A little catch-up in short. During the last two elections, the political establishment of Spain has been rocked by candidates that have their roots in the indignado movement. First the European elections in 2014, where Pablo Iglesias and Podemos Party took eight percent of the vote, and lately in the municipal elections where local citizen’s platforms won the town hall in Madrid, Barcelona and other major cities.
Next up is the general election in November. In the streets, for years now, a heterogeneous mass has shouted “Yes we can”, and the latest electoral results have given them reason enough to believe that it will indeed be possible to enter parliament, peacefully, and bring democracy back to the people.
At the next elections, those people have Podemos and Pablo Iglesias to vote for. Many people will, some of them will do so for lack of better, and many will not, because Pablo Iglesias doesn’t represent them any more or less than the established parties do.
The indignado movement has a very strong grass-roots anti-authoritarian vein. Now, within Podemos, many people have voiced criticism about the lack of internal democracy, and the way candidates are elected. That is, on closed lists, to be approved or rejected as a whole. In practice, the lists that get supported by the party elite are the ones who usually get elected.
It has also become evident in the latest election that Podemos is incapable of winning on its own. It won where it adhered to citizens’ platforms that went into the neighbourhoods to gather proposals and ideas from the people.
Last Tuesday, to emulate this succesful formula, a statewide initiative was launched in view of the general election: ‘Ahora en Comùn’, “Now in Common”. Within three days the platform gathered the support of over 20.000 people, many of whom members of various social, political and grass-roots organisations, among which Podemos itself.
Ahora en Comùn seeks to give space to all the different forces who long for social change and present a candidate of popular unity at the upcoming elections.
From their manifest: “We believe that it’s both possible and essential to put that which unites us ahead of our differences in order to reach an agreement on a number of common sense issues that reflect the social consensus of our time: the need to recover our sovereignty, to regenerate and enhance democracy, to reclaim the integrity and transparency of our political representatives, to defend the universality of human rights (education, healthcare, food, housing and employment) and to establish dignity, equality, participation and justice as basic principles of the new way of doing politics that 21st century challenges and opportunities demand.”
There have already been calls for Podemos to unite themselves with this platform, but Pablo Iglesias was quick to freeze some people’s hopes. He desccribed the new platform as maneuvred by the old left, and didn’t want to be associate with them. “We are not going to place ourselves where the enemy wants us to be placed”.
During two years of activism in and around Spain I have hardly ever heard the word ‘enemy’ be used, so it startled me a bit to hear it mentioned by a candidate who aims to represent the social change that has been brewing in the streets and the squares these last four years. Dismissing a wide range of people as maneuvred by old lefties could prove to be a costly mistake. It’s not as if Iglesias doesn’t want to cooperate with those people. He does, as long as it happens under the banner of Podemos. In other words: “I won’t join you, but you can join me.” To people from his own party who signed the “Ahora en Comùn” call he sends a thinly veiled threat of expulsion: “Everyone is free to change parties”.
Podemos may have peaked too early. Maybe they never were meant to be the vehicle of change they professed to be. But at the same time, the Ahora en Comùn platform has only just started to create local nodes and give life to an organization. In Barcelona or Madrid, it took only a couple of months for a newborn citizen’s initiative to beat the established parties and win the mayorship. So with or without Iglesias, there is still time enough for ‘Ahora en Comùn’ to take parliament by storm.
It has taken four years for the 15M movement to arrive from the occupied squares to the palaces of power. Last month, grass roots political parties all over Spain have shaken up the establishment and conquered, among others, the municipalities of Madrid and Barcelona. Local platforms and nationwide party ‘Podemos’, inspired by the indignados movement, are now gearing up towards the general election next November, to replace the old regime.
In Barcelona, anti-eviction activist and sweetheart of the movement Ada Colau has been elected the first female mayor of the city. The platform for which she was a candidate, ‘Barcelona en Comú’ (Barcelona in Common), proposes a radical democratic revolution, with continuous citizens’ participation, transparency of government, right to housing and basic sustainment for all, and a lot more.
