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.
The 15M movement that exploded in May 2011 gave rise to a galaxy of different assemblies, initiatives, movements and struggles in permanent evolution. And although the indignados initially rejected all forms of representative democracy in favour of direct citizens’ participation, a year ago in Spain a political party was born which was directly inspired by the 15M movement: ‘Podemos’ (‘We can’).
Four months after its foundation the new party dashed into the European limelight by conquering five seats in the Europarliament, presenting itself as a radical alternative to the Spanish political dinosaurs of PP and PSOE (“¡La misma mierda es!“). On the eve of the election in Puerta del Sol the trademark 15M slogan “They don’t represent us!” turned into “Yes! They represent us!”
Today, Podemos showed its strength with a massive demonstration in Madrid that filled the Puerta del Sol and the boulevards of the capital all the way down to city hall at Cibeles. While an anti-austerity party closely linked to Podemos has been voted into office in Greece, the party is leading the polls in Spain, ahead of this year’s general election. It looks like we might witness the dawn of a new season in Spanish and European politics.
What started off in 2008 as an economic crisis has turned into a collective state of mind, a way of life, whatever you want to call it. It doesn’t have anything to do with the economy any more. If people started spending money and banks started giving credit the crisis would be over tomorrow, but evidently there’s something else going on. A kind of generalized pessimism with regard to the future, linked to worries over climate change, rampant radicalism, rising international tensions and consequent rearmament, all of it exemplified by the ‘Doomsday clock‘ being put ahead to three minutes to Midnight…
In reaction to this permanent crisis, Europe is divided between north and south. Traditional parties are losing ground practically everywhere. It’s just that in the north they are losing to right wing parties, while the south is turning to the left. Then again, does it still make any sense to talk about ‘left’ and ‘right’ in 21st century politics? Probably not, but for lack of better terms we are stuck with them. So what is the difference between the two?
In the 1990s, Italian folk singer Giorgio Gaber tried to answer the question with a song, saying things like ‘the bath tub is right wing, the shower is left wing; Swiss chocolate is right wing, Nutella is left wing; sneakers are right wing, wearing them without laces is left wing; luck is right wing, bad luck is always left wing,’ etc. etc. All of it to show that a real difference between the two didn’t exist anymore.
But there still is, I think. North European right wing parties and movements like Pegida, Front National, UKIP and their counterparts in Holland, Belgium and Austria all represent a kind of irrational longing to the past, when things were local, small scale, understandable, and national culture was predominant without too much influence from the outside. Of course, those days of isolation are over. Those parties don’t have the future. On the other hand, left wing movements like Syriza in Greece or Podemos in Spain embrace globalism in its true sense. They look toward a future of mixed races and peoples and cultures, living together in mutual respect. This is another difference between between right and left, the most significant one: the right is based on fear, the left is based on hope.
Madrid, September 15
I do not thoroughly follow the daily convulsions of Spanish politics, but I am aware of the major issues and the most prominent players. And it strikes me. There is something about them. I’ll get to that.
In Spain, gender stereotypes used to be very strictly defined, and in some cases they still are. The man is the boss, the woman obeys and bears responsibility for the household and the children. Especially among the elder generation that grew up under the Franco regime, many men still consider a woman to be subordinate. Gender violence is a persisting social problem.
So what strikes me here, in the capital of this macho state, is that women seem to dominate politics on all different levels. And they too dominate the macho party that incorporated Franco’s heritage. They take the headlines, they fill the news, they arouse the rage of protesters.
For one, there is the alcaldesa, Ana Botella. She is the current mayor of Madrid, wife of former prime minister José Maria Aznar, and a leading figure of the party.
For two, there is the delegada del gobierno, Cristina Cifuentes. She is in charge of police repression in Madrid. As such she is a frequent target of activists. In particular because many people have been fined a ridiculous amount of money for participating in protests. She is involved in a series of court cases over this with the Legal commission of Sol.
For three, there is the vicepresidenta, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, spokesperson and ‘número dos’ of the government. But next to someone like Mariano Rajoy, who prefers not to take questions and hide behind a screen when times are tough, it isn’t all that clear who is the real number two.
There’s more. It goes all the way over the top.
There is Esperanza Aguirre, ex president of the senate and of the capital region of Madrid. The first time I encountered her was two years ago at Callao, Madrid’s modest version of Piccadilly Circus. She was dressed as an angel, against an all white background, looking down on me from a mastodontic billboard, intimating me with her cold eyes to vote for her. Aguirre is a leading figure of the party’s right wing, a champion of classic free market liberalism. She is also a countess and one of the so-called ‘Greats of Spain’.
Meanwhile, on the movement side there are no leaders. That was one of the founding ideas. But there are a few faces. The best known of them, and the most respected, is Ada Colau. Everybody in the movement loves Ada Colau.
