Greece is divided. There is the Greece of Tsipris, and the Greece of the movements. What appeared for a short period to be a united country, of movements together with the government, is, in fact two visions and realities. The reality of those from below and the reality of those who hold power. Many in the movements have said this all along, but most were waiting to see if perhaps they were wrong, holding out, waiting and hoping, that maybe this time there really would be a government that would fight in the name of the people. With the referendum the waiting intensified, as did some people’s hope. Then hope was smashed. The waiting ended. The government is going in one direction, the movements another.
Tsipris is aware of this and does not want to loose all legitimacy. It is not only that there is a split in SYRIZA, caused by Tsipris accepting a devastating austerity package he promised he would not, though this split is real and challenges Tsipris’s legitimacy as leader of SYRIZA, there is a still larger threat to his legitimacy. The people. The movements from below. Solidarity for All, the network of movements and NGOs that SRYIZA coordinated has begun to split, with the housing defense activists being the first to flee, no longer having a reason to align with a government that has promised mass foreclosures and evictions. People in the movements say they will no longer wait. It is time to deepen the construction of alternative power from below, in Greece, and with links globally.
Grassroots movements throughout Greece have been meeting over the past months to discuss how to support one another and survive the deepening crisis – and until recently there was also the question of what their relationship to SRYIZA would/could/should be. As these discussions continue the question of alternative power from below is increasingly on the agenda, and SYRIZA much less, if at all. Many of the first discussions and assemblies this summer were inspired by the referendum and what most people saw as an impending ‘no’ vote and potential exit from the Euro, or at least a rejection of austerity and thus a deeper crisis. Assemblies have continued, and have been taking place in social centers, parks, neighborhoods and Social Solidarity Clinics. Days after the Greek government agreed to the austerity plan, hundreds of people met in Athens and Thessaloniki to talk about forming a network of movements – in particular autonomous movements, meaning those not in Solidarity for All, or those considering leaving – to join together and create alternative networks of survival and exchange. Concretizing the other power from below that already exists into a coordinated network. These discussions are still new, but the motivation to make them concrete as fast as possible is palpable.
Anestis, a participant in his neighborhood assembly reflected a bit on the assembly that took place in Athens,
“We did not expect so many people at the assembly since it was at the end of July and most people are away then. But we had over 100 people. A lot of people said that the waiting phase has ended and that this government is the same as the other governments.
Then the discussion turned to what should we do come September. A lot of people talked about this and admitted that even though they were movement participants all these years they had expected something from the government. They admitted that over these 6 months a lot of things in the movements were not moving so fast, because, well, they waited for something to happen. And really this is why the last two years were so destructive, with some of the links between the neighborhoods and movements being lost. They thought the memorandum would be lighter. In much of the discussion there was still the challenge that people said we should do this and do that, and certain proposals came up, but it was still unclear who was going to do it, how, and based on what relationships. So for example, many people said we need to organize more neighborhood assemblies and networks of assemblies, but how and based on what relationships was left open. That was the only shortcoming of the conversation. … we will meet again in September.”
In Crete, the weekend of the referendum, I participated in a gathering of Social Solidarity Clinics to discuss how and if they will form an autonomous network – maintaining their autonomy from the government and other state institutions. These are full service free health clinics, run by volunteers, that emerged in 2011 to help alleviate the increased price of health care. There are now almost sixty such clinics, with a dozen or so completely funded by their local community, meaning they do not accept money from the government, political parties, the church etcetera. The result of the gathering was not a finalized version of a network, but clinic participants did all agree that they would continue to function autonomously, and they feared the need would increase, rather then decrease. A fear that has already come to fruition with the new austerity package of the government.
The host of the gathering was the Social Solidarity Clinic in Iraklio. In light of the referendum and increased austerity, the clinic is leading the way in a call for people throughout Greece and globally to come together in networks of support, solidarity and mutual aid. Their statement reads in part:
“#ThisIsACoup. 12/7/2015 Euro Summit. A surprise for some. Not a surprise for others. In either case, there is a lasting question. How is a response from below possible to counteract and negate the totalizing financialization of our lives?
Support is needed for the struggle from below taking place in Greece. …
This is the 2nd call for the International Solidarity-Mutual Aid Network. To meet acute and long term needs in Greece. From/to self-organized initiatives. The aim is to make visible, to demonstrate the efficacy of and put into practice an alternative form of Social Solidarity vis a vis the form of Institutional Solidarity—the EU-ECB-IMF institutions and the new austerity program by the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) of the Eurozone.
To clarify. The call is not a contingent choice. It follows our broader effort to develop a different approach to healthcare. On a social, rather than individual, level. Solidarity, reciprocity, equity, without any distinction as to race, color, origin, sexual orientation or religion. …
The plan is to start from, and have at the core of this network, autonomous solidarity health clinics—the sites experimenting on the basis of non-capitalist forms of labor, non-medicalized healthcare, non-institutional dependency. Each clinic will act as a hub, and will coordinate with other self-organized groups in its city/broader area. …”
— Social Solidarity Health Clinic & Pharmacy – Iraklio, Crete (Entire statement)
The response to this statement has been tremendous, with over one hundred groups from around the globe signing on, particularly from Latin America, and a few solidarity agreements already having been reached. One such agreement is an exchange of services between a cooperatively run travel agency in Italy and collectives in Crete and Athens. The Italians will organize people to come to Greece, and the Greeks will coordinate their housing, food, all based in direct relationships with organic producers, meetings and assemblies with groups organizing in those cities, from social solidarity clinics to alternative education and housing projects. It is one of what will likely be hundreds of new relationships, based in movement to movement relationships.
As the government is showing that it is not willing to support the population, the movements from below are coming together to manifest that they will work to support themselves and one another. As the slogan of the recuperated workplace, Vio.Me in Thessaloniki states, “If you can’t do it – We will.”