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Posts Tagged ‘revolution’

A European General Assembly

In #GlobalRevolution, Madrid, Spain on 4 November 2012 at 20:59

Agora 99 General Assembly, photo via @dar1o

November 4,

Dear people,

Agora 99 has been concluded with a vibrant General Assembly in the Eko Social Centre of Madrid. Initially the meeting should have taken place on Puerta del Sol, but because of the rain we retreated to the giant hall next to the centre’s popular library, one of the spaces where workshops were held over the weekend.

Without a doubt, the Agora has become a success. I already had a good feeling about it at the start. And though I didn’t sit through the meetings, I saw my impressions confirmed every evening, and today during the closing assembly.

‘Great!’, you may say, ‘now what did you people agree upon? What are you going to do?’ And I would answer: I haven’t got the faintest idea.

So how come I call it a success, if I don’t even know what has been agreed?

To understand this, you have to realise that we do not represent anybody outside ourselves. We are not the movement. We cannot take decisions in anybody’s else’s name. We are a few hundred dedicated citizens who have come together to share ideas about changing the world.

The fact that we got this meeting off the ground, and that so many people participated, is a success in itself. Next to the locals, there were significant delegations from Barcelona, from the UK, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Greece, even from outside Europe.

The brainstorming sessions on subjects like debt, democracy and rights have resulted in a flood of more or less practical ideas about actions, demonstrations, dates, alternatives and civil disobedience that were put forward in today’s assembly.

The assembly lasted for most of the afternoon, and some will say that it was the “same old” weary mess that we have come to expect from large assemblies.

I didn’t see it that way. I have witnessed many assemblies – ‘farces’ would be a more accurate description – in which people only argued about what points should be on the agenda, and in what order they were supposed to be discussed. This time, at least, there was a real debate about content, and about future actions. The language was English, with simultaneous translations. And despite all the languages, and over two hundred people present, it worked out well.

Having said this, the assembly itself was the least interesting activity of the day. Much more important were the discussions ‘in the corridors’, and in other informal settings in which we got to know each other and were able to create connections.

We will all take some new ideas home with us, we will share them with others, we will develop them further, we will share them again through the network we have have built in these days, we will gain feedback, etc. This is the way things get moving. Not through a document or a declaration which was drafted by few, and then consensuated by an assembly that will only gather once.

At the end of the official events, when many people are already returning home, I get caught up in a civil disobedience workshop which unites activists from Madrid, London, Berlin and New York, aimed at coordinating actions around shared themes in each of these cardinal points of the movement. All participants here are veterans. From 15M, from OWS, from OccupyLSX, etc. Every one of us has experience on what can capture the imagination locally, and globally. Putting it all together, we will learn. We will get sharper.

 On repeated occasions it turned out that many of us already knew each other through the web. The Agora has become a success, not in the least because it gave us the opportunity to meet each other face to face, and to realise that we are more than an online social network. We are humanity, we are working towards change, and we will not be stopped.

The upcoming appointment is for next weekend in Florence, Italy. Everyone is invited.

Independence

In #GlobalRevolution, Italy on 4 July 2012 at 10:14

Tuscany, July 4

Dear people,

So I did make it out of Athens in the end. In choosing between the four cardinal directions, I opted for West. Back to Italy. Because great is the pleasure to discover new lands, but equally great is the pleasure to return to certain places and visit people you have known, for Auld Lang Syne.

The connections in Greece are not optimal, and deteriorating fast. To get from Athens to the country’s third largest city Patras I had to take two trains and one bus. But still, it took less time than walking.

As we drove along the Gulf of Corinth I recognised the shores on the other side. The Gulf of Itea, Eratini, Marathias, Nafpaktos… Two weeks of marching in a couple of hours. I could have taken an aeroplane and be in Holland by now. But I had discarded that possibility from the start. After having spent months to cross the continent it seemed ridiculous to return almost instantaneously.

In Patras I met up with two friends who had received us when we entered the town nearly three months ago. It was only now that I realised the impact we have made. All along the way, people have opened their hearts. And they haven’t forgotten us. Some of us, and many locals, will argue that our march didn’t make any sense. But it did. It has been more than worth it, because it has given us the opportunity to meet these extraordinary persons. If there is still hope for Greece, it’s thanks to them.

At sunset I sailed. And yet again, I recognised every single hill, every single cape on the other side. Antirio, Ano Vassiliki, the lagoon of Mesolonghi. Then darkness.

In Bari, one of the first things I thought, was: ‘Wow, Italy isn’t doing so bad.’ Bars were full, and hardly any of the shops had gone bankrupt. No visual signs of crisis at all.

Sure, the crisis exists. I had a long chat with a lady from Salerno, belonging to the ‘upper middle class’. Her family possesses various houses and pieces of land, but as a result of recent austerity measures by the Monti government they are being choked by the taxes. ‘The middle class is disappearing’, she said. ‘Everything we have built up over the years, to leave to our children, is at risk.’

