Progressives scored major wins in Spain’s municipal elections last month. Also, Pat Robertson opened his mouth and stupid fell out. Oh, and you can applaud high school graduates in Mississippi…. (More)

I feel like I should have known that Spain held municipal elections last month. After all, red squirrels are protected there and in southern Spain they get huge. You may not think half a kilo is big, but that’s about a third larger than our average. The city of Madrid brought squirrels to the famous El Retiro city park, although apparently they hide from globetrotting bloggers. Alas, I didn’t know any of that either.

Maybe that’s why I missed the Spanish municipal elections last month. Depending on what sources you read, this was either the sinister start of the slippery slide into communism

… or a victory for civil society:

The propaganda has spread far and wide, and we are concerned to note how many analysts, particularly foreign media outlets without local correspondents, are giving Podemos undue centrality.

This text seeks to clarify the current state of the unfolding Spanish r-evolution, so that its major contribution to global change will not be lost among obsolete, simplistic models.

On May 24, civil society won a magnificent victory in Spain.

It was an intelligent, thoughtful, constructive victory in the true style of the indignados.

Podemos is a new Spanish political party, founded by political science professor Pablo Iglesias Turrión. The party grew out of the anti-austerity Indignados Movement, which has been credited with sparking the Occupy Movement in the U.S. and elsewhere. But not all indignados buy into Podemos or its platform:

For us, the spirit that allowed the indignados movement to be born and grow can be summed up in its own words: “Some of us see ourselves as more progressive, others more conservative…” leaving no doubt that 15M would be a pragmatic rather than an ideological movement. This is the key to its success. The left had been calling for rebellion for years, with few results. So whether we like it or not, the indignados achieved what the left couldn’t, precisely because it was not foundationally ideological.

The great political innovation of the indignados was forged on the basis of this transversality and pragmatism, in the first month and a half in the squares (stage one of the indignados). The movement was politicised but not ideological, constructive, not limited to protest. It was a movement that identified some minimum criteria on which to build a ‘real democracy’ (the famous ‘minimum criteria’ documents were drawn up in the first month).

During that first month we learnt to organise as citizens, to trust in our shared capacities and competencies rather than dogma, to accept responsibility and to assess results based on facts rather than rhetoric.

In other words, indignados leaders like Madrid’s new mayor Manuela Carmena focused on listening and responding to specific needs:

“Rallies are one person going blah, blah, blah and then leaving,” Manuela Carmena tells the Observer. “I refuse to do them.” To her, rallies simply reinforce the chasm between people and their politicians. “We said no to rallies. Instead we held meetings in neighbourhoods and said, ‘We’re your candidates, tell us if what we’re doing is good or bad, ask us questions.’ We gave the word to people – we didn’t want to speak.”
Ahora Madrid is not a political party, she explains, but rather a coalition of leftist groups, which includes Podemos and thousands of citizens. “It’s a platform of people who have come together to change things.”

The changes they envision for the city are straightforward, ranging from doing away with home evictions when possible and providing alternative accommodations when not, to guaranteed electricity and water for households that cannot afford utilities, and developing a plan to create jobs for young people and the long-term unemployed.

More than that, it’s about a different view of governance itself:

The time has come, she says, to usher in “a feminine way of doing politics”, turning Madrid into an incubator of policies centred around the values of coexistence, caring and non-aggression. “To govern is to listen,” says Carmena, repeating her oft-used phrase from the campaign.

It comes as little surprise to Carmena that two of the most prominent voices leading the push for democratic regeneration in Spain belong to women – her own and that of Ada Colau, whose Barcelona En Comú movement is likely to govern Barcelona. “I think the world is increasingly realising the need to abandon vertical attitudes and move towards a deepening of democracy,” she says. “Those are values of the new feminine culture that will likely be the culture of the 22nd century.”

The indignados encourage civic activism, where citizens not only elect leaders but also propose and vote on specific policies. Their model is nearer the direct democracy seen in Swiss cantons or New England town meetings than the vote-and-be-quiet elitism favored by Thomas Jefferson. (I peeked at the resident faculty’s lecture notes.)

