoor space. With unemployment hovering around 25 percent, and youth unemployment above 40 percent, a decade long housing bubble as dramatic as that in the US, and a series of dramatic cuts to social services being pushed by the EU and the ‘socialist’ Zapatero government, Los Indignados have over 60 percent popular support. I’ve discussed the history of the movement and life in the camps for Shareable before, but I’d like to zero in on the political methods and practices I witnessed (and took part in, to a limited extent) in Barcelona’s Placa Catalunya.

The camp is fundamentally organized around the principle of the General Assembly. If you’ve been in any kind of leftist meeting you have an idea of how it works: someone volunteers to be meeting facilitator, and people raise their hands to get on the ‘stack’. The facilitator calls on people in the order they volunteered, and only one person speaks at a time. They seek consensus rather than majority rule: all of the meetings I witnessed ended with dissenters agreeing to proposals and accepting the decision of the group. In a majority vote, voters are presented with a yes/no question and 51 percent carries the day, but in General Assembly proposals are built during conversation and debate, and as such actually reflect the desires of the group as a whole.

...

Everything is shared: decision making, food, labor, information, experience, resources, cigarettes. Placa Catalunya has a free kitchen, daily teach-ins, meeting schedules, public art spaces, a play space for kids, free movie screenings, and much more.

The camps also serve as action and information centers: people form actions large and small from the centralized point, allowing for a fluidity and speed of organization unavailable to other forms of organization. It also allows for simple scalability of involvement: core revolutionaries sleep and live in the camp, some people spend a couple days a week there, others only show up for major protests. This improvisational form of occupation creates a strong but fluid movement open to all and run by the people.

This is a practice of total democracy, of real, revolutionary tolerance. Los Indignados are 100 percent against violence, but they define violence to include homelessness, unemployment, hate speech and other forms of injustice. To quote the popular chant: this is what democracy looks like!

Similarly organized camps can be found throughout Spain, in Athens, and of course Egypt and Tunisia. Smaller camps have been springing up all over the world: England, Iceland, Italy, and France, throughout South America, even some in Japan and South Korea." (http://www.shareable.net/blog/yes-we-camp-a-global-fight-for-radical-democracy)

How-To

Willie Osterweil:

" The following instructions are based on personal experience from camps in Barcelona and New York City, conversations with campers from Madrid and Madison, and research of other camps around the world.

The early stages of any camp involve intensive planning. Although the camps in Tahrir Square and Spain were largely improvised from the ground up, they emerged from protests that had been planned for months. The first thing to do is to hold a big protest, and bring all your friends.

Choose a date, a time (a Friday will probably be ideal), and a public space centrally located to areas of political interest and with lots of foot traffic. Focus on a local political issue that can activate the community: these camps have largely been based around austerity politics, and though they have grown to encompass larger critiques of society, begin with local issues. You’ll also need a legal advisor, or at least someone who understands protest law and public use permits. Leverage your social media networks to bring out as many people as possible: you’ll probably want at least 100 serious comrades with mixed skills and full commitment. Bring tents, sleeping bags, warm clothes, and bed rolls, because you’re going to camp out.

As the protest goes along, set up your tents, beds, etc. Prepare them in such a way that you can be there a long time. You are going to be there a long time. The first 72 hours are vital—everyone is going to need to remain until the camp is well established and the police reaction has been figured out. Revolutions don’t have sick days, but jobs do.

All major decisions need to be made by the group, not by individuals—the camp can have no representatives, and no leaders. This decision making is done by the General Assembly, a meeting-based consensus process in which ideas, proposals and decisions are all made from the ground up. I’ve written more extensively on the General Assembly method for Shareable in Yes We Camp.

Once the camp is established, you’ll want to make it a free space, a small outpost of the better world to come. Make art, placards, performance spaces, free stores and information booths. In Spain, the camps had set up generators to run computers, wi-fi, and communication stations. In Barcelona’s Plaza Catalunya, Indignados built tree houses, a stage, a tattoo “parlor,” a free barber shop, and much more. They “hacked” statues with masks, bandanas, and colored paint. What does your city need? How can you build it? Show the people what a free society will look like while teaching yourself how to build one.

