Archive for May 20th, 2011

“I don’t want a new iPad, I want a new life”

This is a translation of a truly remarkable, extraordinary piece by Guillermo Kaejane, not just in terms of the ideas it expresses but as a historical document. It was originally published on the madrilonia site. I regret not being able to do it full justice. There are probably a few errors in it.

The tagline on this site, by the way, reads ‘because you even have to pay to breathe’.

Seven key words on the Madrid-Sol experience and 15-M.

“I don’t want a new iPad, I want a new life”

– graffiti during the mobilisation of the 15th of May.

1. Time

Time accelerates. The senses are shaken. Fear paralyzes the senses, vertigo sends them haywire. The permanent camp in puerta del Sol is pure vertigo. The hours pass quickly between one concentration and the next, but then time stretches. The nights are loooooong. Time contracts and expands, moved by a tide of people (mainly, though not exclusively, young people). It seems we have been there for years, and not even three days have passed.

Revolts are real when they change space-time.

The space-time created in the last days has a sole obsession: continuity. Paradoxically, this is only possible through interruptions. Through a physical “entrance and exit” from Sol. Keep the experience going even though you are not present. This is why the camp in Sol-Madrid (and so many others) can’t be understood without social networks. The continuity of the experience is achieved through deterritorializing it. I am in Sol even though I am at home. I am in Sol because I keep talking about it, because I can’t concentrate at work, because it doesn’t leave my head. And as soon as I can, I head off there again. I run there, I insert myself again in this new “social connector” and by this others can go and rest.

The classical conception of social revolts sets forth a scenario that ties together the gathering of forces, and continuity. If we keep at this longer, we will be more. If we keep at this longer, the tyrants will fall. This mystification is drawn from a simplification of what has gone on in Egypt and other Arab countries. Places from which we have not had any news of even the end of a process, nor of its seed, nor of its years of visibility and invisibility, its failed experiments, its one way streets and its setbacks.

What is happening these days is not final, it is not the decisive moment, it is the point of departure.

2. Communication

Communication is the form of political organisation. People become the medium of communication. Social networks are not so much the medium, as the expressive and organisational territory. Common sense is knit by way of flux and meme. From the logic of shared trust of Facebook one moves to the logic of direct experience of Twitter.

The slogan circulates and multiplies. With no official versions, rumour takes off. The traditional communications media find themselves in a Dadaist cacophony that brooks no interpretation. They cling on to what they can, they project their own conceptions.

The auto-narration of the process does not pass through (for the moment) live streaming, but the need to tell one another, to narrate what has been lived, the anecdote, the “I was there” intensifies.

The obsession of the communications media of retransmitting the demonstrations from their “interior”, as though they were “one more” points to an obsession with the loss of their centrality. The experts and analysts reveal themselves as incapable of thinking with their own head and return (to both left and right) a singular voice. The sensation for the spectator brought into the experience is the same as that of those fans of Lost who turned up to attempts at debates on Cuatro (Spanish TV channel – HG) to explain the end of the series: a mixture of stupor, embarrassment and clowning.

3. Powers

In these times an enormous expressive capacity is unfolding in which any person gathered in a group believes to be the representation of the whole. The sensation of empowerment is such, that one ends up believing that what each one does is represent everyone else. It is a reasonable logic, and difficult to get out of one’s head, but it has to be de-activated. The power of the movement comes from its unrepresentability. They do not represent us..because they cannot represent us.

As with any disperse network, there are a multitude of centres that are not “the centre”, but stations of sign repetition, of proposals and directions. Creativity is foremost. The hegemony of whoever holds sway (Democracia Real Ya? The assemblies in the squares? The commissions in those assemblies? Twitter? Me and my mates?) is totally changeable.

The assemblies are not spaces of production of a direction, but rather of a collective catharsis. Of an enormous desire to talk and talk and talk. Memorized registers are mixed together “The people united will never be defeated” with new forms of expression “Error 404 System Failure” “Downloading democracy” “This is not a crisis it’s a swindle”

In the institutional field madness reigns. In 72 hours we have seen the political class in its entirety move from “this is not happening” to “this is not important” to “this is dangerous” and in the last hours to “We are you!”. Once again, grotesque. The impossibility of fitting the mobilization into a clear “left-right” frame that has maintained social consensus since the transition begins to reveal a new logic of conflict: “Above and Below”.

