Power Abuses. Refuse.

You may have read today that UBS Bank was the first of the banksters to be finally convicted of fraud. They fought it all the way and only a Japanese subsidiary took the fall. For the New York Times, this indicated once again

a pattern of abuse

If, like me, you’ve spent time in the UK recently that turn of phrase has to give you pause. It used to be said that power corrupts. It’s more accurate to say that power abuses. It abuses the idea of the innocence of children, it abuses the fantasy of the market, it sustains the fantasy that guns don’t kill people. We occupied to refuse all that. I still do and there’s new evidence today that it works.

Abuse. Is that the right word to use in connection with the systematic sexualized exertion of power over children? So much less troubling than, say, rape. You’ll have heard about the extraordinarily widespread allegations against the DJ and TV star Jimmy Savile in the UK over decades. At least eight other men have already been charged, including the former pop star Gary Glitter. That’s rock and roll, it might be, and has been, said. What, then, of third-tier sports commentator and game show host Stuart Hall (no relation at all to the distinguished academic)? The agent for “celebrities” Max Clifford? and other B and C list “stars”?

I think back to when I was at school. There was Mr B., who was suddenly asked to leave. There was Mr P., who I am now told everyone knew had a collection of child porn video tapes in school. There was Mr W., who used to invite boys to lunch in the pub. I remember I only went once and felt left out. On to university! Here it’s Mr K. (no doctorate for him) using a bed-pan in class. Mr. C drinking pints of Guinness. Professor B. appearing for tutorials in a silk dressing-gown and nothing else.

Nothing untoward ever happened to me and my English friends think I am making too much of this. I used to be told that my writing was too “angry” when I was younger. Maybe. And I’m certainly not past anger now. But what I have learned to do is connect this set of abusive practices to a wider context. It’s said that Savile and his ilk are in the past. The BBC TV news editor who dropped the story last November said to the investigation:

In the end I just felt … 40-year-old contestable claims about a dead guy was not a N[ews]N[ight] story and not worth the fuss.

Don’t make a fuss, there’s nothing more English than that. The ludicrous “Lord” Patten who heads the BBC went further, admitting there were problems of management–such as dropping the major child abuse scandal of the past century–but

I don’t think you necessarily address them by just putting heads on spikes.

This is a very English way of saying, “let’s not have a revolution, like those unsavory French did.” No Lords in charge of French media, though, are there?

Not to excuse the French one per cent. Yesterday a French court upheld an investigation into the repellent rapist, sorry, alleged rapist, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former head of the IMF, for being part of a

ring that recruited prostitutes for sex parties from Paris to Washington.

Strauss-Kahn claims he didn’t know they were hookers. Perhaps somewhere in his psyche, he really does think that attractive, much younger women are instantly turned on by the very presence of a sixty-year-old banker.

Or not. Perhaps, like the British bankers who dreamt up derivatives and fixing LIBOR, who learned all about abuse at school in the “Savile era”, he knows what it is to abuse. And he knows that power gets him the unchallenged possibility to do so. So that what he did in the daytime to, say, Niger by inflicting disastrous debt repayment structures on the country was qualitatively the same as what he would do to the women at night. The UBS bankers called the men who fixed rates for them “heroes” and sent them Bollinger champagne and a “small bonus.” Mustn’t give away the really good stuff: the money.

So it’s no surprise to me that two countries with some of the longest histories of abuse in all senses are now leading the response, which is refusal. In Spain, the Citizen’s Debt Audit are denouncing the “debt-ocracy” that has replaced their democracy by making public debts private. That is to say, the public debt of the banks has been absorbed by the state so it will end up being repaid by citizens. Those same citizens are dying, literally, of debt. There are debt suicides weekly. The Audit is the first step towards a national refusal.

In Ireland, there has been an undeclared debt refusal movement.18% of mortgages are in default. Banks have claimed to be helping but the Bank of Ireland has “forgiven” only €600,000 to date. The new government has stepped in and passed an insolvency law that aims

to ensure that people were not forced to vacate their homes because they were in mortgage debt. The solutions all involve a “degree of forbearance over a period of time” to debtors, he said. In reality, that will mean debt write-off.

Debt strikes work, in other words. Better to declare them, though.

So the old mantra that went “there is no alternative, so you have to submit” has met its refusal. Saying no may not stop the abuse. Eventually, though, if everyone says no you can derail the system that allows it.

