September 30, 1400 hrs.
Photos and another rough cut of what happened yesterday night. The video includes: arrival of police vans, people blocking them, people offering flowers, police charge, congress front, side street front.
I’ll also give you a brief update on press reaction to yesterday’s events. These can be divided into two. There are the newspapers who insist on reducing the protest to a mere confrontation with police, like El Mundo and Businessweek, even though very few noteworthy things happened in this respect yesterday. No riots. Two arrests. Twelve wounded. One man beaten up by police officers.
Lacking really violent scenes, other media like El País found themselves obliged to talk about the protest itself. They made interviews with the people in the streets about the austerity measures. Some of them said they showed up out of anger with prime minister Rajoy who had praised ‘the silent majority’ for not taking to the streets last Tuesday.
The BBC opened the ten o’clock news with the question: ‘How many people can the Spanish government ignore?’
The Guardian surprisingly keeps talking about what happened in the aftermath of Tuesday, when isolated units of riot police entered the Atocha railway station shooting rubber bullets and scaring the hell out of unsuspecting travellers.
In Lisbon, over a hundred thousand people attended the protest. There has been a huge demonstration in Warsaw yesterday as well.
Latest news, they say the man who protected the people in a coffeeshop on Paseo del Prado against riot police on 25S will be fined for ‘disrepecting authorities’…
September 30, 0145 hrs.
Rumours may not mean much, most of the time, but the fact is that people act on them. According to today’s rumour, the #29S demonstration was illegal and police were going to arrest everybody who participated in it.
No way they could have done so. I don’t know if the rumour had anything to do with it, but the turnout far exceeded my expectations.
When I arrived at Neptuno around six thirty there must have been already ten to fifteen thousand people in the square. In two hours the crowd reached its largest extent. All of the roundabout was packed, and part of the boulevards. Not as many people as last Tuesday, but many more than the day after. Foreign press estimates vary from forty to a hundred thousand people. National press say ten to twenty thousand. According to authorities there were 64 protesters and a dog.
Curiously, and contrary to my personal predictions, the average age of the crowd had gone up compared to the last two demonstrations. I see lots of middle aged and elderly men and women. I also see families with children. The tactic to scare them away clearly didn’t work.
As I walk around, I think of the determination with which the Egyptians returned to Tahrir in January 2011, and many times after that. ‘We must go on’, is what you hear people say, and I have a feeling that many of them are angry because the government continues to ignore them.
Police are relatively few, and at ease. They control the square from five sides. After the outrage caused by the infiltrations of last Tuesday, they had received the order to avoid the use of force wherever they could.
At around ten an assembly is improvised to harvest ideas on how to continue the protest. There is a lot of energy here, and we all feel the need to make use of it to take this movement to the next level. One speaker reminds us that the real power is not political, but economic. He calls on people to start boycotting certain multinationals and to transfer their money to banks that only invest in sustainable projects. Other ideas include not just blocking parliament, but the major arteries of the city and the country as well. Tomorrow at eleven a.m., the assembly will try to reach a consensus on these issues during a meeting at the Crystal Palace in Retiro.
After the assembly, only a few thousand people are left. They are waiting to see what police will do. They expect them to charge. “Midnight probably. Like last time.”
It all starts earlier. At around eleven thirty there are tensions and provocations on the side of the square, and bottles flying. With a small charge, police drive part of the crowd towards Cibeles. Then a line of vans moves to the centre of the square. The remaining protesters are divided over two fronts. At the barriers near congress, a few hundred of them peacefully sit down as they are surrounded by police. Others are driven into one of the side streets, where they try to make a barricade out of containers.
For a while, it’s not clear what’s going to happen next. It looks like police are preparing to make a mass arrest at the congress barrier. But finally they just force people out relatively peacefully.
On the other front the crowd is trying to get to congress from the side, so police push away the trashcan barricade and advance up the street. Citizen press is all over them. Wherever there is police, there are people with cameras shooting pictures from very close up.
It turns into a game of cat and mouse. Initially the riot cops chase people into the alleyways of old Madrid. Then at a certain point, the roles are reversed. Police don’t feel at ease in the small streets. Protesters go after them vociferously, singing that the people are not at all tired of resisting. They push the officers out of the centre, until the last units hastily get picked up by police vans that bring them to safety. Saigon, 1975.
That’s it for the night. The square is empty. The streets of the old city are left to the mob. Not a single window was broken. Not a single container was burned.
When I get back to media centre, news from Lisbon comes in. The crowd is massive, they are joined by one of the Portuguese police unions. Who knows, one day we might see something similar in Spain as well.
