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Spain's Electoral Rebellion: Welcome to the Post-Party Political Era, Part II

Spain's Electoral Rebellion: Welcome to the Post-Party Political Era, Part II
Fri, 7/17/2015 - by Bernardo Gutiérrez

IN ITALICS This is the second installment in a two-part series. Read Part I here.

In May 2014, no one could have imagined that the narrative, organizational and emotional wave Podemos unleashed would turn Spanish politics upside down in just a few months. No one dreamed that a municipalist movement would have consolidated itself throughout Spain in such a fulminating way – let alone that the multiple processes would end up getting along and converging.

Only a few people understood a tweet from Traficantes de Sueños (@traficantes2010) on June 3, 2014, reminding the now-famous leaders of Podemos that a municipalist plan was already on the table:

“The Municipalist Wager” #book prepare the next assault. #FreeDownload http://t.co/igrMGBVD5g CC @ahorapodemos pic.twitter.com/F5UhdYM796

June 15, 2014, some weeks after the publication of “The Municipalist Wager,” the Guanyem Barcelona Manifesto was published. “We don’t want either a party coalition or a mere alphabet soup. We want to avoid old party logics and rather build new spaces that go beyond the arithmetic addition of the component parts,” it read.

Guanyem Barcelona was initiative led by Ada Colau, the spokesperson for the Platform of People Affected by Mortgages (PAH) – and now, as of last month, the mayor of Barcelona. The group's stated purpose was “winning the mayor’s office in Barcelona” by creating a confluence of majorities. Guanyem, which in Catalan stands for “let’s win,” latched on to the call for empowerment ignited by Podemos. “If we organize around more specific goals and practices, we will be able to reach objectives that seemed impossible,” declared the manifesto.

After Guanyem came the platform EnRed, within which organizations like Traficantes de Sueños, Observatorio Metropolitano, Juventud Sin Futuro (a key actor in the M15-Indignados movement) and Patio Maravillas (an occupied self-managed social center in Madrid) concocted a municipalist plan that quickly mutated into Municipalia. An open meeting on June 28 in MediaLab Prado in Madrid opened the door to a name change: Ganemos (“let’s win”). All of a sudden different Ganemos initiatives sprouted in neighborhood across the city and in dozens of cities throughout Spain.

“During the past few months, we have been slowing cooking up the community agreements, primaries processes and programs that will make democratic citizen candidacies viable, rooting themselves in new organizational forms that are capable of creating a politics that is responsive to the social and political fabric of each local community,” wrote Pablo Carmona, one of the brains of the Municipalist Plan, and now a city councilman for Ahora Madrid.

Agreements, assemblies, enthusiasm and tensions simmered with a new sense of urgency. In 2014, participants in the M15 neighborhood assemblies had opened Podemos’ thematic and regional circles, the most celebrated decentralized structure within the party. Many people were motivated by the neighborhood wave of Ganemos, so they started opening nodes of their own. And so began the weaving together of the decentralized web that would later become Ahora Madrid.

“The squares showed the high level of preparation that we have regarding the management of very complex situations, with great intelligence, but also with tenderness, active listening and proximity,” claimed Alberto Nanclares, a collaborator in Ganemos and the Movimiento de Liberación Gráfica de Madrid (Madrid Graphic Liberation Movement), which was a key actor in the final stages of the Ahora Madrid campaign. The citizen practices, activated in 2011 by the Indignados, were the constant beacon of inspiration.

“The forms of cooperation of network movements no longer lay on big unitarian ideological dogmas, but rather on connecting those practices where the reconquest of our rights and of what is common is exercised,” wrote Arnau Monty in his 2013 article “The Mutations of the M15 Network Movement.”

The imaginative methods used by Ganemos Madrid proved extraordinarily powerful. “Take the city, lead by obeying (disobeying),” published by Ganemos Madrid in June 2014, was an inspiring collective roadmap. It remixed the Zapatista practice of leading by obeying with the massive civil disobedience demonstrated by M15. The 2011 slogan, “Take the street” mutated into “Take your city institutions.” The almost invisible work of assemblies and networks emerged into a nimble, lateral and liquid form of politics – a real politics. The spatial ingredient completed the assemblage: territorial and hyper-local, bottom-up and outside-in.

