Castillejo de Mesleón, July 31
Day 7 of the March on Brussels. From Buitrago de Lozoya, 35 km.
This weekend, together with comrade Daniel from the Extension Commission, we made a surprise visit to the Brussels March. We found them camping in the foothills of the Sierra de Guadarrama at about eighty kilometres North of Madrid, in the gorgeous little town of Buitrago de Lozoya.
They had put up their tents in front of the Picasso Museum. One of our comrades explains what the museum is doing here. This is the collection of Buitrago’s most famous citizen: Picasso’s barber. In the last years of his long and productive life, Picasso confided his innermost turbulences to his barber, and each time his barber cut his hair, the great artist gave him a painting or a sketch. Over the years this ammounted to a significant collection, enough to fill a museum.
I’m happy to meet various people from the Northern Column. And not only. There are people from almost all of the marches here. Barcelona, Galicia, Valencia, Málaga. Some of them have already been walking for over five hundred kilometres in the last few weeks. And they just keep on going.
In total we’re about fifty persons. It’s an international march, and indeed there are various nationalities present. Germans, French, Americans, a Russian girl, a Cuban comrade, our iconic comrade Sancho from Mexico, and a horse. At the mountain pass we’re joined by a South-African woman, a veteran of the struggle against apartheid.
The road is long today. About 35 kilometres, crossing the mountains. It’s the second time in two weeks that I cross the Sierra de Guadarrama on foot, this time in northern direction through the pass of Somosierra at over 1400 metres. The route is not nearly as interesting as the one we took from Segovia. We’re following the service roads and paths of the A1 Madrid-Burgos. There is hardly any shadow.
From day-break onwards, when they come to advise us on the route, we receive an honorary escort from our comrades of the Guardia Civil. They perform the function of trailblazers, they guide the traffic around us when we decide to take to the big roads, they make sure that people who lag behind follow the right route, and for the last few kilometres up to the pass, their commanding officer walks along with us.
The Guardia Civil is on our side. A couple of days ago at a protest at the Moncloa palace, residence of the prime minister, they almost got into conflict with the national police. One of the police officers had torn down a protest sign of one of our comrades. He was severely reprimanded by an officer of the Guardia Civil: “What did you that for? There is nothing wrong with showing a protest sign.”
But also among the national police officers we can count on a lot of sympathy, undoubtedly thanks to the civil and peaceful nature of our protest. This is what one courageous police officer has admitted speaking to the National Assembly in Sol, last week. When the siege on parliament was lifted by force on wednesday morning, the people in charge will have made very sure to put only the officers of undoubted loyalty in the first line.
We descend into Castilla y León over the A1 under the burning sun. We get constantly honked. That is the whole idea. We follow the main roads for visibility. It’s another way to spread the word. When we finally finish our descent many people are convinced we’re already there. It’s what they were told when the comrades from logistical support served us lunch at the mountain pass. Now, it turns out we still have to walk another ten kilometres.
The organisation and the coordination of the march is far from perfect. They didn’t even have a route when they started. This can lead to tention, as we have noticed. And this is also the reason why we are here. Daniel has been following all the marches to Madrid, he knows their troubles and the solutions they have adopted. He has come to share his knowledge.
After we finally reach Castillejo and put up camp, Daniel and me drive back to Madrid together with our comrade from South-Africa. She’s an intercultural communications expert. When she heard about the march on the BBC she has interrupted her business trip and made a thousand kilometer detour just to walk with us for a day.
It’s already late in the evening when I’m walking over Alcalà with comrades Jim and Bob when suddenly, out of the distance comes shouting and singing. “Finally! Protest!” It’s a massive demonstration and it comes our way behind a banner that says: ‘No aggression without reaction!’
Thank heaven, the revolutionary spirit is still alive. We walk along, behind a bagpipes player, singing and dancing and shooting pictures. The day before, we were hundreds at the assembly near the barricades, the same morning the siege was lifted by force, and now we are thousands. “To congress! To congress!”
Just before the march arrives there I run ahead to take a look at the situation, and I’m impressed. The police is prepared for the worst. They are dressed up in full riot gear, looking cool, holding up guns with teargas granates, ready to disperse the crowd if necessary. There’s only one thing that crosses my mind as I run back: batteries. I hope the batteries of Jim’s camera will hold out if things get ugly.
They don’t. We walk around the Neptune fountain and then we storm the barricade, running and yelling. We stop short at the fences, just metres from the police officers, and we start shouting: “No! No! / We are not afraid!”
