Constructing, living, and demanding Participatory Democracy in the #spanishrevolution Camps

‘We, the unemployed, the underpaid, the subcontracted, the precarious, the young … demand a change towards a future with dignity. We are fed up of reforms, of being laid off, of the banks which have caused the crisis hardening our mortgages or taking away our houses, of laws limiting our freedom in the interest of the powerful. We blame the political and economic powers of our sad situation and we call for a turn.’

Via Wikileaks World:

“In Sol, the organizers, overwhelmed by the volume of the crowd, quickly started organizing a community by dividing the workload into different commissions (all made up of volunteers): cleaning, security, legal advice, infrastructure, food, external and internal communications. This last one set up a speaker in the middle of the square, so as to communicate between each other and to deliver important messages to the community. The infrastructure commission built large tents, made for shelter and to house each group’s “office”, food and blankets were provided, people brought mattresses and sofas from their homes, as well as sleeping bags, tents and cardboard boxes to coat the floor. The legal team held a brief meeting and afterwards communicated basic advice just in case the police were to crackdown on the campers. Meanwhile, external communications organized workshops to prepare volunteers for talking to the media, arranged teams of translators who would start working on social media sites and went about promoting the event on the web. The result was that in a few hours a totally self-governed mass of people, without any visible leaders, was fully functional and able to sustain the main reason behind the whole movement: the formation of public assemblies that were to enunciate the feelings and ideas of everyone present and turn them into proper policies.

Slowly, the crowd spontaneously organized itself in open and democratic debate groups that merged throughout the night into a big general assembly that started around 4AM. These assemblies served many purposes and the participants talked about many things: they used them to vote on details regarding the internal workings of the new system; they used them to express their feelings of anger without any coherence (not that it was necessary) making them the direct way of participation in the growing movement. In this sense they worked very well, knitting the community tightly around ideals and ideas that grew out of popular debate. The general assembly, however, failed, mainly because the lack of leadership made it difficult for them to concentrate on the real issue, that is, reaching a consensus large enough for a real manifesto or proposals for reform. Instead, in this first large assembly, the internal workings were discussed, maps were planned and an order of the day was voted and approved, it was intensely democratic in the sense that whenever one of the speakers said something they deemed was unacceptable, he/she was immediately removed and someone else was given the microphone. Acceptance, on the other hand, was greeted with a shaking of open palms, no applause. The meeting ended at 6AM with some serious doubts. First of all no real proposals emerged and it seemed that they would be hard to achieve without real leadership, after all, in most cases protests are held with a manifesto already prepared. How would one emerge from a crowd that was so individualistic and resentful towards anything that sounds like authority?

It is now Thursday and the camp has lasted for almost five days without police intervention. Today more than ten thousand people showed up. The square has been entirely occupied, the external communications commission has encouraged people to make their own signs and proposals and hang them around the walls, metro stations and ads. The tents have grown everyday and the facilities are better (for example, private companies have donated portable bathrooms for the camp) and well organized, with maps explaining the location of each commission. The flow of people has gotten progressively bigger, and because the media has finally paid attention, older people are appearing and are very curious about what the younger generations have to say. To their surprise they seem to agree with most of it and are willing to participate actively. Best of all, what seemed to be the problem (the lack of concrete political solutions) is turning out to be the strongest point: the assemblies have started producing, out of popular debate and participatory democracy, solutions for different aspects of life in society. Some of these were already floating about several webpages affiliated with the movement (the Proposals section of Democracia Real Ya, for example) but now they have been generated by autonomous popular will and voted for consensus by the general assembly, giving them the power of legitimate ideas. They will be posted here as soon as they are made official.

This same process is happening in every camp around Spain, and it is a fascinating one to watch. People from many nationalities, immigrants from Ecuador, Colombia and many other European and non-European nations such as Romania or Morocco are participating, something impossible (or contradictory) in a regular “democratic” election. This is partly because the problems being referred to are global issues, made transparent by Wikileaks’ revelations and felt by every person living in a major city. The old meanings of democracy and freedom have changed, politicians and corporate managers (specially in the press and media, one of the biggest foes of this movement) are now naked and are being shown in a new light. What will come out of all this is still to be seen, particularly towards the regional elections that will be held on Sunday. The people in Sol have vowed to stay until they make themselves heard, that is, even after election day. Meanwhile protests with the slogan Real Democracy Now are popping up around Europe (#italianrevolution #frenchrevolution #germanrevolution #ukrevolution) and demonstrations have been called for in Mexico and Argentina.”

Here are some reflections on democracy by participants in Madrid:

“1. The hymn that has been sung the most is “they call it democracy, but it’s not”. This is because, first of all, democracy means a form of government where people can participate directly in public affairs. When you identify democracy with the summoning of elections, with a Constitution, with the right of representation, it becomes equivalent to institutions that can be completely empty. Simply, talking about democracy means talking about debate and active citizenship in public affairs before elections, laws and delegation of responsibilities to political agents. Because of this, it is fair to say that democracy is an act that is much more present in the Puerta del Sol than in actual Spanish institutions, electoral fights and political slogans.

