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.
Yasmin Gunaratnam reflects on John Berger’s gut solidarity with the stranger
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
As man-made global warming gets closer to the tipping point, Andrew Simms finds reasons to be positive about averting catastrophic climate change
In this extract from his new book The Candidate, Alex Nunns tells the inside story of how Jeremy Corbyn scraped onto the Labour leadership ballot in 2015
Graham Jones proposes a framework for a diverse movement to flourish
Musician Eliane Correa reflects on the fading revolution
Trump's victory is another sign of the failure of the centre-left's narrative on climate change. A new message is needed, and new politicians to deliver it, writes Alex Randall
Siobhán McGuirk says the question we are too afraid to ask is simple - what kind of society leads to Donald Trump as President?
The battle lines are clear. Democracy is in peril and the left must take itself seriously electorally and politically. Ruth Potts speaks to Gary Younge, who was based in Muncie, Indiana, for the US election, about the implications of Donald Trump’s victory
We need a society built on openness, community and equality to truly defeat everything that trump stands for, writes Nick Dearden.
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.
A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas
Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'
The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion
The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.
Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.
Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism
What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry