The Catalan Question

Via links.org.au

Via links.org.au

Dear people,

Spain got another taste of elections this week as Catalonia went to vote. The big issue was independence, and the result was a stalemate. Now, I know that most people don’t really care about national politics, even less about politics in other countries, so I can imagine that local politics in other countries doesn’t really arouse enthusiasm abroad. But Catalan independence is a big issue in Spain at the moment, so I’ll briefly bring you up to date on what’s happening before trying to analyse what this all means with respect to the democratic revolutionary movement in Spain.

Catalans have been periodically regurgitating their will to break away from Spain over the last few centuries, most recently in the late 19th century, then during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, and lately these past few years. The reasons for the current outbreak are to be found in the rejection of parts of the region’s Autonomy Statute as ‘unconstitutional’ by the Spanish High Court in 2010. Most symbolically, the judges cancelled a reference to Catalonia being a ‘nation’, which sparked a lasting outcry all over the region. The economic crisis did the rest.

When you listen to Catalans speaking about the question you can clearly hear the echoes of years of televised propaganda, which revolves around two core issues: 1. ‘Madrid steals from us’, and 2. ‘We are different from Spaniards’, meaning: superior to them. No need to add that the rest of Spain doesn’t feel a particular sympathy for Catalonia as a result of this, which has in itself become a third reason for many Catalans to want to break away.

Politically, the independence issue was relatively marginal until the leader of the biggest centre-right party decided to ride the wave of popular indignation and switch from moderate regionalism to full support for independence, a few years ago. This guy was called Artur Mas. He has his picture in the dictionary under the voice ‘mediocrity’, right next to the picture of Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy. Mas has gambled his political career on the ephemeral prospect of going down in history as the father of Catalan independence. He won’t be the first to fail at that, and he definitely won’t be the last.
At the moment, support for independence hovers around fifty percent of the population. The Spanish prime minister has reiterated that Catalan independence, and any binding referendum on the subject, is out of the question. But aside from that he has wisely kept a low profile. Catalan nationalists easily take offense at anything said by a Spaniard with whatever intent, so in order not to rouse the spirits of independence more than necessary the Spanish government mainly keeps its silence.

From his side, Artur Mas has been trying to create goodwill for an independent Catalonia among European political leaders and businessmen, but has been rebuffed practically everywhere. The EU simply doesn’t want the hassle. Spain can make a lot trouble with its veto right in the European institutions, it’s a democratic western country so no-one abroad really understands why some of its citizens want to break away, and in general the EU is built to deal with international integration, not with national disintegration. Because there is no scenario for this eventuality, an independent Catalonia would automatically be expelled from the EU and the euro. Business leaders are afraid of the ensuing instability and have threatened to leave the region in case it really becomes independent.

Still, Artur Mas bravely pushes on. Because the Spanish high court has prohibited any binding referendum he has sought to transform the current elections into a plebiscite on independence. To do so he made a very uneasy alliance with left wing republicans under the name ‘Together for Yes’. They did not get a majority of seats. And the only way for them to govern is to reach a deal with an ultra left wing independence party. Not a good recipe for political stability, especially if you take into account that while independence parties gained a small majority of seats, they did not win a majority of the popular vote.
Indeed, it does look like the current independence drive has reached its peak and is now slowly losing momentum. If there had been a more charismatic leader than Artur Mas, it might have persisted, but even then it would have been unlikely that Catalans would have gained their independence. Realistically, there are two prerequisites for them to do so. One is an unequivocable majority of popular support, so not fifty or fifty-two percent, but more something like sixty or seventy percent. Two is the ok from Washington. Because let’s face it, in these matters the US still holds the keys. If the State Department decides that Catalonia should become an independent state, then the EU will find a way to deal with the hassle and Spain will be forced to accept the outcome. But that’s very unlikely. The US has no problem to carve up states around the world if it suits their interests, but Spain has been a loyal ally ever since the days of Franco, and the Obama administration has reiterated that they highly value a strong relationship with a united Spanish state.

Last but definitely not least, in case of independence the FC Barcelona would no longer play Real Madrid twice a year, but would instead be relegated to a provincial league of semi-amateur clubs with no interest at all for football fans the world over. And this is probably the only reason why people outside of Spain would care for the Catalan question.

