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On Newness and History as Occupy and the World Celebrate May Day

The conversation around May Day and general strikes is part of a larger, changing global conversation, growing out of new movements and new democratic forms.

 This article is based on the pamphlet, May Day – The Secret Rendezvous with History and the Present, by the Occupied Media Pamphlet Series, and the forthcoming book, Occupying Language , also with the same series as well as Adelante Alliance.

The Walk of the New

Kefaya! (Enough!) Is declared in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt.

In Syntagma Square in Athens, Greece they hung banners declaring, in Spanish, Ya Basta! (Enough!)

Democracía Real Ya! (Real Democracy Now!) Is the framing in Spain.

We are the 99% is announced in the US.

New Social Relationships and a New Common Language

2011 has been a year of uprisings, movements and moments – all against an economic crisis and the politics of representation. Kefya! Ya Basta! and Enough! are shouted by millions against an untenable situation – and simultaneously they are met with Democracia Real Ya! and We are the 99%! - powerful affirmations. The use of the exclamation point reflects the passion – It is the shout of anger, the manifestation of collective power and the strength of people’s voices in the songs of joy in finding one another.

There have been numerous historical epochs where something massive and “new” sweeps the globe – moments such as the Revolutions and revolts of the mid 1800s, the massive working class struggles of the early 1900s, and the massive political and cultural shifts and anti-colonial struggles of the 1960s, to name only three. We believe we are in 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, not previously organized, using directly democratic forms to begin to reinvent ways of being together. These global movements are connected in ways not possible in the past with the use of immediate technology, such as the internet, twitter and facebook. These new technological forms have helped for something that in Latin America is often referred to as “contagion”, a spreading of an idea in a horizontal way, more like a virus than a political program. This should not be confused with a “social network revolution,” a description many in the media have used. The communication tools helped, but the essence and the ‘new’ in the movements is the collective construction of new social relationships – creating new territory – and the similarities of this phenomenon globally.

Also new, with the directly 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, all as a way of describing aspects of these new relationships. People organize in assemblies, calling them assemblies and gatherings over terms such as meetings - and use similar forms in these assemblies, as well as all share the experience of doing so in public space, often taking it over and occupying it – even if for only a period of time. Many of these occupied spaces then organize internal forms of conflict resolution, from the mediation group in OWS to the “security” teams in Egypt and Greece, and a group with a very similar intention called “Respect” in Spain. To look at the images from Tahrir Square in Cairo, Syntagma Square in Athens, Zuccotti/Liberty Plaza in New York, or Puerta del Sol in Madrid, to name only a few of the thousands, is to see a very similar occupation, including everything from libraries, child care, health services, food, legal, media and art. The forms of organization and relationships created in the space, all using direct democracy are massive, growing and globally consistent – not the same of course – but so similar as to be a new global phenomenon.

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