Madrid, December 23
“Wake up! We’re late! We have to hurry!”
“Huh? What’s going on?”
“Why, it’s Christmas!”
“Relax, Oscar. It’s only the 23rd. Christmas Eve isn’t until tomorrow.”
“That’s what you say. What you obviously don’t know is that good old Santa isn’t always on time.” I’m sitting on the edge of the bed with my shirt inside out, putting on my shoes. “It doesn’t happen very often, I admit it, but some years, Santa comes early. Sometimes he’s already here on the 23rd, or even on the 22nd. He takes care of Christmas in a hurrry and on the evening of the 24th, before people know what’s going on, he’s already back on the North Pole!”
“You’re talking bullshit, Oscar. Like always.”
I’m putting on my coat, my hat. “Oh no. It’s true,” I say. “Santa likes to play with people. Once upon a time he even came to town in the midst of summer. You should have seen him, on the beach in his red coat shouting: ‘Ho! Ho! Ho! It’s Christmas everybody! Right here, right now!’”
“You better believe it. And there’s worse: when Santa gets angry, really angry, there won’t be Christmas at all!” I open the door. “Last time that happened was in 1824, if I remember well,” I stop to think, I look up at the ceiling, “or was it 1828? I don’t know, I should look it up in Wikipedia. Anyway – my voice gets really serious at this point – a year without Christmas! You don’t want that to happen, do you?”
“I thought so!”
I slam the door and I’m on my way.
Once I get to the centre of town I have to wade my way through thousands and thousands of desperate last minute Christmas shoppers. I look at their worried faces. Poor devils, they still have to buy presents for kids, aunts, uncles, nephews and nieces. And then there’s Christmas dinner. What are they going to make? What about the sauce? I feel sorry for them. But fortunately, there’s hope. In a couple of days it’ll all be over.
When I get to Puerta del Sol, the madness is complete. There’s no way of crossing the square. It’s a sea of lost souls. And in between, there are dozens and dozens of animated characters trying to entertain the crowd. I see Mickey and Minnie Mouse in Christmas outfit, I see the Pink Panther, Super Mario, various captain Jack Sparrows and Spungebobs Squarepants. I see aliens, cowboys and numerous cartoon characters that I don’t even know. ‘Is this Puerta del Sol?’ I ask myself. ‘Whatever happened to the acampada? Whatever happened to the 15M?’
It’s already dark when I finally manage to get to the other side of the square. The 15M has gathered on the Plaza del Carmen. This is where the Christmas Working Group is in assembly. It turns out they have been here for over seven hours to discuss what to do about Christmas.
I spot Santa Claus on the edge of the square. I knew it! He is already here. I walk up to him. “Hey Santa, how’s it going?”
He sighs. “It’s chaos, Oscar,” he says, “I’ve asked a speaking turn this morning, and they still haven’t reached a decision about whether I should be allowed to speak in assembly. Most people are convinced that I’m an infiltrator. That I work for the banks and the state and the financial institutions. They think that Christmas is the quintessential counterrevolutionary holiday, that it’s all about consumerism, and celebrating the status-quo.”
I ask for a speaking turn myself. It’s a miracle. Before the stroke of midnight I convince people that Santa deserves to speak, not as Santa Claus, but as a private citizen.
So when the chimes have sounded twelve times, silence descends upon the square, and Santa Claus steps forward to speak.
“Comrades feminine, and comrades masculine! Please use an inclusive way of speach, mister Claus!” someone yells.
“Ssst!” answers the moderator, “let him speak!”
“Very well,” Santa says, “comrades of all genders, good evening.” He takes a deep breath. “Many of you think that Christmas is all about consumerism. About buying presents. About stuffing yourself all day long without thinking that there are people in need, people who are hungry, not just in far away places you only see on the news, but also right here, in Spain.” Santa pauses, he has got people’s attention. “It’s all true. This is what Christmas has become. A celebration of exuberance. A time for the lonely to feel more lonely than ever, a time for the needy to feel excluded of all the wealth that we as humans have been able to create.
“But there is something more,” he says, “something timeless.” At this point he takes off his beard and his red hat. “Look at me. I’m not Santa Claus. I’m one of you. I work for three euros an hour at the Corte Inglés department store, entertaining shoppers in this silly costume.”
A wave of awe rises up from the crowd. Santa isn’t real after all! Two girls faint on the spot.
“So there’s something more,” Santa says. “You can’t see it, you can’t hear it, but if you’re lucky, you can feel it. It’s called the Spirit of Christmas…
“The Spirit of Christmas isn’t about presents and food and loneliness. It’s about being kind, it’s about listening to each other, like you are doing right now. It took you some time, but finally you did decide to let me speak, and that makes me feel happy. I can feel that the spirit is upon us.
