avatar
The Camp is the World: Connecting the Occupy Movements and The Spanish May 15th Movement


The Camp is the World:
Connecting the Occupy Movements and The Spanish May 15th Movement

We write this letter as participants in the movements, and as an
invitation to a conversation. We hope to raise questions about how we
continue to deepen and transform the new social relationships and
processes we have begun … to open the discussion towards a common
horizon.

The evictions and threats to the physical Occupations in the United
States have again raised the question of the future of the movement.
That the movements have a future is not the question – but what sort
of future is. For example, should our energy be focused on finding new
spaces to occupy and create encampments? Should we be focused more in
our local neighborhoods, schools and workplaces? Is there a way to
both occupy public space with horizontal assemblies yet also focus
locally and concretely?

A look at the recent history of a movement similar to Occupy – the
Spanish indignados or 15M movement can shed some light on the
opportunities and urgency of this new phase.  It is a moment that we
see as a potential turning point, and one with incredible
possibilities.

There are three key elements that have made the global movements of
2011 so powerful and different.  The extraordinary capacity to include
all types of people; the impulse to move beyond traditional forms of
the protest and contention, so as to create solutions for the problems
identified; and the horizontal and directly participatory form they
take.

Let’s look at the first element. Unlike other movements that have
strongly identified with concrete social groups (workers, students,
etc.), both the indignados and Occupy are movements that anyone can
join, just by choosing to do so.  Again and again in Madrid as in New
York we have heard the demonstrators chanting solidarity slogans to
the police: “they’ve also lowered your salary” and “you too are the 99
%”.  In both places the movements have been able to bring out many
people who had never been to a demonstration before and made them feel
welcome and useful.  It is a culture and politics of openness and
acceptance of the other.

The second element, the capacity to create solutions, is consistent
with this non-confrontational aspect of the Spanish and American
movements.  Like their predecessors in Egypt and Greece, both
movements began with the occupation of a public space.  Rather than
reproducing the logic of the traditional “sit-in,” these occupations
quickly turned to the construction of miniature models of the society
that the movement wanted to create – prefiguring the world while
simultaneously creating it.  The territory occupied was geographic,
but only so as to open other ways of doing and being together. It is
not the specific place that is the issue, but what happens in it. This
is what we could call the first phase of the movement.  Solutions
began to be implemented for the urgent problems of loneliness,
humiliating competition, the absence of truly representative politics,
and the lack of basic necessities, such as housing, education, food,
and health care.  In Spain and in the United States this first phase
saw the creation of two problem-solving institutions: the general
assemblies and the working-groups.

The ways in which we organize in these spaces of assemblies and
working groups is inextricably linked to the vision of what we are
creating. We seek open, horizontal, participatory spaces where each
person can truly speak and be heard. We organize structures, such as
facilitation teams, agendas and variations on the forms of the
assembly, from general assemblies to spokes councils, always being
open to changing them so as to create the most democratic and
participatory space possible.

The very existence of the encampments, together with the general
assemblies, was already a victory over the increasingly desperate
battle of all against all that the neoliberal crisis has imposed on
us.  The participants in these movements create spaces of sociability,
places where we can be treated as free human beings beyond the
constant demands of the profit motive.  In a city like New York where
debates about our society tend to occur only in government
institutions, and expensive spaces of limited access (universities,
offices, restaurants and bars), the assemblies at Zuccotti provided a
public forum that was open to anyone who wanted to speak.  In
addition, from the very beginning the movement created working groups
designed to directly address problems related to basic human
necessities.  In Zuccotti, the loading and unloading of shopping-carts
full of jars of peanut butter and loaves of bread on the afternoon of
Saturday 17th, an initiative launched by the already-functioning food
committee, was the first sign of this effort to provide solutions. By
the 5th week of the Occupation in New York the food working group was
feeding upwards of 3000 people a day.

