Today I want to share with you a text that is a bit special. It is a revision of the transcription of an interview that Charlotte Fernández (@charlottefer) gave me on 17 January 2014, as part of a study on 15M (Indignados Movement in Spain) carried out by the Pompeu Fabra University and directed by Josep Lluis Martí.
The text does not include the whole interview. As far as possible, I have tried to keep the original sense of my answers by improving the written form. However, you will probably find some badly written parts, but I have kept them as they are because I think they express more clearly my thoughts and my way of answering a spoken interview.
Although it is obvious, it is not superfluous to specify that I was not the only one interviewed and that in no way my opinions try to reflect the opinions of other people active in the actions developed thanks to the awakening promoted by what we call 15M . What I am commenting on is a personal opinion and in no way representative of 15M or anything else.
Below is the edited interview:
Are you currently participating in an activist space or any collective, movement?
It depends on what we understand by collective, movement or group. I could almost say that my life is activist. So I would say yes, but of course I don’t know if it has to be something very concrete or….
For example, my involvement in “meetcommons” can be understood as a different kind of activism. It’s an activism that generates structures that are directly dedicated to constructing new imaginaries for new realities.
How did you come to 15M?
The anecdote is very curious. I hadn’t participated in demonstrations for many years because it seemed to me that they were meaningless. That is to say, the context in which they took place didn’t seem interesting to me. However, I took part in the demonstration on 15 May 2011 because I was very interested in the way the demonstration was organised. I was surprised. Then on the day that Puerta del Sol was occupied, a friend who was in Helsinki at the time wrote to me on Skype asking me what was happening in Spain and precisely in Madrid.
I didn’t know what to think so I told him that in the morning when I was going to work, passing through Puerta del Sol, I had seen that some people had stayed to camp and I told him, I guess that’s what you mean. There were about 20 of them and not much more… But he insists “no no no, there must be something going on because I’m on Twitter and there’s a lot going on”. So I get on Twitter and I start to see the tide of messages from people who are starting to think about camping out in the squares, starting with Puerta del Sol. At that moment I leave my house, which is next to Puerta del Sol, and I realise everything that is happening there.
This is important. For me it is key, even in the way I discovered what was happening, it was not yet a movement but what surprised me was the feeling that was in the air and that allowed anyone to join in and feel part of it without having to ask anyone. That is to say… you immediately felt part of something, you knew that you were building something together with others with an impressive feeling of inclusiveness and that you were included in the way you wanted to be included.
From that day on, especially the first week and for a whole month, I couldn’t work in the same way; I had to go to work but my mind was somewhere else. On my way to work I passed Puerta del Sol every day, so I started to do the streamings. In the afternoon on my way back from work, I would also do the streamings of how the square was and then at night there were always demonstrations and I would go around the city.
That’s how I got involved in that vortex …..
Before 15M, had you participated in any movement or activist space?
Yes, let’s say that since I arrived in Madrid in 2004 I have been part of groups that in some way can be considered activists, but always looking for that attitude of building. One interesting group was “Laboratorio urbano”, a group of students from the architecture school that worked on the theme of participation but trying to generate a greater connection between the context of the university and the citizenry.
What did 15m represent for you at the time, what was different about it, what made you sign up?
Undoubtedly many differences. I stopped being part of activist groups because I didn’t recognise myself in their mechanisms of collective identity that end up generating over-structures that crush the identities of each member. I have found myself in different situations in which the collective had to make decisions and the members had different opinions depending on whether the name of the collective was used or not. I find this kind of situation absurd. Things like “I for me”, “I would do it in the name of the collective but not in my name” or the other way around were used.
On the other hand, I didn’t like a certain navel-gazing in the world of “alternative culture”, although I always recognise its importance as a key element in generating a change in our ethical and political imaginary.
So what has changed? In 15M there is an extraordinary spirit of inclusivity that brings us closer to a kind of networked identity that is different from the collective identity: in short, an identity in which no one can present themselves as representative. This is something that was felt from the very first moments when you approached a camp. A feeling of inclusivity and of breaking with pre-established schemes and ways …… with a very optimistic and positivist vision of the future ……
What were the high points, the most impressive moments of the square? What were the key moments?
Above all, the first two or three days of Puertas del Sol were unforgettable. That so many people come together in a square without having a clear point or moment for the end of that “gesture”, or a very defined objective, is something unique; it is exactly what has allowed us to create a new social, cultural and political imaginary.
The demonstrations, including the demonstration on Sunday 15 May, had a programmed climax that corresponded to the classic outline of a demonstration. A scheme recognisable to all; that is, a parade through the city that ends in a square where there are “organising leaders”, who give a speech from a platform. The scenario was the same as always.