In Madrid, a traditional stronghold of the Conservatives, the new platform ‘Ahora Madrid’ came in a close second, wresting control of the city in collaboration with Socialists. The new mayor, Manuela Carmena, a 71-year old lawyer, describes herself as a “caring grandmother” to the generation that took the streets four years ago to usher in a new era of democratic change. What she has in common with Ada Colau is a ‘feminine way of doing politics’, based not on hierarchy, but on horizontal organization.
Manuela Carmena was a communist activist under the Franco regime, which made it easy for the leading lady of Spanish conservatism, Esperanza Aguirre, to accuse the Ahora Madrid platform of being a ‘springboard to destroy the western democratic system as we know it.’
She probably couldn’t have made better publicity for her opponents. It reminded me of one the slogans we used to sing when we filled the streets of Madrid. “Madrid será la tumba del sistema”: Madrid will be the tomb of the system.
As for me, I have retreated to private life on my Italian estate, like Cincinnatus. But obviously I cannot remain untouched when a carrier pigeon brings me revolutionary updates from Spain. So I wrote to some of my old comrades, to get a first hand idea of what is going on. This is a brief account of what they old me.
H: “What has happened in Spain is that activists are forming political platforms (Barcelona en Comú, Ahora Madrid, Marea Atlántica…etc) to try and bring down the last remaining wall of the protests, the institutional wall.
It’s typical for activists to become politicians at some point in their lives, but what is new in Spain is that there are a lot of them now and voters only seem to support them gradually. The campaigns for municipal candidates (supported by Podemos, but not a part of it) have been like a continuation of the indignados, with candidates going into the neighbourhoods to listen to people’s proposals instead of organising rallies.
No candidate has won an absolute majority. This opens a new political front in Spain where deals have to be made. We’re entering a phase where a minority will govern and each proposal will have to be approved by fragmented parliaments.”
J: “All political analysts agree that what was formed on the streets and in the squares during the 15M, has crystallised into political movements like Podemos and the integration of left wing movements. Together, we decided to give power to people who had no voice until now… But now comes the difficult part: not just protesting, but building… The adversary is enormous, and they will have to work very hard…
A lot of people said it wasn’t possible, but in the end we did it!!! I think that is the strongest message, but the traditional parties are waiting and hoping that this is just a fashion so that they can go back to their business as usual.”
P: “The streets have given way to the institutions. (…) At the municipal level a LOT of things will change. Things like a ban on foreclosures can pass very soon, at least in some cities.
In the autonomous communities and regional governments where such basic things as health care or education are decided, there hasn’t been an electoral change due to lack of unity. In the cities, Podemos, which incorporates a part of the movement, preferred to go it alone, instead of uniting with other movements like in Madrid and Barcelona, and this didn’t played out in their favour.”
JC: “Podemos hasn’t really been clear about its own political collocation, and has preferred not to touch on subjects like nationalism, the economy etc, apart from becoming less revolutionary and more reformist. I have to say that I don’t really like the party, and above all I don’t like [its leader] Pablo Iglesias and his swollen ego, and I can’t see where this is all going. But obviously, it is the lesser evil by far.”
D: “The vertical leadership style of Podemos did not live up to the expectations, and the confluence of municipal candidatures based on a highly horizontal post-party model have changed the game.
Not even Greece has seen the level of innovation and empowerment that we are witnessing here. You can call me chauvinist, arrogant, or crazy, but I think the Spanish indignados are at the forefront of global change and of one of the greatest successes of the Occupy/Indignado movement. And I am convinced that the changes that are happening will not be happening only here. A lot of people are looking at us, and this is going to exceed the Spanish borders by far.
Here you can smell hope, you can smell revolution, you can smell social and political change.”
H: “Now it’s going to be interesting to see how the municipal platforms in Madrid, Barcelona, Coruña and Santiago are going to work. And from there, we will see if we can create momentum for the general elections. If Podemos opens up its program and succeeds in uniting with the local platforms than I have no doubt they will win the general elections in November.”