The five principles of confluence in Ganemos worked metaphorically as the Four Freedoms of Free Software: a brief ethical framework from which to build processes by sharing code and practices. It’s worth reading them carefully:

1) Principle of Confluence: do not try to generate a new structure, but rather favor the coordination of already existing collective work.

2) Principle of Promotion: favor the development of tools and spaces of territorial cooperation in those places where they don’t exist.

3) Principle of Sustainability: think of mechanisms of participation that are not only sustainable for activists, but more importantly for average citizens.

4) Principle of Inclusiveness: any launched initiative should always focus on and seek the participation of the general citizenry and not only the movement’s internal composition.

5) Principle of Co-organization: do not consider citizenship as the exclusive space for consultation or validation but rather support the tools that enable everyone who wishes to organize, participate and create binding decisions.

The Ganemos wave grew quickly, multiplying and mutating during the summer of 2014. Free software logic shared computer code repositories and networked cooperation eased the expansion. Guanyem Barcelona published a Useful Guide to create a Guanyem / Ganemos. Collective intelligence and the local needs of each city reconfigured the shape of each confluence. Ahora Madrid, for instance, would take advantage of the source code for Zaragoza en Común's digital platform to elaborate their own program. A few days before the elections, Pablo Soto, who was responsible for digital participation in Ahora Madrid and is currently a city councilman, affirmed that “implementing participatory mechanisms for citizens means expropriating power from representatives, it is an act of de-representation.”

How did these confluences evolve? The effectiveness of the adventure, according to journalist and Ganemos Madrid participant Olga Rodríguez, depended on finding “spaces that could accommodate all of us who have suffered from cutbacks, in order to restore democracy and simple values such as solidarity.”

For its part, Podemos, which was relentlessly being attacked by big corporate media, finalized its secret "one girl" strategy: find an independent and experienced woman candidate for the confluence in Madrid. After many refusals, Jesús Montero, Podemos’ General Secretary in Madrid, convinced the ex-judge Manuela Carmena to become the mayoral candidate for Ahora Madrid. Once on the campaign trail, Manuela would repeat over and over again that she had “nothing to do with Podemos.” Without that distance the success achieved by Ahora Madrid would have been impossible.

Nobody suspected that the mutation of municipalist initials would become so dizzying. In many cases, the blame fell on the opportunism of the old political parties, which preemptively trademarked the brand Ganemos all throughout Spain, with the complicity of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. In response, Guanyem Barcelona became Barcelona en Comú. In Galicia, the Mareas Atlánticas (Atlantic Tides) and Compostela Aberta were consolidated. Somos Oviedo (We are Oviedo) emerged in Asturias, and Por Cadiz Sí Se Puede (For Cádiz Yes We Can) in Cádiz. The name of the confluences was the least of their worries. The spirit imbued hundreds of campaigns with words such as “win,” “now,” “change” or “common.” The choice of legal format, as the journalist Aitor Rivero explained, was up to each city: “group of voters” and “instrumental parties” were the most used.

Ahora Madrid was officially presented on March 6 as the instrumental party formed by this confluence of citizen movements, associations and parties (Podemos, Equo and dissidents from Izquierda Unida, among others). It was a post-party in all respects. There was no budget. Primary elections, a non-negotiable condition for Ahora Madrid, were yet to be held. The list of candidates that won the primary, headed by Manuela Carmena, gave a press conference on March 24. The ex-magistrate Manuela was a perfect unknown. There were 60 days left before the elections. Few thought that Ahora Madrid could conquer the local government in Madrid.

Manuela the muse

With less than two weeks left before the May 24 elections, the citizen overflow arrived. The Graphic Liberation Movements in Barcelona and Madrid were the first to do their part, unleashing an impressive stream of posters brandishing Manuela’s image. Then the platform #MadridConManuela blew up in popularity with an inclusive, thrilling and contagious campaign. Dismantling people's fear of the unknown, it turned Manuela Carmena into a pop muse and undid the knot weaved by corporate media against Ahora Madrid. "Manuela, the enlightened muse," stated El País.

When the mainstream media persisted in emphasizing the candidate’s pop persona, the hashtag and narrative #SomosManuela (#WeAreManuela) emerged, becoming a national trending topic. Manuela Carmena had become a mask of the multitude – a candidate that could be appropriated by anyone. #SomosManuela overflowed, decentralized the campaign, infected people with enthusiasm for change, and captivated Madrid. Everyone, the whole country, was Manuela.

