Real Democracy Now

Ada Colau, the new mayor of Barcelona. Photo Reuters/Telesur.

Ada Colau, the new mayor of Barcelona. Photo Reuters/Telesur.

Dear people,

It has taken four years for the 15M movement to arrive from the occupied squares to the palaces of power. Last month, grass roots political parties all over Spain have shaken up the establishment and conquered, among others, the municipalities of Madrid and Barcelona. Local platforms and nationwide party ‘Podemos’, inspired by the indignados movement, are now gearing up towards the general election next November, to replace the old regime.
In Barcelona, anti-eviction activist and sweetheart of the movement Ada Colau has been elected the first female mayor of the city. The platform for which she was a candidate, ‘Barcelona en Comú’ (Barcelona in Common), proposes  a radical democratic revolution, with continuous citizens’ participation, transparency of government, right to housing and basic sustainment for all,  and a lot more.
In Madrid, a traditional stronghold of the Conservatives, the new platform ‘Ahora Madrid’ came in a close second, wresting control of the city in collaboration with Socialists. The new mayor, Manuela Carmena, a 71-year old lawyer, describes herself as a “caring grandmother” to the generation that took the streets four years ago to usher in a new era of democratic change. What she has in common with Ada Colau is a ‘feminine way of doing politics’, based not on hierarchy, but on horizontal organization.
Manuela Carmena was a communist activist under the Franco regime, which made it easy for the leading lady of Spanish conservatism, Esperanza Aguirre, to accuse the Ahora Madrid platform of being a ‘springboard to destroy the western democratic system as we know it.’
She probably couldn’t have made better publicity for her opponents. It reminded me of one the slogans we used to sing when we filled the streets of Madrid. “Madrid será la tumba del sistema”: Madrid will be the tomb of the system.

As for me, I have retreated to private life on my Italian estate, like Cincinnatus. But obviously I cannot remain untouched when a carrier pigeon brings me revolutionary updates from Spain. So I wrote to some of my old comrades, to get a first hand idea of what is going on. This is a brief account of what they old me.

H: “What has happened in Spain is that activists are forming political platforms (Barcelona en Comú, Ahora Madrid, Marea Atlántica…etc) to try and bring down the last remaining wall of the protests, the institutional wall.
It’s typical for activists to become politicians at some point in their lives, but what is new in Spain is that there are a lot of them now and voters only seem to support them gradually. The campaigns for municipal candidates (supported by Podemos, but not a part of it) have been like a continuation of the indignados, with candidates going into the neighbourhoods to listen to people’s proposals instead of organising rallies.
No candidate has won an absolute majority. This opens a new political front in Spain where deals have to be made. We’re entering a phase where a minority will govern and each proposal will have to be approved by fragmented parliaments.”

J: “All political analysts agree that what was formed on the streets and in the squares during the 15M, has crystallised into political movements like Podemos and the integration of left wing movements. Together, we decided to give power to people who had no voice until now… But now comes the difficult part: not just protesting, but building… The adversary is enormous, and they will have to work very hard…
A lot of people said it wasn’t possible, but in the end we did it!!! I think that is the strongest message, but the traditional parties are waiting and hoping that this is just a fashion so that they can go back to their business as usual.”

P: “The streets have given way to the institutions. (…) At the municipal level a LOT of things will change. Things like a ban on foreclosures can pass very soon, at least in some cities.
In the autonomous communities and regional governments where such basic things as health care or education are decided, there hasn’t been an electoral change due to lack of unity. In the cities, Podemos, which incorporates a part of the movement, preferred to go it alone, instead of uniting with other movements like in Madrid and Barcelona, and this didn’t played out in their favour.”

JC: “Podemos hasn’t really been clear about its own political collocation, and has preferred not to touch on subjects like nationalism, the economy etc, apart from becoming less revolutionary and more reformist. I have to say that I don’t really like the party, and above all I don’t like [its leader] Pablo Iglesias and his swollen ego, and I can’t see where this is all going. But obviously, it is the lesser evil by far.”

D: “The vertical leadership style of Podemos did not live up to the expectations, and the confluence of municipal candidatures based on a highly horizontal post-party model have changed the game.
Not even Greece has seen the level of innovation and empowerment that we are witnessing here. You can call me chauvinist, arrogant, or crazy, but I think the Spanish indignados are at the forefront of global change and of one of the greatest successes of the Occupy/Indignado movement. And I am convinced that the changes that are happening will not be happening only here. A lot of people are looking at us, and this is going to exceed the Spanish borders by far.
Here you can smell hope, you can smell revolution, you can smell social and political change.”

