What is taking place within Spain at present is part of a wider narrative that police repression will simply not be able quell. A historic social and political shift appears to be taking place as an entire generation of young people attempt to take control of their own collective destiny – both in Europe and across the Arab world. And while there much to contrast between, for instance, the context of the uprisings in Egypt and what is happening in Spain, the fundamentals are the same. It is about a craving for greater democracy, for choice and, in essence, for a better, more equal and egalitarian society.
Details on the organisation of the Spanish mobilizations, followed by some interesting interview excerpts by a participant.
1. Governance at the camp
Via OpenDemocracy, Ryan Gallagher:
“The camp at Puerta del Sol functions like a micro-society. Food and water is provided for free, donated by sympathetic local businesses; there are fully functioning kitchens; toilets; a media and communications tent; a children’s nursery; and even a library.
It is divided up into six key working committees, each tasked with a specific area: politics, economics, education and culture, social policy and migration, environment, and health. Every committee has a ballot box outside, into which people are encouraged to deposit suggestions for change. Every suggestion is looked at and discussed, with conclusions taken forward to a meeting with heads of each respective committee. After more long and gruelling discussion, the conclusions are then eventually brought before a general assembly – during which the entire camp (or anyone else for that matter) is able to vote on each commission’s suggested proposals.
There is no distinct leader or figurehead; all decisions are made by consensus, meaning every single person has to be in agreement. If one person does not agree, the group will simply keep discussing until they form a compromise and are able to move forward. The meetings often take hours, with the activists working through the night, debating, discussing and pouring over the hundreds – perhaps thousands – of suggestions they receive daily through the ballot boxes.
“The leadership is our assembly, where the decisions are taken by consensus,” said one of the activists, Juan, 22. “Many people think that this doesn’t work – the reality is we are where we are because of this consensus.”
A key element to the success and growth of the camp seems to have stemmed from its rigorous organisation and serious ethos. The media-savvy organisers are keen to discourage alcohol consumption in the square, because they feel it could be used to negatively portray them as irresponsible young people, just looking for a good time and an excuse to get drunk and party.
In order to counter any negative perceptions, they keep the square meticulously clean and actively encourage pacifism and non-violence. Volunteers sweep the area almost constantly and remarkably most people adhere to the no-alcohol rule – at least until well after dark.
While most of the key activists in the square are young – between around 20-35 – there are also many older people spending time at the camp. Its rigorous organisation and serious ethos seems to have won the demonstrators the respect of many older members of the Madrid community.
One 66-year-old man, Manuel Ferreira, described how the scene reminded him of Paris in 1968 – though he said it was “more peaceful” due to less conflict with the authorities. Ferreira also said he believed the Madrid protests were of greater historical significance, something he attributed to the way internet technology today can propagate movements and make them global within such a short space of time. “I think I am living a new world order,” he said. “I am sure it will spread.”
The peaceful nature of the camp must to some degree be attributed to the police’s response, for they stay behind barriers to one side of the square. So long as Puerta del Sol is full of families, children and older people, the activists believe the authorities will be likely to stay away. Only a few days after the protests began, the police tried to block off the square – but this only encouraged more demonstrators to come out into the streets. As such, the authorities appear to have realised that their presence within the camp only antagonises protesters, and so have been forced to simply let them get on with it.
“They saw that they could not control this with police,” said Beatriz Pérez, a 29-year-old spokesperson for the movement. “So I think they took the opposite strategy: to let the movement be pacifistic, because we are a pacifistic, non-violent movement. They cannot move us out, so the police have no duty here.”
2. The methods are more important than the manifesto and demands
Excerpted from an interview of Beatriz Pérez, member of the Madrid communications team, talking to openDemocracy author Pedro Silverio Moreno:
“You speak as if you have already achieved change, do you think so?
Yes, I think so.
We have planted a little seed in everybody’s mind. We have broken the silence. Now everyone can say, “We have the right to say that we are tired of things and want change”. We know now that we have the strength that comes from being many people, and not just left-wing, as well as support from all over the world. We know that we have the strength to go onto the street and stay for over a week, nothing like it has happened before that I can remember. When I was young, at school, there were big demonstrations. But they were just demonstrations. This is a form of ongoing self-organisation. Including in the occupations outside Madrid, in the many squares where people are concentrating, even if they don’t have the same infrastructure of a parallel city like we have.
Is what you are doing really different?
Yes, it is different. The main slogan ”Real Democracy, Now!” hasn’t been used before. In this way we are being original. But I think that in many other demonstrations people were asking indirectly for real democracy. So by putting this first, as the goal that we want, yes we are being original. But I think we are not that original in the things that we are asking for below the headline.