By this time, Ahora Madrid’s official campaign was no longer setting the pace, but was one more layer within a polyphonic and choral ensemble of narratives, strategies and actions. The poetic rally celebrated on May 19 in Plaza Tirso de Molina in Madrid became another metaphor of the popular "overflow." “Neither the communication managers of Ahora Madrid, nor the [TV] anchors and talking heads mentioned it, while Plaza Tirso de Molina was crowded with people listening to poems, without stump speeches but with highly political content,” affirmed Rubén Caravaca, of the M15 assembly of Los Austrias neighborhood, to Ahora Madrid Cultura.

Felipe Gil and Francisco Jurado, in Winning by Overflowing, laid out this new reality that defied the conventional wisdom of the political spin doctors, campaign consultants and party machines. In their article, they speak of inconclusive and unfinished narratives, of open prototypes and mutant identities. And they single out the key for all the political confluences that emerged and would emerge: “to let oneself trust and be invaded by an uncontrolled collective construction." Mayo Fuster, a researcher in collaborative culture, also highlighted this point: “The key concept here is overflow, which refers to the capacity to loose control over a process and to operate freely during the process of mobilization.”

Manuela Carmena’s citizen-led campaign was based on a network system of people, a human ecosystem that echoes the famous definition of “Autopoiesis” formulated by the Chilean biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela in 1972: the mechanism that favors the self organized replication of living organisms. From the autopoiesis of living cells to the autopoiesis of a self-organized and indignant citizenry since 2011; and from the autopoiesis of nodes in Ahora Madrid to the mitopoiesis, or process of collective myth creation: citizens transformed Manuela Carmena into a common body-desire. “The pro Manuela campaign is a story that wouldn't have allowed for any other transmitter than the citizenry itself, it couldn’t be managed by a typical structure,” affirms Nacho Padilla, one of the co-founders of the Madrid platform.

What's next?

A political earthquake: for the parties, for the old marketing establishment, for the traditional left. And a systemic earthquake for social movements. “Social movements need to have their own life and autonomy, they need to become critical mass. We need to end with the figure of crony association,” said Rafael Peña of Compostela Aberta.

And how does Podemos fit into this new socio-political picture? Will a confluence of different political and social forces be possible in November's general election? The success of these laboratories of confluences, of which Podemos is a key engine, have led many to dream of a national citizen-led confluence for Spain's general elections. “Yes we can, but not only with Podemos,” writes Isaac Rosa. Alberto Garzón, whose name was thrown around as the potential presidential candidate of Izquierda Unida (United Left), now openly defends the plan: “Not only are the upcoming elections at stake, but also future generations.” GANEMOS is better than PODEMOS is the new collective mantra.

“What is playing out in Madrid and Barcelona in the municipal [elections] has a connection and correlation with changes that have come here to stay,” asserts David Arenal, who has been involved with M15, Ganemos and Ahora Madrid. Meanwhile, Raúl Sánchez Cedillo of the Commons Foundation points to Ahora Madrid as the model to be followed: “Only one case illustrates that this type of municipalism gains more than Podemos, and that’s Ahora Madrid. An inconceivable experience, if it wasn’t for the work and tenacity of Municipalia in the first place and later Ganemos Madrid.”

Barcelona en Comú received 25% of the votes in the Catalan capital, with Izquierda Unida at the heart of the confluence. The 32% of the votes gained by Ahora Madrid, without the official support of Izquierda Unida and with much less time than their Catalan counterparts, opened hopeful horizons.

If M15-Indignados inaugurated a new social grammar, the municipal election results have created a new political ecosystem – an ecosystem in which different life forms cohabitate interdependently, some fluidly while others more defined. We can’t talk about Podemos without discussing these confluences. We can’t explain Ahora Madrid without Podemos. In a hypothetical national confluence, Podemos could become the driving engine of change. The form and narrative will be that of the confluences. The citizen nodes and social movements will be autopoietic cells that keep the ecosystem alive.

In the meantime, Manuela Carmena proves with each gesture that a different form of politics is possible. She takes public transit, rides her bike, doesn’t attack her enemies. She Listens. One of her tweets on election night plainly sums up the aggregating spirit of these new confluences: “One hour left. Don’t be scared, nor allow others to frighten you. Happiness is our only revenge. Participate and let's move forward #Elections2015.”

Translated from the Spanish by Pablo Benson and Mateo Fernández-Muro.

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