(The first in a series about the protests in Spain. Disclaimer: I’m in Madrid, therefore my posts are from the perspective of Madrid. There are marches, camps and assemblies in cities and towns across Spain – I would love to hear reports from more of them. Also, the pictures are not mine but have borrowed from other sources.)
I had the good luck to arrive in Spain on May 14, the day before the “#spanishrevolution” was to begin. Of course, it wasn’t entirely luck, I had been inundated with tweets and FB posts about May 15 for months, mostly by friends from Barcelona. That was enough to get me to pay the $40 extra and very quickly move out of my apartment to get to Madrid by the 15th. (point 1 about social media: if it got me to go to Madrid from the US, think how many people were encouraged by social media to travel much shorter distances.)
The May 15 March was largely organized by a diffuse internet-based coalition Democracy Real Ya (Real Democracy, Now), supported by Juventud Sin Futuro, mostly made up of university students, and other groups. You can read the DRY manifesto in English. Of course, it also comes out of a long history of organizing in Spain – elements of the global justice movement, the anti-war movement, autonomous organizations working around migration and precarity, etc.). This conceptual map gives a good overview of the earlier organizing 15-M builds on and the relationships between 15-M and other movements. Also, a piece from Madrilonia examining the genealogy of the movement.
The call was simple: “real democracy now,” “we are not commodities in the hands of bankers and politicians”. A call against a government that insisted in going along with austerity measures, drastically cutting social services, while bankers and finance capitalists continued getting rich and corrupt politicians continued to go free. It was a march as much against the governing socialist party as the opposing conservative party (a common chant was that the 2 parties are the same piece of shit). The comment sentiment that led people to the streets was a sense of anger at this state of affairs, not only at having to bare the brunt of a crisis they did not cause, the massive level of unemployment, the cuts to pensions and health care, but also that all of this was happening under a “socialist” government many of them had at one time voted for or at least not totally despised.
The march in Madrid was march larger than most of us had expected and coincided with large marches in cities and towns across the country. (The event’s facebook page lists most of the participating cities) While most of us slowly left the Puerta del Sol where the march had ended, a few people stayed around, leading to clashes with the police and arrests.
A call was made for a concentration in Sol the following evening in support of the people arrested the night before. I was with a friend who got the call via text message (point 2 about social media: it does not preclude, but in fact works wonderfully with other forms of communication, including face to face communication). We hurried to the plaza to find a small but growing crowd and the first assembly of the Acampada Sol. That night we made the first committees, based on different issues and needs of the movement.
I headed home around 2am, with the plaza still occupied by a small group of people planning to spend the night. A few hours later, there was another confrontation with police and the campers were kicked out of the plaza. As a number of plazas around the world show, once people have decided to occupy a square, they won’t easily give it up: a march to retake the plaza was called for the following evening. This time, we had more than twice as many people as the night before and, despite our worries, entered the plaza without any trouble from the police. We had no idea at the time, but from that moment on the plaza would be known as the Acampada Sol.