Very different, however, was the situation we experienced after the encampment in Puerta de Sol. There the situation was impressive because we were building a new imaginary. That feeling is unique. It cannot be repeated. It is fundamental. We were there and we were building this new imaginary and people turned out. Even scenographic imaginary was built. I don’t know what happened in Barcelona and other cities, but in Madrid, the banners, the minute’s silence and in general, a whole series of small “scenographic/organisational” contributions allowed all of us who were there to form part of the process of constructing a new collective imaginary. We were not repeating a script, but we were building something new together. That was important and …… very powerful!!!!
Another impressive thing was to see how Puerta del Sol was structured into a mini-city thanks to the work of many people who were self-coordinated and capable of building their own infrastructures (digital and physical) in a very practical and efficient way. A collective intelligence was generated that took advantage of everyone’s knowledge to generate in a very short time an infrastructure that worked very well. Without financial resources.
Then the assemblies….
First there is the general assembly that takes place in the square, which is spectacular. There is a kind of need to talk about everything… Each person sees it in a thousand ways. But it was spectacular because in the end anyone who needed to talk about something could do so and go to a square and set up a discussion group. So, an agora was really generated, a moment in which people approached other people to talk and to imagine a better world.
… there are very specific moments in the history of the encampment, the demonstrations, the way people interact with the police, that have shown a great collective maturity. I’m convinced that the movement has been able to develop thanks to the fact that such a strongly non-violent attitude was achieved in those early days.
… And then a memorable moment was when they decided to leave the square and cleaned up. That was exciting. Surely there have been many, many more moments when you think about it and you say how strong! In any case, that day when everything is dismantled and you can’t believe that everyone is cleaning it all up. Cleaning… I mean, you could see people removing the stickers that were on the kiosks in the square. Not cleaning lightly, but cleaning….
And then there is the system of assemblies that are structured in neighbourhoods: a key element that allows everything that happened not to stay there but to unfold a whole cultural transformation that acts directly in the city.
For you, is 15M a social movement?
I would say rather that it is a cultural renaissance that manifests itself in different social movements, of social transformation and cultural transformation.
From your point of view, where does 15M originate?
It’s difficult to answer, but I think it’s useful to understand at what point the turning point between the anti-globalisation movement and the Occupy movements was generated.
From my point of view some turning points are evident in those moments in which governments take measures that insist in a direction that turns out to be completely opposite to what the vast majority of citizens want. Those are very strong moments, possibly taken very lightly because the democratic system gave governments that power. The legal structure and the political structure that we have given ourselves legally allowed them to take decisions against public opinion. An example of such a situation is the case of the war in Iraq, which is also a situation that has occurred in several European countries.
On that occasion and in many others, the inability of governments to listen to the demands of the “governed” promotes a reaction of society that proves to be capable of organising itself independently and with structures different from the traditional ones.
When the Iraq war happened, people started to group together in movements, demonstrations, coming together for the first time with people who actually have different opinions on many issues other than the war. Possibly for the first time people from different parties were demonstrating together. So different networks began to be generated and the traditional patterns of struggle and organisation began to break down. In Spain, if we want to identify other key moments, we can talk about the Galicia oil spill disaster. On that occasion, the government was unable to deal with the problem and society organised itself to deal with it on its own. Then there is the issue of the Sinde law. Of course, no one can say that’s where it all begins, but they are key moments… Also Operation Goya. They are all situations in which something different is happening.
Could you tell me what the aims of the movement were?
I don’t think so…
… or tell me what was being defended?
I don’t think… There was no objective, there was no objective… There was something much more important: the atmosphere. Working to maintain this context of dialogue and collective construction. In the first moments it was more noticeable because it was a very visible objective in terms of physical contact, coming from the fact of participating, of being part of it. I would say that in the first few weeks, one objective was to generate this atmosphere of collective construction based on human contact.
Then if we want to look for a more general objective I would say it was the search for social justice. It doesn’t get any simpler than that.
Earlier you said that for you the movement is glocal.
Yes, I think that 15M, if you want to think of it as a social movement, is clearly glocal because what it does is work constantly at a very local level but in constant connection with everything that happens globally. The camp itself would be unthinkable without this glocal dimension. Although it is born from Puerta del Sol, the strength comes from a condition that is reinforced by the capacity of those who initiated the camp to generate an atmosphere that extends beyond the square. That is to say that the fact of being able to communicate in real time that the Puerta del Sol square was being occupied is fundamental because it allows you to get the support of everything around you and in this case, the whole country.
So what is glocal?
To begin with, the feeling we had in the square was glocal because we knew that it was being replicated in other squares. Each square had its own identity.
It is also glocal because the demands are at the same time global and local. In other words, we are asking for social justice and real democracy (global) but at the same time it is a movement that is concerned about the city (local). It is certainly a movement that is very attentive to the right to the city; in fact its own activities “build the city”. From the encampments to the assemblies in the neighbourhoods, processes are generated that bring about the emergence of a citizenship that is more present and attentive to its urban and relational environment.
I describe these processes as situated collective intelligence. Its mechanism is as follows. Starting from a global demand for change, many citizens exchange information, generating a global collective intelligence, but this collective intelligence ends up being situated in a close (local) environment, concretising and increasing its transformative capacity.
