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Posts Tagged ‘#occupy’

Occupy the WSF

In #GlobalRevolution on 31 March 2013 at 13:09
Global Square 2013 Tunis, photo via @CaseyJAldridge

Global Square 2013 Tunis, photo via @CaseyJAldridge

Dear people,

In 1999 the counter-globalisation movement burst onto the streets at the WTO conference in Seattle. Two years later, in Porto Alegre, the movement began to organize its own alternative summits.

Since then, every year, representatives of NGOs and social movements gather in a Third World location to discuss, to connect, to teach, to learn, to share.

The mainstream press generally ignores these summits, or makes only a brief mention of their existence. And admittedly, they don’t have a lot of news or entertainment value. Compared to the big economic conferences, where participants are empowered to take decisions which influence nations, regions and the world economy as a whole, a social forum has little to no impact. It’s more of a ‘process’, as participants like to say.

This year’s World Social Forum was held under the slogan ‘Dignity’ and started with a demonstration of about 30,000 people through the streets of Tunis. Afterwards, the delegates separated themselves from the populace and retreated behind the guarded fences of the convention grounds.

The Social Forum is for those activists who can afford the trip and the required registration: the alternative elite. There was no space for unaffiliated occupiers, indignados, immigrants, refugees or other people interested in building a better world without paying a fee.

So, local and international indignants organized a ‘Global Square’ counter summit to coincide with the WSF. Many Tunisians feel that their revolution has been betrayed, and they seized the occasion to experiment with a federated model of direct democracy. On the final day, they occupied the WSF. People sang the International in a dozen different languages. Some delegates of the Social Forum burned their accreditation in solidarity with the occupiers.

It was decided to march down the boulevards of Tunis to the place were a fruit vendor sparked the Tunisian revolution and the Arab Spring over two years ago.

At the spot, a General Assembly was held by about two thousand people. It was too big for everyone to participate, so the crowd split into smaller groups to discuss specific issues such as education, environment, debt, western economic interests etc.

There were no walls around it, there were no guards, and no fees. After three days of intense discussions, it was a brief demonstration of what democracy really looks like.

General Assembly in Tunis, March 30 2013, photo via @GlobalRevLive

General Assembly in Tunis, March 30 2013, photo via @GlobalRevLive

End of the Wave

In #GlobalRevolution, Athens, Greece, March to Athens on 20 May 2012 at 22:33

Athens, May 20

Dear people,

Our tribe is settling down. We are starting to adapt to the comforts and complications of sedentary life. A new cycle has begun, an old one has been concluded.

We have running water, we have electricity, we have four stories and a roof terrace in the middle of the anarchist quarter of Exarchia. We are not in a hurry to move.

Most of us are waiting for the trial of our comrades who got arrested for occupying Syntagma. After that, there are no limits, no borders.

North, East, South, West. Some of us want to go cycling to France through the Balcans, or hitch hiking through Iran to China, or sailing to Alexandria, or flying back to Spain to occupy Plaça Catalunya, or the Puerta del Sol. The sense of freedom is overwhelming.

It’s too much. I have to sit down for a moment. I want a sofa, a pile of straw, a hammock, or why not? – a real bed! Before I do anything, I need time to reflect. This is already the beginning of another story. The first year is over. We were a wave, and now we are backwash on the beach.

On Syntagma

Washing day at the squat

So I ask myself, what on earth happened this past year? The last thing I remember is that I had embarked on a quiet life as a goat shepherd in Andalusia, which I combined with a translation assignment from a Dutch editor. I was living the rhythm of the season on the land, I was learning to make cheese.

Then it started. We all called it a revolution.

When I came out of the metro station and on to the Puerta del Sol on May 21 at dawn, it was reflection day before the local elections. There were hundreds of people camping out on the public square, demanding direct democracy and a whole lot more.

This wasn’t just going on in Madrid, but all over the country. It was spreading over other nations, over other continents.

There was no central organisation, it had come as a complete surprise to everyone, and I found myself right in the middle of it. I had to stay, I had to be part of this. I felt the pulse of history.

When I sat down in the tent of the Communications commission under the backside of the equestrian statue in Puerta del Sol, I was pretty sure that it could take some time before I would go back to being a shepherd.

Now I’m here in the squat in Exarchia with my revolutionary brothers and sisters. I occupy the sofa, I’m not planning to move, and for the moment I only recall isolated images of last year.

The siege of parliament and the bowl of salad floating over the crowd. The drums of the Basque column arriving in Segovia. The advance to Paris and the surprise assembly on Place de la Bourse. The dice wars in Revolutionary Headquarters Brussels. The occupied Christmas tree on St. Peter’s square in Rome. The snow in Naples. The phantom village in the Apennine mountains. The shores of Greece. The alleys of Agrinio.

And most of all, the people.

I have started to forget their names by the dozens, but I recall the faces. Hundreds, thousands probably. All over the world we were millions. This was the year of the people. This was the year of Sol, the rising sun.

Assembly of Greeks on time banking at Thisio

Comrades Mami and Valentina

On Exarchia square.

