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Spain’s Micro-Utopias: The 15M Movement and its Prototypes (Part 2)

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
25th May 2013


Image: Voces con Futura

Bernardo Gutiérrez

Translated by Stacco Troncoso, edited by Ann Marie Utratil – Guerrilla Translation!
Original article at 20minutos.es.
This is a two-part article. The first part can be found here.

“15M – whether seen as a signal, a movement, a state of being or a set of human interactions – has built its prototypes, and they’re many: legal, urban, cultural, economical, technological, communicative, political, affective”. In the first part of Spain’s Micro-Utopias, I started sketching this personal inventory of 15M’s prototypes by talking about processes and innovative actions that are happening on the ground right now. Collective achievements, high-impact but lower-case stories, practically invisible to the great majority. I wrote about the method micro-utopia, urban micro-utopia, communications micro-utopia, micro-utopia in feminine, and collective culture micro-utopia, all born of the expansion of 15M’s initial surge.

Now, I would like to present ten further prototypes, forged in the collective fires of 15M and its environs. I could describe more, many more, but this text is not intended as a list, or 19th century inventory. This text is in construction. This text longs to be a candle, a lantern. A faint ray slipping through the cracks in the system to throw some clarity on the building blocks of the world that’s coming. There could be as many prototypes as there are individuals. It only takes a certain attitude to pick up the lantern, shine some light into a corner, and try to see the change.

PROTOTYPE 6 / PARTICIPATORY MICRO-UTOPIA

The assemblies, celebrated in public squares, marked a previously unheard of politicization of public space. Even taking into account that their consensus building mechanism didn’t end up directly influencing the democratic process, the creation of new spaces for political dialogue soon made the old institutions look dated. The project/process Parlamento a la Calle (Take Parliament to the Streets) for example, is a true master stroke against a static democracy that only allows for dialogue within the chambers of parliament. Besides, public-square assembly did manage to consolidate certain specific mechanisms.

This yearning for participation is the essence of Propongo (I Propose), a tool and platform for the collection and implementation of political ideas by a collective voting system. Propongo inspired the Rio Grande do Sul’s (Brazi) Digital Cabinet. Meanwhile, Asamblea Virtual (Virtual Assembly), a participatory online system where proposals are drawn, debated and voted on, has become an invaluable laboratory for techno-political participatory systems. Similar initiatives, such as Ahora tu decides (Now You Decide), a platform for non-state-mediated digital referendum, the urnas indignadas, physical voting booths placed on the street last November to vote on the proposal against foreclosures, or ballot information tables set up by public health defenders, Marea Blanca, make an important symbolic statement capable of forcing change in the system’s participatory mechanisms. Finally, Graba tu pleno (Record your Plenary Session) which encourages transparency by inciting citizens to video every single convention of assemblies, could also be considered another 15M prototype.

Demo4Punto0 (Democracy 4.0) is perhaps the most innovative initiative of them all. A hybrid participatory strategy and mechanism, it would allow any citizen to digitally vote on any parliamentary proposal or law. Based on each political party’s ratio of seats in Parliament, the mechanism proportionally discounts a seat for every 150.000 that participate in a vote. These citizen votes represent a proportional part of a congressman’s constituency. It’s no coincidence that the regional government of Andalucia (in the south of Spain), has commissioned the groundbreaking Andalusian Digital Democracy Report from the founders of Demo4Punto0.

PROTOTYPE 7 / FUN-TIVISM MICRO-UTOPIA

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NjZwwM-voKU&w=560&h=315]

Non-violence has always been an inspiration to 15M. The Movement resurrected peaceful resistance and adapted it to the Internet age. Repudiating weapons and classic urban guerrilla tactics, 15M made protest creative, constructive and, unmistakably, fun. Networked emotions and viral actions that amplified and altered their own effects. Culture Jamming, the remixing of logos and commercial symbols as exemplified by Adbusters, morphed into something else in Spain. 15M’s culture jammers became virtual DJs, spinning memes and emotions. We saw how Flo6x8, a flash mob collective, was able to flamenco their way into a bank. We saw a crowd throwing a party in a Bankia branch, to promote its #CierraBankia (#ShutDownBankia) campaign. Bankia was Spain´s own big-bank-bailout debacle, going from public bank to private entity, subsequently bankrupting itself and then controversially being rescued with public funds, concurrent with the imposition of austerity measures. We were delighted by the parodical Ballot Box ATM: if it´s the banks that really govern us after all, why not just vote directly while at the bank?

