Rethinking #AcampadaBrighton

Posted on November 3, 2011


On 15th of May 2011, something almost unthinkable in Spain happened. A demonstration was called by a pro-mobilisation platform called Democracia Real Ya (Real Democracy Now). This platform is a mixture of different associations that seek to defend civil rights and have in the last few months become one of the fundamental pillars of Spanish civil society.

The affluence of the demonstration on the 15th of May in Madrid and other Spanish cities was astonishing, bearing in mind it was organised mostly through social networks and with no parties directly involved in mobilising their ‘masses’.  It was truly the beginning of a new civil society taking shape in Spain. Moreover it most be noted that the tactics of ‘acampadas’ (occupation or tent city) was rather spontaneous in Madrid and the cities that followed. There seems to be evidence that police infiltrated the first demonstration in Madrid and police abuse was widespread, searching in YouTube these days will give you clear evidence of such statements.

Thus, in order to protest against police brutality used against non-violent protestors, a handful of people decided to sleep over at Puerta del Sol. But the police and local government had other ideas, and forcefully evicted the protestors. These continuous attacks on peaceful and legitimate protests only made them stronger until in Puerta del Sol they reached the staggering number of 30,000 protestors; general assemblies being held every day and nearby streets getting packed with assemblies from working groups and commissions. Madrid had taken the streets determined to make themselves heard, but also to be seen as an example of civil disobedience and creating collective and critical thinking*.

Spanish citizens living in Brighton & Hove decided that they could not stand by whilst their brothers, sisters and parents back at home were disobeying direct orders (from local governments) to make themselves heard. By the end of May 2011, #acampadaBrighton was already in place. It lasted for 3 weeks exactly. Truth be said, it began mostly as a solidarity camp, to show that those of us that couldn’t make a living in Spain or were simply abroad undertaking university degrees; were also in support of the 15M movement. But many of us soon realised that the 15M movement wasn’t simply about protesting but also about creating: the current economic and financial crisis may be the end of something, but we shall focus on building something new. In the face of such constructive spirit, we realised that this struggle was not only international but global. The protests that we’ve seen worldwide on 15th of October are simply the beginning of a much-needed global response to savage capitalism (there it is… I said it and Tahrir would agree with me!).

I would agree that the camp per se failed to agitate the local and British population against the current system (lets remember that people from Greek, Italian and North African origin were supportive from the beginning). But I consider it a cautionary tale. It was a warning that media clearly ignored since they were quick to label us exclusively as a “solidarity camp with the Spanish Revolution”. Yet we were aware that on the 15th of October something was going to happen, and it is estimated that almost 500,000 people in Madrid turned up whilst this date has marked the beginning of occupations across the world.

Having said this, I can only add that I am proud of what I did. That we were an example of civic protest and civil disobedience that caused a wide array of feelings on the local population (and politicians). And now that these novel tactics of consensus democracy, horizontal decision-making, assemblies and active non-violence are consolidating in diverse places such as NYC and Brighton; I (a previous protester from #acampadaBrighton) will actively support the OccupyBrighton movement in the endeavour of mobilising people against the current financial tyranny and unchecked capitalism. I sincerely hope and believe that the rest of the Real Democracy Now Brighton movement and people from #acampadaBrighton will join you soon if they haven’t done so already.

Stay strong, keep fighting, rethink urban spaces as places for collective and critical thinking and remember that the protest camp is not at end in itself; but rather the vehicle to build new networks of solidarity and activism.

*It must be acknowledged that this new wave of protests began in Tahrir, Cairo. Ironically, it is the ‘least-developed’ countries in Northern Africa that have ignited the flame of civil disobedience.