Last year in May, when I took up offices in the tent of the Communication commission of Acampada Sol, I had the amazing feeling of being in the centre of the centre of the world. Like a rock thrown into a pond, I felt how the waves of popular resistance were expanding from this square over the city, the country, the planet.
These last few days, I vaguely felt something similar. Once again, the whole world is watching Madrid.
Tonight at seven o’ clock CET we will march on parliament again to demand the resignation of the government. We will not only be Madrid, we will be thirty cities in Spain, and counting. The last popular assemblies to adhere to #29S have been Pamplona and Lugo. We will also be Lisbon, Porto, and other Portuguese cities. We will be Rome, London, Brussels, Amsterdam, Vancouver.
At the same time, there will be demonstrations for the redistribution of wealth in 40 German cities. And tomorrow will be a day of international solidarity with the Zapatistas in Mexico. Since last May, the country has been shaken by the popular student movement #Soy132, which bears many similarities to the 15M.
When you watch the news, you usually see either the familiar faces who arrive at their important meetings in blinded limo’s escorted by police, or you see rioters throwing rocks. You don’t see the 98.01% of peaceful citizens in between, the people who take the streets every day, somewhere on this planet, to demand a better world for themselves and their children.
Why don’t you see them? Because they don’t have any entertainment value for the major networks.
The news tycoons might not know it yet, but all of this is changing. We, the people, are making news ourselves. The films exposing the agents provocateur in last Tuesday’s protests went around the world. Once everybody already knew about it, the main stream newspapers, not only El Mundo, but all of them, had to bring the news as well, to avoid looking ridiculous.
Yesterday, the chief of police has been decorated for the humiliating way with which his troops were routed by the people on 25S. He received a 10 percent wage increase. The major police union SUP, the same one that offered its full moral support to the cause of the indignados in June last year, heavily criticised the decision. They are angry because the commanders get rewarded, while the officers are risking their lives.
They’re right. Police are on our side. And at every protest, they hear it from one megaphone or another: ‘Citizen police officers! Remember that you are protecting interests that are not yours! Remember that when you are ordered to charge, you are charging your brothers, your sisters, your neighbours, your fathers and your children!’
They know that. And there might come a time that they will refuse to obey.
In the meantime, we are patient. Time is on our side. The only thing politicians can do to appease civil unrest is solve the problem. This means creating the conditions for lasting and gratifying employment, and providing quality social services for all. Exactly the opposite of what’s happening.
September 28, 1700 hrs.
The Spanish government has enough problems to attend to already. Catalonia is in revolt, a financial coup is looming and the people in the streets are menacing to storm parliament. But the worst was yet to come… Mohammed cartoons!
These days, American and Spanish embassies are in alert after the satiric magazine El Jueves published the drawn images of five bearded figures on their front page, and the question ‘Does anybody know what Mohammed really looks like?’
It provides some comic relief, but let’s be serious. Spain’s government really does have big problems. They are bracing for financial bail-out by already adopting the austerity measures which will be imposed. This way they can sell it to nationalists as a measure that was taken out of sovereign free will.
The Catalans are treated with gloves for the moment. To avoid open conflict, Madrid calls for national unity in dealing with this economic crisis. Even the king pronounced himself in these terms lately.
As for the people in the streets, the government’s strategy is more complex. And it’s important to understand it. You have to be able to reason like the enemy if you want to beat him.
For one, they have been smoking out pits of resistance for months. Squats and social centres have been evicted by the dozens. At the moment there is only one social centre left in downtown Madrid.
For two, police brutality. The pictures of police officers firing at a crowd and clubbing seated citizens off the asphalt should be enough to scare the more fragile portions of the population out of participating in demonstrations.
For three, the treatment of the detainees. Last Tuesday they arrested 36 people, the ones they could lay their hands on. And now they want them to fry.
The Legal commission of Acampada Sol, which assists the detainees, has denounced the disproportionate violence with which they were arrested, and the degrading way with which they were said to be treated in prison. Like not being allowed to sit or to urinate, like being forced to crouch for a sustained period of time, etc.
Furthermore, there has been a legal farce going on for two days. The detainees should have been either released or charged after 24 hours. Initially, they would have been charged for vandalism. But under pressure from the ministry of the interior the charges were changed to ‘assault on the higher institutions of the state’. In other words, they were treated as if they had staged a coup, or planted bombs. Five years in prison, three if they’re lucky.
The court said it had no authority to rule on these charges. This would be a case of the high court.
The reaction of the high court judge to whom the charges were forwarded, was more or less this: ‘You must be joking.’ And he sent it back to the lower court.
