New democratic movements (V). Taking stock: workshop concluding remarks

Notes from the Workshop on New democratic movements, civic culture and the transformations of democracy, organized by the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, in Barcelona, Spain, on June 18th and 19th, 2015. More notes on this event: new_democratic_movements.

Taking stock: workshop concluding remarks
Introduced by José Luís Martí

A common trend of these social movements is the way democracy works, coming after a deep discontent of the quality of democracy in general and its institutions in particular.

Another common trend, now in the how movements work, is horizontality. An idea that resonates with the movements back in the 1960s in the US. These movements are highly deliberative.

Deliberative and not aiming at representing anyone: it is precisely this deliberative nature that is highly inclusive not only in the sense of not leaving anyone out, but also in the sense that everyone should be invited to represent themselves, on their own.

The role of consensus — highly opposed to violence, being non-violence another key of the movement — is key, and is closely related with their view regarding to leadership.

These are movements that seamlessly combine the occupation of physical public spaces and the creation and use of virtual digital spaces. In many cases — though is not that common as with other issues — this comes accompanied by a defence of the common good and the commons, sometimes relabelled or reinterpreted or enhanced as the digital commons (and related to digital culture, including software).

There is an interesting point to be made: the movements not only aim at transforming the democratic institutions, but also want to perform a deep transformation in citizens. They expect that citizens are transformed by the movement and rethink their attitudes towards democracy and its institutions, and the way they feel about participation.


Marianne Maeckelbergh: it is crucial to acknowledge the non-violent nature of the movements. But not (only) from an ethic point of view, but also from a strategic point of view, as a very well though modus operandi.

Michael Gould-Wartofsky: maybe it is not totally accurate to call these movements totally horizontal. They were born in cases of huge inequality, and thus they were also accessed or participated unevenly. Maybe multiplicity and modularity are better ways to define them.

Jane Mansbridge: There was a huge effort to get more people to think about new ways to put pressure on the State. The focus of the deliberation was often to rethink one’s own role as a citizen, what is one’s relationship with the institutions, and how to take action after that awareness of who one is and what the relationship is with public decision-making.

Ismael Peña-López: These are movements that are not “against the system” but totally in favour of it, fighting to reinforce it, to strengthen it, to heal it. They are nor (or not all of them) unconditionally for direct democracy. Instead, they aim at taking the best of Ancient Greek democracy and the best of modern democracy: will it be liquid or hybrid democracy or another thing, we do not know. But we may expect that extra-representative democracy will have a strong role in it. Thus, we need new tools to measure how extra-representative participation works, what are their outputs and outcomes, and how does it relate with democratic institutions. And a last thought goes to the movement for the independence of Catalonia, which had some similarities with the 15M (indeed, the topic was debate during the Barcelona camps) in the ways that it is working and some similarities in some (not always shared, though) of the principles, especially about regaining sovereignty upon the governance of the system.


New democratic movements (2015)

New democratic movements (IV). The civic culture of the new democratic movements

Notes from the Workshop on New democratic movements, civic culture and the transformations of democracy, organized by the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, in Barcelona, Spain, on June 18th and 19th, 2015. More notes on this event: new_democratic_movements.

The civic culture of the new democratic movements
Introduced by Donatella della Porta and Mariona Ferrer

Donatella della Porta

The movements initiated in the squares look like they will stay in the long term. They have shown different ways of civic action that are very inclusive, horizontal, autonomous… these values are deeply rooted in important citizen values that anyone can embrace. Inclusiveness, for instance, is crucial for deliberation to take place smoothly.

Pluralism, another value of the new movements, is a continuation of the essence of former movements against globalization, but it is more inclusive than those.

The value of equality is also a continuity with the global justice movement, but it is not as a side return of representative democracy, but now a direct return of direct democracy, of direct participation in politics.

In the new movements there is a need to rebuild a new identity that is not related with past movements, but a new thing. And made of individual nodes in a network, and not made of associations or people being part of associations.

Strong emphasis on solidarity, on reciprocity.

Aim at a transnational diffusion of ideas, the idea of a different democracy, a participatory democracy based on the idea of the commons.

But will political parties tied to the social movements be able to bring on these values when they are in office, or they are in the institutions?

