I do not know what they called us first. When I arrived in London there were many different groups of what some formal people came to call the ‘extraparliamentary left’. Each with their name, the group commanded and the media watched, and part of society watched too, through them. We called them “mainstream media” (we now call them corporate media when we mind our manners).
In the United Kingdom at that time the press was divided into “tabloid” (which can be translated to Spanish and back into English as “tasteless, vulgar, tacky”) and “broadsheet” (translatable as a large-sized or serious press) . I was told that journalists in the former could not use a vocabulary of more than a thousand words and these had to be common. The latter addressed a slightly more educated public and could use more and more cultured words. The former called us anarchists. The latter called us anti-capitalists. The term that was finally established was “anti-globalisation”. The global consensus already was that globalisation is good, and since it was imperative to vilify this whole bunch of demonstrators who were so successful, it was considered a good word to denigrate those who were denouncing the obscene differences between rich and poor.
From the perspective of the rich world, in 1999 there happened two events that put these obscene differences in the ‘global agenda’: June 18 in London and November 29 in Seattle. On each of these occasions, thousands of protesters who believed in the end of poverty stopped, in one all economic activity for a day, in the other a whole conference of the World Trade Organization.
Already on these occasions arrests of innocent people and other aberrations such as tear gas applied directly to the eyes of seated demonstrators occurred … but the prevailing feeling was victory.
The ‘traveling circus,’ as the British Prime Minister at the time called it, continued to travel, with less success and more repression and brutality. In 2000, May 1 in London and September 16 in Prague.
And in 2001 Genoa happened, where a demonstrator was shot dead and too many were tortured in the school where they slept. There had already been repression in the previous ones but in this one it was almost the only thing that was talked about at the end. Until then, the experiences seemed to have taught us that everything was possible. That the union of the masses fighting for something fair could grant it. That a just peace could be achieved globally, with the help of the mobilisations in the rich world.
But the brutality of Genoa ended this illusion. In the bullets, the gas, the truncheons and the broken, bloody bodies, the savagery that power is capable of when threatened was shown and demonstrated to us.
Some say that suffering this kind of reprisals is a good sign that things are being well done. But nobody wants their skin to be stuck to their sleeping bag while it is torn off after the beating, or to have a lung perforated.
And then came the events of the twin towers and etc., and the media attention lost sight of us, as if we had gone home. For some, going home meant forming communities in which to daily carry out the ideals of fraternity that had been practiced in the few days that the glories of the demonstrations and their preparations had lasted (and that will give for a whole new article). Back home, the projects simply changed, more actions, more local. In England the knowledge gained in all these experiences was shared with the new generation that arrived afterwards.
The camps against climate change were first rural, and then became increasingly urban, to be, at least on English soil, precursors of the camps (occupy movement) in the squares where they spoke of 99% against 1%, of indignation and real democracy. In other words: Wall Street in New York, St. Paul in London, M15 in Madrid.
In these two countries, the next step was to ‘break into the institutions’. In England, many people who had been in this anti-system movement (because if a system treats the most vulnerable sectors with brutality there is no option left but to stand against it), joined the Labor Party. In Spain a new party was founded which ‘captured the imagination’ of the citizenship, and which said that it wanted to ‘assault the skies’, although with that they only meant the political power, which in too many historical experiences it has proven not to be that big a deal – if it did not end up in a coup d’etat, it was in a whole war …
The fact is that getting into party politics was the next logical step for those who had gone through protests, camping and squatting. After local struggles, in projects that reached as far as they went, some of us realised that we were fighting among other things against political power, as well as for change, and perhaps, (probably) it would be more effective to fight for ‘change’ ‘from’ political power. Working with local communities is very nice, enriching and sometimes effective, but the effectiveness ends when the place where the activity is carried out is evicted.
That’s why we ended up in the Labor Party in UK, or in Podemos in Spain. To keep trying to change things, this time, from a position a little less vulnerable than as mere squatters.
Podemos captured the imagination of the voting people; finally someone spoke of the social injustices that so many people were and are feeling in their flesh, finally someone talking about solutions that seemed as simple as achievable, like making banks, big politicians and generally the rich stop stealing.
What Wall Street called the one percent, Podemos called “Casta” (caste), to which apparently all then members of Congress belonged, until Podemos came and put color and dreadlocks in such Congress. The caste were all others; we are not caste and to prove it we despise ties and jackets and our leader would even prefer to govern Spain from his small flat in Vallecas to having to move to a palace even if such was the Presidential Palace, Moncloa.
This is a translation of the original in Spanish
Next: Sinking Podemos