So how about the no front in recent elections? Both the big national parties have very limited support in Catalonia, and with Artur Mas swinging to independence, the middle class vote against it has been reaped by a relatively new party called ‘Citizens’. Economically conservative and socially progressive, Citizens has made Spanish unity and reconciliation between the inflamed spirits on both sides their issue. Their pronunciation against independence and the fact that they haven’t yet had the time and opportunity to stain themselves with political vices is what made them gain support. On the same side, the indignado party Podemos has been crushed in Catalonia, mostly because Pablo Iglesias has pronounced his party against independence.

Earlier this year, Ada Colau and her ‘Barcelona in Common’ platform were able to win the elections precisely because she was smart enough not to touch the independence issue. In fact, the indignado community in Catalonia is divided, so supporting one side means alienating the other. Now, Podemos has made the national choice of unity, with which they continue to distance themselves from the people that gave life to the indignado movement four years ago. In Catalonia they presented themselves under the worn-out slogan of ‘Yes We Can’, which was also confusing because ‘Yes’ generally indicates the side that supports independence. They didn’t even win ten percent of the vote.

The defeat of the post-indignado party in Catalonia and the absence of a serious grass roots alternative doesn’t spell good news for the general elections later this year. Podemos seems to be turning into just another political party that doesn’t represent the people they are supposed to represent, and many of its potential voters are actually growing fed up with Pablo Iglesias’ face. It’s also unlikely that a national platform like ‘Ahora en Común’ will be able to organize itself and stand a chance while being true to its local heterogeneous roots. And maybe that’s not even something people will want to strive for. Democratic regeneration is already taking place on a local level, in the neighbourhoods and in the cities, where people only represent themselves in order to make a tangible change in their lives. Catalan nationalism is a digression from the core issue. Independent or not, it would be the same mess. Truly revolutionary would be a place where there are no ‘states’ and ‘nations’, but only local communities, each one independent from the other, and all of them linked by nothing but human solidarity.

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#Solidarity

June 28. Kadıköy demo in solidarity with Kurdistan, via @WashingtonPoint

June 28. Kadıköy demo in solidarity with Kurdistan, via @WashingtonPoint

[Spanish translation here]

Istanbul, June 29

Dear people,

The two biggest popular forums in Istanbul are Beşiktaş and Kadıköy. They host thousands of people every day. The former is a point of reference for the European side of the city, the latter for the Asian side. Both are apparently very distinct in nature, like all the districts of Istanbul. Beşiktaş is left wing with a tendency towards anarchism. Kadıköy is mixed, leaning towards nationalism. Other districts, like Üsküdar are more islamist. But the distinctions don’t end here. Some neighbourhoods are dominated by cats, some by dogs. They don’t mix. The cats have the upper hand.

One thing that people from all the districts have in common is that they love to march and chant. Last Tuesday, we walked together with a few dozen people from Üsküdar to Yoğurtçu Parkı, home of the popular forum of Kadıköy. We again voiced our displeasure with the release of the police officer who killed Ethem Sarısülük. Upon arrival, people took the streets for yet another spontaneous march, applauded by the local population.

Popular Forum in Üsküdar.

Popular Forum in Üsküdar.

On Thursday we marched with the people of Beşiktaş, from their home base in Abbasağa Parkı to the television studio of ATV private media group, to protest against the lies that were spread by one of the company’s newspapers. They had insinuated that Ethem Sarısülük had burned a Turkish flag, as if to say that he deserved what happened to him. Two nights in a row, thousands marched. And when they returned, they continued their daily business of making revolution as if it were a normal day’s work.

Yoğurtçu Parkı is very much into community building. Abbasağa Parkı is much more politically focused, and evolving fast. Since the last time we were there, the list of working groups had almost doubled. There was a map at the entrance of the park to indicate where the working groups were meeting. There were three Çapulcu cafes. A new wing had been added to the Resistance Museum. The park has its own newspaper now. A commission had been founded for internal coordination between the working groups, and external coordination between the parks. An international commission was about to be founded.

