Civil Society, Economy & Trade, Europe, Financial Crisis, Headlines, World Social Forum

SPAIN: Protest Movement Spreads to Neighbourhoods, Small Towns

MALAGA, Spain, Jun 9 2011 (IPS) - The May 15 Movement (15-M) which sprang up as huge rallies in public squares in Spain’s largest cities to protest against the political, economic and social system, is multiplying as assemblies in local neighbourhoods in provincial capitals and other municipalities.

“The idea is for the movement to decentralise and carry on working in the neighbourhoods and small towns,” Laura Rueda, a 29-year-old unemployed journalist and one of the spokespersons for the movement, told IPS in the southern city of Málaga, where they are still debating whether to continue camping in the central Constitution square.

On May 15, in the final stretch of the campaign for the May 22 local and regional elections, a demonstration by the Real Democracy Now! Platform was suppressed by the police, provoking a mass protest in the Puerta del Sol square in Madrid.

The protest spread rapidly to the main squares of other cities, crossed the country’s borders and became the 15-M movement.

With slogans like “Take Back the Neighbourhoods!”, the spontaneous movement, which sprang up independently of trade unions and political parties, is now seeking continuity in the form of citizens’ assemblies, so that its demands are not forgotten now that its impact has declined after the elections.

The May 22 elections were disastrous for the governing Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), as the opposition conservative Popular Party (PP) won in 12 of the 13 autonomous regions where elections were held, out of the country’s total of 17 regions.


The government of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero was forced by the European Union to make a political about-face in May 2010, in order to manage the debt crisis and avoid a financial bailout by its euro partners.

Drastic adjustment measures were a fiscal success, but at the cost of cutting social spending and increasing unemployment, Spain’s most pressing social problem. At the end of May, there were more than four million unemployed people, equivalent to 19 percent of the economically active population, with young people being the worst affected.

“We want to maintain a presence in the squares as reference points, physical places where information is available, but the aim is for the movement to continue its work in the neighbourhoods,” Rueda said.

On May 28, the assemblies that used to be held in the encampment in Puerta del Sol in Madrid moved for the first time to 41 neighbourhoods in the capital and another 80 municipalities in the region. Since then, weekly meetings have been held, the conclusions of which are published in a special blog.

In Málaga, one of the biggest cities in the Andalucía region, 15-M activists are advocating legislative changes in favour of citizens’ interests.

On May 31 they presented their first proposal to the regional parliament, focused on increasing citizen participation in political decision-making in the region.

15-M, also known as the “Movement of the Indignant”, is made up mainly of young people who communicate by means of the Internet and social networks. It is committed to electoral reform, fighting corruption, establishing separate and independent branches of government and greater citizen oversight of politicians.

In the view of some members of 15-M, in order to avoid isolation the movement should reach agreements with political parties willing to uphold its demands and incorporate them into the campaign for the next general elections, slated for March 2012.

In general, political parties have failed to understand the essence of 15-M and are “out of the loop” in terms of this expression of deep social malaise, analysts say.

Rafael Blanco of Puente Humano (Human Bridge), an organisation in the Canary Islands – off the northwest coast of Africa – that uses information and communication technology to bring people together, told IPS that what is happening in Spain’s public squares, the communication achieved and the potential for organising action, “mirrors the World Social Forum.”

The World Social Forum organises meetings connecting civil society organisations and movements in every country, and has held many regional social forums and mobilisations of different scope, in addition to its main annual meetings held chiefly in southern Brazil but also in different regions of the developing South.

“There are many forums all over the place, and the people who attend them really want to network and share,” said Blanco, who predicts that “integrating people and work” could open the door to “action on a planetary level.”

In Blanco’s view, the 15-M movement also has features in common with the uprisings occurring since January in North Africa and other Arab countries, such as the prominence of young people among the protesters and the peaceful civil disobedience that characterises the movements.

The activist said he believed there were more opportunities in the Canary Islands, particularly for exchange and communication with likeminded people in Morocco.

Seresade Jábega, a 20-year-old student and a spokeswoman for 15-M in Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands, told IPS that activists are still camping in the main square of the capital city, Santa Cruz, but assemblies have already spread to neighbourhoods on the north side of the island.

In the northeastern Spanish city of Barcelona, “the spirit of the encampments is spreading in the neighbourhoods and, more importantly, in every town and village in the region of Catalonia,” Esther Vivas, a 15-M activist in the Catalonian capital, told IPS.

The regional police attempted to evict demonstrators camping out in Catalonia square in the centre of the city, triggering clashes in which 121 protesters were injured and intensifying the anger of 15-M participants all over the country.

Vivas said a Jun. 4 meeting in Barcelona brought together participants in the movement from various parts of the region to exchange experiences and discuss whether the demonstrators should continue camping out in Catalonia square.

On the same day in Madrid spokespersons from the camps in more than 30 Spanish cities met to unify their proposals and improve coordination among themselves.

The Spanish authorities say indefinite occupation of public places is against the law, while businesses in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol complain that the encampment is causing them serious problems, including a fall in sales of between 50 and 80 percent.

The Real Democracy Now! Platform has managed to unite over 500 groups and social movements in Spain, and has called for simultaneous demonstrations in several cities for Jun. 19.

“The struggle continues, and the 15-M movement will not stop after the success of the protests on May 15 and the later encampments and rallies in squares all over Spain,” says the Platform’s web site.

 
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