“There are many Joses here, I’m not sure if its my turn or another Jose,” saidJose, a middle-aged man standing on the outer rim of a grupo de trabajo (work group) called at midnight on an adjacent street to Sol, the plaza known as point zero, in the heart of Madrid.
The plaza has been occupied, as have dozens around Spain, since the huge protests on May 15 that brought hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets to demand “real democracy now!” and an end to austerity measures.
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It is Jose's turn in a conversation among 30 people about the general organisation of five work groups focusing on politics, economy, education, culture and the environment, as well as communication with the press.
Jose insists the spontaneous protesters, who number more than 5000 each day, must take their time before drawing conclusions about their specific demands in the lead-up to the May 22 municipal council and regional elections.
He says the Spanish press is not asking the PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers Party) nor the PP (Popular Party), the two major political parties, their demands as is normally the case in unfolding public debates during election season.
Rather the daily question in the national newspaper El Pais is what these young people wish to achieve through their capturing of the plaza in the wake of the Arab revolutions?
Young people do abound in the plaza, but key voices in the work groups are older people who come armed with professional expertise and some even with memories of the 1930s civil war.
That El Pais should expect a definitive answer from a movement that grew organically out of the May 15 protests denies the right to a desperately needed period of political reflection in a country in the midst of severe economic crisis.
That the protesters are mostly young is no surprise in a country where youth unemployment is about 40% and a university graduate considers themselves lucky to secure a job at a fast food outlet.
The overwhelming sentiment is that corrupt politicians must be banned from re-election and the electoral laws must be reformed so that they are more representative.
Footage of the huge May 15 demonstration in Madrid.
The protesters have so far not presented a list of concrete demands. What is happening is a large-scale discussion.
During all hours, discussion circles are held. An appointed coordinator ensures that each person who wishes to speak is offered the opportunity, including the less confident members of the public.
People wave their hands when in agreement; applause is occassionaly heard when a particularly remarkable citizen makes an astute comment or a laudable suggestion.
As a political exercise, these meetings, carried out in an atmosphere of respect and solidarity, are beyond impressive.
However, if the protesters wish to reap the harvest of their struggle, at some point they are going to have to make demands with a clear and united voice otherwise the opportunity and momentum could dissipate.
Meanwhile, the Central Electoral Board voted five to four with one abstention to make the protests illegal on election day, on the basis that Spanish law prohibits the formation of groups likely to hinder access to local polling stations or the free exercise of the right to vote.
The government must now decide how to impose this decision on “the Movement 15” (as it has been sensationally coined by the press) who have no intention of taking a hike.
On the morning of May 16, police physically removed 150 to 200 protesters camped out in Sol. But the number of people sleeping in the plaza grows daily and has impeded the repetition of the use of force.
Time will tell what will happen. In the meantime, dance, theatre and circus performances are planned in the plaza.
The work groups continue, as well as voluntary cleaning of the plaza and communal provision of meals.
The atmosphere is joyous, collective and novel; people chat, dance and play cards, street beer sellers are making a killing. The Spanish Revolution couldn’t take place without a fiesta.
Tens of thousands of protesters defy a government ban and continue to occupy Sol plaza in Madrid on May 21.
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Manifesto of the Assembly of the Sol Plaza Camp
WHO ARE WE?
We are individuals who have come together freely and voluntarily. Each of us has decided, after the concentrations on Sunday, May 15, that we are determined to continue fighting for dignity and political and social awareness.
We do not represent any political party or association.
We are joined by the singular cause of change.
We are brought together by integrity and solidarity with those who are unable to
WHY ARE WE HERE?
We are here because we desire a new society that puts lives above political and economical interests. We demand a change in society and an increase in social awareness. We are here to make it known that the people have not fallen asleep, and we will continue fighting…peacefully.
We send our support to the friends that have been detained for participation in these concentrations, and we demand their immediate release with no criminal charges.
We want all of this, and we want it now. If you are with us, come join us.
“Better to risk and lose than to lose without having risked at all.”