The lower court, under continuous pressure from authorities, reiterated the charges. ‘No really, these people are a danger for the security of the state.’
Why? you will ask, on the basis of what are these people to be judged as terrorists. The answer is that five of them were caught tearing away one of the barriers protecting parliament. And the law states that anyone who attempts to interrupt the normal functioning of congress can be sentenced to five years in prison.
There is only one small flaw in the charges. The people didn’t try to get access to parliament. Even admitting they jumped the barriers, they only tried to gain access to the public road.
Adding to the farce, all but one of the detainees have been released without bail. Would any government allow a presumed danger for the state to be out on the streets after 48 hours without bail?
It all comes down to pure intimidation. The message is that when you protest you risk being beaten, and if you get caught, you risk jail time.
At the moment it’s unclear what exact charges the 36 are facing. They have become pawns in a game of manipulation.
However dirty of a tactic this may be, we shouldn’t get too indignant about the strategy of the authorities. After all, this movement is revolutionary. We demand an end to the Spanish state as we know it. We want a constituent assembly to write a new constitution, we want those politicians who have abused their power to be brought to justice. As such, we really are a danger for the state. And the primary necessity of the state, like for any other organism, is to survive. They will resort to any means necessary in order to do so.
The popular reaction can only be one of unity and solidarity. If those 36 detainees have assaulted the higher institutions of the state, then we all have, and we should all be equally judged for it.
Last night, police cleared the Neptuno roundabout by force. It wasn’t as spectacular as the night before, but this time there was no provocation of any kind. People were just beaten off the tarmac, and they dispersed. At Cibeles there were reports of rocks being thrown at police, of shots being fired, of a container being burned.
The Spanish media are keen on portraying this as a marginal protest by a handful of unemployed indignados and angry violent lefties. They don’t dare to acknowledge how widely the malcontent has spread through all layers of the population. The Spanish government has too many problems to attend to as it is, between Catalan separatists whom they understandably accuse of opportunism, and the impending bankruptcy of the state, which could result in a hostile takeover.
The media also don’t mention a word about the resonance of the protest in Spain and abroad. Yesterday there were gatherings in different parts of the country, and demonstrations at the Spanish embassies in Amsterdam and Budapest, that I know of.
Spain’s most important newspapers are El País and El Mundo. The former is slightly left leaning, the latter right leaning. Surprisingly, today El Mundo brought the story about police infiltration, under the title ‘I’m your colleague, damned!’
They keep lying about the numbers, but given the fact that the protests have made it to media outlets all over the world, they can’t ignore the story.
Equally interesting is the fact that the Spanish 24 hour public news channel got a call from the prime minister’s office when they brought live pictures from #25S. They were ordered to stop their coverage. Instead, while the Paseo del Prado was turning into a war zone, they emitted a thirty minute cultural interest program.
For tonight there is no call to assemble at parliament, but many people are likely to go anyway. The next big demonstration is planned for Saturday, #29S. Already, Rome is among the cities who adhered to the call. People there are planning to form a human chain around the Italian parliament. And as you might know, also the Greeks seem to be awakening from their slumber.
The second wave is rising, people. The first wave is already history. This summer I have been editing my full account of the events of last year, from the start in Puerta del Sol, all through Europe with the popular marches to Brussels and Athens. If you want to know anything about the Spanish Revolution, be sure to check it out. It’s most comprehensive and the most thrilling narrative you will find on this subject.
I leave you with two pieces of footage from last Tuesday. The first is from Reuters. The second is from streamers on the ground, with Spanish subtitles.
September 27, 0000 hrs.
They are charging now. Police have fired live rounds of ammunition in the air at Cibeles. At Neptuno, thousands of people are still gathered, but authorities want them out of there a.s.a.p. The order by the delegate of the government must have been to ‘clear the place at midnight’.
I was there until an hour ago. Now I am following the events through livestream in our media hub. So far it has been a wonderfully peaceful evening.
The call was to assemble at 1900. After yesterday’s charges, the 99% of the crowd came to show their aversion to violence.
Nobody let him- or herself be fooled as to who started it, except for the newspapers and the tv. YouTube has been awash with footage that showed what happened. In these demonstrations, cameras are covering everything, always. One of them caught a police officer dragging a hooligan to his arrest. The man can be heard shouting: “I am your colleague, damned!”
Today, the phrase appeared on one of the banners as people returned to congress for the second night in a row.
When I got there, around seven, the space in front of the barricades was filled, but there wasn’t enough of a crowd to block the roundabout. Yesterday’s official estimate of 6000 wouldn’t have been too far from the truth.
That was the beginning. The crowd kept growing. It didn’t come even close to the numbers of the first night, but we were over ten thousand, even before the anarchists came to join us.
