Tens of thousands descend upon the continent’s financial capital for one of the most anticipated pan-European demonstrations since the G8 in Genoa.
There is something different about Blockupy Frankfurt, the pan-European days of action on May 16-19. Not only will Blockupy be the largest transnational street demonstration of the Occupy movement so far; it is also expected to introduce innovative new tactics into the movement that could see an escalation of direct non-violent confrontation with the corporatist state and the global financial institutions responsible for causing the current capitalist crisis.
Over the past year, Europe has been rocked by a wave of anti-austerity protests, but the most numerous and most spectacular actions so far have taken place in the periphery: in Greece and Spain, in particular. While the Occupy movement did spread to the eurozone’s wealthy core, these occupations remained largely local or national in nature. Insofar as international coordination was involved, it was for global days of action like October 15 and May 12.
But this week, a coalition of action groups from around the continent will be raising the stakes. In one of the most anticipated international demonstrations since the heydays of the alter-globalization movement, tens of thousands of activists from all across Europe are expected to descend upon Frankfurt — the continent’s financial capital and seat of the European Central Bank and some of the continent’s largest financial institutions, including Deutsche Bank.
Blockupy Frankfurt is a direct response to the deepening eurozone debt crisis, and in particular to the way unelected technocrats and powerful bankers are responding to it by imposing ever-harsher austerity upon the peoples of Europe. At rock bottom, Blockupy is an attempt to reclaim European democracy from the seemingly unstoppable forces of finance capital.
As organizers put it in an official statement:
We place our actions and protests in the context of the progressing struggles for self-determination, freedom and dignity all over the world — such as the uprisings and revolutions of the Arab Spring, the social struggles and general strikes in Greece, the indignados movement in Spain and the worldwide protests of the Occupy movement. We are not alone and our voices can be heard all over the world.
Starting tomorrow, on May 17, thousands will occupy the squares and parks of the city, pitching their tents, engaging in workshops and debates, and organizing for the big events of the next two days. On May 18, organizers have vowed toblock the ECB and financial district for a day. Not just as a symbolic action, but as a direct attempt to physically stop financial activities in the city and thereby block the endless flow of capital that sustains European ‘zombie capitalism‘.
Clearly, it the ‘blocking’ aspect that is the most innovative and most radical contribution of Blockupy to the movement. Organizers correctly recognized that merely occupying a square and building alternative institutions of direct democracy — while absolutely necessary — is not enough. In order to truly challenge the status quo, we will have to go directly after those responsible for causing the crisis, disrupting the functioning of the financial system as such.
All of this, the organizers firmly believe, can be done in a peaceful and non-violent way. Radical protest does not equal violent protest. The emphasis of Blockupy is not on physical aggression but on direct action and civil disobedience. The purpose is not to harm people — but to halt a system that harms people. The goal is not to throw stones and smash windows, as some fear, but to overthrow bankocracy and smash the cultural hegemony of neoliberalism. While Blockupy itself won’t do that, it is an important next step.
Of course those in power, having completely morphed into the system, will consider such a pacific approach inherently violent. After all, a non-violent ‘blockupation’ challenges the very privileges they derive from their control over this system. When the people suddenly rise up in the tens of thousands to take control over their own lives and the public spaces that belong to them, this directly undermines both the symbolic and physical power of the ruling elite.
It is no surprise, therefore, that German authorities immediately banned the protests. After the organizers took legal action, a judge granted permission for the rave of May 16 and the general demonstration of May 19, but upheld the ban on the occupations of the 17th and the blocking actions of the 18th. This means that anyone participating in the actions, regardless of the legality and/or morality of their actions, will a priori be considered a criminal.
But such threats will not stop the movement. After all, as Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote in a famous letter from Birmingham Jail, we know that “an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.”
And so the protesters assembling in Frankfurt decided to push on with their plans anyway. The city center is currently on a complete police lock-down with barricades put up everywhere. This morning, police already moved in to evict the camp in front of the ECB headquarters. So wherever you are, make sure to keep an eye on Frankfurt these days, for the confrontations we are likely to see there will have an enormous impact both on the direction of our movement and the future of the austerity politics currently being shoved down our throats by the political and financial elites.
As John Holloway, known as the ‘philosopher of the Zapatistas’, wrote in an excellent op-ed in the Guardian the other day, “Blockupy Frankfurt offers a glimmer of hope in times of austerity.” Perhaps the ‘blockupy’ strategy is the way forward for our movement, as we radicalize our resistance from OccupyMordor in Barcelona to Occupy NATO in Chicago? By next week, we should know the answer. For now, feel free to speculate below.