“Mind you that this is something extraordinary. The spirit isn’t always here. As a matter of fact, most of the time it’s absent. And although we call it the Spirit of Christmas, it isn’t confined to this particular time of year…
“Knowingly or not, you have carried the Spirit of Christmas with you for a long time. And this year, finally, you have all decided to share it with one and other.” Santa raises his arm. “The spirit was here on the fifteenth of May, when you decided to camp in Puerta del Sol. And ever since, each time you have provided a meal for the hungry, each time you have prevented a family from being evicted, each time you have occupied a home for those who were, each time you gave people a voice in your assemblies and lent your ear to listen to them, the Spirit of Christmas was upon you.
“Now the jolly season has arrived. You haven’t yet changed the world, but you have made a start. Carry on, comrades. Don’t be impatient, and don’t despair. As long as you carry the Spirit of Christmas along with you, and share it with others, you will succeed.”
Madrid, December 14
I’ve been watching too many global warming documentaries lately. It’s a dangerous subject. If you start to think too much about the possible implications, you could freak out. A friend of mine who specialises in thinking, once told me of his sincere concern for man kind. “I fear the end is in sight.”
That’s what he said. And every time the subject comes up, it seems as though I can hear that phrase, resounding like a church bell.
Speaking of church bells, with the jolly season coming up, I have also been reading a bit of Dickens these days: The Chimes (1844). Now, you will understand that I was happily surprised when coincidence all seemed to bring it together yesterday evening in Puerta del Sol, where people from the Environment working group staged a performance of A Climate Christmas Carol…
Before it started the actors gave a brief account about the failed climate conference in Durban, about the lack of political will to act, about global warming being turned into a business.
“We are thirty years late. We have to act NOW”, was the slogan. They started distributing pieces of cardboard and felt pens so that people could write down their proposals.
‘Use the bike,’, ‘Turn down the heat, put on a sweater’, ‘Recycle the water of the shower for the loo’, ‘Switch off equipment you don’t use’, ‘Don’t take the plane, take the train’. Etc. etc.
Enter Scrooge. He receives the proposals. “Very nice, people, very nice. But all these proposals are not going to make a dime’s worth of difference. And you know why? Because you don’t have the power…
“I have the power.”
Scrooge is CEO of Repsol, Spanish petroleum. He wears a golden top hat, and he grins. “Each and every one of you depends on me. For your cars, for the production of your food, for your cell phones, your clothes, your shopping bags, your toys, everything. Without oil, you are nothing. So go ahead, turn down the heat. I don’t care, I will be making loads of money of you in any case.”
Look how content he is about himself, the old bastard! He lies down to rest.
Enter a spirit, dressed in white. Delicately she wakes Scrooge up.
“Who the hell are you?!”
“I am the Spirit of Climate Past.”
The spirit takes Scrooge to his younger days, to his lovely girlfriend. “Do you remember, Scrooge? You two wanted to be rangers!”
“Oh yeah,” Scrooge admits with a hint of melancholy, “silly old me.”
“But then you got that offer to go work at Repsol and earn lots of money. And you took it.”
“Of course I did! Who do you think I am?”
“But it meant you lost her Scrooge, the only person you ever cared about.”
Scrooge bows his head. “For money, Scrooge”, the spirit adds, with disgust. Then she disappears. Scrooge goes back to sleep.
Next, a big figure in white, rudely awakens him.
“Who are you?”
“I am the Spirit of Climate Present, Scrooge. And me o my, I hope you are happy with yourself!”
“Look at what you did, Scrooge… Look at our rivers, look at our soil, smell the air for heaven’s sake! All of it is polluted. And it’s all thanks to you.”
“Is it really?”
“Who else would be to blame, Scrooge? You made all the world dependent on that greasy oil of yours! But undoubtedly, you must be content, because at least you got rich… Enjoy it, Scrooge. Enjoy it while it lasts…”
Scrooge doesn’t seem to be as happy as he was when he goes back to rest. He is frightened when he gets woken up again.
“Who are you?!”
“I am the Spirit of Climate Future, Scrooge. I am here to show you what your actions are going to lead to…”
Thus begin the dance. The spirits twirl around over the square as the wind and the storms are howling.
“Look, Scrooge! The deserts are advancing! The sea levels are rising! Entire cities, entire nations are flooded! People are fleeing to the few inhabitable zones that remain. Wars are raging for water and arable land. And all over the globe, people are starving. This is the future, Scrooge, and it’s all your fault!”
