Can Europe Make It?

Who are we, where did we come from... and where are we going?

Podemos had to reconcile the enthusiasm of all those without any previous experience of political participation with the experience and biases of those who came from activist backgrounds. Español.

Violeta Barba
14 December 2015
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15-M anniversary. Demotix/Betsabe Donoso. All rights reserved.Much has been written about the birth of Podemos. There have also been many lines written about the 15-M (15 May) movement and about this breath of fresh air that brought so many of us to the streets.

Much has been debated about what happened to this movement, and whether it disappeared due to the fatigue that came with camping out in all the major squares of Spain for a month. The exhaustion was not only physical; it was above all intellectual and political. Defending the stand of the camps in the thick of it, against all the odds, was, I believe, one of the toughest experiences to have faced those of us born in the eighties and nineties.

The decision to transfer the process—while not turning it off— to neighbourhoods was one of the most complex decisions we had to confront: opting for the pragmatic stance of not letting it be seen that the camps were slowly dying out as participants returned to their everyday lives, while up against the desire of not giving into those who had been saying that we were illegally occupying the public spaces.

For many, the 15-M movement represented an awakening, an abandonment of the world of shadows; for others, who came from and who had already participated in organized movements, like myself, it meant a revolution in the ways in which we did politics: holding radical assemblies, making decisions by consensus rather than by vote, the necessity for a structure that gave voice and participation to young people. In short, we were seeking a profound renewal.

And so, during the summer of 2011, when we moved from the plazas (‘squares’) to continue the fight in the neighbourhoods, or in the Mareas (‘Tides’; the social movements that rose in defense of public services), some doubt emerged as to whether this vision of change, acquired through numerous assemblies in the night, could motivate existing political parties to change their institutions and promote ‘Real Change Now’.

This question led us to enter into organized politics, where we collided with reality. In spite of their virtues, the structures that we encountered contained also vices that were difficult to get rid of, at least in the short term. Yet, immediate action was necessary to alleviate the situation of social emergency that was affecting our country.

So, responding to the call of a group of intellectuals from the Complutense University of Madrid, many of us ended up coalescing around this, even if we had some doubts. Without fear, we said yes to the proposal of uniting a majority of us against the established powers. The language of the youth of May 2011 was now resurfacing in the form of a political organization called Podemos which brought together two different types of people. We were told that we had no program, that we reached new seats and municipalities only by having a couple of familiar faces coming out on television. The truth is that our new way of getting on the podium and walking in slippers and jeans in carpeted chambers—dusty until now—… was established only thanks to the impulse of Podemos.

And this precisely was one of the biggest challenges that we encountered internally: to reconcile the enthusiasm of all those without any previous experience of political participation with the experience and biases of those who came from activist backgrounds and had therefore a lot of knowledge, but also scars and fears, that would impede them from trying new things.

Even so, Podemos triumphed in all the elections in which it participated, thereby bringing many young faces with new ideas to public office. I do not want to lose out on the opportunity to value this simple fact: in order to face what is coming ahead, it will be necessary to lower the average age of our archaic and, at times, senile institutions because doing things differently involves rupture and necessary change.

We were told that we had no program, that we reached the seats and municipalities of change only by having a couple of familiar faces coming out on television. The truth is that our new way of getting on the podium and walking in slippers and jeans in carpeted chambers—dusty until now—was accompanied by appropriate, common sense measures for social justice, which should have been adopted much earlier, but were only established thanks to the impulse of Podemos. These are basic measures like: the prohibition of disconnecting the light, gas and water supplies for families affected by poverty, transparent laws and accounts, changes in regional electoral laws to balance out their bi-partisan bias, and the creation of lists of bank-owned empty properties.

However, as we face the final stages of an electoral campaign that seems to have lasted since the last regional elections, we cannot forget Podemos’ journey, even though this is the moment for which we came about.

We have the months ahead to debate the organizational model that we would like to adopt, to unite the hearts of people that militate in Podemos, to bring together again pragmatism with wild emotions. These will be months to try and avoid making the same mistakes as those before us, months when, if we are to have another 15-M, we can all return to the squares to shout, without reservation, that we did everything we could. 

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