Provide free services that the city or country is taking away, to demonstrate both what is being lost and what the people can provide each other. In Bloombergville, New York’s protest camp, we set up a free take-one leave-one library, as the budget brought huge cuts to public library funding. Show with your actions that the people sharing their efforts and their resources can build anything.

It’s also important to stay active: it’s easy to just hang out in camp with your friends, and you’ll do plenty of this, but make sure that you’re actively participating with the community. Organize protests relevant to your situation. Connect with local organizations that are working on the same issues. Gather the neighborhood on the day of the protest and march together from your camp (leaving behind enough people to hold it). Keep action happening at the camp everyday: make documentaries, give teach-ins, throw dance parties, etc. Make it a space of expanded consciousness and spontaneous possibility." (http://onthecommons.org/how-start-revolution-our-time)


Principles

Willie Osterweil:

"There are a couple key principles you’ll also want to observe to make the camp successful.

No Violence The state produces violence, the people want peace. Use civil disobedience, peaceful retaliation, and free speech, but do not employ violence or destruction. If the cops inflict violence on the campers, this will only build your support among the people and demonstrate the intentions and methods of the state.

Follow the Law No illegal drugs, no public drinking, don’t break the law at your camp. In the US, both the media and the law are more critical of drug use and less tolerant of improvised use of public space. The cops and the media will use any excuse to marginalize you. Don’t let them. Demonstrate how power works by making the police break the laws.

Social Media for Distribution, not Discussion Twitter and Facebook are incredible tools for dispersing information about public meetings, protests, manifestos, articles, etc. Use the hell out of them, but don’t use them to debate tactics, plans, or ideas. They’re bad for producing concensus, and besides, it’s much easier for cops to follow a hashtag than get in your tent. And the cops will be following: At Bloombergville, an undercover cop showed up claiming to be an “agent” with MSNBC. He asked for our protest plans and to speak to the “leader” (protip: anyone asking to speak with “the leader” is a cop). Plan in person, and spread the message like wildfire over the web.

Be Anonymous: No Leaders, No Hierarchy Leaders can be jailed, disgraced, rejected, even killed. Being anonymous keeps you from being a target of the police, and lacking an obvious symbolic leadership swells your numbers in the mind of the public. If you think a movement needs leaders, ask yourself: how far have leaders taken the people up to now?

Welcome Everyone, Listen to Everyone You will undoubtedly get crackpots and weirdos among you: if they want the megaphone, let them speak (at least once). The people will vote against them: I saw this happen on three separate occasions in Barcelona. I also saw a group of children welcomed into a general assembly and allowed to speak to the crowd. Dealing with confrontational people will build solidarity as a group and understanding of the difficulties marginalized people face in our society. And the beauty of the camp is it allows you to practice the very thing you’re fighting for: a society in which everyone is welcomed, listened to, respected and actualized." (http://onthecommons.org/how-start-revolution-our-time)


History

Tim Gee:

"On the face of it, camping does not seem like the most likely tactic to bring about the transformation of power relations in society. But it has frequently played a role in movements for change.

More than a century ago, in the context of a financial crisis, thousands of people camped outside the British Embassy in Persia to demand democracy and limits on the power of the Shah. Protesters had previously sought sanctuary in a mosque but were threatened with violence by the state. They gave speeches, studied constitutionalism, and learnt from one another in their own ‘open-air school’. Persia’s first elections took place before the year was out.

A more recent example of protest camping took place in the 1980s, when parts of the peace movement established permanent camps outside military bases. By far the most famous was the women’s camp on Greenham Common in Berkshire which blockaded, annoyed and hounded the government and military for more than ten years, until (and after) the missiles were taken away.

Another round of protest camping began in February 1992, when a group of travellers decided to camp on the proposed site of the M3 motorway over Twyford Down. They were soon joined by environmental activists. Together they remained there for the next 10 months. When an alliance of NGOs and activists began making preparations for a campaign at another site – Oxleas Wood near Greenwich – the government got scared and announced that their planned road project there would not be going ahead.