Resistance Across Borders

After a hectic few days in the Schengen area, it’s clear that while the two clichés of life under globalized capital are still true, there’s something else happening too. The clichés are about the contrast between how easy it is for the beneficiaries of the financialized life to move around and how difficult it is for those from underdeveloped parts of the world who do much of the menial work that enables it. The new aspect is the growing worldwide resistance.

In Europe, it’s very much the case that for E.U. passport holders, borders are dissolving. Students at Strasbourg University in France can not only visit close-by universities in Switzerland and Germany, they can borrow books from their libraries and take them to what is technically a different country.

Less visible are those who keep the system functioning or have been excluded from it. I had excellent coffee this morning in a typically Parisian cafe run with exquisite politeness by a Vietnamese couple. On the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, once a by-word for working-class radicalism, there’s a Starbucks and the other signs of globalized homogeneity. In the Marais, still very much a queer/Jewish quartier when I was a student, it’s all upscale shopping and restaurants. Financialization has achieved what Baron Haussmann could not do in the nineteenth century and thoroughly exiled the dangerous and marginal classes from Paris. The average tourist might only catch a glimpse of the city’s diversity as they head for the Eurostar at Gare du Nord.

As part of that displacement, there are more barriers to the globalized knowledge system. Although tuition for a course at the Sorbonne is still only €250 ($320), the European university system is actively trying to become more hierarchical, exemplified by all the paywalls around journals and even newspapers. When you get into the National Library, it feels like getting into a fortress, after you press your passcard on multiple readers, go through many sets of double metal doors, through repeated turnstiles and down several escalators. OK, we get it.

So far, so familiar. What I did also see was the ways in which a resistance is forming that is aware of its differences and distinct histories but also has a good deal in common. I had a long discussion last night with activists in the Debt Group of Réel Démocratie Maintenant, formerly the Indignés. Although some French people had been saying the movement was over, the group showed me some dramatic video footage of movement people working with peasants and green activists to defend a rural occupation against some very violent police. I heard about actions to create a Cahiers de doléances, or Dossier of Grievances, and to establish an Estates-General. These are legacies from the revolution of 1789, reconfigured for the era of financialization. At the same time, they are planning a Europe-wide protest against police violence and its attempt to stifle opposition.

Because just like Spain, just like the UK and of course the US, debt is a driving issue in the French movement. They are more involved with institutional politics than we are and there was some hope caused by the election of Socialist majorities and a Socialist president. However, last week, the government made it clear that they were not going to nationalize the steel furnaces at Florange owned by ArcelorMittal that I’ve often discussed here, where there have been occupations and other militant actions. The company itself refused to bid for the European Ultra Low Carbon steel initiative, as if to say that there’s nothing they will do.

And that passivity by government and disdain by corporations is producing a backlash. The French media this morning were filled with disdain for the pathetic UN climate convention meeting in Doha, Qatar. To put the matter in perspective, the world’s at risk island and developing nations were asking the richer countries for an already-promised $60 billion of support for adaptation. This is equal to the amount President Obama has requested to clean up Hurricane Sandy. No worthwhile steps of any kind were taken to deal with climate change itself, with nations moving on to consider who pays for “loss and damage.” Contrary to some Anglophone media reports, I don’t consider this a win.

If there’s going to be change, it’s going to come from the movements forcing the issue, working together across borders and being aware of the need to prioritize the planetary aspects of the issue. It’s a tall order but I do see very concrete and material signs of that convergence emerging, as people come to realize that 2008 not only bankrupted the banks, it also derailed the Western representative system.

Homage to Catalonia

At the risk of being a cliché, Catalunya is really a remarkable place. I don’t think many other cities could take the kind of battering that has been meted out and retain this kind of spirit and vitality. Perhaps the highlight of my trip was meeting with Catalan debt activists, full of ideas and dynamism on the same day that the newly elected government indicated a swingeing new round of cuts. The Jubilee has rolled across the Atlantic. Watch out.

I had two morning interviews with journalists from La Vanguardia, the leading local newspaper that now publishes in Castilian and Catalan. It feels like a real newspaper, engaged, serious and questioning. My interlocutors were wildly different: a very generous woman interviewing for the magazine, and a guy from the main paper grilling me like a film noir detective, in between telling me the story of his life.

Just as the first interview was all about Occupy/Strike Debt and the second about visual culture, I had two constituencies for the talk I gave later: one from or interesting in the social movements; and one for visual culture. I tried to show that I think they are the same but the academic audience left with some dissatisfaction that my 40 slides did not include enough “images.” I suppose they meant art work and it was true that a talk called “Technologies of Direct Democracy” was not very art-centered.

