Born the 15th of May 2011 until forced eviction from the symbolic Plaza del Sol on August 18th for Pope Ratzinger’s visit to Madrid, the Spanish Revolution is now back in the streets. The 15-M Indignados Movement spark was lit this time in a secondary school, the Instituto Lluís Vives, seated just beside the Town hall of Valencia, the third most populated city in Spain.
Facing months of delay in payments by the regional government, the school management could not face heating costs any longer. Lluís Vives students then decided to go out to demonstrate against public education cuts seven days ago. With the school strategically located in the city and students blocking a central street, police acted rapidly. They charged against 12 to 16-year-old students and detained some of them.
Technologies, mass-media and a feeling of being part of a bigger, global ‘spring’ served to ignite action. First, against gratuitous police aggressions: footage from TV cameras and mobiles demonstrated, once again, how violence is systematically applied by the police corps against the simple right of demonstrating in a so-called democratic society such as Spain – including an illegal and premeditated lack of identification by police officers (with velcro covering their uniform numbers), as part of a normalised police culture sidestepping further legal responsibilities for their violent acts.
Second, action against the education cuts that many public schools have suffered. Students brought their own blankets, toilet paper and parents helped with the school clean-up on Saturdays, something uncommon in the Spanish context. Meanwhile, the regional government has spent millions on gigantic tourist and propaganda projects that only benefit the few, not to mention the many cases of unveiled corruption.
With books about law and rights held in the air, a mass of secondary and university students, teachers and students’ families joined the march two days ago. Solidarity demonstrations have taken place in cities such as Barcelona and Madrid singing #WeAreNotAfraid, #ValenciaEscuchaMadridEstáEnTuLucha [Valencia, listen Madrid is in your fights], #Here,here,hereThereIsAlsoRobbery [when passing by the Bank of Spain]. Students have created the trending topic #ValencianSpring for communicating and organising in humble honour to their Arab predecessors and linked it to the existing #SpanishRevolution.
In Senegal, at the beginning of this month, citizens in the Mouvements 23Juin and Y‘n a marre [That’s enough] demonstrated and sang rap (and died) against the constitutional change enacted by President Wade to pave the way for his possible third electoral mandate. So did Senegalese immigrants in Paris in solidarity. And so the list goes on: Egypt, Greece, Syria, UK – a climate of international links, resistance and possibility.
As Mariz Tadros urges us to think inthe latest IDS Bulletin, what can this tell us as development academics? What can we offer and take from these uprisings?
A first idea is to offer our present concepts on participation, power and change towards the understanding of these events. To try to grasp how a school director becomes unruly by taking her bit of power and saying ‘you police do not enter my school’; or how the public declaration by State Police chief in Valencia two days ago that ‘we were fighting against the enemy’ when referring to 16-year old students, was popularly re-appropriated by demonstrators in various cities of Spain with the creative slogan #MeTooIAmTheEnemy; or for governmental messages of ‘they are just 200’ to be met with counter-narrative posters saying ‘and they said we were few’. And so the list goes on. For each power over, there is a power with, a power to, a power within resisting and suggesting new perspectives.
Second, by updating concepts such as citizenship in the light of present events: how is it interplaying with our roles as consumers, as bank users, as family members? In contexts where repeated demonstrations may contradictorily become just part of the system (when is a demonstration unruly? when is it co-opted?), giving little or no effect, where participatory democracy simply does not apply, where representative democracy is a prison, where citizenship slips, and where the only thing people feel able to exercise activism as citizens over is the boycott of products, to move money into ethical banks, to change life-styles (with the hope perhaps that by impacting on the makers of real-politik – banks and multinationals – they might impact on their accomplice politicians). How is citizenship shaped, felt and reclaimed under these circumstances?
Third, we can engage with the new concepts presently living and breathing in the streets. One example could be that of glocal (‘think global, act local’), already present in the anti-globalisation movements and back again with the Spring uprisings. Demonstrators in these movements are used to see the global picture and then act locally, wherever they are. They sometimes unite too, as a colleague once said: ‘to make a global struggle of the many local ones’.
When I move from these activist spaces to the academic ones, I often feel a disconnection. I feel that we, as academics, can learn and be inspired much more by the way anti-globalisation and spring activists see things in the streets. In at least three manners: 1) in that all local spaces must be studied under equal circumstances: development discourse has long forgotten that there are local places here, in Europe (to the extent that in my local university in Valencia we would not be funded local development projects in ‘here’ because development funding was for local projects in ‘there’); 2) in that our local places are interconnected to other locals, in both positive or negative ways; and 3) in that the concept of global needs to be un-reified, un-packed. An activist friend used to tell me these global forces are ‘too big’, too difficult to fight against. They may. But this also means going to the roots of inequality. Academics can help here, as each global power has a local place, embodied somewhere (a country’s president bank account in a tax haven, a share-holder or G-20 conference, a small enterprise office taking decisions somewhere). Structured, academic analysis is needed to find those globalised locals, to make the global possible, both as power over analysis and as a space for resistance and action.
This video entitled ‘Three stories and a glass of milk’ [in Spanish, 3m] by the Catalan NGO Opcions is an analytical example of glocal interconnections in the international soya-production system. Tecojoja (Paraguay) and Cantabria (Spain) are the local producing places in the suffering end: Tecojoja sees thousands of farmers evicted from their lands for landowners to cultivate transgenic soya, and thus feed the industrial European livestocks; on the other side, Cantabria sees how in the past 12 years, 73% of non-industrial, cattle-farming family businesses have had to close down in face of industrial competition. The third and last local space analysed in the video (the localised, un-packed global space) is the harbour of Barcelona (Spain), the main entrance of transgenic soya to Europe. There, consumers and environmental activists demonstrate against meat made out of poverty and transgenic soya.
Glocal analysis can help both activists in their reflection of actions and development academics to get more politicised and go to the real roots of poverty and inequality. Many other concepts wait for our analysis in the streets. As for each library book on the shelf, ten newer versions are awaiting outside!
Maria-Josep Cascant Sempere is a PhD candidate working on the theme of popular education and social change within the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS.