In celebration of Rosemary Bechler 1951-2021 (text & video)

01/02/2024 by

I met Rosemary in February 2016 in Berlin, where we inaugurated DiEM25. After weeks of frantic emailing, in which she had made clear her determination to be part of our pan-European movement from its beginning to her very last breath (as it turned out), I first held her hand in mine fittingly in the Red Salon of the splendid Volksbühne theatre where, that evening, we launched DiEM25, together.

Since then, Rosemary honoured me personally, and DiEM25 more broadly, with intense support, criticism, ideas, papers, proposals, campaigns – a one-woman movement that chose our movement, of all the movements, to motivate and to dedicate her inexhaustible energies to. As a long-standing member of DiEM25’s Coordinating Collective she was our mentor, our conscience, our support mechanism and our fiercest critic – all couped up in a cocoon of empathy and joy.

A true internationalist, combining the virtues of the Suffragettes, the Spanish International Brigades, the Civil Rights movement, every fair and necessary industrial strike there was, Rosemary found the time and the reason to support me personally during my darkest hours. Never stepping back from being critical when she felt she needed to be, she also never failed to shore up my psyche, to strengthen my resolve, indeed to offer material help well beyond what was either expected or even proportional.

More importantly, Rosemary combined her personal loyalty to me and to her immediate collaborators in DiEM25 with a sheer resolve to represent the rank-and-file of our movement – to give the benefit of the doubt to anyone who took exception with anything that we did – and to act as their advocate within the movement, even if she strongly disagreed with them. You see, for Rosemary, what made us strong and worthy was not so much what we each said and did but the conversation itself – the dialogue that underpinned our policies and our actions.

In the midst of the pandemic, already fighting the disease that made it hard for her to breathe, Rosemary sent me – personally – an email with what was, as it is now obvious, her own personal thirteen thousand word-long manifesto. On that manifesto’s first page, I underlined one sentence that sums up Rosemary’s agenda:

I argue [she wrote] that conversation, with its equal opportunity, its mutual vulnerability, non-violence and openness to persuasion and considered judgment, is at the core of democracy. And that it is deliberative democracy that is the key target of the Nationalist International [DiEM25’s term for the ultraright, xenophobic, neofascist surge that capitalism’s deep crisis in 2008 unleashed around the world].

Rather than blubber on, allow me to read out the conclusion of that Manifesto – for it is, I trust, replete with insights and a brilliant summary of Rosemary’s politics, philosophy and ethos.

Entitled ‘Self-organisation, the missing piece of the jigsaw’, here is how Rosemary long, manifesto-like email ended:

As a pan-European transnational movement, we need to expand our theory of political change. It is not surprising that we have concentrated on protecting and promoting the unrivalled rational coherence of our evolving programme. An asset which allows us to create rational rage as the only way to win the hearts and minds of a majority of Europeans needs more support to take maximum advantage of it in elections to come.

Lack of funding, and lack of an electoral base, may have made us too defensive about the hard-won achievements of the 2019 European elections, and how far we still have to go. DiEM25 members should appreciate the top-down disciplines that serve this amplification of effect; they should frankly marvel at our Coordinating Collective’s ability, in its mix of elected and ex officio members, day in day out, to achieve as much as they have done to support our program.

But, if we are to confront head on the fact that we can be right and yet be totally defeated – and we expect nothing less of ourselves at DiEM25 – we must acknowledge that while this rational rage may indeed be a necessary component of winning the hearts and minds of Europeans, it is not by itself a sufficient one for moving them beyond political apathy and turning them into voters, let alone citizens who will act for change, the role models who will ultimately deliver success to a movement like ours. The missing element here is the motivational drive…

Beyond the pursuit of rational rage amongst pro-Europeans, we need a broader theory of change in which, especially in the neoliberal era of identity politics, we recognise that what motivates our members as well (who start out like other ‘ordinary people’), is their own quest for status and meaning. This in turn is bound up in ideological narratives, whether of celebrity status, or victimhood, family expectations, national aspirations or cosmopolitan belongings, which have a profound determining effect on what members and voters and citizens do.

None of the carriers of these narratives are likely to respond to a coherent overall programme alone. People are searching for the feel-good factor, and under coronavirus, nothing is more important than the cultivation of that source of hope in the fightback against fear. In all these quests, probably the most progressive and the one which should interest us the most is individual quests for self-empowerment, consolidated through collective experiences of self-empowerment, which, grounded in the pursuit of the common good, happen at one and the same time to be the basis for democratic agency – which in turn happens to be the only force that those of us committed to fighting against the Nationalist Neofascist International have at our disposal.

If we are to take the aggrandizing fantasy metaphor away from them which the far right are all too willing to supply – we have to be able to replace it with something else, and that something else is personal and collective empowerment forged in mutually vulnerable relationships. Members as self-organisers – not foot soldiers, or mere supporters, passive audience members, or dispensers of leaflets, but self-motivated and mutually valued democrats whose smartness comes from encountering the Other. It is this nonviolent democratic agency as activism and example to others, strengthened by a visionary programme of the present and the future, that will one day democratise Europe.

That was our Rosemary! A deep thinker on how to combine the personal with the political, the rank-and-file’s intimate ambitions with the movement’s objective needs. She stood by us, individually and collectively, like no other. Till her last breath.

A few days before she passed, Rosemary emailed us regarding our Save Our NHS campaign. It would be the last we heard from her. It was typical of Rosemary to express gratitude to comrades who owed her so much. And to hint at her own impending long sleep, courtesy of the ‘inconvenient’, as she liked to describe it, disease that would ultimately take her away from us. Her words resonate more strongly with each passing day:

Such a relief to be working on this with you guys … all the best and sleep much better for all this classy political activity! As I will now!”

Rosemary’s passing was hard to bear. I think I am speaking on behalf of everyone at DiEM25 when I say: We salute you, Rosemary. We salute your loyalty, your friendship, your sharp analysis and your dedication to preventing our movement from becoming top-heavy, to keeping alive its commitment to its grassroots, to enlisting the Dunkirk spirit in our collective struggle. And we promise you that we shall not rest until your spirit reaches everyone that can be reached in Britain, across Europe and beyond.

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