Michael Albert interviews Jérôme Roos, a writer, activist, creator of Roarmag.org and a political economist from Amsterdam, the Netherlands, who is currently based in Florence, Italy.
1. Not to make you uncomfortable, but can you tell a bit about yourself? Locale, background, current project and your political beliefs? Would you call yourself a feminist, socialist, anarchist? Do you have any organizational affiliations other than ROAR?
I was born in the city of Utrecht, the Netherlands, and lucky enough to be sent to a very alternative and politicized school based on secularized Quaker principles. As a result, from my 4th until my 18th, I was exposed on a daily basis to a strong communitarian ethos based on consensus-based decision-making, mutual aid and cooperation, creative self-expression and social engagement.
This formative experience has continued to affect me as I attended liberal arts college in the Netherlands and then graduate school in Paris and London. During my studies, I traveled to Africa and Latin America, which made a big impact on me — both culturally and politically. I am currently working on a PhD on the Greek debt crisis at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, where I focus on the power of the financial sector and the way it has managed to capture the political process.
Throughout my politically conscious life, which started at quite an early age (one of my first memories is watching the Gulf War on CNN when I was 6 years old), I always felt myself to be firmly on the radical Left, but it was not really until recent years that I began to develop a fascination with libertarian socialist ideas and practice. While I wouldn't necessarily identify as an anarchist, I must say I have been profoundly inspired by the libertarian socialist tradition and the great revolutionary episodes of the Paris Commune and Barcelona's social revolution. If I would have to locate myself in ideological terms, it would be probably be somewhere between George Orwell and Subcomandante Marcos of the EZLN.
Other than running ROAR, I have been involved with the anti-austerity/real democracy movement that burst onto the scenes in Europe last year. I am a volunteer for Take The Square, which is the international commission of the occupation at Puerta del Sol in Madrid, and have very close ties to the multimedia team of the occupation at Syntagma Square in Athens. I also have loose connections with the movements in Italy, France and the Netherlands.
2. When did you start ROAR – and with what intent?
ROAR was born as I was riding my bicycle through Oakland one day in the summer of 2010. I wrote my first blog piece on the Greek debt crisis, now the subject of my PhD research, because I felt a strong urge to share my outrage about the neoliberal policy response to the crisis, and to inform my friends (and hopefully others) about what I believed to be the real story behind the bailout and the austerity measures.
More broadly speaking, however, ROAR was conceived as an online platform for young writers and activists to share critical perspectives on the status quo and to propose creative new visions for an alternative future. The mainstream media were simply not covering the type of news I considered to be truly relevant for the future of our world, and there was remarkably little debate on the way in which the global financial crisis was feeding into a general crisis of democracy. I wanted these topics to be debated, and setting up a website to do so felt like a logical step.
In a word, setting up ROAR was really just an attempt to amplify the voice of our generation in a time of crisis.
3. There is an incredible volume of material that has your byline. How is it that you manage to write so much, and from so many places and about such a range of concerns?
As you may have noticed, my productivity has declined significantly in recent months, but it's true that I was writing a lot throughout 2011. Writing has always been my passion; sitting down behind a laptop and hammering away at the keyboard was already part of my second nature before starting ROAR, but I must admit that the events of 2011 did change something inside of me. The revolutions and movements inspired me enormously. They seemed to give a purpose and meaning to my life right at a time when I was struggling to position myself as a freelance writer/blogger on global justice issues.
To be honest, ever since the Tunisian revolution captured my imagination, it all kind of flowed naturally and organically: in April 2011, my friend Bojan Opacak and I had just finished designing the current website, and then, on May 15, the indignados movement suddenly burst onto the scene in Spain. While I obviously had my reservations and criticisms, I fell in love with the movement straight away. There was a magic sense of change in the air. I never really thought about it twice. I just started following everything that was happening and would write down anything that came to my mind.
At the same time, I began to attend the assemblies of Spanish expats in Amsterdam and later traveled to Athens and Madrid to join the occupations and meet with activists there. Wherever I was, I would spend most of the day reading the news and talking to people, and then most of the evening and night writing articles. In September, the Occupy movement burst onto the scene in the US and I started my PhD program, meaning there was very little time left for sleep or any other activities. I can safely say that at point my entire life revolved around the movement. I barely slept and spent most of my time writing about whatever I felt was important at the time. There was just so much happening every single day, it was crazy.
But in the end it was really the movement that inspired me — ordinary people standing up for their rights and dignity. The articles may carry my byline, but the stories were not so much written by me as by whatever was going on all around me. Ever since January 2012 I have been taking a step back to try and reflect on it in a deeper way. 2011 was just so incredibly intense — I needed a bit of space and time to recharge my batteries. I am now working on the first ROAR documentary (on the Greek crisis and anti-austerity movement) and a number of other projects. I will keep writing, but not as frenetically as before. Life is offering exciting new pathways and adventures at the moment, and I don't want to waste away these opportunities by spending my fleeting time on this planet behind a laptop screen.
4. Recently, you have indicated on ROAR a new direction for the site. Can you describe that, and your hopes for where it will lead and how it will contribute?
At the start of 2012, we decided we wanted to continue doing what we did last year (i.e., cover the movement, report on police abuse, follow the latest developments in the global financial crisis, etc.), but we wanted to bring in a more constructive and forward-looking dimension as well. More specifically, we wanted to start thinking about alternatives to the status quo. One of the main criticisms that has been leveraged towards our movement (often unjustly), is that we have no alternatives to propose. We wanted to show that this is not entirely true, although we do admit that these alternatives have not always been articulated as clearly as they could possibly (and ideally) be.
My hope is that, by writing about alternative models of social, political and economic organization — such as the proposal for The Global Square that we launched on ROAR late last year — we can contribute our humble two cents to an emerging transnational debate on the type of society we would like to see in the future. Rosa Luxemburg once said that the most revolutionary thing one can do is to always loudly proclaim what is happening — but while I fully agree with that statement, I would add that it is equally important to inspire the collective imagination by providing alternative visions of what a truly free and democratic post-capitalist society could look like.
I consider myself a critical realist, but without a shared vision of some distant Utopia on the horizon, our movement risks becoming a rudderless vessel lost at sea. Now, more than ever, is the time to come together and use the power of the imagination to give direction to our struggle. This will mean less intensive reporting and more thoughtful reflection. On a personal level, this type of writing is much closer to my heart. It's a difficult transition for ROAR, especially since most of our "success" in 2011 was based on our reporting as opposed to our analysis — but I really do hope we can pull it off.