A Madrid May: Where is 15M?


Two young women danced among those who walked in protest on the 17th of May, from Cibeles to Puerta del Sol.  They bore upon their heads plastic vaginas with the slogan, "ni sumisa, ni devota" ("neither submissive, nor pious").  And with the sound of a batucada roaring in the background, songs continually erupting from the crowd, and Solfónica to receive us, what above all else impressed itself upon those present was contagious pleasure, happiness lived, in sum, the beauty of a people taking to the streets of a domesticated, policed city.

There was briefly, on the streets of Madrid, dancing.

Protest, for the sake of pressuring authorities, is more often than not pointless, for it is that which most easily falls into empty ritual, when it is not simply rendered a spectacle.  And yet it marks presence, disturbs common activity, and even the common sense that contributes to sustain and reproduce the everyday relations of capitalism.  The radicalness of the gesture can be lost: it becomes too predictable, too programmed, too much without surprise.  And there would be those among "radicals" to criticise the exercise that day.  But the issue here is neither about number or usefulness. (To judge a protest by its size and/or effectiveness – in what, is itself usually unclear – is to fall into evaluations beholden to the same utilitarian criteria of success that dominate under Capital).  A protest should be useless, playful, carnivalesque, thus breaking with the logic of spectacle.  For those watching from the margins, the event was incomprehensible.  To the police, it was something to control, to hold within boundaries.  For those within the protest, it was joy expressed.

In parallel to the demonstration, a two day "open house" (17th/18th) was held, a fair or exposition of events/organisations born of three years of activity, in the Campo de Cebada (an occupied space precariously held with the consent of city authorities); a kind of mapping of 15M spread itself out before the visitor, and as was fitting, a diversity of assemblies were held throughout, punctuating time outside the clock.

Where then is 15M?  To ask a 15M activist about the current state of the movement is to raise a paradoxical question.  For who are the movement´s activists?  Who belongs to the movement and who does not?  15M has no overall organisation, no centre, no official membership, no political program. Born spontaneously out of the occupation of the square in Madrid, Puerta del Sol, spreading rapidly to the whole country, today existing in an enormous variety of assemblies, defined at best spatially (e.g. the neighbourhood assemblies of Madrid) or thematically, held together, to greater or lesser degree, by relations of affinity, the movement holds to its original spontaneity and anonymity.  Whereas some assemblies have gained a certain resiliance, others have vanished as quickly as they have appeared.  And this living, almost organic, proliferation continues, with no overall plan or direction.  If some assemblies are born of particular interests (e.g. defending public health, education, or water), others exist for their own sake, as expressions of autonomous, open, self-creation.  And it is among these latter that 15M´s "essence" perhaps comes to the fore: 15M as a movement dedicated to generalised, autonomous self-management.  It would of course be absurd to suggest that 15M invented the idea in the country (spain´s rich anarchist tradition remains part of the collective imaginary, when not of the life, of many), or that it presently monopolises all efforts in this direction.  Far from it; what the movement though has been is an extraordinarily powerful agency in the promotion and enabling of such ideals/practices, which today, in many instances, in conjunction with the activity of older social movements, operate quite independently of 15M.

Beyond protests, neighbourhood and thematic assemblies of different localities and cities, the examples are seemingly endless: associations of mutual aid (e.g. Oficina de Apoyo Mutuo de Manoteras, Red de Colectivos Autogestionados), housing rights/occupation assemblies (e.g. Asamblea de Vivienda de Madrid, Plataforma de afectados por la Hipoteca), retail and workers cooperatives, networks of "friendly stores", for the unemployed and poor (e.g. network of tiendas amigas of Carabanchel, Madrid), barter markets and free stores, (e.g. mercado del trueque del barrio de Concepción, Tienda Libre EKO Carabanchel), self-managed food banks (e.g. Banco de Alimentos 15M Tetuán), networks of urban gardens (e.g. Red de Huertos Urbanos de MadridEl Huerto de la Alegría), okupied social centres (e.g. CS(r)OA La Quimera), anti-racist and immigrant solidarity groups (e.g. Brigadas Vecinales de Observación de Derechos Humanos, Cerremos los CIEs), feminist, gay and trans group (e.g. Feministes indignades), popular schools and universities (e.g. Universitat indignada), alternative media (e.g. Madrid 15M) and so on, and so on; far too much to catalogue and describe adequately at any single moment, for it is an ever changing reality.

Instead of asking then after the effectiveness or future of 15M, let us ask rather with Carlos Taibo why it is necessary (Periódico de Asembleas madrid15m, Mayo 2014, número 25).  It is, according to him, an extraordinary experiment in direct democracy that openly challenges capitalism, it is a movement of protest, it is a defense of mutual aid and de-mercantilisation, and it is the defense and creation of a generalised autonomous, self-management.

As Taibo states, were 15M to die, it would be necessary to re-create something very similar to it.



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