We speak with two girls from the coordination desk. Their English, like that of most people we meet, is impeccable. Their revolutionary enthusiasm is boundless, their ambitions are huge, and growing bigger by the day. What started off with a few trees in Gezi Park, quickly turned into an uprising against the dictatorship of Tayyip Erdogan. Now it’s not even about him anymore. He is not important. He and his gang will be swept away. What people are working on, day after day, is a revolution in the most literal sense of the word. A change from top-down politics to politics from the bottom up.

Symbols of resistance at Abbasağa Parkı.

Symbols of resistance at Abbasağa Parkı.

What pleasantly surprises me is that the Turks are not repeating the errors of the Spanish indignados or the Occupy movement. In almost all of the Spanish occupations, decisions were taken by the General Assembly on the basis of consensus. To make it work, people wasted a lot of energy in defining the assembly’s methodology. In practice, this resulted in endless bullshit. And even if people finally agreed on something, it was usually what the Austrians call ‘Sitzfleischkonsensus’: those who can bear the bullshit long enough take the decisions. Which is just another form of top-down politics.

Zuccotti Park was similar, but with a twist. The Trojan horse of Occupy Wall Street was the money. After the NYCGA got flooded with donations, something changed. It was bitter irony. In the end, the General Assemblies in Liberty Square were not about revolutionary politics any more. They had become vulgar discussions about the allocation of funds for outlandish projects.

The Turks do their own thing. They don’t accept donations and they don’t accept the authority of the General Assembly. In fact, they don’t even call it an assembly. It’s an open Forum, where everybody can voice their grievances and their ideas. Decisions are made directly in the working groups, by the people who actively participate. The Murcia model.

We speak with a few nationalist Turks. They acknowledge the differences. But for them, the most important thing is not the way of organization, it’s the act of resistance. ‘Direniş’. In the West, authorities more or less willingly allowed the occupations to happen. Not here. To be able to start their revolution, people had to fight, hard, for days in a row. They had to win. And they did. They beat the police and took the square by force. They destroyed the myth of the authority’s invincibility. They proved that ultimately the only true authority resides with the people. And hell, they have reason to be proud of it.

Map of Abbasağa Parkı.

Map of Abbasağa Parkı.

Next we speak to a lawyer. He emphasizes how this is a movement in which the working class and the middle class stand shoulder to shoulder. For freedom, against bigotry, against the influence of the big multinationals. He adds that many Muslims are sympathetic to the movement because they don’t consider Erdogan to be a true believer, for one basic reason. In Islamic culture it is forbidden to charge interest, which is exactly what keeps the banking system afloat. Erdogan’s leniency towards big business makes him not only an enemy of the working class and the middle class shop owners, but of Allah himself.

Yesterday, again, was a day for the history books. In Lice, Turkish Kurdistan, there was a demonstration against the enlargement of the local police station. And when Kurds are involved, authorities don’t only use their standard remedies, like tear gas and water cannons. No, they fire real bullets. One person got killed, ten got injured. As a reaction, all over the country, people took the streets in solidarity with the Kurds. Everybody. Also the nationalists. Also the people who used to oppose the peace process in favour of all-out war.

Something like this has never been witnessed before. It was unimaginable. People with Turkish flags and images of Atatürk shouting slogans in Kurdish, a language that used to be banned until very recently. Maybe the government tried to split the movement with their repression of Kurdish ‘terrorists’, but if they did, they accomplished the opposite.

Now, finally, there can be peace in Turkey. Not because of the government’s geopolitical interests in the Middle East, but because the people themselves are making peace. They are realising that the Kurds or any other group are not the enemy. If there is an enemy, it’s he who tries to divide us, who slanders us, who brutalizes us, who orders force to be used against peaceful citizens.

These tricks no longer work. At Occupy Gezi, something has fundamentally changed. We have looked each other in the eye. We have recognized each other. We have come to understand two simple things. Without adjectives, without distinctions, we are the people. And as such, we have the power.

Beşiktaş Forum. Via @15MBCN_int.

Beşiktaş Forum. Via @15MBCN_int.

Kadıköy demo in solidarity with Kurdistan, June 28. id.

Kadıköy demo in solidarity with Kurdistan, June 28. id.

Kadıköy model at Yoğurtçu Parkı.

Kadıköy model at Yoğurtçu Parkı.

Updated list of working groups at Abbasağa Parkı, June 27.

