Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Marta Soler on the indignados in Spain

Cairo, Madison, Palestine, all over Spain, and Athens…

Marta Soler has been participating in the mobilization of young people, the “Indignados” who have occupied the Placa Catalunya (the Plaza Catalonia) in Barcelona, the Plaza del Sol in Madrid, and other main squares in protest against the corrupt political parties in Spain – those who have capitulated to the financial crisis like the PSOE (the socialists) headed by Zapatero, and those who will bring austerity even more harshly (the PP). She wrote to me forcefully (below) about this important social and democratic explosion for 9 days challenging the spiritually empty victory of the Right in regional elections this past Sunday.

In 2004, Zapatero’s election marked a turning point, more forceful, as a reformer, than Obama. He was elected because Aznar – Bush’s poodle in Spain – announced that the bombing of the Atocha Station in Madrid was done by the Basque organization ETA (there is a big independence movement in the Basque country, fostered both politically and by terror, repressed sometimes with political/police murders, even by the Socialists, as in the reign of Felipe Gonzalez). The Spaniards were at last appalled by this duplicity and booted Aznar out.

Zapatero withdrew Spanish troops from Iraq quickly. He legalized gay marriage. He passed a quite amazing battery of social reforms including 1500 euros to help young people get a first apartment or 1500 euros to a mother for a child(h/t Carlos Robles). His second term has, however, been hemmed around by the financial crisis and predation of the banks and corporations (including Spanish banks and corporations), much of the life and decency sucked out of it. Working people have increasingly taken to the streets against the government in big demonstrations (last September in Barcelona, some 75,000 workers marched; on December 23, I ran into a demonstration in Place Catalunya of several thousand). Inspired by the Arab spring – interestingly, Marta does not see the connection, but I would guess it is important – young people in Spain led the way in occupying the squares. They were demanding policies serving a common good, for example, for jobs (unemployment is officially at 21%, 10% above Europe, higher among the young) and pensions.

But mainly the protest was for democracy. As in Egypt, younger women workers and young people generally rose up after 29 years of Mubarak’s dictatorship, so in Spain after long silence, young people acted to make the democracy real. When Asmaa Mahfouz posted her fierce statement on Facebook that she was going to Tahrir Square on National Police Day (January 25th) to protest the police murder of a teenager, she did not know if others would come. But she said pointedly to the men who tried to hold her back, the men who by their passivity sustained the tyranny of Mubarak: “I will be in Tahrir Square. Join me! Be men!” Against the odds, thousands and then tens of thousands came…

Something similar is happening among the indignados. In Spain, the fetid breath of Franco and fascism still lingers. The courageous Judge Balthasar Garzon can be indicted by a corrupt prosecutor Zaragoza (one who also aided the Bush-Obama tandem in blocking Spanish indictments of 3 American soldiers for murdering Jose Couso, a Spanish cameraman, at the Hotel Palestine in Iraq in 2003) for investigating the stealing, under Franco, of thousands of babies of leftists and resettling them in the homes of fascists. See here and here.

Marta memorably invokes an 80 year old woman on why democracy is worth fighting for:

“Yesterday, in Catalonia Square, a woman around eighty years old, who suffered Franco’s Dictatorship, looked at me and said: ‘Democracy is our TREASURE, let us reinforce it.’”

In Spain, this point is visceral, as real as the standing up of Garzon for universal human rights is good (the indictment of Pinochet), the indictment of Garzon an indication of the contininuing threat of renewed fascism (even without much militarism in Spain, the dead hand of fascism lies across and corrupts the present).

Here the words and experience of John Lewis, on which I posted on Tuesday, are very important. Lewis himself has replaced the segregationists in Congress. There is now a black caucus in Congress, including people like Maxine Waters, who stood out against the Bush kidnapping of President Aristide from Haiti in 2004 (this was covered accurately on DemocracyNow, unlike the corporate media for whom news about how the American government suppresses democracy and is anti-democratic – in the Bush-Cheney period, the only news - must be eschewed). For all the reactionary concentration of inequality and wealth over the last 50 years, the emergence of significant black representation, standing up for democracy is very positive.

