And me, where can I rise up?: Analyzing the frustrations facing the Spanish Revolution today
15-M has failed as a vehicle of collective unrest and this institution of ´pissed off´ Spaniards is beginning to sector off. The overwhelming majority of citizens fall outside of so the called ´organized´ structures: they are consumed by unproductive indignation, lacking the means to expression. Taking a look at this situation from the beginning allows us to define the SpanishRevolution as a systematical crisis, thus obligating us to face some fundamental questions, such as: Is it always best to work as a team? Does the SR suffer from an excess of Democracy? A true and brave response to these questions will be dependent upon whether the ‘Indignant’ protestors triumph or if, in fact, their revolution capsizes in the same great waters as the system they had so readily criticized.
@Su_Urruti [SUSANA L. URRUTIA] [TRANSLATED BY ASHLEY PIEKARSKI]
To be an ‘indignant’ Occupy Spain protestor on February 16, 2012 is quite a waste of time. The suffering we face as a result of ongoing unrest in Spain is like a pesky fly: it drives you mad, makes you disgruntled inside, and in a moment of desperation you shout out to the skies for an explanation as to why your dreams have been crushed and your dignity has been repeatedly trampled upon. What do you gain from all of this? Little more than a hangover that follows from drinking one too many beers, in which you have managed to drown the spark of your political activism. Perseverance and recognition, the ‘fight,’ settles there at the bottom the communal glass that has been shared between a group of frustrated friends on yet another Saturday night. So we order another drink in hopes of scaring away this pesky fly. Reluctantly we drink down the anger and continue on our way. Some of us will call it a night. What else is there to do if nobody will listen? We can’t turn to the very parties that have repeatedly disappointed us, or to the unions that have sold out on our rights, or to the 15-M movement, that so wanted to include everyone, but ended up informally excluding many, I repeat, MANY that believe in the complete restructuring of the democratic system from the bottom up.
Don’t be deceived. Our protesting has not come to an end. The waters are churning and the forecast is alarming: a tsunami is in sight. The government has diligently planted its seeds that sooner or later will blossom into anger-ridden flowers (middle class ‘harassment’, a predicted increase in unemployment, job insecurity, dismantling of basic government welfare institutions [education, healthcare…] etc). We can add citizen outrage to this list, a sentiment resulting largely from errors of a systemic nature (the inability to ‘purge’ of guilty parties, impunity for corrupt practices, unmeasured influence from financial bullies that continue to drag us into the crisis, etc.). You can feel the tense uncertainty in the air, always ready to seep into any given conversation. It is easy to see that the mood of this country has soured: we are in need of a breath of fresh air, something to stir things up: hope.
The truth of the matter is that people are taking to the streets to be heard just as much, or more so than on May 15th (15-M) of 2011. Activists, however, protest in a more subtle manner, without large movements or mass demonstration. Most recently efforts have also been very fragmented. We are wading neck-high through dangerous waters that appear to be rising. Nonetheless, successful movements have emerged from these incipient fears, like those of teachers in the public education sector with their green tide movement, and the developing white tide movement of the healthcare industry.
And what about the rest of society? Are they sleeping? No, they just don’t know where to rise up and be heard. What once was the 15-M for all has now evolved into a sort of assembly movement – very valid, but not representative of the concerns of the great majority. It is a reactionary group doused with a hint of anarchist idealism- abolition of the state and, as an extension, of all authority, hierarchy or social controls that may impose on the individual. And despite its heterogeneousness, the movement has systematically identified itself with controversial actions – like ‘okupaciones’ or the taking over of abandoned and foreclosed upon houses by the homeless, along with other acts of civil disobedience. While such actions may have opened a necessary and interesting debate, they also have contributed to scaring away more moderate citizens – the majority that took to the streets during the ‘Spanish Spring’ of 2011. The movement of the 99% lacked structure in regards to solid coordination, a clear platform, and influencers capable of generating empathy with the public. Moreover, it suffered from a paradoxical excess of horizontality that allowed the assemblies to be ‘taken over’ by those who had more time to dedicate themselves to the initiative, a minority. Today the movement is unquestionably a social activator that has, nevertheless, stepped away from the megaphone and moved to a more personal protesting technique. It’s failed in not being able to present a good alternative in which people can channel their concerns, and so, despite the potential backing of a force as powerful the 90% this majority has returned to a state of passiveness. Nothing could be more worrisome.
THE ‘SPANISH REVOLUTION’: GENETICALLY INCOHERENT
Why did the 15-M movement fail? The reasons are many, and it is not my intention to enter into this debate right now, however, there is one factor that I consider necessary to mention as it relates to future alternatives. It’s a point of clarity for me – not anything new – but I have been mulling it around over the past few days: the 15-M movement was condemned to death from the beginning (at least in the way in which we knew it and that we long for today) because it was born with an anomaly. Its greatest strength and at the same time its Achilles’ heel: they felt the need to include everybody.
15-M, the 99%, the group of “all for one” was the miracle that paved the way and took our SpanishRevolution far, very far, but still in the end it died out. Why? Ah, because it is so easy to unite people who are very – VERY – different to fight against what they do not like, but it is incredibly difficult for the very same people to agree on something and work together. It really doesn’t matter what it is. They wouldn’t have even been able to decide on which ingredients to put on a pizza. To try to get an anarchist, a communist, a liberal or a social democrat to come to a consensus over a subject of such great complexity like that of what type of government model to propose is simply craziness. And it’s more than that. It implies the silencing of debate, or an obligation to stay within the safe limits of superficiality as to not spark suspicions or create dissidence. Even more impossible were the aspirations to address all topics regardless of lacking input from experts. This unfortunately translated into an argumentative weakness plagued by generalities and idealism. It did not take long for the backlash from the media to hit (“How naïve can these people be!”).
