There has been a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation about what is happening in Spain – in the Spanish press and elsewhere. It is time to put the record straight.
If you’re expecting an objective report here, you’ve come to the wrong place. But a bit of imbalance on my part might help to correct an imbalance on the other end of the scales that exists in certain sectors of the press and international opinion. And at least I’ve actually been there (around the clock, not staying in hotels).
Allow me to begin with an obvious plagiarism:
“NOBODY expects the Spanish Revolution! Our chief weapon is solidarity, solidarity and hope, hope and solidarity. Our two weapons are hope and solidarity and ruthless equality. Our three weapons are hope and solidarity and ruthless equality and an almost fanatical devotion to the People. Our four… No. No. AMONGST our weapons, amongst our weaponry are such elements as…” [with thanks and affection to Monty Python]
The points that I wish to make with that plagiarism are that
i) THE chief aim of this Spanish Revolution is an elusive beast. The Revolution is many things to many people.
ii) Reasons, aims, and demands are being added all the time.
But on one point virtually all of us are agreed: Nobody has a right to decide for anybody else just what it’s all about. Decisions are made on a one-person-one-vote basis and by/for each local-group. There is no President, no Congress, no Central Committee. There are [local and independent] parliaments. But we are all members of parliament… and we parley and parley. (This leads to long and complicated local popular assemblies, but everybody prefers that to handing over your voice to an elected representative, who is then free to “sell you out”. THAT is one of the evils of the present system that we’re calling for an end to.)
As the opening paragraphs of ONE manifesto [http://kontrolkaos.blogspot.com/2011/05/manifiesto-democracia-real-ya-ingles.html ] state:
“We are ordinary people. We are like you: people, who get up every morning to study, work or find a job, people who have family and friends. People, who work hard every day to provide a better future for those around us.
Some of us consider ourselves progressive, others conservative. Some of us are believers, some not. Some of us have clearly defined ideologies, others are apolitical, but we are all concerned and angry about the political, economic, and social outlook which we see around us: corruption among politicians, businessmen, bankers, leaving us helpless, without a voice.
This situation has become normal, a daily suffering, without hope. But if we join forces, we can change it. It’s time to change things, time to build a better society together.”
There is a popular misconception that this all started in Madrid and spread to the rest of Spain. That is… amongst those who are even aware that it IS happening in the rest of Spain. I would judge that about 90% of the coverage in the international press has to do with the concentration in Madrid’s Puerta Del Sol, with the occasional nod to Barcelona’s Plaça Catalunya and very rare mention of València’s Plaça De L’Ajuntament. (Those of you who might have trouble keeping track of all these names could take heart in knowing that many are being rechristened “Plaza Del 15 De Mayo” – or their regional-language [NOT dialect] equivalents [“Plaça Del 15 De Maig” where Catalan is spoken, “Praza Do 15 De Maio” in Galicia].)
The original demonstration was called for the 15th of May in cities and towns all over Spain. The significance of Madrid is two-fold: that it’s the capital of Spain, and it’s where the first campers were evicted by force in the wee hours of the 16th… leading to a mushrooming of the movement by indignant sympathisers, so that whereas the original demonstrators could be counted in the thousands, they must now be counted in tens of thousands. [On the following Wednesday, campers were evicted in Granada. They’re back. For some, this isn’t even passive resistance: we don’t resist. We move on when we’re told to, but we move back in when the police have moved on. They’ll tire before we do. I suspect that many sympathise with us.] There’s a sign in the square in Castelló: “Will NATO bomb this square?”
There might be some few in Madrid who would hope that the decisions made there will be accepted in the rest of Spain. But Spain is a country of proud individualists and while we are willing to listen to advice and learn from others’ experience, each local group makes its own decisions. Many would see this as one of the weaknesses of this revolution. Many see it as one of its greatest strengths.
