A friend sent this note and the texts below it.
its an amazing moment in madrid. i don’t have my head about me to write anything right now, so i’ve quickly translated a few short texts coming out of these days in order to share a little bit of the atmosphere, some of the debates. i’m afraid they’re not very descriptive for those who are not here in the midst of all this and might need some background, but they’ll do for now, to get some sense… pass them along.

this is very exciting. who knows where it will all go, but it is certainly amazing, a sense of something culminating and something beginning. the whole country is freaking out. the press in english is either ignoring this or saying silly irrelevant things.

Notes from #acampadasol (1)

Amador Fernández Savater

A friend told me that the Greek historian Herodotus summarized his method in the following way: “I write down everything I don’t understand.” That is to say, Herodotus took note of what remained to be thought about, he wrote it down so it wouldn’t get lost. In these “notes from the camp” I have proposed to do the same, take note of what I don’t understand: the details, the scenes, the situations at acampadasol which ask questions of me. But also of the things which amaze me about what is happening and that I feel resonate in this new thinking+sensitivity about the political which some friends and I have been exploring since March 11th, 2004. I can only link myself with what is happening through this fragmentary writing, the notes jotted down in the notebook I always carry.

“The key is in Sol”

A friend says to me, “Now its not a matter of taking the streets, it’s a matter of creating the square.” She says this as if she’s pointing out a decisive difference. We have to understand it.

What do we have in common, those of us who are in the square? Not a specific demand, more like the sharing of a problem. The problem is representation. We didn’t want the Sinde Law [against downloading of copyrighted material] and the politicians imposed it. We don’t want that those who have the least pay for the crisis, but this is what is happening. People should rule, representation should be representative. That is why “The call it democracy but its not” and “they don’t represent us” and are the two hit slogans here. Beyond that, an abyss. I wander around Sol and see three posters in a row: “Self-management”, “Reform the electoral laws”, “We don’t want corrupt politicians, we want efficient managers”.

Another friend: “Its like everyone is in love, look what smiles”

From the first day I was very impressed with the seriousness which runs throughout the camp, the extremely high degree of maturity and organization. There is abundant food and coffee (much of this donated by neighbors of Madrid). Cleaning is done with care and we are continually reminded that “this is not a party.” On Thursday there were a couple of play areas for children with cardboard floors and lots of kids playing and painting. In the groups and the commissions which are meeting all over the place there are astonishing levels of listening, as if it were clear to all that it is less important what each one brings with him or her than what we can create together. “Here a person can live!” says someone near me. The collective effort to take care of the space builds during a few days a little habitable world with room for all of us. It is what I read about Tahrir a few months ago.

“Don’t vote, Twitter”

It seems that in the plaza in the center of Sol, where the working-groups operate, money is not accepted. Any collaboration or donation is welcome, but not money. Is this an effort to ward off any possibility of corruption? It might be, the movement knows very well that its stregth depends on radically distancing itself from anything related shamed politics.

“The democracy we want is already the organization of the square itself”

Blessed be those who decided not to budge from Sol after the demonstration. I thought it was planned by those who called for the demonstration, but I’ve learned that that was not so. I think a lot about this gesture. It is one of those incredible gestures that make things happen against all predictions. I received a text message with the news at one o’clock in the morning and didn’t pay any attention. “It won’t work,” I thought. I should have a look at this cynicism. Because it is ingenuity which changes things.

“I like it when you vote, you’re like, absent”

Debate with an activist friend. He says the language being used irritates him. He finds it very poor: “democracy,” “citizenship,” etc. I argue with him: ever since “no to the war” it has been this kind of “flat” statements which open up spaces in which we all fit, in which things really move. Its true that I think “you’re not going to have a house in your whole fucking life” is a stronger slogan that “we are not commodities in the hands of politicians and bankers.” But today it seems clear that words are powerful not so much for what they say as for who says them and from where.