Do you want to achieve the demands in the Manifesto that I read on the web in London?
Seriously? I have never seen this manifesto with these nine demands before. However, they are what we are asking for and I recognise the discourse that we are using. But there are a lot of people doing their own manifestos. I think that’s good!
What do you think of the manifesto with its call for fairness and social equality?
I don’t think it is radical at all! I think we have put forward a traditional manifesto. This is the minimum. This is something we obviously need. It is the minimum, something we deserve just for being human and for living in society. I mean, what is most outrageous for me is that I have to be out in the street asking for something that is fair. But I am not representing the movement when I say this, or speaking on its behalf in this conversation. I am just giving you my point of view, as you ask, as someone who participates.
I don’t know how to express it, but the most important thing for me, which motivates me, is that I am an optimist and I think what we are doing will spread. There is a need we all have to feel that we are not alone.
So your methods are more important than your manifesto?
We need change. And we are also changing the way that we ask for change. That we are asking in a non-violent way gives us legitimacy. It also makes it attractive for people to join us. It will spread like a virus. People have been silent, they have been afraid – they still are afraid – after many years. The authorities want them to keep their fear. We want them to lose it. It is marvellous that we are peaceful also because we want the future to be at peace. And because we have no rush, we don’t need to be violent.
You say you have “no rush” and you have said it is like planting “a seed” and yet you are calling for “Real Democracy NOW”!
Yes, but we want it now because it is what should be. We just want to have what we deserve. That’s why we want it now. But we have no rush in achieving real democracy because, as it is something that I deserve I don’t need to be in a hurry. I want it now because I think I deserve it. We are not demonstrating for something we deserve in the future. But this also gives us all the time in the world to get the changes, because they are what we deserve. I know it sounds a little bit of a contradiction, but I think it makes sense.
So how do you feel you will all grow it? I mean if the party leaders came to you tomorrow in Sol and said you are right – you can have power – it would be a catastrophe. Even if you can hardly be more incompetent than them, you are not yet prepared to run Spain.
Of course not!
But in ten years time?
Yea, I think so.
That would be very fast for you to succeed.
The thing is that we cannot be in Puerta del Sol for ten years living in a temporary city, it’s not possible to do that. So we need to grow in a way that we don’t need a single place to gather. And that’s the challenge we are trying hard to meet and resolve. For example, on Saturday [28th May] when we start the neighbourhood assemblies in Madrid.”
3. The role of the internet
From the same interview:
And what is the role of the internet? You are not building a traditional organisation like a party, but you are building an organisation?
“The internet is giving us the tools to know what everybody is doing everywhere. It is also a tool for getting together on the website, in a virtual square. This is very important for when the movement loses its strength in the physical places, like Sol, we will still be there on the internet.
There are many people who have no internet and they need to come to the meeting places like Sol in order to get involved and informed. And we all of us need to meet. But on the other hand there are a lot of people who have no city close enough for them to go and demonstrate, so the internet is very helpful for them.
We need to use the internet to build strong and powerful networks to keep the movement alive. We are working on this, we have a lot of people working on this, from all over the world, trying to build structures to be connected from every place.”
This report stresses the role of ‘online amicable networks” in the Spanish 15M mobilizations:
“Whether it is requesting supplies, giving recommendation in box of military involvement or joining to alternative city centre protests opposite Spain, amicable networks have been “an necessary apparatus for us”, Zulo said.
“At initial you were stunned, you were impressed by a scale of a mobilization upon a Internet, you perceived so many messages of support,” pronounced Zulo, his hair bunched up in a tail of dreadlocks.
In a initial days after a origination of a Facebook page Spanish series — https://www.facebook.com/SpanishRevolution — a comment had 1,000 supporters induction each hour. Now it has some-more than 146,000.
On micro-blogging site Twitter, a crush tags #acampadasol (Sol encampment), #notenemosmedio (we have no fear), #nosquedamos (we have been staying) or #spanishrevolution have been between a many renouned in Spain. Twitter comment acampadasol had some-more than 50,000 followers.
According to Jose Feliz Tezanos, sociologist during Madrid’s UNED university, amicable networks supposing immature protesters with a new- assembly place.
“There have been 8 of us updating amicable network accounts with a computers or smartphones,” pronounced Zulo, sporting a immature T-shirt emblazoned with a difference “social networks”.
“Even if you cannot review a incident to which of Arab countries, similar to them a purpose of amicable networks has been fundamental,” he said.”
And here is a good atmospheric video report from the BBC.