The question bounces back and forth, “Where is the 15-M [15th of May] movement?” Has it died as the media tells us? The same media that only grants existence to what is spectacular and massive, newsworthy. Has it retreated to its winter quarters, waiting for better times (and warmer temperatures) to reoccupy its natural place: the streets and plazas? Has it retreated to the neighborhoods, out of sight of the media spotlight and volatile “public opinion,” yet working like ants to build a durable base for social change?
The International Outreach Committee of the Puerta del Sol, which played an important role in the preparation of October 15, is not satisfied with any of the answers, so it has declared itself on strike(!): an invitation to stop production (activists also produce: activism) and to think through what they see is a crisis of the organizational structure of the 15-M. Their statement calls attention to three particular problems: the very low level of participation in meetings and committees at present, dispersion and internal division, and bureaucratization of actions (automatisms, lack of imagination).
like the gesture: it dares to interrumpt and I think that without discontinuity there is no creation, only inertia and repetition. I have no solution to offer on how things might work differently. But I will try to contribute something (somewhat general and abstract) to the problems raised by the International Committee, in case reading them in another way helps to widen the field where we can find concrete answers.
Life and Politics
Where have all the people who populated the plazas and assemblies in the spring gone? Have they become disillusioned by the 15-M, are they incapable of making a lasting commitment, are they now resigned to their fate? I don’t think so. Without any study at hand, simply generalizing from the cases I know personally and observing myself, I think in general people have returned to making their lives.
The weeks of camping in the Puerta del Sol were an exceptional time, but it is very difficult to live in an exception. Or only people outside of the normal can do it: for example, activists, those who put politics at the center of their existence. But if it is only (old or new) activists that remain in an assembly or a committee, we have a problem, because their ways of doing ususally only convene and welcome other activists. And without belittling its role far, it seems very clear that the strength of 15-M – and some of its most precious inventions – didn’t come from activism (at first you could hear many life-long militants confess, with more or less joy, “we are completely out of place”), but rather from people without previous political experience and everyday people. The professionalization of politics (and of activism) empties common spaces. The same thing happens when a committee or an assembly becomes a group of friends: as much comfort and wellbeing as it offers, the self-referentiality of the codes and rituals expels everything that is different. We still have a friendly gang, but no political space.
Life today, with its instability and precarity, forces us to constantly make and remake everything. There are few things that we can consider as given: work for life, home for life, friends for life, family for life, love for life, commitments and convictions for life, etc. In fact, today we do not suffer so much from a life that is premade, but from not being able to make a life. Contemporary evils have much to do with uncertainty, insecurity, dispersion, loss of meaning, and so on. We are engaging in a balancing act all the time and the balls we juggle are always about to fall. If it requires an exhaustive effort just to maintain affective relationships or the meaning of a small project, how can we make time to participate in meetings and committees as well?
The problem is not activists or groups of friends. The problem is the difficulty we have in inventing ways of doing politics that meet people where they are and not vice versa. A politics for the 99%, not only for activists. The personal becomes separated from the collective when we are not able to invent links between lifestyles and ways of fighting. Then the political becomes empty and dies.
But “return to making their lives” is a bad expression. Because after being in the plaza, you are not the same, nor do you go back to the same life. Paradoxically, we return to a new life: touched, traversed, affected by the 15-M. What did each person do with that involvement? If to create is to make sense, shape or form an existential change so that it is not lost or become too volatile, what has each of us done with what 15-M made us? I think there is an exciting investigation to be undertaken. What did we learn, what have we found and how have we have incorporated it into everyday life? What did we take from the 15-M and how might we give something back? There are ongoing projects such as Robo, 15M.cc and Bookcamping, in which people involved in music, film and publishing are rethinking their daily work from the perspective of 15-M and trying to contribute something back to the common. There were also (whether or not they make a living as such) teachers, nurses, social workers, psychologists, computer, students, journalists in the plazas. In what sense have their perspectives, practices and ways of being in the world been altered after the encounter with the 15-M? These micro changes are undoubtedly the basis for the next wave.
