XVI: Shifting Power. When Grassroots Movements Win Elections (Athena Athanasiou, Teodor Celakoski, Marcelo Expósito & Florian Malzacher)

When activist movements gain momentum, even win elections after many years of struggle and work on the ground, there is a lot of enthusiasm – but also larger-than-life expectations. A diverse electorate with often very different expectations demands immediate and fundamental shifts of politics. The parties once in power just wait for any opportunity to attack. The former establishment uses its long-knit networks to slow down any transition. And former allies accuse the elected representatives of their compromises. So, what does it actually mean to govern, to change structures, work with a large administration, include the political base, and accomplish concrete change?
Inspired by the impressive development of the Croatian movement “Možemo!” with its landslide victory in the Zagreb city elections in May 2021, in this edition of The Art of Assembly cultural worker and activist Teodor Celakoski describes the strategies used to achieve “Možemo!’s” success and talks about the difficulties to implement new policy. Artist, activist and former member of the Spanish parliament Marcelo Expósito gives insides in the struggles, achievements, and failures of Podemos and other citizens’ electoral organizations in Spain. Drawing on the trajectory of SYRIZA after winning the general election in Greece in 2015, philosopher Athena Athanasiou reflects on the general conditions activist movements are confronted with when coming to power.

MARCELO EXPÓSITO ° The (forever postponed) dream of a real democracy

The official political discourses persist in glimpsing the way out of the crisis after each new crisis experienced during the… Read more MARCELO EXPÓSITO ° The (forever postponed) dream of a real democracy

ATHENA ATHANASIOU ° Shifting the conditions of possibility

What do we lose when we win? What do we win when we lose? Such questioning involves the collective work of reimagining and recuperating places and times from where to engage, again and again, in practices of countering institutionalized injustice and of instituting otherwise. Taking place within -and constrained by- “the measure of the possible” (to recall Walter Benjamin), activist movements and left coalitions struggle to make life more bearable in the present for those whose lives have been subjected to class, racial, and gendered powers, while, at the same time, shifting the conditions of possibility posed by the existing present. Enacting possibilities for the future in the present involves reconfiguring the agonistic temporality of living, acting, and thinking with others in the precarious interstices of “no longer” and “not yet.” Such movements and coalitions are never at one nor at ease with the present time. Rather, they take the present as a historically situated field of performative and transformative possibility. Athena Athanasiou discusses ways of situated knowledge production through which worldmaking is envisioned and performed beyond the normalized order of the present as it has been imposed by the current neoliberal and neoconservative forces.

III: Assemblism (Jonas Staal, Jodi Dean & Florian Malzacher)

“Assemblism” is a term used by Dutch artist Jonas Staal to describe the role of art, performance and theater in the performative assembly of mass protests and social movements, which is central to his own artistic work. US-American political theorist Jodi Dean on the other hand emphasizes in her writing that social movements need to be translated into a new communist party if they want to become sustainable. So, what is the potential of art in not only investigating or inventing new forms of assembly but also in contributing to the process of transforming them into sustainable organizational structures? And how do recent political mobilizations – from anti-mask-demonstration up to the storming of Capitol Hill – change an often romanticized view on the assembling of bodies in space?

Jonas Staal – New World Embassy: Rojava © Ernie Buts

JONAS STAAL ° Art/Assemblism

Assemblism describes the visual morphologies that emerge from the practice of “performative assembly “in popular mass movements, as termed by Athena Athanasiou and Judith Butler. But to canalize the energies and imaginaries that emerge in assemblies, durational infrastructures are needed to ensure egalitarian forms of social organization, as Jodi Dean has argued in Crowds and Party. What is the role of art in shaping and propagating new life-forms from the squares into a new emancipatory institutionality? This talk will explore the role of alternative parliaments, utopian training camps, experimental biospheres and collective action lawsuits in furthering assemblist imaginary into egalitarian presents and futures.