Day 2 of the IV National Assembly
The first National Assembly was held at the beginning of June, during the acampada in Sol. The second was held when the popular marches arrived in Madrid at the end of July. The third was held in September at the Retiro Park, when I was marching to Brussels. And now, the current National Assembly is the first to be held outside of Madrid, here in the workers’ paradise of Marinaleda, Andalusia.
It doesn’t take long for me to notice certain things which seem to contradict Marinaleda’s claim of being a kind of Utopia. I have seen a beggar, for example. They shouldn’t be here. They belong in the capitalist world. Just like the annoyed youngsters I have seen driving around in BMWs with their stereo blasting so loud that you could hear them all around the village. But most significant of all, I have noticed that the windows of all houses on the ground floor are barred. Obviously, people are afraid of something. But of what? I can’t say, but I myself wouldn’t want to live in a Utopia with bars on the windows anywhere.
Then there’s the mayor. With his long greying beard his appearance is somewhere in between that of Fidel Castro and Karl Marx. I’m sure he carefully nurtures this image. He has probably done so for a long time, because he has been mayor of Marinaleda for thirty years. It seems to confirm the thesis that communist regimes are unable of regenerating themselves. They usually turn from young and revolutionary states into repressive bureaucratic gerontocracies. Then they die out together with their founding generation. I wouldn’t be surprised if something similar is going to happen to Marinaleda.
This morning the National Assembly divided up itself into various working groups. Most notably Environment, Occupations, Education, Communications, Legal, and Regional (Andalusia).
In the afternoon the Assembly got together for an assessment of ideas. Nothing spectacular. No grand initiatives have been adopted. The focus was mostly on coordination, and improving the communications strategy.
The most interesting proposal came from the Legal commission. They want to give birth to a Constituent Assembly, which is supposed to write a new Constitution. A first meeting is planned on December 17th in Sevilla. Another meeting is planned for next year, the 19th of March, to mark the 200th anniversary of the ‘Cadiz Constitution’.
This document was styled by some of the most enlightened thinkers of the age in the wake of Spain’s liberation from Napoleon. It was generally regarded as the most progressive constitution that was ever written up to that date. Unfortunately, Spain wasn’t ready for it back then. Hopefully things are different now.
Another very interesting subject that we touched upon was the idea of ‘Democracy 4.0‘. It has been going around on the web for some time, it’s easy, and it’s brillant.
It comes down to this. People will not be called to vote once every four years. They will be called to vote whenever there is something to vote about in parliament, and they will do so electronically. Of course it won’t be obligatory, but the more people actually vote, the better.
Take Spain for example. There are 35 million Spaniards eligible to vote. There are 350 seats in parliament. This makes a hundred thousand votes per seat. If half of the voters would vote on a subject, like privatisation for example, they will represent 175 seats. A vote by regular members of congress will be reduced accordingly, and worth only half. Etc.
People will have the possibility to decide themselves, or if not, leave the decision to their representatives. When the entire populations votes, there’s no representation needed.
People can also present popular proposals to parliament if they gather a pre-established number of signatures, like 50.000 for example. It would bring government to the citizens, it would mean ‘democracy’.
It’s a bit like internet banking. But instead of a pin pass you could use your passport. Almost all passports have chips in them by now. This is a grave danger for people’s privacy and an enormous potential for control on the part of the government, but it could also be used to implement Democracy 4.0. You identify yourself with your passport chip and you vote on the proposals you find in your email.
Proposals can also be tagged. ‘Economy’, ‘Ethical’, ‘Education’, ‘Foreign Affairs’ etc. As a voter you can subscribe to a certain tag if you want to have a say in it, or vote on everything, or nothing.
Democracy 4.0 is the fastest road to direct democracy. We could implement this system tomorrow if we wanted to. It won’t happen of course, because our ‘representatives’ are scared sick of people actually exercising their popular sovereignty. As a movement we will have to adopt it ourselves first, and then maybe, sooner or later, there will be a little country or a little region brave enough to start a real trial of real democracy…
Marinaleda, November 26.
Day 1 of the IV National Assembly.
A week after the right wing party won the elections in Spain we enter the small farming community of Marinaleda early in the morning. It’s shocking. As if we took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up in Cuba. The walls of the local olive oil cooperative are adorned with revolutionary murals. The trees lining the roads are heavy with full ripe oranges. The stars are exuberantly bright.
This is where the fourth National Congress of the 15M movement is held this weekend. The delegates are housed in the ‘Ernesto Che Guevara sports complex’. The road that leads up to it has only recently been paved. Many others are still dirt roads.
The village of Marinaleda has the fame of being different, very different. To understand this, you have to know that many of Spain’s agricultural lands are still owned by ancient ‘noble’ families, especially here in Andalusia.
