15 M, stories in movement

15M in Barcelona.

15M in Barcelona. Source: Wikipedia.

We write about 15M on June 28. Its been a little over a month since the beginning of a movement unexpected for many. But so many has been  written, said, seen and heard that it is hard to realise…that it started  just a month ago.

Trying to analyze a phenomenon that is just learning to breathe like a closed object would be either brave or erratic. Between political analysis and  media stories we believe that there are huge differences depending on variables such as time, independence and, undoubtedly, rigor.Time is necessary for a granular and complex phenomenon such as 15M, which   is not just a movement, but develops in motion. Trying to make still photos as if they were panoramic shots is an exercise that can lead to a monumental blunder. Independence, because it depends on the structure and rhythm of a particular environment that can lead us to assert things that we’re not sure about. Doubt or thinking aloud is seen as a sign of weakness rather than as a symptom of a state of affairs in perpetual change and difficult to decode. And rigor … Needless to say, rigor is important to analyze anything. We will not even try to analyse 15M, but fortunately, many are already doing so.

We want to review what has been said and interpreted, from the early stories that appeared on 15M. Some overlap with existing discourses on contemporary social movements and the role of new technologies, whether of cyberskeptic or cyberutopic nature. Others  welcome concepts like crowd, or the emergence of multiple identities that exclaim “they do not represent us” putting at risk the cornerstone of representative democracy. There are voices that are common in the sum of singularities, the basic ingredient of a policy innovation process: “Walk slow, in order to go too far.” Some texts share our perplexity, and have more skills to point out  the difficulty of explaining what is happenning if any doubt about our toolbox is enough to understand.

There are also platforms from which collective discourses have been created, some from a single informative position  and others from a more analytical or normative position that have undoubtedly played a crucial role. In any case we do not intened to determine if the 15M is a “reformist” movement or a  “revolutionary” one,  if “free” or controlled by abject minds from the darkness, whether it will be a turning point in our lives or it will simply be a footnote in history books. Let us try to be slightly ambiguous to such trials in order to focus the lens to analyze how it seeks to represent or explain a complex phenomenon that has broken several myths in a few weeks. For this work we selected some interesting articles, both because of what they say and how they say it, and some platforms have played a prominent role at the time not only in information but in order to signify the facts.

1. Everything is born in the network

When in 2002 Howard Rheingold wrote his book Smart Mobs we had still some years to see the birth of Twitter,one of the most used social networks in the world. Facebook didn’t exist either, and Mark Zuckerberg had not even entered Harvard. However what Rehingold described as “the next social revolution” is what is happening right now in the network: “groups of people who undertake collective political, social, economic mobilizations thanks to a new medium that allows for other organizational  modes into a new level, between people who until now could not coordinate such movements. ” In the preface to the Spanish edition, Rheingold says that the movements of Seattle against the World Trade Organization or the citizen reporters in Korea that mobilized electoral processes through OhMyNews.com in the same way that the collective mobilization of 11M in Spain are examples that “we are facing a new form of social organization, culture and politics in the making.” It looks like “the next social revolution” is already here and that is organized not only through text messages and blogs, but through much more effective channels and groups created for the occasion in fb and hashgtags in twitter. But the ephemeral nature Rheingold gave to these strategies seems to be mutating into a new paradigm.

The article Maig of Seixanta-tweet by @hibai and @Galapita on new forms of network communication and its influence on political mobilization,puts  the emphasis precisely on the role played by the social networking movement. The text highlights howTwitter becomes a tool of democratic political participation and is highly effective in influencing attendance at meetings from tags that not only serve to align the debate but to point out common lines: #nonosvamos #notenemosmiedo #barriosdespiertos #bcnsensepor #bcnsinmiedo #15msigue #puigdimissio #aturemelparlament, etc. The novelty does not lie in the communicative fact but that the movement in itself is an interconnected network where “web and analog organization are inseparable.” There is no dichotomy between network and neighborhood and the territory of politicization is omnipresent.

To understand the extent of this movement outside from traditional communication channels the article The virals of the #spanishrevolution by Delia Rodriguez is very illustrative. It reviews the contents that have traveled at the speed of wildfire on the Internet. It isan  extremely insightful collection of video interviews, photos that show the violence of the police force and counter-hoaxes, statements made from collaborative documents, articles that report, explain or theorize. Those contents do not always coincide with what the mass media shows, but are those that really create states of opinion and mobilize the population through re-tweets,  “I likes” in facebook walls, and references in blogs and Internet forums.

