Archive for May 19th, 2011

Where is the democracy?

As with many other cities around Europe, there is a protest planned for Dublin in solidarity with Democracia real YA! It takes place this Saturday at 2pm at the Spire on O’Connell Street.  I did not get much work done today as I was looking through all the events that are spontaneously materialising all over Europe. This is turning into a continental struggle to restore democracy to mean something other than an alibi given by oligarchs and plutocrats for their robbery and intimidation. I’ll be there on Saturday.

On the Facebook wall of DRY, I came across this video of José Saramago. Translation below.

Everything is argued over in this world. Apart from only one thing that is not argued over. Nobody argues about democracy. Democracy is there as if it was some sort of saint in the altar from whom miracles are no longer expected. But it’s there as a reference. A reference. Democracy. And no-one attends to the matter that the democracy in which we live is a democracy taken captive, conditioned, amputated. Because the power..the power of the citizen, the power of each one of us, is limited, in the political sphere, I repeat, in the political sphere, to remove a government that we do not like and replace it with another one that perhaps we might like in the future. Nothing else. But the big decisions are taken in a different sphere, and we all know which one that is. The big international financial organisations, the IMFs, the World Trade Organisations, the World Banks, the OECDs. All..not one of these entities is democratic. And so, how can we keep talking about democracy, if those who effectively govern the world are not chosen democratically by the people? Who choses the representatives of each country in those organisations? Your respective peoples? No. Where then is the democracy?

Ghost Manifesto

This is my rush translation of the ‘Ghost Manifesto’ prepared yesterday morning by citizens assembled in Sol in Madrid. Any moments of unwieldiness or incongruousness are my own. I am not sure if ‘Ghost’, rather than ‘Phantom’ or ‘Spectre’ is the most appropriate term. I would also point out that this name does not appear in the document itself, but only in the description of the document that appears in Público. Translation loss aside, I think it is a marvelous document.I was near punching the air when I was translating it.

For those not familiar with contemporary continental philosophy, the phrase ‘THIS IS AN EVENT’ may seem incongruous. In the original, it is ‘ESTO ES UN ACONTECIMIENTO’. Alain Badiou’s L’être et l’événement (Being and Event) is translated into Spanish as El ser y el acontecimiento. I am sufficiently familiar with Badiou’s work to pick out this reference. I am not sufficiently familiar with such matters to say, however, if I have successfully picked out all such references.

Items of agreement for the plural manifesto prepared during the morning of the 18th of May in Puerta del Sol.

Those assembled in Puerta del Sol, aware that this is an action in progress and of resistance, have agreed to declare the following:

  1. After many years of apathy, a group of citizens of different ages and social backgrounds (students, teachers, librarians, unemployed, workers…) ENRAGED with their lack of representation and with the betrayals that are being conducted in the name of democracy, have met at Puerta del Sol with regard to the idea of Real Democracy.
  2. Real Democracy is opposed to the gradual discrediting of institutions that claim to represent them, which have become mere agents of administration and management, in the service of the forces of international financial power.
  3. The democracy that is promoted from corrupt bureaucratic apparatuses is simply a collection of sterile electoral exercises, in which the participation of citizens has no effect.
  4. The discrediting of politics has brought with it the capture of words by those who cling on to power. We must recover words, restore their meaning so that language cannot be manipulated with the end of leaving the citizenry indefenceless and incapable of cohesive action.
  5. But the examples of manipulation and the capture of language are numerous and constitute a tool of control and disinformation.
  6. Real Democracy means putting proper names to the infamy we are living through: International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank, NATO, European Union, ratings agencies such as Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s, Partido Popular, PSOE, but there are many others and our obligation is to name them.
  7. It is necessary to build a political discourse capable of rebuilding the social fabric, systematically rendered vulnerable through years of lies and corruption. We citizens have lost respect for the majoritarian political parties, but this is not the same as losing our critical faculties. On the contrary, we do not fear POLITICS. To stand up and speak is POLITICS. To seek alternatives of citizen participation is POLITICS.
  8. One of our principal premises is a Reform of the Electoral Law that restores Democracy its true meaning: a government of citizens. A participative democracy.
  9. We insist that we citizens united here make up a TRANSGENERATIONAL movement because we belong to various generations condemned to an intolerable loss of participation in the political decisions that shape their daily lives and their future.
  10. We do not call for abstention, we demand the necessity that our vote has a real influence in our lives.
  11. We are not here today to simply demand access to mortgages or because of insufficiencies in the labour market. THIS IS AN EVENT. And as such, a moment capable of giving new meanings to our actions and our speeches. This is born out of RAGE. But our RAGE is imagination, strength, citizen power.

