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Swarms, multitude, and activism: weaving the transatlantic conversation with OWS

This post is about an event that will happen tomorrow, a continent away, the other side of the Atlantic. Few of you reading it will have a chance to read it in time to decide to go there and be part of it.

Yet, I’m writing about it because its portent goes way beyond the Wednesday evening meeting that will take place at 16 Beaver in New York City. 16Beaver has been (since 1999) an urban space of presentations, readings, discussions, screenings, and panels with/by artists, curators, thinkers, writers, and activists. Its events are free and open to all. More than a space, it is also a collaborative project, one of the many nodes of cultural and social fermentation taking place in NYC and around the world.

Tomorrow’s event at 16Beaver has an intriguing title and story. The title is: “We didn’t come out of nowhere” — Swarms, multitude, and activism in a time of monsters. It will be co-sponsored by the This is Forever’: From Inquiry to Refusal collective of autonomist theorists/activists, and will start with a talk by Ana Méndez de Andés*.

The invitation to the event starts by reminding us: “New political cultures foment new political densities. Underlying these densities of relationships, knowledge, capacities, and resources, is the question of organization.”

It is a reminder of another gathering organized by the group, last summer, under the title “For General Assemblies in Every Part of the World.” They investigated the circulation of new organizational forms, in an attempt to understand by first-hand account recent experiences in local and global struggles. It was a day of anti-austerity/pro-democracy groups and individuals, “dedicated to create short-circuits in our imaginaries.” According to the announcement of the gathering in their blog, they noted:

“In the midst of the revolutionary struggles across North Africa, the Middle East, and now the Mediterranean, there is renewed understanding of what non-representative politics can look like.”

From that observation grew a set of questions:

“What does a democratic multitude look like? And how does it invent a new vocabulary for praxis? How does this general intellect, and idea that has been strengthened over the last few decades, transform into political action?

On what grounds can this emergent politics be conjoined across disparate sites and struggles?  How have we been affected by the events in Tunisia or Egypt, for example? How do those struggles and approaches get translated elsewhere? How were they put into play in Spain? And how did the events in Spain inspire a resurgence of political strategies in the most recent developments in Greece?”

The passionate asking of those questions reflects the passion of a collective intelligence wanting to know itself. 16Beaver serves also as a nursery, where the general intellect of the politically engaged youth (and young ones in their spirit) the gets cultivated. A surprisingly simple and effective “collective intelligence” process supports that nursery.

In the center of the process, there is the gathering that is announced in the blog, describing it with an introduction, some focusing questions, and information about a guest presenting something. The blog ends with a small set of links to webpages and documents useful to glance through. The introduction is inspiring and engaging, and the focusing questions trigger an inquiring mindset. For example, here are the questions offered to the participants of tomorrow’s gathering:

(1)          How can we know the exposition of social needs and desires constituting everyday life in order to intervene and facilitate a generalization of assemblies, strikes, recompositions, alliances, antagonisms, collective reproductions? How do militant research practices produce knowledge differently? How can such practices help us listen, speak, share, learn, and act in common?

(2)         What metaphors and basic images do we utilize in our organizational imaginations? What is the role of the individual in the informal group, affinity group, formal organization, milieu, tendency, or assembly? And where to place friendship? How do we imagine and connect with the social world beyond our small networks of relations?

(3)         What constitutes urban production in the present context? Which are the processes of capital accumulation that can be short-circuited, sabotaged, or neutralized?

(4)         How has May 15 altered or informed the practice of an autonomous initiative like Observatorio Metropolitano? What kinds of questions has May 15 raised for those who identify themselves as radicals, militants, or activists? What new doors, if any, have been opened? And what remain its greatest challenges?

(5)         Can we still rely on the notion of “movement” or is it, like the party, or union, a category that requires today, further scrutiny and rethinking?

(6)         How have the shifting forms of political organization and struggle altered the terms of political actions such as the most recent General Strike?

We hope you may join us to consider the collective intelligence articulating its political vocation through experiments with general assemblies everywhere, and today looks to reclaim and rethink the potential of striking everywhere.

I can’t be there physically, but I hope the organizers will not limit the “collective intelligence articulating its political vocation” to the confines of 16Beaver, and will make a good harvest of the gathering available to activists and thinkers everywhere. Only then can the collective intelligence (CI) cycles expand and multiply. To reach its full potential it would also need to equip itself with the best tools and practices for boosting the CI of the ecosystem of Occupy groups everywhere.

An introduction to those tools and practices will be subject of another blog. But I can’t finish this one without sharing another piece of the story that I’ve just discovered. According to Mother Jones, 16 Beaver Street was the cradle of both Occupy Wall Street and in its political center, the NYC General Assembly.  The later was born from the conversations, where some European activists suggested replicating a core part of the 15-M movement in the US: the general assembly.

Tomorrow’s gathering at 16Beaver can spark new beginnings again. The questions that will fuel their conversations “have been sharpened by new experiences organizing assemblies, actions, and our affinities in recent months.” The organizers suggest, they “have to be put to test during the next phase of actions, both in NY and on the other side of the Atlantic.” Let’s continue, deepen and widen this transatlantic dialogue and bring it full circle back to Europe.

About Ana Méndez de Andés

Ana Méndez de Andés is an architect and urban planner who has been working
as a landscape designer in Amsterdam, London and Madrid and is currently
teaching Urban Design at the Universidad Europea de Madrid. Her main field
of interest is the question of urban commons and the re-apropriation of
public space.

She is part of the collective Observatorio Metropolitano, a militant
research group that utilizes investigations and counter-mapping to look
into the metropolitan processes of precarious workers, migrants, and
militants taking place in Madrid, brought on by crisis, gentrification,
speculation and displacement. Ana collaborates with the publishing house,
bookshop, independent distribution and design project Traficantes de
Sueños and has also been involved in different projects regarding
collaborative mapping, urban commons and the conditions of production of
public space such as car-tac, areaciega, and urbanaccion; as well as
linked to organizing assemblies within the 15M-Acampada movement.

6:07 pm in Activism, Commons, Direct Democracy, FoO Media, Social Innovation by George PórTags: , , movement building,
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