The 12th of May of 2011 in portugal marked the beginning of the largest protest movement in the country since the 25th of April 1974 revolution. What came to be known as M12M began as a call on the social media to gather in different cities to contest the politics of austerity being imposed in consequence of the financial crisis of 2008, which in portugal, as elsewhere, meant that the State saved failing private banks, to then pass the costs of increased debt servicing onto the population, through worsening conditions of labour, increased taxes and cuts in State administered social services. The protest was of the generation “a rasca”, the generation in dire straights, or in deep shit, who at the margins of established political parties and labour unions, endeavoured to make politics theirs.
The organisers, inspired by the “Arab Spring”, by the age of insurrection of our time (Alain Badiou), sought, by mass street protest to force change in government policy. The movement is describable as “reformist”, but the distinction between “reform” and “revolution” is difficult to draw and sustain, for each can easily fade into the other unpredictably.
M12M generated the protests, and in their wake, other initiatives would proliferate (e.g. a portuguese “take the squares” movement, the creation of city and neighbourhood popular assemblies, okupations, strikes and so on – and some even argue, would permit the electoral victory of the country’s socialist party, with the support of the communist and the block of the left parties).
If weaknesses there were in M12M, they lay in the failure to sustain the momentum of the protests, the tendency of the movement towards centralisation (the organisers had a face), their insistence on focusing on the State, that is, their insistence on making demands of the State, a marked tendency to read the movement in terms of a language of citizenship and civil society: all would lead to the weakening/exhaustion and absorption of the protests in electoral politics.
The contrast with spain’s 15M movement is striking. And even though the electoral process in the neighbouring country has also taken its toll on what was initially an anti-statist movement, the anti-representational politics of the movement found roots and has not disappeared.
M12M remains however in the air, in memories, always susceptible to reincarnation, for the conditions that led to its appearance remain. On this 5th anniversary, we share the original manifesto of the movement, along with the first manifesto of the shortlived Lisbon acampada of late spring 2011.
The Precarious Generation Manifesto
We, unemployed, “five hundred-eurists” and other underpaid workers, disguised slaves, sub- and term-hired, fake independent workers, intermittent workers, trainees, scholarship holders, working students, students, mothers, fathers and sons of Portugal.
We, who have up to now been complacent with the conditions laid upon us, stand here, today, to contribute to a qualitative change in our country. We stand here, today, because we can no longer accept the situation that we have been dragged into. We stand here, today, because every day, we strive hard to be deemed worthy of a dignified future, with stability and safety in all areas of our lives.
We protest so that those responsible for our uncertain situation – politicians, employers, and ourselves – act together towards a rapid change in this reality that has become unsustainable.
a) The present is defrauded, in that we are not given the chance to show our potential, thus blocking the betterment of social-economical conditions of the country. The aspirations of a whole generation, which cannot prosper, are put to waste.
b) The past is insulted, because previous generations have worked hard for our rights, our access to education, our security, labour rights and our freedom. Decades of effort, investment and dedication, risk being compromised.
c) The future is at check, and we foresee it without quality education for all and no fair retirement pensions for those who have worked their whole lives. The resources and skills that could put the country back on track of economic success will be wasted.
We are the highest-qualified generation in the history of our country. For this reason, we won’t let down to tiredness, frustration or lack of future perspectives. We do believe we have all the resources and tools to provide a bright future to our country and ourselves.
This is not a protest against any one particular generation. Quite simply, we are not, nor do we want to, wait passively for problems to sort themselves out. We protest towards a solution, of which we want to be a part of.
This Manifesto is being prepared and is open to proposals. It is not a definitive document.
First Manifesto of the Rossio Square
The protesters, assembled in the Rossio Square, conscious that what is set in march is an act of resistance, hereby agree to state the following:
We, citizens, women and men, workers, migrants, students, unemployed and retired people, united by our indignation in front of a situation that we refuse to accept as inevitable, have taken our streets. We thus join those that around the world today fight for their rights against the constant oppression of the ruling economical-financial system.
From Reykjavik to Cairo, from Wisconsin to Madrid, a popular wave sweeps the world. This wave is silenced and twisted with disinformation by the media, the same media that doesn’t question the permanent injustices in every country, only proclaiming the inevitability of austerity, the end of rights, the funeral of democracy.
Real democracy will never exist as long as the world is managed by a financial dictatorship. The ransom signed behind our backs with the IMF and the EU has abducted democracy and our lives. The countries in which the IMF intervenes see a brutal drop in the average live expectancy. The IMF kills! We can only reject it. We refuse to have our wages, our pensions and social supports cut, while simultaneously the culprits for this crisis are spared and recapitalized. Why do we have to choose between unemployment and precarious labour? Why do they want to take away our public services, stealing us, through privatizations, of what we payed for all our lives? Our answer is no. We defend the withdrawal of the troika plan. Following the example of many other countries around the world, such as Iceland, we will not accept to bury our present and our past for a debt that isn’t ours.
We refuse to accept the theft of our future. We intend to assume control of our lives and intervene effectively in each and every process of political, social and economical life. We are doing it, today, in the popular assemblies gathered all around. We appeal to all the people to join, in the streets, in the squares, in each corner, under the shade of every statue so that, united, we may change once and for all the rules of this crooked game.
This is just the beginning. The streets are ours.