The Guardian reported Wednesday that demonstrators in Madrid's Puerta del Sol have voted to dismantle the tent city, without "agreeing on a basic set of demands." Does that mean the tent city, and the "Indignant" movement more broadly, have failed?
The answer to that question depends on what we think about the purpose of protest. If protest is about concrete policy change, what we've witnessed all around the world is a series of spectacular failures. Austerity measures are going ahead as though mass publics supported them. But if we conceive of protest differently, Madrid succeeded on several key fronts:
Mutual support - With 45 per cent youth unemployment, young and old came together to support each other during a crisis, living outdoors in the middle of a huge city for a month, feeding people who might otherwise have gone hungry with a productive and well-functioning kitchen, and crews providing for different basic needs.
Socialization - Anyone who has been to a large public gathering knows that there is always a potential for violence -- though much less with a protest than with, say, a hockey game. The demonstration in Madrid went way beyond non-violence, however: it was joyous. Young people who were participating in politics for the first time are going to have had an incredible introduction to the possibilities of activism.
Public education - Polls show 70 per cent of people feel sympathy towards the protesters -- the fact that del Sol was a celebration of community capacity certainly has something to do with that.
I brought a very hesitant friend with me to del Sol -- she had been in Greece during the riots that followed their government's announcement of austerity measures, and was worried about similar violence and disorder. After visiting, she insisted we go back several times. The positivity of del Sol -- even 'turistas' were welcomed with open arms -- changed her conception of resistance. This is why the lack of coverage in the West is such a shame.
If we want change to happen, we're going to need a critical mass of people who will push for it. We need to be brutally honest with ourselves about the ways that our actions and our rhetoric often make creating that critical mass more difficult. Demonstrating that social justice movements are about the birth of something more beautiful is the best alternative, and Madrilenos did that in the Puerta del Sol.
Now we must hope that the decision to dismantle the city doesn't cause fragmentation in the movement, and undo some of the good work that has been done. And pass along the messages of del Sol in our own communities.
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