“Without housing there’s no living”

All the time I have this intense interior sensation: I have already lived some part of this. In the “no to the war”, on March 13th, in “V de Vivienda”… There are many, many resonances: all were movements which didn’t find their strength in an ideology or a program but rather a first person involvement which doesn’t make sense in the left/right dichotomy, which rather try to escape from it in order to interpelate everyone, anyone. The base their strength precisely in the creation of a “we” which is open and inclusive, which doesn’t announce another world possible but which activate in order that this one world which does exist and which we share doesn’t come undone… It seems clear to me that May 15th has to do with V de Vivienda, March 13th, the “no to the war” but… how? What does it pick up from those, what new things does it propose we think about? What does all this mean for the future?

A boy, under 20, in the square at 3am with a poster stuck to his chest: “respect”

Stereotypes are a strategy for governing. The put a label on those who protest (“anti-system”, for example) and that way separates them from the rest, as if they had nothing in common. The movement is very intelligent about this: “we are not anti-system, the system is anti-us.” Fantastic.

Everything which is divisive remains outside the square: from big organizations to violence.

A friend summarizes the situation like this: “Democracy 2.0 has killed the Culture of the Transition.”

A discussion in a facebook chat:

– i still have the sense, kind of old fashioned, that twitter is not what happens but a way of telling about what happens

– and to organize it, no?

– or, in other words, tw is only interesting in composition with something else

– i agree

– but sol+twitter is interesting

– the plus of the potency of bodies

* and an open situation


IT’S NOT JUST INDIGNATION. Inventing new ways of doing politics.

Montserrat Galcerán

It’s true that we’re indignant. But not just that. If it were just indignation that brought us together in the streets and squares of our cities, the movement would have less force. Once the moment of excitement had passed we would have gone home. That is not what is happening. After the demonstrations, groups – some larger, some smaller – have camped in the squares and after being evicted, have returned again and again. This shows a will to be heard which goes far beyond mere indignation, a will which is opening up new means of doing politics on the basis of the idea that “politics” is not only nor principally a profession – the “business” of the so-called political class – but rather that politics is the only way we have to resolve problems collectively. The capture of politics by those professionals who have turned it into their exclusive terrain, reducing it to a matter of representation and exercising it against the interests of a large part of the population, takes out of our hands those tools without which we are doomed to savage competition amongst ourselves, war between the poor.

The increasing intensity of the crisis has made this model of politics blow up. It has shown clearly that the current politicians use the legitimacy which the voting box grants them in order to make citizens ever more impotent against the demands and requirements of a global capitalist class which the politicians either do not know how to or do not want to tame. No one said things were easy. What we are saying is that we need the tools of politics, of a new kind of politics, in order to find solutions to the current situation.

The partial movements that have emerged recently give us hints in this direction. All of them, from platforms like “Victims of Mortgages”, “Real Democracy Now”, “Youth with no Future”, to the offices of social rights, the social centers, and the assemblies of the unemployed as well as many others have shown a tremendous capacity to oppose the measures imposed by the public administration, to construct partial alternatives and to attempt to disrupt the privatization measures and impoverishment which are underway.

So here we have a social Left which does not coincide with the political “Left.” The latter has been absorbed by economic elites to such an extent that it is difficult to distinguish between the recommendations of the big business groups and the decisions of the politicians. The narrow filter of party democracy impedes meaningful participation. This is why it is now time to get our imagination rolling and seek new forms of articulation which reinvent the political community, putting our collective intelligence to the test. The internet networks are at work; they give shape to the new virtual political space. But we need more: popular citizen assemblies, open encounters, public discussions, institutions which supervise and control the political parties… it is our future, this is our moment.


Seven key words on the Madrid-Sol experience, 15M

Guillermo Kaejane

“I don’t want a new iPad, I want a new life” (graffiti painted during 15 May mobilization)

1- Time. Time accelerates. The senses are agitated. Fear paralyzes the senses, vertigo makes them acute. The permanent camp in Sol is pure vertigo. Hours pass rapidly between one gathering and the next, but then time slows down. The nights are loooong. Time contracts and expands, moved by a sea of people (principally but not only young people). It feels like we’ve been here for years, and it hasn’t been more than three days.

