The democracy that is born in the European occupied squares

Full reproduction of a original Greek-language article:

“There may be no better proof of the rupture that is brought about by the “movement of the squares” other than its open, participatory, directly democratic way of organising and functioning. Within a single week it has given birth to a political culture of a different type, one that literally overcomes all known models of organising and struggle to date.

Even if the issue of its procedures is incomplete, it comes up again and again and comprises the most important legacy already left to the political and social life of the country. This does not mean there are no issues with disorganisation, inefficiency, delays. Taking into account however the explosive rhythm of its development, the lack of previous experience on the side of those who created it, along with the need to compile, step by step, heterogeneous and different opinions of all participants through open procedures, all this is to be expected. Even if time-consuming, its procedures are flexible and are altered by the day; they are self-criticised, adjusted according to mistakes, comments and suggestions deriving from them being tested in practice.

The open, egalitarian and participatory character of the procedures and ways of organising derives from the will to find such procedures that can unite all who are affected by the crisis and dissatisfied with the current political system. The pacifist and non-party character of the original call-out was the condition that shaped a common public sphere where everyone would meet without any badges to co-decide by discussing at the same level.

The refusal to assign or elect representatives does not only cause unease to the forces of the state who do not know how to deal with this, as it overturns their tactic of manoeuvring, of libelling and destroying popular expressions of rage. More than that, this “facelessness” as Pretenderis would have it [a well-know reactionary TV journalist — trans], is the best way for the movement to safeguard transparency in its organising, as well as the will for whatever is created to express everyone — not just its most so-called “vanguard” or “politicised” part.

And so, the matter of procedures is not simply a matter of organising but a key issue regarding its political essence. An issue of safeguarding the conditions of unity, involvement, free participation to the right of speech and in the decision making process of the people’s assemblies; working groups, thematic assemblies and their immediate review and control. This understanding that rejects any kind of representation or mediation, is safeguarded by the constant circulation of revocable positions and runs through all structures and functions born by this movement.

In this spirit, the stance of the movement toward Mass Media is also differentiated, with the refusal to engage with them, not even by way of issuing press releases. With the screening of what part of its procedures and organising is photographed or taped, and most importantly, with the creation of the movement’s own channels of communication — with its main website, being the only medium-voice of its decisions.

The people’s assembly

The daily people’s assembly of Syntagma square (at 9 pm), like the corresponding ones in other cities, is the only one that holds the right to decision-making. The topics in each popular assembly are defined according to discussion, the demands and the proposals submitted in previous assemblies.
These are recorded in minutes that are published on-line. Suggestions are also collected, both on-line and physically in person and these are all grouped together in the corresponding topical groups and return in the form of specific proposals to the popular assembly for its consultation and approval.
The final resolutions are shaped during the assembly according to the comments of the speakers and are put up for approval, always before midnight, in order not to exclude those who work and those who have to use public transportation to return to their neighbourhoods.

Everyone has a right to speak and in the beginning of each assembly, after reading out and approving its topics, tickets are distributed to everyone who wishes to do so; speakers are selected by draw during the assembly. Usually speakers range between 80 and 100 in their number, while more than 2000 people take part in the assembly on a daily basis. Despite this element of chance, experience so far has proven this to be the best way to avoid any phenomena of imposition of specific agendas or the influencing of the assembly’s decisions by organised interventions.

After midnight, which is the moment until when the assembly must make its decisions, the assembly continues as an open speaking forum.

The working groups

At the moment, there are more than 15 working groups and 12 thematic ones. The working groups comprise the cornerstone of life at the square and their contribution so far has been priceless. Not only because they offer practical solutions and because so far they have responded, despite many problems and delays, to the ever-increasing needs for the shaping, the functionality and the procedures at the square, but most importantly because these groups themselves comprise the spirit of contribution of the people, their will to take life into their own hands and the capacities of their self-organising, without experts and capital, based on their own capacities. Thousands have joined up the group lists and this availability is the driving force of the movement even though it has not been utilised in the most effective of ways so far, partly due to the movement’s swift growing.

It is indicative that despite the substantial financial needs and despite peoples’ offer to contribute financially in response, the idea of setting up a fund has been rejected. Not only because of the looming dangers in the management of the money but also in order to prove that there are other ways to get things done. And so, the practice is to propose instead for contributions in anything ranging from writing materials to food, PA equipment or film projectors. And the contribution of the people has exceeded all expectations.

Until now, functioning groups include those of technical support, material supply, artists, cleaning, administrative support, canteen-nutrition, translation, respect (patrol), communication/multimedia, legal support, neighbourhood outreach, health, time bank and service exchange, composure and messengers. Each groups has been divided into subgroups according to each specialist work section. The groups meet in open assemblies every day at 6 pm and the messenger group makes sure that their needs and suggestions are known to all groups in order to safeguard the smooth cooperation and solving of any problems that may arise.

