NF: A feminist ethics was key to the way 15-M was sustained and developed but this did not seem to translate into the formation of Podemos who have been heavily criticised for being male dominated. Why did a feminist ethics become so central to the movement and – if not with Podemos – where did a feminist ethics make its mark most emphatically?
CFF: Podemos too has undergone a remarkable transformation in this regard although there is still a way to go. As I show in the book, at its conception, feminism was a minor and almost overlooked element of the original manifesto. In fact the word doesn’t even appear, although some traditional feminist concerns do, such as freedom of control over one’s body, sexual orientation and a commitment to fight gender-based violence.
But in the evolution of the party, thanks to the work of feminists in the movement, it became an increasingly central concern of the party and is now consolidated as a key component. The disjuncture between political agendas and internal political practices is an issue for most progressive parties, and Podemos is no exception. But it has made great strides in terms of female leadership and a feminist agenda since its inception, again thanks to the work of feminists in the party. As I said above, feminist ethics has made its mark in the municipal movements very clearly, and also in movement spaces. When I asked activists who have been involved in autonomous movements in Madrid for several decades what the biggest change has been thanks to 15-M, the influence of feminism has definitely been one of them.
NF: Although you state that many participants in the movement subscribe to an anti-racist ideology, the lack of a race critical politics at the heart of the movement is startling, particularly in the light of the Black Lives Matter Protests across the globe in response to racialised inequalities everywhere. Why do you think this was and what have the consequences been for the movement?
CFF: That is a hard question to answer. I wouldn’t say there is no race critical politics in the movement. Groups like SOS Racismo, the Oficinas de Derechos Sociales, and platforms like No Somos Delito (who work on the Gag Law) have long been concerned with migrant issues and the fight against racism, and have been active throughout the movement. The PAH (the platform for those affected by mortgages) also has had the strong involvement of immigrant activists. The squatted social centres in Madrid, for example, actively build links with immigrant communities who participate in social center activities. But it is true that in general progressive movements in Spain are not very ethnically diverse. They are not very socio-economically or educationally diverse either as a rule, although this does vary by groups and movement issues.
Black Lives Matter is born in a context where some 13% of the population are African American, where there is a strong history of civil rights movements, where the African-American community is politically liberal/progressive, where there are many influential Black intellectuals, university professors, departments where people learn critical race theory, a rich tradition of cultural and artistic production that treats race centrally and critically, and where powerful and visible examples of violence against black lives are a recurrent part of the social reality. The context in Spain is very different. Although there is a long history of racism and xenophobia in Spanish society and institutions, there are significant differences as well. Afro-Spaniards make up about 2% of the population and don’t have similar representation or political clout, and mass immigration is a relatively recent phenomenon. So I am not sure that BLM or the US context is the best lens through which to evaluate a lack of diversity or engagement with critical race theory in Spanish progressive movements. As movements like BLM continue to have influence around the world, it is very likely that critical race politics will also have a greater impact, but those processes take time. Obviously, the more movements can integrate critical consciousness in their ideas and practices the more they will be able to advance a progressive agenda.
NF: What does your ethnography of digital practices tell us about how a hacker ethics and technopolitics can work in an information and technology landscape dominated by the largest media and technology oligopolies capitalism has ever seen and where the digital divide is still a reality for so many (as the pandemic has made so alarmingly clear)? In other words, what is the digital imaginary of 15-M, beyond a hacker ethic?
CFF: 15-M has a strong technopolitical strand, and proponents are committed to tapping into the power of digital to create a more vibrant and robust democracy. Part of that is about being critical and savvy about the use of media technologies and fostering replicability; part of it is about things like actively working to close the digital divides that still leave out so many people; part of it is about cyberpolitics proper, by which I mean things like fighting to keep the digital sphere open, effective whistleblowing to uncover corruption, monitory democracy to increase transparency and accountability, etc. ; and part of it is about developing an alternative autonomous critical media infrastructure.
This last has been particularly important in Spain, where 15-M has prompted the resurgence and renewal of critical media, and where new independent media projects like eldiario.es have managed to occupy a significant share of news consumption, or projects like Maldito Bulo are working to combat information disorders. Information and media are absolutely crucial to democracy, and this is definitely the most important terrain on which the fight for democracy is being waged.
The extreme right has been incredibly successful in waging information warfare. Media landscapes dominated by oligopolies are tremendously worrying as your work has shown, and progressive politics and especially established parties are really struggling to keep up. We need to look to successful and savvy digital democracy activists for solutions. Spain offers some good examples, but so do places like Taiwan where technopolitics via communities like gov0 (gov zero) have really had a huge influence, and we can see the positive effects in many ways but most recently in how they have managed to combat information disorders during the pandemic.