It reminded me of the early visual culture days, when people would demand to know how I considered my work to be art history, which I didn’t. On one memorable occasion, a well-known author of a modern art textbook insisted I declare that I loved art. I declined.

All of this paled by comparison with a dynamic meeting with debt activists in Barcelona that followed. This group is working on an excellent initiative called : Put A Banker In Jail. When they opened the crowd-sourced funding website, it crashed immediately because so many people were trying to donate. Like the Rolling Jubilee, the donations were mostly small from €3-5 but the intent was very clear: put the banksters in jail. At first 32 were indicted but the process has gone ahead for five leading characters, so that the others can be called as witnesses against them. As in the U.S., defendants can refuse to testify but witnesses cannot. One of the defendants is the head of Bankia Rodrigo Rato. Apparently, the court date is December 24 so with luck we can get a banker in jail for the holidays.

I was able to share some of the Strike Debt ideas, like the debt assembly and the debt burn. Interestingly, in Spain the idea of the jubilee did not resonate in the way that it does in the U.S. because of the history of the African-American church. So when I explained what it was, there was much, shall we say, jubilation. Although also some hesitation about working with the church in  a country where the Catholic church’s record is appalling.

There was a frank recognition that the inventiveness of the movement here is in part a consequence of the mass unemployment that has in particular left younger highly qualified people with nothing to do. At the same time, the slogan “We Don’t We, We Won’t Pay” came not from the movement but from the barrios, where it seems to be simple common sense.

From us in New York, the Catalans want amplification and publicity, which we can do. And to work together on a co-ordinated debt abolition movement. Which could be the start of something massive.



Debt Colonialism: A View from Barcelona

I’m in Barcelona for a couple of days, giving talks and interviews and holding discussion for the visual studies program, the Center of Contemporary Culture and with the movement. There’s not much difference between the people involved. It’s distinctly humbling to get up in front of people from 15M and talk about the global justice movement, even as the wheels are turning in the debt crisis.

Yesterday was an election in Catalunya for the state assembly, called by Artur Mas, the head of the CiU nationalist party. His hope was to sweep the board on his nationalist call for independence. Instead he lost ground to a more extreme nationalist group and the left made some small gains. No one seems quite sure what this all means as yet.

Meanwhile from different sides of the world, furious mainstream politicians are starting to use the language of debt colonialism. In Greece, Syriza’s leader Alexis Tspiras named his country a “debt colony.” In Argentina, the finance minister Hernán Lorenzino called the court verdict compelling his country to repay 2002 debts to vulture funds “judicial colonialism.”

In this latter case, speculative debt buyers have engineered a potential collapse of the national (and perhaps international) economy, just as debt buyers of personal debt ruin individual lives in the pursuit of personal profit after the original lenders have settled. There is late speculation that the EU may finally have agreed some kind of deal on Greek debt. But the process makes Tsipras’s point: the discussion was held in Brussels between France, Germany and the IMF.

Here in Barcelona, activists are in several minds. Some feel frustrated with the constant lack of response from their central government, no matter how dynamic or well-attended their actions become. It’s said that attendance at the legendary neighborhood assemblies is notably down. On the other  hand, there are activist banners hanging in hospitals and doctors’ offices protesting the cuts and entire families from school children to grandparents are reported to have participated in the N14 general strike.

You can’t miss the crisis. There are cranes all over but none of them are working, leaving buildings half-complete. Graffiti and posters are everywhere. For a traveler accustomed to being broke in the Eurozone, prices are notably lower than expected. A light lunch for €5, an express bus from the airport to the city for the same. Museums, galleries and cultural centers are all concerned with the crisis. I’ve written about this many times but, as always, it’s different to be here. It just reinforces the respect that I have had for the resilience of the movement. More to follow.


Today the General Strike, Tomorrow the Jubilee!

Today there was a general strike across Europe. From Spain to Portugal, Greece, Italy, Belgium and the UK. Hundreds of thousands rejecting austerity for the attempt to create social control by fiscal policy that it so clearly is. Tomorrow in New York, we declare victory for the Rolling Jubilee. Before we have even begun the event we are in a position to abolish $2,750,000 of debt and that rises every second. Can you feel it?

