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Spain’s Micro-Utopias: The 15M Movement and its Prototypes, Part 2

Spain’s Micro-Utopias: The 15M Movement and its Prototypes, Part 2
Thu, 8/22/2013 - by Bernardo Gutiérrez
This article originally appeared on Guerilla Translation

“15M – whether seen as a signal, a movement, a state of being or a set of human interactions – has built its prototypes, and they’re many: legal, urban, cultural, economical, technological, communicative, political, affective.”

In the first part of Spain’s Micro-Utopias, I presented five of 15M’s prototypes happening on the ground right now: the method micro-utopia, urban micro-utopia, communications micro-utopia, micro-utopia in feminine, and collective culture micro-utopia, all born of the expansion of 15M’s initial surge. Now, I would like to present five further prototypes, forged in the collective fires of 15M and its environs.

PROTOTYPE 6: Participatory Micro-Utopia

The assemblies, celebrated in public squares, marked a previously unheard of politicization of public space. Even taking into account that their consensus building mechanism didn’t end up directly influencing the democratic process, the creation of new spaces for political dialogue soon made the old institutions look dated. The project/process Parlamento a la Calle (Take Parliament to the Streets), for example, is a true master stroke against a static democracy that only allows for dialogue within the chambers of parliament. Besides, public-square assembly did manage to consolidate certain specific mechanisms.

This yearning for participation is the essence of Propongo (I Propose), a tool and platform for the collection and implementation of political ideas by a collective voting system. Propongo inspired the Rio Grande do Sul’s (Brazi) Digital Cabinet. Meanwhile, Asamblea Virtual(Virtual Assembly), a participatory online system where proposals are drawn, debated and voted on, has become an invaluable laboratory for techno-political participatory systems.

Similar initiatives, such as Ahora tu decides (Now You Decide), a platform for non-state-mediated digital referendum, the urnas indignadas, physical voting booths placed on the street last November to vote on the proposal against foreclosures, or ballot information tables set up by public health defenders, Marea Blanca, make an important symbolic statement capable of forcing change in the system’s participatory mechanisms. Finally, Graba tu pleno (Record your Plenary Session) which encourages transparency by inciting citizens to video every single convention of assemblies, could also be considered another 15M prototype.

Demo4Punto0 (Democracy 4.0) is perhaps the most innovative initiative of them all. A hybrid participatory strategy and mechanism, it would allow any citizen to digitally vote on any parliamentary proposal or law. Based on each political party’s ratio of seats in Parliament, the mechanism proportionally discounts a seat for every 150,000 that participate in a vote. These citizen votes represent a proportional part of a congressman’s constituency. It’s no coincidence that the regional government of Andalucia (in the south of Spain) has commissioned the groundbreaking Andalusian Digital Democracy Report from the founders of Demo4Punto0.

PROTOTYPE 7: Fun-Tivism Micro-Utopia

Non-violence has always been an inspiration to 15M. The Movement resurrected peaceful resistance and adapted it to the Internet age. Repudiating weapons and classic urban guerrilla tactics, 15M made protest creative, constructive and, unmistakably, fun. Networked emotions and viral actions that amplified and altered their own effects. Culture Jamming, the remixing of logos and commercial symbols as exemplified by Adbusters, morphed into something else in Spain. 15M’s culture jammers became virtual DJs, spinning memes and emotions.

We saw how Flo6x8, a flash mob collective, was able to flamenco their way into a bank. We saw a crowd throwing a party in a Bankia branch, to promote its #CierraBankia (#ShutDownBankia) campaign. Bankia was Spain´s own big-bank-bailout debacle, going from public bank to private entity, subsequently bankrupting itself and then controversially being rescued with public funds, concurrent with the imposition of austerity measures. We were delighted by the parodical Ballot Box ATM: if it´s the banks that really govern us after all, why not just vote directly while at the bank?

Political Jiu-jitsu, or defeating an enemy by turning its strength against itself, is the tactic used by the Metro de Lujo (Subway DeLuxe) campaign. Elegantly attired individuals protested the Madrid subway’s inscrutable price hikes by dressing up and toasting champagne to welcome the new “aristocratic” pricing. Or, how about the ultimate fetid vengeance, exemplified by the #TubasuraalBanco(#TakeYourGarbageToTheBank) campaign – which, ultimately, made it as far as Portugal (#OLixoAosBancos). Another hilarious example is the #ManiFicció/#ManiFantasma (#FicticiousProtest/#GhostProtest), a fake protest announced as a total urban guerrilla outing, which managed to ridicule and embarrass Catalonia’s riot police (Mossos D’Esquadra), when they arrived to meet the dangerous enemy to find…no one!