Updated list of working groups at Abbasağa Parkı, June 27.


The Next Level

LogoMareaCiudadana

Dear people,

Though I am lost in the backwaters of Europe, I keep following the events in Spain wherever I can. There is no way I can report on all things happening, because it’s simply too much. Sufficeth to say that evictions are being prevented every day, and demonstrations are being held at least every week. Recently there was a big demo in Madrid against the scandal-ridden monarchy, in favour of a third republic.

I hope to return to Spain soon, but before I do, I will inform you about how the movement is attempting to take the struggle to the next level.

Out of the primordial indignant chaos of the 15-M, various issue-centered waves have evolved, each adopting its own colour. The most prominent are the Green Wave (public education), the White Wave (public health care) and the Blue Wave (public water). There are many more waves concentrating on minor issues, and then there is the PAH, Plataforma Afectados por la Hipoteca, which coordinates the struggle against foreclosures and has a very strong presence all over Spain. Finally, there are the hundreds of popular assemblies in cities, villages and neighbourhoods that were born out of the occupations in 2011.

These local and thematic groups have united into a movement called Marea Ciudadana, or “Citizens’ Wave”. They have been pressurizing government with frequent marches on parliament, but since a couple of months they have also adopted a more confrontational tactic called ‘escrache’. Escraches, instead of targeting faceless institutions, are actions that target specific people (or parties) directly and personally.

You are a politician who has been taking bribes? Right, we won’t lament ourselves outside parliament, but we’ll come to your house. We’ll make noise under your windows, we will let all your neighbours know that you are scum. It’s a tactic that was first used in Argentina in the early 2000s to denounce politicians that had been responsible for atrocities committed by the military regime. It has been used in Uruguay, Peru and other Latin American countries, and since this spring it has been adopted by the PAH to denounce those politicians who represent the interests of the banks rather than those of the citizens.

In a certain sense, escrache is the enactment of a famous meme that was adopted by the movement in the early days of the revolution: ‘If you don’t let us dream, we won’t let you sleep.’

The great leap forward of the movement is supposed to happen this spring. From June 23 to June 30 the “United Citizens’ Waves” intend to exercise popular sovereignty through plebiscite. The premise is the following. According to the Spanish Constitution “National sovereignty is vested in the Spanish people, from whom all State powers emanate” (Article 1), and “Citizens have the right to participate in public affairs directly or through representatives freely elected in periodic elections by universal suffrage.” (Article 23).

Over the last 35 years people have tried to participate through representatives, but in the end it didn’t work out to their advantage. So now has come the time for citizens to participate in public affairs directly. They will drum up enough support to block privatizations, to end foreclosures by law, to reform the banking sector and to bring corrupt politicians to justice.

How this will work out in practice remains to be seen. But it’s going to be damn interesting to observe.

Of course, the skeptics will say that it can never work, direct democracy on this kind of scale. But you cannot know that until you try. And Spain is not the only place where direct democracy is being experimented. Another example is Italy.

Over the last few weeks, Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement has been under heavy attack from the establishment and the press for his failure to cooperate with the gerontocracy that has been ruling Italy – in various disguises – since the age of dinosaurs. They want him to support a government of the so-called Democratic Party, but since he continues to refuse, they blame him for the current political stalemate.

On top of all this, a new president of the republic has to be elected by parliament. Usually this doesn’t happen in parliament, but in the corridors. The major parties try to find a compromise on some colourless ex-politician that will not cause them trouble in the seven years to come.

The Five Star Movement refuses to take part in these shady practices. They think the citizens ought to have a say in the election of their head of state and so they organized primaries online, open to all the members of the movement. They could propose any Italian citizen of more than fifty years of age (as the constitution requires). The winner, elected over two rounds, will be the official candidate that M5S members will propose and vote. Yesterday, the results came in. No politician, no Nobel prize winner, but an investigative journalist will be the people’s candidate for the presidency: Milena Gabanelli.