Mystery Tour

Here’s a video of that Radical Rosary Mystery Tour I posted about the other day.

All About My Mother-In-Law

A few more thoughts on ¡Democracia Real YA! while I have a bit of time. Yesterday Madrid’s electoral commission, in a bout of authoritarian panic, prohibited a demonstration planned for 20:00h in the Puerta del Sol, claiming that it could interfere with the right of citizens to exercise their vote. Via Público, here is the result:

This is big. I was on the phone to my mother-in-law last night. I have written about her political views before. She thinks I am an airhead idealist. I asked her, half-joking, if she was planning on going down to the square to camp out. She said that if she didn’t have to work, she would go. She said she was completely supportive of what the demonstrators were doing, as was everyone in her street. It was not just young people, she said, although she recognised that it was they who had started things. Now it was pensioners, housewives, who were all beginning to lend their support. She then said that what they were doing in Spain was the same as what the Egyptians and the Tunisians before them had been doing in their countries. That to me was the amazing bit. You see, there has been an anxious attempt, on the part of the political class in Spain, as in Ireland too, if you recall Enda Kenny’s remarks post-election about there being no need to take to the streets, to point at Egypt and Tunisia and say things like “See? These people are willing to risk their lives for the freedoms you already enjoy. Here we have the ballot box; there is no need to go out onto the street.” And yet now you have people like my mother-in-law -who have developed quite an anti-political cynicism during the years of PP-PSOE neo-liberal rule- who not only reject this idea, and recognise that democracy is about more than just pulling a lever every four years to choose between two parties packed with professional politicians beholden to the interests of speculators, but who consciously identify with the Egyptian and Tunisian people in so doing. I was taken aback by the excitement in her voice last night when she was telling me this.

The genius, and I don’t use the word lightly, of the ¡Democracia Real YA! campaign, has been to seize upon the deep cynicism and disenchantment fostered toward government over the past twenty years in Spain, and incorporate it in a direct challenge to both the political and the economic system. Anti-political attitudes are habitually used by the dominant class as a bulwark against political activity, distracting attention from the gradual concentration of control over the economy in private hands and fostering a sense of helplessness in the population. (One name for this, in Ireland, is Liveline.) But Democracia Real YA! treats the question of material well-being and control over one’s destiny as essential elements of democracy. In Western democracies, progressive and left-leaning groups seem to have been kept in line, maybe because they actually identify with it, by the incessant right-wing drum beat about ‘freedom’ that has been part of the soundtrack to people’s lives for at least the last 30 years. But DRY is now making it plain, for millions, that when laws in supposed democracies are imposed for the benefit of the powerful, freedom is restricted, and democracy is traduced.

Like I said, this is big. It has been very easy for elites in Western countries to represent the populations of places like Egypt and Tunisia, even when they have overthrown dictators, as needing to remain under the tutelary wing of their Western technocratic masters, and as essentially travelling the same end-of-history path mapped out for Western states. Not so easy when it comes to Spain, which has once already functioned as a symbol of global struggle, and as the site where, as Hobsbawm puts it in Age of Extremes, what got played out were “the fundamental political issues of the time: on the one side, democracy and social revolution, Spain being the only country in Europe where it was ready to erupt; on the other, a uniquely uncompromising camp of counter-revolution or reaction”. There are a lot of young people in Spain who believe that the story of democracy in Spain, of ‘the transition told to our parents’, as the title of a recent book has it, presents a fraudulent account of what democracy is supposed to be, and masks the reality of a country still dominated, to an intolerable degree, by rigidly authoritarian and reactionary conservative elites. Unlike their Irish counterparts, there is no question of them going anywhere, and if an EU-IMF ‘bailout’ comes, it could very well be in Spain, once again, where the spark to all-out confrontation is lit. Assuming, that is, that this confrontation has not already begun.

I on Twitter

May 2011