H: “Now it’s going to be interesting to see how the municipal platforms in Madrid, Barcelona, Coruña and Santiago are going to work. And from there, we will see if we can create momentum for the general elections. If Podemos opens up its program and succeeds in uniting with the local platforms than I have no doubt they will win the general elections in November.”

P: “The streets are empty for the moment while everyone is waiting to see what is going to happen from above. But if things don’t change, people will fill the streets again. There is a lot of expectation. Suddenly we all have friends in local councils, but it’s also very clear that if they don’t do what they should do we will confront them like we would with any other government.”

In the meantime, even though Pandora’s box has been open for a while, the reaction tries to tighten it grip on the people by approving the new citizen security law that aims at scaring people out of protesting. As from July, ridiculous fines of up to tens of thousands of euro’s can be imposed for demonstrating outside of parliament, avoiding a foreclosure, resisting arrest, blocking traffic, filming police officers etc.
Today, all over Spain, people are protesting the restriction of their civil rights. Just a few more months and they will be in front of parliament anyway, not to protest, but to celebrate.

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About Hong Kong

Foto via Tumblr

Foto via Tumblr

Dear people,

Protest in Hong Kong flare up after a week which saw violence by agents provocateur and talks with the government breaking down. I translated another piece about the context of the protest by Miguel Ángel Martínez. Original here.

Various Layers of Social Movement in Perspective: About Hong Kong

“It’s Monday and we have to return to class. It has been two weeks of demonstrations. A student strike and one by the ‘umbrella movement’. To call it a ‘revolution’ seems a bit exaggerated. On Sunday negotiations resumed between the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) and the government of the ‘Special Administrative Region’ (SAR). They were frozen since Friday as anti-occupy groups had entered the scene attacking protesters and trying to dismantle occupations with the passive complicity of the police. So yesterday, while I was walking around several of the key points of the movement, I thought about all the actors involved in this social movement and the necessary contextualization needed to understand all this beyond the ethnographical point of view, which is my favourite.

The most simplistic version would be to focus on two actors: generally, an organization that leads the movement and the authority of the state (local, regional or national, depending on the situation). The latest news about the negotiations in Hong Kong seem to highlight this polarity. But then the next question is, what about Scholarism (the other strong organization in secondary education) and OCLP (Occupy Central with Love and Peace) which have been preparing the ground for ‘civil disobedience’ and democracy for over a year? In particular, OCLP announced on the last day of the student strike that they were starting their campaign that Sunday, which irritated many people as it was seen as a sign of rivalry for protagonism. In fact, four zones have been occupied in the city (although the Canton Road has been ephemeral) and none of them was in Central. At the moment there are not many differences between these groups as far as the immediate goals of the protest are concerned (universal suffrage with ‘public nomination’ of candidates), but neither is there a unified front, nor can their conflict about who represents the whole movement and the general public be settled by a single blow. Something similar happened after the success of the mobilization in 2003 that paralyzed the attempt of the local government to implement Article 23 of the mini-constitution (Basic Law) relating to crimes of disorderly conduct and ‘national security.’ After their success the coalition quickly disintegrated. True, two ministers went down with them, plus prime minister Tung Chee Hwa, who resigned after months without admitting up to what point his resignation was due to the movement.

And what is the position of the current government headed by C.Y. Leung? Obviously, very weak, but they are not alone. Behind it, there’s the CCP (Chinese Communist Party), although it’s not sure if the Party is simply supporting Leung, telling him what to do, or preparing his downfall. C. Y. Leung was elected with 689 votes of the 1,200 members that make up the nominating committee which still elects the SAR head of government. This is why we have seen the number 689 so often on the streets, together with the demand that Yeung should find another job. Since being elected he has not lost the label of being an undercover CCP member since the Party does not exist in Hong Kong and, strangely, the Basic Law doesn’t allow the president to be affiliated with any political party. The big question is: how autonomous is the government and the SAR itself? The CCP does not want to lose its privilege to endorse the Hong Kong presidency, which ultimately comes down to a veto right. And its spokesmen have made it clear on many occasions that the president needs to be someone ‘who loves Hong Kong and who loves China.’ With this same cryptic language they also use in the rest of their propaganda (think about the usual rhetoric on the pursuit of a ‘harmonious society’ when everyone knows that society is permeated by rampant corruption) they are simply threatening: they will not accept a president who opposes the policies and instructions that come from the CCP. Autonomy is okay, but within limits.

