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.

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.

Julia Ramirez Blanco

II: Assemblies as Backbones of Social Movements (Oliver Ressler, Julia Ramírez-Blanco & Florian Malzacher)

The General Assembly has been at the core of many social movements during the last decade: A zone of gathering, of building community, of experimenting with the way democracy can function. A space not only for trying out but living a different kind of decision making. Art historian Julia Ramírez-Blanco (Barcelona) just finished a book on the Spanish 15M movement, Oliver Ressler (Vienna) is one of the main documentarists of worldwide social mobilizations since many years. In the second edition of Gesellschaftsspiele – The Art of Assembly they reflect the crucial role of collective decision making for developing political alternatives.

Oliver Ressler "Take the Square" (2012) Filmstill

OLIVER RESSLER ° Voices to Reckon with

Assemblies provide a crucial platform for direct decision-making in any attempt to make societies more inclusive and democratic, more just and less hierarchical than those existing today. For a long time now, assemblies have also played a central role in Oliver Ressler’s films and video installations. Together with Dario Azzellini, he produced a cycle of films on factories under workers’ control in Europe. Before that he filmed the Square and Occupy movements in Athens, Madrid and New York. His latest film shows a four-hour assembly in Madrid in October 2019, where delegates from various environmental groups gathered to prepare an act of civil disobedience to foster climate rebellion.