Beyond the ballot box: Apoyo Mutuo in Spain

  • May 22, 2015

Anarchism & Autonomy

Frustrated with the empty plazas and Podemos’ electoral politics, a new social movement has emerged seeking a return to the popular horizontalism of 15-M.

Four years ago this month, the 15-M movement, commonly referred to as the indignados, burst forth in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol. The movement united a wide variety of political factions and tendencies. It managed to gain momentum behind a widespread critique of the austerity measures of the two ruling parties (the PP and the PSOE, which many 15-M signs refer to collectively as the PPSOE) and a desire for “real democracy now!” (¡Democracia real ya!) embodied in directly democratic assemblies and a rejection of hierarchy.

In May 2014, Podemos surged onto the scene as a new political party that attempted to channel the popular democracy of the 15-M into the ballot box, winning five seats in the European parliament. Although Podemos claims to be the legitimate heir to the fading 15-M movement, Left critics have argued that the new party has hastened popular demobilization by selling the notion that social ills can be simply voted away and that this new party isn’t like the ones who came before it.

Leading up to the municipal elections on Sunday May 24, the party’s poll numbers are declining as party leadership has shied away from earlier promises to end home evictions, institute a guaranteed minimum income, and reduce the retirement age from 65 to 60.

As the media focuses on poll numbers, a new initiative called Apoyo Mutuo (Mutual Aid) was unveiled in Madrid on May 9 by social movement militants skeptical of the electoral path and seeking to return to the popular horizontalism of the 15-M. I spoke with Dilia Puerta, a “militant feminist and spokesperson of Apoyo Mutuo” about the motivations behind this new project and its aspirations moving forward.

Mark Bray: What is Apoyo Mutuo? Can you tell us a little about its origins and development up to this point?

Dilia Puerta: The origin stemmed from the frustration we felt from seeing a large part of the energy that was mobilized with the 15-M — all of this collective questioning — flowing into electoral channels, leaving the streets and the plazas practically without activity. And all of this occurred while we and many other people from the social movements who didn’t identify with this shift felt like the train had left, leaving us behind.

At this moment the idea of writing a manifesto developed and that’s how the manifesto “Building a Strong Pueblo, to make another world possible” (Construyendo Pueblo Fuerte, para posibilitar otro mundo) [which set the stage for the creation of Apoyo Mutuo] came about. It’s a manifesto that put together a declaration of intentions and in a short time has hit 600 signatories. This was the impetus behind the creation of the organization.

We are a wide range of militants who have joined together individually to enrich ourselves mutually.

So is it a network or an organization or a federation?

For now it is a network of militants who are organizing themselves at a common level across the country, and it aspires to have groups at the territorial level that will join the initiative in the future.

The announcement of the creation of Apoyo Mutuo occurred a few weeks before the municipal elections. Obviously Podemos has been a controversial product of the 15-M. How do you see the influence of the 15-M and Podemos on the emergence of Apoyo Mutuo? Are you trying to respond to the popularity of Podemos to some extent?

The 15-M was a tremendous mobilizing force: in the Puerta del Sol people with very different perspectives on social struggle joined together and we all took shelter under the umbrella of “They don’t represent us” (“No nos representan”) which was already an accessible consensus since there was a palpable feeling of indignation from a pueblo that was tired of feeling swindled by the political class and was hitting the streets to protest. In these protests the need to organize ourselves emerged rapidly…

The people who had a clear electoral agenda had acted forcefully and with coordination while those who were reticent about electoral politics were left “paralyzed,” without knowing how to articulate a common discourse and an organization that could create space for all of these sensibilities. Apoyo Mutuo was born out of this self-criticism.

It is not a response to the popularity of Podemos; it is a parallel option since we can see that the neighborhoods and plazas have been thoroughly emptied out, because the sense of representation and hopefulness that people have felt with this new electoral proposal has resulted in fewer and fewer mobilizations in the streets. This generated uncertainty for us since we believe that politics cannot be limited to the election of representatives at the ballot box every four years. We can’t delegate our responsibility; as a pueblo we need to be active agents in the decision-making process.

