Europe, Globe

The ‘Movement of the 15th May’… It’s not over yet


It started as a protest just before the last municipal elections and, in a matter of days, camps of angry people sprang up in the central squares of most of Spain’s big cities.

Daniel Fernández

What for some people was nothing more than a passing tantrum thrown by an angry youth, for others was a kind of Spanish version of “May 68”. Four months after bursting onto the Spanish political and social scene, the Spanish revolution – as it is referred to by the international media – is still very much alive, attempting to evolve so as not to be put down as an ephemeral occurrence.

Many people thought that the movement would disappear in a matter of days. Politicians and the media have tried to describe the movement which began on the 15th of May (15M) as the reaction of a few which, at a particular moment in time, the civilian population joined in with.

“The media labelled us as a small squatters’ movement, then as a tantrum thrown by a group of students and unemployed people, then as urban guerrillas, and so on and so forth; we didn’t come out looking too good”, explains Emilio Álvarez, who has been linked to the 15M movement since the beginning.

However, the level of organisation demonstrated from day one, when the angry protesters surprised many with the impressive way they distributed tasks among different committees, has been the predominant story since then.

Thanks to this, the majority of camps have since been transformed into popular assemblies in each town or neighbourhood, which continue to work actively in many fields. The group ‘Democracia Real Ya” (Real Democracy Now), with whom the newspaper spoke, confirms this, saying that “the movement has been decentralised from the very beginning and it will stay like that, even if specific groups or initiatives have received more media attention or the media have looked for leaders or attempted to organise the movement into a hierarchy”.

A pluralist movement

The economic situation affecting Mediterranean countries explains the Spanish uprising.

A hostile job market for young people together with the continuous trickle of social cuts, not forgetting the collapse of the property market and the inability of more and more people to meet their mortgage payments, form the breeding ground from which this movement of indignados (indignant people) has arisen.

A few months before 15M, “Democracia Real Ya”, “Juventud sin Futuro” (Youth without a Future), “No les Votes” (Don’t Vote for Them) and “Estado de Malestar” (State of Discontent) were created, among other groups, all of which have played a fundamental part in the development of the 15M movement. They are all completely fed up with the current system and how it is organized: they don’t normally have specific titles, there is no hierarchy, they don’t have a large budget, they turn their back on political indoctrination and their main form of communication is the internet.

The dozens of active groups and popular assemblies (there are now 80 in the whole of Spain and many others in different European and Latin-American countries, the US and Canada, according to DRY) work in coordination with each other and often plan protests together.

Recent actions illustrate this, be it the secular protest against the Pope’s visit to Madrid in August, the protest against constitutional reform in September or the more recent protest on the 18th of September where thousands of citizens expressed their rejection of the continuing social cuts.

Its impact has been so great that there have even been echoes of the movement abroad, like the rally outside the London embassy, or the symbolic protest in Wall Street a few days ago.

Just noise

It all began a few months ago in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol, when the outraged protesters, produced an outline manifesto, proclaiming a “right to housing, work, culture, health, education, political participation, free personal development and the right to consume the necessary goods for a happy and healthy life”.

“The objectives are the same as they were at the beginning because the politicians and the bankers haven’t changed a thing, they’re staying put, worrying about satisfying the insatiable hunger of the markets, even if in order to do that they walk all over the rights of the people” says “Democracia Real Ya”. The group presents a favourable assessment of what they have achieved until now.

They value “partial victories, minimal government concessions with minor legislative changes which, although insufficient, indicate a change in rhythm”.

It is undeniable that, since the emergence of the movement, it has succeeded in influencing the political agenda. However, for DRY, “the greatest victory is the expansion and proliferation of the movement, seeing how it grows and how hope, energy and enthusiasm spread between the people”.

Eloi Morte, one of the most active members of PAH Madrid, the group representing those affected by mortgages, agrees with DRY’s assessment. “They have made sure that all over Spain there are organised groups who are changing the political agenda; the 15M movement is made up of hundreds of thousands of people” he says.

PAH was formed in Barcelona in 2009, in reaction to the confirmation that the current Spanish legal framework is designed in order to guarantee that banks can collect their debts. Eloi Morte has actively participated in the Stop Desahucios campaign (Stop Evictions) and is very satisfied with the results: “we have stopped more than 70 evictions all over Spain” states the Catalan activist.

Hostile press

It was only after the enormous rally in the Puerta del Sol that the press started to show any interest in the movement which it had, until then, decided to ignore. “It has been given a lot less media attention than it deserves.

“They hardly ever show anything about it on the television even though there are normally stories about the 15M movement in some part of Spain in the written press”, Eloi Morte points out. For his part, Emilio Álvarez claims that they haven’t come out of it looking too good, as the press “have researched it  badly, distorting the movement and saying that we had no logical ideas, that we were nothing more than a group of people waving banners”.

In fact, since the 15M movement was born, the media still haven’t grasped how and why it came about, as they are determined to find leaders to answer their questions but the movement has an egalitarian and horizontal structure with no leaders.

The social uprising which has come as a result of the Puerta del Sol protest camp shows signs of continuity and, over the next few months, it should be watched closely, especially now that the Spanish general elections are approaching.

Spanish youth has found its voice and it shows no sign of quietening down, which is something that, as Gayle Allard, Professor of Economics at IE Business School points out, is worth keeping in mind: “How will the complex architecture of a welfare state be sustained, if a shrinking youth population cannot obtain employment, income and security as it makes its way into the taxpaying mainstream? The question is almost frightening”.

(Translated by Ellie Swan – Email: ellied.swan@gmail.com)

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