The idea of the commons is strictly related with the idea of consensus, with the idea of discussing probable conflicts and try to find solutions together. The idea of building cities within the city, to reorganize resources, to redistribute them.

Mariona Ferrer

Did a research on how people lived the events and their evolution after to get to the institutions.

The interviews showed a huge commitment with shared values like democracy, deliberation, the importance of listening to the others, equality, respect…

Participants acknowledged that taking part of the assemblies was very time consuming and needed a strong commitment.

Consensus is very well respected, and it is believed to be the way to respect all views and reach agreements, but at the same time consensus was felt like a difficult methodology for big assemblies.

Participants had a critical vision on leadership, and recognised instead the need of facilitators and coordinators of events, commissions, etc. Thus, it was a new kind of leadership, neutral, facilitating, that was expected, and not the usual frontman.

Representative democracy was very negatively qualified, and in the case of Spain, the Transition (the transition from Franco Dictatorship into the actual democratic regime) was also badly criticised.


José Luís Martí: we are finding out that people that were not participating in politics, that were not voting, that were saying that institutions and politicians did not represent them, they were actually not against democracy, but on the contrary, they show very strong values for democracy. We should retune our indicators to better measure what is going on, to see why these people that we labelled as not being interested in democracy were actually saying, with their actions, that they actually did. These people should be recognized as having higher civic values.

David Karpf: if we now witnessed a new movement occupying the streets, but not with these values, would we consider them as part of these new movements, or would it be a new thing?

Marianne Maeckelbergh: horizontal politics will continue to be in many other movements. But the nature of the movements is different and, thus, movements are distinguishable.

Ismael Peña-López: the difference between the social movements that were born in the 15M in Spain, or as Occupy Wall Street in the US, and what will come after is similar to the differences between the Free Software and Open Source Software: the procedures will be replicated, with success and in interesting, genuine and legitimate projects. But the ethos will necessarily be different, and one will be able to identify distinct movements by the distinct ethos attached to them.

Jane Mansbridge: what won’t happen in the next 20 years is that traditional parties or unions will occupy streets. It would just seem anachronistic that old politics would use such new practices. And part of keeping these forms within the boundaries of what’s new, and keeping them as long as possible, is part of trying to keep people into the movement, to keep the momentum of the movement, to try to make it an important part of one’s life and, all in all, to try that people feel that they are being part of History. This needs not be fully conscious: it may just be so, it may just happen, but the underlying idea is that, to mark it as you were part of making History.

Ignacia Perugorría: It is important to highlight the importance of the squatter movement. Many of the methodologies used during the camps and assemblies were already being used at places like Patio Maravillas. People that had participated in squatter movements had already the values of horizontality and consensus.

Adolfo Estalella: occupation was also about creating new infrastructures — one’s own infrastructures — and about challenging private property. In this sense, the occupations and the camps highly resonate with free software in the sense that they also create infrastructures that are needed to reach a specific goal, to be able to work, and at the same time these are community infrastructures that anyone can use and reuse.

José Luís Martí: but is this that different from what happened in the 1960s?

Jane Mansbridge: it is. On the one hand, we have the digital revolution and what comes with it, which is not only a revolution in communications, but a revolution at all levels in society. On the other hand, the economic context cannot be more different: the 1960s were living and economic boom, and everything was possible, while now we are living a dire contraction, where the feeling is that nothing is possible and that there is no future.

David Kapf: is there a certain degree of elitism in these movements, as there is in free software? if one does not have the skills to participate — or to code — can one really be part of it?

Marianne Maeckelbergh: there is a similarity between the 1960s in the US and the new social movements in the sense that they challenge the discipline of the party, the hierarchy of the democracies of that time, they bring in participatory practices, and with these, also new issues come to the public arena like the environment, feminism, racism, etc. which in many senses now resonate in new movements. And like then, there is now a second wave that struggles with keeping the essence of the assembly and the consensus while “scaping” the assembly and trying to get things done.

Jane Mansbridge: a new thing that did not exist in the 1960s is the revival of the concept of the commons and the direct challenge to redefine private property, especially in what are common spaces, common tools, common protocols.

