Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

A road made by walking

Oscar Reyes reports from Spain on an ‘indignant’ movement that continues to spread and diversify

August 1, 2011
7 min read


Oscar ReyesOscar Reyes is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and is based in Barcelona. He was formerly an editor of Red Pepper. He tweets at @_oscar_reyes


  share     tweet  

A fairy with a broomstick is sweeping the Puerta del Sol, Madrid’s central square. In front of her, a handful of weather-beaten activists are dispensing information from what looks like an upturned ship, a semi-permanent legacy from the occupation that began here on 15 May (M15). Strip away some of the tourists, and this scene could have been plucked from anywhere in the decade-long back catalogue of alter-globalisation movements.

Fast-forward five hours and Sol is full of demonstrators, hundreds of whom have walked here from across Spain. Six marches have converged from across the city, with chants and banners directed against the political and financial system. The targets included a corrupt political class, with chants of ‘No hay pan para tanto chorizo!’ (there isn’t bread for so many chorizo sausages, a colloquial reference to thieving politicians) and the injustice of austerity measures: ‘Vuestra crisis no la pagamos’ (‘We won’t pay for your crisis’). Branches of Spain’s largest banks are routinely denounced as ‘Cul-pa-ble!’ (guilty).

As we enter Sol, the banners read ‘Bienvenida dignidad’ (‘Welcome dignity’). There is a celebratory atmosphere as we sit on a packed square and listen to speaker after speaker recount their journey. Many of the gestures and practices adopted by the indignad@s (‘indignant’ or ‘outraged’) build upon and adapt those of existing activist networks: thousands of hands waggle along signalling agreement with the speeches, and a long weekend of activities culminates in the first M15 ‘social forum’. But it is abundantly clear that this movement has extended way beyond the usual suspects, and that its demands for ‘real democracy’ in the face of a remote two-party system that is tainted by corruption, an out of control financial sector, and swinging cuts in public services have tapped into a deep well of popular discontent.

The Sol protest marks the culmination of a month-long series of marches (‘Marcha Popular Indignada’), in some cases covering over 600 km in over 30 degree heat. We listen for several hours, as speaker after speaker reports of the generosity and warmth with which they have been received in small towns and villages across the country. A quarter of Spain’s population lives in rural areas, and the marchers report on how their route opened up countless new connections. For example, one speaker from Leon (in northwest Spain) recounts villages without drinking water, and a story of a local mayor who had raised his own salary by 200 per cent. These stories multiplied as marchers traversed the country, covering around 20 km by foot in the mornings, and spending the afternoons and evenings in dialogue with their hosts. Sol was the goal, but the journey was more important than the destination.

While the marchers were predominantly young, those present on the square and at the subsequent demonstration come from all generations and backgrounds. For example, our journey to Madrid was in a bus arranged by the Pensioners’ Commission of the Placa Catalunya camp, which had occupied Barcelona’s central square from May to July. It took in the arrival of the marches and a demonstration of over 30,000 people the next day, Sunday 24 July.

These returns to Sol made the headlines, but the bigger story is that the movement never really went away. On 20 July, the passage of an austerity by the right-wing Catalan government brought over 20,000 protesters onto the streets of Barcelona. Smaller but more numerous protests continue locally, co-ordinated through neighbourhood assemblies (around 25 in Barcelona alone), each of which is sub-divided into working commissions. In the last fortnight, for example, protesters have joined staff protesting the closure of two Barcelona hospitals (‘l’Esperança’ and ‘Dos de Maig’), which form part of a €2 billion package of health and education cuts across Catalunya in 2011. They have also resisted home repossessions resulting from the collapse of a housing bubble – in one case, meeting with violent police repression. Similar actions continue across Spain, with speakers on Sol reporting over 70 successful attempts to stop repossessions. There have also been actions to prevent indiscriminate immigrant checks, as documented by this widely-circulated video from Lavapies, a district of Madrid.

Summer is traditionally a quiet time for social movements, but a series of actions are planned for the ‘holidays’, including calls to ‘Toma la Playa’ (‘Take the Beach’, a play on the ‘Take the Square’ theme of one of the movement’s main rallying calls and coordinating sites) and ‘Toma la Montaña’ (‘Take the Mountain’), a call for a week long environmental protest camp at one of Spain’s largest open-cast coal mines.

Stoked by the success of the Madrid marches, a group set off from Puerta del Sol to Brussels, some 1,150 km away – a rather literal take on one of the movement’s key slogans, ‘Vamos despacio porque vamos lejos’ (‘We’re going slow because we’re going far’). They are scheduled to arrive in the de facto capital of the European Union a week ahead of a global demonstration on 15 October, called for by Democracy real Ya! (Real Democracy Now!), the platform that initiated the Spanish protests.

The day of action is one landmark in what many predictions suggest could be a ‘hot’ autumn. With the Eurozone crisis deepening, the ratings agencies on the offensive and Spanish public debt costing ever more to service (thanks to bond market speculation, amid moves to protect northern European banks at the expense of countries on the ‘periphery’), the Prime Minister José Zapatero has called an election for 20 November, in which he will not stand as a candidate. The right wing People’s Party (PP) is expected to win, while the populist right also registered gains in the regional elections last May that were the occasion of the first M15 protests – a sobering reminder that the progressive spirit of the M15 mobilisations is far from the only response to the current predicament.

In a system where increasing numbers distrust the political class, the results at the ballot box are also a landmark for a rapidly maturing movement. As the moderators of the 185,000-strong Facebook group #spanishrevolution dryly noted: ‘Elections brought forward to 20N. We should do something… no?’ And the banners heading to Sol –  ‘No es la crisis, es el sistema’ (‘It’s not the crisis, it’s the system’) –   can be read as a statement of intent as the movement marches on.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Oscar ReyesOscar Reyes is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and is based in Barcelona. He was formerly an editor of Red Pepper. He tweets at @_oscar_reyes


Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going

A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism

Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase

Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields

Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton

Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi

A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain

Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank

Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded

West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens

Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age

Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today

The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics

Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.

Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making

Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show

The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services

With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali

To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi

Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun

Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh

With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair

A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook


84