All evening, the situation was relaxed. Police kept their distance. Yesterday they wore full riot gear including bulletproof vests even before the protest started. Tonight they only wore their caps, and they left their guns out of sight.
“You are more handsome! / Without your helmets!” is what people sang to them last year, during the acampada in Sol. This time, they didn’t. Too much had happened. Still a significant part of the crowd invited police to join us. “¡Policía! ¡Únete!”
Rumour has it that twenty percent of riot police called in sick yesterday. Authorities supposedly had to bring in officers from outside Madrid.
Around eight o’ clock, the demonstration in support of the general strike in Galicia, Asturias and the Basque Country arrived at Neptuno over Atocha. It was organised by the anarcho-syndicalist trade union CNT.
At the outbreak of the civil war, the anarchists were a driving force on the republican side. They had well over a million members, they formed their own militias, they had collectively organised Barcelona and the greater part of Catalonia. Unfortunately, they were also hated more by their communist ‘allies’ than by their fascist enemies. George Orwell can tell you all about it.
Under the Franco regime, the union went underground. Today they only count a fraction of the members they once had, but unlike most peoples in Europe, the Spanish have anarchism in their blood. So for me, it was an impressive sight, thousands of people with red-and-black flags advancing over the Paseo del Prado, mixing their own songs with those of 15M.
Tonight’s atmosphere was joyful. And unambiguous on our side. Around ten o’ clock a small group with scarfs over their faces was present near the barricade. The people around asked them to expose themselves. They refused, and the crowd went: “Out of here! Out of here!” And they left.
At fifty meters from the square there is a coffeeshop. After the second charge yesterday, dozens of people sought refuge inside. Police went after them. At that moment, the owner stepped out, he faced the robocops and planted his hands on his hips. ‘You will not touch these people’. Someone shot the scene. The photo went viral.
Today there was a crowd gathered outside to thank the man. He was yesterday’s hero. For most of the evening he received applause and posed for photos with his fans. The revenues of the coffeeshop must have skyrocketed over the day.
Such was the situation when I left to look for connection. No saucy pictures of rioters for the newspapers to smash on the front page, but no less significant than the night before.
Then at the twelfth stroke of midnight, the spell was broken..
From the moment the first bullets were fired, I have been tempted to make an analysis of the situation. But it’s far too early. We will have to wait for tonight. Right now, social media are ablaze with the call to keep on the pressure. We will be at Neptuno at 1900 hrs.
Today’s Spanish newspapers were predictable. They opened with photos of protesters hitting police officers. They copied the police estimate of 6000 demonstrators and did not add their own estimates. 50.000 like I said yesterday was pretty low. Based on the calculation of three people per square meter in the centre of the crowd, and two on the periphery, more reliable estimates vary from 100 to 150.000 people. If a total crowd of 6000 people was able to give 1400 police officers such a hard time, then hell the police should be ashamed of themselves!
So, minimalisation and criminalisation is the main stream media’s device. But it doesn’t always work. It could backfire, like it did when police infiltrators made a mess at the end of the May 15 demonstration of last year. Within days, all major squares of the country were occupied.
The infiltration story seems ever more likely. You can find photos and films all over the internet to back it up. Even the cover photo of El Mundo was ambiguous. The man who attempted to hit a police officer with a stick was wearing a freaking earphone. The editors didn’t even bother to photoshop it out.
To get a clearer picture of the Spanish situation, you should read the reasonable main stream press from overseas. The Guardian published an interesting article the other day about the possibility of a ‘financial coup’ in Spain. The country is said to be bankrupt, and the financial markets will be keen to place one of their own puppets in charge like they did in Italy and Greece.
What makes things interesting is that Spain, as a country, is now under threat from three different sides. Next to the financial markets, you have your regional separatists and the 15M movement. Truly, these are hard times for Spanish nationalists.
The governments knows that. Nationalists form the backbone of the governing Popular Party. Giving in to any of these three threats will cause resistance among them. Moreover, prime minister Rajoy is weak and indecisive. He got voted not because people like him, but only because they disliked his predecessor. He is not the man you want at the helm of your country in a time of crisis.
The 15M movement alone is not enough to topple this government. But with financial and separatist forces already putting pressure on Spain, it could be enough to tip the balance.
If people return to Congress tonight, with determination, to face possible repression, the government will have a serious problem.
Social change has to start somewhere. It might as well be here and now. So, people, if you don’t have anything better to do, come to Spain! Help bring down this government. Take the future into your own hands. From here, things will spread.
We are the people. We are stronger. Morally, and physically if necessary.