Madrid, Spain, 25th May 2001
This is the second week of #SpanishRevolution, and there’s been a lot of talking about it already. This article is just another subjective point of view, another reflection about the causes and the meaning of this movement and the consequences that might have in the future.
Please feel free to read, comment, share or exchange ideas about this text if you find it appropiate.
The Ignition Spark
Ten days ago, a demonstration crossed about 60 cities of the country. People had been talking about this day for months on the internet, but nobody was really sure about what was really going to happen (basically because of Spain’s recent history with these kinds of things). The manifesto for the protests was simple and straight: “REAL DEMOCRACY NOW!” It starts: “We are ordinary people. We are like you: people who get up every morning to study, work or find a job, people who have family and friends. People who work hard every day to provide a better future for those around us.”
What were the causes for these demonstrations? There’s a lot of discussion about this, and probably everybody is right because everybody had his own reason to be there.: Maybe it was the 20% unemployment rate (which rises up to 43% among the young people), and for those who have a job the precariousness of it, or the incompetence of a government which is hand tied and forced to keep on giving privileges to the banking elite and to obey without asking to the unfair exigencies from organizations such as the European Union and the IMF forgetting about the condition of their people, the complicity of a servile media sector controlled and manipulated by the political power or just the obscene political corruption which spreads all over the country . Maybe it was just the general discontent about the whole democratic system in this country, and a voting method (d’Hondt) which a lot of people find unfair and only beneficial for the two largest political parties (socialists and the right democrats detain the 90% of the political power).
Anyway, I was telling about the streets: The ‘15M’ demonstrations were a countrywide success. In Madrid’s city center on the first day of the demonstrations, more than 30.000 people crowded Alcalá Street (the longest of the city) in route between the town hall and the central square of the city, Sol. At the beginning it was just a special mood, a sort energy irradiating everybody who was there… students, young workers, unemployed and even pensioners. That afternoon, something started on the square, I suppose in the same way all these kinds of things happen...
Most of us went home after the first demonstration in Madrid, but a group of people decided to stay and peacefully camp at Sol Square and stay there until the Election Day (it was in one week) to show their disapproval of the actual situation. There were about 40 people. On the second day, Monday night, more joined and then the riot police intervened to kick them out of the square. There were about 150, maybe more. That was the first milestone of the protests, because the news ran fast through the web and the next day the square was occupied by thousands of people, the feeling was magical and everybody was sure that something big was happening, nobody could stop it since then and the official #SolCamp started. During the rest of the week, thousands of citizens were joining the camp everyday at 20:00 to protest with the campers (who were increasing in number everyday despite the efforts of the authorities). On Wednesday, the government declared the camp not legal and tried to scare the crowds and persuade them to not to go to the camping zone in the square. Even the metro was packed with police and the speakers were telling people not to come to the demonstration. The ‘successful’ result was that even more people got there.
However, the citizens were not there just to see what was going on, they were also bringing food, tents, mattresses, books, furniture, blankets, medicines, water, rope, or just to cheer up (especially the elderly people). Big canvasses were also brought to fight the stubborn Spanish sun and to make the tents for the different marquees: Arts, legal issues, action, sickbay, assembly, library, volunteering, computers, information or a recycling point… and even a daycare tent.
On Friday the 20th at midnight, the second milestone of the movement occurred: The Electoral Commission declared the occupation not legal again. They claimed that it was against the law because it was going to interfere with the "day of reflection" before the election on Sunday, when all kinds of public political manifestations are strictly forbid (note that this is a very sensitive matter in Spain especially after what happened in 2003 with the Al-Qaida bombings). The people's response again was to crowd the city center. The "day of reflection started at 00:00 that Saturday and the 30.000 people stood silently in the square to hear the bell from the big clock with their hands up. Some thought the police would charge the crowd then, but they didn’t... A couple of hours before the government had ordered the police to let the people go on with the protests as long as there was not a real danger of riots or violence in the streets. Everybody was really jubilant after that and then the country realized that the moment they just experienced was going to be a piece of history.
At that point other camps had already started in cities such as: Barcelona, Valencia, Malaga, Sevilla, Granada, Bilbao and many more. Every day at the square, people join all kind of workshops and discussions about the actual problems of the society. Nobody cares about the political adscription or the background of anybody, we share a common concern and a willing to discuss it with other people to try to find a solution for our real problems. Basically we make every day politics (something that was forgotten in this country for maybe decades). We try to find a solution to set a real democratic system in this country and a fair society, and be part of it.
After a week of camping, the General Assembly on the camp voted on what to do next. The first decision was to maintain the ‘squat’ of the square one more week, and the second one was even more important: to start developing the next big project, the District Assemblies. For the first time campers began discussing what will happen after the camp, which is to bring this movement to every corner of the country and create a true civic and social movement. We need to get out of Sol and inform the people, educate them on the values of this movement and invite everybody to participate; otherwise any kind of change would be impossible. There’s already a lot of confusion on the media and the streets. After all, Madrid is a 4-million-inhabitants city and the camp just gathers a tiny part of it. It is time for the people to spread and show what we are trying to do to their families, friends and neighbors in the city and the rest of the country.
You might notice that I did not talk about what happened on the elections. Well, it is not important for what is going on here. What everyone had predicted to happen even before the events of the camp, happened, and that’s not even disappointing. What is happening at the squares now was not going to change the result of any elections in just one week. And if I realize one thing for good out of this situation is that our society is still really young in terms of democratic culture and political awareness. We will need years of hard work to make a real change but for the first time I feel that it’s worth it. We’ve been taught at school that the Spanish transition to democracy was an era from Franco’s death until the early 80’s when the first socialist government came to power. But this is not true, we are still in transition in 2011. We need to fight both the old political conventions still present in our society and also the new economical and social order imposed by the so called crisis and the needs derivate by our membership to the European Union and other pressures from several supranational organizations, and the model of society they defend and impose.
A Dutch journalist asked me if we, as the “outskirts of Europe” were influenced by the recent Arab revolts. Sure the Arab spring had influence, but I don’t know about the exact power of it. We were already fucked up and that’s the main reason I guess. Anyway, the funny thing is this word "outskirts" that he used. The European Union was supposed to be a place of equality, with no "center" or "outskirts" or citizens from 1st or 2nd class. And after the crisis and the rescues we realized that the European idea they sold us was a big lie. The financial pundits of Europe complain everyday about Portugal, Ireland, Greece, and Spain on the press; they threaten us, and call us PIGS (and then pretend that is just a coincidence)(3). There are also politicians even suggesting that some of them should be dropped out from the union “for the good of the rest.” This proves it is only about the money, no history nor culture will be taken into consideration if we let this idea of Europe keep on going.
Despite all this, the young Spaniards are confident and hopeful for the first time in years… maybe because we finally know our role in the history of this country for the first time. The socialists call us fascists because we are against the establishment, the right wing drunken hippies, or even terrorists… but we are just the first generation born in democracy. And now that we have grown up, we want to change the rules of the game, for good.
15M Manifesto: http://www.democraciarealya.es/?page_id=814
#SolCamp Manifesto: http://madrid.tomalaplaza.net/manifiesto-2/#en
‘The revolution will be televised’ - ATTAC TV: http://www.attac.tv/altermedia/2011/05/1867
The Spanish writer and economist José Luis Sampredro about the #SpanishRevolution: http://youtu.be/LOmh3jcV28g
Pictures: Demoracia Real Ya! #acampadasol and Paula Marina Cobo.
Special thanks to Elise Rowland.