Ismael Peña-López: the granularity of participation was also new, and not only that you could participate in many and different things and ways, but also that it was one’s choice to decide whether to participate in e.g. an assembly in a camp or blogging the whole thing from home. That is, granularity of participation that also came in a decentraized and non-hierarchical way.

Q: It’s interesting to note how the Indignados movement succeeded in gathering different ideologies and sensibilities in political matters. Maybe what they have in common is the common good.

Adolfo Estalella: Maybe. But it may be more correct to say that they have in common the concept of the commons, not of the common good.


New democratic movements (2015)

New democratic movements (III). Occupy Wall Street and the 15M Spanish Indignados movement

Notes from the Workshop on New democratic movements, civic culture and the transformations of democracy, organized by the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, in Barcelona, Spain, on June 18th and 19th, 2015. More notes on this event: new_democratic_movements.

New democratic movements
Introduced by Michael Gould-Wartofsky and Ismael Peña López

Michael Gould-Wartofsky: Occupy Wall Street

Occupy movements: critique of actual politics, focus on the economic side of politics (both how they deal about economics and the economics of power), direct democracy, horizontality, etc.

Occupations where planned on a decentralized way, with a huge network of supporters. After the occupation, people would concur and build the necessary infrastructures to carry on with the occupations.

They would stablish procedures like “the people’s microphone” to initiate debates and deliberation, to set up a “school of democracy”.

What were the conditions of the initial success of Occupy Wall Street (OWS)? The success had to do with giving people a voice, to try and make desires and needs be heard and sometimes met.

OWS enabled the confluence of different ways of activism: traditional demonstrations, hacktivism, slacktivism, artivism…

Dire inequalities of the resources required to participate: time, education, political capital, etc. And there were not mechanisms to share or distribute this power to participate. Instead, inner circles were created including a “division of labour”.

How can we translate deliberation and distributed decision-making in other contexts, like institutional/representative democracy? Can they be translated? Do they scale? Are they sustainable?

Sometimes, the movement would close in itself, and lack of openness led to a certain degree of dogmatism.

Ismael Peña-López: 15M Spanish Indignados Movement

The Indignados movement begins with the terrorist attacks in March 2004, when the government lies to the citizens and they (a) go out to the Internet in the search of truthful news and (b) coordinate by means of SMS.

In May 2011, after some years of essay and error, comes the “pilot project”, the camps. The indignados movement will never more quit the public arena and will be characterized by:

  • decentralization in decision-making
  • individualization in initiating action, do-ocracy
  • enable casual participation, by increasing the granularity of participation

How does the movement work:

  • process
  • co-decision
  • radical subsidiarity

What do assemblies and movements do:

  • context
  • agora
  • interaction


Francesca Polletta: Where do these movements came from? Were they spontaneous? We know that some collectives played key roles, we know there were networks before, and, still, we say that they were spontaneous. How do we make sense of that?

Ismael Peña-López: for many years, people share data, information, documents, protocols, guidelines, etc. and they are appropriated by the different nodes of the network. The more exchanges and sharing of knowledge, the more the collective political or social capital grows. In the end, one only needs one spark (“let’s camp in Puerta del Sol on May 15th”) for everyone to act, and they will act similarly because they share the language, the protocols and the tools.

Francesca Polletta: About the process of decision-making, who are these movements prefiguring to?

Marianne Maeckelbergh: maybe prefiguration is not the best approach when the outcomes that the movement aims at are blurry, or not very well defined. Prefiguration works best in stable, well defined issues. But these movements are more about gathering first and buitding later, and thus prefiguration may not be a good methodology at all.

José Luís Martí: are these new movements a new thing? are they new from the movements of the 1960s…1990s?

Ismael Peña-López: They are built upon the shoulders of former movements, but they are brand new in the sense that they were born in a digital age, and not in an industrial age. Thus, they had to adapt to new contexts.

Michael Gould-Wartofsky: They are new people and they interact in new ways. People that were not politicized and now are, people that act in new ways.

José Luís Martí: why do we now see a coexistence of offline and online politics that was not present in e.g. 2004, during and after the terrorist attacks of March 11th, 2004?

