Economic crisis turns into popular uprising

Interview with social activist Esther Vivas on the European Spring

The deep economic crisis which is slapping the European Union has evolved into a social crisis with growing resistance to EU economic policies. The “European Spring” is rapidly paving its way across the continent. Social movements such as the Indignados with “slow impatience” are fighting for a drastic change, as the social activist Esther Vivas told us in an interview with MO*.

Economists, activists and trade unionists gathered in Brussels on 5-6 May to propose a way out of the crisis and an alternative way forward for Europe. In the framework of the conference ‘EU in Crisis: Analysis, resistance and alternative to corporate Europe’ organized by the Corporate Europe Observatory, Esther Vivas explains how politics, from national and European institutions have been dragged through the streets; social platforms where citizens such as the Indignados challenge the system.

Esther Vivas is a social activist and a researcher in social movements and in agriculture and food policies. She is a member of the Centre for Studies on Social Movements (CEMS) at Pompa Fabra University in Barcelona, and author of several books.

Indignation: “anger or scorn aroused by something felt to be unfair, unworthy, or wrong”. It is not by coincidence that the ‘Indignados’ have called themselves as such. Are they powerful enough to change the world?

Esther Vivas: People gained confidence and said ‘stop’ to passive resignation. It is a collective indignation, a pluralistic movement composed by a new militant generation. Those who wouldn’t have occupied public squares to protest in the past, are now rising against the crisis, revolting against the current economic system. What is going to happen cannot be foreseen but if we do not act we cannot change the status of things. The crisis has been deep and long, and a change is going to require an equally long resistance.

What are the reasons why you started to be ‘who you are’? Is your activism a reaction to the last years’ crisis like the ‘Indignados’, or something different?

Esther Vivas: I started by being involved in social movements against external debt in the South. I then participated in anti-globalization and anti-war campaigns. I was driven by the will to understand injustice and my actions are based on solidarity, even towards strangers.

Should you have the power, what would be the first decision or change that you would make? Would that be different from what the ‘Indignados’ are asking for?

Esther Vivas: The challenge is to unleash a global movement that points to another path to exit the present crisis. The advancement must be towards a more equitable society and an economy based on solidarity to rebalance the world in terms of ‘winners and losers’.

The most important thing is to reunite people for a Global Indignation. Social change requires the mobilization of the majority of the population driving the process of remodelling the current political and economic framework.

In your recent article ‘How to change the world’, you write that “the system cannot be changed from within the institutions but rather from the street”. Spain’s young people are flooding the streets in protest at the crisis gripping their country, what are their demands?

Esther Vivas: There is a profound questioning of the current political, economical, social and democratic system. There is a reawakening of interest in collective affairs; people are hitting the streets not only to fight for their rights but also to play an active role in the construction of the future. It is different compared to other social movements and anti-globalization protests, the current social mobilisation is much more solid. The ‘Indignados’ say “We are going slowly, because we are going far.”

Any similarities or differences between the Arab and the European Spring?

Esther Vivas: The context is very different but both popular uprisings see a movement from the bottom-up with people bursting into the political and social scenario. The concept of democracy is questioned and the political scene sequestered. People want to gain their rights back; the current situation shows that we are 99% opposed to the 1%.

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