As Europe continues to confront a series of interlocking crises - austerity cuts, undemocratic power structures, migration pressures, rising xenophobia and far-right movements, threats to free speech, climate change, just to name a few - the Plan B movement has emerged as one focus of pan-European efforts to chart a new future grounded in the struggle for social justice. This past weekend Plan B brought its progressive message of grassroots resistance to Madrid for the "Against Austerity - For a Democratic Europe" summit. While I wasn't able to attend as much of the summit as I would have liked - the available seats for most of the sessions were taken weeks ago - I was able to report from the closing event, which was held outdoors and featured a range of speakers representing various sectors of civil society.
The overriding message was one of anger at the bankers and European Union power brokers, along with a hopeful belief in the power of the people to chart a better future. Under this larger umbrella, I was struck by several elements of the agenda that was so passionately presented by the speakers on the stage and so enthusiastically received by the crowd. First, the central role of women in the movement was obvious. Many of the most effective speeches were made by women who are actively involved in creating change. As one speaker put it, "Plan B will be feminist, or it won't happen at all!" Second, the experience of what Plan B calls the "financial coup d’état" carried out in Greece by the EU weighed heavily on the proceedings, with numerous speakers hammering home the anti-austerity/anti-debt slogan of "We don't owe and we won't pay!" Third, there were many sobering references to the specter of fascism, with speakers noting the parallels between the current period and the mid-1930s, when Spain's civil war served as a prelude to a darker future. With all of this in mind, it was heartening to hear the crowd chanting an old slogan that remains deeply relevant today: "¡No pasarán!" (They shall not pass!) - whether "they" are xenophobic nationalists, unelected institutions, or corporate vultures.
Spain is routinely referred to as a democratic country, and it does possess many of the attributes typically associated with democracy. At the same time, as I have seen during the past several months of living in Madrid, the country is also home to some profoundly anti-democratic tendencies. For many critics, these tendencies represent not an erosion of a previously democratic reality but rather a confirmation that “La Transición” (Spain’s post-1975 transition from dictatorship to democratic rule) remains fundamentally unfinished. Nowhere is this clearer that in the ongoing attempts by the state to restrict the ability of ordinary citizens to exercise freely their right to protest and to share information about what is happening in their society. In this “Weaving the Streets” post I will share what I observed and learned at a recent protest in support of Raúl Capín, an independent photojournalist who is facing potential jail time after photographing police activity at a major public demonstration in February 2013. The case is intimately connected with a broader series of issues having to do with the criminalization of information and possibility for real democratic transformation in Spain.
Managua protest 12/10/14With no national referendum, no economic feasibility research, and no environmental impact study, work has officially begun in Nicaragua on an interoceanic canal that will have devastating, irreversible ecological consequences, and the country has begun to see major protests against the project. The canal, with its infrastructure and “sub-projects”, including deep water ports, an artificial lake, airport, hotels, golf courses, power plants, cement factories and access highways will have a negative effect on almost one million acres of rainforest and wetlands in the southern part of country.
More than forty years after Henri Lefebvre proposed the concept of the “right to the city” amidst the urban uprisings of the late 1960s, we are witnessing a new wave of mass protest in cities across the world in response to widespread austerity cuts, entrenched corruption, plutocracy, police violence, and other injustices. Cairo, Athens, New York, Istanbul, Sao Paulo, and other major cities have been focal points of media coverage in recent years, providing endless material for scholars who study the dynamics of globalization, social protest, state repression, and the evolution of the “right to the city” movement. It’s important to remember, however, that while mass protests (especially those that feature violent clashes between demonstrators and police) tend to draw the most media attention, there is also much to learn from the everyday interactions that almost never receive any coverage. On a recent trip to Spain, I witnessed a small but ominous example of this.
Given the tremendous lack of media coverage of the World Social Forum, held this year in Tunisia, I am reprinting the March 29 Declaration of the Social Movements Assembly. It deserves to be circulated and discussed widely, and something tells me we can't rely on CNN or even MSNBC (which likes to "lean forward" but not nearly far enough to reach the WSF) to do the job.
Declaration of the Social Movements Assembly – World Social Forum 2013 - 29 March 2013, Tunisia
As the Social Movements Assembly of the World Social Forum of Tunisia, 2013, we are gathered here to affirm the fundamental contribution of peoples of Maghreb-Mashrek (from North Africa to the Middle East), in the construction of human civilization. We affirm that decolonization for oppressed peoples remains for us, the social movements of the world, a challenge of the greatest importance.
The cable networks were certainly doing their thing last night. Between CNN’s desperate attempt to keep viewers in suspense about the outcome of the election to MSNBC’s absurd “Democracy Plaza” theatrics to Karl Rove’s meltdown on Fox News, there was plenty of infotainment available.
Eight years ago today, on December 22, 2003, two of my undergraduate students were denied entry into Israel at the southern border with Egypt. The reason, the helpful border guard told them, was that they were "friends with Arabs." He also told them that they would never be welcome again in Israel. The problem, in other words, was not that they wanted to go to Israel; the problem was that they wanted to go to Palestine. In the eight years since then, the experience of these two young Americans has proven, in its own small way, to be quite prophetic.
Spain's recent pro-democracy movement, 'Los Indignados' (the outraged), has attracted a lot of international attention because it is directed against both Left and Right, both culpable of ignoring their voters, pushing austerity measures which hit the poorest hardest, and doing nothing for unemployment which stand currently at around 20% nationally. And foreigners have begun to notice that #ItalianRevolution is trending on Twitter. But Italy has had a series of protest movements over the past few years -- e.g.