The thematic assemblies

The functioning of the thematic assemblies was born from the need and demand of the people, as expressed through the open channels of the assembly and the websites (real-democracy, facebook etc.) to have processes that will shape positions on the burning issues, on all those reasons that brought people to the streets and to the squares. They also serve the need for the shaping of appropriate conditions for a more extensive discussion of particular issues before their approval—something that the central popular assembly cannot, as a procedure, cater for. And so thematic groups have been formed for the crisis, for employment and the unemployed, education and students, health and insurance, environment, technology, solidarity, people with special needs, justice and legal issues, consultation of the debt. These assemblies meet daily between 7 and 9 pm and hundreds of people participate in some. Making their functioning substantial will largely aid and feed the discussion and topics covered in the main popular assembly, along with the attempt to articulate some concrete discourse for the overturning of the current system and the country’s escape from the crisis according to the will of the people.”

Here also a similar report from Costas Douzinas in the Guardian:

“The Greek resistance to the catastrophic economic measures was expected. Throughout modern history the Greeks have resisted foreign occupation and domestic dictatorship with determination and sacrifice. The measures imposed by the IMF, EU and European Central Bank with the full accord, if not invitation, of the Greek government, have led to 11 one-day general strikes, numerous regional strikes and imaginative acts of resistance. Domestic and foreign media avidly reported the confrontations between youths and the riot police that followed major demonstrations and left a thick cloud of teargas hanging over Athens. Led by the parties of the left and some unions, these protests outshone the anti-austerity demonstrations in the rest of Europe. But the relentless scare campaign by establishment media, experts and elite intellectuals spread fear and guilt to the majority of the population and soon succeeded in limiting resistance.

Three weeks ago, things changed. A motley multitude of indignant men and women of all ideologies, ages, occupations, including the many unemployed, began occupying Syntagma – the central square of Athens opposite parliament; the area around White Tower in Thessaloniki; and public spaces in other major cities. The daily occupations and rallies, sometimes involving more than 100,000 people, have been peaceful, with the police observing from a distance. Calling themselves the “outraged”, the people have attacked the unjust pauperising of working Greeks, the loss of sovereignty that has turned the country into a neocolonial fiefdom of bankers, and the destruction of democracy. Their common demand is that the corrupt political elites who have ruled the country for some 30 years and brought it to the edge of collapse should go. Political parties and banners are discouraged.

Thousands of people come together daily in Syntagma to discuss the next steps. The parallels with the classical Athenian agora, which met a few hundred metres away, are striking. Aspiring speakers are given a number and called to the platform if that number is drawn, a reminder that many office-holders in classical Athens were selected by lots. The speakers stick to strict two-minute slots to allow as many as possible to contribute. The assembly is efficiently run without the usual heckling of public speaking. The topics range from organisational matters to new types of resistance and international solidarity, to alternatives to the catastrophically unjust measures. No issue is beyond proposal and disputation. In well-organised weekly debates, invited economists, lawyers and political philosophers present alternatives for tackling the crisis.

This is democracy in action. The views of the unemployed and the university professor are given equal time, discussed with equal vigour and put to the vote for adoption. The outraged have reclaimed the square from commercial activities and transformed it into a real space of public interaction. The usual late-evening TV viewing time has instead become a time for being with others and discussing the common good. If democracy is the power of the “demos”, in other words the rule of those who have no particular qualification for ruling, whether of wealth, power or knowledge, this is the closest we have come to democratic practice in recent European history.

Syntagma’s highly articulate debates have discredited the banal mantra that most issues of public policy are too technical for ordinary people and must be left to experts. The realisation that the demos has more collective nous than any leader, a constitutive belief of the classical agora, is now returning to Athens. The outraged have shown that parliamentary democracy must be supplemented with its more direct version. It is a timely reminder as the belief in political representation is coming under pressure throughout Europe.

The Pasok government’s response has been embarrassingly muted so far. Establishment propagandists blame the protests and the limited violence that followed on the divided left. This tactic cannot work with the outraged, who come from all parties and none. A determined campaign has been agreed to stop parliament voting in the new measures that President George Papandreou agreed with the bankers and Germany’s Chancellor Merkel, which would extend and expand the current recession and rising unemployment until at least 2015 – a cure much worse than the disease. The reaction to these measures will be the high point of the confrontation between “insiders” and outraged, now entering its endgame. Today, the Syntagma multitude is joining forces with the unions in a general strike and the encircling of parliament.

Syntagma is now closer to Cairo’s Tahrir Square than to Madrid’s Puerta del Sol. The experience of standing daily and confronting the parliament opposite has changed the politics of Greece for good and made the elites worried for the first time. In Greek, the word stasis means an upright posture as well as revolt or insurrection. The square was named after 19th-century demonstrations, which demanded a constitution (syntagma) from the king. This is what the outraged repeat today: they are standing upright, demanding a new political arrangement to free them from neoliberal domination and political corruption.”

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.