Is the umbrella movement opposed to the CCP? No doubt, but it only targets the person it believes to be Beijing’s fool in Hong Kong: C.Y. Leung. This means that what is at stake is not civic nomination of candidates and universal suffrage for permanent residents (little is said of non-permanent residents living in Hong Kong for less than seven years, or foreign domestic workers who do not even have the right to reside in a different home from that of their employers). It aims to strengthen the autonomy of the SAR, develop it and, above all, establish it as a defensive wall against the usual interference by the CCP. This is why many people these days have criticised the silence of the UK, whose PM Margaret Thatcher signed the Joint Statement in 1984 for the transfer of sovereignty of the colony to China in 1997 under the model ‘one country, two systems’. The agreement was deposited with the United Nations and it is assumed that both parties are still responsible for its observation and monitoring. But China today has grown a lot and continues to warn the United Kingdom and the rest of the international community it will not allow any interference in its ‘internal affairs’.

If we start digging into the memories from the colonial period (1841-1997) it’s important to note that Hong Kong was also a ‘refuge area’ for those who were persecuted in China and other countries of the region. With the triumph of the CCP in 1949, a considerable ammount of anti-communist of immigrants arrived in Hong Kong, also because it was a safe place for their mobile capital, and many had their property in China seized. Various religious congregations that were banned on the mainland retreated to Hong Kong and continue to manage a large part of the education sysytem in the former colony. One of the three leaders of OCLP is a prominent religious figure and at the occupations of the past week I have seen many expressions of Christian symbolism with people praying and singing. Although political and economic control remained in the hands of the British motherland and its elites, the economic reforms in China from 1980s onwards benefited the industrial development of Hong Kong which was already emerging as an ‘Asian tiger’ and a neoliberal enclave. Obviously, at that time there was no democracy in China or Hong Kong but, in their way, the elites of each side argued that they exercised their own unique model of ‘popular’ and ‘colonial’ democracy, respectively. It didn’t stop a new flow of immigration to the colony, motivated mainly by the economic difference between the two areas and the short distance with few obstacles between the first ‘special economic zone’ created by the CCP in Shenzen and the colonial free trade paradise of Hong Kong. Of Hong Kong’s over 7 million residents (and as many tourists each year), a large part of its working class comes from these contemporary migration flows. So, are we seeing another typical middle class students uprising for the basic values ​​of liberal democracy that have never disrupted daily business in Hong Kong? What type of democracy does this immense labour force aspire to, trapped as it is in low wages on both sides of the border? And do all people who have taken the streets and helped to shake the fragile government feel represented by the student organisations? Let’s not forget that the Basic Law is valid for 50 years and that the younger generation is primarily concerned with the period after 2047 when there will be ‘one country, one system’ without any of the opportunities for protest such as the current one, which is absolutely impossible in the rest of China if not at the price of enormous repression.

I must also mention Taiwan. The rise of China’s political and military power is creating new international conflicts in the region (with Japan, the Philippines, etc.) while also worsening internal strife (in Xinjiang and Tibet, especially, but also environmental and labor protests). However, Taiwan is the hardest nut that the CCP could not crack until recently. The last president elected in Taiwan, Ma Ying-jeou, has exasperated part of the most independentist population by trying to strengthen ties with Beijing. The ‘one country, two systems’ formula is offered by the CCP in order for Taiwan to rejoin the motherland despite the military barrier that has been raised by the nationalists between the old island of Formosa and the mainland, with the support of the United States. But there’s little trust in Taiwan where people are following very closely what’s happening in Hong Kong. This past year, students in Taiwan have also led a social movement in opposition to Ma and the CCP using the colour yellow and the sunflower as the symbol of their identity. In a bold and peaceful manner they were able to occupy the seat of parliament for 23 days and managed to get clear legislation approved that regulates the relations between Taiwan and China. Students in Hong Kong have taken up the same yellow colour in its iconography and have followed the Taiwanese example in its intention to storm the highest institutions.

Finally, both in Taiwan and in Hong Kong we have been able to note that these pro-democracy – or, as I prefer to call them, pro-autonomy – movements have been attacked by counter-movements in which the hidden hand of the CCP is recognisable as the likely instigator. In particular, at least two of the occupations in Hong Kong, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok, several dozen people, some wearing blue ribbons ‘in defense of the police’ have injured dozens of protesters and smashed up everything they came across. Videos released on social networks and press statements have proven that several of them had criminal records and were paid to burst into the occupations and destroy their pacifist image. Police officers present let them do their thing and only arrested some of them afterwards. It was the perfect excuse for police to show up in large numbers (called for also by HKFS, for protection) and for some of the barricades to be lifted. The rector of my university immediately issued a statement calling for all students to demobilize to avoid greater evils. C.Y. Leung also used this pretext to demand the end of the protests. They have not succeeded, for now, although one of the flanks of the movement has been damaged. In any case, there is no movement that does not have to deal with some sort of counter-movement. In Hong Kong, in fact, for months a university professor has been championing a campaign called ‘Silent Minority’ (SM) whose sole purpose is to neutralize OCLP. In one of the demonstrations called by SM, news media ridiculed them by interviewing participants who said they didn’t know why they were there or had been taken there by tourist guides.

