Occupying Language: Inside the Global Revolutions
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An Invitation to a Global Conversation
Occupying Language is an open conversation. Through it, we invite you to join us to explore insurgent movements that have been organizing in Latin America over the past twenty years, and to connect key concepts and language from those struggles with what is new and beautiful in the social relations being created by people’s movements in the United States today. There are of course many similarities with preceding forms of organization and mobilization, especially with the movement for global justice of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
However, we are choosing to ground the discussion in movements and groups that arose from and are comprised of ordinary people, rather than activists.
Language is not neutral, and words transport and express concepts and ways of thinking. They can consolidate and perpetuate hierarchies, domination and control just as they can underline equality and strengthen consciousness. Latin American struggles for dignity, freedom and liberation are rooted in more than five hundred years of resistance. Language derived from their struggles comes with historical antecedents.
Among the concepts we explore are Territory, Assembly, Rupture, Popular Power, Horizontalism, Autogestión (self-administration), and Protagonism. Examples of each term are drawn from different Latin American communities of struggle, from the spreading of Horizontalidad with the popular rebellion in Argentina, and the concept of Territory seen in Bolivia and Mexico, to the construction of Popular Power in the Consejos Comunales in Venezuela, and the vision of interconnected human diversity articulated in the call for “one world in which many worlds fit” by the indigenous Zapatista communities in Chiapas, Mexico.
Now, on to what the new movements are doing, and their secret rendezvous with history.
New Social Relationships and a New Common Language
We are living in a time of uprisings, movements and moments against economic crises and the politics of representation. Kefaya!, ¡Ya Basta! and Enough! are shouted by millions against an untenable situation—and resonate with the powerful affirmations Democracia Real Ya! and We are the 99%! The use of the exclamation point reflects passion and determination.
These are shouts of anger, manifestations of collective power and the strength of people’s voices in the songs of joy in finding one another.
There have been numerous historic epochs in which something massive and “new” sweeps the globe: the revolutions and revolts of the mid 1800s; the powerful working-class struggles of the early 1900s; the tremendous political and cultural shifts and anti-colonial struggles of the 1960s, to name only three. We believe we have entered another significant historic epoch. This one is marked by an ever-increasing global rejection of representative democracy and, simultaneously, a massive coming together of people who were not previously organized, using direct democratic forms to begin to reinvent ways of being together.
Also new, with the direct democratic forms, are similar global ways of speaking about this new social creation. The word horizontal, for example, is used in English, Spanish, Arabic and Greek to describe aspects of these new relationships. People organize in assemblies—calling them “assemblies” and “gatherings” rather than terms such as “meetings”—use similar forms in these assemblies, and share the experience of doing so in public space, often taking it over and occupying it, even if for only a period of time. Within occupied spaces, people then organize internal forms of conflict resolution, from the mediation group in Occupy Wall Street to the “security” teams in Egypt and Greece, and a group with a very similar intention called “Respect” in Spain. If you were to compare scenes from Tahrir Square in Cairo, Syntagma Square in Athens, Zuccotti Park in New York, and Puerta del Sol in Madrid, to name only a few of the thousands, you would see very similar occupations, with elements including free libraries, child care and health services, food, legal support, media and art. The forms of organization and relationships created in the spaces, all using direct democracy, are unique to the needs of each occupation, but at the same time so much alike that they constitute a new global phenomenon.