Up until the latter half of the 20th century Marinaleda has been repeatedly threatened by famine. Many of its inhabitants have emigrated to the North or abroad. But soon after Franco’s death in 1975, things changed. The villagers tell you their story with pride. And they have every reason for it. They are protagonists of their own history.
All through the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s the estates around the village have been occupied and collectivised by the farmers. Nowadays, Marinaleda is a thriving communist community of 2500 inhabitants active in agriculture and small scale industry. The village is largely independent as its food production goes. Emigration has gone down. Marinaleda is now attracting immigrants from other parts of Spain, even from the cities. They have the possibility to build their own house with public subsidies, and rent the terrain for 15 euros per month. Housing is more than a right here in Marinaleda, it’s a practice. All of this makes this small community the appropriate place for a nationwide encounter of the 15M movement.
This morning the Congress was opened in the ‘House of the People’, under the watchful eye of el comandante Che Guevara. One after another, delegates from all over the country speak about the current situation of the movement in their neighbourhoods, villages and towns. The general picture that emerges from this is more or less the following.
In the villages and many of the smaller towns, the assembly attendance is down by about ninety percent since the assemblies started in late May. Only a small core is still regularly participating in the movement. Often the same people are active in many different commissions and working groups.
The general public stays at home and only takes part in the major demonstrations. Clearly the novelty wore off for most. They don’t want endless discussions, they want results.
But things won’t change overnight. It’ll take a change in mentality, it’ll take active participation and hard work. It’ll take time.
Another recurring problem is that the initiatives, the strikes and the demonstrations are simply too many. And for too many different reasons. People are saturated. They want it all and they want it now, but in practice there’s no choice, they will have to go one step at a time.
Because of the reduced size of the assemblies, activists are working to coordinate initiatives on a regional level, between various assemblies and communities. The basis of the movement is as strong as ever, but in many cities, like in Madrid, it seems like we are losing the public space. The movement is less visible, even though in various assemblies people are working on public relations by creating their own old style media outlets, like magazines and radio stations.
One of the few practical results that the movement is obtaining is preventing people from being evicted, or else offering them alternative housing. But especially in the smaller communities it’s hard for the appropriate commissions to localise the families who are being evicted, because many people don’t dare to admit to the outside world that they can’t pay their mortgage anymore, out of pride.
‘What will the neighbours think?’, is still the predominant way of thinking. People are ready to help others, but they are afraid to depend on solidarity themselves.
The revolution will have to advance to the next level. Up until now everybody seemed to ride the wave of the initial enthusiasm. Now it’s time to create real alternatives. Marinaleda has proven that this can be done. ‘A Utopia towards Peace’ is the village’s official motto. Maybe it’s a bit exaggerated. The place surely isn’t perfect. But it’s better than many other communities. And most of all, it’s different. Refreshingly different.
Madrid, November 24
I am touring a bit these days. It’s crazy. This spring I have been living here in Madrid like a bum for over two months, and now that I’m back I have a wide choice of places to sleep.
The other day I met comrade Martino, from the march. He was one of the persons who walked along with us on various occasions, whenever he could. Now I caught him in the revolutionary act of buying organical products directly from the producer.
In Spain they call this ‘Grupo de consumo’, in Italy ‘Gruppo di acquisto solidale’. It’s a pretty common practice, especially in a region like Tuscany, famous for its wine and olive oil.
I should know. I have been working as a baker of natural made sour dough bread in the Arno valley for a time, and later as a goat sheperd in the Chianti. We used to bring our products once or twice a week to an occupied social center, where our local clients came to buy their groceries.
The idea is pretty simple. A group of people decides to bypass the system of industrial agriculture and mass distribution by collectively ordering their fruit, vegetables, dairy, wine, olive oil and sometimes meat from a local organical producer. This way the producer is guaranteed a market and the consumers can get healthy products at a reasonable price, also because there is no brokering in between, there is no packaging, there is no transport over large distances. You eat products which are grown without pesticides or artificial fertilisers, and you know where they come from.
Of course, it’s much easier to resort to this way of sustainable consumption in rich countries like Portugal, Italy, Greece or Spain, with their enormous agricultural variety. But also in poor countries like Germany, Holland and England you can be sure to find organical producers somewhere in your neighbourhood.
Yes, dear people, the revolution starts at lunch, right on your plate. Look up your local organical farmers. Tell your neighbours. Unite. Get your eggs from a chicken that you personally know. But don’t do it because it’s better for the chicken, or because it’s better for you, or because it’s better for the farmer, the soil and the environment.
Do it because of the taste. Because nothing tastes likes real food.
