Global indignation inspires Spanish movement

Sunday, October 23, 2011
Puerto del Sol in Madrid on October 15. Up to half a million people took to the streets.

The overwhelming success of the October 15 “United for Global Change” demonstrations (which took place in more than 1000 cities and towns in about 90 countries) is having powerful positive feedback on the indignados (15-M) movement in Spain.

In Madrid, as many as 500,000 people marched and hundreds of thousands more took to the streets across Spain. It was a huge demonstration of support for the 15-M movement — against austerity and for “real democracy” — that began in May with occupations of central plazas in Spanish cities. The occupiers held open general assemblies to democratically determine the movement's goals, demands and direction.

Photos from Spain on October 15

The response to the call for an October 15 international day of protest, formally launched in late July by 15-M, has reinforced among the participants the sentiment that the enemy is global, goes by the name of capitalism and is making the life of ordinary people a misery on all continents.

The Wall Street occupation, which began on September 17 and has lead to occupations and protests in more than 100 cities and towns across the United States, was already an inspiration for the movement here.

It showed that revolt could take place “in the belly of the beast”, and wasn’t going to be restricted to southern Europe and the broader Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking world.

Carlos Paredes, a spokesperson for 15-M component group Real Democracy Now (DRY), said on the day, “we thought there would be a big response in countries like Italy and Brazil, or the United States”, but expressed doubts about what might happen in other countries.

The final result has more than fulfilled expectations. October 15 turned out to be more than an “adrenalin hit of three hours of demonstrating” (the words are of Alice, who has worked since May in 15-M’s international extension working group).

Alice added: “All the protests will be meaningful if, at the end, assemblies are created and a dialogue starts, even if only within a small group.”

That process is now taking place in scores of towns and cities, especially where October 15 has marked a first Occupy action.

Alice also stressed the anonymous nature of the calling of October 15: “It has involved people in countries all over the world, but with no-one telling anyone else what to do.”

A distorted reflection of the success of October 15 has been the bitter and twisted reaction of Spain’s right-wing shock-jocks, to the effect that the country has finally produced a “world´s best practice” export — indignation — for which it will receive not a euro of income.

The turnout on October 15 across Spain matched and may even have exceeded the numbers for the last huge national day of action on June 19. It was as if everyone identifying with 15-M wanted to allay any doubts that the movement might have lost energy over the summer break.

In Madrid, the end march, preceded by eight feeder marches, was so huge that the police and city council refused to give estimates. The organisers claimed half a million people.

As it passed the Bank of Spain building, the organised banging of pots and pans in protest against the billions of euros being spent bailing out banks and credit unions was absolutely deafening.

When the march reached its destination, Puerta del Sol, only a tiny portion could get inside to reclaim the by-now iconic birthplace of the indignado movement.

In Barcelona, the march was preceded by feeder marches from various occupations and protests in schools, health centres and hospitals. Estimates of numbers ranged from 60,000 (the police) to 250,000 (the organisers).

The actual figure is probably closer to 250,000, as those at the end of the march had to wait an hour-and-a-half to leave even as the beginning of the march had reached its destination.

At the end, the march divided into three protest assemblies. One was against health cuts, the second against education cuts and the third against eviction of people who have not been able to keep up with their mortagage payments (a powerful movement here).

The Barcelona march also featured calls for solidarity with the indignados arrested during the June 15 blockade outside the Catalan parliament, a protest aimed at stopping the adoption of a budget that has cut 10% off social spending.

Support for October 15 was remarkable in regional Spain, with numbers in many cases exceeding those of June 19. About 80 towns across the peninsula had protests, including in towns regarded as “the back blocks”.

In Valencia, at least 40,000 took to the streets. In Seville, estimates ranged between 40,000 and 65,000. In the four regional capitals of Galicia—A Coruna, Lugo, Santiago de Compostela and Vigo—numbers exceeded June 19.

What was noticeable was that where attacks on public services have been most savage and resistance most committed, more people turned out on October 15. The most striking example was probably that of Madrid, where the green t-shirts of the high-school teachers protesting the regional government’s cuts to education were present throughout the march, in many cases worn in solidarity by non-teacher participants.

In Madrid, too, the spirit of the march was built through regular reports from other marches around the world (including Australia). There was a lot of joy and pride that in just five months since May 15 “indignation”, it has spread so far and wide from “kilometre zero” (Puerta del Sol).

In Portugal, the square in front of the Portuguese parliament in Lisbon was full to overflowing, with numbers estimated between 60,000 and 80,000.

At the end of the closing assemblies in Madrid and Barcelona, it was decided to carry out occupations of buildings that have lain empty for years (even as 400,000 sleep rough every night and an average of 1200 a week are evicted for non-payment of mortgages).

At the time of writing, the occupations are the new point of controversy in politics here, with some Popular Party politicians calling for “decisive police action”.

However, even the right-wing Catalan government of Convergence and Union (CiU) has so far taken care not to confront the squatters. It is even talking vaguely about changing the mortgage law to prevent evictions — such is people´s rage at families being thrown into the streets at the behest of banks and real estate companies.

The “hot autumn” promised by 15-M is now well under way, and October 15 made a major contribution to increasing the heat.

[Dick Nichols is the Green Left Weekly European correspondent, working from Barcelona.]

From GLW issue 900