(all videos by Jim)
The rest of the evening is party and dancing. As if the revolution had already triumphed. Everyone is here, the people I know from Madrid, the people I know from the marches, people from other countries that have come to share their experience. Everyone is happy, sharing hugs and kisses in the face of the police officers. Just moments ago they were looking cool and intimidating. Now they only look ridiculous. When the people gather around in Assembly under the statue of Neptune in the middle of the roundabout, they take off their riot gear, and they start to look like real people once again.
Earlier that day, after the lifting of the siege, parliament had gathered and some of the indignados had wanted to present a list of all the problems that afflict the villages they encountered on the marches. Obviously everyone who looked like an indignado was not allowed beyond the blockade, on the grounds of his or her appearance. So three of us dressed up very elegantly, they told police that they were lodging in the Palace Hotel across from Congress, and they got through. They registered at parliament, and through one of the members from the ‘United Left’ who acted as a messenger they were able to present the document to the prime minister. It’s incredible, the things you need to cook up, just to inform the head of government about what’s going on in the country…
Today’s news comes from Spain’s biggest bank, Santander. Under pressure from the 15M movement they have announced that they will give people a break if they lose their job or at least 25 percent of their income. For a period of up to three years they will only need to pay the interest on their mortgage.
It’s a shrewd move to improve their image, an image that got very badly damaged lately. The movement has been preventing evictions on a daily basis in the last few months. But just over a week ago, for the first time, authorities have deployed riot police to prevent people from preventing an eviction. When it turned out that all this demonstration of force was necessary to throw a middle aged unemployed woman and her handicapped son out on to the streets, the mainstream media jumped on it. The bank seriously started to reconsider its public relations policy.
So now people who can’t pay their mortgage will see expenses halved, but the length of the mortgage will be extended. In the end they will end up paying more. Now, it’s very important to realise that they are paying back money that the bank never owned in the first place. When a bank grants you a loan, they don’t open a vault and take out a couple of hundred thousand euro. No, they just add it to their books, they create it out of thin air.
A deal is based on two parties putting up something of their own. You put up thirty years of daily labour to pay for a house. And the bank doesn’t put up anything at all. In the 1960s (citation needed) an American citizen at risk of eviction presented this case to the court saying that his deal with bank was not valid because of the fact that the bank never did own the money it lent to him. The judge ruled in his favour. Mortgage is a pure scam. And any good lawyer will be able to prove that in court.
This morning at 7:30 AM we woke up to see the sight of a line of police vans moving towards parliament. People were calling “Arriba! Arriba! Everyone get up! The police is clearing the square!”
I encounter a comrade from the northern march, we run towards parliament, and we arrive just in time. Behind us the police seals off the Prado so that no more people can reinforce the campers outside of parliament.
Everyone is sitting down in the middle of the road. Police are lined up on two sides in riot gear. I arrive in the middle of all the action. The clearing of the square is just beginning. I start filming. Check out how the officers take people by their ears, hair and jaws to take them away.
As they get carried off to the side one by one, the rest of the people are shouting, “No to violence!” It doesn’t take long before three officers physically ‘convince’ me to leave the road as well. From that moment onwards I can only look on from behind the police cordon as our camp gets cleared out, the barriers get opened, and traffic starts to flow again.
When people get dragged away, in the heat of the moment, they turn their rage against the police. I can understand it, but I don’t share the feeling. These people in their uniforms are still our brothers. They are just executing orders, and they are doing it professionally. Jim has got some bruises on his arms and on his back. Other people will do as well, but as far as I can see no-one got really injured.
Still, many of the police officers do not have their ID numbers clearly visible as regulations prescribe. They get photographed one by one by some of our people while they are guarding us on the pavement. At the same time the police are fighting back in the information war as well. One of them is constantly filming protesters from close up with his hand held camera.
When the road is cleared, spirits calm down a bit. One of us is allowed to gather stuff from the pile and distribute it. Someone else is walking around shouting: “Lawyer! Lawyer! Does anybody want a lawyer!” The people who do, write a name and a telephone number on their arms. In the end, just before they let us go, five by five, we hold a collective embrace.
The movement is strong. But it’s important, even in the face of police action, to keep cool. There are undoubtedly some bastards among the police who really like to do this and who would love to use their clubs if they got the order, but I’m convinced they are a minority. These people in uniform are not our enemy. Our enemy is somewhere else. And he doesn’t dare to show his face.
