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Activists’ Fair

In Barcelona on 12 May 2013 at 13:13

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Barcelona, May 12

Dear people,

Airports are all the same, but the air is different is everywhere. Arriving here in Barcelona after two months in eastern Europe, the air felt like home.

I entered Plaça Catalunya at nightfall. In one corner of the square I found a small foetus of occupation, an info point made out of a couple of boxes, with a dozen people around it. Some of them I knew, from the marches, from the International Commission of the Acampada Barcelona. They were here to celebrate the time of year – May has come around once again, the revolution continues.

There had been a press conference about the initiatives of the Global May, there had been four simultaneous actions throughout the city, against evictions, against the banks, against gentrification of the city centre, etc.

Occupations of buildings are gaining momentum here. The police can’t keep up with evicting them. I was housed in a five star squat in the centre of the city. The owner had only just finished to refurbish them as luxury apartments for tourists when he got in trouble with authorities over illegal practices. So the place was shut down by the city council and subsequently squatted. Now it’s an operational centre of the International Commission.

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One tent was erected on the square at the evening of the 10th, and yesterday the small core of the occupation had significantly grown. Prefab stands were placed around the perimeter, each one dedicated to a single issue. Debt audit, public health care, basic income, constituent assemblies, and the kitchen. All of them with their own sleak logo’s and styles. More than an occupation, it looked like an activists’ fair. And in a certain sense it was. The original spontaneous nature of the movement has given way to a myriad of interconnected initiatives. Cardboard is slowly being phased out.

During the day a handful of workshops were organized on the above mentioned subjects. Most were in Catalan, which is close enough to Spanish to understand. The attendance never exceeded a few dozen people. In the evening a general assembly was celebrated, and here too I noticed subtle changes since the early days of the revolution. For one, the circle was replaced by a hemicircle which divided the speakers from their public. For two, the typical gesture of waving hands was replaced by the traditional applause. For three, public participation was minimal. Representatives of the working groups explained their proposals, and people listened. The language was a mix of Catalan and Spanish. The attendance was nowhere near what it used to be. Maybe a few hundred people.

As always the most interesting encounters took place outside of the official appointments. Late at night we gather in small groups to discuss the philosophy of revolution, the nature of the state, we reminisced about two years ago, the big bang of 15M.

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One of the many the initiatives born from the movement, at least here in Barcelona is a political party – the X Party – which aims follow the institutional way to implement the principles of horizontality and direct democracy. The die-hard anarchist core does not agree. But we are not a dogmatic movement. Founding a political party can be useful as another front of struggle.

Evening falls again. In the midst of renewed philosophical debates, the news comes around that FC Barcelona has won the Spanish League. The air fills with tension. We can hear a rumble in the distance. Fireworks is set off. Chanting crowds are moving in.

“Don’t worry,” I hear one of us say. “Plaça Catalunya is territory of the indignados,” and he tells the story of two years ago, when the acampada was cleared by police to prepare for the football celebrations. Thousands and thousands of people descended on Plaça Catalunya during the day to retake the square and rebuild the camp, which they did, exactly the same as before, in a couple of hours. That evening, when the fans of Barcelona came to celebrate their victory in Plaça Catalunya, the square was turned into a fortress. Human walls were erected on all entrances to prevent the football fans from ravishing the camp. The defence was coordinated from the centre, an auxiliary unit of indignados moved from one gate to another, to provide backup where it was most needed.

They held the square.

So this year, even though we are only few, Plaça Catalunya is off limits for the Barcelona fans. And this time it’s police themselves who make sure that the crowds will not reach the square. Instead, they march all around with their chants and their fireworks. All in all, it was a very modest party. I have seen cities go up in flames at the end of the football season, not even because of a championship, but merely because of a promotion.

Today is the big day. In the afternoon, four or five different columns will converge on Plaça Catalunya. From there, at six, we march. And this time, we have specific demands.

Not a euro more to bail out banks. High quality public health care and education. A just redistribution of labour and income. A right to a dignified home. Basic income. Civil liberties.

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