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The Camp is the World: Connecting the Occupy Movements and The Spanish May 15th Movement

With or without encampments, the constructive phase of the Occupy movement is here, and all indications are that it will not slow down, as it has not slowed down in Spain.
 
 
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We write this letter as participants in the movements, and as an invitation to a conversation. We hope to raise questions about how we continue to deepen and transform the new social relationships and processes we have begun … to open the discussion towards a common horizon.

The evictions and threats to the physical Occupations in the United States have again raised the question of the future of the movement. That the movements have a future is not the question – but what sort of future is. For example, should our energy be focused on finding new spaces to occupy and create encampments? Should we be focused more in our local neighborhoods, schools and workplaces? Is there a way to both occupy public space with horizontal assemblies yet also focus locally and concretely?

A look at the recent history of a movement similar to Occupy - the Spanish indignados or 15M movement can shed some light on the opportunities and urgency of this new phase.  It is a moment that we see as a potential turning point, and one with incredible possibilities.

There are three key elements that have made the global movements of 2011 so powerful and different.  The extraordinary capacity to include all types of people; the impulse to move beyond traditional forms of the protest and contention, so as to create solutions for the problems identified; and the horizontal and directly participatory form they take.

Let’s look at the first element. Unlike other movements that have strongly identified with concrete social groups (workers, students, etc.), both the indignados and Occupy are movements that anyone can join, just by choosing to do so.  Again and again in Madrid as in New York we have heard the demonstrators chanting solidarity slogans to the police: “they’ve also lowered your salary” and “you too are the 99 %”.  In both places the movements have been able to bring out many people who had never been to a demonstration before and made them feel welcome and useful.  It is a culture and politics of openness and acceptance of the other.

The second element, the capacity to create solutions, is consistent with this non-confrontational aspect of the Spanish and American movements.  Like their predecessors in Egypt and Greece, both movements began with the occupation of a public space.  Rather than reproducing the logic of the traditional “sit-in,” these occupations quickly turned to the construction of miniature models of the society that the movement wanted to create – prefiguring the world while simultaneously creating it.  The territory occupied was geographic, but only so as to open other ways of doing and being together. It is not the specific place that is the issue, but what happens in it. This is what we could call the first phase of the movement.  Solutions began to be implemented for the urgent problems of loneliness, humiliating competition, the absence of truly representative politics, and the lack of basic necessities, such as housing, education, food, and health care.  In Spain and in the United States this first phase saw the creation of two problem-solving institutions: the general assemblies and the working-groups.

The ways in which we organize in these spaces of assemblies and working groups is inextricably linked to the vision of what we are creating. We seek open, horizontal, participatory spaces where each person can truly speak and be heard. We organize structures, such as facilitation teams, agendas and variations on the forms of the assembly, from general assemblies to spokes councils, always being open to changing them so as to create the most democratic and participatory space possible.

 
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