Political Jiu-jitsu, or defeating an enemy by turning its strength against itself, is the tactic used by the Metro de Lujo (Subway DeLuxe) campaign. Elegantly attired individuals protested the Madrid subway’s inscrutable price hikes by dressing up and toasting champagne to welcome the new “aristocratic” pricing. Or, how about the ultimate fetid vengeance, exemplified by the #TubasuraalBanco (#TakeYourGarbageToTheBank) campaign – which, ultimately, made it as far as Portugal (#OLixoAosBancos). Another hilarious example is the #ManiFicció/#ManiFantasma (#FicticiousProtest/#GhostProtest), a fake protest announced as a total urban guerrilla outing, which managed to ridicule and embarrass Catalonia’s riot police (Mossos D’Esquadra), when they arrived to meet the dangerous enemy to find… no one!

15M has creatively and humorously reinterpreted the tenets of Saul Alinsky classic “Rules for Radicals”, or The Guerrilla Communications Handbook. amongst other direct action classics. Additionally, it has birthed a particularly active army of Twitter troll activists. Profiles such as @barbijaputa or the @ikastrolla collective are prime examples.

PROTOTYPE 8 / RESILIENCE MICRO-UTOPIA

Faced with the unjustified rising cost of public transport, classic resistance-based activism would respond with barricades, protests and setting things on fire. On the other hand, resilience-based activism uses adaptation, micro-attacks, and hacking, expressed through cracks and loopholes in the legal system. “Translegal”, rather than illegal. IGetOn YouGetMeoOn… non-payment tactics for public transport. If you get fined, there’s a co-op that will handle the cost of the fine. It works out cheaper to make a monthly contribution to the MeMetro (IGetOn) co-op than paying the regular monthly pass. Adapted from an identical initiative in Greece, the YoNoPago movement fights against the rising cost of highway tolls and public transport, another sign of resilience. When the VAT was raised 21% for Spanish freelancers, a new “bacterial” web-based network called #HuelgaAutónomos (Freelance Strike) sprung up to deal with the problem by paying individual taxes collectively, or by refusing to declare income on certain months (Freelancers in Spain are required to pay a disproportionately high fixed monthly fee to able to work legally).

PROTOTYPE 9 / THE NETWORKED POST-SYNDICATE MICRO-UTOPÍA

Imagen: Marea Verde, by Andrés Arriaga. Licensed under: Creative Commons.

The Citizen Tide phenomenon, especially in Madrid, has not been thoroughly studied by social anthropologists, but it should be. As far as mass media is concerned, apparently it isn’t even worth analysing. The Marea Blanca (defending Public Health), Marea Verde (Public Education), Marea Azul (against the privatization of water) and the Marea Violeta (feminism), are permutations on the traditional protests and marches declared by unions or political parties. 15M turned everything upside down. It modified the source code of protest and spread the virus to the rest of society. That’s the reason the Mareas work within horizontal, non-hierarchical networks. These mobilizations create new sets of visual associations (green equals “education”), and no one displays any union or political party paraphernalia during marches, whether they’re members or not. Their texts and objectives are written collaboratively and with absolute transparency. The Citizen Tides are a new form of social mobilization. Could we be witnessing the birth a radically different form of syndicalism? As for me, I haven’t the slightest doubt that the Tides represent a form of networked post-syndicalism that marks the beginning of a new era.

#TomaLaHuelga, a summons by 15M to attend the protests organised by the official government sponsored – and highly inefficient and corrupt – unions, as a differentiated “critical march”, is another clear-cut case of post-syndicalism.

PROTOTYPE 10 / THE COLLECTIVE INTELLIGENCE MICRO-UTOPIA

Stop Desahucios (Stop Foreclosures) map, built on Ushahidi. A SMS alert shows foreclosed individuals and families the location of empty bank-owned apartments in their area.