I send you a link to a short documentary about the March on Brussels by German film maker Martin Keßler. Enjoy!
So the elections came and went. The predicted result came out. The right wing Popular Party has an absolute majority. Like any political party anywhere anytime, they rallied under the slogan of ‘change’. Which means things will stay the same, or get worse. But even without campaigning they would have won all the same. The Socialist Party left such a mess that people instinctively voted for the other side of the medal. It’s the logic of a two party system. The socialists can relax and sit back. They will probably return to power in four years time. That is, if the revolution will not have triumphed by then…
The result of the elections might have been predictable, but that makes it no less paradoxical. In a country where a massive popular movement has started to shake society at its very foundations, it sounds strange that a neoliberal party with fascist roots would gain such an overwhelming victory. But it was just as strange that a party which calls itself ‘socialist’ has been supporting the banks and the financial system at the expense of its own citizens.
These first few days I’ve had many happy encounters with the people I knew and worked with in Communications, Extension and Audiovisuals during and after the acampada. But the most touching encounter was one with a perfect stranger who came up to me to ask if I were Oscar from the March on Brussels. All he said when I confirmed was: “Thank you. Thank you so much.”
It’s natural for me to make a comparison between Madrid last spring and Madrid now. I shouldn’t do that. The days of the acampada are legend, it will never be the way it was. Or, to use an analogy, in spring it seemed like everybody was madly in love with everybody else. Now it’s like people are married.
The heart of the movement is the Hotel Madrid. It’s where most of the commissions gather. Since it was occupied on Global Revolution Day the place has known a lot of social problems, of which I ignore the details. But most people seem to agree that the organisation of the hotel has slowly started to improve.
After walking around the corridors and talking to people who are active in the commissions I am very much tempted to put up my office here and continue working with Communications like I did in Sol. But on the other hand I am also tempted to move on. There is a National Assembly of the 15M movement planned in the libertarian communist village of Marinaleda, province of Seville, next weekend, which might be very interesting to cover.
In the last few months the movement has been occupying many buildings throughout Madrid and surroundings. This is completely logical when you have millions of abbandoned spaces whilst people are evicted from their homes as a result of the crisis. If the government doesn’t find a solution for them – as is its constitutional duty – then people will take care of it themselves.
One of the other occupied spaces I visited was the ‘15M Temple’, housed in an old garage near the former Audiovisual bunker. You wouldn’t say so from the outside, but from the inside it looks marvellous. The temple is open to all religions and atheists, and they have an excellent collection of Asterix comics in their library. I can definitely recommend it.
So things keep on moving here. No way the 15M is going to stop. But on the day of the elections I was a bit disillusioned. When the results came in, there was hardly anybody in Sol, only a small group of hardcore anarchists burning things and trying to attach a banner to the metro station. I had hoped that people would have turned up in huge numbers, to deliver a message to the future right wing government, saying: This is our space, we’re here, we’re staying and we’ll be watching you.
It didn’t happen. There were more people in Sol next day, waiting in line. It wasn’t the line in front of the rationing office, not yet. It were people waiting to buy a ticket for the traditional Spanish christmas lottery.
When times are tough, you can try to change society, or you can place your hope for fortune on a series of numbers, so that you won’t have to worry any more if you win. Many people do both. It’s another one of those apparent paradoxes, which will probably make perfect sense somehow.
‘Fight the one percent. But whenever you have the chance, join them.’
Every year old Saint Nicholas comes to Holland. The children love him, because he brings them presents. He is the archetype of Santa Claus. But until recently, just a generation or two ago, the old saint wasn’t only loved. He was feared as well, for he would punish you if you had been bad. He would have you whipped by one of his black helpers, ‘Flagellation Pete’, and then he would tie you up, put you in a bag, and take you back home to Spain.
So here I am. Back in Madrid. I have been a bad boy.
It’s election day today. I wanted to be here to witness what’s going in the capital of the revolution after I had been absent for over three months. A lot has changed. Especially in the rest of the world. It’s November 20th. Since September there have been occupations going on in New York and other American cities. Since October it has been going on world wide.
Five days ago the camp on Liberty Square near Wall Street has been destroyed by police. Resistance is growing stronger as a result of it. In these last few weeks there have also been regime changes in Greece and Italy, after intense pressure from the EU and the financial markets. Now it’s Spain’s turn.
When I step out onto the Puerta del Sol, the square is buzzing. Lots of people are gathered in an atmosphere of expectation. It only takes a minute before I hear someone calling my name. It’s a joyful encounter with a group of comrades from the March on Brussels. And it wouldn’t be the last time I came across familiar faces. It went on all evening.