“No!” Scrooge yells, “tell me it isn’t true!”
“It’s true alright. But what’s even worse is that you knew this was going to happen, and you didn’t do anything about it!”
“No, spirit, I didn’t know! Believe me, I didn’t know!”
“Bullocks, Scrooge! You looked the other way, out of greed!”
“So w-what h-happens to me, spirit? What is my fate?”
“Ha! Even while society is crumbling you only worry about yourself, don’t you? Well, let me tell you this: with all the wealth you have accumulated over the years, you won’t even have the luxury of your own tomb, Scrooge… You will be down there in the pit with all the others!”
Scrooge wakes, screaming. It was a nightmare.
“What year is it?”
“Two thousand eleven! Then it’s not too late yet! We have to act now! Give me those proposals!”
Scrooge takes the pieces of cardboard, reads them out loud, and throws them up into the air one by one. ‘Take the bike!’, ‘Turn down the heat, put on a sweater!’ Etc. etc.
Piedralaves, December 11
The four day encounter in Piedralaves is almost over. It has become an overwhelming success. Indeed, there were too many people present. If we were half as many, things would have been much easier to handle. But everything worked out without any trouble, and all the merit of it goes to the excellent (self)organisation of this place.
The countryside has proved to be an great environment for this type of projects, because practically everybody who comes here has something to do with the movement. In the cities, on the squares and in the squats, you will always be a magnet for drunks, thieves, addicts etc., and you will have to spend a lot of energy in trying to cope with that in a human way. Energy which could have been spent on many different things.
In Piedralaves this energy was spent on workshops ranging from yoga, ‘collective consciousness’, eco structures and rural repopulation, to woodcraft and tantric sex (“behind the log cabin”).
People are making connections here, and when the evening falls, they drink, they sing, and they have fun. Yesterday we held a stupendous collective jam session in the dark, where the positive vibe of this place spontaneously turned into rhythm.
Apart from the spiritual side, people here in Piedralaves focussed mainly on the rural side of the revolution. One of the important aspects of this is the institution of a seed bank. A place where countless ancient varieties of seeds are stored and protected for use by organic farmers. A place which is a practical necessity in a country where only few varieties of fruits and vegetables are actually planted and where genetic engineering is a common practice.
The practical side of the revolution is taking shape in various Cooperativas Integrales. Many of these are still in the planning phase. The idea of an integrated cooperative is that a group of people get together and put up a project at the margin of society where they can be completely autonomous on all counts. Food production, artisanal industry, health and education services, currency, housing etc.
Cooperatives of this type are being prepared in Madrid, Valencia, Euskadi, the Rioja, Extremadura and Catalonia. The Catalan Cooperative is probably the most advanced at this point, although it doesn’t seem to be fully operational yet.
On the urban side of the revolution, one of the issues that was brought to the general attention was that of ‘time banking’. This idea has existed for a couple of decades. It comes down to a simple exchange of services, which can be particularly useful in a social environment. For example, you commit an hour of your time to baby sitting, or to taking care of the elderly, or to giving language classes and instead of being paid in regular currency, you can deposit a ‘time dollar’ in the time bank. With this social currency you can buy an hour’s worth of time of someone else. Maybe someone who can help you paint your house, or mow your lawn or whatever. The idea behind it is that there is no difference in value between different types of work. An hour of your labour is worth an hour of someone else’s labour. It cannot be exchanged against regular currency, and it isn’t subject to inflation.
So, dear people, let no-one tell you that there are no valid alternatives to modern day capitalism. There are. As many as you like. What you have to do is find the right people with whom to put them into practice. And this is what I felt here in Piedralaves, above all: a desire to get to know each other, and to build up something new, together.
Piedralaves, December 10
The euro, the economy and the concept of ‘debt’ are trending topics in main stream media these days. The euro has to be saved at all cost, or else the economy will collapse, and debt will crush us all. That seems to be the idea. The situation is dead serious, we are on the brink of a catastrophe. Our trusted leaders are our only hope, and fortunately they are doing their utmost to resolve the crisis. We will be asked to make sacrifices, but we can rest assured that we will pull through.
In the meantime, I learned that there has been a climate conference going on in Durban, South Africa, which has received little to no attention from the media. I started to think about that, about the real and the perceived importance of both events. I started to think about what these concepts of economy and debt really mean.
In a world where money can be created by private banks in the form of digits on a computer screen, debt, in a monetary sense, is a scam. As long as we believe in it, we will be slaves. The moment we stop believing in it, we will be free. But because our leaders, our newspapers, our tv channels and our chief economists are all talking about monetary debt as if it were something real, we all keep on believing that it is.