In conclusion, what I wanted to show is that we don’t get a very clear picture if we consider social movements as consisting only of two clashing parties. Even less so if police is the only visible face and teeth of the public authorities and the occult private interests they defend. The press, in its different facets and motivations, also marks a good portion of the battleground. Plus, a historical and class perspective, which I have summarized here briefly, can help us understand if this is about political games for changing one elite with another or if it’s about profound demands for better democracy with a higher doses of economic equality.”


Umbrella Revolution

Via adbusters.org

Via adbusters.org

Dear people,

Revolt seems to have hit the shores of Hong Kong. I’m not there, but here’s a translation of an article by a Spanish blogger on the spot, who explains what’s happening and why. (Check out the original here)

Occupy Hong Kong and the Contradictions of Neoliberalism in China.

“It’s 10 a.m. in Hong Kong, 6 hours later than Madrid. When I woke up this morning, the occupation was still there. I can almost see it clearly from my window. It’s the one in the district of Mong Kok (on the mainland, Kowloon), because there are two more occupations active on the “island”, which is Hong Kong proper. One is in Admiralty, near the government offices. Another is in Cause Way Bay, one of the congested commercial districts. The barricades cutting traffic there are still standing. They are simple barricades, made of fences and some street furniture. Some of them have been erected by police themselves about 500 meters from the zones where people use to gather. I also see the dozens of buses that have been stranded in the area since Sunday. By now they have become walls of democracy, on which people have attached all kinds of messages. The banners and signs on Nathan Road Avenue and the people sitting on the driveway for the last five days are a unique scene in the city. This is one of the busiest arteries. They are unbearable unless the masses of people and the urban ant nest generate an addictive curiosity in you, as is my case. The pollution there is usually around level 8 on a scale of 1 to 10, these days it’s down to 4 or 5. I can finally walk or cycle without having to fight with heavy traffic. The streets are ours, for now, and me, I also feel part of local issues, no matter that I’m an immigrant.

How did it all start? According to the official accounts of the tabloids, we are now on day 5 of the ‘Umbrella Revolution’, because the tear gas canisters that were launched last Sunday supposedly mark the official beginning. Actually, college students have declared a “boycott” of classes on Monday September 22 when they began to manifest in Admiralty. On Friday 26 middle school students joined. On Saturday there were the first police charges that included the use of pepperspray. Hence the use of umbrellas as protection, which were subsequently elevated to symbol of the protests. That first melee conflict triggered a wave of solidarity which filled the streets on Sunday. The police charges and the use of tear gas exacerbated the protest and since then occupations have been consolidated day and night in the three aforementioned areas.

Almost no-one expected police violence of this type, let alone against students aged 15 to 25 for the most part. Only some remember a similar confrontation with the South-Corean trade-unionists who attended the 2005 anti-globalization protests. But earlier this year, at a pro-democracy rally on July 1, attended by an estimated half a million people, there had hardly been any friction with authorities. The only complaints I remember were due to us having to wait for hours without leaving the site because the police had cordoned off the protest and occasionally opened aisles for vehicles and pedestrian traffic that was unrelated to the protest. On June 4 there was another pro-democracy rally, coinciding with the annual wake in commemoration of those who died on Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Furthermore, the pro-democracy protests have a long history in Hong Kong, but this time to understand recent events it’s important to highlight the organization of Occupy Central (OC) which has had a strong presence in the media and on the political agenda for over a year now. They have threatened to paralyze the financial center (Central district) if full universal suffrage “in accordance with international standards” was not guaranteed. This past summer they called a successful electronic referendum, which kept their hopes alive to influence government policy on the subject, the so-called “political reform”. But these hopes vanished when the central government in Beijing declared in August that the only universal suffrage will be the choice between 2 or 3 candidates selected by a special committee of 1,200 members, who have so far always been veered towards the interests of Beijing. OC leaders had all but conceded defeat even though they declared their steadfast intention to carry out a sit-in protest. While their plans were being overtaken by the students, OC declared the night from Saturday to Sunday to be the start of their actions and joined its voice to the call for a mobilization that was already underway and being led by the younger generation. Still it should be noted that one of the most prominent student organizations, Scholarism, is also part of the coalition that forms OC.

