Thousands have taken to the streets this week in Spain to protest against corruption, unemployment, and a political structure that favors a two-party system.
“We're not merchandise in the hands of bankers and politicians,” was the motto of tens of thousands who demonstrated all over the country on 15 May, 2011.
It did not stop there. The demonstrations were followed by a peaceful sit-in on 16 May, with hundreds camping at Madrid's main square, la “Puerta del Sol.” The movement, coordinated in large part by the youth organisation Democracia Real Ya [es], has been extremely active online. A protest in solidarity with the Spanish movement is taking place this Saturday at 2pm on Dublin's O'Connell St. More information here. Below, Hugh Green explains the significance of Spain's new mass protest movement.
On Wednesday Madrid’s electoral commission, in a bout of authoritarian panic, prohibited a demonstration planned for 20:00h in the Puerta del Sol, claiming that it could interfere with the right of citizens to exercise their vote. Via Público, here is the result:
This is big. I was on the phone to my mother-in-law last night. I asked her, half-joking, if she was planning on going down to the square to camp out. She said that if she didn’t have to work, she would go. She said she was completely supportive of what the demonstrators were doing, as was everyone in her street. It was not just young people, she said, although she recognised that it was they who had started things. Now it was pensioners, housewives, who were all beginning to lend their support. She then said that what they were doing in Spain was the same as what the Egyptians and the Tunisians before them had been doing in their countries. That to me was the amazing bit. You see, there has been an anxious attempt, on the part of the political class in Spain, as in Ireland too, if you recall Enda Kenny’s remarks post-election about there being no need to take to the streets, to point at Egypt and Tunisia and say things like “See? These people are willing to risk their lives for the freedoms you already enjoy. Here we have the ballot box; there is no need to go out onto the street.” And yet now you have people like my mother-in-law -who have developed quite an anti-political cynicism during the years of PP-PSOE neoliberal rule- who not only reject this idea, and recognise that democracy is about more than just pulling a lever every four years to choose between two parties packed with professional politicians beholden to the interests of speculators, but who consciously identify with the Egyptian and Tunisian people in so doing. I was taken aback by the excitement in her voice last night when she was telling me this.
The genius, and I don’t use the word lightly, of the ¡Democracia Real YA! campaign, has been to seize upon the deep cynicism and disenchantment fostered toward government over the past twenty years in Spain, and incorporate it in a direct challenge to both the political and the economic system. Anti-political attitudes are habitually used by the dominant class as a bulwark against political activity, distracting attention from the gradual concentration of control over the economy in private hands and fostering a sense of helplessness in the population. (One name for this, in Ireland, is Liveline.) But Democracia Real YA! treats the question of material well-being and control over one’s destiny as essential elements of democracy. In Western democracies, progressive and left-leaning groups seem to have been kept in line, maybe because they actually identify with it, by the incessant right-wing drum beat about ‘freedom’ that has been part of the soundtrack to people’s lives for at least the last 30 years. But DRY is now making it plain, for millions, that when laws in supposed democracies are imposed for the benefit of the powerful, freedom is restricted, and democracy is traduced.
Like I said, this is big. It has been very easy for elites in Western countries to represent the populations of places like Egypt and Tunisia, even when they have overthrown dictators, as needing to remain under the tutelary wing of their Western technocratic masters, and as essentially travelling the same end-of-history path mapped out for Western states. Not so easy when it comes to Spain, which has once already functioned as a symbol of global struggle, and as the site where, as Hobsbawm puts it in Age of Extremes, what got played out were “the fundamental political issues of the time: on the one side, democracy and social revolution, Spain being the only country in Europe where it was ready to erupt; on the other, a uniquely uncompromising camp of counter-revolution or reaction”. There are a lot of young people in Spain who believe that the story of democracy in Spain, of ‘the transition told to our parents’, as the title of a recent book has it, presents a fraudulent account of what democracy is supposed to be, and masks the reality of a country still dominated, to an intolerable degree, by rigidly authoritarian and reactionary conservative elites. Unlike their Irish counterparts, there is no question of them going anywhere, and if an EU-IMF ‘bailout’ comes, it could very well be in Spain, once again, where the spark to all-out confrontation is lit. Assuming, that is, that this confrontation has not already begun.
Ghost Manifesto – Spain’s Real Democracy Now
Author: Democracia Real YA! (!Real Democracy NOW!) Translator: Hugh Green
Items of agreement for the plural manifesto prepared during the morning of the 18th of May in Puerta del Sol.
Those assembled in Puerta del Sol, aware that this is an action in progress and of resistance, have agreed to declare the following:
- After many years of apathy, a group of citizens of different ages and social backgrounds (students, teachers, librarians, unemployed, workers…) ENRAGED by their lack of representation and by the betrayals that are being conducted in the name of democracy, have met at Puerta del Sol with regard to the idea of Real Democracy.
- Real Democracy is opposed to the gradual discrediting of institutions that claim to represent them, which have become mere agents of administration and management, in the service of the forces of international financial power.
- The democracy that is promoted from corrupt bureaucratic apparatuses is simply a collection of sterile electoral exercises, in which the participation of citizens has no effect.
- The discrediting of politics has brought with it the capture of words by those who cling on to power. We must recover words, restore their meaning so that language cannot be manipulated with the end of leaving the citizenry defenceless and incapable of cohesive action.
- But the examples of manipulation and the capture of language are numerous and constitute a tool of control and disinformation.
- Real Democracy means putting proper names to the infamy we are living through: International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank, NATO, European Union, ratings agencies such as Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s, Partido Popular, PSOE, but there are many others and our obligation is to name them.
- It is necessary to build a political discourse capable of rebuilding the social fabric, systematically rendered vulnerable through years of lies and corruption. We citizens have lost respect for the majoritarian political parties, but this is not the same as losing our critical faculties. On the contrary, we do not fear POLITICS. To stand up and speak is POLITICS. To seek alternatives of citizen participation is POLITICS.
- One of our principal premises is a Reform of the Electoral Law that restores Democracy its true meaning: a government of citizens. A participative democracy.
- We insist that we citizens united here make up a TRANSGENERATIONAL movement because we belong to various generations condemned to an intolerable loss of participation in the political decisions that shape their daily lives and their future.
- We do not call for abstention, we demand the necessity that our vote has a real influence in our lives.
- We are not here today to simply demand access to mortgages or because of shortages in the labour market. THIS IS AN EVENT. And as such, a moment capable of giving new meanings to our actions and our speeches. This is born out of RAGE. But our RAGE is imagination, strength, citizen power.
Note: The above shouldn't be seen above as constituting some sort of 'official' document for DRY. It is but one document that was released to Spanish daily Público yesterday that by its accounts had been agreed upon by people gathered in Sol. The situation is in flux and there have been other materials coming out.
Image top: arribalasqueluchan.