During the march I realised that you don’t need much to thrive and survive. All the rest is luxury. For now, the crisis is cutting into those luxuries. The basic necessities of existence are not at risk yet, not in Italy. Maybe in Greece.

By now I have reached Tuscany, one of those places that I have good reason to consider ‘home’. I’m here to visit friends, ‘anarchist’ friends. After one and a half months in Exarchia, it was about time that I met some real anarchists.

In Exarchia people live in the same appartment blocks as elsewhere, they use the same currency, they drink the same instant coffee in plastic cups as the rest of Greeks. And as far as I have been able to ascertain, only one of the bars serves fair-trade coffee from Chapas. All the rest goes to enrich the multinationals.

“Stupid is as stupid does,” is what Forrest Gump’s mamma always says. And you can apply that to almost anything. “Anarchist is as anarchist does,” I would say. And change surely won’t come from Exarchia. To some of the people there the only solution is to ‘bomb Greece back to the stone age’.

One of my friends here in Tuscany has retreated from modern society over twenty-five years ago. When the Berlin Wall came down, he didn’t even notice. He was much too busy working the land, raising a family and creating an almost completely self-sufficient farm in a distant river valley. He has worked every day of the week, every week of the year, ever since. And he was happy to do so. Only recently, now that his children have grown up, he has granted himself the luxury of a holiday. Two months, on foot, to Sicily and back.

But even without such radical measures, it’s possible to start a change. And you don’t need bombs to succeed. Another friend of mine is slowly evolving away from society. He used to work for General Electric. When he got to know the company and realised that he was actively upholding a system which he despised, he changed life and opened a biological restaurant. When it turned out that he didn’t have any time for himself anymore he sold the restaurant and changed life again. Now he lives in the country side and works as a gardener.

In practice, all of Tuscany is one big garden, so there is no lack of work. He grows his own vegetables. He makes his own furniture. He doesn’t need much, and most of what he does need is available through a short supply chain of local organic products. In this, Tuscany is at the cutting edge of change.

My anarchist friends here are not the only ones. It’s starting to become fashionable, not only among rich Germans, Dutch and English to go live in the beautiful countryside, but also among Italians. They want to have their own vegetable garden, they want to have silence around. They have had it with city life.

Within the movement there has been a discussion from the start about whether we want a ‘revolution’, or an ‘evolution’. As for me, it sounds a lot cooler to call myself a ‘revolutionary’ than an ‘evolutionary’. People might think the discussion is about darwinism. But then again, “stupid is as stupid does”…

Reflections on Revolution

In #GlobalRevolution, Athens, Greece on 25 June 2012 at 19:25

Athens, June 25

Dear people,

In Spain the summer marches are getting under way, like last year. Only this time there are just three marches confirmed. The Northwest column from Galicia, the Northeast column from Barcelona and the Southern column from Málaga.

A few weeks ago Mami told me that this spring, leading up to May 15, there have also been various Catalan marches directed to Barcelona. I believe there were four. They entered the city along the river valleys and over the ancient trade routes.

Some of us have left Athens to join the Barcelona column going to Madrid. Again like last year, the columns are expected to arrive at Puerta del Sol on July 23.

Me, I’m still in Athens. You can find me on my rock, growing a beard and contemplating the fact that I know so little. Yet as a longtime revolutionary and veteran of many campaigns, people come to me sometimes and they say: “Oscar, what do you think of all this?” The marches, they mean.

Usually I scratch my beard in a very wise and meaningful manner and I respond something like: “Things are not what they seem…” Or: “Fire, walk with me!” But that is just because I used to watch a lot of Twin Peaks.

In fact, I don’t know. On the one hand, it has been done, and it’s never going to be the way it was the first time. On the other hand, by all means let there be marches. Any initiative is better than no initiative at all, especially now that Spain is in the situation that Greece experienced last year.

Also, a recurrence is a good reason to reflect. When you return to the same places after a year, and you continue to return there, you will be able to see changes. You can detect what’s improving and what isn’t. Most of all you can share your experiences by speaking about what’s happening in other towns, regions and villages.

It’s important to keep making revolution every day, all year round. But if the revolution doesn’t advance to the next level, the popular impulse will fade away. It’s what happened in Greece last year. During the occupation of Syntagma and the massive daily protests outside parliament, the Greeks came very close to toppling the government. They could have done so. But they knew that even if the popular revolt succeeded, the outside world would intervene to reestablish order in one way or another.

If there is still any hope left in Greece now, it’s hope for some kind of divine providence to turn things around sooner or later. But people here don’t seem to believe that they can make a difference themselves any more.

In thinking about the concept of revolution, I’m convinced I’m starting to understand some things. Not yet on a rational level, but more intuitively. Both about people themselves, and about the system that keeps society together.