Amazing scenes, including surely the best banner drop ever, from the Leaning Tower of Pisa:

No one believes the Troika any more. The Spanish government claimed the strike was not being well observed. Here’s the Gran Via in Madrid, like Broadway in New York:

The police tried to distract attention from the issues by provoking violence in their usual way but this cannot be beaten away.

Here’s Charles Dallara, head of the Institute of International Finance,  the policies of austerity in Greece:

It is time to recognize that austerity alone condemns not just Greece but the whole of Europe to the probability of a painful and protracted era of little or no economic growth. This would be a tragedy not just for Greece and for Europe, but for the world.

It’s a global movement now. in Venice protesters draped a bank with banners reading:

You are making money out of our debts

National Theatre of Spain on strike

Currently, extended families support people in Greece.

“But when that dries up, and it will with these latest measures, there will be no reason not to descend en masse onto the streets,” said Kostas Kapetanakis, a young sociologist holding a banner demanding free education, health and welfare system. “There will be a revolt because we will have absolutely nothing to lose.”

We are not as far gone here in New York but tomorrow will be a day of jubilant revolt and mutual aid. You can follow the Telethon live on RollingJubilee.org. I hope to be in a condition to report on it for you by Thursday. Tomorrow join hands and hearts and:

Strike Debt!

Up the Plebs, Off With Their Heads!

The U. S. often has little to recommend it over social democratic Europe. It is at least a Republic, recent events have reminded us. Monarchs lording it over formerly colonized indigenous people, hunting endangered species and dismissing anyone who contradicts them as “plebs” have reminded us that behind the present obsession with sovereignty are sovereigns or aristocrats, and a sorry bunch they are. To quote Lewis Carroll, as one should: “Off with their heads!”

Sometimes you don’t really need to add much to a picture.

Here’s the idiot “Prince” William having himself carried around Tuvalu with reality star Kate Middleton close behind. It will be said that this is “traditional.” Like the monarchy itself, most such traditions were invented in the nineteenth century, in this case, most probably by missionaries. There’s some confusion online as to whether this happened in Tuvalu, one of the world’s most threatened nations by sea-level rise, or the Solomon Islands, ditto. In either case, farce pushed out tragedy, with discussion about La Middleton’s semi-naked photos dominating even this colonialist parody.

Juan Carlos hunting elephants in Botswana

Or this. In the middle of the Spanish crisis, King Juan Carlos, appointed in effect to the monarchy by fascist dictator Franco, managed to break his hip falling off a step.He was elephant hunting at the time. Yes. The “modern” monarch, not averse to enriching himself via Saudi patronage, is sufficiently traditional that he thinks shooting endangered species from a raised platform is a fun thing to do. And he couldn’t even walk up the steps straight. Oh, and did we mention that he is an honorary president of the World Wildlife Fund?

And what about us plebs? The word has gained new currency since public school upper class twit of the year Andrew Mitchell, chief whip for the UK Conservative Party, yelled at police who wouldn’t allow him to ride his bicycle through the security gate at 10 Downing Street:

You’re fucking plebs!

Normally Occupy 2012 is on the side of police critics. Here an extremely entitled man wants a door held open for him to save him a few seconds and reacts with an outburst of class hatred.

It’s Year Two of Occupy. In Year Two of the French Revolution, they abolished the monarchy. In his 1975 lectures on power, Foucault reflected

What we need… is a political philosophy that isn’t erected around the problem of sovereignty….We need to cut off the head of the King: in political theory that has still to be done.

He was referring to the juridical power of the state as sovereign. But there’s a still older problem: the entitled feudal power of the soi-disant aristocrat over the plebs, the colonized and the non-human world. This work we had thought done. It seems we spoke too soon. Off with their heads!

Que se vayan todos!

It’s time for them all to go. Who? The global neo-liberal Goldman Sachs-dominated financial elite. Around the world, it’s clear that people are coming to this conclusion and for good reason. In Portugal mass demonstrations forced the government to backtrack on cuts and raise taxes instead. In Egypt, workers are meeting in assemblies. What’s happening is a widespread withdrawal of consent to be governed in the name of austerity, cuts and finance. There are alternative programs emerging. The last year and a half was the warm up. Now it begins.

Egyptian car workers

I spent the morning reading about the civil rights movement as part of Strike Debt’s project to think about how to expand and build its campaign. Then I get online to see what’s going on in Spain, and there it is, happening. Today was a day of action 25S/S25 in which the Congress was encircled.