In these working groups the dynamic of the second phase of these
movements was already implicit.  In Spain this phase began over the
summer and in the United States it is beginning now.  This phase is
characterized by the gradual shift from a focus on acts of protest
(which nonetheless continue to have a crucial role, as we must
confront this system that creates crisis) to instituting the type of
change that the movements actually want to see happen in society as a
whole.  The capacity to create solutions grows as the movements expand
in all directions, first through the appearance of multiple
occupations connected among themselves, and then through the creation
of—or collaboration with—groups or networks that are able to solve
problems on a local level through cooperation and the sharing of
skills and resources. For example, Occupy Harlem is using direct
action to prevent heat from being shut off in a building in the
neighborhood – this action has been coordinated with OWS and Occupy
Brooklyn.

In the case of Spain, this expansion began in June, when the movement
decided to focus its energy more on the assemblies and the working
groups than on maintaining the encampments themselves.  To maintain
the miniature models of a society that the movement wished to create
did not necessarily contribute to the actual changes that were needed
in the populations that needed them the most.  Which is why the
decision to move away from the encampments was nothing more than
another impulse in the constructive aims of the movement: the real
encampment that has to be reconstructed is the world.

Of course, it is true that the encampments continue to have a crucial
function as places in which the symbolic power of the Occupy movement
is concentrated.  It is also true that the efforts to defend them have
produced moving displays of solidarity.  But the viability of a
movement is not only defined by its capacity to withstand pressure
from the outside, but also in its ability to reach and work together
with people outside the space of the plaza or square. It is this – the
going beyond the parameters of the plaza – which the assemblies and
the working groups have already started to put into effect.

So, for example, what this could continue to look like in the US is
that there are assemblies on street corners, in neighborhoods, in
workplaces and universities, working concretely together with
neighbors and workmates, as well as then relating together in
assemblies of assemblies or spokes councils in parks, plazas and
squares, sharing the experiences from the more local spaces. All the
while continuing to occupy space and territory, but seeing the
territory as what happens together, with one another, in multiple
places, and then coming together to share in another geographic place.
This could take places on the level of neighborhood to neighborhood –
to the level of city to city, all networked in horizontal assemblies.

In any case, to return to the case of Spain, what is certain is that
while the indignado movement no longer has encampments, its presence
is felt everywhere.  It’s a culture now, composed of thousands of
micro-institutions that provide solutions through the common efforts
of people affected by the same problems.  There are cooperatives
addressing work, housing, energy, education, finance, and nutrition,
and many other things, as well as a web of collaboration that connects
these cooperatives.  Catalunya and Madrid already have “Integral
Cooperatives” whose function is to coordinate the different services
offered by various cooperatives within a particular locale, to the
point that in some places in Spain it is almost possible to live
without having to depend on the resources hoarded by the 1%.  The
movement has made it possible for these institutions, which used to be
dispersed and limited, to grow and grow connected, and it has provided
them with a visibility that has led to much more interest, respect,
and support for their functions. Also, the movement keeps coming back
to the streets every so often in big demonstrations and assemblies
that display its force and allow all of those working in the many
projects associated with the spirit of May 15th to see each other,
network together, and welcome more people.

The creation of alternative institutions and solutions has already
begun in the United States.  With or without encampments, the
constructive phase of the Occupy movement is here, and all indications
are that it will not slow down, as it has not slowed down in Spain.
Every day on the news and on youtube, we see the police removing the
occupiers from parks and plazas, but the movement continues to grow –
and to grow outside of these places.  While the tumult of raids and
returns jolts occupiers and the public alike, thousands of working
groups around the world meet weekly in libraries, community centers,
churches, cafes, and offices to share their extraordinary abilities
and resources.  They are already creating the schools, hospitals,
houses, neighborhoods, cities and dreams of the 99%.

This is the beginning of the occupation of an encampment that will
never be dislodged: the world.

Luis Moreno-Caballud
Marina Sitrin

Luis Moreno-Caballud is a participant in the Spanish May 15th movement
and the Occupy Wall Street movement. He collaborated in the formation
of the NYC General Assembly before the beginning of OWS, and works
with both the Outreach and Empowerment and Education working groups.
He is an assistant professor of Spanish literature and cultural
studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

Marina Sitrin is a participant in the Occupy Wall Street movement, and
was a part of the NYC General Assembly that helped organize OWS. She
is a postdoctoral fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center Committee on
Globalization and Social Change, and the author of Horizontalism:
Voices of Popular Power in Argentina.

Leave a comment