You have to know that journalism in Italy is of an embarrasingly low standard. I was reminded by that lately, when I returned to read Italian newspapers. Generally, Italian journalists seem to think that news reporting consists of quoting politicians. For example, something is going on, say a demonstration, then your average journalist won’t give you an account of what happened and why, but he or she will stuff the microphone in the face of some second-rate politicians from the left to the right and publish their sound bites. The facts don’t matter. All you get is talking heads, always the same, ad nauseam. If not, you have your intellectualoid balloons, who preach about the dire state of the nation in such hollow terms that they cannot possibly be accused of having a real opinion on the matter. In any case, a true journalist is very hard to find in Italy.

Milena Gabanelli is an exception. For fifteen years she has been digging deeply into all the dirt related to corruption, speculation, squander, inefficiency, bribery and all-out organized crime. Now, the usual tactic of the establishment to silence journalists who actually do their job in Italy, is to denounce them for diffamation. They hardly ever win, but it serves to scare the great majority into becoming faithful mercenaries of the system. Not so Milena Gabanelli. She is a courageous woman, with a profound knowledge of all of Italy’s problems. For this, justly, the members of the Five Star Movement have nominated her to become the country’s head of state.

We are entering an age in which direct participation of all the people in public affairs is becoming possible. We don’t need representatives any more. Let the skeptics say that it can’t be done, that’s it’s going to be a mess. We will try anyway. The mess can hardly be worse than the one that our so-called representatives have caused.


Review of a Revolutionary Week

Demonstration against austerity in Portugal. Photo via @OCongres

Demonstration against austerity in Portugal. Photo via @OCongres

Dear people,

It has been quite a week. As the revolution goes, three things in particular were worthy of note.

First, the death of Stéphane Hessel.

Hessel was a former diplomat, member of the resistance in France during WW2 and one of the drafters of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man in 1948.

Two years ago, at 93 years of age, Hessel became an idol with the youth when he wrote a pamphlet called Indignez-Vous!, translated into English as ‘Time for Outrage!’

The pamphlet sold over two million copies in France alone. The Spanish translation was a major inspiration for the movement of the indignados.

As a member of the National Resistance Council, Hessel recalls the ideals that the Council adopted on 15 March 1944, and on which it wanted post-war society to be founded. These included “a comprehensive plan for Social Security, to ensure livelihoods for all citizens”, “a pension that allows old workers to finish their life in dignity”, “the return to the nation of the major means of production, common sources of energy, wealth of the subsoil, insurance companies and large banks”, “the establishment of genuine economic and social democracy which evicts large feudal economic and financial interests from the direction of our economy.” And, not in the least, a society where the press is free from corporate or foreign influences.

Over sixty years later, Hessel concludes that our society is not the one that was envisioned by the members of the National Resistance Council. Despite decades of booming economic growth, ours has turned into a society of suspicions against immigrants and expulsions, one that challenges pensions and social security, and where the media are in the hands of a few powerful people. Ours, in short, is not a society of which we, as human beings, can be proud.

Hessel denounced indifference as the worst of all attitudes, and he called for “a true and peaceful insurrection against the media that only offer our youth a horizon of mass consumption, of disdain for the weakest, of generalised amnesia, and of all-out competition of everyone against everyone else.”

He made an appeal to all youngsters. “To the men and women who will make the 21st century, we say, with affection: to create is to resist, to resist is to create.”

In 2011, his call to rise up took the world by storm. The spirit of resistance lives on.

Thank you, Stéphane Hessel. May you rest in peace.

Photo Wikipedia

Photo Wikipedia

Number two, last Saturday March 2 was another day of massive protests in Portugal. In thirty cities there were demonstrations against austerity. Over a million people took the streets, which is more than ten percent of the population. Imagine thirty million people demanding the resignation of President Obama on the same day. That’s about the scale of the protest.

The demos come a week after equally massive demonstrations of the ‘Citizen’s Tide’ in Spain. It looks like it’s going to be a hot spring on the peninsula.

Third, and most entertaining, is the elections in Italy. Without kidding, I’ve been rolling over the floor laughing. It’s a farce, but it’s all dead serious.

Immortal Berlusconi made yet another come-back. He had been declared politically dead by many commentators who don’t understand a thing about Italy. He might not have won parliament, but he did win the senate, which could give him enough political leverage to keep his ass out of prison.

But the real winner of the election is comedian Beppe Grillo, leader of the Five Star Movement, a party-political version of the indignados.