Ismael Peña-López: the first decade of the XXIst century is an impasse, where industrial politics are already dying, but technopolitics (with a still young Web 2.0 and social networking sites about to gain momentum) are still not deployed. Some pioneers detach themselves from traditional politics and during a whole decade go out and explore the digital landscape. In the second decade of the XXIst century, they find they’ve mapped technopolitics and can now bridge new practices with traditional ones, taking the best of both worlds.

David Karpf: what is the origin of OWS?

Michael Gould-Wartofsky: OWS generated from a split of a general assembly. After that split, there was the need to come together, to try and put in common what they had in common and leave aside what separated them. And take action.

Q: did the participants in the social movements see themselves representatives of other citizens within the movement? did see themselves as representatives outside the movement? did as a way to becoming elected representatives?

Ismael Peña-López: in general, no one in the social movements was aiming to represent anyone, neither insider nor outside of the movement. And being an elected representative was out of the question until a year ago in Spain. But, the mechanics of participation have made it difficult for some people to participate and, thus, by construction, the ones participating were actually representing the whole collective. In general, though, most movements and new parties are really devoting lots of effort and resources to enable participation, and self-representation, so that no minor contribution is set aside just because it was minor, or punctual.

Jane Mansfield: it seems that Spain had more resources in putting up an inclusive movement. Maybe because of the economic context and the general despair with politics. But also maybe because of the longer tradition of labour and left movements in mobilizing people and being inclusive in doing so.

Q: was really face-to-face deliberation important in social movements?

José Luís Martí: these movements were supposed to be highly technologized, and you could have expected that these super-technological people would just have aimed at online participation, and online voting. But it did not go this way: they aimed at physical gathering, they promoted face-to-face deliberation.

Jane Mansfield: there was an excellent combination of coming together to the squares, and feel empowered and that people could make a change, and then also acting online, coordinating, sharing practices and approaches and tools.

Adolfo Estalella: people during the assembly were not allowed to speak for anyone else but themselves, and the assembly itself was not allowed, or believed to be speaking for no one else than the participants of that given assembly, not for the neighbourhood, not for any association, not for anyone.

Adolfo Estalella: for many people, the assemblies where both a “school of democracy” and a place where to ask for some demands. But demands that were not their own private demands, but related to the collective, to the neighbourhood. The assemblies not only re-imagined politics and political practices, but they did create a new ontology in the field of politics. And they did not only theorized about that, but created prototypes to put it into practice.

Q: the difference of these movements and previous ones is that for new movements, the process was key, and the goals themselves were secondary. New movements are more fighting for transforming democracy rather than reaching a specific goal.

Q: what things these movements feel powerless about? do hey think that they can transform institutions so that they work better? if thy succeed in transforming them, what comes after?

Ismael Peña-López: there is no feeling of being powerless because the aim is to change the whole system, not a part of it. Its about governance, not about empowerment. And it’s not as much as transforming institutions, but regaining the sovereignty upon them. So, there is no “after” at all: once the citizenry — not the “illegitimate” parties that now are ruling them — occupies the institutions, there is no “after” because that was just the point: to regain sovereignty upon the institutions, not to rule them, not to represent anyone.

Mariona Ferrer: in Barcelona en Comú, inclusiveness was something that was cared about, but nevertheless some people fell off because of the speedy pace of the process. In what relates to the participatory process, when it was dealt within small assemblies, consensus was very important; but later, when more people came and assemblies became massive, making decisions became more difficult, so decisions were taken at different levels, and with different degrees of participation or openness: more than in traditional parties, but far from being ideal. And creating the programme was also participatory, but again the limitations of time and resources sometimes forced some shortcuts in participation.

Ignacia Perugorría: maybe initial movements were highly decentralized, but the parties that came after them — especially Podemos &mash; had much more effort put in their design, and with a purpose. So, some of the initial nature of social movements was kept in new parties, but some other nature was borrowed from traditional parties.

Marianne Maeckelbergh: traditionally there have been opposing forces of centralization vs. decentralization. In the case of the 15M, the decentralization happened in the online sphere while the centralization took place in the camps and the plazas and the assemblies. And yes, there was some representation, but the meaning of representation was different from the usual sense of representation in electoral politics: this representation was not as much as deciding for others, but speaking in the name of similar ones.


New democratic movements (2015)

New democratic movements (II). New technologies, social networks, and democracy

Notes from the Workshop on New democratic movements, civic culture and the transformations of democracy, organized by the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, in Barcelona, Spain, on June 18th and 19th, 2015. More notes on this event: new_democratic_movements.