She is the spokesperson of the Mortgage Platform (PAH). And although the Platform is not officially part of 15M – it existed before – they are fighting on the same fronts.
While the leading ladies of Spanish politics are mostly operating from Madrid, Ada Colau is from Catalonia. In fact, the Mortgage Platform was founded in Barcelona in 2009. It is a decentralized assemblary organization that operates all over the territory of the Spanish state.
The PAH is a good practical example of diversity of tactics. They use political pressure, legal pressure, eviction defence and direct action to achieve their objective of decent housing for all citizens, as defined by the Spanish constitution. Mrs. Colau has earned a lot of credit with the humble and eloquent way with which she has presented the PAH to the public.
I haven’t mentioned the one woman who is arguably the most powerful of all. You won’t find her name in the headlines. You won’t see her on tv. Me, I only heard about her from the peasants in Andalusia, a part of Spain which she happens to own, up to a large extent. The peasants speak of her with a mixture of reverence and fear. And when they do, they lower their voices to a whisper as if she were some kind of evil spirit.
She doesn’t engage herself personally in something so vulgarly bourgeois as parliamentary politics. She is five times duchess, eighteen times marquise, twenty times countess. She is one of the Greats of Spain fourteen times over. She reigns over numerous lands, estates, villages and palaces at home and abroad. She carries so many and so distinct titles that according to some, even the king of Spain himself is required to bow his head in her presence.
She is María del Rosario Cayetana Paloma Alfonsa Victoria Eugenia Fernanda Teresa Francisca de Paula Lourdes Antonia Josefa Fausta Rita Castor Dorotea Santa Esperanza Fitz-James Stuart y de Silva Falcó y Gurtubay. More commonly known as the Duchess of Alba.
I shivered when the Andalusian peasants told me about her, because I know her kind. Her far predecessor, the infamous Duke of Alva, was sent to the Netherlands by king Philips II to quell the Dutch War of Independence in the late 1500s, and to root out protestantism once and for all. He figures as one of the greatest villains in the history of the Lowlands. His name has become synonymous to blood and terror.
That was a long time ago. They say that many Spanish nobles still reside comfortably on their ancestral lands, but that might not even be true, who knows? Maybe the house of Alba has fallen a long time ago, and all that’s left is a dynasty of impostors. Maybe even the impostors are not real. Maybe the Duchess of Alba doesn’t exist after all. Or maybe the Andalusians are right, and she really is an evil spirit.
They say that Madrid has only two seasons. “Tres meses de inferno, y nueve de invierno.” ‘Three months of hell, and nine of winter’, courtesy of its position in the centre of the Spanish Highlands.
Hell is still reigning implacably over Madrid. Only since a day or two, in the very early morning, you can feel a first hint of coolness, to indicate that September is at the door.
From a revolutionary point of view, the city is in ruins. The movement has splintered. The United Citizens Waves have been subject to internal power struggles and disintegration. Enthusiasm has vanished from the streets. Many activists have become disillusioned and disconnected. Many youngsters who have no future in Spain have already left the country.
Symbolic of the situation is Sol itself. This is where the whole Spanish revolution took off in 2011. This square, for a short while, was the light of the world. Now, as if to mock the 15M movement and to savour its demise the city council has sold off the name of the Sol metro station to a telecom company. The central node of the Madrid metro is now known as ‘Vodafone Sol’. The signs are there – on our square! – as if it were normal. And the saddest thing is that nobody has had the decency to vandalize them.
Last year on September 25, the Spanish parliament was besieged by an impressive crowd. The action had been planned for months. People were talking about it, the press was talking about it. It was going to be big. This year’s September event is ‘Jaque al Rey’, the King in Check. It will most likely be a flop of insignificant proportions. And not just because the king is beside the point at the moment, but because the whole action is incredibly uninspiring and naive.
Firstly, it’s organized by the so-called ‘Coordinadora 25S’, the same group of people who had organized the action last year. I was rather displeased to find out they still existed. They failed last time. And in any serious movement, you don’t get a second chance.
So why was 25S a failure? Not because of all the people who participated, which were many, from all over the country and beyond. It fizzled out because the organization had no idea what the action was really about. At first it was called ‘Take Parliament’. Then the right wing press started crying wolf about an imminent coup d’etat, and the organizers watered down the whole thing by calling it ‘Surround Parliament’. It was an a priori admission of defeat.
There was one vague idea connected to the action. It should lead to one or more ‘Constituent Assemblies’, for the drafting of a new constitution.
