María Carrión on Camp Sol’s lessons for true democracy

The depth and dimensions of the event are simply astounding. People from the whole town bring food and materials every day. They come to work for a couple of hours after their jobs. The place explodes with ideas. There is no one flag, no one party, no one ready-made discourse seen or heard anywhere -not once since the beginning. It’s all from scratch, and the only rule is equal solidarity. Money has been abolished in the village. The revolt has spread to over 50 Spanish cities and, announces itself to many other places in Europe. *

Excerpted from María Carrión:

“The crowd of three thousand sat patiently on the hard pavement of the plaza as the fourth hour of the popular assembly came and went. The issue was whether Camp Sol, a protest that had persevered for two weeks in Madrid’s main square known as Puerta del Sol, would dismantle or stay on. Protesters were exhausted from living on the streets; there had been a few cases of harassment and tensions between groups; the infrastructure of the camp was fragile; electricity was scarce. The camp’s legal team had kept police at bay but there were no guarantees that it would remain that way (a similar camp in Barcelona had been attacked by police the day before). And even if those problems were resolved, how much longer did it make sense to occupy this enormous public space? Had the movement consolidated enough to dismantle its most visible and symbolic gathering?

Camp Sol, MadridCamp Sol, MadridA slight, young woman addressed the crowd. Trembling from nerves but with fire in her voice, she said other camps were springing up like wildflowers all over the country. She had come from the western region of Extremadura, where protesters in different cities were sleeping under the night sky, prevented by authorities from pitching tents. “Our survival depends on Camp Sol,” she begged. “If Sol disappears, the police will dissolve our camp and all the others in Spain.” As the moderator was about to take another comment his telephone rang: after a few seconds, he told the gathering that thousands of students in Paris who had gathered at the Bastille in solidarity with the Madrid protest were being gassed by police. Many in the crowd vowed to head for the French embassy after the assembly (protesters in Barcelona remained at the French consulate all night blocking the entrance and it was forced to stay closed for most of the following day).

As the towering clock over Puerta del Sol struck midnight and consensus remained elusive, the moderator reminded the crowd that organizers had agreed to wrap up the assembly so neighbors could get some rest. Racing against time, the issue was simplified — the assembly would only decide on whether to remain for the short term or leave the next morning, postponing a final decision on how long Camp Sol should exist. A few dissenting voices were heard, and then at last, thousands of hands waved towards the night sky as the crowd agreed to keep Camp Sol going –at least for the time being.

Thus ended one of the many assemblies that have become the life force behind Spain’s blossoming popular uprising. The decision-making mechanism is far from new: older folks here nod their heads remembering the hours spent in their youth trying to reach consensus. But Spain’s young people have managed to transfix society and confound an out-of-touch political élite with their level of organization and ability to rapidly spread to other neighborhoods, cities and even countries. They do not speak the language of politicians and reject vertical models of organization. They reach decisions through consensus. They listen. They are inclusive. And what they seek is a profound transformation, one that transcends political parties and traditional methods of government; they envision a system that brings grassroots democracy rooted in the communities. Their weapons are their words and the social media networks.

Camp Sol, which began spontaneously on May 15th with a few pitched tents to protest against corruption and the lack of opportunities and to ask for democratic changes, is now a small city, a maze of plastic carps held together with chicken wire and makeshift poles, complete with its own radio station, daycare center, dining areas, first aid posts, legal aid clinics, libraries (including one for children) and information centers, which conduct meetings and workshops on issues ranging from the environment to immigration rights. At any one time, a walk through this “micropolis” might yield a live poetry reading, a political debate, a cello concert, a yoga class, a kids’ theater performance, or a film screening on a king-sized bed-sheet. Sandwiches and drinks are handed out for free all day; in return, many people visit the camp with armloads of food, building materials and other donated supplies. Protesters keep the camp clean, recycle garbage and have created orderly corridors and a large perimeter for passersby. Tahrir Square is their model.

The camp is in the heart of Madrid’s commercial and tourist district, a cross between Times Square and Piccadilly Circus. Known as Kilometer Zero because of its central location, the area receives thousands of visitors and shoppers on a daily basis. On a recent afternoon, a group of French sightseers toured the camp as part of their itinerary. “I knew about Spain’s art and food, but I am now discovering the enormous potential that its young people have,” remarked Patrick Joseph, a middle-aged writer from Toulouse. And indeed, Camp Sol is also a massive shop window into Spain’s social movements, a chance for thousands of social justice groups and activists to converge and to get their message across to a wider audience.

But the camp is also under fierce pressure from the conservative local government, local business leaders and police to disband as quickly as possible. Some businesses complain that the occupation has diminished their sales (others, especially the cafés and grocery stores, are doing healthy business thanks to the protesters). The camp has so far avoided police intervention, despite Spain’s main electoral governing body declaring the site illegal on May 21st, the eve of local elections, commonly referred to as the “day of reflection.” Over 25.000 people turned out in the plaza to protest the prohibition. The final decision on whether to send in police to break up the camp rests with the Socialist government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who so far has been reluctant to intervene. But pressure to disband the protesters continues to mount.

The seeds sown by Camp Sol are the assemblies and open mike sessions that have spread to hundreds of neighborhoods, towns and villages across Spain. Although there is a prevalence of young people, the movement is increasingly attracting older folks ranging from families with children to middle-aged professionals and retirees — all deeply affected by the deep economic crisis and the government’s austerity measures. Young “Indignants” in other cities such as Paris, Athens, Buenos Aires, Bogotá and Brussels have supported the movement with protests of their own. Organizers hope these assemblies will take over once the main camp is dismantled. Unemployment, social injustice, lack of true democracy, declining social services, rising costs of education and corruption are just some of the topics they debate. “

The camp in Plaza Catalunya is very very organized, full of people cooking for free, free radios, free tv programs, people making gardens, nurseries, workshops, talks, music…

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