Revolution #241, July 31, 2011
From A World to Win News Service
Two weeks in May with Spain's "Indignados"
June 27, 2011. A World to Win News Service. "Homeless—Jobless—Futureless—Fearless," "Our dreams can't fit in your ballot boxes," "System Error—Message from the Spanish Revolution"—these are some of the slogans of the "Indignados" ("The Outraged") movement that has swept Spain since May 15 and is continuing in various forms today. On June 25 hundreds of people set out on foot in sweltering heat from Barcelona, Bilbao, Valencia, Cadiz and other cities in marches expected to converge on Madrid in July. Following are condensed excerpts from a report on the tumultuous first two weeks when the members of a young generation once considered politically indifferent and inert first forced their way onto the political stage. They have launched an intense debate previously almost forbidden by "common sense," not to mention the country's power structure, including the main left and right parties, about the desirability, possibility and modalities of radical change.
This movement shares some features with the likewise unexpected revolt in the Arab countries, which helped inspire it, most notably an often fearless rejection of the status quo coupled with the idea that democratic reforms may be able to bring about basic change without a revolutionary seizure of power. The author, Sofía Corral, identifies with and attempts to convey what she considers the main thrust of this movement. Her reportage is a contribution to the necessary process of a more critical analysis and conversation with this very important, contradictory and welcome phenomenon. The report originally appeared on the Web site of the Movimiento Popular Revolucionario (Revolutionary People's Movement) of Mexico (mpr-mexico.blogspot.com), which reminds readers that the author's views are her own.
In March, a new slogan began going around on the Net and especially the social networks: "Real democracy now!" At the same time some people in Salamanca organized State of Unrest, a group that disassociated itself from political ideologies, parties and trade unions. Its discourse, influenced by "Another world is possible" sentiments, was radically anti-system. No more than 20 people attended the first half a dozen meetings in this city.
Sunday, May 15
A call went out for the first demonstration. There were no leaflets or posters; everything was done on Facebook and Twitter. About 15,000 people went out into the streets in at least 50 Spanish cities. At that point, we were aware that a lot of people knew about the call, but we had no idea how many would actually come out. Not even the initiators were sure that people would go over from virtual to real activism.
In the Puerta del Sol [Madrid's main square, a traditional site for demonstrations], a multitude of about 25,000 appeared. By the end of the day, people all over Spain had heard about what was happening in the capital and more demonstrations were announced.
The protesters agreed to camp out in the plaza indefinitely and organize from there.
Monday, May 16
The movement called 15-M (15 May Movement) or Real Democracy Now! or Spanish Revolution [in English] began to take shape. People in the camp agreed on minimum logistical principles for how the occupation should function. This was the inception of the mass meetings and the kind of thinking that would emerge later. The mainstream media tried to hide this phenomenon that was beginning to speak for itself. Concepts circulated on the Net: revolution, crisis, system.
Tuesday, May 17
Other cities began to join 15-M. The media was forced to concede some more serious coverage. People began to organize meals and shelter. Thanks to connections between cities, the forms of activism were reproduced simultaneously, as if by giant mirrors. Initially there had been no plan to continue occupying public squares, but too much strength was accumulating to stop now.
Wednesday, May 18
Arguing that political activity is forbidden on the eve of elections, the authorities declared the camp illegal and tried to clear out the demonstrators in Madrid. Some people were beaten and their details were recorded, with the idea that they would be issued fines for "public disturbance." The same happened in the Plaza del Carmen in Granada. But people refused to abandon the camps.
Thursday, May 19
Protests began breaking out in front of Spanish embassies in other countries, such as Portugal. In Salamanca, we saw that in addition to the six cops who had been in front of the nearby government building since the beginning, now there were two police vans. The police said that they wouldn't intervene "as long as the youth don't start an altercation."
Friday, May 20
The elections were almost upon us (May 22) and tensions between the two main parties became very sharp. The 15-M movement was growing, now joined by people in Alicante, Santa Cruz, Malaga and Burgos, among other cities. The occupied public squares became the site of both artistic and political activities, and a wide variety of people came. In Salamanca, mass assemblies and commission meetings began to take place non-stop. The debates mixed questions of what to do next and what is to be done strategically. We knew that the Electoral Board had declared our sit-ins illegal, but there were no visible threats to move us out, so we relaxed.
We decided: not to ask for a permit to extend our occupation, to take down the tents for legal reasons, and to gather up all our foodstuffs and shelter material and keep them in the Youth House until May 23, the day after the elections. [But they didn't leave the square.]