In the foreign press, Grillo has been called a populist and has been compared to any other populist in Europe. This is not just bad journalism, it is intentionally misleading.

Beppe Grillo and the movement he inspires is one of a kind, at least for the moment. I remember the very beginnings of his political campaigning. It started in theaters, it went online through his daily blog, then he came to the squares to decry political corruption, in favour of participatory democracy. Grillo exposed politicians of all parties in a way that nobody ever dared to do from a pulpit. He had been banned from television, he had been ignored by the press, but thanks to the Internet his movement reached millions of Italians who are fed up with business as usual.

In 2009 he supported civil lists in local elections. His party won the mayorship of Parma and other towns. In 2012 he made a breakthrough in the Sicilian local election. Now, in the run-up to the general elections, he drew a hundred thousand people to his show in Milan, eight hundred thousand in Rome. He inspired people like only a black preacher with a gospel choir can do. The man is a phenomenon. Last week, his movement became the single biggest party in Italy.

It’s hilarious. A few years ago, when I left the Beautiful Country, Grillo was a troublemaker that politicians loved to ignore. Now they are begging him to support the formation of a government.

With enormous satisfaction, Grillo told them to fuck off. All his opponents have been in politics since the age of the dinosaurs, they have to go, and before they do, they have to account for all the income they received over the years. They created this mess, the citizens themselves will have to clean up. Grillo’s party will only support bills that reflect the movement’s principles. They will not support any government. The representatives of the M5S have been chosen through preliminary elections on the movement’s website. They are tied to a code of behaviour which obliges them to respect the electoral program they were voted to enact. They have renounced to more than half of their income, and they will refuse to use or accept the customary title of ‘honorable’. Instead, echoing the French Revolution, they will address all representatives as ‘citizen’.

On the day the M5S entered in the Italian parliament, they opened the doors to the public, saying ‘this is your house’.

The first demands of the movement have to do with the clean-up of Italian politics. Two mandates should be the maximum, parties should not receive public subsidies, and no condemned criminal should have the right to be elected.

The left wing party, if it is to form a government, will have to be supported either by Berlusconi or by Grillo. They know that Berlusconi will eat them alive, so they grudgingly prefer the other clown.

It’s going to be very risky for the new M5S representatives. The Italian parliament is the most dangerous place in the country. The crime rate at Montecitorio is much higher than the crime rate in the most lurid outskirts of Naples. The new parliamentarians and senators will be thrown into a pit full of snakes. These creepy lifeforms have been lurching in the shadows of power for ages, they know exactly how much one is worth, they know who is selling, and they know who is buying. Ethics are not an issue in Italian politics, and the worst thing that can happen is that the M5S movement is torn apart by the existing parties and massacred by the press.

With Beppe Grillo and his movement gaining notoriety, some commentators have tried to understand what is going on, some others are dismissing this movement all together. They say that Grillo is dangerous. They accuse his internet strategist Gianroberto Casaleggio of having a secret agenda. The writers collective Wu Ming published a shameless declaration in which they accuse Grillo of being ‘one of them’ politicians as usual, without presenting any credible basis at all for their accusations.

Instead of giving in to this crazy need to always have an opinion, on whatever subject, I urge people to shut up, and watch. Beppe Grillo’s movement is a first attempt to bring direct e-democracy to a real parliament. His newly elected representatives are in a position to make or break a government. Let’s enjoy this, let’s see what’s going to happen, and learn from it.

Grillo riding the wave.

Grillo riding the wave.


Battlefield Lisbon

November 14, 2330 hrs.

‘Intifada’ is how the Portuguese news described the events in Lisbon today. Maybe it was a bit of an overstatement, we’ll have to see. In any case, nobody I spoke to ever witnessed something like this happening in Portugal…

Dear people,

A spectre is haunting Europe. For the first time ever, the proletarians of twenty countries joined together in a general strike. If anything, austerity measures are creating a sense of unity among the European peoples.

I’ve seen brief images from Greece, Italy, Spain and England. But today was too big to get a clear picture of everything. I will just tell you what happened here in Lisbon.

There were two feeder marches. One of the big unions and one of dockworkers, anarchists and social movements. Naturally I joined the latter.