A revolt is real when it modifies space-time.

The space-time created in the last days has one single obsession: continuity. Paradoxically, this is only possible to maintain through intermittancy. Through a physical entering-and-leaving of Sol. Keep the experience alive even though you are not present. For this reason (and so many others) the camp at Sol cannot be understood without the social networks. The continuity of the experience is achieved by deterritorializing it. I am in Sol even though I am at home. I am in Sol because I keep talking about it, because I can’t concentrate on my work, because I can’t get it out of my head. And when I can, I go there. I go running there, and again join in the “social connector”, so others can go rest.

The classic conceptualization of social revolts is a scenario in which continuity is linked to accumulation of force. If we continue longer, there will be more of us. If we hold out, the tyrants will fall. This mystification has something to do with a simplification of what happened in Egypt and other Arab countries. Experiences which we heard about towards the end of their processes, not at their beginnings, not through the years of visibility and invisibility, failed experiments, dead ends and turning back.

What is happening these days is not the end, it is not the decisive moment, it is just the start.

2. Communication. Communication is a form of political organization. People become the media. Social networks are not the means so much as the expressive and organizational terrain. Common sense is woven in the form of flux and of memes. From the logic of shared trust on facebook to the logic of live recounting via twitter.

A slogan circulates, multiplying. With no official versions, rumours blaze. The traditional media bump up against a dadaist cacaphony which is impossible to interpret. They grab hold of what they can, and from there project their own ideas.

The self-narration of the process is not, for the moment, going through viral streaming but rather then need to tell about it, to narrate what we are living, the “I was there!” becomes more intense.

The media’s obsession with broadcasting demonstrations “from inside” as if from the perspective of a participant, betrays their anxiety about their own loss of centrality. Experts and analysts show how incapable they are to think with their own heads, and speak (both on the left and the right) in one voice. The sensation for the spectator who is living the experience is like that of those fans of Lost who watched television commentators try to make sense of the series’ ending: a mixture of stupor, shame and giggles.

3. The powers. In these moments there is an enormous expressive capacity in which anyone who is gathered in a group feels that they are the representation of everything. The sensation of empowerment is so great that one comes to believe that what each one of us is doing is representing all the others. It is a reasonable logic, and difficult to get rid of, but it is important to deactivate it. The power of this movement comes from its unrepresentability. They don’t represent us, as the slogan goes… because they can’t.

As in any dispersed network, there is a multitude of different centers of which none is “the center” but rather each is a repeater, receiving and sending out proposals and meanings. Creativity is of the essence. The hegemony of who is at the helm in any given moment (The ‘Real Democracy Now’ platform? The assemblies in the square? The commissions within the assemblies? Twitter? Me and my friends?) is changing all the time.

The assemblies are not a space in which one meaning is being defined but rather a collective catharsis. An enormous desire to talk and talk and talk. Memorized language (“The people united will never be divided”) mixes with new forms of expression (“Error 404- system failure”, “Downloading democracy”, “Its not a crisis it’s a rip-off”. )

On an institutional level craziness reigns. In 72 hours we have seen absolutely the entire political class go from “this is not happening” to “this is not important” to “this is dangerous” and in the last few hours, “we are you!”. Again, grotesque. The impossibility of framing the mobilization in the clear “left-right” terms which have been the foundation of social consensus since the Transition [to democracy after Franco] begins to reveal a new logic of conflict: “above and below.”

Unable to control what is happening, the mechanism of control over the movement is a simple question, a constant question: “So, what do you propose?”