Sometimes, while contemplating modern society my greatest worry is that this is us. All this mindless exploitation and senseless consumerism is simply what we are. In that case, there is no such thing as revolution. It’s a fairy tale like the ones religions are made of.

Fortunately, there is often someone who reminds me that this isn’t true, not completely. The variety in human forms of organisation is huge, just like the variety of values on which humans have founded their societies in the past.

If modern society is what we are, it’s because it’s us who hold it together, but it hasn’t got anything to do with human nature. It works both ways. We give shape to the system, and in turn it’s the system that shapes our mindset.

The same goes for the crisis. It wasn’t caused only by the banks. It was caused by every one of us. A bank shouldn’t give easy credit to people who can’t afford to pay it back and then sell off that debt to someone else. That’s not fair. But as a client, if you can’t afford it, you have no business taking a loan in the first place!

With this I don’t mean to say that there isn’t something inherently wicked in our current banking system. There is. First because money is created out of debt by private enterprises for the sole purpose of private gain. And secondly because of the phenomenon of interest and inflation.

These two are obviously linked. They serve as an incentive to invest, to make sure money keeps roling. You have little choice, because if you put your money in an old sock, it will lose its value. Interest and inflation are at the core of the Gospel of Economic Growth. In certain societies – most notably in the muslim world – interest is forbidden by law, and money is first of all a public asset.

But the economy is only a part of the story. On a wider scale, before we even start to think about change, let alone revolution, we have to be aware of the fact that we have only recently entered a completely new era. In the last fifty years human society has been subject to change in a way which can only be compared to the agricultural revolution at the basis of civilization, and the industrial revolution, of which it represents the final stage.

What I mean to say is that all throughout known history human society was rooted in the land. City life was only made possible because the majority of people were working the soil, producing more than enough for city dwellers to be sustained.

With the advent of industrial agriculture the ancient link between people and the land was broken. Machines had taken over, life in the city had become the heart of society and the country side was reduced to an appendix of the city itself. Rural life as people had known it throughout the centuries, had ceased to exist.

Today, in a world where population keeps growing exponentially while precious resources are being depleted at ever increasing rates and the climate shows signs of a potentially devastating change, the most important problems are not economical.

A revolution will have to be a change towards sustainability. And as such it will have to include a reevaluation of rural life. Not that people should go back to being farmers, or live together in hippie comunes. I don’t believe in all those things. I see it more like an evolution towards a hybrid of country- and city life. Or, in other words, a redistribution of space.

In general, we all have our own very small private space in the city. We work most of our lives to be able to pay for it and call it our own. This space, and often the furniture, is similar to that of other people. Hardly anyone lives in a space that is authentically his own.

All around our little home, life is dictated by the fast pace of the outside world. The thin layer of neighbours, friends and collegues is not enough to divide the two.

A redistribution of space would mean first of all amplifying and personalising the private space and establishing contact with the outdoors. Second of all it would mean the creation of an intermediate community space, where you can be part of a society on a human scale. Then all around this community space, there is the world.

It’s going to take a long time, people. And it’s not going to start here in Greece. Tomorrow morning, at daybreak, I will make another attempt to escape from Athens.

If I’ll make it, you’ll know.

Democracy and Revolution

In Athens, Greece on 10 May 2012 at 12:57

Athens, May 10

Dear people,

While many of us keep chilling on the hill, or wandering through the desolate city, Agora Athens is going on, every day. Surely it’s not a big event, but it’s an event. We were told to nurture no illusions about it, so the fact that it exists is definitely positive.

It’s all thanks to the people who kept believing in this opportunity to meet and exchange ideas. They have been working on it for time, on the ground and on the net, and in the last few days they have been putting up manifestoes all over Exarchia.

The agora has attracted some attention from Greek activists, immigrants, and foreign travellers. It has addressed major themes like the debt, immigration, police violence, the dangers of tear gas, and the psychological effects of repression, with interventions by experts on the subject.

Yesterday the agora changed its usual meeting place in Syntagma with the quiet hill of Pnyx near the ancient stoa, meeting place of the philosophers of old. The topic would be direct democracy and self organisation.

The whole scene is like one of Plato’s Dialogues. In between the marble, the bushes and the trees, a few dozen people – mainly Greeks – are sitting in a circle on a hill. They are discussing the concepts of liberty, equality, solidarity, justice, democracy.

Far from Syntagma and the oppressing dailiness of the city all these words sound like perfectly unreal ideas, exactly like Plato himself would see them. This event is not going to change the world, but here on Pnyx, it has a very evocative aesthetic value.

Assembly on direct democracy at Pnyx

Athens is not one of the major cities of Greek tragedy, like Thebes or Mycene, but in the great Oresteia trilogy by Aeschylos, the city symbolically represents the triumph of reason and right.