New technologies, social networks, and democracy
Introduced by David Karpf

We are living in a period of deep deep inequality of democratic exercise. Yes, one man has one vote, but not everyone has the same means to influence politics.

If you build it… they will not come. It is extremely difficult to make people participate. New media do not create our preferences, but just help in revealing our preferences. This is after an (institutional) effort to make politics unattractive to people, that they should not participate in politics. So, it’s not enough building things for participation, but we need to engage people.


Jane Mansbridge: what if everyone — especially parties and politicians — use the same tools as activists?

Ismael Peña-López: it’s the ethos behind that changes the landscape. Parties have been using the Internet and doing “politics 2.0”, which is but traditional politics with a digital support. While citizens are doing “technopolitics”, which is something brand new, decentralized, distributed.

Mayo Fuster: one of he difference between Occupy Wall Street and the 15M Spanish Indignados is the ability to create confluences of movements. In Spain, there has been some degree of success when it comes to come together, join forces, including connections with the free culture and the free software movement. This has been very successful in Spain while in the US fragmentation has stood.

Ismael Peña-López: it is true that power is still unevenly distributed, but the tools are more and more evenly distributed. It may be only a matter of time that things change and become more balanced. On the issue of participation, it is true that people do not want to participate (Hibbing & Theiss-Morse, 2002), but also that it is provided that institutions work (Font et al., 2012). If they do not work, people will participate to fix them.

Marianne Maeckeberg: there has been a deep difference between the Spanish Indignados movement and Occupy Wall Street. While the former tried to tame technology so that it did what they wanted to sere their purposes of achieving a higher level of democracy quality, OWS was obsessed with “having the spotlight back”, of appearing on the news. And when media came back not, they were disappointed. In the meanwhile, the Indignados organized and even got to the local and regional governments.

Can Kurban: information is the core of politics, of democracy, of decision-making. And it still is important if some people get more informed, even if not more people get more informed. This can be crucial to spread the information.

Q: what happens if people do not want to be bothered with political information? how do we engage them?

Ismael Peña-López: we begin to have evidence that the “Daily Me” is ceasing to be true (if it ever was) and that people that use the Internet and especially social networking sites are more exposed to political information even if they are not looking for it. This is due to the fact that political content is easily created and spread on the Net, and it comes to you through people you trust.

Q: what was the role of youth unemployment in the success of the 15M Spanish Indignados movement?

Mariona Ferrer: of course it had a major role. But not only. Also the quality of the employments of the most qualified people, the precarious employment of a big majority, the previous movements for free culture, etc.

José Luís Martí: what was the role of technologies?

David Karpf: I don’t think technologies made the institutions irrelevant. But they did make them more vulnerable. And this provides new opportunities for new activism.

José Luís Martí: you could o a lot of stuff to influence politics in the past, but now you can much more and much easier.

Mayo Fuster: the use of technology is becoming organic. It’s not about a quantitative change — more people using these tools — but a qualitative one, with increasingly people using in a different way these tools and for different purposes and thus changing the system, probably forever. As Benkler said, these tools are making it possible to reduce the costs of transaction and, thus, change behaviours and organizations. And this is changing everything. And these changes are not only more democratic, but also more efficient.

Adolfo Estalella: these movements, and especially coders, are challenging the way we understand code itself and legal and social code in general, challenging how we understand politics, etc.

Ismael Peña-López: more than the profile of who used the technology, it is more relevant to look whom the technology reached. Or, even better, whom benefited from the use (maybe by others) of the technology for political or civic purposes. And it did reach many people, and many disconnected from the net, or from political networks. Indeed, this is the point of interest in the connections that technology brought: not only the coordination of synchronous action, but sharing information and protocols so that they could be applied in place, and free from the network.

Jane Mansbridge: the collective intelligence is just that, gathering scattered information from remote corners and putting it together for anyone to make use of it.


New democratic movements (2015)

New democratic movements (I). Transformations of democracy. Deliberative democracy, participatory democracy, digital democracy

Notes from the Workshop on New democratic movements, civic culture and the transformations of democracy, organized by the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, in Barcelona, Spain, on June 18th and 19th, 2015. More notes on this event: new_democratic_movements.