15M has creatively and humorously reinterpreted the tenets of Saul Alinsky classic “Rules for Radicals”, or The Guerrilla Communications Handbook, amongst other direct action classics. Additionally, it has birthed a particularly active army of Twitter troll activists. Profiles such as @barbijaputa or the @ikastrolla collective are prime examples.

PROTOTYPE 8: Resilience Micro-Utopia

Faced with the unjustified rising cost of public transport, classic resistance-based activism would respond with barricades, protests and setting things on fire. On the other hand, resilience-based activism uses adaptation, micro-attacks, and hacking, expressed through cracks and loopholes in the legal system. “Translegal”, rather than illegal. IGetOn YouGetMeoOn… non-payment tactics for public transport. If you get fined, there’s a co-op that will handle the cost of the fine. It works out cheaper to make a monthly contribution to the MeMetro (IGetOn) co-op than paying the regular monthly pass. Adapted from an identical initiative in Greece, the YoNoPago movementfights against the rising cost of highway tolls and public transport, another sign of resilience. When the VAT was raised 21% for Spanish freelancers, a new “bacterial” web-based network called #HuelgaAutónomos (Freelance Strike) sprung up to deal with the problem by paying individual taxes collectively, or by refusing to declare income on certain months (Freelancers in Spain are required to pay a disproportionately high fixed monthly fee to able to work legally).

PROTOTYPE 9: The Networked Post-Syndicate Micro-Utopia

The Citizen Tide phenomenon, especially in Madrid, has not been thoroughly studied by social anthropologists, but it should be. As far as mass media is concerned, apparently it isn’t even worth analyzing. The Marea Blanca (defending Public Health), Marea Verde (Public Education), Marea Azul (against the privatization of water) and the Marea Violeta (feminism), are permutations on the traditional protests and marches declared by unions or political parties. 15M turned everything upside down. It modified the source code of protest and spread the virus to the rest of society. That’s the reason the Mareas work within horizontal, non-hierarchical networks. These mobilizations create new sets of visual associations (green equals “education”), and no one displays any union or political party paraphernalia during marches, whether they’re members or not. Their texts and objectives are written collaboratively and with absolute transparency. The Citizen Tides are a new form of social mobilization. Could we be witnessing the birth a radically different form of syndicalism? As for me, I haven’t the slightest doubt that the Tides represent a form of networked post-syndicalism that marks the beginning of a new era.

#TomaLaHuelga, a summons by 15M to attend the protests organized by the official government sponsored – and highly inefficient and corrupt – unions, as a differentiated “critical march,” is another clear-cut case of post-syndicalism.

PROTOTYPE 10: The Collective Intelligence Micro-Utopia

The popular, and subtly reactionary, eighties Spanish children’s TV program “La Bola de Cristal” (The Crystal Ball) introduced the phrase “sólo no puedes, con amigos sí” (you can’t do it alone, but you can do it with friends”) into the burgeoning Spanish collective unconscious. Those youths, now grown, repurposed the phrase from the start of the movement. Maybe that’s why we’ve seen such a natural shift from DIY (Do it Yourself) to DIWO (Do it With Others). Here’s an interesting distinction: 15M has consecrated the value of “multitude” over “masses”. In contrast to the “mass-man," as portrayed by Ortega Gasset, we see the emergence of the “multitude man”, as exemplified in the Smart Mobs of Toni Negri and Howard Rheingold. The Smart Mob forms an autonomous whole, bigger than the sum of its parts. 15M’s Smart Mobs brought to life the concepts of “swarm” (Kevin Kelly / Steve Johnson) and “collective intelligence” (James Surowiecki, Pierre Levy) like never before. Initiatives such as Stop Desahucios (mass gatherings to physically prevent foreclosure eviction proceedings), actions like the “Eschaches” (public humiliation and condemnation of corrupt politicians and bankers) and campaigns such as Toque a Bankia are palpable demonstrations of swarm and collective intelligence initiatives in full gear.

Collective intelligence also powered the 15Mpedia or the Vivero de Iniciativas Ciudadanas (Open Hatchery for Citizen Initiatives) Glossary, and played an essential part in the formation of WhatsApp IM groups used in protests to assure the protester’s bodily safety. These are telling examples of the kind of collective intelligence that feeds the parallel, alternative and sustainable world mapped on projects such as MeCambio.Net, a listing of companies and services founded on ethical and sustainable values.

Translated by Stacco Troncoso, edited by Jane Loes Lipton for Guerrilla Translation! Read the original article in Spanish at 20minutos.es.

Originally published by Guerilla Translation!

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