At the presentation of Apoyo Mutuo in Madrid on May 9 one of the speakers read a quote from the Zapatistas saying, “we don’t say to vote, but neither do we say to not vote.” Similarly, in your manifesto it says:

We respect the comrades who before this same diagnosis are opting for the route of institutional participation through electoral initiatives, but we appeal to collective memory to emphasize that rights, conquests and great social transformations have never been given by the institutions. They were fought for and won in the streets, in the workplace, and in the neighborhoods. Our memory goes back far enough to remember that only a strong and combative pueblo can impose itself on the elites that govern us.

Could you comment briefly on your perspective on the elections? It seems to me that you aren’t organizing a campaign of active abstention. Has the “Other Campaign” of the Zapatistas been an influence on Apoyo Mutuo?

Voting or not voting doesn’t seem important or transcendent to us. What we want is for people to fight for their rights beyond election day, to create new forms of self-management, to debate, to join collectives so that as neighborhoods and as a pueblo we could be capable of giving articulate and convincing responses. It isn’t so important whether you vote or abstain, as long as you act conscientiously every other day.

And of course the Zapatistas are a reference. The “Other Campaign” has been an inspiration but we are still at an early stage.

Your values and the name ‘Apoyo Mutuo’ have a lot in common with anarchism, but you don’t use the word “anarchist.” Also, your images use colors like orange, blue, brown, green and purple rather than red and black. Can you tell us a little about your decision to present your initiative in this way? What is the image that you want to present to society?

First, it’s important to clarify that we are an organization of militants from different social movements (feminists, unionists, ecologists, housing activists, etc.) and that what we have in common, among other things, is that we don’t want to delegate politics to institutional channels. Certainly within the organization a good number of people have libertarian ideas, but we don’t want to be an organization of and for anarchists; we want to reach all of those people who believe that another way is possible.

There are other groups, federations, collectives and unions with similar values. Why is it necessary to create something new? Or rather, what is the difference between Apoyo Mutuo and other initiatives?

The goal isn’t to create a new collective, but rather to reinforce the networks that already exist (it isn’t an agglomeration but rather a coordination). We all have our own personal work in our collectives. We don’t want to overload ourselves [with another group], but rather mutually enrich ourselves by creating this space of confluence.

It’s a space to articulate very unusual alliances, along the lines of a proposal by María Galindo in her book “¡A despatriarcar! Feminismo Urgente!” (“To de-patriarchalize! Urgent Feminism!”). We need to escape from identitarian ghettos that asphyxiate ideas. Sometimes within these groups one forgets to “make ideology.” Instead the same slogans are just repeated and in so doing we forget to think. Only by creating “unusual alliances” can we create and actualize a discourse for the 21st century: one where unionism enriches feminism, where feminism enriches anarchism, etc…

It’s vital that we create a political program and a common strategy that strengthens us because it’s more than proven that unity creates power.

And finally what do you have planned over the coming months? What are the next steps?

We’ve gotten a very positive reception with people from all over the country interested in Apoyo Mutuo. There is a high demand for presentations about this new initiative all over Spain and in principle organizing such presentations is one of our short-term goals so that comrades will know about us and get involved.

Also along that line in Madrid we are organizing open assemblies to present our proposals to people who come and are interested and to respond to their doubts. Also, at the end of June we will organize a national meeting with Apoyo Mutuo members from different regions to start to create a common political program.

As a pueblo we need to go on the offensive and be a real, current, and conscientious political actor. We’ve already been on the defensive for many years, trying to protect the rights that we have gained while struggling, the rights that the political class continually snatches from us while ignoring us. Creating a social consciousness is a political objective.

Mark Bray

Mark Bray is a political organizer, historian and the author of Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook (Melville House, 2017), Translating Anarchy: The Anarchism of Occupy Wall Street (Zero, 2013), and the co-editor of Anarchist Education and the Modern School: A Francisco Ferrer Reader (PM Press, 2018). He is a currently a Visiting Scholar at Dartmouth College.

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