When I first arrived in Sol there was an enormous camp here. This is where it all started. From here the fashion of camping out in public squares began. But this time the most curious thing is that while people are camping on squares all over the world, down to the smallest villages in Holland, there isn’t a single tent here in Puerta del Sol.
There’s not the right spirit for it. And authorities wouldn’t accept it. ‘Been there, done that’, seems to be the prevailing thought. And also, it rains.
At the stroke of midnight a crowd gathered at the statue of the bear starts moving and singing. Even if we’re not camping, something is going to happen anyway. We move a couple of blocks north to the other side of Gran Vía, where a residential building has just been occupied. Banners are attached to the balconies. “Space liberated – For evicted families – An occupation for every eviction”.
My first impression from what I see and hear is that the movement went on to consolidate itself on the local level, in the villages and neighbourhoods. But in Sol there doesn’t seem to be much of the happy revolutionary spirit that characterised this place during the last elections in May.
Instead of camping, the movement has squatted the ‘Hotel Madrid’, close to Sol. I’ve been walking through there today. It made me think of Revolutionary HQ in Brussels. The place is enormous. The hotel rooms have been divided into living spaces for evicted families, working spaces for the commissions, and community spaces. It seems to be working out quite well from the outside, but there are also people willing to deny that.
There’s not much more I can say to you, I’ve only just arrived. Judging from all the manifestos announcing strikes and demonstrations, there certainly is no lack of initiatives. But people have the feeling that everything is going to change from now on. The right wing party will win the elections today. And probably they will not have any patience with the movement. They will deal with it swiftly, people think. And their hope is that repression will further stimulate resistance. They hope that after today, once the Socialist Party is ousted from power, their loyal electorate will take the streets alongside the movement.
We’ll see. ‘Full of expectation, our hearts are beating’, as the old Saint Nicholas song goes. ‘to know who will get sweets, and who’ll get whipped.’
I have been emptying my summer jacket’s right inside pocket, the one that I marked as ‘archive’. A whole lot of material from the Acampada Sol came out of it, including the original maps.
I also went through some of my oldest dispatches. I have been covering the 15M movement since the beginning, but until after the end of the acampada I was exclusively reporting in Dutch.
So I translated my initial reports. It’s a first hand history of what happened in Sol. If you want the guided tour of the place, be sure to check out the June 11 entry: Acampada Soul.
Soon I’ll be back on revolutionary road. And if I find anything interesting, you will be sure to hear from me.
May 21 – “The Key is in Sol”
About a goat sheperd who suddenly finds himself in the midst of a revolution.
May 25 – Portrait of an Acampada
General sketch after ten days of occupation.
May 27 – Comisión Comunicación
Your truly walks into the Communications office. He never left since.
May 27 – Catalonia is not Alone
Police clears the square in Barcelona by force to make room for football celebrations.
May 28 – A Visit from the East
A girl from China comes by at Communications. We discover we have more in common than we think, if only we found the right words for it.
May 29 – La Bastille
The movement expands into the neighbourhoods and villages. The first General Popular Assembly of Madrid convenes in Puerta del Sol.
May 30 – “¡Sol Resiste!”
Our comrades in Paris have been evicted from the Bastille. We march in solidarity to the French embassy. There’s a tempest in the air.
May 31 – Extending the Field of Battle
At Extension the echoes of our movement are coming in from all over the world.
June 1 – The Times of Puerta del Sol
Trying to capture a day of acampada, and to make a newspaper out it.
June 1 – Ye Olde Clocke
A homage to Puerta del Sol.
June 2 – 21st Century Revolution
On audiovisuals and contemporary urban guerilla. Sol is under threat of eviction.
June 2 – The Summer of 2011
On the daily business of revolution. On Walt Disney.
June 3 – Web 3.0
On social media and liberty of action.
June 4 – Democracy from the Bottom Up
The interacampadas or National Assembly convenes in Sol.
June 5 – Murcia Mon Amour
On the press. On alternative roads to democracy, the Murcia case.
June 6 – Buy Tear Gas!
On sedition. Some free investment advice.
June 7 – Angel of the Revolution
On discouragement. On a girl with a camera who saves the day.
June 8 – The End of the Beginning
The assembly decides on lifting the acampada on June 12 with a great happening.
June 9 – “To Parliament!”
Parliament is besieged by surprise. It turns into a happy celebration.
June 10 – Respect!
A friend of mine comes to visit the acampada from Holland. On libertarianism and anarchism. On reasons for joining the revolution.
June 11 – Acampada Soul
A guided tour of the acampada, the day before it disappears, ‘for the history books’. Original maps included.
June 12 – Darth Vader
The new city council is sworn in. And we don’t let it pass by without making some noise.
June 13 – Brand New Day
On the final day of the acampada, and the day after. On a square that is polished to shine.