The Oresteia is the only complete trilogy that has survived. It is practically the oldest pieces of theater, but it has one of the most beautiful opening sequences that I know. It’s a simple summing up of names, as if it were a biblical geneaology. But with a little bit of imagination, those names become incredibly cinematographical. As if the intro were written for wide-screen 3D.

It’s told on stage by the introducing character. Troy has fallen, finally, after ten years of bitter strife. The Greeks are inside the citadel, the Trojan men are killed, the women and children are enslaved and the babies are thrown off the walls without mercy. The palaces are plundered, the city is in flames.

Those flames spell a message, a message by supreme commander Agamemnon, king of Mycene, to his wife Clytaemnestra. It says ‘Mission accomplished. I’m coming home.’

Opening credits. Burning Troy fades into the distance. On a hilltop far away, a guard notices the flames. He runs to pile up wood, he takes a torch and lights it.

The camera zooms out again over the nightly panorama of the Aegean. As the poet spells the names of land and sea, the light travels over islands, hills and forests like a telegraph. In every one of those places a man spots the light, and passes it on. Cut to space, you see all of Greece and Asia Minor, in the middle you see a red glow where Troy had been, and all around you see little white lights expanding over the earth to bring the news that mighty Troy has fallen.

At sunrise, the message reaches Clytaemnestra on her balcony of the royal palace of Mycene.

Cut to Clytaemnestra. Her eyes are dark. She is all but delighted by the news of her husband’s return. She hasn’t been faithful to him.

Agamemnon hadn’t been faithful himself either. He had claimed more than his fair share of female booty during the conflict. His greed had caused Achilles to retire from the war and almost brought complete doom over the Greeks. Finally, he wasn’t ashamed to bring one of his conquests home with him. She was called Cassandra, she had the gift to foretell the future, and she was cursed by the fact that no-one ever believed her.

When she crossed the treshold into the house, Cassandra started to scream. She cried doom, death and destruction over the house of Atreus. But people laughed at her impatiently, and told her to shut up.

Her cruel predictions came true when Agamemnon was killed in his bathtub by his own wife, with the complicity of her lover.

This is when the real story starts. The tragic hero is Oreste, son of Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra. He has to avenge his father. And his perverted fate is that to do so, he has to kill his own mother.

In a certain sense the Oreste tragedy is a mirror of the tragedy of Oedipus. Oreste would do anything to avoid his fate, but he doesn’t have a choice. He asks the god Apollo for help, and the god confirms. However painful, revenge is a must, and only Oreste can do the job.

And he does. With a dagger, Oreste kills the woman who gave him life. At the instant she dies, the hero breaks down and he is attacked by clouds of black-winged goddesses of remorse, the Erinyes. They swirl around him constantly, hissing that he is the most despicable of all creatures, and that he has committed the gravest of all crimes.

Oreste flees, he is on the verge of going mad, he returns to Apollo, begging to liberate him from his sense of guilt. “I had to do it. You said so yourself. Why don’t you help me?”

And Apollo: “There is nothing I can do for you. You have to go to Athens. Run, boy. Run. In the sanctuary of Athena you will be judged.”

Oreste runs to Athens, to the temple of the goddess of wisdom. Athena herself presides over an assembly that hears the case of Oreste and the case of the Erinyes.

Oreste is absolved. And yet the Erinyes get their recompensation. While Athena orders them to stop harassing Oreste, she acknowledges their importance, she offers them a place in the pantheon and with it the right to be revered.

The piece ends with a triumphant parade to celebrate the victory of reason.

According to Pasolini, who made a splendid translation into Italian, the Oresteia symbolizes the transformation of ancient tribal society based on force to an urban society based on the law. It’s a hymn to Athens as founding city of democracy.

The concept of revolution, of revolt against the ruling system in the name of human principles, is buried even deeper in the human psyche.

It starts with Prometheus, the bringer of fire.

In Aeschylos’ Prometheus Bound, the son of man is nailed to a mountain in the Caucasus. He had brought light among men, he had tought them the arts and the crafts of the gods. And he alone would pay for it all.

Every day Prometheus’ liver is eaten out by an eagle, and every day it grows back again. Crucifixion and eternal torture is his share for stealing the fire.

While he is up in agonising pain, various visitors, gods and humans, try to persuade Prometheus to make his peace with Zeus and ask for forgiveness. But Prometheus sends them off with words of rage and folly.

Where Jesus on the cross stoically accepted his fate, except for a single lament, Prometheus remains defiant all the way, against all hope. He is the archetype of the revolutionary martyr, when he screams with all his fury…

“Go away, and kneel! Fold your hands in prayer and be the dog that licks the foot of power! I don’t give a damn about Zeus! Let him do whatever he wants with the world, his time is almost up! He won’t be the king of gods for long!”

Camp