What are the demands of the “Umbrella Revolution”? The most obvious is the right to direct universal suffrage. The transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong to China in 1997 was performed in accordance with a mini-constitution, or Basic Law, in which a special status was guaranteed to the region together with numerous freedoms and powers that do not exist in other parts of China. But in the political organization of the region there are many holes left to be filled. One of them is the promise to move towards universal suffrage. As the central government has the power of veto in the election of the president of Hong Kong, it has decided that it also has the authority to interpret the Basic Law in accordance with their own interests and therefore seeks to impose its model of universal suffrage among candidates sympathetic to Beijing. This masquerade is the eye of the current storm. But it is also a symptom of more profound grievances. Since the Basic Law is valid for 50 years, many people suspect that the central government is preparing the ground for a general convergence of the Hong Kong regime with the rest of China. In other words, every time more freedoms, rights and democratic institutions could be suppressed. And some recent policies seem to point in this direction, like the attacks on press freedom, academic freedom, and the manipulation of the history curriculum in schools for example.

On the other hand, as we are observing a large and complex social movement, we have to wonder how many underlying motives are actually playing their part in this. This is a tricky question because it requires us to take into account the entire discourse (and in my case I only have access to what is pronounced in- or translated into English) and understand the overall context. According to everything I read in the streets, in the press and on social networks, I think people want to bring about a Western-style liberal democracy to serve as a containing wall against the authoritarianism of mainland China. Hardly anyone speaks about changing the dominant capitalist economic system and even less its logistic, commercial and financial base that has been giving such good returns to this global city ever since its deindustrialization. It is a paradoxical situation because under colonial rule the city did not enjoy full democracy either. But the brutal repression in Tiananmen reinforced the overwhelming opposition to capitalist authoritarianism by the Communist Party and helped forge the unique ‘identity’ of Hong Kong which embraces colonial legacies such as ‘the rule of law’ and administrative efficiency. Corruption, censorship and repression in mainland China are considered some of the ills which Hong Kong seems to be able to keep at bay.

Finally, it is no coincidence that it’s mostly young people out on the streets. Not only do they have more resources and opportunities to do so, but they will also live more years of their existence under the post-2047 regime than other generations. And they are not only concerned about their freedoms, but also about their welfare. Although the unemployment rate is around 3%, the prospects do not look very promising, because over a third of society is living below the official poverty line. It’s an extreme neoliberal regime based on “workfare” where there are lots of jobs available, but many are so poorly paid and have so few rights that you need to be very optimistic and do a lot of somersaults in order to stay afloat. Getting into college is a privilege for less than a quarter of those who aspire to go to university, and the tuition fees are not cheap (about 4,000 euros per year in the eight publicly funded universities). The housing prices are the second most expensive in the world, behind New York, and waiting lists for access to social housing are saturated for decades, which makes for numerous cases of overcrowding and substandard housing. Some of the principal grievances are concerned with property speculation by foreign capital, especially from China, which invests in local real estate as if it were a casino, causing prices to rise through the roof. Money laundering of proceeds from corruption, among other sources of illegal income, like is also happening in nearby Macau, often in collusion with the big banks, has repeatedly proven to be at the root of this fast-paced economic activity. In the absence of unemployment benefits or public pensions the system forces anyone to indebt themselves or to invest. In fact, the uncontrollable private pension funds that every employed worker needs to subscribe to, have been nurtured by legislation that is increasingly questioned. And if that were not enough, the city-state of Hong Kong enjoys an extraordinary financial surplus even though its successive governments continue to recommen austerity and prudence, together with cuts in social benefits. We might add that the city hosts many of the greatest fortunes of the world, which makes the gap and the social polarization even more unbearable, even though everyday life seems oddly sunk in motley peaceful coexistence. There are also 300,000 domestic workers (mostly Indonesians and Filipinos) subject to draconian conditions of exploitation, abuse and legal hindrance.

Under the carpet of luxury, consumerism, waste and growth without limits, there is a divided society that struggles for dignity and self-determination of their future. In line with a rich experience of struggle and previous actions, including two surprising victories (in 2003 when people opposed the “national security” legislation, and in 2012 when students and the entire education sector, managed to paralyze a plan to implement the “patriotic education”) we can say that there’s a long road ahead. Not only on the streets but also in the institutions, despite the oppressive model that currently prevails.”


OWS Christmas Coup

Remember this one?

Remember this one?

“Whatever happened to Occupy Wall Street?”

