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Monday, February 18, 2013

The Global Resonance of the Real Democracy Movement


Posted: 17 Feb 2013 05:55 PM PST

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In a new paper, ROAR authors Leonidas Oikonomakis and Jerome Roos recount how the struggle for real democracy resonated with activists around the globe.

Que No Nos Representan: The Crisis of Representation and the Resonance of the Real Democracy Movement from the Indignados to Occupy

By Leonidas Oikonomakis and Jérôme E. Roos
European University Institute

Paper to be presented at the conference on ‘Street Politics in the Age of Austerity: From the Indignados to Occupy’, University of Montreal, February 20-21, 2013.


“Revolutionary movements do not spread by contamination but by resonance.”

~ Invisible Committee, The Coming Insurrection



Introduction: Real Democracy Now!

The year 2011 marked a watershed in the modern history of social movements. In the wake of the Arab Spring, a wave of popular protest washed across the globe: from the leafy squares of the Mediterranean to the concrete heart of the global financial empire at Wall Street, activists suddenly began to occupy public spaces everywhere. By mid-October, millions of people had taken to the streets of over 1,000 cities in more than 80 countries to express their indignation at the subversion of the democratic process by unresponsive politicians, big banks and powerful corporations. Following three decades of state retrenchment, growing inequality and rising indebtedness, the ongoing global financial crisis finally brought back to the surface the hidden reality of class conflict in democratic capitalist society. A deafening roar resounded from the squares of the world. After a long slumber, the 99 percent had risen, with one unifying objective: real democracy now!

From the very start, it was clear that the Spanish indignados, the Greek aganaktismenoi and the American occupiers were not the usual suspects of left-wing politics. Refusing to align themselves with any political party or ideology, the activists deliberately avoided making specific demands on the political class. Rather than recognizing the authority of those in power, participants in the movement challenged the legitimacy of prevalent power relations as such. At the heart of its call for real democracy, therefore, the emerging cycle of struggles not only revealed a profound legitimation crisis at the core of representative democracy (e.g. Zizek 2011; Hardt and Negri 2011), but also consciously prefigured the creation of a different democratic model, one characterized by popular assemblies, leaderless self-management, and consensus-based decision-making (Graeber 2011a). All of this leaves us with a key question, however: how was it possible for such a radical critique of representation and such an innovative and relatively unknown model of direct democracy to spread so rapidly across borders? Or, to paraphrase BBC Newsnight Editor Paul Mason (2012), why was it kicking off everywhere?

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Leonidas Oikonomakis is a PhD researcher at the Department of Political and Social Sciences of the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. His research focuses on the different political strategies that social movements adopt in their struggle for social change (case studies: the Zapatistas of Mexico and the Cocaleros of Bolivia). He is a member of the Greek hip hop formation Social Waste, a contributor to ROAR Magazine, and was an active participant in the occupation of Syntagma Square. Throughout 2011 and 2012 he also participated in demonstrations and occupations in several other countries, including Italy, Spain, and Mexico. Together with Jerome Roos he is the director of Utopia on the Horizon (2012), a short documentary on the Real Democracy Movement in Greece. He writes in English and his native Greek, but his articles have also been translated into French, Urdu, Hindi, Arabic, Bahasa Indonesia, Italian, and Portuguese.

Jérôme E. Roos is a PhD researcher in International Political Economy at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. His research focuses on the structural power of financial capital in the management of international debt crises and the implications for the quality of democracy. In addition to being the founder and editor of ROAR Magazine – an online journal that provides reports and analysis the ongoing cycle of protests around the world – he also serves as a volunteer for Take The Square, the international wing of the 15-M movement that helped coordinate the global days of action on September 17 and October 15, 2011, and participated in demonstrations and occupations in more than half a dozen countries across Europe. Together with Leonidas Oikonomakis, he is the director of Utopia on the Horizon (2012), a short documentary on the Real Democracy Movement in Greece, and Fighting for our Future (2013), an upcoming feature-length documentary on the struggle against debt, evictions and austerity in Spain. Jerome has appeared for interviews on Al Jazeera, BBC World and Russia Today, and his articles have been translated into Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Arabic, Turkish, Greek, Russian, Finnish, Slovenian and Polish.

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