Reinvent Democracy

The challenge after May-15: reinvent democracy

The events of the last days have happened quickly, almost without time for us to take them in. The encampment and assemblies in the Puerta del Sol have allowed us to find each other, to talk and to imagine what so many bodies and minds are capable of when put together. When politics awakes, when it leaves the farce of the fossilized parliamentary system that is often called democracy, new horizons open up for discussion and goals that once seemed out of reach. Therefore, we propose some notes that can help us to understand, collectively, how much has been achieved and how much more we are capable of achieving.

1. The most widely heard chant was: “they call it democracy but it’s not.” Because democracy means government of all the people, the open and direct participation in public affairs. When democracy is identified with elections, a Constitution, the right to representation, it becomes nothing more than an empty institution. To say democracy is to refer to participation and the common discussion of public affairs, before referring to elections, laws and professional politicians. The first thing we notice about these days is that there is much more democracy taking place in the Puerta del Sol than in the electoral fights and statements of the major political parties. The institutional reform we propose, our revolution, so to speak, must not be limited to making the electoral system more proportionally representative, to introducing open and unblocked lists, or to increasing the penalties for corrupt politicians. Although all of the above could be included, our reform goes through the process of regaining the public power to direct participation, in open bodies with referendums, through mechanisms of democratic control of the commons and all sorts of new decision-making technologies.

2. There can be no democracy without freedom and equality. Democracy is a ridiculous hoax when limited to a consumer choice between two brands, which, although with different packaging, are basically the same product (PP-PSOE). It is even more pathetic and false when “democratic” institutions are only at the service of a few. The crisis has taught us that politics (and the party-dominated system) is at the service of the markets: that first it is necessary to ensure the profits of investors and only then (much later) to ensure the welfare of the population; it is more important to rescue major financial institutions than to maintain or extend social rights. The absence of equality and freedom is now clearly visible: in the exercise of a law that is not equal for all, in the use of debt to maintain a life that is increasingly impossible due to declining wages. Even here, in the encampment and demonstrations: how many undocumented immigrants can participate without fear of being arrested on the outskirts of the square? What freedom do you have when your life is chained to a mortgage, which by the grace of the Spanish legislation you will have to keep paying even after being evicted? This is already a statement of intent. Our demand could be as simple as: “We want equality and freedom so that there can be democracy,” “We want freedom and equality because without them there can be no democracy.” Meeting these demands does not only require prosecuting corruption, but also ensuring a minimum of equality and freedom. Freedom for migrants to move freely and not be under constant harassment. Freedom to declare bankruptcy (which is accepted as payment in kind) when you can’t pay your mortgage. It requires equality, an equality that can only be guaranteed through equal education for all, managed and decided by all (no more public money to private education), through equitable access to healthcare (not the health business), through the right to care when you are unable to care for yourself and others (childcare, health care, adequate pensions). Above all, equal conditions for a dignified life that can only be obtained through an equitable distribution of existing wealth, the radical control of speculative finance capital and the democratic control of public resources. So that nobody suffers the misery of unemployment or the insecurity and brutal exploitation of the labor market simply in order to live.

3. These three days have also taught us an important lesson: the legitimacy and consensus that gives professional respresentation (basically the political parties) the sole right to think and to participate in politics is as weak and fragile as a sandcastle before the rising tide. Tens of thousands of people in the street and a clear message (“we want democracy and this is not it”) is enough to cause, at first confusion, and then the hysterical reaction of politicians and media. Today, yesterday and probably tomorrow, the newspaper El Pais and some of the Prisa journalists tell us to think about the dangers of shouting “there is no democracy.” They throw us their arguments in defense of the current institutional setup and they threaten us with a choice little more than between “a parliamentary government or totalitarianism.” Undoubtedly, they, these champions of the great achievements of the Transition, forget the main thing: institutions and laws are worthless if they only serve to maintain privileges, and democracy is first of all the daily and direct act of participation. Financial actors, politicians and the media have been overrun by the fear that the king will finally be seen naked, that the great business of political representation is shown for what it is: a simple transaction in the hands of charlatans in the pay of large companies. The political parties, recently displaced (for the first time!) from the center of social and political protagonism, have reacted by trying to appropriate the new situation. Their positions oscillate between an incipient attack on the new right to a movement, in which they neither have nor ever will have any possibility becoming part of, and the institutional Left’s pathetic attempts to incorporate the movement into their electoral dynamics. Parameters, remember, that have completely failed, that have very little chance of achieving their objectives and are precisely what triggered the current mobilization. Faced with this disorientation of the institutional forces, the M-15 movement has already achieved a first victory: rather than endure another dull electoral campaign, full of shitty candidates and parties that don’t decide anything of any importance, the entire social and political spectrum is now forced to address and take positions on issues that had seemed closed to debate: “What is democracy? Who has social rights? Who owns the wealth we produce collectively? The path forward from May 22, after an election that will not change anything that matters, will be long. After the temporary settlement in Sol, we will have to put our intelligence and our imagination together once again to further open spaces where it is possible to do real politics, that is, a politics that is capable of producing significant changes in the reality we live.


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