Madrid is a city full of activity and inspiration; from protests to strikes, social centres to urban gardens, the creation of cooperatives to the occupation of houses, banks and hospitals, here things are constantly moving forward and something new happens every day. It is also a city where I strongly felt the clashing of two different worlds, of hyper capitalism next to poverty, of pockets of awareness and change in the midst of the mindless machine of the modern city. I experienced this when leaving a social centre and seeing a McDonalds right in front of me, or speaking to a group of families that had been camping outside of a bank for 15 days protesting their housing eviction, and around the corner walking past vast queues of people waiting to have their cds signed by some celebrity singer, bedazzled by music and flashing lights. This schizophrenic reality, where wealth and poverty, oppression and resistance, exist right next to each other, has long been the norm in countries across the ‘developing world’. However this was the first time I had experienced it in Europe, and felt the effects of moving so quickly between the world that makes me feel despair and the world that makes me feel hope. For me this gives a clear indication of the severity and state of the crisis here in Spain.
The people, projects and movements I interacted with in Madrid were well organised, used radical and non-hierarchial methods of decision making and were technologically savy, creating and deploying a number of new and non-corporate internet communication tools, as well as knowing how to manipulate those that currently exist and get a topic to trend on twitter within 5 minutes. Above all I felt the confidence and joy within this movement very strongly. People were empassioned and motivated, constantly and joyfully active, because they knew and had experienced their collective power and ability to create change through the successful 15th of May and Indignados movements that began in 2011.
Whilst in Madrid I interviewed people from many different movements such as 15M, Youth Without Future, Democracy Real Ya, CNT (an anarchist union that was very active in resisting facism and self organising during the Spanish Civil War) as well as various collectives and cooperatives. Through these interactions and interviews I learnt a key lesson in relation to my question: how do we begin to solve this crisis of youth unemployment in a constructive way that leads us towards creating the post capitalist reality that I and many others across the world are craving for? The lesson I learned was that as youth unemployment is integrally linked into the broader capitalist crisis with its unsustainable economy, debt, housing, education, food production, culture and break down of community, trust and communication, the possible solutions to youth unemployment must reflect the interconnected nature of this problem and be linked to and nessled within wider networks of struggle and resistance.
Therefore if you take the idea I am working on as one possible solution to the youth unemployment crisis; namely that we as the next generation need to come together and find new ways of working, living, producing, creating and consuming through self managed projects, businesses or cooperatives. Projects where we are in control of our future, work as equals without exploitation and towards overcoming the multiple problems this world faces instead of creating profit for the few. Then these projects need to be supported by and linked to other networks pushing for the same goal of political transformation and economic self manangement and democracy.
Let us take a concrete example from Madrid to illustrate how this may work. Traficantes de Suenos (Traffickers of Dreams) is a publishing cooperative that is collectively run and owned by its workers and produces political, alternative and educational books. The way Traficantes de Suenos has been successful for so many years is to be linked into wider solidarity and alternative economic networks. For example to gain the initial capital needed to start up the business it may have gone to a banking cooperative in Madrid that gives loans without interest, secondly the cooperative is linked to political networks and groups within the city, such as social centres, self managed cafes, bookshops or community schools who will buy books from them, thus supporting their business. In return Traficantes de Suenos may charge lower prices for projects with little incone such as a community school, however it also offers a large social space that different collectives can use to hold meetings and events free of charge. It also puts on debates, discussion and reading groups, which in itself creates spaces for learning and exchange that help educate and build the movement. On another level the people that work at Traficantes de Suenos may also be part of a consumer group that supports local and organic food producers, furthermore the money they make from working may not neccessarily be enough to survive in the capitalist system and so perhaps its workers also participate in the local time bank, where they can get anything from someone to fix their computer, a massage, an english lesson or a dance class for free and from mutual exchange and participation in the time bank.
What this example illustrates is that it is possible to begin building alternative and autonomous socioeconomic networks that enable us to meet our basic needs and find fulfilment outside of the capitalist system. Furthermore to do so in a way that is based on human relationships, mutual support and trust and not on exploitation of people and the planet, or on debt and war. Many people within the 15M movement that came out of the occupations of the squares have moved towards this form of politics, as they realised that those in power were not going to give it way, and instead they would have to create their own networks that actively take the power, resources and energy away from the capitalist system. An exciting characteristic of these alternatives is that they can also be antagonistic and challenge the current system as well as creating the new reality in its place. For example in occupying a social centre you challenge private property and create free and open spaces for culture and exchange, in deciding to spoil your ballot you show your distain for the political system but also create new processes of democratic decision making in your neighbourhood, in boycotting multinationals you decide to buy locally, creation and destruction can happen simultaneously. An exciting example of this, that is just beginning here, is the idea of ‘economic disobedience’ this entails people refusing to pay the part of their taxes that goes towards debt, war and the senate (equivalent to the English House of Lords) and instead putting this money towards new cooperative projects. What is great about this idea, is that its not saying I won’t pay this money because I don’t want to contribute to society, but that I will not put my money towards these destructive and undemocratically decided things, instead I will put it towards the creation of real public spaces and services, towards the creation of the commons.
Madrid has taught me that any solution to youth unemployment needs to be linked to the neighbourhoods, communities, social movements and struggles that surround it. That solutions are not just about youth being in control of their future, but also about connecting to and building solidarity with others in situations of crisis and need around them. What I have experienced here, has shown me that through this process people have began to realise that what really exists behind money is us, people with time, ideas, skills, hearts and minds and that if we share that them, if we share our ability to create and produce, there is no for bosses, for capitalism, for money because all the power is in our hands. Those of you who are cynical will roll your eyes and say that phrase I love so much, “how unrealistic” but the truth is people here are turning those dreams into reality, and it is in fact very realistic, if only we believe in our power and ability to make it happen.