Watching Occupy From Afar

We are watching Occupy from afar with interest, wishing you all the best from here. Inspired by all the young people who were twittering as we marched I thought I would put some of this up.

I´ve put up some pictures here from the October 15th demo in Madrid (and thanks to Ernesto Ganuza for sharing some of them). I was there among the 200,000 people that marched to the Plaza de Sol on this global day of protest. Like you´ve heard, it was an inspiring, wonderful and peaceful afternoon. The pictures represent the crowd well: there were young, old, families, teachers, and retirees in the crowd. There were more literally strollers than police along the way. The chants were some of the ones the 15-M has become known for, “if we can´t dream you won´t sleep,” “they don´t represent us,” and my favorite, “these are our weapons” (hands in the air). There were some new ones, more specific to Madrid, about the rightwing Mayor Esperanza, and about the PP/PSOE (the rightwing and the centerleft main parties) being the same. Palpable also was the energy from the simultaneous mobilization in the United States. True to the principles of 15M, there were almost no signs representing any political party, union, or association. The only exception were the ubiquitous green t-shirts of the movement to defend public education, which has been lead by public school teachers. (Someone also commented on the high ratio of cameras, cameraphones, journalists and sociologists present.)

The march took almost six hours, and upon arriving at the Plaza del Sol there was an assembly, where we all sat down, presumably to have a group discussion. It was opened with a music recital/performance. At this point, organizers were asking over the loudspeakers for people to stop coming into the plaza, as marchers were still arriving. As we left, the mobilization continued into the early hours of the morning. One abandoned hotel has been occupied and as of yet it´s not clear what will happen with that (there needs to be a legal injunction for occupiers to be forcibly removed, and the government has not sought that).

It´s hard to know what the outcomes of the mobilization will be. They took place all over spain, the second largest being in Barcelona, with some 100,000 people. The 15-M, as the movement of the indignados is known, has been a permanent encampment for months now. It has evolved from a group that coalesced around an internet-based manifesto, the Democracia Real Ya, to something much larger and more diffuse. Its principles are by now well-known: direct democracy, peaceful demonstrations, respect, and non-partisanship. The last one is one of the most interesting to think about- in practice it has meant that left organizations and groups are not part of 15M. They are insistent than an individual can only represent herself. But this is not an uncontroversial position within it. Some of the internal discussion has revolved around whether this makes the movement reformist, for example.

Some of the criticism from both the social democratic left and the left has been that this is irresponsible. Spain is about to have national elections, and the predictions are that there is going to be an overwhelming victory for the PP, coupled with the last results of provincial and local elections, this is going to be the first time since the transition to democracy that Spain will be under near-total right-wing dominance. The predictions are for austerity measures of all kinds. Of course, the response has been that these have not been great times under 8 years of socialist rule anyway. Then they counter that it will be worse under conservatives, and I then feel as if i´m back in the United States. Anyway, one set of controversies over the movement has to do with its relationship to traditional politics.

There are interesting things to think about all of this when we think of the alterglobalization movement, or the World Social Forum, for example, but more on that later.

Hope you are well
in solidarity

Gianpaolo Baiocchi

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