Debt does exist, of course, but not in a monetary sense, not any more. I’ll try to explain. You will have to excuse me for oversimplifying, but I like to reduce things to the basics, and sometimes the basics are much less complicated than they seem to be at first sight. In this case you can reduce them to a simple and elegant equation.
On the one hand we have a planet. This planet possesses a finite amount of resources and a given capacity of self regeneration.
On the other hand we have a human population that is dependent on the planet for survival.
The great challenge of humanity is to make sure that this human population can continue to be sustained indefinitely, by making sensible use of the variable T (technology).
This, and only this, is what the concept of ‘economy’ is really about.
Money is not a part of the equation. On the contrary, the pursuit of money is one of the main things that caused the crisis in the first place.
The crisis – the real crisis – is that we continue to deplete the planet’s resources and exceed its capacity of self generation. And as long as we keep on doing so, we are accumulating ‘debt’.
This debt is real. This debt is heating the planet and it’s growing fast. Unlike the monetary debt, the real debt will have to be repaid, all of it, with compound interest. If we don’t start repaying it soon, the debt might become so big that we will experience runaway compound interest. Then it’ll be too late. Then the planet will default on us, and we will all be screwed.
So while the papers are filling page after page about the virtual economic crisis, the Durban Climate conference was addressing the real crisis. And nobody seemed to care.
This is a big problem. We don’t seem to know the difference anymore between what’s really important, and what’s only make-believe. We will have to regain this consciousness, and act on it. In our own best interest, and that of our offspring.
One of the slogans I found here at the 15M encounter in Piedralaves, summed up this feeling: “I wouldn’t be able to look my children in their eyes and say to them that they have to live this way because I wasn’t willing to fight…”
All the best,
Once upon a time – they say – you could cross all of Spain from the Pyrennees to the Strait of Gibraltar without touching the ground, swinging from tree to tree.
Those times are long gone. Human deforestation has turned much of the peninsula into an arid plain. Many of the old forests were cut to build the fleets that sailed the Indies, just like the ancient forests of Sicily were cut by the Romans to build the ships with which mighty Carthage was subdued.
To find some forests still, you have to take to the hills. And that is exactly what we did. We are in the woods just above the village of Piedralaves, about a hundred kilometers north of Madrid.
The place is a former holiday resort that was ceded to activists of the 15M last September. This weekend they opened up their doors to the public. Now, I don’t know how many people they expected, but they created an invasion. We are hundreds of people from all over Spain.
Yesterday morning we arrived. I had only heard about this project the day before, and so I hooked up with a couple of comrades from Madrid, and with comrade Canario from the March on Brussels.
I had expected something completely different, like a country community based on agriculture and aimed at self sufficiency. I had to abbandon that thought immediately. A holiday resort it was, and a holiday resort it still is. Only now it’s run by hippies.
For me, it’s a bit too much. I have an innate allergy for things that smell of new age philosophy and the likes. I will gladly opt out of the ‘get to know yourself’ workshops. But still, I can appreciate the initiative. For example, another of the workshops focussed on listening to each other. Five minutes, without interrupting, then you switch. People were enlightened afterwards. And I can understand that.
From personal experience I know that many people, probably most people, have grave difficulties with listening to each other. All they care about is talking. Either because they don’t really care what other people think, or because they are frightened of silence.
If there is anything that the 15M movement has reached, mainly through speaking turns in the assemblies, is that it got people to shut up and open their ears. With difficulty sometimes, that’s obvious, but nonetheless, it worked. And the fact that people are getting used to listening can only be positive.
The resort is a good business. But unlike normal holiday resorts it also allows for people to pitch their own tents and cook their own food. And even though it’s not the germ of a countryside revolution that I hoped it would be, it also has a lot of practical workshops, and it can serve as an incubator.
Many people you meet here have experiences in organical agriculture and alternative consumption models. And through them I got to know that modern countryside societies which are largely self sufficient already exist in various places in Spain.
It’s this practical side of the revolution that I’m most interested in, more than in ‘getting to know myself’. But maybe, just maybe, that’s only because I’m terribly frightened to discover what kind of horrible person I really am…
Take care 😉
Madrid, December 5
Today, after fifty days of occupation by the Housing commission of the 15M, the Hotel Madrid was evacuated by police. It happened at seven o’ clock in the morning.
Police were well informed about the situation they would find inside. They knew that most of the families had already been relocated in other squats. About a hundred people were present in the building. They were awoken rudely, they didn’t get the chance to gather their belongings. Elderly and children were present as well. They were treated a bit more kindly than the rest.
