In depth

Central Articles

Voices and Visions

Stefano Puddu, Oriol Leira i Elena Grau
Issue Coordinators

Photo: Olmo Calvo

In this article we have collected the words of two women and two men who have had first-hand experience of the events which took place in several cities where the squares were convverted temporally into places of protest, of meetings and of dialogue in order to send out a message that needed to be heard. In Barcelona, Marti Olivella, who objected to compulsory military service during the seventies, has a long-term commitment to nonviolence and who is currently Director of the Institute of Social Innovation; in Milan (and Rome, Barbara di Tommaso, linked to social movements since the early eighties and active in the social field as an educator and trainer. In Brussels and in various cities in California, Elisabetta Cangelosi, a young activist of the "alter-globalisation" movement. In favour of disarmament, nonviolence, alternative economy, etc. and investigator in the field of the right to water as a universal entitlement; in Cagliari, Enrico Euli, philosopher and nonviolent activist, organiser of the first nonviolent action in Comiso (Sicily) in the early eighties and one of the most incisive representatives in the area of reflection and nonviolent training.

What would you highlight about the movements that occupied the squares throughout 2011? What role do you think the practice of nonviolence played?

Marti Olivella: 15M is a spontaneous movement which expresses the outrage of a great part of the population against the fact that the political system in Spain has been subjected to the global financial system. Governments can no longer represent the people and are losing legitimacy because they no longer have power over key areas. One of the strengths of this from the very outset is the fact that it has opted for peaceful methods and rejected violence as being a provocation. For a month it managed to avoid any act of violence whatsoever, more by intuition than training or experience, thereby earning the admiration of the whole world. It even avoided violence in the face of the extreme and gratuitous violence by the police instigated by councillor Puig on May 27th in Barcelona.

Barbara di Tommaso: Once again, I am captivated by the beauty of diversity (gender, generational, ethnic groups, styles, musical tastes, backgrounds, slogans…). Those who take to the streets are tens of thousands of people who are not resigned to the current situation and who walk together to state that we cannot continue like this. It is true to say that the movement is not well organised and in a way, it is better like this, because the social capital it represents must be made up of retired people, women, young children, the disabled in wheelchairs and women with shopping trolleys. Each person carrying their own poster, banner or slogan, in a single self-representing group.

This active and widespread citizenry, organised on a case by case basis around specific objectives and which does not disappear, even though it appears to do so on account of returning to work in the neighbourhoods, schools, in areas of involvement…But they do so this time with the realization that they are representing 90 per cent of humanity. It is an opportunity and, at the same time, an enormous responsibility of being the majority on the planet!

Elisabette Cangelosi: In Europe and the United State alike, regardless of the level of awareness and practical knowledge, it is a fact that "nonviolence" or at least "no violence" has been a common feature, propagated and shared, both at the time of establishing and maintaining a presence in the squares and streets, as well as in the methodology applied in assemblies and decision-making processes. It was the first time I had the opportunity to take part in "facilitated" assemblies in the strictest sense of the word, outside an openly declared "nonviolent" environment. In the case of facilitation, it is a question of a conscious choice ; in other cases it is difficult to say up to what point the generically nonviolent orientation can be considered deliberate, either way, the results are worthy of note and attention, especially from the practice of the social movements.

Enrico Euli: To me all this appeared like a third window of opportunity. After the first one in spring of 1989 with Perestroika, the fall of the Berlin wall and the events of Tiananmen square and the second in 2001 with the G8 in Geneva and then September 11, both of which were missed opportunities. Maybe it is the last for my generation: The Arab and North African spring, the economic financial catastrophe in the west, the resurgence of the conflict between rich and poor, the excluded and the integrated, youth and adults/seniors… I believe that the system has never been as weak, so beyond our control, nor the risk of a catastrophic implosion so near. For this reason, the use of violence has become more explicit. Obviously, renouncing violence can have some deterrent effect (although this is not always the case, as can be seen in Syria and Israel); nevertheless, the point is that their power to change the situation is minimal.

What direction do you think things are taking? What do the present times demand from us?

Elisabetta Cangelosi: In Brussels, as well as in the San Francisco Bay Area, next to people who have been active in the political and social field for many years, we can see a high percentage of men and women who simply feel the need to express their disagreement with the current conditions in the world. This is an important difference with respect to previous movements and at the same time a pressure point in this new re-action to the injustices and dysfunctions of the system. To come to the realisation that, with an ocean dividing us, comparable realities do exist and are being managed in very similar ways, makes you feel "at home" and leaves you with the feeling that some kind of seed is spreading by its own momentum, almost without any explicit awareness of "how".

Martí Olivella: A new citizen's political culture is being created, that speaks up without political intermediaries, connected directly without the filter of the manipulative mass media, and that not only talks but thinks, and decides, that not only demonstrates against, but also elaborates and puts proposals in practise, that occupies the public space to make it into the people's space and not just to put on a show. The passage of time can make us more mature or lead to decay. Perhaps what is needed is to define some achievable goal and to persevere until it is reached. Perhaps it is necessary to fine tune the tools of the network which would enable us to provide continuity and connect assemblies and citizens beyond the limits of space and time.

Barbara di Tommaso: "Capitalism has capitulated" was a banner I saw during the demonstrations in Rome. Yes, the system has entered an irreversible crisis due to excessive voracity. But now the question is what we can imagine, and what we can create for the future. We could start again with community ownership of goods as suggested by Zizeck and the committees for the defence of water (and other similar experiences in many social and political micro-realities on a local, national and global level); It is a prospect that excites me and one that I would like to explore further and put into practice, but, who is with me? It would be necessary to invent, to think, to propose, to try it out. We have to imagine what it will be like. For this reason, we have to ask ourselves how we would like it to be. From that point, we talk to other citizens and movements and discover areas of agreement on targets that should be pursued with consistency and stubbornness.

Enrico Euli: In the light of what is happening, I think the time has come to engage in noncooperation and disobedience on a massive scale. It even comes down to staying still, to actively engage in passivity, to leave the nest. If we do not make this leap, we will necessarily remain subject to the threats and blackmail of the "system", which in spite of our protests and demands, does not consider us credible- and in my opinion, rightly so- they will not reduce themselves to negotiate with us and within a short time, they won't even pretend to listen to us. That is why we have to ask ourselves if we are capable of going after our adversaries' true interests (money and consensus/power) and above all, if we are willing to lose something, if we are genuine and come up to scratch with the conflict in play. Either nonviolence is "a moral equivalent of war" or it isn't.