In the early 1960s, grassroots organisations in the USA began to talk about a march on Washington DC to demand civil rights for Blacks [ http://www.kingian.net/march-on-washington.html ]. The idea gathered momentum and the masses began to organise themselves and move. The authorities in Washington were nervous because they wanted to stop the march, but how can you talk to thousands of people who are at the end of their rope? Long before the march had reached the capital, the authorities had decided who the leader of the movement was to be. They had chosen a spokesman for the Blacks – a moderate, anti-violent disciple of Gandhi, who would be easier to deal with than hot-headed, angry crowds. Although they didn’t manage to stop the march, they did manage to negotiate changing the focus of the march. I have the utmost respect for Martin Luther King, jr. I am not ashamed to tell you that it still brings a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes every time I listen to one of his speeches. Especially the one [http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkivebeentothemountaintop.htm] where he prepared his listeners for his death. In that speech he said:
Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.
And I don’t mind.
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!
I have tears streaming down my face as I copy and paste that. Only part of the reason for these tears is the fact that I know that the next day King would be dead. But it’s the part that made me copy and paste that speech fragment into this article. Because a single bullet robbed an originally grassroots movement of its charismatic leader… and set back the civil rights movement by about a decade.
We can’t run the risk of not learning from history. We can’t afford to allow the authorities – or ourselves – to choose a leader who negotiates changing our focus, or who becomes so important to the Revolution that if (s)he is co-opted, bought-off, assassinated, or dies a natural death… the Revolution itself will die a kind of death. Because we ALL – in these first days of the Spanish Revolution – have caught at least a glimpse of the Promised Land. [I’ll tell you about some of my personal glimpses below.] And we’re determined to get there.
And yes, there have already been attempts to co-opt us. There have been attempts by political parties to make political capital out of supporting our aims. We welcome any personal expressions of support from private individuals. But we wholeheartedly reject any attempts to use us or co-opt us. In Castelló, a political party (which I personally consider one of the better ones) offered the campers the use of their headquarters’ toilet and photocopier. We voted – after debate – to turn the offer down.
A bit of political background helps to understand the mood: The PP [Partido Popular (Conservatives)] attribute their landslide victory in the municipal and [certain] regional elections – held on the 22nd of May – to incompetence, poor leadership, and plain bad politics on the part of the PSOE [Partido Socialista Obrera de España (Workers’ Socialist Party of Spain)], as well as to their own popularity (if you’ll excuse the pun), good leadership, and good politics on their own part. They are – in one aspect – correct. Whereas the PP has a loyal following on which it can pretty much depend, whatever it does (the party presidents for the Valencian Community [of 3 provinces] and the retiring – to the private sector – president of the Castelló province are both facing criminal proceedings for corruption, but that didn’t stop their supporters from handing the party absolute majorities on both levels) the left-wing in Spain is more likely to “show the yellow card” to politicians and parties that it feels have betrayed it. PSOE’s wooing of Capital and right-of-centre voters has cost it a great deal of support on the left. This is definitely political bungling on their part. This disparity in loyalty vs ethics gave the PP an absolute majority in regional and municipal governments across Spain. PSOE has been ousted from several of its strongholds.
But the PP leader, Mariano Rajoy – echoing those who miss the times of Franco and say: “This sort of thing never happened with Franco…” – has been quoted as saying: “With PP, there were no ‘indignados’ [indignant ones]”, as if to say either that PP wouldn’t tolerate such insubordination, or that PSOE is to blame for the present state of discontent.
As one demonstrator stated: “Marionito, Marioneta [Little Mariano, Puppet], if you think that when you arrive at the presidency we won’t be just as indignant, you’re sadly mistaken.” And if he thinks that PP is going to be able to slow down a movement that has seen the Promised Land, he’s also mistaken.
Five details of the election results are revealing:
Although the headlines here read “PP sweeps the board”,
a) PP only won about 25% of the eligible vote.
b) and although “levels of voter participation are about the same as the local elections of 4 years ago”, the number of blank and void ballot papers has been TRIPLED.
c) in Vistabella del Maestrat, a small town in the mountains of Castelló (proud of its slogan “just one step from Heaven”), in 2007 – and just 40 days before the local elections – a non-partisan group was hastily formed to put an end to council corruption. There was no way that PSOE – or any other political party – could have won against PP. But – calling itself “Candidacy For Vistabella [CPV]” and insisting that it had NO party affiliation – it won enough support from PP voters who were sick of the corruption of the governing council (and from other voters) to win 4 seats out of 7. (The remaining 3 remaining in possession of PP.) This year, 2011, a year of “sweeping advances by PP”, CPV has taken one more seat away from PP [5-2]. (Out of 306 voters, PSOE persuaded just 1 person to vote for them – in the COUNCIL elections.) This is not an isolated case. More and more indignant voters in towns and villages are turning their backs on party politics and voting for those who promise to pay attention to the citizens’ wishes and never to betray them. And if these do betray them, there will be no party loyalty to keep voters true to the traitors.
