On how to get wings to fly
The thought-piece below regarding the DiEM25 discussion on what to do in the lead-up to the EP elections 2019, is written with a desire to be honest about where DiEM25 stands, realistic about the current political realities and the small windows of opportunity NOW to change any of them, and creative in building the DiEM25 movement, which currently runs the risk of becoming bureaucratized and too top-down.
This thought piece starts from a few premises and observations:
- DiEM25 is not yet clearly a movement. It is a lot of other things (a Varoufakis fanclub; a great assemblage of people who share a number of starting points as defined in the first DiEM25 Manifesto; a wake-up call; a focal arena for all kinds of passionados who wish to see change in Europe, a thinktank). In practice only a couple of hundred people across Europe truly commit energy to it, other than consumers of events.
- At the same time: the DiEM25 vanguard is getting tired of the ‘caravan-circus ’ mode of doing things, and rightly so.
- The political windows of opportunity to change anything are NOW
- And so more focused and concerted effort and engagement is urgently required. DiEM25 is not strong enough in the political arena, while the ‘movement’ runs the risk of becoming overly bureaucratic. The movement should be open, creative, hence ‘the wings’.
- The Coordinating Collective’s proposal introduced a number of good ideas for a political push, but in calling it a ‘wing’ makes it a ‘side’ thing, whereas if you roll out this political surge in the right way, it may actually provide the crucial focal point for the movement as a whole, while at the same time giving the movement itself more creative space in which to help the thing fly.
Thus, the authors of this piece think a stronger, more innovative political push is needed, avoiding all the trappings of traditional party politics. Let us be open and clear about it from the get go: and go for the political push. At the same time: revisit the DiEM25 movement, building and turning the movement into ‘the wings’: the creative spaces, which could be freed up much more and become the ‘think-do-spaces’ of DiEM25, but – only through this reversal enabling a clearer shared focus: one that in the end wants to make a real difference in the real lives of people and real politics.
DiEM25’s Coordinating Collective (CC) has invited the DiEM25 membership to reflect on what to do next in the rapidly diminishing space for creating a better future for Europe. In concrete terms, there are broad reflections ongoing in Europe around the current institutional set-up, further integration, the eurozone, that are approaching a more defining stage in the near future. And there are European Parliament elections on the horizon, in 2019, which if not tackled properly may lead to dangerously regressive outcomes.
The proposal on the table for ‘Not a political party old style’ but a ‘DiEM25 Political Wing’ has laudable ambitions. As stated: “Our electoral wing, if members greenlight it, would allow us to take our fight with the Establishment to the next level – a historic, first-of-its-kind pan-European political force that will return power to you. To the people. To us all.” To that end, the intention is to create a political wing next to/attached to/close to the movement.
Great rhetoric, but the reality is that DiEM25 is not (yet) such a clearly-defined movement. It is a whole range of wonderful things: a great assemblage of people who share a number of starting points as defined in the first DiEM25 Manifesto; a wake-up call; a focal arena for all kinds of passionados who wish to see change in Europe, a set of think-spaces.
Some DiEM25 members stem from grassroots movements and joined to link those interests in bottom-up change to the DiEM agenda. Others are engaged in concrete policy arenas: from the next economy, migration, new democracy, to security or culture. Many of them love to get involved in contributing to policy papers developing a ‘counter discourse’ to the established narratives on Europe. Others again are seeking new ways of relating socially across the continent. So from this panoply of backgrounds, over 60,000 people have signed up since the Berlin launch in February 2016. But in most countries, not more than 100 people would get involved on a more regular, less ad-hoc basis. It may be the beginning of a movement, but perhaps it is not sufficient.
This is not atypical. As in most other examples of international movement building in our turbulent and hasty times, the motivations of people and their commitment are very fluid. Styles of communication, operation and expectations of members vary considerably as well. Despite all the talk about ‘horizontal’ communication and ‘collective’ agendasetting, the practice (and desire in some places) still looks quite top-down and many members’ involvement is passive/consumerist. So people choose to remain observers, lose interest, move on or worse: get disappointed and turn away.
It is fully understandable that the active vanguard of DiEM25 – having been involved in the DiEM25 pan-Europe caravan for over two years – now wishes to take a clear political next step. It is also obvious that after two years of watching DiEM25 wax and wane, our movement building is also in urgent need of proceeding to a new level.
Our urgent proposal: be honest, be real, be political and free up the Movement as the wing
With this in mind – and fully aware of the urgency of things – we propose a reversal of perspective in the current discussion. Instead of proposing a ‘political wing’ to a movement, why not propose a ‘new creative movement wing’ feeding off a ‘strong political push’. This is not a mere word game, but a substantial mental and practical reversal. We propose it for three reasons: honesty, political reality, and saving the DiEM25 ‘movement’ from fizzling out.
- Honesty: We feel that the reversal of the two (politics-movement) would be a more honest reflection of the direction in which the energy of the people wishing to devote real time to DiEM is at the moment flowing. The DiEM vanguard must be tired of being a travelling circus, without all the ideas that have been developed entering into a real fight for institutional transformation. We think the desire is justified to let that political exercise of creating a political format new-style take center stage at this moment. It would critically focus DiEM25’s efforts and stimulate everybody to take up the big challenge of how to break-through institutionally, in practical terms, in concrete policy arenas.
- Political reality: We also think that the current political constellation offers only a few crucial ‘windows of opportunity’ for change. With even the most astute Europe builders in a state of anxiety: to let that moment slip and let things slide further into regressive neonationalism, mindless neoliberalism or worse is not an option. If DiEM25 wishes to change things in the real world, this is the time to be political – but new style!
- Saving the movement and moving it towards its real potential. We have all observed how DiEM25 as a movement is faring. To save the DiEM25 movement from stagnation or fizzling out we need to create new forms of ‘movement building’. Many PNCs have already shared how they experience diminishing interest and connectivity. They struggle to match their own local agendas with the wider call, or marry their complaints about lack of shared purpose one moment with their dissatisfaction about overly centrist instructions one minute later. If we allowed the political drive to take its proper place centre stage, this could free us from the current illusion of being a movement.
This may sound paradoxical. But by making the movement ‘the creative DiEM wings’, we could transform the spaces of action of the ‘movement’ in different countries into altogether freer experimental spaces, in which new forms of collaboration could be better articulated and where perhaps there could be more room for all the cultural diversity in our reach than is currently the case. With such thinking, the political format building would be still be one single exercise. We were happy that the CC showed us its own awareness of everything that political format building should not be!
If you follow this way of thinking, the political push should become the chief focus for a while. The ‘movement as wings’ could then turn into the truly experimental idea-space DiEM25 needs, feeding into the politics, new style, and more freely than is currently the case, because it could be more serious about what transnational idea-space building might mean.
We know that going for both a bolder political push alongside building a more creative movement has risks, notably the danger that everything will fall into the mud of more traditional party political formation. But that then would have to be our first sacred pledge: not to let that happen!
Ricardo Castanha, DiEM25 member, Netherlands
Pamela Huk, DiEM25 member, Netherlands
Willem van Ewijk, DiEM25 member Netherlands, journalist
Marjoline Delahaye, DiEM25 member, Netherlands
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