Horizontal Democracy Now: From Alterglobalization to Occupation

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by Marianne Maeckelbergh
Interface : a journal for and about social movements
Volume 4 (1 ): 207 – 234 ( May 2012 )

When the hundreds of thousands of people who marched in Madrid on 15 May 2011 began to occupy public squares across Sp ain, social movement networks well beyond Spain took notice. In no time I was receiving emails, text messages and facebook invites telling me that I should go to the Damrak in Amsterdam to “Take the Square!” in solidarity with the hundreds of thousands who had taken so many of their local squares across Spain. My email inbox was overflowing with emails about what was alternatingly being called the #spanishrevolution, the Real Democracy Now movement, the Indignant/Outraged movement, the take - the - square movem ent and the 15 May movement. Within days there were squares being (temporarily) occupied all over Europe, and within six months, there were occupations all over the world, culminating in 951 occupations in 82 different countries on 15 October 2011. 2

Officially the protests were linked to the upcoming Spanish elections which were scheduled for 22 May 2011, but t he 15 May movement continued under the slogan “we are not commodities in the hands of bankers and politicians.” Faced with governments that def ended finance and banks at the literal expense of the people, many people stood up and demanded, “a real democracy, a democracy no longer tailored to the greed of the few, but to the needs of the people” (Rodríguez and Herreros 2011). For some participants these political statements are part of an anti - capitalist agenda, but for many, they are primarily an expression of outrage about the way contemporary political and economic structures make input into decision - making on the part of those most affected by economic and political decisions impossible.

In this context of heightened distrust for both economic and political institutions, the 15 May movement set about creating more inclusive models of political decision - making. This model of decision - making is b ased on a set of principles that pre - date the rise of the 15 May movement and in this article I argue that in order to understand the significance of these political practices, we have to place these practices not only within the historical context of each town, city or country where these practices have emerged, but also within the historical trajectory of experiments with participatory democracy and horizontal decision - making in social movement networks internationally. In what follows I therefore context ualize my findings not in relation to a deep insider knowledge of the ins and outs of the 15 May movement, but rather in relation to my deep knowledge of horizontal decision - making within social movements over the past ten years. It is my hope that this 'i nsider' - perspective - from - elsewhere will nevertheless shed some light on the political importance of the 15 May movement for the history and evolution of horizontal decision - making.

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