P: “The streets are empty for the moment while everyone is waiting to see what is going to happen from above. But if things don’t change, people will fill the streets again. There is a lot of expectation. Suddenly we all have friends in local councils, but it’s also very clear that if they don’t do what they should do we will confront them like we would with any other government.”
In the meantime, even though Pandora’s box has been open for a while, the reaction tries to tighten it grip on the people by approving the new citizen security law that aims at scaring people out of protesting. As from July, ridiculous fines of up to tens of thousands of euro’s can be imposed for demonstrating outside of parliament, avoiding a foreclosure, resisting arrest, blocking traffic, filming police officers etc.
Today, all over Spain, people are protesting the restriction of their civil rights. Just a few more months and they will be in front of parliament anyway, not to protest, but to celebrate.
The 15M movement that exploded in May 2011 gave rise to a galaxy of different assemblies, initiatives, movements and struggles in permanent evolution. And although the indignados initially rejected all forms of representative democracy in favour of direct citizens’ participation, a year ago in Spain a political party was born which was directly inspired by the 15M movement: ‘Podemos’ (‘We can’).
Four months after its foundation the new party dashed into the European limelight by conquering five seats in the Europarliament, presenting itself as a radical alternative to the Spanish political dinosaurs of PP and PSOE (“¡La misma mierda es!“). On the eve of the election in Puerta del Sol the trademark 15M slogan “They don’t represent us!” turned into “Yes! They represent us!”
Today, Podemos showed its strength with a massive demonstration in Madrid that filled the Puerta del Sol and the boulevards of the capital all the way down to city hall at Cibeles. While an anti-austerity party closely linked to Podemos has been voted into office in Greece, the party is leading the polls in Spain, ahead of this year’s general election. It looks like we might witness the dawn of a new season in Spanish and European politics.
What started off in 2008 as an economic crisis has turned into a collective state of mind, a way of life, whatever you want to call it. It doesn’t have anything to do with the economy any more. If people started spending money and banks started giving credit the crisis would be over tomorrow, but evidently there’s something else going on. A kind of generalized pessimism with regard to the future, linked to worries over climate change, rampant radicalism, rising international tensions and consequent rearmament, all of it exemplified by the ‘Doomsday clock‘ being put ahead to three minutes to Midnight…
In reaction to this permanent crisis, Europe is divided between north and south. Traditional parties are losing ground practically everywhere. It’s just that in the north they are losing to right wing parties, while the south is turning to the left. Then again, does it still make any sense to talk about ‘left’ and ‘right’ in 21st century politics? Probably not, but for lack of better terms we are stuck with them. So what is the difference between the two?
In the 1990s, Italian folk singer Giorgio Gaber tried to answer the question with a song, saying things like ‘the bath tub is right wing, the shower is left wing; Swiss chocolate is right wing, Nutella is left wing; sneakers are right wing, wearing them without laces is left wing; luck is right wing, bad luck is always left wing,’ etc. etc. All of it to show that a real difference between the two didn’t exist anymore.
But there still is, I think. North European right wing parties and movements like Pegida, Front National, UKIP and their counterparts in Holland, Belgium and Austria all represent a kind of irrational longing to the past, when things were local, small scale, understandable, and national culture was predominant without too much influence from the outside. Of course, those days of isolation are over. Those parties don’t have the future. On the other hand, left wing movements like Syriza in Greece or Podemos in Spain embrace globalism in its true sense. They look toward a future of mixed races and peoples and cultures, living together in mutual respect. This is another difference between between right and left, the most significant one: the right is based on fear, the left is based on hope.
A merry new year to all. And from the looks of it, it’s going to be a good one, revolutionarily speaking. Ukraine is crazy. You will probably know that. I was stunned by the romantic pictures of fire battles in the snow, with demonstrators launching molotovs and riot police in roman legion style responding with flame throwers. It’s epic. The rebels even employed a self constructed catapult to launch fire bombs at police.