I have followed the events daily from as close by as I possibly could without losing focus. I rode the wave of this movement from the magic start in Puerta del Sol, all through Europe on foot to Brussels and Athens. And I’m happy that I did. The amount of things I witnessed and experienced was more than enough to fill a lifetime.

I leave this account. It’s jotted down the way it came. It wasn’t written from the perspective of a journalist or a historian. I didn’t try to be objective, I couldn’t. I’m a revolutionary, and I’m a narrator. I wrote this story to capture the spirit of the moment, day after day. And it turned out to be more than just one kind of story.

It’s the chronicle of a utopian village in the center of Madrid. It’s a revolutionary manifesto. It’s an adventure tale, complete with sequel. It’s a sociological study into human interaction and self organisation. It’s an anthropological study into the functioning of an urban nomadic tribe. It’s a practical guide to assemblary politics and manipulation. It’s a travel account through time and space. Occasionally, it carries hints of mystery and fairytale.

We sit on the sofa in Exarchia. It’s over. But we can just keep on going if we want to. No destination on earth is too far to get there on foot.

We could also go home, back to reality.

“Reality?”

“Yes, as in working fixed hours to pay for a rent or a mortgage.”

“Do you want to go back to that after all that has happened?”

It’s the big question that has been bothering every one of us. And most of us know that it’s impossible. We cannot go back to reality. Not until we give shape to reality ourselves.

***

Lady Anarchy. Photo by comrade Lorenzo

Post scriptum.

This ends my account of the march and the first year of revolution. I hope to put it up soon in a chronological and more accessible format. In the meantime I will take a break to rest and reflect. I will keep reporting on the movement, and on my adventures for as far as they are of public or revolutionary interest. Thank you all for reading. It has been a pleasure to write.

Yours truly,
Oscar

Election Day

In Madrid, Spain on 20 November 2011 at 16:31
Madrid, November 20

Dear people,

Every year old Saint Nicholas comes to Holland. The children love him, because he brings them presents. He is the archetype of Santa Claus. But until recently, just a generation or two ago, the old saint wasn’t only loved. He was feared as well, for he would punish you if you had been bad. He would have you whipped by one of his black helpers, ‘Flagellation Pete’, and then he would tie you up, put you in a bag, and take you back home to Spain.

So here I am. Back in Madrid. I have been a bad boy.

It’s election day today. I wanted to be here to witness what’s going in the capital of the revolution after I had been absent for over three months. A lot has changed. Especially in the rest of the world. It’s November 20th. Since September there have been occupations going on in New York and other American cities. Since October it has been going on world wide.

Occupy Rotterdam

Occupy Utrecht

Five days ago the camp on Liberty Square near Wall Street has been destroyed by police. Resistance is growing stronger as a result of it. In these last few weeks there have also been regime changes in Greece and Italy, after intense pressure from the EU and the financial markets. Now it’s Spain’s turn.

Comrades Roberto and Paulina in front of parliament. The sign reads 'For rent'

When I step out onto the Puerta del Sol, the square is buzzing. Lots of people are gathered in an atmosphere of expectation. It only takes a minute before I hear someone calling my name. It’s a joyful encounter with a group of comrades from the March on Brussels. And it wouldn’t be the last time I came across familiar faces. It went on all evening.

When I first arrived in Sol there was an enormous camp here. This is where it all started. From here the fashion of camping out in public squares began. But this time the most curious thing is that while people are camping on squares all over the world, down to the smallest villages in Holland, there isn’t a single tent here in Puerta del Sol.

There’s not the right spirit for it. And authorities wouldn’t accept it. ‘Been there, done that’, seems to be the prevailing thought. And also, it rains.

At the stroke of midnight a crowd gathered at the statue of the bear starts moving and singing. Even if we’re not camping, something is going to happen anyway. We move a couple of blocks north to the other side of Gran Vía, where a residential building has just been occupied. Banners are attached to the balconies. “Space liberated – For evicted families – An occupation for every eviction”.

My first impression from what I see and hear is that the movement went on to consolidate itself on the local level, in the villages and neighbourhoods. But in Sol there doesn’t seem to be much of the happy revolutionary spirit that characterised this place during the last elections in May.

Instead of camping, the movement has squatted the ‘Hotel Madrid’, close to Sol. I’ve been walking through there today. It made me think of Revolutionary HQ in Brussels. The place is enormous. The hotel rooms have been divided into living spaces for evicted families, working spaces for the commissions, and community spaces. It seems to be working out quite well from the outside, but there are also people willing to deny that.

Hotel Madrid

Map of one of the floors

There’s not much more I can say to you, I’ve only just arrived. Judging from all the manifestos announcing strikes and demonstrations, there certainly is no lack of initiatives. But people have the feeling that everything is going to change from now on. The right wing party will win the elections today. And probably they will not have any patience with the movement. They will deal with it swiftly, people think. And their hope is that repression will further stimulate resistance. They hope that after today, once the Socialist Party is ousted from power, their loyal electorate will take the streets alongside the movement.

We’ll see. ‘Full of expectation, our hearts are beating’, as the old Saint Nicholas song goes. ‘to know who will get sweets, and who’ll get whipped.’

Take care,

Oscar

A room turned into a classroom. The 'blackboard' explains the alphabet and the basics of the German language