The Agora 99 General Assembly. (Twitter/@dar1o)
Shared problems need shared solutions. That’s why, last May, members of various European social movements met in Frankfurt to protest the European Central Bank in three days of action under the name “Blockupy.” There, they decided that they needed to do more to create joint strategies for fighting the excessive power of the financial sector and the resulting policies of austerity.
Last weekend’s Agora 99 meeting in Madrid was an opportunity to start building this joint strategy. More than 200 European activists from dozens of movements participated in the meeting, with the objective of creating a working schedule for connecting their various tactics around issues of debt, democracy and rights, as well as building stronger networks and ties among the movements. For four days, those three issues were explored in more than 20 workshops.
The first session was dedicated to new communication tools. “Guerrilla communication over the Internet has been fundamental to spreading the message,” said one of the participants. From the beginning of Spain’s 15M movement, several collectives devoted to audiovisual communication have been created, such as Toma la Tele (Take the TV), Audiovisol and #PeopleWitness. Their members inaugurated the Agora 99 teaching the participants how to use Bambuser, an application for creating streaming video with a mobile phone, as well as software for live video editing. This workshop came first, we learned, so that all participants could collaborate in producing coverage of the rest of the meeting, which could then be followed in real time on the Web.
“The only thing you need is a good Internet connection,” explained Vlad Teichberg, a member of Audivisol and an early Occupy Wall Street organizer, to several dozen attendees. He then went on to introduce them to Occupy the Comms, a new platform meant to be “the ultimate toolkit for popular news reporting.”
After this inaugural workshop, the meeting started to focus more on the issues. Participants detailed their experiences and goals in their efforts relating to public education, health care, direct democracy, housing rights and more.
Gonzalo Mosqueira, of the Italian organization Cantiere, explained in a session on housing that in Milan, for instance, there are more than 80,000 empty houses, and activists are working to stop the evictions of people in squatted houses who can’t pay rent. They’re also promoting new squats with the group Occupy Sfitto.“The participation of neighbors in the actions is very important,” Mosqueira said. “Here in Milan we are developing this slowly, but it has begun.” Some weeks ago, activists created a mobile application that allows users to map upcoming evictions. “At the moment, it is only being used in Milan, but we are trying to expand it to other cities,” Mosqueira added.
The scene among housing activists in Germany is quite different because there are far fewer problems with the mortgages; people there are starting to face other troubles. “Fear is used by speculators to raise the price of the rent, especially in Hamburg,” explained Hanno Willkomm. “We tried to mobilize people to fight against these raises and demand that the government regulate the cost of rent.” The previous week, he said, was the first time in recent memory that an eviction has been halted in Germany with civil disobedience. Willkomm proposed, also, that the Spanish housing rights collectives represented at the meeting could work with Germans to apply pressure in the cases of evictions in Spain by German banks.
Housing rights was just one of the issues included under the umbrella of rights, and it accompanied discussions of education and public services. It was announced, for instance, that in La Morada, Spain, a new social center opened in a squat several weeks ago, and a Greek activist told about how the workers in an Athens hospital occupied the building in order to keep it operating after it was to be closed because of budget cuts. Workshops about debt and democracy took place in five social centers across Madrid, where activists proposed tax resistance against the payment of national debt in each of their countries and a call for a new constitutional process in Europe.
Other topics under discussion included basic income and a proposed European Charter of Social Rights. “In Paris, we are working to guarantee a basic income,” said Sophie Banasiak of Real Democracy Paris, a participant in a collective of precarious workers, “and I believe that we must fight for it at a European level, to include it in a charter of rights for all Europeans.” Banasiak announced that in France there will be a mobilization for this Charter of Social Rights and a basic income next December 1, and she invited the other movements to join. A hundred or so people, most of them Spanish, discussed how to unify several proposals about direct and participatory democracy through a “European Citizen Anti-Candidacy” — an open list of spokespersons to bring the voice of the people to the EU Parliament.
These were among the proposals discussed over the four days of the meeting. Now, the international groups formed in Madrid will continue working on their proposals over the Internet and, next week, some of them will meet again in Florence, Italy, to continue formulating joint strategies.
November 14 will be the first opportunity to put these discussions into practice, with a general strike planned in Portugal, Greece, Belgium and Spain, as well as a partial strike in Italy. In Spain, this will be the second general strike of the year and the fourth since the beginning of the financial crisis. It has been called by a dozen unions, including the two largest — CC OO and UGT — but the role of the 15M movement, together with that of other campaigns that have since emerged to defend public services, will also play an important role in the day of action.
Activists at Agora 99 proposed making the strike into a starting point for the campaign for the European Charter of Social Rights, with the hope of spurring a public conversation. “This day is essential,” said Luca Casarini, a member of the Italian collective Global Project, “in order to begin a common discussion and to show that the market is not able to bring about these rights, which are now being converted into private services.”
Collectives in other European countries, such as Germany and England, have announced that they will carry out direct actions and demonstrations in solidarity with the countries on strike. In this way, the movements are working in concert to transform a day of strike into a turning point.