Why am I not in Kiev, you might ask, to write a rousing account of the events from the front line? Well, again, vanity. Revolution, in the classic sense of a complete overthrow of society, is a chimera. There are more important things in life.
And yet, I keep in touch, especially with Spain. Last week I received a letter from a comrade whom I met during the first days of the Spanish uprising in the Communications Commission of Acampada Sol. This is the translation. Spanish original down below.
«So… 15M is pretty dead. But certain neighbourhood assemblies remain active. What you do have now, is a myriad of small, well organized groups all over the place: working groups on housing (the Asamblea de Vivienda de Madrid unites them all), the citizen waves, Yo Si Sanidad Universal (people without medical insurance, assisted by doctors who practice civil disobedience), new occupations to house people who have been evicted (thirty odd buildings throughout the country), groups who organize themselves to attack the reform of the Citizen Security Law [aimed to punish people with stratosferic fines for demonstrating], feminist groups for free abortion (I don’t know if you know, but there is a law banning abortion being discussed in parliament now).
So even if there is no unity within 15M, there are still a lot of active ‘comandos‘ who take part in the mobilizations, which makes me a little more positive 😉
People are very much concentrated on the electoral front at the moment. There are many new initiatives: the X Party, Alternative from the Bottom, We Can (they presented themselves last Friday and they intend to ‘hack’ the United Left party), personally I collaborate with On Line (enred.cc), which isn’t a party, but we try to create a Democracy charter, a document meant to unite the struggles on the basis of what 15M stood for. Then there is Equo (ecologists), the CUP in Catalonia, an assembly based party which already holds three seats in the Catalan parliament. The political front is very much on the move with the European elections coming up. Though 15M is not tied to any party, many people are active in one of these groups.
Then there’s the struggle [against the construction of a boulevard in the neighbourhood] of Gamonal (Burgos), which has reactivated struggles in many cities around the state. But given the fact that the construction has already been stopped and the demonstrations weren’t that big, I suppose it will implode (in Madrid there have been arrests for three days in a row).
Moreover, on March 22, the Marches of Dignity will arrive in Madrid, an initiative of the SAT, a tenacious Andalusian trade union that occupies estates and raids supermarkets to get food for those who are in need. They can count on a lot of support, and all of us are waiting to see what will happen. Maybe it’s going to be big. Then we’ll see what happens in May. Another 15M anniversary? There are many people who want to hijack the European elections, there is an initiative that is very much on the move: the Troika Party, which aims to ridicule the elections and undermine the two-party system.
Ah, I don’t know if I told you. Together with fellow activists we created a press agency to cover all this, in particular the news that has to do with social movements. It may help you to get an idea of what’s going on in Spain, especially in Madrid. It’s called Diso Press, Agencia de Prensa y Difusión Social, http://disopress.com. All content is CC BY-NC-SA. So you can take whatever you want, whenever you want.»
“Pues… Lo que es el 15M, está bastante muerto. Pero algunas asambleas de barrio siguen trabajando. Lo que sí hay ahora es multitud de pequeños grupos muy bien organizados en todas partes: grupos de trabajo de vivienda (la Asamblea de Vivienda de Madrid los une a todos), de todas las mareas , de Yo Si Sanidad Universal (la gente que no tiene cobertura sanitaria mediante médicos que hacen desobediencia civil), nuevas ocupaciones para vivienda de desahuciados (van unos treinta edificios a nivel estatal), grupos que se organizan para atacar la reforma de la Ley de Seguridad Ciudadana, grupos feministas pro aborto libre ( no se si sabes que está ya en el parlamento la ley que pretende prohibir el aborto de los nazis que tenemos en el gobierno)…
Con lo que no hay unidad de 15M, pero hay un montón de “comandos” trabajando y que se suman a las movilizaciones que haya. Con lo que soy algo más positivo 😉
Ahora se mira mucho el frente electoral. Hay un montón de iniciativas nuevas: Partido X; Alternativas desde Abajo; Podemos (se presentó el viernes y pretende “hackear” Izquierda Unida); yo colaboro en En Red (enred.cc), que no es un partido pero pretende crear la Carta por la democracia, un documento que pueda unir la lucha muy basado en lo que dijo el 15M; Equo (ecoligistas); las CUP en Cataluña, que tienen ya 3 escaños en el parlamento catalán y son asamblearias; Proces Constituent también en Catalunya… Es un frente que se está moviendo mucho ya que se acercan las elecciones europeas. Aunque el 15M es apartidista, mucha gente está dentro de alguno de estos grupos.