A new climate
In the debate generated by the International Outreach Committee, the discussion has focused mostly on the situation of 15-M’s organizational fabric: the committees, assemblies, opportunities for coordination. What I would like to add is that the 15-M is not only an organizational structure, but above all a new social climate.
Together we have questioned that terrible weight of the official reality that says: there is what there is. And so we could breathe. The macro situation remains the same, but now we see it from another place. It’s all horrible, but at the same time we have proven ourselves capable of producing another reality. And that automatically generates joy, a new emotional climate. The official reality is the map of what is authorized as possible: what it is possible to see, think, feel and do. We have opened up the map. Now you can see, think, feel and do other things. The party system is no longer a taboo. We conspire to interfere in the elections, even though we do not agree on how to do it, because it is common knowledge that they are frauds. The identification between democracy and capitalism is no longer so clear. The previously invisible reality of evictions is now in everyone’s sight. You can think and do politics without being affiliated to a party or even being a member of a social movement. We use the Internet everyday to collectively construct another point of view on current affairs. We have learned that the unknown other is not only an enemy or an indifferent object, but can also be an accomplice. We have found ourselves to be capable of doing things we had never suspected. Now there is another map of the possible, another climate.
The fact that fewer people are involved in the organizational fabric of 15-M does not mean that fewer people feel concern about the hope that the 15-M constitutes. It was shown clearly on October 15 or, in a very different scale, at the recent Indignant Parade. 15-M is not only the name of an organizational structure or a social movement that is a little larger than the others, but it is also another state of mind. That is not located here or there, but throughout all of society like the wind.
We more or less knew how to organize a social movement, but how do you organize a climate? We have only recently begun to think about this, I offer just a few notes.
Some proposals fare better in the new climate than others. The are many different reasons, for sure. Among them is the proposal (in the way in which it is constructed and what it proposes) being in tune with the strongest trends of the 15-M climate: horizontality (neither avant-garde nor leading roles), inclusiveness (we direct ourselves to the 99% not a ghetto), respect (coexistence among differences), nonviolence (a mixture of conflict and legitimacy), collective intelligence, creativity and the ability to surprise, “we do not want to be goods in the hands of politicians and bankers,” etc.. To be in tune with the climate is a matter of listening and sensitivity.
15-M has much to do with the joy of being together in a competitive society of “each man for himself.” That joy was palpable in the plazas, on October 15 and in the Indignant Parade. But we can only be together, sharing space and time, in exceptional times. How are we together when we’re not together? How do we find each other and feel accompanied without seeing each other face to face? Thinking about the (self)organization of the climate also involves thinking about links, connections, interfaces, communication. The common circulates through and is also constructed by images, stories and tools. There are more commons the more open, honest and understandable they are. Open, in the double sense that they give things to think about (rather than trying to convince) and are able to be reappropriated (they can be replicated, modified, adapted, altered freely: not property). Honest, because they don’t hide their doubts, discouragements, contradictions and chiaroscuro that are part of life. Understandable, that is, direct and transparent but not banal, demanding but not closed, restricted or reserved for experts in such jargon or knowledge, but aimed at everyone.
There are many examples within and outside the organizational fabric of 15-M, but I have a hand in the minutes of the meeting, which decided the International Outreach committee’s strike. It is a joy of text. Open: it shows all the arguments, for and against, that were given in that meeting. Honest: it does not hide the tensions and disagreements that were present (and beautifully reflects the background noise of that meeting in the metro: the random mixing of people and situations with the passing of the assembly). Understandable: it is a discussion where deep issues come into play in a common language that is accessible to all. And it’s a very fun retelling. It allows you to live what others lived without having lived it, to be together without physically being together. It widens the common and shared.
Where, then, is 15-M? You do not have to be hyper-sensitive to feel that the climate is charged with electricity. 15-M is not dead or in retreat. We are on the prowl. Everyone from their own place, not waiting passively, but actively on the prowl.
The reflux of the first wave, rejected by the resistance of the invested objects, will provide the matter for the next wave when, at the right moment, the tide turns.