15M - Towards real-time democracy

A year after the revolution of the indignados in Spain, the 15M movement promotes novel solutions to boost democratic participation.

One year after its outset, the Spanish Revolution has survived the victories of the ultra-conservative People’s Party (PP) in the municipal elections of May 22, 2011 and the general elections on November 20. The PP got the best result in its history, but – with only 1 in 3 Spaniards voting for them – can hardly claim to be representative of the population. The poor mobilization especially of young voters by the parties is contrasted by the intense political participation of youths in the streets.

During the eruption of the 15M movement in May 2011, when the streets of Spain were filled with 'indignados', a technological innovation took place that went almost unnoticed: the Tweetómetro Yes We Camp. The collective Platoniq, specializing in technologies for the commons, devised this tool that allows for activism on the streets and the Internet to merge. Any Internet user could vote via Twitter on the proposals discussed at the citizen assemblies on the squares. Anyone could tweet (yes) or (no) with a hashtag to cast a vote. The Tweetómetro bore two powerful innovations for the future of democracy. First, political participation can be governed by the real-time feeds that signify social media. Second, public space can become a revised, more participatory and open version of the ancient Greek polis. Networks of citizens are enabled to coordinate spaces of power provided by the institutions of this new P2Polis.

This novel model of collective participation has turned Spain into one of the countries closest to the P2P society. The 15M have kick-started initiatives such as Goteo, a crowdfunding platform, Nockin, a search engine for P2P services, Kune, a platform facilitating cooperation, or Nolotiro, a platform for the exchange of used goods.

Moreover, this distributed network is also a powerful political factor. The 15M became an influential citizen lobby that not only succeeds in setting the media agenda – with 15M often achieving the status of ‘Trending Topic’ on Twitter – but also managed to force the PP to draft a new transparency law.

But perhaps the most interesting achievement has been the decentralization of the “acampadas”. Toma los barrios (“take the neighborhoods”) has created a network of thematically connected local assemblies. These popular political networks in public spaces have a strong drawing power and proved to be opinion-leaders. In addition, 15M is transforming the so-called collective intelligence into collective action in real time. Projects such as StopDeshaucios, designed to fight evictions of families unable to pay their mortgage, or Brigadas Vecinales, neighborhood initiatives protecting immigrants from police harassment show that a Twitter hashtag can stir up collective action. 

The Campo de Cebada, a market in Madrid that was closed down by the crisis, is one of the great political prototypes of 15M. As one of the many urban self-governed spaces across Spain, it shows a new way of democracy working as a network in which citizens collaborate in order to devise solutions to tangible problems; a new real-time democracy where the State is hardly more than a framework that ensures the free exchange among citizens.

About the author
Bernardo Gutiérrez is a member of the Colombia media advocacy group Medios Para La Paz.