The time I almost shared a stage with Julian Assange, Slavoj Žižek and Yanis Varoufakis and the…

In a weird series of event in the last four months, I almost got to share a stage with Julian Assange, Slavoj Žižek and Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister.

Like many others, I was horrified by the treatment of the Greek people at the hands of creditors, bankers and European politicians.

To get the full story of what happened I started to follow the Greek finance minister’s blog, where he published transcripts from the Eurogroup meetings. A professor in economics, describing himself as an ”erratic marxist”, he shouldn’t really care about saving European capitalism, but did anyway. Because he thought that the alternative was going to be worse. He seemed like the most trustworthy person in the whole Euro circus.

After the Greek defeat, Yanis started a tour of Europe to get his story out and form what seemed like a all-star network of European leftists.

I was on parental leave at the time, maybe a little bit restless. And I’ve been involved in struggles against powerful institutions in the past, so in October last year I spontaneously sent him an email:

I saw the interview with Aaron Bastani where you were calling for mass civil disobedience to democratize Europe! I’ve been involved in various European action groups (mainly NATO- and nuclear weapons related) and would be happy to help setting something up through contacts in different parts of Europe, maybe as a part of this network you’re organising?

The reply came after exactly one hour:

Excellent. Will be in touch.

My first email wasn’t that thought through, and I didn’t really expect an answer. But now I was apparently in on something! I got some contacts together and sent over, and eventually got a reply that he was busy working on a manifesto for the network. I got an early copy of it to comment on, which felt cool.

Not much happened after that, until suddenly on Christmas Eve (not a holiday for revolutionaries), I got an invitation for the launch of the new network, Democracy in Europe Movement (DiEM).

After reading the email five times — Yanis style of writing is long-winding and dramatic to say the least — have a look at the long version of the manifesto at the DiEM website and you will know what I mean — I still wasn’t sure if I had become some kind of central figure in this thing and what was expected from me now. But it seemed like I was going to give a speech in Berlin on the 9th of February.

The launch is scheduled for Tuesday 9th of February. During that day, two important meetings will take place:

1. A public meeting in the main theatre that will feature a short video … a short presentation … followed by short speeches from central figures in this (you would be one, if you care to join).

2. A private meeting of the central figures (to plan the next steps), and, separately, of volunteers who will be (wo)manning the organisation.

This raised a lot of questions. None of which I would manage to get answers to from Yanis or his assistant. Either way, I didn’t want to miss out, so me and my partner took some days of from work and got plane tickets for us and our one year old to go to Berlin for an event on a Tuesday night.

My parental leave came to an end and it was time for me to start working and for my son to start kindergarten, so not much time to think about the future of Europe. When I finally got around to sending my comments to the last version of the manifesto, they had just finished it. But they used my suggestion and made a last minute addition:

A Peaceful Europe that deescalates tensions with its neighbours to the east and around the Mediterranean, and stands as an alternative to the militaristic expansionists ambitions of NATO.

In Yanis-manifesto-speak it reads:

A Peaceful Europe de-escalating tensions in the East and in the Mediterranean, acting as a bulwark against the sirens of militarism and expansionism.

Good times! I was in on this again! Still no answers about the event in Berlin though. Were I and my partner in the planning group? Was a supposed to give a speech? When, where and how?

And we never found out. Luckily my brother-in-law lives in Berlin, so we went to stay with him for a few days, that we spent trying to get hold of someone who knew if we had tickets to the event, and what to expect from it. At one o’clock the same day as the launch, we found out that we would have tickets for hanging out in the hallway at to the launch. In the evening, we found out that the planning meetings had been earlier in the day.

It is a weird feeling to be deprived of something that was way more than you expected in the first place. I was super annoyed the whole first hour of the launching event, before I came to terms with it being a great event with fantastic speakers.

What the f**k would I do there on stage with philosophers, economists and European parliamentarians? Probably being to nervous to make any sense at all.

That being said, I do have some concerns about the strategy for DiEM, and because of the vague but still flattering first invitation, I did prepare some things to say that maybe could add a perspective to those of the professional thinkers and talkers on stage last Tuesday. Also, it is about the risk of being ignored, which seems fitting 🙂

Thank you Yanis, for a bold and wonderful initiative and a magic opening night in Berlin. Here is my half finished short speech:

Thank you so much for the opportunity to be a part of this.

The thing I really like about this initiative is that it knows who it is up against and has a plan to succeed.

Many campaigns for social change, be it by NGO:s, leftwing parties or anarchist networks, sadly don’t win. But the even sadder part is that they don’t even plan to win. They plan to influence, raise awareness, ”be part of the solution” or in successful cases win over a majority of the population. And on an individual level feel good about themselves or be part of a team or subculture that they like. That’s okay. But it will not win campaigns.

My hardest lesson as an activist comes from the mobilisation against the war on Iraq. We had all the facts on our side. We organised the biggest global demonstrations in history. But we didn’t win. Why? Because being right and having the majority on your side isn’t always enough.

We saw the same thing in Greece this summer. A majority wasn’t enough win the fight against the powers of Europe.

The reason is simple. Being in power basically means having the power to ignore other people.

That is why every movement that wants to fundamentally challenge power structures in society has to have some kind of leverage.

The labour movement had the capacity of shutting down the production. The suffragettes to disrupt the political process.

The greatest threat to our movement is not that they crush us, but that they simply ignore us.

And we need to find ways to make that impossible.

The good news is that other movements has paved the way for us. We can’t simply copy their methods, but we can build on experiences of successful campaigns for social change by:

  • Setting up parallel institutions that can’t be ignored
  • Disobeying their laws and regulations and
  • Stopping their oppressive practices

Stopping things can be done in many ways, and together we need to plan for actions that corresponds with our aims and goals. Some general ideas are to:

  • Physically blockade their institutions
  • Occupy their centres of power and
  • Hack their secret documents and make them public

In short, to paraphrase the Occupy Wall Street activist David Graeber:

”Acting as is if we were already free”.

I think this gathering is a first promising step in the direction of freedom.

Now lets take the next step and make our demands impossible to ignore.