People ask me this sometimes when we get to talk about activism. Many of them hardly remember anything. They recall some images of folks camping out on the squares with cardboard slogans. “Wasn’t it the autumn fashion, the year before last?”

I guess it was.

“So what happened?”

For me, it used to be pretty difficult to answer that. Occupy must have ended somewhere along the way, but I can’t say exactly what happened.

Now I know.

Occupy Wall Street ended up under the Christmas tree.

“Give the gift of spiritual insurrection, posters and canvases now available, click here to purchase”

It’s kinda curious. And in some way, everything fits. Occupy Wall Street started off with a poster, and it ended with that very same poster. Under the Christmas tree.

Now get this. During the course of the French Revolution the representative body steadily decreased in size from an assembly to a directorate, to a triumvirate. Three consuls at the head of the Republic, and one of them made the rules.

Now imagine Occupy Wall Street. There is a small cabin in the woods, upstate New York. Inside, three conspirators are gathered around a laptop, writing a letter to Santa Claus. All three of them wear Santa’s red hat. Only one of them also wears a beard. He is the Leaderless Leader. On top of their wishlist, a flying reindeer sleigh. The three conspirators dream of flying around the world and scattering star dust over the roofs. Disney/Pixar wide screen 3D. Can you see it? Can you see the houses light up, the people taking the streets? It’s the 99%! They are rising up!

No. Different cabin. Same three conspirators. They have forked hooves and a tail, the Leaderless Leader also carries horns. There is a blue haired lawyer knocking on the door. He brings his client and a contract to sign. Three little souls in exchange for every dime that can be made out of the OWS brand.

No. Different cabin. Same three conspirators. They are dressed up in grand uniform. Marshals of the People’s Republic of the 99%. The Leaderless Leader wears a bicorne. They are behind a laptop, photoshopping themselves into the hall of presidents at Disneyworld, Florida.

The Leaderless Leader is the founder, theorist, and prophet of the movement. The commandments of activism that he has brought down from the mountain to the blog are, unfortunately, written in a neo-intellectualoid dialect that isn’t meant to be understood by the 99 percent, if at all. One day, during a university occupation, the Leaderless Leader had a vision of people bringing the occupation to the squares. Maybe he thought he was the first, maybe he had never heard of Tienanmen Square.

Three conspirators. Board members of the ‘Occupy Solidarity Network’, operating occupywallst.org, the biggest megaphone of the movement.

Occupywallst.org is not, and never has been, a tool of the New York City General Assembly, or of Occupy Wall Street or the Occupy Movement as a whole. It is run by a closed affinity group of self proclaimed radicals. As an anarchist collective, they used to refrain from signing their communications with names. Until recently, when the three conspirators dropped their masks and entered the limelight as ‘founders of the Occupy movement’.

The Leaderless Leader presents an interview with Adbuster’s Kalle Lasn and himself in the New Yorker as his credentials for being an Occupy founder.

Let’s go back to the French Revolution for a sec. History as a tragedy and as a farce. When Napoleon and the other two consuls grabbed power on 18 Brumaire 1799, the revolution still held sway over France and beyond her borders. When the three OSN conspirators staged their coup, Occupy Wall Street didn’t occupy a damn thing.

So they organized a christmas sale. “Give the gift of spiritual insurrection, posters and canvases now available, click here to purchase”

Were they really serious? Did they just want to make fools out of themselves? Did they really think it wouldn’t cause a stir among those people who still feel a certain link with Occupy Wall Street? Maybe they really didn’t. And indeed, on the site there is a queer absence of negative reactions to the poster sale.

A tiny minority appropriating something that belonged to all of us, in order to sell it off. Wasn’t that what made people Occupy Wall Street in the first place? There’s irony here. Read ‘Occupy Irony’, the reaction by the people from ows.net.

It gets more hilarious. The Leaderless Leader is a former editor of Adbusters. As such, he participated in the launch of the original call to occupy Wall Street. Adbusters also created the famous poster. Over a week ago, the Leaderless Leader hacked into the Adbusters Twitter account, to protest against whatever personal resentment separated him from the magazine, and to sell their own poster.

Maybe people are underestimating him. Maybe it was all meant to be a brilliant joke, Andy Kaufman style. A spoof of the spoofers. The renegate prophet hitting Adbusters in the face with their own poster and making a buck out of it. Thus, OWS entered popculture, it consumed its 15 minutes of fame, and now it’s over. Buy the poster. Also available at Wallmart. Hang it on the wall as a memorial to what has been. Tell your grandchildren about it.