Transformations of democracy. Deliberative democracy, participatory democracy, digital democracy
Introduced by Jane Mansbridge

Trust in government has worsened in most places, plummeting towards illegitimacy.

We need more and more of public goods, goods that are freely available for everyone once they are created: roads, a stable climate, etc. And we create them by coercion, legitimate coercion through which we force ourselves to create such public goods. And this only happens through deliberation.

And to be more deliberative you have to be more reflective. But there has not been a requirement for more deliberation.

Habermasian standards for good deliberation should be, if not challenged, at least revised.

Respect and absence of power, for instance, are very likely still unchallenged nowadays. But reasons might be. Deliberation, yes, is about reason, leaving aside emotional considerations. But this does not mean that there are no emotional reasons behind some issues.

Aim at consensus, on the other hand, may still apply. But it has usually left aside the conflicts between different interests. And clarifying interests when interests conflict may help in subsequent searches for consensus.

Equal power in the group and consensus in the group are two issues that we have been looking forward as ideals in any deliberation process. Equality, openness and consensus as main pieces to do better democracy together. But these ideals are more contextual that we often think of. Equal power, for instance, is a highly contextual and, more important even, contingent principle. Circumstances change and we have to take that into account.


Mayo Fuster: trust has left institutions and has found networks as a way to channel it. So, the decrease of trust in institutions has been corresponded by higher trust in P2P and decentralized ways of decision-making.

Mariona Ferrer: Deliberation was also about understanding the complexity of the issues at stake, and being empowered to understand them and to face them.

Jane Mansbridge: it depends on the purpose, deliberation may deliver better or not. If the purpose, the mission, is to understand, then deliberation and consensus are just great. If the goal of deliberation is to make a decision, things may be a little bit more complex.

David Karpf: participating in social movements is partly about one’s own transformation: by participating, one transforms onesef. Besides, there’s the goal of social transformation. And sometimes there is a trade-off between the personal and the social transformation.

Adolfo Estalella: local assemblies usually had their own personal, local, micro goals, very specific, and very explicit on the other hand. E.g. stopping evictions, helping migrants to integrate, etc. But most assemblies had not specific goals headed towards specific decisions, but the goal was to be itself, to be a “political topos”, to establish a political space.

Ismael Peña-López: if the goals were making decisions, yes, the goals may not have been very clear in past social movements. But if the goal was to draw a comperehensive diagnosis of the problems felt by the citizens, the goals were clear and the movements succeeded not only in the diagnosis, but in putting those problems in the pubic agenda. The problem is that governments did not answer accordingly, they did not take the gauntlet, and threw it back to the movements asking for “concrete proposals”, which the movements did not succeed at making.

Q: Why are we so much thrilled now about consensus when, in the past, we had enough with some deliberative majoritarian processes.

José Luís Martí: we should not take consensus as unanimity. Consensus is about the process, and it can lead indeed to voting, and to the rule of the majority. But the process of how things are discussed, the concurrence of actors, the comparison of different options, that is the nature of deliberation and consensus.

Jane Mansbridge: the has been a raise in the feeling of autonomy. This raise in the feeling, the need for autonomy is a powerful driver towards consensus and partly against unanimity, or the majority rule.

Marianne Maeckelbergh: a good reason for consensus beating majoritarian processes is that they take into consideration the voice of the minorities. And even if the result may not be the minority’s will, it is taken into account. With simple majoritarian voting, this is not so.

Jane Mansbridge: Many people see these movements and practices as prefigurative, as a “model for tomorrow”. But this is a mistake: this is an actual practice, a today’s practice, rooted in the nature of our times.

Ismael Peña-López: two more answers on why now we care about consensus and not the traditional majoritarian processes. First, because as the motto We are the 99% says, the problem is that most governments are not seen as representing the majority. Second, because “now we can”. Meaning: the costs of participating in democracy have lowered down dramatically due to technology. So, maybe, majoritarian processes were just good for the context given, they were optimal for the resources (time, money) given for participation. But now the citizen can be an active actor in democracy, at ridiculous costs. And the citizen is claiming that, now that they can participate, they want to.


New democratic movements (2015)