2. “They do not represent us”: the representational crisis of politicians (and the media)

“And best of all, there are no political symbols, all citizens are protesting  against the country’s politicians #15m #nolesvotes” @guyermadrid

“We have our own media. We don’t need manipulate press or television” #15m #19j #democraciarealya @emiliohdez

At this point we want to point out two lines of thought that have opened and are expressed in the same meme: “they do not represent us.” Obviously, this exclamation refers directly to politicians, the distance that the public feels about the democratically elected positions. But this criticism of political representation in turn is articulated with a critique of the media, a radical questioning of the alleged official voice for “telling the facts.” 15M movement has made clear that the same way that politicians “do not represent us,” the media are themselves unable to represent the movement. On the one hand, various parties have tried to sympathize with #15m (with no success either than reinforcing the partisanship) on the other, it means a lot have sought to homogenize the complexity of the movement by calling it ” the collective of the indignant.”

In an article entitled ” Don’t they represent us?” Joan Subirats analyzes the criticism directed to politicians as a demand that is not “anti-political”, but that emphasizes the need to rethink the key under which the representation is justified.

“With the cry  “they do not represent us” there is a warning that politicians are not dedicated to achieving the goals they promised, they do not resemble the citizens in their way of living, doing and acting. The attack is thus double: to the delegation (they don’t do what they say) and to the lack of ressemblance (they are not like us). The 15-M movement does not attack democracy, but I understand that what is claiming is a new rooting of democracy in its founding values’

An informed citizenry that questions the effectiveness of a bunker under which   mediation exercises fertilize and identifies measures already carried out successfully in other contexts, is a citizenry that can exclaim “they do not represent us” quite legitimately . On the other hand, Subirats reminds us that the representational crisis is not a new issue, and that there are numerous academic papers from political theory  have sought to understand the origins, effects and the different routes under which this institutional crisis has been emerging. Obviously, the representational crisis of media was not born yesterday. Attempts to represent the movement in a biased manner by some media has been answered over and over again, with numbers and letters, videos and tweets, photos and hashtags and, above all,  with immediate response. If it takes arguments or frame what you want and why, an indignant citizen replied directly to questions from the media. But the novelty is that the attitude has not been frictional, it was not based on counterbalancing what one or other media said. The media traditionally called as “counterreporting” have taken a different look in the current process. Platforms such as Periodismo HumanoOkupem les onesSol TVMadriloniabookcampingn -1 and many others, have been producing the imagery, and multiple identity and dynamics closer to 15M. One way of communicating in real time, analyzing the facts and sharing thoughts without seeking leaders, representatives or victims. Perhaps, as the lawyer David Bravo said in a tweet ” The problem that 15M has no visible head is not of the movement, but of the executioner, who does not know where to cut.

3. Identify yourself

When looking at the 15M movement many observers felt more comfortable identifying its shortcomings than trying to define its properties; the Popular Party spokesman Esteban Gonzalez Pons, represents this view when he states openly that “the problem of the 15M movement is that we do not know its face. It is a movement that lacks speakers, leadership and structure. Therefore, when we speak of 15M we do not know exactly what we mean”. It is not the only institutional or media representative that reclaims the movement to be articulated on the basis of indentifiable structures as a prerequisite for dialogue. In the hours following the first actions of protest, the journalist Iñigo Sainz de Ugarte identified this renunciation to a structured organization as one of its most puzzling characteristics:

“Politicians would like it not to be disorganized, that it had a commission with a list of requests. They should meet with an MP who would take note and study the requests. And then to forget them. The media would also want a head leader and a list of demands to look at all this quietly and therefore establish who does the phenomenon benefit and then assign it a lifetime ”

But “What do you want?” Is not the only question is difficult to answer, there is another one, much more basic, but  that also lacks consensus: “Who are they?”.

The inability to assign a unitary identity that brings together all the actors that take part in the movement is one of its defining characteristics. Are the campers the same that are protesting in the streets and those that are organized in social networks? Are the organizations  that call for marching during 15M and 19J –e. g. Democracia Real Ya- different to other citizens that are coordinating to prevent mortgage related evictions? What ties them to traditional social movements, or anti-organizations such as Anonymous, the scattered and unclassifiable group of hackers?

Perhaps the Conceptual Map Acampada Sol, created almost in real time as events progressed, is the most comprehensive attempt to gather and organize all the stories that somehow come together in the 15M, which accounts or identifies the thousands of citizens gathered in the squares and the “hashtags” in Twitter. In the concept map one can find the historical episodes that we anticipated as far as May 68 – and as recent as “Say No to War”, the events in March 13, 2004. One can find disruptive and cyberanarchist news organizations such as Wikileaks and Anonymous, and civic movements raised in radically different circumstances: the Arab spring protests in Tunisia and Egypt, and the citizens revolution in Iceland. Trying to assign a single ideological color to the movement is just as useless. Recent previous protests that worked to test strategies that were used during 15M, such as demonstrations against the Sinde Act and  #nolesvotes were supported by a wide spectrum of society beyond traditional ideological parameters.