No, I fear this whole farce was serious. And even that I can understand. I have played revolution as well the last few years, whenever it was appropriate. It’s a fun game, it’s addictive, you can get carried away by it. You may start to think that what you’re doing is really important. Well, it isn’t. Nobody can predict the moment of revolution. Nobody can ‘make it happen’. Every once in a while there’s a revolutionary moment. Just like that. It won’t last long, maybe a few weeks, at most a couple of months. Then there’s pressure from the outside, struggle from the inside. The harmony breaks down, the bubble bursts, and the rest is vanity.

Vanity, my dear comrades. Give me a pulpit, give me a wooden country church, give me a gospel choir singing ‘Hallelujah!’, and I will preach! Yes I will. Sing it again. Hallelujah!

No really. I have a feeling Santa isn’t coming to town this Christmas. He’ll skip another year. Nobody will notice. Hardly anyone would even recognize Santa, without that silly beard, the red coat, the reindeer/sleigh accessories. The fact of the matter is that Santa comes to town whenever he pleases, and that’s rarely at Christmas.

I met him a couple of times, old Santa. Mostly in summer and spring. This year I saw him pouring coffee and tea for the people at Gezi Park. I have also seen him dance this year, linking together Turks and Kurds, and gay and straight and left and right and everything in between. Santa is jolly and kind. He is also a brave man. I saw him again, in clouds of gas, patiently delivering relief to people’s eyes with a spray of antidote. The last time I saw him, he was sitting in the sun, on guard of a barricade.

Outside pressure. Inside struggle. Vanity. Santa went back to the North Pole.

Will Santa still make it to town? Will the revolution be back next year? Will you give the gift of spiritual insurrection?

Posters and canvasas now available. Hallelujah! Order today, and have yourself a Merry Christmas, ho ho ho!

buythisposter


Update and Letter from Bulgaria #2

22 Nov. Liberty leading the people, Bulgarian version via @Vi_Ninua

22 Nov. Liberty leading the people, Bulgarian version via @Vi_Ninua

Dear people,

Kiev is really hot right now. You all know the story. Putin wants Ukraine to stay in the Russian orbit, and with who knows which promises or threats he has forced the Ukrainian government to renounce association with the EU.

Hundreds of thousands are on the street every day in Kiev. Millions all over the country. Unfortunately, it looks like it’s mostly the nationalists who are demonstrating, and for a revolutionary it doesn’t make sense to support nationalists anywhere. It must be exciting all the same. Pictures are coming in of protesters trying to break through a line of riot police with a bulldozer. Battles are raging every day. Demonstrators keep rebuilding their camp. They vow to continue until the government resigns.

I know, maybe I should be there. I should be on that bulldozer. Yet for now I’m in Tuscany, caught up in a swamp of distractions. But don’t worry, I’ll be back.

There are also things going on in Mexico, Thailand and Egypt. Respectively a protest against energy privatization, a bourgeois revolt and a student demo in Tahrir against a ban on unauthorized protests.

For the time being I will publish another letter from my friend in Bulgaria, about the events in Sofia over the course of the past few weeks.

“I am wondering how I can summarize the whole situation… It is not like Turkey. Not yet. This story with the riot police is actually ridiculous. Yes, there is a protest every single day, no matter if there are 30 or 3000 people, as the number varies each day, we are not skipping a day. A lot of people came out on the street on 10 November, because it is the anniversary of the big protests of 10.11.1990 when we took the regime down (or at least we thought so :)) the next few days were also quite intense and the politicians feared that the situation from 24 years ago would repeat itself, so they mobilized all the police in Sofia and a few other big cities. There were some clashes between police and people, but not too bad, even though that was the idea of this whole circus. What is ridiculous about it is that at some point there were more policemen then protesters on the square, pushing people away, threatening instead of protecting the citizens (what is their actual duty). So the reaction of the students was to come out on the square in the next few days and play “terrorists” with cardboard weapons and gas masks in order to deride the reactions of the police and the Parliament, who treated us as violent criminals the previous days for no reasons. There are different actions every day apart from the regular protest, unfortunately not enough people are participating.”

-NN

Bulldozer against riot police in Kiev. Dec 1. Via @newsrevo

Bulldozer against riot police in Kiev. Dec 1. Via @newsrevo

Mexico protests. Dec 1. @amadorlicea

Mexico protests. Dec 1. @amadorlicea

Femen piss protest against Ukrainian president in Paris. Via @selcukkaracayir

Femen piss protest against Ukrainian president in Paris. Via @selcukkaracayir


Guy Fawkes Day

MMM

Dear people,

Yesterday – remember, remember? – was the fifth of November. Guy Fawkes Day.