Saturday, May 21
We received news of fresh protests and in some cases clashes in Pamplona and Cuenca in Spain, and Amsterdam, New York and Santo Domingo. The existing demonstrations got bigger. Amid the tense electoral climate we put forward the slogan "We're thinking"—this is how we described what the multitudes would be doing in the 24 hours before the citizens' right to decide would be snatched away by the electoral process designed to divide the parliamentary pie between the parties. In Salamanca we founded the Commission for the Safety of the Assembly.
Sunday, May 22
The big day had arrived. The media talked about nothing but the elections. For the 15-M, this was the decisive moment to decide our political identity and stance. In this context, giving up would mean surrendering to voting, its campaigns and power. Staying in the streets would mean radicalizing the discourse and broadening the target to include not only the corrupt electoral system but the decadent and unjust economic system that is its father. The Commissions continued their work. More than ever, the movement showed that the underdogs don't need politicians and elections to organize themselves. The coordination between the camp in the Plaza del Sol in Madrid and the Salamanca camp became richer than ever.
New slogans in the Sol: A more rational political organization of the country. Reconcile family life and working life. Drop the charges against the arrested comrades.
Monday, May 23
More and more we wondered, what was going to happen now that the elections were over? The debates reflected this uncertainty, but also the necessity to make a leap to new actions. The Sol demonstration began to be Webcast live around the clock. Within two days this Web TV site had five million visitors, the same number as that of unemployed people in Spain. News reports said that the rightist parties won the elections. The media now shamelessly wallowed in the results of the electoral swindle. We knew that there would be grave social consequences if we didn't make a new rupture with the electoral system.
Tuesday, May 24
The assembly in Salamanca agreed to put out an information sheet about the people in jail, to discuss holding concerts, to give control to the assembly, to discuss how to mobilize the unemployed. A message to the unemployed was read. It was decided to hold a non-violent demonstration in the city's central Plaza Mayor.
Meanwhile, in Madrid's Plaza del Sol, the main topic became how to go out to the neighborhoods, the de-penalization of squats, subsidized housing for youth, guaranteeing the public health system, freedom of education and the abolition of the Bologna Plan (a Europe-wide initiative involving the privatization of education).
Wednesday, May 25
It was decided to hold a march leaving from the Plaza Mayor on Sunday at 6 pm in unity with protests in other cities that day. The Barcelona occupation was growing bigger and bigger. Any passer-by could tell that people in the Plaça Catalunya were getting better organized every day. Everyone was busily working together like thousands of worker ants. They set up army tents, tables, photocopy machines, portable toilets, vegetable gardens and solar energy panels. Giant screens projected the images of all the speakers at the assemblies. The kitchen was open 24/7. There was also a library, a reading area and continuous Net access for the 700 people camped out and the 2,000 visitors every day. Meetings of the unemployed and home mortgage victims were held.
Thursday, May 26
People decided that the protest's original 16-point manifesto was too broad for everyone to agree to. Instead, a three-point minimum consensus was adopted:
1) Electoral legislation reform. The current system favors the two-party system and their alternating control of the government. We demand an electoral law that guarantees the equality of every vote, independently of which party you opt for and in which region you vote.
2) Participatory democracy. Democracy should not consist of giving full authority to a legislature. Citizens should be able to take part in making decisions that have a major impact on their future.
3) Zero tolerance for corruption, and political and financial transparency. We proclaim that the corruption perpetrated by the political parties has reached an intolerable level. Therefore we demand more transparency regarding political parties and institutions, and the guaranteeing of a fundamental separation of state powers.
We left the plaza to inform people in the neighborhoods. People in San José across the river were glad to see us.
Friday, May 27
The police violently dispersed the Barcelona camp. The news immediately reached the camps in other cities. In every province people decided to suspend all planned activities and instead demonstrate in support of the Indignados in Catalunya. There a lady carrying a sheet of paper with slogans written on it stepped in front of a police vehicle to stop it. Protests tried to protect each other from club-wielding cops. The Catalan regional government argued that it emptied the camp for sanitary reasons. People replied, "There were no riots until the riot police came." Campers stood in front of and stopped the rubbish trucks, because the mass meeting had agreed on self-management of everything in the camps, including cleaning. When the people get organized they don't need trucks nor politicians nor bosses. Cleaning can't be considered more important than people's safety, and yet the Catalan police charged the people. In Salamanca we decided that we would demonstrate at 7 pm to show our rejection of the repressive forces of the state. We would carry flowers and observe three minutes of silence in solidarity with the comrades who were beaten.
Saturday, May 28
We've heard that people were seriously wounded when the police broke up the camp in Barcelona. Some people have visible bruises from police clubs and rubber bullets. The assembly there called for the camp to be rebuilt, and within a few hours the Plaça Catalunya was reoccupied. The people overwhelmed the regional police and stayed put, frustrating a second attempt to break up the camp.
