Though I am lost in the backwaters of Europe, I keep following the events in Spain wherever I can. There is no way I can report on all things happening, because it’s simply too much. Sufficeth to say that evictions are being prevented every day, and demonstrations are being held at least every week. Recently there was a big demo in Madrid against the scandal-ridden monarchy, in favour of a third republic.
I hope to return to Spain soon, but before I do, I will inform you about how the movement is attempting to take the struggle to the next level.
Out of the primordial indignant chaos of the 15-M, various issue-centered waves have evolved, each adopting its own colour. The most prominent are the Green Wave (public education), the White Wave (public health care) and the Blue Wave (public water). There are many more waves concentrating on minor issues, and then there is the PAH, Plataforma Afectados por la Hipoteca, which coordinates the struggle against foreclosures and has a very strong presence all over Spain. Finally, there are the hundreds of popular assemblies in cities, villages and neighbourhoods that were born out of the occupations in 2011.
These local and thematic groups have united into a movement called Marea Ciudadana, or “Citizens’ Wave”. They have been pressurizing government with frequent marches on parliament, but since a couple of months they have also adopted a more confrontational tactic called ‘escrache’. Escraches, instead of targeting faceless institutions, are actions that target specific people (or parties) directly and personally.
You are a politician who has been taking bribes? Right, we won’t lament ourselves outside parliament, but we’ll come to your house. We’ll make noise under your windows, we will let all your neighbours know that you are scum. It’s a tactic that was first used in Argentina in the early 2000s to denounce politicians that had been responsible for atrocities committed by the military regime. It has been used in Uruguay, Peru and other Latin American countries, and since this spring it has been adopted by the PAH to denounce those politicians who represent the interests of the banks rather than those of the citizens.
In a certain sense, escrache is the enactment of a famous meme that was adopted by the movement in the early days of the revolution: ‘If you don’t let us dream, we won’t let you sleep.’
The great leap forward of the movement is supposed to happen this spring. From June 23 to June 30 the “United Citizens’ Waves” intend to exercise popular sovereignty through plebiscite. The premise is the following. According to the Spanish Constitution “National sovereignty is vested in the Spanish people, from whom all State powers emanate” (Article 1), and “Citizens have the right to participate in public affairs directly or through representatives freely elected in periodic elections by universal suffrage.” (Article 23).
Over the last 35 years people have tried to participate through representatives, but in the end it didn’t work out to their advantage. So now has come the time for citizens to participate in public affairs directly. They will drum up enough support to block privatizations, to end foreclosures by law, to reform the banking sector and to bring corrupt politicians to justice.
How this will work out in practice remains to be seen. But it’s going to be damn interesting to observe.
Of course, the skeptics will say that it can never work, direct democracy on this kind of scale. But you cannot know that until you try. And Spain is not the only place where direct democracy is being experimented. Another example is Italy.
Over the last few weeks, Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement has been under heavy attack from the establishment and the press for his failure to cooperate with the gerontocracy that has been ruling Italy – in various disguises – since the age of dinosaurs. They want him to support a government of the so-called Democratic Party, but since he continues to refuse, they blame him for the current political stalemate.
On top of all this, a new president of the republic has to be elected by parliament. Usually this doesn’t happen in parliament, but in the corridors. The major parties try to find a compromise on some colourless ex-politician that will not cause them trouble in the seven years to come.
The Five Star Movement refuses to take part in these shady practices. They think the citizens ought to have a say in the election of their head of state and so they organized primaries online, open to all the members of the movement. They could propose any Italian citizen of more than fifty years of age (as the constitution requires). The winner, elected over two rounds, will be the official candidate that M5S members will propose and vote. Yesterday, the results came in. No politician, no Nobel prize winner, but an investigative journalist will be the people’s candidate for the presidency: Milena Gabanelli.
You have to know that journalism in Italy is of an embarrasingly low standard. I was reminded by that lately, when I returned to read Italian newspapers. Generally, Italian journalists seem to think that news reporting consists of quoting politicians. For example, something is going on, say a demonstration, then your average journalist won’t give you an account of what happened and why, but he or she will stuff the microphone in the face of some second-rate politicians from the left to the right and publish their sound bites. The facts don’t matter. All you get is talking heads, always the same, ad nauseam. If not, you have your intellectualoid balloons, who preach about the dire state of the nation in such hollow terms that they cannot possibly be accused of having a real opinion on the matter. In any case, a true journalist is very hard to find in Italy.
Milena Gabanelli is an exception. For fifteen years she has been digging deeply into all the dirt related to corruption, speculation, squander, inefficiency, bribery and all-out organized crime. Now, the usual tactic of the establishment to silence journalists who actually do their job in Italy, is to denounce them for diffamation. They hardly ever win, but it serves to scare the great majority into becoming faithful mercenaries of the system. Not so Milena Gabanelli. She is a courageous woman, with a profound knowledge of all of Italy’s problems. For this, justly, the members of the Five Star Movement have nominated her to become the country’s head of state.
We are entering an age in which direct participation of all the people in public affairs is becoming possible. We don’t need representatives any more. Let the skeptics say that it can’t be done, that’s it’s going to be a mess. We will try anyway. The mess can hardly be worse than the one that our so-called representatives have caused.