After what seems to like an eternity (in all the good and bad ways), the encampment in the Puerta de Sol has finally been taken up. The reasons were simple and many, the debate and the decision were not (one of the reasons that the encampment needed to go).
The primary reason (or at least one of them) was that the encampment was not sustainable, either logistically or politically, most of the movement’s energy in Madrid was trapped in the plaza – either in its day to day maintenance (which can be great when it is part of a collective political experience, but less so when it loses that element), defending the encampment to the media, local politicians and businesses, or debating the encampment’s future. And debating. Not just in the encampment’s General Assembly, but in the assemblies of all the committees and working groups and in the neighborhood assemblies. And on twitter and facebook, and over every beer. Not once did I hear anyone argue that the encampment should continue indefinitely, the debates were about how and when to pack up. There were many moments when it seemed we had reached consensus, and then one or two people (out of thousands) would block the proposal. Changes were slowly made to change the decision-making process (of course changes also required full approval of the General Assembly) and finally we arrived at consensus to “restructure” the encampment, a time table and eventually what “re-structuring” would mean (this happened over several consecutive nights).
The problem, of course, was not with the excessively long assemblies – other than privileging people with the time to participate in them (but since most people in Madrid seem to spend the 9pm-2am period just drinking beer, even if they have to work the next day, that didn’t seem to be too much of a prohibiter) – the problem was the confusion of democracy with centralization of consensus with unanimity. Everyone, not only everyone in the encampment but everyone who might possibly one day support the movement, must completely agree with everything. All decisions had to be approved by this everyone in the General Assembly, leaving no room for working groups to make autonomous decisions and allowing for a very few people to control discussion/decisions in the Assembly. At first the Assembly did work as a space for collective discussion (especially in those days when we were all so surprised to find that there were so many other people that had enough in common with us to occupy the plaza with us).
None of this is to negate any of the good elements of the encampment and its really important presence in Madrid over the past weeks. If nothing more, it has helped us to see our own power, and for them to fear it. The collective feeling of “holy shit, we are actually doing this” of the first nights in the plaza is one that will stay with us forever. Nor does taking up the encampment in any way represent a defeat or a setback for the movement. In fact, it appears to be growing stronger by the day. In Barcelona at the moment, protesters are camped in front of the Parliament Building, in Madrid there are calls for direct actions to stop evictions over the last week, there is a call for another nationwide protest on Sunday, and many more actions in neighborhoods, towns and cities across the country.