Of course, the biggest difficulty  to answer the question of who are they and what do they want those that feel part of the 15M is that no one is sure and knows with absolute certainty what they want and who are those that accompany them. The fact that Democracia Real Ya!, one of the key organizations in the movement detached itself from protest actions promoted by other agents, or a big part of the blogosphere strongly criticized the assemblies by overstepping its stated objectives, condemns any attempt to analyze the 15M movement as a hierarchical unit. The desire to define “minimum consensus” principles that everyone can subscribe, sometimes reveals a certain anxiety to defend a common message.

4. New (or not that new) forms of political composition

“The gathering of people in Puerta del Sol is far from being a stupid and anonymous mass, but rather a smart mob that does not eliminate the expression of singularity, pluralism and power of each individual” Jorge Moruno Danzi.

We also find analysis that connect #15m to contemporary forms of collective organizatio, ways to test non-centralized forms of government that, despite the heterogeneous voices united, are articulated in a common identity. In the article ” 15-m, the age of monsters” sociologist Jorge Moruno Danzi speaks of past events that have accumulated valuable experiences that have influenced the movement of # 15m as “anti-globalization protest cycles, that took cities and centered media stories  for a certain period of time. It is not so much a revival of those experiences, but rather an evolution in the ways to organize and express discontent. We can also analyse the demonstrations against the war in Iraq in 2003, demonstrations for decent housing in 2006-2007, and the movement against the Bologna process in universities”. These movements include attempts to design an organization according to what is required, a political network composition network as well as slogans such as like “We are not marketed goods in the hands of bankers and politicians,” “we’ll change the system,” “if markets rule, there is no democracy” that mark the scope of the claims.

These are the same thesis that Toni Negri argues, putting the movement into a greater experience: “The 15M seems to spring from nowhere. But that’s not true: beyond the activity of groups beyond coincidende (latent and perverse) of the economic crisis , one can trace in the movement accumulations, deposits, changes in duration.” Negri also highlights the organizational capacity of the movement, its attempt to show direct forms of democracy and intended to be constituent, affecting the structures that questions. The sum of singularities, the multiplicity of the ‘crowd’ identity does its “anomalies” a virtue.This is the idea that Raúl Sánchez Cedillo outlined in his article ” 15m, the crowd that uses masks in order to be a single one,” where he comments, “The nature of an open network system is in my opinion the key to a constituent 15M. The problem of self-government of a crowd, that is, the combination of the diversity of the movement and its ability to join in the timely implementation of force, in the forms of decision by a kind of “emerging consensus” or the ability to decide on the abundance of shades and opinions, makes this movement a formidable and enduring threat.” In a similar attitude, Santiago López Petit detects a common notion that serves as a binder, where “suddenly what seemed impossible has happened. My discomfort is also yours, and yours … we have trascended the impasse in which we were stuck through the politicization of the discomfort outside the traditional codes”.

But there are also evolutionist readings that return to other experiences and challenge the discourses that claim to reflect on political pluralism such as the ‘crowd’, and have sought to sow doubts and criticisms of the movement . In an article in La Vanguardia titled ” On behalf of the punished,” Francesc-Marc Álvaro says: “This anti-political ideology, anti-democratic, simplistic, demagogic and populist existed before the crisis, and has always existed, adapting its rhetoric to be in fashion with current times. ” The author stresses that the movement is new when it comes to the format (new technologies) but not its basis, which remained lethargic and waiting to finally achieve sympathy with people who couldn’t find other directions. This article relates the movement dubiously to the utility theory articulated as “a purely reactive response that leverages and exploits the suffering and uncertainty of many people to sell a defective and non-toxic alternative that, when subjected to the polls is never going to get a testimonial support, and one should only count the number of votes of the far-left parties. ” This story will open a new point, where doubts about how to understand the movement were clarified by subjects in the shade that have manipulated the considerend plural voices. One point that might be called “critical voices and conspiranoia” whose stories have also accompanied the process and also help us to understand better, maybe not its essence, but its significance.

5. Stories in movement

It is interesting to see how the movement walks on the back of a sophisticated speech output device. A label brings a new slogan. After the accusations of violence, slogans like ” We are not violent, we are the truth that hurts” or ” Violence is earning 600 euros per month” were everywhere. This dialogue with the topics and rumors that were spread has been continuous. It is not just a response, but a relocation of the problem of producing context. In parallel, we are seeing with astonishment an informative fold where there was is official, anti-government, anti-anti-official, official-against media and a few other combinations of media information. The institutional communication breaks down and is reinvented every minute. 15M stretches and contracts, specific purposes are defined in their thoughts and abstracts, throngs the square, goes out and runs in the neighborhood, one at a time and in a multiple way. This narrative that has emerged expresses what is uncomfortable and others express what is enthusiastic. What for some is a symptom of weakness and lack of definition, for others it is a sign of openness and learning.

After surfing for things said and written, we can only add one thing: learning by doing requires an understanding by asking. And since we’re in both fronts, as Marta Malo says, you have to write for orientation, at the speed imposed by the moment.

@zzzinc #masacritica

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