By Clément Paule
Translation: Davina Durgana
Passage au crible n°49
Five months after the emergence of the 15-M Movement (Movement of May 15th), the success of the world day of indignation demonstrates the consolidation of a new transnational space of social movements. Organized on October 15th, 2011, this event assembled almost a million protestors who marched in over 950 cities. However, the 28 countries concerned did not see the same intensity in protest: if the European states – particularly Spain and Italy – and North Americans are the largest concentration of participants, African and Asian cities have remained off of the momentum. Despite these disparities, the success of these efforts attests to the vitality of these mobilizations responding to the global call, All united for a global change. This slogan is reminiscent of the slogans of the anti-globalization movement, which along with a handful of outraged protesters contested the G20 summit meeting in Cannes on November 3rd and 4th, 2011. These apparent victories should not obscure the difficulties of police repression – like the evacuation of the OWS (Occupy Wall Street) camps – or organizational dilemmas. However, the fact remains that the various citizens’ initiatives show some cohesion, crystallized in the use of labels – indignation, Occupy – and similar practices.
First, note that the day of October 15th, 2011 is inscribed in the singular history of transnational social movements. Recall as well the precedent of February 15th, 2003 when demonstrations against the war in Iraq assembled several million people in sixty countries. For many commentators, this unprecedented synchronization of peaceful groups on a global level reveals the emergence of a new actor: international public opinion. If this observation were to be strongly criticized, the emergence of anti-globalization – embodied by the gathering in Seattle in 1999 and the regular meetings of the WSF (World Social Forum) since 2001 – can be considered as an index of the process of transnationalisation of civil society associations. Nevertheless, the heterogeneity of this activism and its ambivalent relationship to politics – illustrated by the recurring controversy on the form of the World Social Forum – tends to limit the consistency of this space, often described as unclear.
With respect to this indignation, it is characterized by a historical trajectory, which is distinguished by the rapidness of its extension in local, but very diverse contexts. As a premise, we discuss some collective actions beginning at the end of 2010, beginning with the Arab revolutions as well as the Estamos hasta la madre movement in Mexico or the Purple People – Il Popolo Viola – in Italy. All these preliminary signs of an initial protest denounce the generalization of plans of austerity and socio-economic consequences of the crisis. After the founding of the 15-M Movement in Spain, many countries were successively hit: from Greece to Italy and notably Israel, Switzerland, Portugal, and to a lesser extent in France. In this respect we include the extension of the movement to North American cities and the popularization of the general term Occupy, since the OWS began in mid-September 2011. The spontaneous success of these initiatives and the call of October 15th have contributed to a second phase of swarming on every continent: examples include Auckland, Seoul and Berlin. Finally, remember the proximity maintained with a certain number of social conflict which appear more circumscribed, whether is the Senegalese Y En A Marre, the anti-corruption protests in Brazil, the student strikes in Chile or the British No-Cuts!
1. Local Coordination and Global Convergence. The rapid internationalization of the movement leads to consider its methods of distribution, linking struggles rooted in national contexts to a critique of the meta-political world system. This invites us to analyze the ambivalent relationship between indignation and the global justice movement, these two spaces are not easily disassociated.
2. Imaginary Community of Protestors. This conceptualization – proposed by Benedict Anderson in his founding research of nationalism – can prove useful to understand these symbolic connections between protestors. In fact, they not only share a similar repertoire of action – based on social networks, non-violent occupation of public spaces, deliberative democracy – but also a set of common representations.
In the first place, the contagious explanation seems insufficient to understand the dynamics of transnationalisation at work since May 2011. Mechanically linking protest and financial crisis, this approach ignores the strategies of actors and their work towards self-presentation (Goffman). The repeated failures of French indignants, despite the enactment of a Draconian austerity plan, serves here as a prime counter-example. Additionally, if social networks and digital tools have played a crucial role – because they have strongly reduced the costs of communication – it is important not to overstate their impact in a strictly technical perspective. On the one hand, the export process was partly orchestrated by the protestors: Democracia Real Ya had announced in May 2011 of the World Day on October 15th. On the other hand, there is no denying the ripple effect generated by the unexpected and symbolic rallying of American cities. In this logic, the switching of local power relations, such as the resignation of Silvio Berlusconi, have contributed to accentuate the phenomenon. Especially since the public support of intellectuals such as Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz or Naomi Klein, the legitimacy and credibility of this space of indignation is reinforced.
Evidently, this emerging community of protestors is affirmed by dividing tactics against political parties, trade unions and the media. However, it is a continuation of the anti-globalization movement. Not only have the indignants recruited some of their members, but they have also borrowed the specific know-how, particularly in terms of democratic expression. Yet, they have retranslated these contributions in an original grammar of protest articulating these techniques in the symbolic occupation of places. Dissatisfied with the organizational model of their predecessors, the indignants aim to stem the institutionalization – and its pernicious effects of vertical integration or customization – by participative plans focused on the horizontality of individuals. To this end, the indignants and anti-globalization appear to be two spaces of protest distinct, but interdependent, also concurrent and complementary by the circulation of people and the practices that unit them.
Therefore, we must analyze some consequences of this original position, namely the embarrassment of the political and media fields, which are confronted with vocal protest of their easily identifiable control and lack of leadership. In this case, the authorities range from brutal repression – like the evacuation of Oakland – and so far ineffective attempts to recover. At the same time, the indignants denounce the inadequate treatment, almost caricature-like to which they are subjected: media professionals are accused of reducing the movement to a hierarchical political organization while completely neglecting the importance of mini-mobilizations. This has lead to the creation of alternative channels of information by protestors, which have resulted in the consolidation of a world of shared values. Without prejudice to the sustainability of such a label, we emphasize its dynamic character and composition, which demonstrates through the diffusion of unifying slogans, such as 99% of that of real democracy. For now, global indignation, reinforced by the intensification of transnational communications, seems to take shape as imagined communities overlooking state borders.
Anderson Benedict, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, 1983.
La Vie des idées, « Débats autour du 15M. Républicanisme, démocratie et participation politique », 20 sept. 2011, à l’adresse web : http://www.laviedesidees.fr/Debats-autour-du-15M.html [21 novembre 2011].
Paule Clément, « La structuration politique de l’indignation. Le mouvement transnational des indignés », Passage au crible (45), 27 juillet 2011.