News from the debt crisis in Spain and the rise of a global response
Steps towards considering, participating and rebooting democracy
Por DIAGONAL English

By Ter García and Pablo Elorduy / Translated by Esther Ortiz Vázquez, Susana Macías Pascua & Rob Dyas

Democracy, debt and human rights were the central themes of the Agora 99 meeting in Madrid, which was conceived to unify answers and demands against the shock policy being imposed by the EU. Despite the very ambitious goals, it was understood from the beginning that none of the European movements problems would be solved overnight. “Come down to earth and don’t tense up”, suggested one of the moderators. Calmly but with an intense schedule, due to the urgent situation of the European citizenship, for four days Madrid became the meeting point of more than two hundred activists from different Greek, Slovenian, German, French, British and Italian social movements which came to take part in Agora99.

The meeting took place in May during Frankfurt’s Blockupy workshop. Under the aim of coordinating a common European strategy for demonstrations around debt, social rights and democracy, the work meetings took place at Madrid´s Patio Maravillas (occupied social centre) thanks to technology such as Munble and other electronic chat tools. This threefold approach permeated the twenty meetings, tackling issues ranging from education, housing and health to joint water management, communication, and participative democracy.

“You are not a loan”

What kind of tools do we have to fight the debt model? The central one remains that of default. “This can be either managed from the top, by the debt owners, or from the bottom, democratically”, stated Isidro López, member of the Observatorio Metropolitano during the round table workshops.

Yorgos Mitralias, who forms part of the Greek Citizen Committee against Debt (CADTM), participated in the debt panels where the austerity measures imposed by the Troika on the peripheral Euro countries were analyzed in depth. In this workshop, tax resistance to the debt payment was suggested as a concrete response that might be given by the European citizenship. Moreover, the debt team highlighted the need of being pedagogic, coordinating and unifying the message at an international level so as to confront the blind alley that management of the debt as a shock tool inevitably leads to.

The work carried out by the different debt audit networks, especially in Greece, contrasted with the heterogeneous variety coming from the rights area. Here several movements spent hours sharing both experiences and information, with civil disobedience being the common denominator.

Occupy to stop repossessions

“There is a strong presence in the neighbourhoods in Spain. In Milan the movement is growing quietly, but it is taking shape and, in the last evictions we’ve had, the presence in the neighbourhood was also strong.” says Gonzalo Mosquiera of the Cantiere Social Centre, having just watched a video of a stoppage of a repossession in Madrid. Taking the lead from one of the tools that another housing group tried to put in place, Mosquiera’s collective have created a mobile app that allows users to view a map of notifications of evictions that might be taking place in Milan. He is quick to point out that there the campaign named Occupy Sfitto (Occupy the Empty) is more concentrated on preventing evictions of squats and the opening up of new squats for those without a home in a city that, he points out, has more that 80,000 empty dwellings owned privately and a further 4,500 empty public buildings. They have already forced the council to create a body that assesses each case individually.

“The situation in Germany is very different because we don’t have the same problems with mortgages”, confirms Hanno, a German activist, who also states however that the prevailing environment of fear is exploited by the landlords to increase rents, most notably in Hamburg. “In Berlin a short time ago locals managed for the first time to prevent a family being evicted, following the example of the Stop Desahucios (Stop Evictions) campaign in Spain and next week there is a protest being held for the right to a home”, explains Hanno.

A little later in the recently opened La Morada social centre, one of the Greek activists of Agora99 is speaking in a workshop about self-management and civil disobedience. He describes how, in Athens, the workers of a clinic occupied it in order to maintain the right to healthcare despite the proposed cuts.

Nearly 30 people attended the debate workshop to define and design a list of basic common rights. “In Paris we are working on the minimum wage. I think we need to fight for this on a European level and get it included on a list of European rights”, says Sophie Banasiak of Real Democracy Now Paris and other workers collectives. Sophie announced that on the 1st December there are protests organised based around these social rights and invited the other groups that were present to participate in order to make a Europe-wide mobilisation.

The removal process, that is the demand that the dominating powers resign, began more than a year and a half ago and will continue to be a key part of the European agenda. The commencement of a constituent process was one of the things that most inspired the participants. Roughly one hundred people worked throughout the Saturday afternoon to formalise the proposal, unifying the demands for direct, participative democracy through texts and communal events. Raúl Sánchez, one of the energizers of the axis of democracy, admitted during the morning session that the constituent debate does not have the same intensity in all the PIIGS countries (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain) in spite of the fact that the “commission dictatorship” of the Troika has attempted to block democracy from Lisbon to Athens.

Saturday evening proposals

During Saturday evening, sheltered from the rain, the three central themes of debt, democracy and rights were being settled so that the proposals could be transferred to the meeting the following Sunday. It wasn’t easy: exhaustion, the difficulty of dealing with some concepts at the same time in Italian, Spanish and English, and the specific urgent matters from each country, weighed down the progress of the three meetings. However, there were several proposals before the proceedings were brought to a close, both regarding agreement on future dates and common approaches that bring forward a new agenda of actions, mainly as regards to communications, which started last 14N.

The meeting on Sunday, which initially was to take place in Puerta del Sol, was in the end held in the EKO community centre. For more than six hours, participants of each working party presented their conclusions and proposals and, although the meeting did not finally produce any definitive decision, several actions have been brought to the table. “Why are dates so important?” wondered Aitor from Barcelona, “we are supposed to establish a horizon to know what we want and how we want it done”. His intervention questioned the emphasis in establishing an overly prescriptive agenda for the movement, which, nevertheless, has declared a few dates, some of them in connection with the pace of the different nodes, and others purely reactive, like the call to “hack” the forthcoming meeting of the Council of Europe in Brussels next March 2013.

“The meeting of the European movements in Madrid has been a qualitative leap”, states Dario Lovaglio from Universidad Nómada (“Small open political laboratory and in process that enables the collective production of new theoretical paradigms”- taken from its web site). “On the one hand, for being an ambitious project: a step forward to reinvent European democracy; on the other, for its inclusive and plural capacity”. To Lovaglio, Agora99 is the first step towards the construction of another European political framework, which feeds on the actual experiences of the participant movements that cope with the crisis. “It is there, where the crisis is lived out everyday, that new ways can be thought up of democratically re-appropriating common property and social, collectively produced wealth, both material and immaterial”, concludes Lovaglio. Working to revert the general state of shock and convene another meeting in the near future is the next step for Agora99, a public and open round table for the 99%.

A device within the network for the spread of information

The urgent need to configure a communications tool to coordinate and communicate to the different European movements (and many others) was suggested during the weekend in Agora99. “It is very complicated to build such a tool, there must be a group of hackers -people who work in participatory processes - who think of how to generate it also through other developed experiences like the ones in Brazil or Bolivia, explained Guillermo from Patio Maravillas (an occupied social centre in Madrid). At present what exists is an email list and a willingness to facilitate a fundamental tool that will help put to work the plans of the meeting towards a new network, which should be set in the coming months.

[This article was originally published in Spanish on November 9th 2012]





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