Yesterday the Popular March from Madrid to Brussels departed from Puerta del Sol. And seeing all the enthousiasm around it, I think this will only be the beginning. Popular Marches might become very popular in the months and even years to come. And there are many reasons for that, which I have experienced myself.
First of all, it is relaxing to march. It’s an implicit protest against our society dominated by the clock, a society in which time is always scarce, a society which urges you to hurry, because time is money. But the more you hurry, the less time you have. It’s never enough.
When you are marching you have all the time in the world. You can engage in lengthy conversations, you can exchange ideas, you have time to think. These things alone are revolutionary, because in modern society the urge to hurry is aimed mainly at making sure that people don’t have time to think. The daily rat race exhausts them up to such a point that whenever they have a bit of time, they spend it on passive relaxation and shopping.
Marching opens your mind. And moreover it’s a fundamentally human experience. This is the way that our forebears travelled when they were still nomads. Through the mist of ages, deep out of our genetic heritage, an intense pleasure surfaces when you walk through the woods with a group of people who share a common destination.
In just a week time I have developed a strong bond with my comrades from the Northern March. During this very short period they were my ‘tribe’. It was such a successful experience that many of them have joined the March to Brussels. And many more will join it later. Once you experience the joy of marching you will have some difficulty to return to ‘normal life’, also because it makes you realise that normal life, when you think about it, is everything but normal.
So yes, we might see many more marches departing in the near future. While the people with their backpack where lining up for the photo shoot, I look for someone who can tell me about the route, the dates, other marches etcetera. But it’s of no use. There is no clear organisation. Like with life itself, you improvise the route along the way.
I walk up with them for a bit along the boulevards of Madrid. I’m very tempted to join them later on. It’s going to be wonderful, in the age of internet and cell phones and cheap carrier flights, that there are people who take over two months to travel from Madrid to Brussels, and who will talk to the inhabitants of all the villages they pass, face to face, about things that really matter.
Evening time. I go check out what’s happening at the siege of Congress. On the west side near Sol there is only half a dozen people present. The others are down at Neptunus, where there is a National Assembly planned to decide on how to give shape to the siege. Just hours before the Assembly I went by to see how the siege is developing urbanistically. The party tent was gone, and so was the customs barrier. There was a canvas attached to the lamp posts for shade. And there was a concert going on.
I’m impressed. There is no generator for the amplifier. It’s powered by two people on bicycles whose rear wheels are attached to a dynamo. This is us, the 15M movement, giving a demonstration of sustainability and good music.
Later on, when the National Assembly is held, there are still two people cycling to power the amplifier. The street is packed. The police officers behind the barrier joke among themselves. They are caught between two different assemblies. The one from the past, which they are protecting, and the one from the future, which is being celebrated right in front of them.
For the second night in a row people have camped outside of parliament. It’s incredibly interesting to see this happening, to see how things develop. It all started with blankets and sleeping bags. Next came the tents and the library. That was on sunday, right after the big demonstration. Yesterday the first structures have appeared on the eastern side of the siege. They consist of a party tent and a wooden arch in front of the police blockade. The arch represents a ‘customs barrier’. We have our own punks guarding it with cardboard guns.
On the western side there are twenty odd people and a tent. During the day it’s much too hot to stay out on the asphalt. People look for shadow, they work in shifts to make sure the place is guarded all day long. The two encampments come to life at night, but they are still very precarious. The authorities probably hope they will wither away under the heat, because if they don’t, it might turn into a huge problem for them.
Now, to put these highly significant events into context, let me give you a brief overview of the situation as a whole.
Most of the indignados from the marches and from the rest of Spain have been camping under the trees in the Paseo del Prado, mainly between Cibeles and the statue of Neptuno. Last weekend it was absolutely packed with tents and sleeping backs, but by now most people, especially the ones who came by bus for the big demonstration, have gone home.
The die-hards, most of them from the marches, remain. And slowly, vaguely, an organisation is spontaneously developing out of apparent chaos. In this case the heart of is the Field Kitchen that has been installed at Cibeles. I was very happy to see that our iconic cook from Acampadasol, the Old Sailor, was back behind his enormous cauldron once again. Near the Field Kitchen there is a small Information Point with a generator, and a First Aid post built over one of the marble benches. In the middle of the Paseo, on the gravelly playground, a long tunnel has been constructed out of pallets and covered by a blue canvas. This is the bagage drop.