And this is where I contradict myself. In the first part of the article I insist on bring together fragments to dissolve the frustration of those “without a team.” But now, all of a sudden, I find myself on the other side: betting on the fragmentation of ideologies. Really, I think both extremes are compatible, but separately. Let me explain.
From my point of view, the key is to come together as a team when it relates to going against the system and leave the process of proposing alternative solutions up to the creative liberty of different groups divided by ideology and special interest (yes, 15-M is already one of them! But it’s not ‘all’ of them).
In other words: 15-M, as it is known today- a citizens’ forum from which have emerged both problems and solutions, is simply incoherent. That being said, we urgently need a platform or a similar alternative, one that is both legal and has strong economic resources. It must be capable of taking on the tasks that 15-M initially proposed: channeling citizen indignation. Unfortunately, today for many people this means resorting to political discussion over a beer, bounding from one bar to the next. What we need is a platform that has a very similar role to that of Real Democracy Now (RDN) or ‘Democracia Real Ya’ (DRY)- the organization that inspired 15-M, but has ultimately, despite having a different structure, ended up being confused with it, or least with the original movement.
‘REAL DEMOCRACY NOW!’: JUST ABOUT
Going back in time: In May of 2011 in Madrid’s central plaza, Puerta de Sol, and throughout popular social media sites, RDN’s priority was to spread its ‘manifest’, to which millions of people ended up subscribing to and reading. Their success stemmed from employing generalizations: it was impossible to not agree with what they were proposing. Minimum consensus + excitement. Sucess was a sure thing. When did they run into their first problems? It’s not difficult to guess. With their first proposal! A wide variety of solutions and ideas began to emerge from the take the square sit-ins in Sol, like unruly mushrooms, but this quickly created dissidence within the movement (“I’m in agreement with the manifest, BUT not with this”). ‘Real Democracy Now!’ reacted to this. They began to separate themselves from public opinion (“They are very utopic!” “They are ultra-left”). With both a quick and well-planned repositioning, they managed to keep their manifest and disassociate themselves from the proposals suggested in the sit-ins, many of which, they supported but, as their spokespeople clearly reiterated “we are not an ‘us’”. These brilliant first decisions made by RDN, although it seems incomprehensible, did not help them. Despite being the ‘mother’ platform of the SpanishRevolution (the one platform that excited us all) their fate was sealed with the rest of the sit-ins groups (those that we call the ‘15-M’ movement) and effectively took on a horizontal structure. In practice, externally this has led to their public image being tarnished as a result of the more controversial tactics used by some of the action groups of 15-M (like the taking over of abandoned houses). Internally, RDN has become slow and uncooperative, diminished by disagreements relating to sensitivities and structural factors. These are issues decided upon for the large part by the same figures participating in the assemblies and 15-M groups, supposedly at one point was almost the coordinating channel of the SpanishRevolution and for citizens who, indeed, wanted to rise up.
THE FUTURE: TOGETHER, BUT NOT FOR FOREVER.
I’ve left the most difficult part for last: the so-called future proposals (just criticizing is too easy). Now that I’ve gotten my ideas down, and we are nearing the end I would like to reiterate my key points.
Spain is frustrated. Do not have any doubt about that. But as Spaniards, we do have a known tendency of being cynics (an accusatory anti-patriotism that leads us to continuously self-sabotage our accomplishments – the SpanishRevolution was not going to be an exception). We don´t know where or with whom to rise up because we don’t believe in anybody. This is where our misunderstood passiveness comes in: it is so much easier to look out for yourself and save your own ass, vulgarly stated and simply put, it’s a waste of energy getting involved in something that yields no return.
Spain needs to get itself excited. We need to, and I know that many will not be in agreement with me on this, put faces to the movement and personalize it, if you will. I don’t like to talk too much about leaders (and it doesn’t necessarily have to be like that), but we need to create empathy. And there is nothing that will more easily revive belief than seeing someone else who does in fact believe. Optimism and faith are just as contagious as pessimism. Sometimes we forget that. The 15-M movement began with a few people who were just crazy enough to believe. After that we all did.
We need a platform built on a very general message that can serve as a rallying point, and that also steers clear from any one ideology. It must bring together the overwhelming general frustration of society and adequately channel it in order to put pressure on the system. It has to plant a seed for a strong citizen lobby. And in order to do this, as sad as it may be to admit, we are lacking the necessary funding to reach all of our social stakeholders- the many that are not attainable via Facebook or Twitter. We need a solid strategy and a clear message without any holes just as much. Personally, I would like this platform to be ‘Real Democracy Now!’ the ‘mother’ of the dream that began on the 15th of May that has slipped away from our hands all too soon. If it is not, I only hope that whoever it is will have the strength to take that necessary next step.
We need commitment, however we cannot pretend to hold appease everyone in this complicated phase: the phase of solutions. But maybe that isn’t necessary. Why inhibit creativity? I say, all groups should be encouraged to propose their own battle across personalized protesting forums (15-M, the white tide, the green, etc.). It’s about generating social debate, about sparking the interest of as many minds as possible. All ideas are legitimate and nobody has the right to say otherwise.
And above all else, we need to take off the blindfold- to wake ourselves up again and challenge ourselves to take an important step backwards so that we can then powerfully sprint onwards. If not, the dream that began on the 15th of May will die, suffering from the very illness that is slowly, but surely, killing the current ‘system’; one that has been criticized for a very long time. I can’t imagine a more depressing metaphor. It is now in our hands to make sure that doesn’t come true.