Y luego está la lucha de Gamonal (Burgos), que ha reactivado la lucha en muchas ciudades del estado, aunque como han parado las obras contra las que protestaban y las manifestaciones no han sido muy grandes supongo que se desinflará (en Madrid ha habido detenciones 3 días seguidos).
Además, el 22 de marzo llegan a Madrid las Marchas de la Dignidad, una iniciativa que monta el SAT, un sindicatos andaluz muy cañero que realiza ocupaciones de tierras e incursiones en los supermercados para conseguir comida para gente necesitada. Tienen mucho apoyo, y todo el mundo está esperando a ver qué pasa. Quizá sea grande. Y habrá que ver qué pasa en mayo. ¿Otro aniversario del 15M? Y mucha gente quiere hackear las elecciones europeas, hay una iniciativa que igual se mueve mucho: Troika Party, que quiere ridiculizarlas y quitar más poder al bipartidismo.
Ah, no sé si te dije. Yo y otros compañeros de activismo hemos creado una agencia de noticias y cubrimos todo esto, especialmente todo lo que tenga que ver con movimientos sociales. Quizá te sirva para hacerte una idea de cómo está la cosa por España, especialmente Madrid. Se llama Diso Press, Agencia de Prensa y Difusión Social, http://disopress.com. Los contenidos son CC BY SA No Comercial, así que coge lo que quieras cuando quieras.”
Barcelona, August 21
The ferry boat docks at the port of Barcelona. After an exciting summer of revolution in the East, I have finally returned to Spain. Or have I? From the looks of it, many people here will deny it, passionately. This is not Spain. This is Catalonia!
Catalan nationalism is nothing new. It has been periodically resurging in waves all throughout Spanish history. But lately it seems to be out of control. In a few years time the partisans of full independence have passed from roughly one fifth of the population to more than half.
The economic crisis is the catalyst of this latest wave of nationalism. There is a general feeling that it’s all Madrid’s fault, and that if Catalonia were independent everything would be all right.
During the first year of the Spanish Civil War, Barcelona and the greater part of Catalonia were controlled by autonomous anarchist communities whose workers and farmers ruled themselves. They formed part of the republican side together with communists and moderate social-democrats. Between the anarchists and the communists there existed a far-reaching contrast with regard to the social revolution that had taken place at the beginning of the conflict. The communists (supported by the Soviet Union) were opposed to the revolution, saying that the priority was not social change, but winning the war against the fascists. For the anarchists, the revolution and the war were the same thing. They were convinced that without social change it made no sense to fight.
I notice something vaguely similar in the current nationalist belch. For the hardcore revolutionaries of the 15M movement, the struggle against the financial system is also the struggle for freedom. But for many Catalans, left and right, the priority is independence. For them, only once Catalonia becomes a state, people will have the opportunity to bring about social change.
The independence partisans are gaining terrain, they are monopolizing the public discourse. I can feel it, every time I return here, every time I talk to people from both sides. Even just by walking the streets, I can feel the atmosphere becoming more grim and uncompromising.
In late 1936 George Orwell arrived in Barcelona to report on the Spanish Civil War. When he witnessed anarchist society in practice, he had a moment of epiphany. “There was much in it that I did not understand, in some ways I did not even like it, but I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for.”