The institutional reform that we could come to propose, our revolution, to call it something, would not have to be one that plans to make the electoral law a more proportional one, or jailing corrupt politicians and bankers. Even though these could and should be included, our reform implies recovering public power for direct participation, with referendums, democratic control of common resources and new ways of deciding with the help of technology.

2. There is no democracy without equality and freedom. When limited to consumer choice between two brands, that even though they appear different in the end they are the same thing, something that happens with the major political parties (PP – PSOE), the idea of democracy is a ghost. But it is even more pathetic and false when the democratic institutions these parties control are under the yoke of a few. The crisis we have faced the past years has taught us that politics in Spain is at the will of market forces: first it is necessary to guarantee the investor’s benefits and only then (in the long term) comes the well-being of the population; it is more important to rescue financial institutions than to maintain or strengthen social rights, for example. The absence of equality and freedom is perfectly visible in our society today: it can be seen in the exercise of a law that is not the same for everyone, in the use of debt as a mechanism to maintain life under control with ever falling salaries. Even here, in the camp and the protests: how many illegal immigrants can participate without fear of arrest? What kind of freedom is left for a life chained to mortgage payments, that because of Spanish law you will still have to pay even after being evicted?

This is already a declaration of our intentions. Our struggle can be defined in simple words: we want equality and freedom so it is possible to have a truly democratic society, because without these basic ingredients it is impossible. To achieve this we need not only prosecute corruption but also guarantee the things that permit a minimum of equality and freedom, for example, liberty for immigrants to move freely and not be the object of permanent harassment. The freedom to declare yourself bankrupt when you can no longer pay mortgage. Equality too, but the type achieved through education generated and managed by everybody (no more public money for private institutions);the kind achieved with equal access to health care and the right to be autonomous (nurseries or honest pensions. And above all, equality of conditions for a worthy life that can only be achieved by sharing resources equally or controlling speculative rents. In this way nobody should face the misery of unemployment or the brutal exploitation of life.

3. These past days have taught us important lessons: legitimation and consensus that forces the right to think and to participate politically in the hands of professionals is as fragile as a house of cards. It took terns of thousands of people on the streets with a clear message to provoke, first the unrest and disbelief, and then the hysteric reaction of politicians and media. Today, yesterday and surely tomorrow, many newspapers like El Pais and other Prisa group journalists have invited us to think about the danger of shouting out that “there is no democracy”. They have thrown at us their defensive arguments about the institutional state of affairs, making us believe that we must choose between “parlamentarism or totalitarianism”. Without a doubt these great conquests of the democratic transition in our country are forgetting the most important fact, that these institutions are worthless if the laws they uphold are only useful for maintaining the interests of a select few. They also forget that democracy should be, above all, a daily exercise for every citizen.

Many financial, political and media agents have been invaded by the fear that the system will finally be seen for what it is, that the big business of political representation will finally be naked and shown as a simple business in the hands of charlatans on the payroll of corporate interests. The political parties, recently displaced, for the first time, from the center of the political spotlight have reacted trying to assimilate the new situation. Their position has moved between the incipient attack from the new right and their media to a movement to which they don’t have or never will have any possibility of belonging, to the pathetic attempts of left wing groups to incorporate the movement into their agenda. This type of action will always fail because it is precisely because of it that the protests have been called for. Against the general lack of orientation of institutions, the 15M movement has already achieved a first victory: that is, that instead of having to stand another dull election campaign, full of inept candidates and political programs, where nothing really important is ever talked about, the whole political spectrum has been made to take a stance towards the proposals and the issues raised by our movement: What is democracy? Who has social rights? Who has rights over common riches?

The road that is left to walk after the 22nd, after the elections that, we insist, will not make any substantial changes, will be long. After the temporary camp at Sol we will have to put our intelligence and our imagination to the the task of opening up spaces where real politics can be made, the type of action that can produce changes in the life we live in society. “

The May 20th assembly arrived at the following demands for true democracy:

“Propositions approved at today´s assembly, May 20th 2011:

1. Change of the Electoral Law so the lists will be opened and with unique circumscription. The number of acquired seats must be proportional to the number of votes.

2. Attention to the basic and fundamental rights of Constitution: – The right for decent housing, managing a reform on the Mortgage Law so handing over the house implicates debt´s canelling. – Free and universal public health system.

3. Abolition of discriminatory and unjust laws as Bolognia´s Plan Law and the European Space for Higher Education, the Immigration Law and the well known Sinde Law.

4. Fiscal reform on favor of lower classes, a reform on taxes rates for patrimony and inheritance. Implementation of Tobin Taxes, which take records on international financial transfers and the suppression of fiscal paradises.

5. Reform on the labor conditions of political class so post held for life salaries will be abolished. Shall the political programs and proposes have a binding character.

6. Rejection and sentence of corruption. Shall be mandatory by Electoral Law those imputed and condemned by corruption be presented on a clear list.