This year the event wasn’t limited to Britain and the Commonwealth countries. It was worldwide. In an estimated 400 cities, people participated in the #MillionMaskMarch. I doubt that the objective of 1 million people was reached, but it sure produced some interesting images on Twitter. For your enjoyment, I made a small collection, plus footage from the demo’s in London and Washington by RT and ITN.

London (RT):

London (ITN):

Washington DC (RT):

Sydney

Sydney

Sydney

Sydney

Brisbane

Brisbane

Melbourne

Melbourne

Philippines

Philippines

South Africa

South Africa

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv

Istanbul

Istanbul

Tunis

Tunis

Budapest

Budapest

Bern

Bern

Milan

Milan

Oslo

Oslo

Amsterdam

Amsterdam

London

London

London

London

London

London

London

London

London, Trafalgar Square

London, Trafalgar Square

São Paulo

São Paulo

New York

New York

Washington DC

Washington DC

Washington DC

Washington DC

Washington DC

Washington DC

Washington DC

Washington DC

Washington DC

Washington DC

Canada

Canada

 

Tucson, Arizona

Tucson, Arizona

 

Los Angeles

Los Angeles

131105 MMM  via @AnonOpsLegion BYVXqTcCIAApysL

Everywhere


Agora 99 Evaluation

"Another World is Possible". Billboard outside of Agora 99 entrance.

“Another World is Possible”. Billboard outside of Agora 99 entrance.

Rome, November 4

Dear people,

The Agora 99 has finished yesterday afternoon with a General Assembly. Today it’s time for a brief analysis.

First, the name ‘Agora 99’ as a reference to the meme of ‘we are the 99%’ is ridiculous. This was an encounter of a small and often self-referent revolutionary elite which had nothing to do with the 99% of the population.

In the opening assembly on Friday there was some talk about the necessity to create a new terminology. It echoed Slavoj Žižek’s message to the occupiers in Wall Street: “What one should always bear in mind is that any debate here and now necessarily remains a debate on the enemy’s turf; time is needed to deploy the new content.”

General Assembly of Agora 99, November 3.

General Assembly of Agora 99, November 3.

In reality, a lot of the terminology used during the workshops was either purely academic, or intentionally vague, or completely meaningless. The most popular terms of the weekend were ‘transnational’, ‘metropolitan context’, ‘technopolitics’ and ‘constituent process’.

What it all means in practice is not really clear. Many people had the sensation that we have been reinventing the same wheel we had already reinvented in Madrid last year.

Another issue was about geographic space. Officially, Agora 99 was a ‘European’ meeting about debt, rights and democracy. It caused a discussion about what ‘Europe’ exactly means and why this meeting should or shouldn’t extend its reach beyond the old continent, given the fact that ‘resistance, like capital, is global’.

One result of the Agora was an agenda for upcoming encounters online or in the square, none of them ambitious. The best that could come out of that would be some stand alone action, somewhere, on some topic. No serious efforts have been made to get the Joneses involved. On the contrary, within this so-called ‘99 percent movement’ you often sense a paradoxic adversity towards everything ‘main stream’. Yet the only way to make a real difference is to tap into the main stream on as many different levels as possible, and get people to become politically active themselves.

Conclusions

Conclusions

On the positive side, the Agora has served to consolidate and expand the existing network of international activists. Many participants already knew each other from the web, and this last weekend has been an occasion for them to meet face to face. And admittedly, it’s not fair to expect great things from an encounter like this. Nobody can foresee or plan an uprising. What you can do, however, is prepare a framework of international collaboration, to help spread an uprising whenever it occurs. That is what Agora 99 – and the continuous online activism throughout the year – is all about.

Also, the setting for the Agora was awesome. From an occupied theatre in Rome’s San Lorenzo district to an enormous occupied maintenance yard of the Italian railways. It was hard core industrial romance.

Most of the workshops were held in the large sheds of the railway depot on Saturday. They were fifteen in total, divided in three time slots on five locations. Despite many workshops being tedious, pedantic and unproductive they were usually very well attended until the end. The only people who tried a less theoretic approach were the Greeks. Their presentation about the occupied Embros theater in Athens was charged with emotion. It ended in song and dance.

Afterwards, the dancing would continue on a large scale when one of the sheds was filled with swinging 1960s surfing music. As if to illustrate a point that I have been making for a long time, and which I will continue to repeat.

“The revolution is rock ‘n’ roll.”

The Three Graces. Strike Social Centre, Rome.

The Three Graces. Strike Social Centre, Rome.