You wanted demands? They have demands:

– The dismissal of the entire government, as well as the dismissal of the Court and the Leadership of the State, because of betraying the country and the whole community of citizens. This was done in premeditation and is leading us to the disaster.

– The beginning of a constitutional process in a transparent and democratic way, with the goal of composing a new Constitution

They want the elimination of all remnants of Franco-ism and the beginning of a new democracy and sustainable employment. Central to that process is the citizens’ audit of debt:

– The audit and control of the public debt of Spain, with moratorium (delay) of debt’s payment until there is a clear demarcation of the parts which not have to be paid by the nation, because they have been served private interests using the country for their own goals, instead the well being of the whole Spanish community

This is the outline of a political alternative, one that could operate state power, albeit in a very different way.

It was in order to visualize that claim that the massive encircling of Congress took place today. It began earlier with a rally in the Avenida del Prado at the center of Madrid. Here’s a video (HT Marina Sitrin):

They’re chanting: “They don’t represent us.” Indeed they don’t with official unemployment at 24% and poverty at 22%.

They moved off to Congress:

To Congress

There were, shall we say, quite a few people there by the time they arrived and established the circle.

The police behaved with typical restraint.

But as often as the police waded into the crowd, they reformed, sat down and held the ground. Their chants reflected the manifesto: “It isn’t a crisis, it’s a fraud!” and “This is not a democracy, it is a Mafia.”

Ugly Naked Man with a sign: “Life Without Hope in Madrid”

The tunes were often ones used at soccer matches, together with classic left slogans like “El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido.” These are forms of social connection that Occupy in the US can’t really draw on. Attending professional sport is a luxury event here, as is class activism. The Indignados are activists because they activate such patterns of social life. NFL referees can go on strike–NY state workers cannot.

If Occupy is to follow, it will have to learn how to cross the color lines that still prevent social activism from cohering here. It’s not that social conditions are different. Poverty in New York City, center of global capitalism, stands at 21% and the top 20% make an incredible 38 times the income of the bottom 20%. Madrid’s unemployment rate is 18.6%, while it reaches 13% in parts of New York like the Bronx, with much more stringent conditions and shorter eligibility. Of course, that difference is both  marked by and defines racialized hierarchy in the US. That’s the task ahead on this side of the Atlantic.

For the Indignados, today was simply a step on the road to the Global Day of Action on October 13, preceded by  O12’s celebration of America Latina Indignada or Occupy Latin America! Which makes sense because this refusal to be governed by neo-liberalism follows in the wake of similar Latin American refusals from Argentina to Bolivia and Chile. As so often, resistance moves from the decolonial regions to the former colonial metropole.

Last March, Madrid led and New York followed in September. Can we close the gap this time?

The Minera, Melisma and the Miners

For today, I want to take eight minutes of your time that you might normally spend reading this site for watching and listening. Go to this video of the flamenco singer Rocío Márquez Límon performing a minera in a striking coal mine on July 5 this year. (Thanks to Matthew Bain for posting this on Facebook, where I saw it). Ignore the ad at the front of the piece.

The miners had been underground for 45 days at this point. The austerity regime of conservative prime minister Rajoy has withdrawn all financial subsidy from the mines in Asturia and Leon. As a result, the coal will become unprofitable and the mines will close, putting thousands out of work. They have walked from their homes 250 miles to Madrid to protest to be greeted with riot police. Over 100,000 people assembled in Madrid this week in further protest at yet more cuts demanded by the “markets” otherwise known as Germany.

If you’re my age, from where I come from, you’ve seen this before with the British miners’ strike of 1984-85, which brought the world the delights of Billy Elliot. In the real world, people lost their jobs, communities were devastated and, just as she intended, Mrs Thatcher consolidated her neo-liberal regime. Let’s hope it doesn’t turn out that way this time.

OK, now really do watch the video. Watch the way the singer’s performance changes the faces of the strikers from defeat through grief to a renewed engagement. The faces are extraordinary, reminiscent of Ribera or other Spanish painters of the period–which is to say, one of the few moments in Western art when the faces of actual people could appear in representation.


The trace of Arab culture is audible in flamenco, five hundred years after the Reconquista, in the melisma that echoes the quarter tones of Arabic music. In recent years, this evocative sound has been reduced to an audible cliché by its compulsive overuse in pop music of the American Idol variety. There it speaks to the simulacrum of emotion, the unreal reality of Reality TV that is increasingly indistinguishable from mainstream political and cultural discourse.