But black representatives are often not covered in the mainstream press – too intelligent, fact-based and even in Lewis’s case, morally authoritative. If America were a real democracy (one where the voices of ordinary people could affect policy short of revolt from below), Lewis’s words would often be on the news, on “Meet the Press,” and so forth. Still the change from the beatings Lewis suffered in Alabama and Mississippi to this point – democracy, he might say, too, is our treasure - is breathtaking…. See here.

As the struggle against slavery in the American Revolution (see my forthcoming Emancipation and Independence, here), the Civil War and the civil rights movement show, democracy is a long and hardwon struggle in the United States. But it is real if and only if it is for poor people as he and Martin Luther King say, and remains in the streets as Marta says. Within the system, she says – to maintain the existing democracy and the rule of law against an emerging police state, as in the case of Bush, and even Obama (see the New York Times editorial on torture below) – and outside the system, to change the system through mass protest and civil disobedience. She speaks of the indignados as a “pacifist, collective, intergenerational, apolitical (against the corrupt corporate political parties) and democratic social movement.” She rightly criticizes the corporate media, desperate to paint democracy as frivolous, a “party,”; that media dares to depict corrupt, corporate politicians – ones bankrolled by financial and business – interests as "good," citizens demonstrating as "feckless." Here is her letter:

“Dear Alan,

I really would like to know your opinion about the persuasive mobilization, called `Indignados` (outraged people), that it is taking place these days in Spain, just before the regional elections... I am one of the demonstrators asking for a better Democratic System. So far, the role of Government and police is respectable. They are allowing this act of freedom speech.

I think that it is important to define this protest for those who do not have it clear. This is a pacifist, collective, intergenerational, apolitical and democratic social movement. It is a well-organized ‘Jornada de reflexión’ which could be translated as a citizen’s reflective time. There are different perspectives and opinions in it, however, what we all have in common is a democratic spirit. We all are conscious of how powerful the social movements can be. We all know the importance of freedom speech and the necessity of pressing the political and economical elite to maintain a strong Welfare State System.

There are thousands of people in the central squares located in Madrid (Puerta del Sol), Barcelona (Plaça Catalunya) and other Spanish cities and locations. This is not a party as some “uninformed” Media has said. There are not nationalistic discourses either. People are asking for Democracy, good public policies and to stop political and economical corruption.

On the other hand, I disagree with the anti-system perspectives, even if I respect them, because I believe that we are part of the system and we also conform it. So, we must be involved enhancing for instance, political culture. Furthermore, some demonstrators were asking to do not vote in order to punish politicians. Adversely, I think that voting is a powerful citizen’s tool and an essential feature of Democracy that we need to appreciate (it was hard to achieve a universal vote in Western countries). I also disagree with those who compare this mobilization with the revolts in the Arab countries. It is not comparable at all.

I just would like to add a graphic anecdote. Yesterday, in Catalonia Square, a woman around eighty years old, who suffered Franco’s Dictatorship, looked at me and said: “Democracy is our TREASURE, let us reinforce it”. People around her smiled. Me too.

Saludos des de Barcelona,

p.s.: I forgot to say that people are also asking for better work conditions and to reduce unemployment and elite's privileges.

And... I meant to say a non-party nature movement, not apolitical.”

After writing to her about how much I like what she and the indignados are doing, Marta responded with hope and energy:

“Dear Alan,

Thank you, I am really expecting your perspective and I'm glad that you sympathize with it.

Unfortunately, the local and regional elections (as you know), were a landslide victory for the PP and in the case of Catalonia, for CIU.

Now, I hope that the organization of the movement will be much more reinforced. Maybe I am wrong but, I still believe in it and I am not the only one...


Such protests are, in fact, outside the system. Participants should recognize that decent policies above come mainly, though not entirely, from protest from below. It was the American anti-War movements and resistance to the Bush-Cheney police state which, among other citizen movements, elected Obama and generated the stimulus package, changes in health care and many other decent changes, just as the overwhelmingly large Spanish anti-War movement helped generate the election of Zapatero, got Spain out of Iraq and introduced a panoply of democratic or common good-sustaining programs to aid ordinary people.

But these movements need to be sustained outside the system, a very difficult task. For many people soon, to defeat Reaction, get into the system to sustain some form of reformism (at its best like the early Zapatero, but usually, as in Obama's case, more modest).

