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chronicle from madrid

part 1: a march and a plaza

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 convinced me to go to Madrid from the US, think how many people it encouraged to travel much shorter distances.)

The May 15 March was called for by a diffuse internet-based coalition Democracy Real Ya (Real Democracy, Now). (Read the DRY manifesto in English). DRY is interesting because it does not count on the support of any political parties or trade unions, has organized almost entirely through the internet and is really more of an organizing platform than an organization. Another of the major supporters of the call was Juventud Sin Futuro (Youth without a Future), a new national organization of the anti-capitalist left, independent from any political parties, (their first public action was in April), mostly based in universities. Their slogan reads, “Youth without a future, without a house, without a job, without a pension, and without fear”. (If it was the lack of a future that got many people into the streets for the march, it was the lack of fear that kept them in the plaza overnight).

Of course, these groups and the mobilization come 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.). Interestingly, the V for Vivienda (Housing) campaign, had already been building on the V imagery in its struggle for “dignified housing” in response to rising housing costs and increasing youth precarity in pre-economic crisis Spain. Also, much of the online activism directly stems from the opposition to the Ley Sinde, which would give the Ministry of Culture enhanced rights over policing intellectual property, including shutting down and blocking websites. All of the major political parties have supported the law, the frustration led to #nolesvotes (don’t vote for them), an online campaign urging people not to vote for any of those parties. #nolesvotes also supported the DRY call for May 15, and many of their slogans could be seen in at the march and the following encampment. 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 populist 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, 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, in a “democracy”. (Something resonated from the Arab Spring: if many of the rights and benefits they’re calling for there, don’t exist here, then how can this be a real democracy? If they can protest against those conditions there, then why can’t we here?).

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). In it’s fairly vague manner, the call had touched lots of people and had provided an excuse for everyone who had already long been fed up to take the street. My major impressions of the march had mostly to do with surprise and excitement, feelings that everyone seemed to share. The anger quickly turned into joy upon seeing friends, seeing how many of us there were and how much positive energy we had (the absolutely perfect weather that day helped as well). The happiness of reuniting with old friends was one of the major affective aspects of those first days, friends that people hadn’t seen this the end of such-and-such campaign, since the march against i-don’t-know-what. Even without knowing many people in Spain, I managed to run into good friends from Argentina.

The other amazing aspect of the march was that it was actually a very large, self-organized march. There were no political party or trade union banners or signs. No leaders telling anybody what to chant or what part of the road to walk on. No experts giving long speeches. While many of the signs were the printed signs of Democracia Real Ya and Juventud sin Futuro, nearly as many were hand-made. There were moments of confusion in the march, the route took us much longer than expected, but nobody seemed to mind.

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.

(pictures taken from here)

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