Campaigners kept building the movement and organised protest camps against preparations for the extension of the M11 in Essex and other roads in Newbury, Newcastle and Glasgow to name only a few. Tactics borrowed from anti-logging activists in North America and Australia such as lock-ons, sabotage and tripods (three poles attached together with a person at the top), fused with home-grown ideas suggested by parts of the climbing community, to stretch both the wits and the budgets of the authorities in their efforts to remove them. Due to the heightened publicity and expense, the roads project became untenable. In 1996, the government decided to abandon its plans and axe plans for 77 new roads. The protesters’ efforts had paid off.

Perhaps the most well known recent movement based on protest camping began in 2005 at a purpose-built non-hierarchical eco-village in Scotland to coincide with that year’s G8 in Gleneagles. At daily consensus-based meetings young activists politicised by the Iraq War rubbed shoulders with direct-action old hands from across the world. This was quickly followed by a switch in focus from the summits where decisions were made to the places that CO2 was emitted. And so preparations for the Camp for Climate Action (Climate Camp) began.

The Climate Camp concept rolls in to one the main characteristics of a training camp, autonomous space and sustainable community. Most importantly, the focus is action – either there or thereafter.

The first Climate Camp took place in summer 2006 on land close to a coal-fired power station owned by E.ON called Drax, followed by protests at Heathrow Airport (2007), Kingsnorth Power Station (2008), City of London, Blackheath, Vestas Wind Turbine Factory and Trafalgar Square (2009) and RBS headquarters in Edinburgh (2010). As part of wider campaigns, plans for a third runway at Heathrow and a new power station at Kingsnorth were eventually shelved, while policing was somewhat reformed following the public outcry against the police violence at the 2009 City of London camp. But the movement wasn’t only present in England and Scotland. Climate Camps – or their equivalents – were established in countries including Wales, Ireland, the US, Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, France, Germany, Belgium, India, New Zealand, Australia, Ghana and the Ukraine.

Recent protest camps are not the exclusive preserve of the green movement. The No Borders camp at Calais challenges immigration controls both ideologically and practically. A protest camp at Dale Farm in Essex this year helped catapult the issues of racist traveller evictions onto the front pages and resist the bailiffs for longer than would have otherwise been the case. In the USA a protest camp outside the George W Bush’s window instigated by Cindy Sheehan (a mother whose son had been killed in Iraq) was a factor in the turning of public opinion in the country both against the war and against Bush.

Then of course there is Egypt, whose 2011 Tahrir Square camp to some extent inspired the current ‘Occupy’ movement. In an interview for New Internationalist earlier this year, activist Gigi Ibrahim called it ‘a mini-example of what direct democracy looks like. People took charge of everything – trash, food, security. It was a self-sustaining entity. And in the middle of this, under every tent, on every corner, people were having debates about their demands, the future, how things should go economically and politically. It was fascinating. It was a mirror of what Egypt would look like if it was democratic.’ It is likely that anyone who has participated in the recent wave of ‘Occupy’ camps would be able to recognise this sentiment.

So it can be seen that protest camping can play a role in bringing about social change. Camps can be spaces for people to debate and learn from one another on a large scale, outside of the structures of authority and hegemony that shape ordinary life. But while the awakening of critical consciousness is central to effective struggle it is not enough. Only by using camps as bases from which direct actions are taken which undermine the interests of the ‘haves’, are such camps successful in their aims." (http://theoccupiedtimes.co.uk/?p=123)


Example

Tent monsters: Action against the ban on camping. Melbourne cops come to stop a camping and that’s what they find…

"One of the weaknesses of the system is its rigidity, one of our strengths is our ability to reinvent ourselves, responding unexpectedly. They attempt to prohibit our actions, but we escaped through the cracks and appear where they least expect." [2]


see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KOyEKb4pTlY [ENG]


More Information

From Tahrir Square to Puerta del Sol from Zuccotti Park to the Rothschild boulevard:

  1. http://madrid.15m.cc/p/documental.html [ENG-sub]
  2. http://www.juanlusanchez.com/archivos/2012/01/24/la-plaza-un-documental-sobre-los-25-dias-de-acampada-sol/
  3. http://madrid.tomalaplaza.net/
  4. http://takethesquare.net/ [ENG]
  5. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vr9BTyug4FA [ENG]
  6. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yKAxOHnuk-I [ENG]