4. Proposals.

The demand for proposals is a mechanism of control. A way of filling the vacuum of the unrepresentable. A mechanism not exclusive to the media or the political class, as some of the expressions of the movement itself participate in it. Having a response means you can pigeonhole the rebels, say “Ah, they are utopic” or “Oh, they are populists” or “Oy, they are leftists” or “Ay, what they want is impossible” or “Ha, how naïve” or “Nah, they’re not radicals” or “Hm, they say a few reasonable things…”

Nonetheless, there is silence. Or something very much like silence, which is a cacaphony of apparently contradictory signs.

As much as it may cause us anguish, perhaps a good point of departure might be to say: “Unlike you who pretend to know everything, we don’t know yet”. Those who want to get somewhere specific are in a hurry. This is not the case.

In the square, the discussion itself is more important than its conclusion. The responsibility is to defend and extend this. Continue discussing. Continue talking. Trust the same common sense which has brought thousands of people into the street for days. So far, its not going badly.

5. Real Democracy Now.

This logo, this slogan which is present throughout the mobilization and forms one of its constituitive parts and which therefore the media and the political class have decided to pretty much ignore. But it is fairly easy: “democracy”, but not any old democracy, a real one. The real is that which is opposed to the simulated. This means that the logo (or one of the logos) under which this movement is being built says that the thing which institutional power calls “democracy” is a lie. And it demands the construction of something different that breaks with the simulacrum. But it doesn’t pose this problem in distant, utopic terms. We want it now. “Now” means urgency, “now” means nerviness, “now” means we have to be able to touch it, that it has to be in every part of our lives, that it is not just words but construction. That it doesn’t exist and therefore has to be made.

6. And… tomorrow?

It is very difficult to think about tomorrow when you are wrapped up in the events of today. It is even more difficult because the rhetoric of the political class has always held forth on ‘tomorrow’. In this movement, tomorrow is unthinkable for the moment. There is only now.

For institutional power, the elections on Sunday the 22nd of May are a moment to recuperate legitimacy. A moment to restitute governability. A moment to put their feet down and redraw the map of the possible.

The elections has functioned for the moment as a diffuse element, perhaps unifying at a symbolic level. But in the camp, in the meetings, etc. the words we most hear are “connect”, “extend”, “construct”.

The 23rd of May will begin to resolve this question, as one graffiti said.

“I don’t want a new iPad, I want a new life”

PS: Number 7. Joy, joy, joy


It’s the democracy, stupid. May 15th, from indignation to hope

Emmanuel Rodríguez and Tomás Herreros

About May 15th we might say that it marks an important point of inflection: from the networks to the street, from the conversations at home and in the street to mobilization, but above all, from indignation to hope. Dozens of thousands of people, brought together through the web, ordinary citizens, have taken the streets in a vivid demand, loaded with hope: a demand for real democracy, not a democracy at the service of big interests, but of people. An unremitting critique of the political class which, since the beginning of the crisis, has governed with its back to the people, following the dictates of the euphemistically named “markets”.

In the coming weeks and months we will see how this demand takes form, and how the slogan “real democracy now” extends. Everything indicates that its power will crescendo. The best proof of this is how city squares are being taken over and camp-outs are commencing in different cities. The social networks boil over with support for the movement, and the response in the streets and squares makes this stronger yet. So far, and without making any predictions, we can pose a few questions.

First of all, the May 15th movement is accurate in its criticisms. Politics as we know it, as it is applied by the political parties (that is, making the weakest parts of society pay for the crisis), has brought a growing part of the society to the point of indignation. In the last few years we have watched with astonishment the multimillion euro bail-outs of the big banks at the same time as social cut-backs, aggressions against basic rights, and covered-up privatizations which have rapidly diminished the already scrawny Spanish welfare State. No one can doubt that this policy is a danger to our present and our immediate future. Specifically, the indignation becomes explicit when it comes up against the cowardice of the politicians, incapable to reign in the governance of finance: What happened to those promises of the ‘humanization of capitalism’ after the subprime crisis? What happened to shutting down the tax havens? What became of controlling the finance system? And what about taxing income from speculation? And what about ceasing to fiscally subsidize those who already have the most?