Unable to control what is happening, the control mechanism over the movement is a simple question, a constant question: What do you propose?

4. Proposals

The demand for proposals is a control mechanism. A way of filling up the vacuum of the unrepresentable. A mechanism that is not the preserve of the media and the political class, but also of some expressions of the movement. Getting an answer enables putting the rebels in a place. It enables one to say “ah, they’re utopian” “ah they’re populists”, “uff, they’re leftists”, “ah, what they want is impossible”, “Oh how naïve”, “Bah, they aren’t radical”, “Ooh, they have some reasonable things”.

What is imposed, however, is silence. Or something very similar to silence, which is a cacophony of contradictory signals.

However much anguish it might generate, maybe a good point of departure would be to say “Contrary to those of you who fake knowing everything, we don’t know yet”. The person who urges haste wants to get somewhere soon. This is not the case.

In the squares, the very discussion is more important than its conclusion. The responsibility is to defend and extend that. To continue discussion. To continue speaking. To trust in the same common sense that has brought thousands of people to resist in the streets for days. Until know, it hasn’t gone too bad for us.

5. Democracia-Real-Ya:

This logo, this slogan that cuts through the whole mobilisation is one of its constituent parts and from this, the media and the political class have decided not to give it much thought. But it is quite easy: “Democracy”, not any old democracy, but a real one. The real is opposed to the simulated. This means that the logo (or one of the logos) under which the movement is built says that what institutional power calls democracy is a lie. And it demands the construction of something else that breaks this simulacrum. But on top of that, it does not set it forth in utopian or far off terms. We want it now. “Now” means urgency, “now” means nerve, “now” means we have to be able to touch it, that it has to cut through our live, that it is not babble, but construction. That it does not exist, and, as such, it has to be made.

6. And so, tomorrow?

It is very difficult to think about tomorrow when you are so taken up by the events of today. It is even more difficult when the rhetoric of the political class has always sustained itself on what happens tomorrow. In the movement tomorrow is unthinkable at the moment. Only the now exists.

For institutional power, the elections of next Sunday 22nd May are a moment of relegitimation. A moment of restitution of governmentality. A moment for putting one’s foot up on the desk and get back to drawing up the map of the possible.

The elections have functioned for the moment as a sketchy element and, perhaps, a unifying one at a symbolic level. But in the camps, in the meetings, etc, the words heard most are “connect”, “extend” and “build”.

On the 23rd of May one will begin to resolve this question mark, as a painted slogan read on the day of the demonstration.

“I don’t want a new iPad, I want a new life”

PS – Point 7: Joy, joy, joy.

Anti-system?

A word that crops up constantly in Spanish political media discourse is ‘antisistemas’. It is a curious word, with no satisfactory translation into English. Literally it means ‘anti-system’, and is applied, usually with paternalistic disdain, to people who stand in opposition to the actual economic or political system.

The performance usually shapes up thus: the person accused of being ‘anti-sistemas’ has a chronic problem with the present order of things and lacks sufficient maturity to understand that the way things are is the product of sagacious compromise and moral righteousness. Yes there are problems with the present system, but these must be pursued through patient reform and strenuous endeavour, not pathological oppositionalism.

Whereas on the other hand, the person conducting the accusation is a wily and experienced observer of the world, a connoisseur of tragic inevitability, harsh reality, and the virtues and possibilities of persisting with things the way they are.

The meaning of the word, then, is inseparable from the socio-political context in which it is deployed. It is a loaded term, designed to draw a line of separation between the wise goats and the clueless sheep. It is not indicative of anything especially Spanish, but is simply a tool used by the dominant class in Spain, and those who wish to identify with them, of driving home tried and tested hegemonic ideas that are fairly universal in character: there is no alternative, we are where we are, and so on and so forth.