Instead of doing his job as a journalist, he signed up with the POUM, a communist militia in opposition to the official communist party supported by the Soviet Union, and he left to fight in the trenches against Franco’s forces in Aragón. “In trench warfare five things are important: firewood, food, tobacco, candles, and the enemy. In winter on the Zaragoza front they were important in that order, with the enemy a bad last.”
When Orwell returned to Barcelona after the winter, things had changed. The conflict between communists and anarchists had deteriorated into a civil war within the civil war. There was street fighting as the communists tried to capture anarchist strongholds such as the telephone tower near the Plaza Catalunya. The republican press was accusing both the anarchists and the deviant POUM as fascist collaborators. Orwell, who had been risking his life in the trenches, suddenly saw himself and his comrades being regarded as traitors. Instinctively he must have felt that the war was lost.
We walk the streets of Raval. I adore this neighbourhood. Although it’s located in the heart of the city it still retains an authentic proletarian air, very different from the other side of the Rambla. Much of the street fighting described by Orwell took place in these alleys, next to the monastery that was used as a hospital and that now houses the Library of Catalonia.
Raval is an immigrant neighbourhood, with lots of kebab restaurants, phone shops, and prostitutes. At one of the food corners we have a chat with the people behind the bar, Pakistanis. They all speak Spanish perfectly. One of them would like to take a taxi exam, but since last year it’s obligatory to take the exam in Catalan. Thus, for him, the doors are closed.
The Catalan language is the most important weapon of the independence partisans. Officially, the region is bilingual, but authorities are increasingly giving preference to Catalan over Spanish. This starts in school. If you want your child to be educated in Spanish, you are forced to send him or her to a private school, because all the public schools only give lessons in Catalan. A few years ago, Catalan nationalists are even demanding that they be able to speak Catalan in the national parliament in Madrid, with simultaneous translation, as though it were the European parliament in Brussels. “We are a different culture,” they say, and it’s not hard to notice that many Catalans are suffering from a superiority complex. Not only do they feel different, they feel better than Spain.
We cross the Rambla, and we enter the lion’s den, the Ateneu Barcelonès, a private club and focal point of Catalan culture. It’s not the kind of place where you would expect to find revolutionaries like us. Instead it has the feel an English gentleman’s club, the place where you would encounter Phileas Fogg playing whist with his peers or reading the Times in a comfortable leather chair. Upstairs you find an old style library with brown oak bookcases and old volumes behind glass. Downstairs there is a courtyard with fountain, a coffee bar and stylish smoking rooms where the full blooded Catalan nobles come to discuss the glories of the Catalan race.
And then there’s us. We almost feel the need to whisper so that nobody notices that we are vulgarly speaking Spanish. I make a chat with the bartender. Fortunately, as a foreigner, a barbarian, I’m forgiven for not speaking Catalan. With subtlety I steer the conversation towards the independence question. I want to know what the fuzz is all about. Many Spanish and foreigners in Barcelona find it difficult to enter in contact with the Catalans, they openly say they feel discriminated against. The bartender is most kind, but he more or less confirms it without ever saying so. He emphasizes the difference of culture, he acknowledges that many Catalans also feel that Madrid is bleeding them dry economically. For him, independence is the opportunity to start something new, a state that is more democratic, closer to its citizens.
I’m left with this feeling that nationalism is completely beside the point. It will only create more divisions at a time when we need unity most of all. In Madrid, there is a similar shift going on. Over the last two years, in every demonstration the amount of republican flags is growing. More and more people are convinced that ousting the king and establishing the third Spanish republic is a solution. The coming fall, people will be preparing an occupation in front of one of the palaces to put the ‘king in check’.
At the beginning of 15M in 2011, the movement could count on 80 percent popular support, because it addressed core issues of blatant injustice that nobody in his or her right mind could justify. Now it seems as though all the old issues that have divided Spanish society throughout history up to the point of armed conflict are returning to the forefront at the expense of the real problems. Republicanism, separatism, the only thing that lacks for the moment is outspoken anti-clericalism.