It started off very small. A couple of hundred people gathered at Cais do Sodré near the harbour around one o’ clock. Once we got moving, the march had already swollen considerably. We had music, and we had firecrackers, courtesy of the anarchists. They could hear us coming from afar.

At the monumental Praça do Commercio an undercover police officer made a clumsy attempt to arrest one of the people throwing bombs. He almost got lynched by the mob. His colleagues in uniform stormed in to bring him to safety. The arrest was never made.

At Rossio we joined with the march of the unions. That was when the crowd really got big. Through the narrow streets we walked up to Bairro Alto, ‘high hood’. The firecrackers resounded frighteningly loud between the old buildings.

All the way, there was a clear distinction within the march between the unions at the front, and the movements at the back. At the top, we split. The red flags took the road, the black flags descended a small staircase to reunite at São Bento, the Portuguese parliament.

The building is on a hill, accessible through stairs, and surrounded by lawns. It was all fenced off with barriers. It’s an interesting sight, massive police protection of institutions against the rage of the people. It accentuates the ambiguity of the word ‘democracy’.

In front of the stairs, the union leaders staged their little piece of theatre, they were applauded by their members, and thankfully, they soon left.

‘Eloquence’

But the people stayed. Something was about to happen. You could feel it from the beginning. For the moment, the drum band was drumming, the people were cheering. I was talking to a friend of mine. She said the crowd was actually pretty calm, too calm.

Before she even finished her phrase, it started. All along the line, people tore down the barriers. At the stairs, the front line moved up to face the police, but the crowd fell short of taking the stairs by storm. They could have succeeded, but the moment of hesitation was enough for police to organise and to form a line.

Taking down the barriers

So the bombardment started. It was around four thirty. First came the paint bombs. When they were finished, there came the bottles. When those were finished, there came the stones.

Now, you have to know that the streets in Lisbon are made of typical small stones. They are easy to dig up and they are the perfect size for throwing. The anarchists pulled their scarfs over their faces and they had a ball. Behind them, the entire crowd backed them up. The line of police had orders to stand and resist. It went on for hours. Given the amount of ammunition at hand, it could have gone on for months.

At the start of the assault, there had been some small skirmishes at the stairs in which the anarchists conquered one of the officers’ shields. With spray paint, someone cancelled out the word ‘police’ and replaced it with grand capital letters spelling ‘PEOPLE’. The roar was awesome when they brandished their booty.

And the beat went on. The drummers accompanied the stoning. Another police shield was smashed, a lone molotov was thrown to the delight of the crowd. But after about an hour, some people were growing restless. To them it was of no use to go on. They wanted everyone to stop throwing, and charge. At that moment I witnessed the most amazing demonstration of courage by some unprotected citizens who defied the stones by taking the stairs. Two girls sat down on the steps with their hands folded in meditation. But the assault continued, and they finally had to retreat.

Among the people battering the shields of the police there was an adorable old man throwing pebbles. He was completely relaxed, and he had an excellent aim. With one stone after another he could hit the same police officer on his helmet. He didn’t care to hide his face, he was having the time of his life.

Around six, authorities had enough of it. Via megaphone it was announced that people had to disperse or police would charge. The answer came with firecrackers and an intensification of the bombardment.

So police charged. And after having resisted for so long, they were bloody pissed off. They clubbed people down like savages. I took the space that the first line had left open in their wake, shooting footage of the violence. It was not very smart, I should have counted with the second line coming down behind me. One of the bastards went for my camera, then he went for me, then he got assistance. So now I know what a billy club feels like. It makes you mad. Really really mad. In the heat of the moment, I managed to save my footage, to shout all kinds of bad things about these goons and their mothers, and to get the hell out of there in pretty good shape, all more or less at the same time.

Part of us regrouped in a narrow street. We built up barricades from big plastic containers full of trash, and they were set alight. When police advanced, we retreated and built more barricades. Within minutes there were piles of trash ablaze at every street corner. The stench was disgusting, but the sight was wonderful. There was a sense of liberation in the air. “It’s good this is happening. Things needed to be shook up here in Portugal”, someone said.

Meanwhile police were blocking streets left and right, and advancing. We descended towards the sea and the big avenues. At a certain point, police officers started shooting rubber bullets. That’s when most of the group dispersed.