Naturally enough then, the protesters occupying public squares all over Spain -and elsewhere- are accused of being ‘anti-sistemas’ in media. The accusation in and of itself has an important function: it deflects focus away from the nature of the system against which these protesters are actually protesting, and instead focuses the mind onto the potential psychological motivations of the protesters.  The frame used by mainstream media institutions is simply incapable of treating these people at the level of these people’s perceptions of what the system is doing. This is one of the reasons why in Spain there was very little media coverage while the initial protest on Sunday was underway, but it is also one of the reasons why there has been very little international media coverage either. What receives attention instead, in the Irish Times at least, is Lars Von Trier calling himself a Nazi. And in RTE, the morning news bulletin reports on the protests, but not in terms of democratic action, but in terms of the potential risk to investors of a Spanish default.

What name does a media apparatus that thinks of itself as an organ of democracy apply to protesters who are saying that the existing system is fake democracy? Pro-democracy supporters? Real democracy supporters? That would be ok for places like Egypt or Tunisia or China or Thailand, where it is accepted from the outset that what there is is not democracy. But in Spain?

Público reports that the Central Electoral Commission in Spain has banned further gatherings for Saturday and Sunday.

The commission’s rationale for doing so is that during the supposed ‘day of reflection’ on Saturday, it is not permitted ‘to seek votes in favour of candidates, as well as to invite people to exclude any of these candidates’. The authorisation sought by the protesters had been to request ‘a responsible vote’. The Commission had deemed that this was ‘a behaviour at odds with the provisions of the Electoral Law and exceeds the right to demonstration guaranteed by the constitution’. Meanwhile, in Sol, the protesters say they will stay where they are and will not call a demonstration for Saturday. I have no idea how this is going to turn out. I cannot see the forces of the State being used to violently eject these people from where they are. At this stage I think there is too much popular support for what is going on, and too much disenchantment with the political process, for the police to start wading in. But I have made this sort of call before, only for the police to go ahead and do just that.

Below is a translation of a piece by Luis Garcia Montero that appeared in today’s Público. It touches on some of these matters. ‘The perplexed voter’ he refers to is himself.

One of the symptoms of profound social crises is the accusation of barbarism against those who are trying to defend the basics of  community. In this way, having principles becomes dangerous. The perplexed voter wrote about this phenomenon in a book titled Inquietudes bárbaras. It showed that the supporters of civil rights and democratic procedures ran the risk of representing a radical threat. This is the accusation that rains today over those citizens gathered in Puerta del Sol to demand a real democracy.

The perplexed voter is grateful that they have been able to introduce political discussion to the campaign. It is no longer enough to repeat that Zapatero is guilty of everything. Now we are talking about a corrupt system for which Rajoy is also responsible. The majoritarian parties are reaching very high levels of coarseness. Since the perplexed voter was born in Granada, he cannot resist drawing attention to the arguments used by Javier Arenas [president of the Partido Popular in Andalusia – HG] in his city. It turns out that the presidents of the Andalusian regional government and the national government have little love for Granada and are persecuting it cruelly. When Arenas and Rajoy are presidents, their love for all things Granada will become instantly clear. The perplexed voter is trying to remember what did they do for the city when they occupied their ministerial chairs in the Aznar Government. Nothing at all. Let his example serve to summarise the populist demagoguery and coarse tone of the campaign. As if it were not enough to inflict territorial wounds between Madrid, Vitoria and Barcelona, now they are planning to create a fracture between Granada, Seville and Madrid. What a panorama.

Does demanding real democracy bring the dignity of politics into crisis? The perplexed voter is convinced that barbarism has other residences. The system is damaged when a mafia of speculators buys off two socialist deputies in order to violate electoral results and allow the arrival to power of an accomplice to their property-dealing interests. Damage is also done when a president does not fulfil his electoral promises and applies measures that serve only to impoverish the citizenry and raise the profits of the Ibex 35 by 20%. Damage is also inflicted when rights provided by the Constitution are trivialised. Damage is caused by an electoral list infested with corrupt individuals. Damage is done when magistrates obey the orders of the parties that control the organs of judicial power. Damage is done by an Electoral Law calculated to consecrate bipartidism and impede a just democratic representation.

And the system is damaged by journalists who do not supply truthful news. The perplexed voter still recalls the day of reflection in the 2004 elections. The multitude hit the streets to demand information on those responsible for the bombings in Atocha. The same media accusing the people of being a danger to the system, repeated the mantra that it had been the actions of ETA. Who does damage?


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May 2011
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