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From social ecologist Raf Grinfeld in Belgium:
Many people in Europe were surprised to see the Occupy Together movement become so big in North America, even those of the Left who had seen more and more interesting popular protests in the Middle East and the south of Europe in 2011, and had hopes that a similar kind of thing would happen in the USA and the north of Europe.
There was also the surprise of it all in Europe because mainstream media kept the protests quiet for a long time. But if you have a movement in North America that spreads to about 800 locations in just a few weeks time, you are not able to keep that quiet. And I had openly predicted that the mainstream media could not remain silent about it for a long time.
I first heard about Occupy Wall Street from Institute for Social Ecology member Brooke Lehman. And I thought: if she is so enthusiastic about it, I guess it must be quite OK. Before that, it was heartbreaking to see how much revolved in the States around the discourses of Obama versus the Republicans and the Tea Party. Obama was doing quite well in the polls, but still so many people in the US seemed to remain paralyzed by their fears for a new Bush , or a new president that would be even worse than Bush senior and junior.
And I thought: where did the Left and the liberals go to in the US, why don’t we hear more about them? The answer was coming soon after that. Just like in North America, the Occupy movement in Europe stepped into the spotlight after the alter-globalisation movement had stepped out of it.
Radicals and progressives in the north of Europe wanted to support the protesting masses in Spain and Greece, but also protests in the USA. And so, the Occupy together movement came at the right time. At the beginning of the autumn of 2011, Occupy groups were soon established in many cities of The Netherlands and Belgium. And the same kind of thing seemed to happen in other European countries too: certainly in Germany and the United Kingdom. In France and the south of Belgium, many in the Left looked in the direction of Spain and Greece and started to call themselves “the indignants”, ready to defend “real democracy.”
I had never seen a Left in Europe so interested in democracy, especially direct democracy and popular assemblies. And much of the counterculture joined in too, a large amount of those who had been called hippies or punks for a long time suddenly seemed more interested in politics than in lifestyles. We were obliged to listen to the commands of the European Commission, the banks and the world leaders, but we were disgusted by it. We were tired of the fact that we had nothing to say about what was happening to us, or to the people we knew well in other parts of the world. Globalization had had several effects; one of them was the fact that we people of the Left in the west of Europe had friends in other parts of the world that were really suffering from the economic crisis, and the effects of the economic crisis started to affect us too.
Did Social Ecology play much of a role in the Occupy movement of Europe? No, but striving for direct democracy did, and the ideas and practices of Social Ecology helped much with that. The old ideologies (Anarchism, Socialism, Marxism, Ecology) suddenly seemed to matter less. We were all looking for a new way of being radical and found much of it in the ideas of popular assemblies and direct democracy becoming important in our struggles.
On the 15th of October 2011, 8000 indignants and occupiers walked in the streets of Brussels, demonstrating for more democracy in Europe. These protests soon spread to other cities in Belgium, like Antwerp and Ghent. The same winds of change blew in The Netherlands, where Occupy groups sprang up out of nothing in so many cities. Alternative media brought us news of popular revolts all over the World; soon after, even Africa seemed ready for an Occupy movement.
There has been much repression against the Occupy movement in Europe, not much less than in North America. And there is no “Occupy hype” anymore that the mainstream media are still interested in. Movements that resemble Occupy do get more media attention now, like a mass of people recently picnicking in the streets of Brussels as an act of civil disobedience to get the excess of cars out of the inner cities, or the student movement in Quebec. But Occupy Together certainly has added an impetus to the acts of revolting masses in Europe and North America, and it isn’t over yet.
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