The popular, and subtly reactionary, eighties Spanish children’s TV program “La Bola de Cristal” (The Crystal Ball) introduced the phrase “sólo no puedes, con amigos sí” (you can’t do it alone, but you can do it with friends”) into the burgeoning Spanish collective unconscious. Those youths, now grown, repurposed the phrase from the start of the movement. Maybe that’s why we’ve seen such a natural shift from DIY (Do it Yourself) to DIWO (Do it With Others). Here’s an interesting distinction: 15M has consecrated the value of “multitude” over “masses”. In contrast to the “mass-man”, as portrayed by Ortega Gasset, we see the emergence of the “multitude man”. as exemplified in the Smart Mobs of Toni Negri and Howard Rheingold. The Smart Mob forms an autonomous whole, bigger than the sum of its parts. 15M’s Smart Mobs brought to life the concepts of “swarm” (Kevin Kelly / Steve Johnson) and “collective intelligence” (James Surowiecki, Pierre Levy) like never before. Initiatives such as Stop Desahucios (mass gatherings to physically prevent foreclosure eviction proceedings), actions like the “Eschaches” (public humiliation and condemnation of corrupt politicians and bankers) and campaigns such as Toque a Bankia are palpable demonstrations of swarm and collective intelligence initiatives in full gear.

Collective intelligence also powered the 15Mpedia or the Vivero de Iniciativas Ciudadanas (Open Hatchery for Citizen Initiatives) Glossary, and played an essential part in the formation of WhatsApp IM groups used in protests to assure the protester’s bodily safety. These are telling examples of the kind of collective intelligence that feeds the parallel, alternative and sustainable world mapped on projects such as MeCambio.Net, a listing of companies and services founded on ethical and sustainable values.

PROTOTYPE 11 / THE MICRO-UTOPIA OF THE COMMONS

“Out of chaos, we’ve seen actions, constructions and turnarounds arise with clear, integral, non-corporate intentions, all marked by a tendency to organise into community”. These words, recently expressed by hacker Marga Padilla, give credence to the theory that 15M has acted as a springboard for communities. A steady stream of communities where neighbours share their wifi thanks to Wifis.org, use community currencies (like Seville’s PUMA, and many others), analogue/digital barter systems such as Nockin or cooperative practices like the No.Ma.Des Project (a wordplay on nomadism and and “No More Unemployment) which seeks to find meaningful, constructive activity for the hordes of Spanish unemployed.

References to “the Commons” were omnipresent in all the initial debates of the 15M movement. The construction of interrelated communities stems from a marked desire to improve on the wealth of the commons. The Carta de los Comunes (A Letter for the Commons), a text signed the Madrilonia.org collective and edited by copyleft publisher Traficantes de Sueños, is an excellent example of the concrete – if, at times, cleverly subtle – prototypes reflecting the commons via their intellectual content.

PROTOTYPE 12 / THE LEGAL MICRO-UTOPIA

15M has shaken up one of the pillars of the Western State: the legal establishment. The existence of The Comisión Legal Sol, (Puerta del Sol Legal Commission), was an impromptu creation on the first night of encampment, when one camper offered legal advice to another. This marks a shift towards collective methods in what is traditionally perceived as a very individualistic profession. In Spain, certain groups of lawyers were already pooling their talents, sharing resources and incentivizing the use of free licenses in their documentation. The arrival of 15M has multiplied this free, open and collaborative legal micro-utopia. We can see a good example of this in the legal strategies collectively designed to benefit the Stop Foreclosures movement. Op-Euribor, a collective initiative organised and disseminated by online working groups, is another spectacular example of 15M’s burgeoning legal micro-utopia.

Toma Parte (Take Part) is another fascinating example. On the one hand, it’s a networked collective of lawyers functioning anonymously. On the other, it acts as a platform and tool for the activation of collective intelligence: “Toma Parte is a tool designed so we, as citizens, can pool our resources to find solutions. Our team of legal advisors will provide the necessary knowledge to determine the best legal course of action to implement these solutions. Anyone can make an online proposal, which will then be voted on by the community at large, completing it with evidence and testimony and funds generated through crowdfunding campaigns. All the documentation pertaining to the proposals – made available under Creative Commons Licenses – will be freely reusable”

