Lucha | 22.05.2011 12:32 | World
While the regime is not expected to crumble any time this week, the astonishing nationwide mass protests calling for real democracy (in stark contrast to Sunday’s local elections contested by the usual suspects) do feel like a significant turning point.
The sheer numbers of people involved in the week-long occupation of la Puerta del Sol in Madrid, the spiritual heart of the Spanish state, is simply breathtaking.
It seemed busy enough when this visitor first arrived on the scene during the afternoon siesta period on Saturday May 21.
But by 8.30pm the huge square was so packed with people that it was almost impossible to move in many areas. There were so many others trying to get in from side streets that you wondered if it was going to be physically possible to get out again. It stayed like that well into the small hours of Sunday morning.
The protest encampment is officially illegal, but it would have been impossible for the authorities to break it up by anything other than armed force.
Of course, this is always a busy part of the city anyway, and the question did pop up as to whether a lot of those present were merely passing through or taking a curious look.
The answer came every time a chant broke out and accompanying clapping began, with a forest of hands encompassing all the many thousands present, right up to the fringes of the square and even beyond.
The next most impressive thing is the amount of views being expressed, and the articulacy with which this is happening.
Speeches and discussion groups are taking place all the time in the square, with everyone from teenagers to pensioners encouraged to grab the mike and tell it how it is, in front of a respectful audience.
But the written word is also very much in evidence, in every conceivable format, ranging from a four-storey high banner on a thoroughly redecorated construction site at one end of Sol (‘Abajo el regimen, viva la lucha del pueblo’– down with the regime, long live the people’s struggle), to hundreds of little scraps of paper sellotaped to the hoardings underneath, each bearing individual offerings to the collective Zeitgeist.
The sheets of words cover the large glass roof to the main exit from the Metro, they adorn buildings fronting the square, bus stops, tents – anywhere that there could be a poster, there is one. There are people wandering around desperately looking for a space for their own contribution.
The striking thing about many of these statements is how radical they are. Not in the posturing sloganized sense, but in the way they reveal a deep understanding of how badly we are being cheated, how deeply we are being lied to, how blatantly we are being robbed by the machineries of ruthless exploitation and destruction that hide behind the mask of so-called ‘democracy’.
‘No puede volver a dormir tranquilo aquel que alguna vez abrio los ojos’ says one small poster – once you’ve opened your eyes there’s no way you can go back to sleeping peacefully.
‘El sistema politico es un fraude, el sistema economica es un robo’ says another – the political system is fraud, the economic system is theft.
‘Banqueros + politicos = mafia legal’ says another, which doesn’t require any translation.
‘Si hay futuro, pero solo si luchamos por el’ – yes there is a future, but only if we fight for it.
‘Un pueblo organizado no vota, decide’ – an organized people doesn’t vote, it decides.
The Sol camp itself is certainly organised, with everything from solar panels and portable loos to free food and drink (non-alcoholic, though there are plenty of street vendors doing a roaring trade in cans of lager at a Euro each, despite the protest’s sober ethics).
Bands of volunteers go around picking up litter virtually the moment it lands anywhere on the ground across the square.
And the people, predominantly young, seem inwardly organised in their eagerness to express opinions and find out what others think.
Group discussions literally go on all night. At 2.30am there are people queueing up to read the little poster messages at the edge of the square. Some seem intent on going through each and every one. Others take photos so they can digest them properly later.
Middle aged couples, who you wouldn’t necessarily take for radical thinkers, stop and carefully scrutinise the words of dissent.
At the same time, there is a carnival atmosphere, aided and abetted by the warm Spanish nights that traditionally encourage nocturnal streetlife.
A samba band gets the midnight crowds dancing. Later still, another Latin American percussion group is joined by a man playing bagpipes (possibly Galician).
Others stand watching a subtitled American video projection on the pathology of modern civilization. The happy sound of guitars and human voices is everywhere.
Many of those involved, and those who have launched similar initiatives across Spain and well beyond, have mentioned the example of Tahrir Square in Egypt.
This was obviously an inspiration for the #spanishrevolution, but here the rebellion will not begin and end in this square.
Although there are no plans to move out yet, activists are already working on the next stage.
Displayed in the tarped-over centre of the occupation is an impressive list of barrios of Madrid where local people’s assemblies have been called for next Saturday, May 28, at noon.
This vibrant and determined pro-democracy movement means it for real.
‘Ha nacido en Sol un nuevo nosotros’ says a banner – a new ‘us’ has been born in Sol.
‘Madrid sera la tumba del neoliberalismo’ adds another – Madrid will be the tomb of neoliberalism.
And there’s even one in English for those of you at home – ‘People of Europe rise up!’