Anarchists are wrong about not voting – as the civil rights movement and the movement against Spanish fascism underline. But they are right that a poor people’s movement, cf. Martin Luther King in 1968, and an anti-war movement, must go beyond the system. Anarchists are even right, with other revolutionaries, that big banking and capitalist power will never be a home for decency. One must take to the streets to fight to defend the welfare state (though a sweeping vote, as in the case in upstate New York this week, for medicare for the elderly in the United States, can sometimes work temporarily) and also for a different kind of system, a more genuine democracy (this was Marx’s point about the Paris Commune). It is good for the indignados to have such discussions, press such issues in the central squares of Spanish cities and in the streets…

The indignados have inspired broader European rebellion. For the last two days, Greek workers and students have held large demonstrations in solidarity with Spain - with posters in Spanish - at Parliament in Athens. See the photographs here. This is part of a series of massive worker movements in Greece, a recent general strike, and a challenge against austerity – union leaders threatened “an explosion” against the bankers/government's moves the BBC reported briefly on Wednesday. Unlike the demonstrations of the indignados which the police did not attack, anarchist reports on the Greek demonstrations feature police violence against squatters, including photographs (see the website “From the Greek streets”). The anarchists raise a deep understanding both of the social movement and how fiercely the forces of repression such as the police come down on it. John Lewis is right that one should treat police officers and the military as human beings where one can, protest nonviolently - something different from the anarchists, though throwing rocks through store windows is destruction of property, not violence against persons – but what the police do and tolerate, allow to be done as by the racist mob to the Freedom Riders in Birmingham, see here, is often horrific.

In addition, the website has a number of videos on the mobilization by, and toleration of the elite for, fascists. Greek and Spanish fascists are a fiercer version of the racist tea-party movement (even Ron and Rand Paul, whom I admire on militarism, for example, and on fighting the Obama/Harry Reid, echoing George Bush, extensions of the Patriot Act (the spying on citizens, anti-Bill of Rights, "Patriotism as the last refuge of a scoundrel" Act), are stone racists about the Civil Rights Bills)...Look at this corporate tv presentation of the looting of an immigrant run and owned shop in Athens, with the faces of the fascists, even though masked, obscured here.

Similarly, Aznar tried to mobilize Spaniards against the Moroccans who often die in the Mediterranean in trying to cross to Spain (some 150 per year, though no one really knows…). In addition, in Greece, a reactionary president often uses racism against immigrants – two years ago, in early June, I was giving a class just below the Acropolis under a tree, and Senegalese immigrants came running through, chased moments later by the police. It is that palpable.

Last year, at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus (a 2400 year old structure where the sound is perfect wherever, no matter how far up, one sits), my seminar attended a huge and fiery concert of folk songs by the poet Giannis Ritsos to music by Mikhis Theodorakis, sung by the leading Greek opera singers, and the audience of some 5,000 knew the words, stood and sang along. Across Greece, there had been widespread protests against the police murder of a teenager. The next day prime minister sent out trucks to hunt the immigrants. See here.

Racism toward immigrants also shows up in the bizarre American wall with Mexico. Obama has so far beefed up the immigration patrols and separation of families (deportation of the fathers or mothers) – protecting himself as President against criticisms by racists by committing crimes, even though he seeks to do something better. The best corporate politicians are still: corporate politicians. Yet as John Lewis fiercely says, “there is no such thing as an illegal person.” See here. A mass movement to defend immigrants might also be a mass movement to defend collective bargaining as in Wisconsin. Stand together or divided, fall.

Racism is as much an obstacle in Spain as it is everywhere else. With and to the indignados, one might also say: John Lewis is right.

Malign Neglect
Published: May 21, 2011

Extraordinary rendition — the abduction of foreigners, often innocent ones, by American agents who sent them to countries well known for torturing prisoners — was central to President George W. Bush’s antiterrorism policy. His administration then used wildly broad claims of state secrets to thwart any accountability for this immoral practice.

President Obama has adopted the same legal tactic of using the secrecy privilege to kill lawsuits. So the only hope was that the courts would not permit these widely known abuses of power to go unchecked.