Every now and then there is still some talk about these constituent assemblies. They are the pinnacle of 15M’s naivety. Do we really think that if you sit around in a circle with 30 perroflautas, somehow a new Spanish constitution will be drafted that has some sort of legitimacy? I doubt it. And besides, the current constitution of Spain is not so bad. It includes all the basic rights to health care, education, and housing. The problem is not the constitution, it’s the government who fails to respect it.
The one question that I never heard with regard to the constituent assemblies is: constituent of what? The city, the region, the state? It seems many people are seriously talking about a new constitution for all of Spain. But what is Spain? The Basques don’t want to be a part of it, the Catalans don’t want to be a part of it. The whole idea of a nation-state is outdated. As revolutionaries, we shouldn’t even be concerned with it. If we really want to constitute a space, then first we need to conquer and control it.
So this year’s flop will be directed at the king. Unlike last year, hardly anyone is talking about it. There will be a demonstration on September 28 which will culminate on Plaza de Oriente in front of the Spanish royal palace. After that, who knows? Some people say they might camp in the square ‘indefinitely’. Others, undoubtedly, are dreaming of occupying the palace.
In fact, the Spanish royal palace in Madrid, with well over three thousand spaces, is uninhabited and ready to be squatted. It would make a great social centre. Plus, it comes with a huge green area which can be used for anything ranging from an urban vegetable garden to a Woodstock-style rock festival.
The occupation of the palace – as a space for evicted families, as a free clinic for immigrants who are denied health care, as a soup kitchen for the poor, as a cultural and political space for the movement, and as an example for similar occupations – would really be a republican and revolutionary statement. But no-one really dares, not even to place the call.
The Spanish uprising in 2011 was marked by widespread popular support and participation. But ever since the beginning, it has been extremely naive, also when compared to similar resistance movements of the last few years.
The indignados did not have a clear objective like the Egyptians had when they demanded the fall of the regime. Neither did they have the determination of the Turks and their capacity to bring sworn enemies together. The Occupy Wall Street movement was just as naive as the indignados in a certain respect, but at least the Americans had a very strong public relations strategy.
So what the Spanish movement really needs is better ideas, better propaganda, and more balls (‘cojones’).
I don’t see all this happening. As a movement, on the streets, Spain is going nowhere. But far away from the limelight, the struggle continues. Last week I encountered a comrade from the March on Brussels, ‘Route Commission’. He was on his last week of work in Madrid. As from next week he will be full-time occupying an abandoned village in the mountains which was squatted last May. They are in six, working hard on the main house to prepare it for winter. Theirs is but one of many similar projects. And there are still lots of abandoned villages left to be reoccupied.
Another branch of the struggle that keeps going strong is the PAH, the Mortgage Platform. They are particularly strong in eviction defence, they have good communications, and they make effective use of diversity of tactics to further their broad political strategy.
But the most interesting revolutionary front is not in Spain right now, nor anywhere else. It’s on the web. The daily revelations from the NSA vault that embarrass the agency, and the U.S. government, and the internet giants, have caused a lot of consternation and hilarity. It also opens up possibilities. Knowing what they know that we know is very useful knowledge in creating encrypted, anonymous, decentralized social media on a large scale. We have been on this for some time. Such a system will be vital to organize revolutionary action, and to report on it safely, anywhere in the world.
The Monsanto March added a touch of global that had been missing in this #GlobalMay. On Facebook, an appointment was already launched for 2014, but for many people it wasn’t soon enough. A new march has now been planned for as early as October. In Istanbul protesters gathered near Taksim Square yesterday to demonstrate against the shoppingmallization of the city and in particular the idea to plant a mall in a nearby park.
People occupied the park and camped. This morning they were brutally dispersed by police. Tents were burned, teargas was employed. In the afternoon people have returned to claim the park by the thousands. (LIVE)
Next June starts will start on a high note. The Citizen Wave keeps growing. The latest wave of indignation is the purple one which unites the increasing amount of Spanish emigrados. Next June 1, the waves will march united against the Troika, in Spain and in dozens of other cities in Europe.
Also in Spain, a first timid attempt at mortgage strike was launched for June. The call is to delay mortgage payments a few days up to three months. Just to scare the banks.
I’m sceptic about it’s effectiveness for a few reasons. One, it wasn’t thoroughly prepared. People don’t know the initiative. Two, it seems you have to pay 66 eurocents for every day you postpone your payments. So the bank would even end up making money from this action. A serious mortgage strike could be done, but you need time to publicise and coordinate the action. You need neighbourhood solidarity, and a lot of determined people.
In America, determination is on the rise again. On June 1 an event called ‘Occupy Homecoming’ is planned in New York. The objective: Zuccotti Park.
So tune in to Global Revolution. We will be live.