About ten people were taken into custody for not possessing certain documents. At the end of the day everyone was free again. The eviction took less than two hours. Police didn’t bother to remove the banners and the manifesto’s from the façade. They simply had the entrances closed by brick walls.
Immediately after the eviction a demonstration was called for in Puerta del Sol at eight o’ clock in the evening. Finally. These last few days Madrid seemed a city like any other, packed with happy christmas shoppers. It was disgusting.
But this time, between the christmas public, I witnessed the return of the lecheras, the police vans. There were about two dozen of them around the square. It was a wonderful sight. I missed it. Something was bound to happen.
Indeed, something did happen. At eight o’ clock there were a couple of hundred people protesting. They would swell to a couple of thousand, but they wouldn’t fill the square. Police had blocked the street leading up to the hotel. Protesters gathered in front of them and sang their tunes. Unfortunately, many people directed their rage directly at the police and not at real estate tycoon Carlos Monteverde Mesa, the owner of the hotel (among many other buildings in Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Bilbao, Paris and London), who happens to be a good friend of the governing Popular Party. Check out here.
After a while the crowd turned its back on the police and started moving. We followed the itinerary that we have walked various times this summer when Sol was occupied by police. Callao, Gran Vía, Cibeles, Neptuno, Atocha, and back to Jacinto Benavente, where the street leading the Hotel Madrid was blocked by police from the other side.
“One eviction! Another occupation!” was sung over and over again, and along the way the crowd made a half hearted attempt to break down the door of another abbandoned building in Calle Atocha. At the end, people sat down in front of the police line for a couple of minutes, they held a moment of silence for the Hotel, and soon after that the crowd dispersed.
So, the Hotel Madrid is history. But was it a good history? Opinions difer on the subject. Most people share the noble cause it served, housing evicted families. Many people deplore the chaotic way the place was run, and the scenes of violence that took place there. Some people are glad the place got evicted, because it was offering a bad image of the movement. I myself haven’t known the hotel well enough to add my say on this. But fact is that the Hotel Madrid, which has served a purpose one way or another, now lies abbandoned yet again.
Madrid, December 2
Sunday night we came back late from Marinaleda. We wanted to arrive before the General Assembly ended in Puerta del Sol, so that we could present the flag of the little utopian village that we received as a present from the mayor.
It turned out the General Assembly had already ended hours earlier. It wasn’t a surprise. There is hardly any revolutionary vibe in Madrid at the moment. As a result of this, the demonstration that was held last sunday, a march from the neighbourhoods to Congress under the slogan ‘Towards a General Strike’, became a complete flop. Only about a thousand people attended. Most people didn’t know anything about it.
The heart of the local 15M movement remains the Hotel Madrid. It continues to be a troublesome place. Notwithstanding the efforts of many dedicated people, it often resembles a mental institution. One where the patients are in charge.
A few days ago someone set fire to a neighbouring theatre after having entered there through the hotel. The fire was put out, but it added to the bad reputation of the place. It attracts a lot of people from the street, people who need professional help. It’s not an environment where the citizens are going to inform themselves about the movement, or to take part. And the people who are seriously working to make something out of it are complaining of intense psychological pressure, about conflict between ego’s and factions etc. Many of them are giving up and leaving.
As for me, I’m no longer tempted to take part in Communications at the hotel. A lot of things need to be sorted out. First of all the water problem. You cannot house people who got evicted in a building where they can’t use the bathrooms. Fortunately, other buildings keep getting occupied, so that the hotel’s main function is that of a temporary solution where people get housed before they can be offered an appartment in one of the other squats.
With the lack of a real revolutionary movida here in Madrid, I might soon be on the move. In all directions things are happening. Strikes in particular. It’s a peculiar thing. Here in Madrid, there is constant talk of a strike. There is a General Strike commission active for months, but it doesn’t translate into deeds. The ‘general strike’ is like the revolution itself. People have faith that one day in the foreseeable future it will happen, but in practice it never does.
In the rest of the world it’s different, though. Portugal has had a general strike last week. England as well. When Occupy Oakland was evicted over a month ago, a general strike was called for immediately, and three days later the city’s port was shut down. And in Greece, people have just celebrated the seventh general strike in a year, the fourteenth since the beginning of 2010.
Here in Spain, people only sing about it. “Hace falta ya una huelga, una huelga. Hace falta ya una huelga general.”
“What’s lacking now is a strike, a strike. What’s lacking now is a general strike.”
Truly, it’s lacking.