Last Monday, the Supreme Court abdicated that duty. It declined to review a case brought by five individuals who say — credibly — that they were kidnapped and tortured in overseas prisons. The question was whether people injured by illegal interrogation and detention should be allowed their day in court or summarily tossed out.

The court’s choice is a major stain on American justice. By slamming its door on these victims without explanation, it removed the essential judicial block against the executive branch’s use of claims of secrecy to cover up misconduct that shocks the conscience. It has further diminished any hope of obtaining a definitive ruling that the government’s conduct was illegal — a vital step for repairing damage and preventing future abuses.

The lead plaintiff, an Ethiopian citizen and resident of Britain named Binyam Mohamed, was arrested in Pakistan in 2002. The C.I.A. turned him over to Moroccan interrogators, who subjected him to brutal treatment that he says included cutting his penis with a scalpel and then pouring a hot, stinging liquid on the open wound.

After the trial court gave in to the secrecy argument, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the case should proceed. It said the idea that the executive branch was entitled to have lawsuits shut down with a blanket claim of national security would “effectively cordon off all secret actions from judicial scrutiny, immunizing the C.I.A. and its partners from the demands and limits of the law.”

Last September, the full appeals court, ruling en banc, reversed that decision by a 6-to-5 vote. The dissenters noted that the basic facts of the plaintiffs’ renditions were already public knowledge. But the majority gave in to the pretzel logic shaped by the Bush administration that allowing the torture victims a chance to make their case in court using nonsecret evidence would risk divulging state secrets.

The Supreme Court allowed that nonsense to stand.

It is difficult to believe there are legitimate secrets regarding the plaintiffs’ ill treatment at this late date. Last year, a British court released secret files containing the assessment of British intelligence that the detention of Mr. Mohamed violated legal prohibitions against torture and cruel and degrading treatment.

The Supreme Court should have grabbed the case and used it to rein in the distorted use of the state secrets privilege, a court-created doctrine meant to shield sensitive evidence in actions against the government, not to dismiss cases before evidence is produced.

But this is not the first time the Supreme Court has abdicated its responsibility to hear cases involving national security questions of this sort. A year ago, the Supreme Court refused to consider the claims of Maher Arar, an innocent Canadian whom the Bush administration sent to Syria to be tortured. In 2007, the court could not muster the four votes needed to grant review in the case of Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen subjected to torture in a secret overseas prison.

As President Obama’s first solicitor general, Justice Elena Kagan was in on the benighted decision to use overwrought secrecy claims to stop any hearing for torture victims. She properly recused herself from voting on the case. Surely among the eight remaining judges there was at least one sensitive to the gross violation of rights, and apparently law. We wish they would have at least offered a dissent or comment to let the world know that the court’s indifference was not unanimous.

Instead, what the world sees is rendition victims blocked from American courts while architects of their torment write books bragging about their role in this legal and moral travesty. Some torture victims bounced from American courts, including Mr. Mohamed and Mr. Arar, have received money from nations with comparatively minor involvement in their ordeals.

The Supreme Court’s action ends an important legal case, but not President Obama’s duty to acknowledge what occurred, and to come up with ways to compensate torture victims and advance accountability. It is hard, right now, to be optimistic.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A note from Greece: The movement of the αγανακτισμενοι (the indignant) here in Greece raises a host of interesting issues. The curious thing is that although the most vociferous and articulate protestors have pushing the demand for direct democracy to the front, the causes of the crisis had nothing to do with a lack of democracy. Pretty much everyone was doing exactly what they wanted to do, and if the political system had allowed people to vote with their mice during the commercial breaks after their TV dinners I doubt that the course of history would have been any different. For instance, hosting the Olympics in 2004 was a completely crazy idea. The country simply couldn't afford it but no one was listening to the few people who were pointing to the empty coffers, partly (of course) because the corporate interests that stood to pocket so much were able to whip up a crazy frenzy of psuedo-national pride.

It strikes me that the call for direct democracy is a tactical mistake. Much more to the point would be to throw the spotlight on the economic factors that make it so hard for grass-roots movements to ever achieve anything. Nationalisation of the largest corporations and the institution of workplace democracy there are much more to the point. The problem is that while so many people here are indignant about Greece's public property being sold to the Germans and the French, they don't seem to see much of an issue in privatisation itself.

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