Now, the social structure of this part of the Paseo (I will call it ‘Castilla’ for clarity’s sake) emanates from the bagage drop. People leave their backpacks there and put up their tent freely in the area. This organisation is quite different from the other side of the Paseo, which I will call ‘Aragón’.
In Aragón the people from the Eastern Column have set up their camp in a square piece of meadow surrounded by hedges on all sites. They don’t drop off their bags. They keep them with them and they have installed a twenty-four hour guard to keep an eye on who enters and exits their camp.
Then there’s the Basques. They refuse to be a part of the rest of Spain, and so they have put up their camp somewhere else, on the other side of the roundabout with the Statue of Neptuno. This way ‘Little Euskadi’ is situated half way between Parliament and the Prado Museum. Their only problem is that they still depend, just like the fortress of Aragón, on the Field Kitchen of Castilla at Cibeles.
The Statue of Neptunus corresponds with the eastern side of the siege on parliament. The Basques are very active here. In the evening time, if you’re lucky, you can find them in front of the blockade with a proud revolutionary look in their eyes, holding on to a black anarchist flag. On the western end they have planted their Basque flag in the face of the police officers. The first thing they do in the morning is pick it up and wave it a couple of times in the rays of the rising sun.
The western side of the siege on parliament is close to Sol, from whence they receive their supplies. Sol itself is once again an active political center where assemblies are held to decide on daily action and tactics.
Assemblies that deal with longer term actions and economic strategy have lately been held at the Crystal Palace in the Retiro park on the other side of the Prado Museum. The Social Forum which has been organised there yesterday has dealt mainly with internationalisation, preparation of further marches and the agreement on joint political and economical starting points of the movement. Ethical banking and the abolition of tax havens are very high on the agenda. Also, yesterday the assembly on Economics received a visit from Noble prize winner Joseph Stiglitz, who came to express his support for the movement. One of the world’s top economists has come to say that our current system has failed in many aspects and that it needs to be thoroughly reformed. He has put his hopes on our movement to bring it about.
Madrid. July 25.
Many of the marchers have put up their camp under the trees of the Paseo del Prado. We did too. So yesterday morning we woke up between the flowerbeds to start yet another revolutionary day.
It was the day of the big protest march going from the Atocha railway station to Puerta del Sol. Apart from the people that came on foot, thousands and thousands more have arrived in buses and trains to join their comrades.
Yesterday’s demonstration was enormous, especially when you bear in mind that we are at the height of summer. Usually, no-one in the possession of his or her full mental capabilities even thinks about taking to the streets this time of year. But now all the lanes of the boulevard leading up to the station are packed. You can’t see the end of the human flood.
I hold up the 15M banner that we brought with us from the north. All around us there’s a sea of signs. I especially like the more ludicrous ones. ‘You are looking at the sign’, says one. And on the other side: ‘This used to be a cardboard box’. Next to all the more serious and poetic signs it sums up the spirit of the movement. We are indignados, but basically we are happy. We like to have fun. Near to us there’s a Louisiana jazz band walking along and playing swinging songs from the 1920s. It all fits.
I haven’t seen one single political or workers’ union flag in the entire march. Only the ones from the regions of Spain. And also the red, yellow and purple flag of the republic. It becomes ever more frequent. It’s clear that these people don’t want kings any more than they want popes.
The festive march ends in Sol. This place is once again, or still is, the center of the world. Our comrades from the Columna Norte get together for a brief internal assembly on one of the nearby squares. What next? We decide to go to congress. So off we go, waving our Basque flags and shouting: “To parliament! To parliament!”
There’s already a crowd of people there. The indignados have taken their positions on the police barrier, to sing and to shout that sooner or later we will hold an assembly in this building, which is ours, the people’s. The police is pretty relaxed. They are getting used to us by now. And they are also getting used to being courted. “All we want from you / Is an embrace!” people sing. And they are convinced that day will come.
After a while I take a walk. Madrid really seems to be a city under occupation these days. Everywhere you look there are indignados from all over the country, going places, holding assemblies and planning actions. It’s already late. I’m at the Paseo del Prado with comrades from the march, ready to go to sleep. Jim comes by, things are still going on. “What do we do?” I pick up a piece of blanket. “Let’s camp outside of parliament tonight.”
We are not the only ones. It turns out Parliament is besieged on both sides. And tonight we will not be going away. Fifty odd people put up their tents in the middle of the street on the western end of parliament. A couple of dozen more will stay on the other side. Police looks on as some people clean up the mess from earlier that evening before going to sleep.
