The other day I was walking through Amsterdam with a friend and as we were passing Beursplein I thought back to one October morning when thousands of people converged to Occupy the square. And I realised that said morning – 15th October 2011 – was five years ago give or take a few days. I mentioned this to my friend but he said “Yes but what was achieved after everything?”
I didn’t give an answer because I didn’t have one. But it set me thinking. Ok, the revolutionary year has led, either directly or indirectly, to some terrible outcomes, e.g. civil wars in Syria, Libya, Ukraine, Iraq, Yemen; authoritarian and sometimes quasi-fascist regimes in Egypt, Turkey, Hungary, the disunited kingdom; plus some electoral scares elsewhere such as Austria and amerika. Nowhere has the burden of the capitalist crisis/heist been shifted onto Capital. All this being said, it has also led to some positive legacies, Rojava being the most promising, but also the PAH in Spain along with the municipalist experiments, and several liberated factories where workers and communities have reclaimed them from anti-productive capitalists (e.g. the VioMe coop and solidarity support is still preventing the theft of their facility).
But the reason I couldn’t give an answer to my friend is that simply listing the long-term outcomes seems to insult the importance of an amazing process as it was happening back then. It doesn’t feel right to try to do a results-based evaluation as if it was a marketing campaign, or lobbying service, where we ascribe value (‘evaluate’) to effects, count them against the others on offer, and ‘choose’ the most cost-effective product on the market.
The Movement of the Squares came 3 years into an economic crisis/heist and was a game changer in calling out the classed nature of state-imposed response. The elite, as a political-economic class, controlled wealth and governments and were shifting the costs of economic contraction onto the rest of us – us who had prior to this been silent or even not realised that we belonged in the same category until then. All this changed when the Movement announced itself loudly and very visibly, whether in the form of Mohamed Bouazizi the street vendor setting himself alight after being harassed by local officials and his goods confiscated, the M15 setting up camp opposite parliament and proclaiming “They call it democracy and it isn’t”, coupled with “It’s not a crisis but a scam”, or in the Occupations bringing the spotlight onto massive financial powerhouses of the 1% and declaring “We are the 99%”. It was no longer a case of pressuring governments to modify this or that particular policy or measure, but a proclamation that the entire system where governments who claim to represent the will of the people but who in reality implement the will of Global Capital had to change.
And on top of this, once given form in the shape of slogans or tactics the ideas seemed to take on a life wholly independent of those who coined them. Choose the metaphor you want – wave, forest fire, virus, whichever – but once it had been ignited the contagion was unstoppable. One man’s protest in Tunisia almost immediately inspired and empowered the multitude across north Africa and the Persian Gulf, then Madrid and Athens once infected became epicentres, and then Wall Street and then countless squares across Europe, Anglo- and Latin America and beyond were simultaneously Occupied on the morning of 15 October. In the days coming up to that date I remember reading messages about the different occupations being proposed under the phrase ‘Occupy Everywhere’ and thinking ‘Yes, this is it, this is the revolution we have been hoping for. It is global, it is one, it is autonomous, and is – we are – unstoppable. The world is transformed’.
The fact that it turned out to be in fact quite stoppable is irrelevant to how things looked at the time – for those of us involved in whatever way, the horizon of what was believed to be possible was completely exploded. This was a libertarian and anti-capitalist revolution, on a scale what was imminently global, intimately connected yet perfectly autonomous, where within the one revolt each confluence freely and radically democratically decides what to do and how to do it in their context. It was real, it was happening, the realisation of the Alter-globalist phrase “One No and many Yesses”, and the Zapatistas’ “world where many worlds fit”, all of which were identified in signs and human mics naming the one and many enemies: austerity, banks, budget cuts, the IMF, capitalism, debt, greed, the EU, money, corporate-controlled democracy, war, Sarkozy and Merkel, cannabis prohibition, fascism, the Bloomberg conspiracy, Draghi, the Germans, chemtrails, … Ok, the list contains some dubious candidates. But the point is is that they were allowed to fit. And in being spoken at assemblies the dreams, visions, and theories of a radically better world that all of us had been building inside us – some of us for years, others only recently becoming politicised – suddenly were no longer dreams and theories but concrete possibilities. They were happening. And that is the ember that still burns however quietly and clandestinely, long after the inferno has been contained. Although 2011 failed, we know that the smallest protest with the most moderate demands contains the possibility for a world transformed.