Yesterday two photographers who regularly cover demonstrations in Madrid, were arrested at home, accused of defamation via social networks. Earlier today they were released with charges and this evening there was a solidarity protest outside the office of the Delegate of the Government in Madrid. Citizen press brandished their cameras and smartphones shouting ‘these are our weapons’ and ‘freedom of information’.
I also met comrades from the marches, with whom I have a bond that was forged over hundreds, even thousands of kilometres on the road. I have been a bit out of contact with most, so I was shocked to hear the news. Comrade Abdelatif, battlename Abdullah, has died three weeks ago. He was a veteran and an icon of the Acampada Logroño, of the Northern Column and of the March to Brussels. He was over sixty years old when he marched all the way from Madrid to the heart of Europe, and apparently he was already sick.
Abdelatif’s past was shrouded in stories of a thousand and one night. Nobody really know who he was, where he came from. What we do know is that his family had him buried in Algeria. Some people say Abdelatif was as old as Methusalem. They say he is still alive, just like Elvis, just like Andreotti. Maybe they’re right, I don’t know. Otherwise, may he rest in peace. It was an honour and a pleasure to march with him.
Madrid, May 21
Last Sunday’s triumphant performance of ‘Twilight of the Bricks’ didn’t only represent a brief history of the Spanish economic crisis. It was also, symbolically, a last tribute to the 15M movement. The revolution is over. We can all go home.
Really? Yes, we can. But don’t despair, resistance continues. It’s just not going to be the way it was. I’ll try to explain.
Over the past few days I bumped into a lot of people I know from all layers of the movement. Their stories and comments confirmed an image that was already pretty clear. There is no 15M, not no more. It became obvious when I witnessed the meetings that were organised on the squares around Puerta del Sol on Saturday. Different assemblies on debt, education, the future, the past, the struggle, etc. Nobody really cared. And who can blame them? Two years have past, and we’re still here, talking about the very same shit, without any conclusions. Next time, we’ll start all over again. The only difference is that there will be even less people present.
Those who are left are the nostalgics. They lament the loss of the initial ideological purity of the movement, the assemblary Utopia that existed in the first few weeks – maybe just in our imaginations – characterized by the principles of horizontality, inclusiveness and consensus. A handful of them have entrenched themselves in the few working groups and commissions that remained after the end of the acampada, and they erected themselves as guardians of the spirit of 15M. They started to exclude people by accusing them of not being inclusive. They engaged in powerplay to preserve horizontality. They took personal decisions and presented them as consensus. In short, they forgot about the revolution, and so the revolution left them behind.
A few dozen people attend the closing assembly of the day. This is it. And so I ask myself, what the hell am I doing here? I spent two years of my life living like a bum in order to document the #SpanishRevolution for the benefit of all posterity, and now it turns out this whole revolution thing was merely a fashion? Screw you guys, I’m going home!
So there I am, the next day, ready to go. In Puerta del Sol I encounter my long term comrades from Global Revolution TV, streaming live. The Economy commission has just illustrated a list of practical proposals. They are also gathering proof for criminal prosecution of the big bankers. Then there is a rumble coming from Alacalà, and growing louder.
“Don’t go yet, it’s about to start.”
Five minutes, and well over ten thousand people of the ‘White Wave’ are flooding the Puerta del Sol, shouting their one demand: “Public Health Care.” There are doctors, nurses, patients, sympathizers. And the unions. The wave has full support of the big unions. But this is not a demonstration that was planned a long time ago. No, this is happening every single Sunday. And it’s massive. In the square, I even notice the first timid signs of political parties.
The hard core nostalgics of 15M are snobbing the waves, simply because they are supported by the unions. They keep dreaming of horizontal participatory democracy without flags and logos, but they are completely out of touch with the people. The 15M revolution has consumed itself. The people are in the waves. They are moving on.
So what remains of 15M?
In the first place, the indignation. It’s still the same indignation that made people take the streets and occupy the squares of Spain and abroad, two years ago. Eighty percent of the population still supports what 15M stood for, according to a recent poll.
In the second place, the awareness the movement raised. The empowerment of single persons coming together for the common good. But the most important thing that remains, is the method.
Most of the original working groups may have been wrecked by personal conflicts, but many neighbourhood assemblies are still regularly active and functioning. Plus, it is infecting the rest of society as well. In schools, universities, hospitals, working places, in the unions, in politics, people are organizing themselves in assemblies where everyone has a voice. It works locally, and it works online, where you can organize assemblies on whatever subject or action in the same way as you do in the square. And the beautiful thing about this method is that it is self regenerating. If one collective doesn’t work anymore, it will simply vanish, and new assemblies will sprout up to engage different issues, or to engage the same issues in a different way.
This is the heritage of 15M. It inspired men and women, young and old, all over the world. It made us conscious that we, the people, have the power to make a difference, if only we have the patience to pursue.