7. Plural action on banks and financial markets, obeying 128th article of Constitution, which determines that every richness in the country, in its various forms and ways of ownership, is subject to general interest. Reduction of FMI and European Central Bank´s power and influence. Immediate nationalization of those banking entities which were rescued by the State. Endure control over financial entities and operations so abuses, in its various forms, will be abolished.

8. Detachment de facto between Church and State, as stresses 16th article of Constitution.

9. Participative and direct democracy, shall citizenship be active. Popular access to media, which must be ethical and truthful.

10. True regularization of labor conditions and shall its performance be watched by the powers of State.

11. Closing of all nuclear energy centrals and promotion of renewable and free energy.

12. Recuperation of public enterprises which were privatized.

13. Effective separation between executive, legislative and judicial powers.

14. Reduction of military expenses, immediate closing of weapon industries and a more effective control of state security forces. As a peaceful movement we believe in ¨No War¨.

15. Recuperation of Historical Memory and the founder principles of the fight for Democracy in our State.

16. Total transparency of political parties accounts and financing as a way of retaining political corruption. ”

And here is the original Real Democracy manifesto which launched the movement:

“The priorities of any advanced society must be equality, progress, solidarity, freedom of culture, sustainability and development, welfare and people’s happiness.

* These are inalienable tr…uths that we should abide by in our society: the right to housing, employment, culture, health, education, political participation, free personal development, and consumer rights for a healthy and happy life.

* The current status of our government and economic system does not take care of these rights, and in many ways is an obstacle to human progress.

* Democracy belongs to the people (demos = people, krátos = government) which means that government is made of every one of us. However, in Spain most of the political class does not even listen to us. Politicians should be bringing our voice to the institutions, facilitating the political participation of citizens through direct channels that provide the greatest benefit to the wider society, not to get rich and prosper at our expense, attending only to the dictatorship of major economic powers and holding them in power through a bipartidism headed by the immovable acronym PP & PSOE.

* Lust for power and its accumulation in only a few; create inequality, tension and injustice, which leads to violence, which we reject. The obsolete and unnatural economic model fuels the social machinery in a growing spiral that consumes itself by enriching a few and sends into poverty the rest. Until the collapse.

* The will and purpose of the current system is the accumulation of money, not regarding efficiency and the welfare of society. Wasting resources, destroying the planet, creating unemployment and unhappy consumers.

* Citizens are the gears of a machine designed to enrich a minority which does not regard our needs. We are anonymous, but without us none of this would exist, because we move the world.

* If as a society we learn to not trust our future to an abstract economy, which never returns benefits for the most, we can eliminate the abuse that we are all suffering.

* We need an ethical revolution. Instead of placing money above human beings, we shall put it back to our service. We are people, not products. I am not a product of what I buy, why I buy and who I buy from.

For all of the above, I am outraged. I think I can change it. I think I can help. I know that together we can.I think I can help.

I know that together we can.”

2 Comments Constructing, living, and demanding Participatory Democracy in the #spanishrevolution Camps

  1. Avataralain Ambrosi

    DEMlab BCN: democracy laboratory
    In response to the improbable productivist « innovation » proposed by political leaders of all stripes as a solution to the crisis, Spanish youth are mobilising for major social innovation  in a break with capitalism.  The way forward may still be vague, but the point of departure is clear: a radical renewal of ‘actually-existing’ democracy, where  utilitarianism is the basic principle, democracy is for the rich and breeds corruption, social exclusion , destruction of the environment, democracy with all its green, pink, security and magic solutions, all with technological answers as a way out of the impasse in order to ”securely” return to business as usual.?These young people have a very different reading of the world and of the fundamental crisis of civilization we are going through. Undoubtedly as surprised as anyone by the massive – and intergenerational – response to their call, they are now faced with writing a new page of history, nothing less. But they do have at least one important asset: unemcumbered by ties, they have demonstrated their capacity for initiative and innovation and their inherent desire to create. And you? and me? and all the rest of us? Where are we?
    Alain Ambrosi
    Impressions recorded on my mobile Plaza Catalunya de Barcelona from May 16 to 20 and edited by Daniel Torrico.

  2. AvatarRain

    Greetings from Spain.
    I want to tell you that we are not only youth people, there are people of all ages: children, medium-age and old people which are involved on this social movement.

    There are happening an authentic REVOLUTION in Spain Now and the mass media don´t show all.

    Please help us to spread what is happening. Only it is reliable what the citizens explain by internet, especially in the groups of Facebook and in Twitter with the trending toppics #spanishrevolution, #globalcamp, #acampadasol and many others corresponding to the more than 600 camped that there is by all the world.

    Join the #spanishrevolution #acampadasol and others. Help us to tell all the world what we are doing in Spain as an example to all the world, we are changing our roles in society, we can change this world of capitalism, the change is NOW, the revolution had started. From Spain through the world!!!

    Maps of the camps throughout the world:

    Photos of the Spanish revolution:

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