Second, the May 15th movement is much more than a call to attention for the so-called left. It may be (in fact it is probable) that May 22nd, the day of local and some regional elections, the left gets a thrashing. In that case, it might be a prelude to what will occur in the general elections [next year]. What we can be sure of right now is that the institutional left (the political parties and big unions) is object of a generalized political disaffection thanks to its total incapacity to present new proposals in the context of the crisis. And there is where we find the double explanation of its electoral defeat. On the one hand, its policies have not been capable of escaping from a completely tendentious reading of the crisis itself, a reading which accepts – even today! – that the problem is a lack of resources. Let us say it loud and clear: there is no problem of scarcity, the problem is rooted in the extreme inequality of distribution of wealth, accented every day by financial discipline. Where are the infinite profits from the real estate bubble? And from pharaonic public works like the airports of Castellón and Lleida, to name just a few? Who profits from the gigantic problem of debt which plagues so many families and people? On the other hand, the left doesn’t know how to set aside its own protagonism and work with the emerging movements which demand democracy and liberty: Who doesn’t remember what Zapatero said when he presented the proposal for the cession of payments? Who served as his counterweight in this: the millions of mortgaged citizens or the big banking interests? And what can we say about the indecent Sinde Law [on intellectual property]? Whose side was he on, the side of those who give shape to the web or those who want to make it into a business, as if culture were just one more commodity? As long as the left is not capable of stepping aside at the service of citizen movements, as long as it is incapable of escaping from the script written for it by the financial and economic elites, proposing a Plan B to get out of the crisis, it will be stuck in the opposition indefinitely. There is not time for an extension: they must simply change or die as legimate social actors with the principles they claim to represent.

Third, the May 15th movement shows how the citizenry, far from being passive as so many analysts think, has shown its ability to self-organize and self-educate in a period of abandonment by the institutions and a serious crisis of political representation. The new generations have shown that they can create a network, creating new ways of “being together” without recurring to ideological clichés, armed with a wise pragmatism, fleeing preconceived political categories and the great bureaucratic apparati. We are witnessing the construction of “majority minorities” demanding democracy against the war of “all against all”, the idiot atomization proposed by neoliberalism; that demands social rights against the logic of privatization and adjustment imposed by the economic powers. And here it is likely that preestablished schemes don’t serve (or serve very little), the impossible return to the past together with the State and full-occupation, as preached by most of the left, from the most radical to the most lukewarm. Reinventing democracy requires at the very least new forms of distribution of wealth, citizenship for all irrespective of their place of origin (that is, in accord with our global times), the unstinting defense of the common (of environmental resources but also knowledge, education, internet, health) and other forms of self-governance of the multitude which might overcome the corruption of the present ones.

Fourth and last, it is obligatory to recall that the May 15th movement links itself to a current of demands which are taking place in various parts of Europe, based on a rejection of the so-called austerity plans. One demand, one mobilization that begins to corner the desert of the real, the dream of that mute and amorphous Europe to which the political and economic elites aspire. We’re talking about the UKUnCuts campaign against the policies of Cameron, the mobilization of the Geraçao a Rasca in Portugal or what has occurred in Iceland after the refusal of the citizenry to pay the financial bail-outs. And at the same time and perhaps most of all, it is inspired by the so-called “Arab Spring”, which through the democratic revolts in Egypt and Tunis managed to bring down their corrupt leaders.

We don’t know, obviously, what will be the final outcome of the spirit of May 15th. But what we can say, with total certainty, is that there are now at least two plans against the crisis: social cut-backs or the invention of a real democracy. Of the former we know the results: they have not only returned us to economic “normality” but they have also led us to “all against all” and “each man for himself.” Of the second, which promises a politics of absolute democracy, constituent democracy, we can only say that it has just begun, and that it marks our path. We’ll take that one.