Sunday, May 29
Today, implementing the decisions of previous mass meetings, we went out into the streets again to demand our right to occupy public squares. We put forward our three-point minimum program. We felt that the police were likely to attack again, since the Electoral Board had again declared the camps illegal the week before and the police had tried to break up camps all over Spain. But these are the adversities that social forces would have to confront. Things are constantly getting more tense and there are increasing obstacles to overcome if we want to persist in seeking radical change. There will be more reports to come.
The 16-point manifesto
1) Change the electoral laws so that party lists are open to all to vote on in every constituency. Parliamentary seats should be proportional to the number of votes received.
2) Respect the basic rights guaranteed by the Constitution, namely the right to decent housing and the amendment of the mortgage law so that homes are turned over to the occupants and unpaid debts are cancelled, free and universal health care, free circulation of persons and the strengthening of public, secular education.
3) Abolish unjust and discriminatory laws and measures, such as the Bologna Plan and the European Space for Higher Education, the Citizenship Law and the Sinde Law [restricting downloading on the Net].
4) Tax legislation reforms in favor of those with the lowest incomes, a reform of inheritance taxes. Implement the Tobin Tax on international financial transactions and eliminate tax havens.
5) Reform working conditions for the political class to abolish their lifetime salaries. Political programs and proposals should have a binding character.
6) We reject and condemn corruption. The electoral code should prohibit the inclusion on electoral lists of any candidate who is not clean and free of corruption charges or convictions.
7) Various measures concerning banking and financial markets to ensure compliance with Article 128 of the Constitution, which stipulates that "the country's entire wealth in whatever form and no matter who owns it is subordinated to the common good." Reduce the power of the IMF and the European Central Bank. Immediate nationalization of any banking entity that has had to be bailed out by the government. More robust safeguards on financial corporations and transactions so as to avoid abuses of any kind.
8) A real separation of Church and State, as called for by Article 16 of the Constitution.
9) Participatory and direct democracy in which citizens play an active role. People's access to the media, which should be ethical and truthful.
10) A real regularization of labor laws and state oversight of compliance.
11) Shut down all nuclear power plants and encourage renewable and free energy sources.
12) Take back privatized, formerly publicly-owned companies.
13) A real separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the state.
14) Reduce military spending, immediately shut down arms factories and establish a better oversight over the State armed forces and security organs. As a non-violent movement we believe in "No to war."
15) The restoration of Spain's historic memory and the founding principles of the struggle for democracy in our state.
16) Complete transparency regarding the bank accounts and financing of the political parties as a way to control political corruption.
[Before the May 22 elections the Socialists had argued that the occupations were counter-productive because they would facilitate an electoral victory by the right. The youth stayed in the streets anyway. Here the author argues that the "party-ocracy" of the Popular Party and the Spanish Socialist Workers Party has been defeated because even adding up the votes for both, they still represent a minority of the electorate, and the number of people who didn't vote or cast blank or spoiled ballots is larger than the number of voters for either party.]
The political and ideological characteristics of this phenomenon
Over the last few days a great deal has been said about what's happening with these camps and the virtual/real movement. It has been said that this is an autonomist [self-management] movement, an example of collective intelligence, a class revolution, a libertarian social coordination, a fashion phenomenon, a geek plot or a hacker conspiracy. What's interesting is that none of these descriptions totally excludes the others. People, interests and world outlooks (ideologies) are in motion and change. What's happening with the broad spectrum of opinion in the camps is the same thing that's happening with mentalities in general: people cross over, change their minds, come to a consensus, organize themselves and activate themselves. The identities, if there are any, go from ecologists to feminists and anarchists, etc.
People feel like they're taking part in historically far-reaching events (and they are), that they are the protagonists in a phenomenon in a special place and time, when it's urgent to make the best possible decisions and not make any mistakes, taking advantage of the strength we have accumulated, a time when people do what they say they'll do, building the future of the movement and the political life of individuals and cities.... Some people say to themselves, "I'm not doing this any more," while others keep repeating, "Let's make a revolution"...
An analysis of the radicality of this movement would be relevant if it focused on the division that really does exist between those of us who seek a change in the electoral system and those seeking to change a system that has no name. This is an effort at collectivity on a grand scale by a sector of society that has been seriously affected and enraged by the recent economic crises, non-conformists with no future. It's also an act of becoming conscious of and appropriating a cruel reality that many people, out of indifference or discomfort, did not dare to recognize or confront before. It's the multitudinous explosion of deep-down thinking that has been gestating in silent solitary discontent, by people who now see the need to connect with many others among the silenced discontented. It's a leap from solitary non-conformity to rebellion with the strength of unity...
A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (aworldtowin.org), a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world's Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.
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