It’s not that Límon has access to a “real real” that media can’t depict because we are, after all, watching it on video made available by El Pais, a major Spanish newspaper. My point is that the minera is a song form about the hardship of the mining life that is able to create a connection between these people based on common experience that has history behind it and a sense of purpose other than the circulation of commodities. You might find all these qualifications a bit tiresome and academic but the market has so capitalized even the expression of human emotion that they are, I think needed, at least in words.

But if you watched and listened you already know what I mean.


How to organize dual power: 12M

Five Reasons to Occupy

In New York, the General Assembly has been in effect suspended for some time because Facilitation has withdrawn its support for a process that had become increasingly dysfunctional. As we look at the impressive mobilizations across Spain today for 12M (European style dates), it might be worth taking a look at the ways in which they have structured the events. I’m looking only at a few public documents, of course, and I have not been part of any discussions.

But whatever they’re doing, it seems to be working. There’s a sense of a real dual-power structure in Spain and above all in Greece, where the elections have confounded the austerity consensus.

Democracia Real Ya, the prime movers of the M15 occupations a year ago, has recently registered as an association, causing some strong dissent among its supporters. Its themes for M12M15 as outlined above nonetheless seem to have been adopted quite widely. The basic themes were elaborated by the Assembly in Barcelona into six themes for discussion:

1. Not one more euro to rescue banks. Citizens’ debt audit. We will not pay illegitimate debt created by those who caused the crisis.

2. Education and health financing and public management, free and of quality. Do not cut public spending, no to the privatization of public services. No repayment.

3. Fair distribution of work and wealth. No to precaritization. No to retirement at 67. Withdrawal of the Labor Reform. Valorization of reproductive, domestic and care labor.

4. Guaranteed right of access to decent housing. Retroactive payment in kind. Spaces for affordable socializing housing. Promotion of housing cooperatives.

5. Tax reform to redistribute wealth fairly, which we all, men and women, produce together. Universal basic income for all people.

6. Defense of the rights to assembly, demonstrate, strike, unionize and all civil liberties including the right to control one’s own body.

These might be said to be principles more than demands, as there is no chance that the current Spanish government will implement them.

The Assembly has created a set of levels of organization for the discussion in the General Assembly that are more detailed than those normally used in New York.

Facilitation (3 people): Responsible for the dynamics of the assembly.

Containment (6 people): Responsible for managing the people who want to speak to the assembly urgently, questions of process, and specific incidents

Take the floor (6 people): Organize one aisle and recognize speaking order evenly across the space. We suggest carrying an identification poster.

Meeting minutes (2 or 3 people):  will be taken into Castilian and Catalan. After the assembly, minutes to be pooled and scanned to get a summary to post on the web. Will seek to record the sound of the assembly to complete the written record.

Timing of interventions (1 person): Controls speaking time with a stopwatch and will signal the speaker to remind them when 1 minute remains (requires sign).

Collection of information (2 people): Charged with collecting and sorting the names of the collectives that want to participate in block 3B and explain the dynamics of this block. This information will be passed to the communicators with facilitation. Will be next to the calendar or poster information to fill in the days during interventions.

Communicators with facilitation (2 persons): Gather information and communicate with facilitators.

That’s a team of 23 people to run the assembly. It’s true that for the most part, Occupy in the US has had no need of such complex structures, as we have not had the numbers. It also shows what the challenges would be to get from where we are now to such a place.

After the People’s Assembly on May Day, which I would guess was about 700 people, Marisa Holmes and others publicly (FB status=public, right?) expressed frustration that the Assembly had lost the opportunity to hold the kind of focused discussions envisaged in Madrid, Barcelona and other Spanish cities. If that Assembly had been able to issue a set of six articulated principles like those formulated by Barcelona, that would have been very interesting.

Because although New York’s movement is much smaller in numbers, it benefits from what you might call global media sensory ratios. Marshall McLuhan suggested that cultures have sensory ratios by which they determine the relative priority of the senses, so that in some cultures hearing is central, whereas in others it might be vision. Of course, all the senses are in fact mixed together so it’s somewhat arbitrary how these ratios are defined.

By global media sensory ratios, I mean something much simpler: how much media “noise”/”spectacle” does an event have to cause to be noticed worldwide? Here events in New York have a very low threshold, whereas a similar event in Spain has to be, as we’ve seen, about ten times the size, and one in a dominated nation like Indonesia larger still. On the other hand, if it suits, a small protest like yesterday’s in Moscow, can make global headlines–in this case, to keep pressure on the BRIC nations.