All of this will cause a reaction. Anti-catalanism is on the rise all through Spain, and people in Catalonia know full well that Madrid is not going to allow them to become independent. There is a very large conservative part of Spain that has been hibernating during the last few years. It’s the Spain of God, King and Country. If the republicans and the separatists keep insisting that their answer is the solution to all problems, then they will surely awaken the Beast of Spanish nationalism more sooner or later.
The waiter of the Ateneu Barcelonès, although himself a fervent supporter of independence, made one very lucid analysis of the situation, when he said that it is mostly a matter of emotion. “It is emotion that guides people’s actions, that makes them do the most horrible things. Reason only comes afterwards, when the damage has already been done.”
Madrid, May 21
Last Sunday’s triumphant performance of ‘Twilight of the Bricks’ didn’t only represent a brief history of the Spanish economic crisis. It was also, symbolically, a last tribute to the 15M movement. The revolution is over. We can all go home.
Really? Yes, we can. But don’t despair, resistance continues. It’s just not going to be the way it was. I’ll try to explain.
Over the past few days I bumped into a lot of people I know from all layers of the movement. Their stories and comments confirmed an image that was already pretty clear. There is no 15M, not no more. It became obvious when I witnessed the meetings that were organised on the squares around Puerta del Sol on Saturday. Different assemblies on debt, education, the future, the past, the struggle, etc. Nobody really cared. And who can blame them? Two years have past, and we’re still here, talking about the very same shit, without any conclusions. Next time, we’ll start all over again. The only difference is that there will be even less people present.
Those who are left are the nostalgics. They lament the loss of the initial ideological purity of the movement, the assemblary Utopia that existed in the first few weeks – maybe just in our imaginations – characterized by the principles of horizontality, inclusiveness and consensus. A handful of them have entrenched themselves in the few working groups and commissions that remained after the end of the acampada, and they erected themselves as guardians of the spirit of 15M. They started to exclude people by accusing them of not being inclusive. They engaged in powerplay to preserve horizontality. They took personal decisions and presented them as consensus. In short, they forgot about the revolution, and so the revolution left them behind.
A few dozen people attend the closing assembly of the day. This is it. And so I ask myself, what the hell am I doing here? I spent two years of my life living like a bum in order to document the #SpanishRevolution for the benefit of all posterity, and now it turns out this whole revolution thing was merely a fashion? Screw you guys, I’m going home!
So there I am, the next day, ready to go. In Puerta del Sol I encounter my long term comrades from Global Revolution TV, streaming live. The Economy commission has just illustrated a list of practical proposals. They are also gathering proof for criminal prosecution of the big bankers. Then there is a rumble coming from Alacalà, and growing louder.
“Don’t go yet, it’s about to start.”
Five minutes, and well over ten thousand people of the ‘White Wave’ are flooding the Puerta del Sol, shouting their one demand: “Public Health Care.” There are doctors, nurses, patients, sympathizers. And the unions. The wave has full support of the big unions. But this is not a demonstration that was planned a long time ago. No, this is happening every single Sunday. And it’s massive. In the square, I even notice the first timid signs of political parties.
The hard core nostalgics of 15M are snobbing the waves, simply because they are supported by the unions. They keep dreaming of horizontal participatory democracy without flags and logos, but they are completely out of touch with the people. The 15M revolution has consumed itself. The people are in the waves. They are moving on.
So what remains of 15M?
In the first place, the indignation. It’s still the same indignation that made people take the streets and occupy the squares of Spain and abroad, two years ago. Eighty percent of the population still supports what 15M stood for, according to a recent poll.
In the second place, the awareness the movement raised. The empowerment of single persons coming together for the common good. But the most important thing that remains, is the method.