d) 5km from Vistabella (as the crow flies – it’s 14.5km by road) in Xodos, 38 people voted for PP, 37 voted for PSOE. The seats on the council will be divided thus: 4 for PP, 1 for PSOE. I am told that PSOE couldn’t find more than one candidate willing to stand, so that – supposedly – even if the vote had been 74 for PSOE and 1 for PP, the council would still consist of 4 PPers and 1 PSOEr. [There is nothing to prevent a candidate standing in a constituency where (s)he doesn’t live (this caused several outraged citizens to complain after earlier elections that they had, completely unknown to themselves, been candidates for PP in no-hope-of-actually-winning towns in Euskadi [the Basque country]), but – theoretically – if you win a seat, you’re at least morally obliged to work for that town.]
e) Speaking of Euskadi, a region where – by declaring illegal a whole series of parties in favour of all-out independence – the 2 big national parties (taking turns in government) have silenced the [parliamentary] political aspirations of hundreds of thousands of voters, and managed at last to wrest from the nationalist PNV the regional government (now an “unholy alliance” of PP-PSOE) in 2009’s regional elections, SOMETHING WENT WRONG THIS YEAR! The newly-formed Bildu WASN’T declared illegal and jumped into 2nd place with 276,134 votes region-wide and 1st place in the province of Gipuzkoa [Guipúzcoa], the provincial capital Donostia [San Sebastián] and over 100 towns. These are 276,134 votes that in past elections would have been blank or void voting slips… or bullets. [If you deny 25.45% of the electorate their democratic voice, you have no right to throw up your hands in horror when a small handful turn to violence.] A spokesman for Bildu has predicted that these election results mean the end of ETA. There are those who believe that – for reasons of their own – PP and PSOE want ETA to continue. Still, there’s plenty of time to find an excuse to outlaw Bildu before the next Euskadi regional elections in 2013…
Having just written that last paragraph, the supporters of the Spanish Revolution have no intention of turning to violence. We know that we won’t win that way. Most of us are committed to non-violence. But we call ourselves the “indignad@s” [@ = a or o, to avoid sexist, generic terms], which the English-speaking press has translated as “angry”. I don’t like this translation. It can also be translated as “outraged” [for which I, personally, have a soft spot – due to Steve Bell’s cartoon strip, “If” and its Elvis-like penguin who used to say: “Outrage, Man, outrage!”], but what is wrong with “indignant”? TOO obvious?
We are indignant that
politicians take our votes then ignore our wishes for 4 years (until the next elections);
Spanish politicians pass laws that make them eligible for a life-long pension equivalent to 80% of their salary after 7 years in office, 100% after 11 years, while an ordinary worker has to work for 35 to get her or his pension… and the amount is MUCH lower;
bankers are allowed to steer the rest of us into a World-wide crisis (from which the banks actually benefit, being able to foreclose on debtors who can’t make the payments), get bailed out by tax-payers’ money, and then retire with not a golden, but a platinum handshake;
they tell us that there is no money for hospitals, schools, job-creation, or the aged… but there is always money for arms, state banquets, and royal leeches;
with an unemployment level that is among the highest in Europe, Spain is planning to raise the retirement age, so that there will be even more work for those who deserve a rest and even less work for those who want a job.
Oh, I could go on and on, but surely you get the picture by now? Do you understand now why we’re camping out? Would you like to join us?
And when we protest, we are accused of being shiftless lay-abouts who refuse to get a job, unwashed hippies and punks, disturbers of the peace, angry, selfish, arrogant.
I really have no right to speak for the whole movement. I have no right to write about what’s happening in Madrid, Barcelona, Granada, or other smaller towns where protests are springing up, because I’d need to get my information from Internet… and you can do that for yourselves.
But then that’s fair, because the campers / protestors in Madrid have no right to tell me or anybody else in Castelló or València how to live our protest or our dream.