We reunited again at Cais do Sodré, where the demo had started. Phones were ringing continuously, stories came in about police hunting isolated citizens in the alleys and beating them up. Then they came to the square, in full riot gear. They raided the bar where we had found refuge, they took away the usual suspects. One of them was the streamer from audiovisuals. He hadn’t been able to broadcast today, because they had already confiscated his equipment before it all went down. Now he was taken in for questioning. Unlike another person that was taken away from the bar, I haven’t seen him return.

“This is what democracy looks like”, one of my comrades commented.

By now the images have reached the far corners of Portugal. Tomorrow we will have to see what their influence will be on the Portuguese state of my mind. If it were for me, without a doubt, I’d be back at parliament.


Analysis and Agenda

October 15

Dear people,

“It was an occasion to go to church. A ritual for the hard core of the movement. We failed to inspire the masses.”

This is a brief description of what happened on October 13, and a pretty accurate one indeed. Throughout the global revolution network, people are analysing why, and what this means for future mobilisations.

Madrid is now concentrating on the upcoming events. These will be less global, more relevant to Spain. They were drawn up by the Action commission of 25S last week. I have found no evidence that they were ever consensuated by the assembly, but they were published on the site, which makes them official enough for me.

Oct 19 – We will present a document at Congress to express our refusal of the current budget in which one fourth of all expenses is destined to pay the debt.

Oct 23 – While the budget is discussed, we will organise debates at Neptuno and surround parliament with a human chain, as from 7pm. We will stay there for as long as the parliamentarians are inside.

Oct 25 – Day of decentralised civil disobedience. In Madrid, in Spain and all over the planet and the solar system, local collectives and assemblies are invited to do whatever they see fit.

Oct 27 – Massive demo from Plaza España over Callao and Cibeles to Neptuno.

That’s it for now. I was actually pretty pleased about it. On paper it’s a good balance of content plus localised and centralised actions. You will get all the news as the ideas turn into practice. For now, I’m logging off.

Take care.

 


Global Noise

Global Noise on Times Square, NYC. Photo via @icicommence

October 14

Dear people,

I’ve been looking at the pictures coming in via Twitter from many a corner of the planet. I love it, the feeling of unity without borders, from timezone to timezone. This is us, a globalised public opinion that is fed up with a globalised system of exploitation.

On the other hand, it was but a mere reflection of last year’s unprecedented demonstrations of tens of millions of people in a thousand cities worldwide.

Back then it spewed forth waves of occupations, actions, consciousness. This year it was an anniversary happening. And I agree with a comrade from OWS when he told me that these things don’t make a lot of sense. ‘We’re still here’, seems to be the message.

But as far as Global Noise went, debt was another message. In Tokyo people gathered to protest against a meeting of the International Monetary Fund. Other concentrations that I know of took place in New Zealand, Australia, Berlin, Frankfurt, Budapest, Rome, Venice, Amsterdam, London, Stockholm, Paris, Spain and Portugal, New York, Mexico and the West Coast.

Global Noise London. Photo via @15mLondon

I witnessed the parade in Madrid. It was probably one of the biggest. But there was nothing much to say about it. Three words sum it up pretty well. Loud, civilised, boring.

There were about ten to twenty thousand people banging on drums and pans. The opening banner was ‘We don’t owe, we don’t pay’. While moving over the Paseo de la Castellana, people neatly keep to one side of the boulevard, leaving the other open for traffic.

Police presence was insignificant. There were far less lecheras and officers to control this crowd than there had been the day before to evict sixty people from Casablanca Social Centre.

In a few hours, the march arrives in Sol. People make some more noise, and then they disperse into the Saturday evening movida without leaving a trace. I take a walk, and I’m sad. At first sight, nothing seems to be wrong. Bars are filled, people are showing off. The only visible stain on this happy panorama are the men and women sleeping in the entrances of the shops. I have a feeling their numbers are growing and growing.

And while there are ever more people living on the streets, authorities keep evicting their citizens from abandoned buildings. Yesterday I witnessed how the masons, under police protection, walled up the entrance of Casablanca.

It’s not going to be the end of it. Already I can read the writings on the wall… “La lucha es el unico camino

‘Struggle is the only way.’

Madrid, Puerta del Sol. Photo via @kokekun