I sit down there with a girl from Syntagma, a history teacher. As people go to sleep all around us, and while just a handful of police officers remain to guard parliament we talk about the differences between Greece and Spain, about politics and why it’s fashionable to talk about politics again. When we reach the reign of metaphysics someone comes by with a plastic tub. “Do you want to some pasta? This is left over from the field kitchen in Paseo del Prado.”
That’s how our night ends. Eating pasta out of a plastic tub, and camping in a makeshift library outside of congress. When I woke up this morning, both my comrade from Greece and the library itself had vanished. For a moment I wonder if they ever existed. Then I look up at the parliament building. I see the four police officers on guard, I see the tents in front of the barrier and I’m pretty sure it’s all true. I get up and I feel great. Today is the first day of the 15M Social Forum at the Crystal Palace. The movement is not going to stop, and it keeps surprising me, every day.
Sol, July 23.
This morning for the first time we didn’t get up before dawn. We spent the entire day in the Northern Park, resting and preparing signs and banners for the final leg. Eight kilometres through the city down to Puerta del Sol.
Once again at lunch we are treated by the local people to a wide variety of delicious Spanish food. Our march has been an inspiration to all. Our patience, conviction and endurance have proven the strength of this movement. This is what people are grateful for. We have taken away the cynicism of many. We have given them reason to believe that a more human world is really possible.
A couple of municipal police officers look on from a distance. They too have born us respect, and maybe even admiration, both here and on the march. Still, from the southern columns we have heard stories of police officers being ordered to molest the marchers and to deny them entrance to various villages. But just like all the previous police aggression against the movement it has proven to be counterproductive. Violence is a weakness. Peaceful resistance is a sign of strength.
At six we walk, people from the march and from the neighbourhood. More people join us as we take to the six lanes of the Passeo de la Castellana. A tent is being brought along. With people being at risk of eviction this is the ‘house of the future’. Lots and lots of signs are carried, as always, some of them pretty funny, some of them ready to be carved into marble. The flags that are waved are from the regions whence people have marched. Apart from that there are banners of the Spanish Republic.
The republic (1931-1939) represented the modern, autonomous and progressive spirit of Spain against the medieval spirit of the church and the army. And though hardly anyone lives to tell about those days, the republic is still very much alive in many people’s hearts and minds. Sooner or later it will be restored.
Spain has never digested forty years of dictatorship. After the civil war ended with the victory of the fascists, tens of thousands of republicans have been executed. Many more have been made to work as prisoners of war on the faraonic Valley of the Fallen, just North of Madrid, where the fascist ‘heroes’ and Franco himself have found their final resting place. Just like in ancient Egypt, and many times after that, thousands of people died through forced labour.
There has never been instituted a truth commission. Silence was part of the deal during the so-called transition. Franco’s heritage has been picked up by the present day Popular Party, and they have ‘coopted’ the socialists, saying: “Listen. We can share power, so we can enter in Europe. But not a word about the dictatorship. And don’t touch the civil apparatus that was installed by Franco.” The socialists accepted, of course. And that is the reason why the people on the streets are singing ‘They call it a democracy / Even though it’s not.’
The revolution will have to address the recent history of Spain. The truth will have to come out. Crimes committed under the regime will have to be ascertained. People will have to be exposed for what they did and have to be held accountable. Only if Spain can recover its historic memory and clear its conscience can we avoid that the revolution leads to further conflict in the future.
After many kilometres of singing and shouting and waving flags over the Passeo de la Castellana we enter the heart of town, through shopping streets where people are sitting unsuspectingly on terraces sipping their cocktails. ‘If you don’t move now / Then don’t complain tomorrow!’ we sing. Few of the people on the terraces are moving. Some of them are applauding. Most of them are shooting videos.
We’re banging rhythmically on pans and empty boxes and bottles. On the Gran Vía we are sitting down. The excitement rises. Just down the street there’s Puerta del Sol. We’re waiting for the Southern Columns, so that we can all arrive simultaneously. Then off we go, the people from the march ahead of the rest, with flags. The last hundred meters we go running, into the square, where we receive the embrace of Madrid and all the other cities of Spain.
When people come back to their senses, we await the assembly. Looking around for a good spot I notice that no-one has climbed onto the scaffolding yet. “That sounds like a challenge,” says Jim. And next thing we’re up there, looking out over the National Assembly of Popular Marches. Representatives from all the columns share their experiences. We connect live to squares in Athens, Paris, London and Berlin. The sun sets on this historic event, and we have the full view from our royal revolutionary lodge up above…