In Madrid, the gathering has been substantial throughout the day and has met the threshold for coverage as the lead item on the BBC News website at 19.00 Eastern. No sign of the events whatsoever on the New York Times front page, or even on its World page. Moscow’s protest is right there on page one.

Puerta del Sol in the morning

By midnight in Madrid, the time the permit for the rally officially expired, the crowd was immense–full details in El Pais here. No sign of anyone leaving and no sign of a police effort to evict the Indignados. It’ll be interesting to see whether they try and establish an overnight camp or not. If they do, and succeed, that would be a direct assertion of the movement’s power over government edict. It’s clear at any rate that they could do so–the question is whether to risk violence.

Sol around midnight

Around the same time, efforts to form a new government in Greece had to be abandoned because Syriza stood by its principles on refusing the Troika’s conditions and would not join in a coalition. So the 12M organizing is working–on a transnational basis so far but there are bound to be repercussions in Spain if Greece renegotiates its deal or simply defaults. One year in and things are just beginning to get interesting.

Why M15 Matters

Indignation is not enough! Build the 99% republic!

Austerity is a form of political repression by means of the economy. Across Europe, people have begun to reject the notion that the fiscal crisis caused by the banks should be solved by cuts in social services and redistribution of wealth to the rich, whether that be rich nations or rich individuals. Ireland and Greece have decisions to make in the weeks ahead. Much may turn on whether the protests in Spain and worldwide planned for the anniversary of the May 15 movement continue to give momentum to anti-austerity.

We were told that a Greek election that did not endorse austerity would be a market disaster. In fact, the euro is stable at around $1.29, making it still a strong currency as evidenced by the unrelenting hordes of Franco-German euro-laden shoppers in New York. Stock market traders punished the Greek market, driving it down about 8%, but left global prices only mildly diminished.

Today, European Union figures show that austerity does not work, even as a debt reduction policy. Spain’s budget deficit will actually rise to 6.4% of GDP this year compared with a previous forecast of 5.9%.  The Portuguese deficit will be 4.7% (was 4.5%), while Greece goes from worst to worst with its deficit predicted to be 7.3% (was 7%). Given these self-evident failures, also clear in the US economy, we have to conclude that the stakes in austerity are political: keeping the populations of the EU periphery in deprivation so that the global one percent can continue to flourish without restraint.

Yesterday in New York, OWS activists were pleasantly surprised to see that it was not in fact the usual suspects who turned up for the launch of NYC solidarity actions for the M15 events. A spontaneous orientation about Occupy was held. There are actions all weekend, including a Granny Peace Brigade and a Stroller March for Mother’s Day. Doing exams or stressed out by too many protests? Head to the May 15 rally in Times Square at 6pm, organizers request.

In Spain, unemployment is predicted to rise to over 25% next year. Another bank has had to be bailed out. More banks are in trouble. So every effort at state level goes into restraining popular protest. Events begin tomorrow in Madrid with marches setting out from four cardinal points to their destination in Puerta del Sol.

As you can see from the poster, the plan is to hold assemblies in the squares from May 12 to May 15 on topics ranging from the economy to feminism, health, water and migration. While the camp has been permitted in Barcelona, in Madrid riot police are set to contest the streets. The conservative government does not want its population discussing such matters.

In Greece, the election has failed to produce a pro-austerity coalition and Syriza failed to create an anti-austerity formation. A second round of elections in June now appears likely, with Syriza today predicted to win with 24% over the conservative New Democracy, down to 17%. Greeks appear to have gone on tax strike since the election, according to the Guardian, with public revenues  falling from an average €40m per day to less than €25m. And the E.U. has withheld one billion euros of its “aid” to the bondholders of Europe in order to punish Greek voters for having the temerity to have an opinion about their own lives. Somehow this seems unlikely to swing people to a pro-austerity position.

In Ireland, there is a referendum on March 31 on the fiscal treaty, which is in effect a vote on austerity. While opinion polls in April had a yes vote ahead, 20% were not decided. If anti-austerity continues to grow, Greece and Ireland can take the electoral lead if Spain can push the political agenda. There’s going to be a media downplay of the events in the U.S., so it’s up to us to use social media, blogs, and our presence in the streets to make this known. Go to an action as well: Tome la calle!