I have no right to speak for everybody who attends the protests and actions in València and Castelló. But I do have the right to speak of what I have seen and lived in these 2 cities: the former being the 3rd-largest city in Spain, where about 3000+ people show up for the daily assemblies at 8pm, and hundreds spend the whole night; the latter a small provincial capital where a few hundred come to the assemblies, and a few dozen spend the night.
I have a right to tell you that I haven’t needed to spend a cent on food for the last week because locals – who haven’t got the time to come to the assemblies or camp out – are in sympathy with what we are trying to achieve for everyone, and are generous with donations of food, coffee, fruit juices, olive oil which they bring to our camp pantries… I’ve been eating pretty well this week. I have a right to tell you of the hard work that the kitchen staff put in to prepare and hand out meals [about 20hours/day] in València. (Meals are somewhat more “self-service” in Castelló, where there aren’t facilities for cooking, where people trust that we’ll return the vacuum flasks and plastic dishes in which they bring their offerings of coffee and potato omelettes…) I have a right .to tell of the woman in Castelló who approached us and insisted on leaving us the keys to her flat, because she was going to work, and if anybody needed to use her toilet or have a shower while she was out…
I have the right to tell you how we deal with threats by fascists (I’ve witnessed one in each city [ http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/may/20/spain-protesting-angry-ones?commentpage=5#comment-10849128 ]) peacefully, without recurring to the police – who might just be eager for a chance to “restore order”.
I have a right to tell you about the work commissions – that anybody can join, without passing any kind of examine – in each city to take care of all aspects of these camps, from coordination and dealing with the press to street theatre and sweeping the square each morning. About their hard work in keeping us supplied with cardboard and sellotape, with folding tables and ladders, with information and music, with smiles and cheer.
I have a right to tell you about people whom I didn’t know 8 days ago, who are now members of my family, who smile and call out: “Hey, Jimmy! How did it go in València?” when I arrive back in Castelló. Who lent me a tent on my first night there, before they knew me that well.
I have a right to tell you about the council street sweepers (a woman in Castelló, a man in València) who told me that “the square is much cleaner since you people moved in.”
I have a right to tell you about the amazing quantity of imagination that goes into the slogans that people invent:
“We’re not anti-system – the system is anti-us.”
“The IMF rapes all of us, not just chambermaids.”
“Another May is possible.”
“I’m looking for my rights. Has anybody seen them?”
“Without a home. Without a job. Without a pension. Without fear.”
And so many more that make me burst out laughing but would be completely lame in the translation.
I have a right to tell you about the people who ask for hugs from complete strangers – and to share the news that I’ve NEVER seen the request being turned down.
I have a right to tell you about the 8-year-old children who write compositions about their hopes for the future to read out – often with a quite reasonable need for moral support from their parents – at a microphone facing 400 people in Castelló… or 3000 in València. And of the 81-year-old veteran of the Spanish Civil War who was waiting for his turn to sing us all a song in València. [“Which side were you fighting for?” I joked.]
And I have a right to tell you about the clown dressed up as a snail [“We snails are finished when you take our houses from us”] who took the microphone in València to say that: “There must be something in the air or in the water in this square. I’ve been here for 3 days, and I’ve fallen in love on each day… and the thing is, I’ve fallen in love with ALL of you.”
Who’s got MORE right to tell you about that? Because I was that snail. [I have to admit that I really prefer the camp in Castelló, where I left a sign with the same message, so that it’s on view 24/7.]
Finally, I want to share with you a video. It’s in Spanish without subtitles. But if I tell you that “un despertar” means “an awakening”, and that “despierta” means “wake up!”, that’s all you really need to know. I am not ashamed to tell you that it brings a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes every time I watch it. Which I’m about to do right now: http://www.pluralia.tv/video/1633/despierta/
Stop Press!!! I’m so glad that I haven’t sent this off yet, because I’ve just received an e-mail with a link-to-a-link to this one. For those of you who don’t understand Spanish, if you click on the upper left-hand corner at the beginning of the video, you get the version in English: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3DXJ0qPXrCA
… and leave you with our locally-chosen (in Castelló) slogan:
“Desperta! Ja ha començat!” [Wake up! It’s already begun!]
Jimmy Hollis i Dickson
(You can find plenty of photos of the square in València on Internet. The ones used here are from Castelló.)