by Teresa Sordé, Autonomous University of Barcelona and Tatiana Santos, University of Girona
The Washington Post has dubbed our movement that began on May 15th as “The Spanish Revolution” – a movement that has spread way beyond Spain and reached as far as Japan. Citizens have appropriated public space to debate, argue, reflect on and, finally, to jointly agree on how they would like to reorganize housing, health care, education, and other spheres of society. The people elaborate their particular proposals through a ‘dialogic’ form of democracy, based on the discussion of civil society with itself – a discussion that takes place far from the formal institutions of power and policy making. Among the most widely disseminated ideas is the principle “nobody represents us”. Thus, the May 15th. Movement developed a distinctive political form based on the collective self-organization of civil society through assemblies. Public spaces are, thereby, opened to people from different cultures, ages, educational levels and they are all given equal voice to express their views.
In Barcelona’s Plaça Catalunya (Catalunya Square) we find one of these spaces, one of the strongest ‘agoras’ in this movement. Within the permanent camp in the square, the core point is the daily General Assembly, supported by commissions which are based on the needs and requirements of the movement. Any person who comes to the square can join any of the commissions. Each commission occupies a space where facilitators, taking over from one another around the clock, coordinate the meetings. If there is disagreement, the issue is debated in the following meeting. If there is an issue which provokes disagreement in the General Assembly, it is returned to the commission where it was initiated. People who are in disagreement are invited to join the meetings to argue their views. There is a special team that works in shifts to prepare the agenda of the assemblies.
This ‘real democracy’ is promoted, disseminated and expanded through social networks, largely based on Facebook, Twitter, various blogs, the web, and an online forum. The web page publishes, 24 hours in advance, the minutes of all the commissions as well as all the important topics that will be voted on in the General Assembly. In the online forum there are debates that parallel the ones in the square. The people themselves decide on the most important issues that face the movement. This was the case, for example, in the decision to continue mobilization in spite of the ruling of the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court in favor of the removal of the camp.
Many sociologists are participating in the May 15 Movement. We are not there to provide the citizenry with ‘the true’ interpretation of what they are doing or what they should be doing – a stand clearly rejected by the movement. But we are also not there simply to participate without contributing to the dialogue. The citizens in the square want us to bring our sociological knowledge to the debates. We are there to develop a dialogic approach to democracy, putting into practice a public sociology that demonstrates the value of our social science to all those assembled and beyond.
There have been proponents of an anti-sociological ‘spontaneitism’ who have said that nobody foresaw this movement. This is not true. We were invited on April12 to launch what we called a revolution from below, with direct democracy and appeals made through the Internet. One of our sociology professors insisted on the gravity of the economic and political situation. He pointed to the example of the movements in North Africa to show how people in different places and facing different conditions were dreaming of the same revolution. He even put a date on the uprising – somewhere between April 26 and May 31. From that day onwards we did not stop organizing and spreading our beliefs to spark this revolution.
Thus, sociologists have acted in accordance with their own predictions, contributing to the deliberations of the agora, drawing on the wealth of their disciplinary knowledge. But the “Spanish Revolution” has not only benefitted from our sociology, it has also contributed to the enrichment of sociology, so that we are better able to understand the conditions of possibility of dialogic democracy.