Predictably, because the indignados are not about a singular, top-down party vision, mainstream opinion focuses on their divisions:

The voting in Spain has produced political fragmentation, not the domination of one party. Podemos, the Spanish anti-austerity party often compared to Syriza, came in not first but third – behind the ruling rightwing People’s party, and the opposition Socialist party. Its leader, Pablo Iglesias, had hoped for a better result. But Podemos has found itself faced with strong competition on the protest scene, coming from the new and more centrist Ciudadanos (Citizens) party.
Spanish voters certainly want new faces and new policies, but beyond that they are divided. The political scene is now likely to produce coalitions and cross-party deals – something Spain hasn’t practised much. After the strains of the slump, this is in itself a testimony to the maturity of a relatively young democracy. Growth is back and unemployment falling, but many Spaniards are still to feel the effect. The new breed of politicians have demonstrated a connection with the people; they now need to prove that they can broker and then govern on behalf of the people, with the honesty and the sense of social justice that has been so sorely lacking. If they can do that, it is an achievement that will resonate across a continent.

Perhaps mayors Carmena of Madrid and Colau of Barcelona will find a better path than merely brokering party deals and governing “on behalf of the people.” Maybe they will follow through on creating structures and tools that enable people to govern themselves … and show that this is how to achieve “the honesty and the sense of social justice that has been so sorely lacking.”


Meanwhile, in Boxoroxistan, Pat Robertson offered this to a woman grieving the death of her three-year-old son:

As far as God’s concerned, He knows the end from the beginning and He sees a little baby and that little baby could grow up to be Adolf Hitler, he could grow up to be Joseph Stalin, he could grow up to be some serial killer, or he could grow up to die of a hideous disease. God sees all of that, and for that life to be terminated while he’s a baby, he’s going to be with God forever in Heaven so it isn’t a bad thing.

I guess God wasn’t looking when the actual Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin were children. Likewise for actual serial killers and people who “grow up to die of a hideous disease.” Or maybe Hitler, Stalin, and the serial killers murdered lots of people who might have grown up to be even worse. Or maybe Pat Robertson was laying the groundwork for road to Damascus revelation on abortion: that “God sees all of that” and those fetuses might’ve grown up to be Hitlers or Stalins or serial killers or “die of a hideous disease.”

Or maybe Pat Robertson is just an idiot. I’m going with that option.


And good news! You can indeed applaud high school graduates in Mississippi:

Chastened by accusations of overreach and questions of racism, the Mississippi authorities have abandoned plans to prosecute three people who defied this city’s superintendent of schools and cheered during a high school graduation.

The decision to drop the misdemeanor charges of disturbing the peace, which carried potential jail terms of up to six months and fines of up to $500, came on Monday, one day before the defendants were to appear in Tate County Justice Court to answer for their conduct during the May 21 graduation for Senatobia High School.

“Our purpose in filing the complaints was not to place a hardship of any kind on the individual who disrupted the ceremony, but to protect the rights of the class of 2015 and future S.H.S. graduating classes,” the schools superintendent, Jay Foster, said in a handwritten filing in one of the cases. “Therefore, at this time, we respectfully withdraw the complaint against this individual.”

To protect what rights, exactly? The right of school officials to read the names of graduates as quickly as possible, without pausing for a few seconds so family and friends can express their appreciation? Has there ever been a graduation where everyone followed the “Please hold your applause until all graduates have been recognized” announcement?

A lawyer for the third defendant, Ursula Miller, said he welcomed the decision to end the prosecution because “it was going to be very difficult for them to garner a conviction.”

“You don’t yell fire in a crowded theater,” said the lawyer, Joseph D. Neyman Jr. “That said, you are entitled to clap.”

But some Senatobia residents disagree:

“They should have kept the charges,” said Kam Spencer, who runs Town Talk Florist. “If they tell you not to do something and you go in there and you do it, something needs to be done. To drop the charges, that’s just opening the door for next year.

“What’s next year going to bring? They chickened out, more or less.”

My guess is that next year will be the same as this year and every other year: family and friends will applaud as their children graduate. With one difference. Maybe next year school officials will simply pause politely.

Oh, and yes, Superintendent Foster is white and all three defendants were black. But it’s never about race….


Good day and good nuts