But the most spectacular and ambitious example of this legal micro-utopia is, undoubtedly, the 15Mparato campaign. Launched through crowdfunding platform Goteo.org, the campaign gathered more than the necessary 16.000€ in less than 24 hours, collapsing Goteo’s servers in the process. These funds are being used to finance a lawsuit against Rodrigo Rato, former IMF Managing Director, head of Bankia and nominated by Bloomberg as one of the worst CEOs in the world (2012), for his mismanagement and accounting irregularities at the time of Bankia’s merger. We are talking about a mass lawsuit designed and funded online, that quickly gained the support of 50 shareholders who stepped forward as plaintiffs, as well as a host of internal witnesses. Spain’s networked citizenship shifted from defending itself to taking on the enemy. This, the first crowdfunded mass lawsuit, showed that the economic political elite isn’t as cozily secure as it thought. Or, as we can read in 15Mparato’s site: “Fear has switched sides in the struggle between those who are the bottom and those who are at the top”.

PROTOTYPE 13 / THE FREE KNOWLEDGE MICRO-UTOPIA

Free Knowledge, Free Licenses, Free Access. 15M squarely positioned itself against copyright from the very beginning. Many individuals and collectives within 15M have played an important role in lobbying for a more thorough transparency law. These groups have also been instrumental in the fight against restrictive proposals like the SOPA-like Lasalle Law. 15Mpedia reflects a healthy amount of free-culture and free-access related initiatives, like this list of online libraries which offer free downloads.

15M and the Marea Verde are defending universal access to public education by incorporating some important new details. The “Ciudad del Aprendizaje” (City of Learning) – education partaken on the streets, without walls and free from traditional hierarchy – is already up and running. On March 9, Spanish universities took to the streets as part of the #UniEnLaCalle (#CollegeInTheStreets) campaign, with 575 public squares and urban meeting points serving as the backdrop for innumerable master classes.

PROTOTYPE 14 / THE SENIOR CITIZEN’S REVOLUTION MICRO-UTOPIA

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/64629402 w=500&h=281]

Video: Iaioflautas The Rebel Grandparents from Magma Multimedia Productions /Creative Commons Non-Commercial, Non-Derivative License

“We may be old, but we have no fear” This is the collective motto often used by the Iaoflautas / Yayoflautas collective, and it demolishes every stereotype about the 15M movement being made up of unemployed, lazy youth with nothing better to do than protest. The eruption of the Senior Citizen Iaoflauta collective in Barcelona dismantled the media’s repetitive, closed-minded mantra that 15M is a collection of crusties and and dirty hippies (“Perroflautas”). “Yayo” is an affectionate word for “Gramps” in Catalonia. It didn’t take long for the Yayoflauta phenomenon to spread throughout the rest of Spain. It marked the arrival of a new revolutionary meme within an old, withering Europe. Could it be that the meme that demolishes the Troika and takes over Brussels won´t come from a student, but from a grandma empowered with social media skills by her grandson?. The #LaBolsaolavida (#TheStockExchangeOrYourLife) action that kicked off the Yayoflauta prototype had such symbolic impact that I don’t think we’re quite able to grasp its implications yet. The image of a group of pensioners invading a Stock Exchange is so unprecedentedly shocking, it sounds like something out of a cyberpunk novel. But no dystopian future vision could have imagined something like this, and #ItsHappeningRightNow.

PROTOTYPE 15 / THE NEO-INTERNATIONALIST MICRO-UTOPIA

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a7--jyoQtnI&w=560&h=315]

15M has dissolved international borders. It has woven transnational communities together and eased the exaggerated nationalism that the system likes to promote during crisis. First, 15M expanded its network around the world, ignoring nation-states. The proclamation, “We aren’t commodities in the hands of politicians and bankers” was immediately understood across all nations and languages, enabling networks and breaking down borders. At the heart of this global network, the Spanish node that is 15M has always embraced diversity. It’s protected its immigrants from police abuse, it’s campaigned against Alien Detention Centers, it’s founded Neighbour Brigades for the Observation of Human RIghts. There are even doctors who’ve declared themselves as conscientious objectors due to the recent cut in immigrant public health rights, and have vowed to treat illegal immigrants, in spite of new laws prohibiting this. 15M is forging a new Internationalist movement, as far-reaching as the workers movement of the late 19th century, but endowed with an historically unmatched set of tools and connectivity. The video embedded above, showing German citizens in solidarity with Spain, was filmed as a direct response to one of 15M’s videotaped assemblies, and is visible proof of the new international micro-utopia we are forging together.

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