Then the collective intelligence located in its glocal condition shares ideas and new ways and dynamics at a global level, to then act directly in a very specific territory. You dialogue and learn at a global level but the action is direct. This is glocal.
More generally, what were the values of the movement?
Non-violence, I don’t know if it is a value. Inclusivity we have already said.
Values like human dignity were very present. The human dignity of people before other things like markets.
For example, you said it before when you talked about the collective identity that allows you to be you in that group. Everything that refers to the creation of collective knowledge, etc….
Yes, there are some values… For example, the presence of the values of free culture is fundamental, and associated with these, the values of hacker culture come into play.
This influence translates into the awareness that each one of us has during any kind of action and organisation in which you know that in everything that happens you are responsible for your own actions and in some way… a value has been established that has a lot to do with adhocracy.
Strangely, a situation of “tolerance” has been generated that has allowed experimentation with new ways of doing things collectively. This is super important because it accepts the fact that what you are doing follows rules and protocols and structures that are not pre-planned. The fact that people accepted that, even very large assemblies, is spectacular. This is pure collective intelligence.
Clearly all of this is possible and accepted because there is an awareness that new models of collective thinking and organisation are being built and therefore you put up with more than usual.
If we want some concepts about what the fundamental values of the movement are, I would emphasise the crisis of organisational models based on representativeness.
Representativeness, which had always been a fundamental point of reference, which structured any kind of collective work, of collective connection, is no longer the point of guarantee, nor the objective. It is no longer the model to follow. It is at most a starting point.
Right now, after 15M you can’t talk about representativity in the same way as you did before.
On the other hand, what conception of democracy does 15M have? You mentioned the before and after of representativeness: what model, what reality was being considered? What was democracy supposed to be like? Initially there was the “they don’t represent us” for example?
The most important thing for me is that a political reflection that starts to imagine new models takes root. We were there and we knew that in some way it was a political gesture.
Was there a radical change of model or not?
I think so, and that’s why I say it’s a renaissance. Because in a way, what 15M does is to shift the horizon. That is to say that previous movements, no matter how radical they were, always had a very short horizon.
15M generates an atmosphere that makes us breathe and therefore lengthens and widens the horizon: it looks very far.
Wasn’t it a question of asking for more participatory democracy or talking about giving society a greater role? In fact, the issue of participation was present in 15M?
Yes, it was present, but the moment it becomes more concrete is when it becomes concrete in this glocal dimension. At the beginning you have a haze of things because you are really broadening the horizon and there are words and concepts that fly over the assemblies a little bit. Imaginaries that are being constructed and so on. But it is when these concepts enter and become more present that you move on to local action. That’s when you ask for participation, but not hypothetical participation, but participation in the place where you are.
When you comment on this renaissance and this going beyond, and the fact that elections don’t matter so much, how is the relationship between democracy and citizenship being considered? How was it understood that this relationship had to change?
I understand it as the request for a model that goes beyond the one based only on representativeness. In other words, we are talking about a citizenship that participates and claims its right to the city. It is accepted that there is a supposedly democratic model, but what we want to do is to intervene to make it better from now on; although a bigger transformation is needed, what we are asking for is that the citizen can participate more and that it is not the representative who makes decisions only by virtue of being elected, but that he or she always takes into account the opinion of the citizens. There is a demand for greater connection and debate between local managers and citizens. Public administration is beginning to be understood as another agent. Not as the agent that represents us all. I think this is an important change.
What were the opinions in general about banks, capitalism, the institutions of the European Union, the crisis, the troika, etc.?
I would say that the banks are detected as promoters of economic practices and even political practices that are completely distant from the social justice that citizens are now demanding. In other words, they are clearly recognised as one of the main agents responsible for economic and social degradation. It is not an attack like the “anti-globalisation” movements that criminalised banks and capital movements, but I believe that it generates a slightly different sensibility and reflection that ends up blaming the banks, guilty of having lost sight of their initial purpose: from being economic agents that favour local development, they have been transformed into structures of power and structures at the service of powers that feed off each other.
And the others…? The banks, capitalism, the EU, etc?
It is interpreted that there is a minority who, thanks to supposedly democratic infrastructures, have perpetuated their power to the detriment of a large majority of people. It is clear that those responsible, at a time of crisis, are thinking of solving the problems without assuming their guilt and, on top of that, asking for sacrifices from others. They are infrastructures that basically what they do is to enclose themselves and generate a micro-system of defence of all these infrastructures that defend each other politically, economically and also in terms of communication. A kind of ring is generated that had previously been used to generate power and wealth (for them) and is now being used to conserve it. I think we are in a moment of transition characterised by a citizenry that has detected all these perversions of society and is no longer willing to stand by and watch.
Let’s move on to the functioning. You were in Sol, did you sleep there?
No, I lived nearby at the time… and I slept at my house.
The images are by Pablo Rey (@numeroteca)