“May the whores govern us…now that their children have failed us.” Anonymous graffiti, repeated at several social protests.
I promised this post to several friends who wanted me to speak about the Spanish demonstrations (*), now known as “Movimiento 15 M ”. Since I didn’t tell them how long it would take for me to write something, I took the necessary time to do several forgivable things, like persisting with my destructive habit of downing a few relaxing beers and watching a movie full of adrenaline producing special effects. Therefore I’m apologizing to them ahead of time for not dedicating every hour and neuron to the cultivation of the “lofty, profound and sublime.”
I also ask to be excused because surely my “music” will leave them unsatisfied, given the rhythm of my chords and the notes of the score that they’re expecting. I won’t sing them “La Marseillaise,” but I expect that they’ll assess that — out of the respect that I feel for them and for the demonstrators — this chronicle is written to fulfill two requirements: to for one week access the greatest and most numerous quantity of sources (from the El Pais newspaper and Kaosenlared website to personal blogs and the testimonies of two participating friends) and to express a personal view, incapable of becoming a canon of anything or for anyone.
I’ve seen how two forms of conservatism (that of the right and that of certain dogmatic “Marxists”) surprisingly agree in their self-interested misunderstanding/distortion of the 15 M phenomenon.
The “fachas” (fascists) have insisted on the anti-political character of the movement, on its terroristic slant and its incitement to disorder, which they believe justifies police intervention…while that the “Stalinists” insist that the clamor for participative democracy served the labor struggles of past centuries, while what is needed today is an organized and illuminated vanguard (which they will surely contribute to willingly).
Unfortunately for some, the Spanish plazas contain much more than “authentic” (or “potential”) terrorists or attackers ready to storm the Winter Palace… there is a diverse, responsible, creative and vibrant clamor to correct the deficiencies of representative democracy, from which they are attempting things that are at the same time different and better. Politics in itself is not being rejected; rather, the dominant political practices are being challenged.
The protesters are citizens who question the obscenities of the political class (be they called right or left) and they want to expand democracy beyond having parties, polls and elections, though without necessarily giving these things up. They are demanding spaces in the social economy, community coexistence and a non-commodified culture …without ceasing to defend a welfare state that protects its citizens without distinction on the basis of race, sex, age or immigration status.
It doesn’t exclude the existence — within the wide range of identities that have taken to the streets — of some exotic stances or infiltrated elements of all sorts, but I believe these are insufficient to qualify (or to pervert) a movement that combines such volatility, hope and energy.
These actions prove that there is a democracy (imperfect but truly existing) that draws together a group of values and ideals, a socio-historic process and a political regime with practical and institutionalized rules that allow for the genuine respect of rights, participation and people’s representation.
Similar contemporary democracies, constructed based on successive contributions of social struggles and institutional innovations, are the daughters of different epochs and contexts and guard a hearth within which are mixed liberal contributions (the group of rights such as the freedom of association, expression and the limitation of state interference), republican input (with an emphasis on civic formation and action, as well as participation) and socialist (the promotion of social policies, defense of equality as a condition for the quality of any democracy, and with the expansion of this latter to processes that go beyond politics).
These legacies intersect (and often confront) in a common democratic patrimony that today is defending and expanding into the streets of Spain. I don’t find those who are congregated in Madrid, Barcelona or Valencia to be calling for the “abandonment of democracy,” at least not in their very concrete contents, whose shortcomings and virtues are known and put to the test in the new agoras. They aren’t proposing a return to servitude; they only want to cease being consumers of the show/market of neoliberal policies so that they can become full citizens.
When analyzing 15 M, someone might repeat like Joaquin Sabina, “Pongamos que hablo de Madrid” (Let’s talk about Madrid). However, I believe that we can well subscribe to and raise the demands of the indignant Spanish protesters as part of our daily struggles in any part of the world.
(*) “It’s a social movement that arose in Spain on May 15, 2011, with the intention of promoting more participative democracy, moving away from the pragmatic bipartisanship of the PSOE-PP (Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party/People’s Party). It has drawn together housewives, immigrants and citizens in general under the slogans: “We are not marionettes in the hands of politicians and bankers,” “Real Democracy NOW!” “We are not merchandise in hands of politicians and bankers.” – Wikipedia (Spanish edition)