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Who leads Spain’s 15-M Movement?

August 16, 2011

I was interviewed earlier by an American journalist about Spain’s Indignados/15-M Movement and its leadership. This is a very interesting and difficult question to answer. The gist of my answer went as follows.

#15M is a vast, decentralised movement with numerous initiatives and actions rather than a single entity with a common goal. One participant has evocatively described it as a wave. There is no central committee, no hierarchical pyramid. Indeed 15M participants themselves compare it to a hydra with countless heads and reject the notion of representation – each participant represents him or herself through their arguments and contribution to specific tasks, e.g. debating where to intervene next, or helping to run an assembly (see my 15-M Dictionary).

When 15M participants give press conferences they take it in turns to reply to questions. It is no wonder that journalists and researchers find it difficult to identify leaders. At the same time, it is probably one of their greatest assets – this fluid leadership upsets our familiar categories. It is reminiscent of the free software/culture movement – one strong current within the movement.

That said, as in all human ventures there are of course people within the 15M movement who are more influential than others. They exercise their power subtly, though, leading by example. Like headmen among the egalitarian Iban of Borneo with whom I lived in the late 1990s, they govern the 15M parallel society through a ‘subtle mixture of persuasion and admonition’ (Freeman 1992: 113).

How new is the movement? Most of the ingredients have been around for a while (assemblies, non-representation, non-violence, consensus, email, Facebook groups, Twitter hashtags,  etc.) but the resulting techno-political cocktail is new. Whether it will spread and take hold beyond Spain remains to be seen, but it’s already meant a political awakening for hundreds of thousands of people, and Spanish politicians have certainly taken note.

The next big event will be a 15 October 2011 mobilisation worldwide (at least that’s the hope, e.g. recently Anonymous called for UK citizens to mobilise on precisely this date).

Most of the information circulating about 15M is in Spanish. For an exception see Take the Square.

Reference

Freeman, J.D. 1992. The Iban of Borneo, Kuching:  Abdul Majeed, First published: Kuching: Government Printing Office, 1955 as Report on the Iban of Sarawak.

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