Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
We write this letter as participants in the movements, and as an invitation to a conversation about which we write. 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 an incredible possibilitiesy and potential turning point.
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 the Arab SpringEgypt 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 crucialn important 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—institutions 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 energyies more on the assemblies and the working groups than on the 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 it is also true that 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 and help people outside of the movement and the space of the plaza or square. This – the going beyond the parameters of the plaza – is what 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 and collaborating 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 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, 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.
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook
‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali
Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.
Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent
Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art
Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs
Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox
Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite
Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead