The demonstration under the slogan “Real democracy now!” held on May 15th was the awakening of the movement which is shaking Spain, and particularly Madrid, since then.
Corruption, dismantling of the social protection systems, unfair electoral law, privatizations, mass amount of public funds injected into private banks, huge unemployment, housing problems, bi-partidism, total disconnection of politicians with the citizens – these are plenty of reasons to be pissed off (especially one week before local elections). Surprisingly, people did not really show it. Instead, they stayed at home, away from the big unions (general strike in September 2010 was a failure) and the political parties (which represent no real alternative or have no options to make it real).
Maybe that’s why the demonstration on the 15th of May, under the slogan “Real democracy now!”, with a open and wide call (away from any political side) and organized through the social media gathered over 15 thousand protesters in Madrid. A great success, unseen in a long time. Of those, 200-300 people formed an unplanned assembly and decided to camp in Sol Square. Their aim? To make their protest visible to the rest of the people.
Being their protest totally pacific, respectful, most of all reduced, police removed them on the second night. And that was it: that was the moment when everyone could not take it anymore. Thirty thousand people filled Sol square on Tuesday 17th to reclaim the public space as a place to make their voices heard. The number grew on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday… as politicians tried to use it in their own benefit and judges kept on sentencing the gatherings were illegal. Under the tension that authorities may think of evicting peaceful demonstrators again. And this happened not only in Madrid, but in many places around Spain and some around the world.
The campers at Sol and the rest had a big challenge: organizing thousands of people in a non-hierarchial system with the objective of finding out why they were there and how they wanted things changed. The camp divided itself in many commissions and sub-commissions. Some of them dealing with logistics (free food for everyone, health system, cleaning, security), others dealing with every topic you can think of: long term politics, short term politics, art, environment, dissemination, press, legality, thought… All of them making decisions under the principle of consensus (so everyone would feel included), which introduced a common goal: to reach a ”consensus of minimums”.
In the meantime, the local and regional elections were held in Spain on the 22nd of May, under the big question of how the 15M movement would affect the results. And well, it did not, which was a pity, but also the expectable thing to happen.
The movement had no a consensual position on voting. Still some things were clear: do not vote the big parties (PSOE, PP) as ”they are the same shit”. Therefore, the influence of the movement in the elections was divided among those who did not vote, those who cast invalid votes, those who voted blank and those who voted one of the many small parties. Too many options to have a real effect, other than the PSOE socialists crashing and PP conservatives losing a bit but not much. But that was going to happen from the beginning.
Nevertheless, the movement continued moving towards their consensus of minimums. They made their first real approach by agreeing four lines of debate:
* Electoral reform towards a proportional representation system and more citizen participation mechanisms. * Fight against corruption and more transparency * Real separation of public powers * Creation of control mechanisms in order to effectively control the political responsabilities.
They also realized that the movement could not stay focused on Sol square. It needed to be extended to other places, particularly to every city district and any town in Madrid. This was a successful move, with over 50 new assemblies born on the 29th of May. Autonomous bodies to organize their own protests, actions and to make decisions that would travel up to a Popular Assembly of Madrid.
Violence, police violence
Despite the stress that the 15M movement has put in the ”peace” and ”respect” words, we have shamefully watched the police respond to it with two serious violent episodes, one in Barcelona (27th of May) and another one in Valencia (9th of June). Note it is not the first time that peaceful protests are violently repressed in Spain (Bologna protests, or housing protests before are a good example), but certainly it is the first time that it happens on a movement with very clear, proclaimed and proved peaceful attitude (a large media coverage that can only support it).
The problem is very serious: in a so called ”democracy”, the police is simply free to hit, arrest, set up fake accusations on peaceful demonstrators without any consequences. Despite the videos, despite the photos, despite the witnesses, nothing happens. And our politicians see that, and believe than they can basicly use violence whenever it comes handy. This lack of morals contrast with a movement which sits down, put hands in the air and shouts ”these are our weapons” to the uniformed.
It is sure at least that the movement will never stop as long as some policeman can come and freely smash your face while you are peacefully defending your rights. The amount of energy we gather from every episode of police violence to keep fighting is huge.
Conclusion: what we got and where are we heading?
Apart from police control, Spain has been lacking a deep democratic culture since the end of Franco’s dictatorship, not only in the institutions (filled with too many corrupt politicians), but in the streets. The 15M means a huge step for people to reclaim their space, learn, discuss, organize themselves and build up different realities that provide what the institutions are failing to give: from networks of social support to direct democracy, real dialogue or organic crops.
It is not about making politicians change things in the short-term. That is impossible. They will not change the rules of their own game nor are ready to face the economic powers as the movement basicly asks. All of this is rather about building up a strong social fabric working at all levels (quarter, city, region, national) on very simple demands which are full of sense: more democracy, less corruption.
Of course many problems arise: it is difficult to reach consensus, Sol Assembly is hyper divided, many people lack political culture and make others lose time by repeating arguments or blocking decisions in assemblies, demands are too simplified and proposals rather naïve… but this is just starting. Problems are being given solutions via the collective mind of the assemblies and the share of knowledge. For example, the new decision making system in Madrid has been imported from Barcelona and allows consensus not to be blocked by a single selfish person.
So despite all the problems and critics that can be addressed to the movement, we have much more faith in it than in our current politicians and, sooner or later, we will manage to change them.