How Barcelona Defeated Violence


[translated by irlandesa]

Today Barcelona is the new reference point for the global movement. Following the mobilization of more than 500,000 persons, it will be difficult to discredit protests against economic policies in the world as something which has to do with “radical and violent minorities.”

The significance and dimension of what took place in the City of Marvels must be assessed from the perspective of the last few years. Seattle was the surprise, the birth of the new movement, the break in the world consensus in favor of globalization. Governments did not know how to react to the novel dissidence. Afterwards came the protests in Washington, Davos, Prague and Quebec. New actions and new reactions were tested at each summit. After Gothenburg, last year, a new strategy was launched which involved making the police cordon around the demonstrators more effective, and the repression more open and brutal. Genoa represented the climax of this policy. Even though the convocation was a success, it also demonstrated that governments had decided to finish off the globalphobes at the cost of violating democratic liberties. The assassination of Carlo Giuliani by the Italian police was a clear message.

Added to this is the atmosphere which has been created following the September 11 attacks, which has been used to stigmatize and criminalize demonstrations, by comparing them with terrorism. There was widespread paralysis in many sectors. In this context, Barcelona represents a change which broke with the tenets of the previous marches.

Walking Out on the Prepared Script

The task was not easy. In addition to media demonization and the Spanish government’s political harassment, there were the difficulties of coordination and of understanding inside the movement. The government placed the entire city under a state of military siege, and the media discouraged participation in the anti-summit campaign.

Iñaki García, a member of the Solidarity with the Zapatista Rebellion Collective, and one of the organizers of the “Against the Europe of Capital and Against the War” events of March 15 and 16, explained to Masiosare: “We understood that there was a lot at stake in Barcelona, and even more so after Genoa. The climate was strained because of last June’s experience (the march against the World Bank that had been heavily crushed). It wasn’t easy confronting the organization of the protests against the European summit, and there was fear concerning the huge police intervention that was being developed.”

Some activists warned in assemblies that “the repressive machinery” could make many of them try and hide instead of thinking about protesting.

“Despite everything,” Iñaki recounted, “there was agreement to promote it.” The organizers were clear about one thing from the beginning: “We didn’t want the terrain they were preparing for us, the direct confrontation where we had to lose,” she said.

“We began with many doubts, and things were advancing until we had lots of initiatives. It was a tremendous amount of work in very little time, but there was a lot of enthusiasm. The differences and tensions had been quite strong, but the campaign was able to be put together with a radical and innovative content.”

The majority of the people and collectives who were participating wanted to do something quite different from confronting the police and destroying banks. The main challenge was conquering fear and claiming the street. There were groups tied to the Okupa movement and the Independent Catalans and Basques who were insisting on direct violent action. But a consensus won out in favor of actions that would nullify the government’s belligerent strategy.

“We agreed, all of us I think, to avoid blockades against the summit, because they would have been suicidal,” recalls Iñaki. Decentralized mobilizations, fiestas, concerts, mass demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience were promoted.

The CGT (anarchist union) called for carrying out “everything that occurs to us and which demonstrates the diversity and vitality of the social movements. We called for walking out on the script, for using direct action and civil disobedience as mechanisms for struggle that go beyond violent confrontations with the police. We have to regain the furiously festive and subversive nature of our activity, breaking military frameworks (summit-blockade-clash with police) the powers want to confine us to.”

They opted for decentralized actions, “as many as the people proposed, ” under the idea of convergence and mutual respect. During one of the many meetings, it was argued: “We are not afraid. The entire police strategy is based on creating a state of exception, where people stay inside their houses, and an activist elite confronts 10,000 police. Given this reality, the movement should go back to using its creativity and decentralization. Achieving, through that, a more complete visualization of the resistances, of their diversity, beyond the framework of a medieval joust, which is what the police are proposing.”

This is how the city’s local struggles were involved. Hundreds of liberation associations, human rights, labor, women’s, gay, ecologist, Okupa, student and immigrant associations promoted more than 25 decentralized demonstrations and actions throughout the city.

They even invented forms of protest like “the first mass participation action, a very media-friendly and entertaining choreography that represented the symptoms of turbo-capitalist Europe, presented as the first global-animal experiment in the world of demonstrations.”

Theatrical works were presented in defense of democratic liberties and civil rights. Anti-repressive manuals were prepared. A committee made up of the organizers themselves was in charge of order at the demonstration. “It wasn’t about laying siege to the summit, but about breaking the siege of the city,” it was said.

The events joined together an archipelago of causes. They rejected the National Hydrological Plan, they were in support of women’s or immigrants’ demands, they defended public education, the legalization of marijuana or expressed solidarity with the Palestinian people. There was emphasis on promoting an economy that is in the hands of the people and not corporations.

In a preliminary assessment, Iñaki García noted: “It demonstrated that there was great discontent over the way preparations had been made for the summit and for the accords that had been predicted that it would produce. It demonstrated that it was an open and inclusive convocation, which had a very strongly critical sentiment that no one was going to be able to profit from for their party or power interest.”

After the mobilization, she added, we see the movement as being stronger. “We think that Barcelona has given encouragement to everyone who is fighting and resisting. The world powers also know that Barcelona is a city where they are not welcome, and the rest of the world also knows that they have an encouraging precedent, that things can be done.”

And she concluded: “Above all else we have been able to demonstrate that the struggle makes sense, and that we can wrest spaces away from the powers and connect with common everyday people. What seemed impossible was achieved.” Another reality was made possible.

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