Most of the original working groups may have been wrecked by personal conflicts, but many neighbourhood assemblies are still regularly active and functioning. Plus, it is infecting the rest of society as well. In schools, universities, hospitals, working places, in the unions, in politics, people are organizing themselves in assemblies where everyone has a voice. It works locally, and it works online, where you can organize assemblies on whatever subject or action in the same way as you do in the square. And the beautiful thing about this method is that it is self regenerating. If one collective doesn’t work anymore, it will simply vanish, and new assemblies will sprout up to engage different issues, or to engage the same issues in a different way.
This is the heritage of 15M. It inspired men and women, young and old, all over the world. It made us conscious that we, the people, have the power to make a difference, if only we have the patience to pursue.
Barcelona, May 17
The differences are small, though many people proclaim the opposite. The differences between a place like Madrid and a place like Barcelona, I mean. Both are experiencing the same socio-economic problems, with the same causes, and as a consequence, the same type of resistance.
But otherwise you can’t fail to notice the contrast. The sea, mostly. The sea makes all the difference, also in people’s heads. Madrid is a young city in the centre of the highlands, built to be a capital, the seat of kings. Barcelona is an old city of sea-faring merchants, exposed to the winds and connected to the world, yet proud of its own language and identity.
In the middle ages, these two cultures used to be part of two kingdoms, Castile and Aragón. In a sense, this is what Catalan nationalists aspire to. After centuries of submission to the central government, they see independence as a way to reaffirm the equality between the highlands and the coasts. Many of them are also convinced that it could be a solution to the crisis, just like many people in Madrid think that the instauration of a third republic can be a solution.
With all due respect, it’s nonsense. Revolution is not a question of changing the flag. For this reason, Catalan independence is not an issue in the movement. But on a subliminal level the cultural differences persist within the 15M.
In Barcelona, many of the communications and assemblies are alternately in Spanish and Catalan, with a preference for the latter in written documents. Outside of that, there is a strong connection with Latin America and other countries in the romanic linguosphere like Italy and France. And also, everywhere else. The legendary International Commission of Acampada BCN is a central hub in the worldwide web of resistance movements.
In Madrid it seems as though the movement is very much aimed at itself and the miniature galaxy of the city, the neighbourhoods, the villages, the surrounding towns of the central highland, and all the collectives that are active on the territory. Sure, Madrid is well embedded internationally, but deep down there’s an unspoken conviction that it’s the spider in the centre of the web. When people from the rest of the country and the hispanic world arrive in Madrid they are subconsciously treated as peripherical outsiders who come to learn from the capital’s revolutionary example.
It’s not quite a good example lately, as far as rumours go. Internal struggle and personal antipathy are widespread around Puerta del Sol. As in many other places. In Barcelona on the other hand, the core of the movement seems to be quite solid. I have witnessed people from many collectives linking up and working together in liberated spaces like the media centre. Communications, art, film & photography plus internal, local and international relations, it all flows together. Most of people here are veterans from the acampada or even before, with a lot of common sense and dedication to the struggle.
Before coming here I was wondering what the secret of the International Commission was, how come they have been able to keep functioning at a high level ever since the beginning. And this is simply it. Personal alchemy. A group of people who get along, and who manage to create surplus value. We would need more of that in Madrid.
Their news distribution in Twitter is one of the best. Yesterday’s headlines included a feminist escrache in many cities of Spain to protest against the governing party’s intention to counterreform abortion legislation by abolishing the liberalisation that was implemented by Zapatero’s government. In Madrid the feminists took it to the home of justice minister Gallardón. One man was brutally arrested by police, leaving blood stains on the street.
Today’s headline is a joyful one. One of Spain’s big bankers has gone to prison. Miguel Blesa, ex president of Caja Madrid and good friend of former prime minister Aznar, is accused of fraud for his decision to buy a Florida bank in the midst of the financial crisis, for two to three times the bank’s value, causing Caja Madrid to sink. The judge had set bail at two and a half million euros. Blesa refused to pay, and was taken into custody yesterday evening.
On this hopeful note, I leave Barcelona tonight. Tomorrow I will be back in the heart of the evil empire, my revolutionary home town of Madrid.
#EscracheFeminista in Madrid, culminating in bloody arrest