[Note: The following article was published in the weekly “Dromos” on Saturday 4 June. It is based on the experience of the Athens’ Indignados, who protest in Syntagma square since May 25, and offers an inside view on the way that this new movement functions]
There may be no better proof of the rupture that is brought about by the “movement of the squares” other than its open, participatory, directly democratic way of organising and functioning. Within a single week it has given birth to a political culture of a different type, one that literally overcomes all known models of organising and struggle to date.
Even if the issue of its procedures is incomplete, it comes up again and again and comprises the most important legacy already left to the political and social life of the country. This does not mean there are no issues with disorganisation, inefficiency, delays. Taking into account however the explosive rhythm of its development, the lack of previous experience on the side of those who created it, along with the need to compile, step by step, heterogeneous and different opinions of all participants through open procedures, all this is to be expected. Even if time-consuming, its procedures are flexible and are altered by the day; they are self-criticised, adjusted according to mistakes, comments and suggestions deriving from them being tested in practice.
The open, egalitarian and participatory character of the procedures and ways of organising derives from the will to find such procedures that can unite all who are affected by the crisis and dissatisfied with the current political system. The pacifist and non-party character of the original call-out was the condition that shaped a common public sphere where everyone would meet without any badges to co-decide by discussing at the same level.
The refusal to assign or elect representatives does not only cause unease to the forces of the state who do not know how to deal with this, as it overturns their tactic of manoeuvring, of libelling and destroying popular expressions of rage. More than that, this “facelessness” as Pretenderis would have it [a well-know reactionary TV journalist — trans], is the best way for the movement to safeguard transparency in its organising, as well as the will for whatever is created to express everyone — not just its most so-called “vanguard” part.
And so, the matter of procedures is not simply a matter of organising but a key issue regarding its political essence. An issue of safeguarding the conditions of unity, involvement, free participation to the right of speech and in the decision making process of the people’s assemblies; working groups, thematic assemblies and their immediate review and control. This understanding that rejects any kind of representation or mediation, is safeguarded by the constant circulation of revocable positions and runs through all structures and functions born by this movement.
In this spirit, the stance of the movement toward Mass Media is also differentiated, with the refusal to engage with them, not even by way of issuing press releases. With the screening of what part of its procedures and organising is photographed or taped, and most importantly, with the creation of the movement’s own channels of communication — with its main website www.real-democracy.gr, being the only medium-voice of its decisions.
The people’s assembly
The daily people’s assembly of Syntagma square (at 9 pm), like the corresponding ones in other cities, is the only one that holds the right to decision-making. The topics in each popular assembly are defined according to discussion, the demands and the proposals submitted in previous assemblies.
These are recorded in minutes that are published on-line. Suggestions are also collected, both on-line and physically in person and these are all grouped together in the corresponding topical groups and return in the form of specific proposals to the popular assembly for its consultation and approval.
The final resolutions are shaped during the assembly according to the comments of the speakers and are put up for approval, always before midnight, in order not to exclude those who work and those who have to use public transportation to return to their neighbourhoods.
Everyone has a right to speak and in the beginning of each assembly, after reading out and approving its topics, tickets are distributed to everyone who wishes to do so; speakers are selected by draw during the assembly. Usually speakers range between 80 and 100 in their number, while more than 2000 people take part in the assembly on a daily basis. Despite this element of chance, experience so far has proven this to be the best way to avoid any phenomena of imposition of specific agendas or the influencing of the assembly’s decisions by organised interventions.
After midnight, which is the moment until when the assembly must make its decisions, the assembly continues as an open speaking forum.
The working groups
At the moment, there are more than 15 working groups and 12 thematic ones. The working groups comprise the cornerstone of life at the square and their contribution so far has been priceless. Not only because they offer practical solutions and because so far they have responded, despite many problems and delays, to the ever-increasing needs for the shaping, the functionality and the procedures at the square, but most importantly because these groups themselves comprise the spirit of contribution of the people, their will to take life into their own hands and the capacities of their self-organising, without experts and capital, based on their own capacities. Thousands have joined up the group lists and this availability is the driving force of the movement even though it has not been utilised in the most effective of ways so far, partly due to the movement’s swift growing.
It is indicative that despite the substantial financial needs and despite peoples’ offer to contribute financially in response, the idea of setting up a fund has been rejected. Not only because of the looming dangers in the management of the money but also in order to prove that there are other ways to get things done. And so, the practice is to propose instead for contributions in anything ranging from writing materials to food, PA equipment or film projectors. And the contribution of the people has exceeded all expectations.
Until now, functioning groups include those of technical support, material supply, artists, cleaning, administrative support, canteen-nutrition, translation, respect (patrol), communication/multimedia, legal support, neighbourhood outreach, health, time bank and service exchange, composure and messengers. Each groups has been divided into subgroups according to each specialist work section. The groups meet in open assemblies every day at 6 pm and the messenger group makes sure that their needs and suggestions are known to all groups in order to safeguard the smooth cooperation and solving of any problems that may arise.
The thematic assemblies
The functioning of the thematic assemblies was born from the need and demand of the people, as expressed through the open channels of the assembly and the websites (real-democracy, facebook etc.) to have processes that will shape positions on the burning issues, on all those reasons that brought people to the streets and to the squares. They also serve the need for the shaping of appropriate conditions for a more extensive discussion of particular issues before their approval—something that the central popular assembly cannot, as a procedure, cater for. And so thematic groups have been formed for the crisis, for employment and the unemployed, education and students, health and insurance, environment, technology, solidarity, people with special needs, justice and legal issues, consultation of the debt. These assemblies meet daily between 7 and 9 pm and hundreds of people participate in some. Making their functioning substantial will largely aid and feed the discussion and topics covered in the main popular assembly, along with the attempt to articulate some concrete discourse for the overturning of the current system and the country’s escape from the crisis according to the will of the people.