Big day out in Spain yesterday, with massive protests in over 50 cities and towns. You can see a few photos here. Below, a massive banner getting unfurled in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol that captures a truth rarely expressed in Ireland:
Translated it reads: ‘They are not bailouts, they are extortion. We will not pay for your crisis.’ It then goes on to read ‘Walk without fear towards the yellow’. I’ve no idea what the latter means, but yellow is the principal colour -along with black- of the campaign.
The campaign name will be somewhat familiar to keen observers of Irish politics. ¡Democracia Real YA! translates as Real Democracy NOW! But whilst Ireland’s Viagra-by-newsprint ‘Democracy Now’ initiative was to involve a crack team of gentleman parliamentarians, newspaper columnists and gadfly economists standing for election and clubbing together to point a giant accusatory finger at traditional political parties, ¡Democracia Real YA! has relied on popular mobilisation via social networks, and if yesterday’s demonstrations were anything to go by, it has got off to a great start. As well as There are twitter hashtags -#democracyrealya #spanishrevolution, the latter I suppose is a bit premature. Its Facebook page contains a list of nearly 150 suggested rhyming chants for the demonstrations, which sure beats ‘They say cutbacks – we say fight back!’ and eh, you know, the other ones. Campaigners have now set up camp in La Puerta del Sol, among many other places, a la Tahrir Square (#acampadasol).
Below, from yesterday in the day, you can see protesters singing ‘Less Police, More Education!’ and ‘Go away! before the riot police withdraw.
There are reports of police brutality and photos of agents provocateurs, which I will post when I get the time.
The post-crisis ‘civil society’ initiatives -whilst differing in scope and interests- have all prized unity over division. We The Citizens will Claim Our Future. Their wonkish touchy-feeliness have merely underwritten the dominant prescription -from government and industry- that ‘we are all in this together’. The possibility of some sort of confrontation is excluded ex ante.
By confrontation I’m not talking about chucking paving slabs at cops, but the basic recognition that in so far as you have some sort of popular movement, there have to be categories of people who are enemies of the people. This is something that the ¡Democracia Real YA! campaign appears to understand: ‘We (the people) will not pay for your (bankers’ and politicians’) crisis.’
Even in the campaigns organised by other Irish groupings with a more pronounced political identity – I’m thinking here of the Enough! Campaign by SWP/PBP, the Communist Party of Ireland’s Repudiate the Debt, there is a narrowing of focus to a specific feature of the crisis -the bank bailout and the debt accumulated- rather than an explicit calling into a question of either the political or the economic system that produced the crisis (the Enough! campaign seems to draw inspiration from the revolt in Egypt, but its call for a referendum is modest indeed). The right-wing economistic millenarianism of mainstream news outlets seems to loom large as a limiting influence here. Of all the campaigns conducted in these parts so far, I think the 1% Network has been the most effective, given the limited resources involved, in delivering a sharply illustrative message about just whose crisis it is, and to whom it ought to fall to fix it. But on the whole, what is missing, almost entirely, is the expression of a guiding message about just how corrosive the crisis is, not only to material well-being, but to basic democratic principles.
As I’ve noted before, we hear day in day out about how Ireland’s ‘economic sovereignty’ has been lost, but -as far as I’m aware of anyway- there has been no effective translation of this rather state-oriented term into everyday language. It is not that ‘we’ have lost our economic sovereignty -not least since many people had precious little to begin with- but that what democratic mechanisms ordinary people have at their disposal are being rendered useless and obsolete at an alarming rate. What has been withdrawn is not ‘economic sovereignty’, but democracy.
Where the ¡Democracia Real YA! campaign seems to have succeeded, by contrast, is in its refusal to narrow the focus to one particular element of the crisis (reform of political parties and institutions, re-orientation of economic policy) and to introduce a particular political subject with material needs to be satisfied. Its introductory page reads:
We the unemployed, the badly paid, the subcontracted, the precarious, the young..we want a change and a decent future. We are sick of antisocial reforms, of being left on the dole, of banks that caused the crisis raising our mortages or repossessing our homes, of laws imposed on us that limit our freedom for the benefit of the powerful. We accuse those in political and economic power of our precarious situation and we demand a change of course.
Through this platform, we wish to help co-ordinate a global and common action through all those associations, groups and citizens’ movements which, through different ways, are attempting to contribute to a change in the present situation.
We call on everyone, as citizens, to go onto the streets on the 15th of May, at 18:00, under the slogan “Real Democracy NOW. We are not commodities in the hands of politicians and bankers. We encourage you to come along in a peaceful manner and without exclusive political symbols so that one single voice is listened to.
You can send a mail to firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up your own group, association, blog or platform to the call, or to collaborate in the publicity and organisation of the protest in your town.
We also invite you to add your signature to our manifesto (linked here in English).
Some people, and not without good reason, would be chary of the idea of demonstrations that leave out ‘exclusive’ (i.e. party political) political symbols. But I think ultimately the justification for such a move would depend on the scope of the manifesto. As it stands, the ¡Democracia Real YA! manifesto is a good deal more robust in this regard than anything I’ve seen materialise here. The English translation is a little clunky, so I’ve polished it up a bit here below.
- The priorities of any advanced society must be equality, progress, solidarity, freedom of culture, ecological sustainability and the development, welfare and happiness of each person.
- There are basic rights that ought to be attended to in these societies: the right to housing, employment, culture, health, education, political participation, free personal development, and the right to the consumption of the goods needed for a happy and healthy life.
- The present functioning of our government and economic system does not attend to these rights, and in many ways is an obstacle to human progress.
- Democracy belongs to the people (demos = people, krátos = government) which means that government must be by the people. However, in Spain most of the political class does not even listen to us. Politicians should be bringing our voice to the institutions, facilitating the political participation of citizens through direct channels that provide the greatest benefit to the wider society, not getting rich and prosper at our expense, attending only to the dictatorship of major economic powers and holding them in power through a bipartidism headed by the immovable acronym PP & PSOE.
- The lust for power, and its concentration in a few people, create inequality, tension and injustice, which leads to violence, which we reject. The reigning obsolete and unnatural economic model fuels the social machinery in a growing spiral that consumes itself by enriching a few and sending the rest into poverty. Until the collapse.
- The will and purpose of the current system is the accumulation of money, placing this above the efficiency and welfare of society. Wasting resources, destroying the planet, creating unemployment and unhappy consumers.
Citizens are the gears of a machine designed to enrich a minority which knows nothing of our needs. We are anonymous, but without us none of this would exist, because we move the world.
- If as a society we learn to not trust our future to an abstract economic profitability, which never returns benefits for the most, we can eliminate the abuses and the shortages that we are all suffering.
- We need an ethical revolution. We have placed money above human beings, and we must put it back in our service. We are people, not products. I cannot be reduced to what I buy, why I buy it, and from whom I buy it.
Because of all the above, I am outraged.
I believe I can change it.
I believe I can help.
I know that together we can do it.
Come out with us. It’s your right.
Now, I ain’t saying that this is the sort of thing that can be simply copied and pasted into an Irish context. But at the same time, I don’t believe there is anything in the manifesto above that I can hear too many people saying ‘this is all a load of oul’ shite’. In its scope and its vision, it attempts to forge a systemic critique in terms that anyone can understand. Definitely worth watching, and learning from.