Europe's 2013 protest season finally kicked off this week. On Saturday, three days after the umpteenth general strike paralyzed Greece, a "citizens' wave" of indignation washed over Spain with hundreds of thousands of protesters swarming onto the streets of Madrid and over 80 cities in yet another major popular outcry against the ongoing financial coup d’étât. In Madrid, clashes broke out and at least 40 were arrested after police sought to disperse protesters who had once more encircled Parliament.
I went to Spain last fall hoping to find vigorous remnants of its bold anarchist tradition, homages to the spirit Orwell depicted during the anti-fascist civil war there in the 1930s, though this time the cause worth giving everything for would be democracy, rather than socialism.
I was attracted by the lingo: Real Democracy Now -- it didn't mince words, it combined disgust for the fake thing claiming the name with a sense of urgency to give it reality. Protesters were called Indignados, their bald passion a key to creating a democratic rebirth.
I've been vexed by elections going back to high-school student council. The wrong candidate usually won: the quarterback beat the class intellectual, convincing me that "the people" are stupid and democracy doesn't work.
Voters whose candidates lose often react that way. But what if the problem is elections, not democracy -- because elections aren't all there is to democracy. That may be hard to absorb, since we tend to equate them. But perhaps democracy isn't just a political system; it's a core part of being human.
Recent democratic eruptions in diverse places raise such questions.
Sitting in the living room of a friend's Mile End apartment just shy of 8:00pm of Thursday, I am called into the street by the deafening sound of clanging pots and pans.
On the residential street lined with Montreal's classic triplex townhouses, people of all ages are gathering with their cookware. Children clang at the doorstep of their friends calling to them to come out.
The now nightly "casseroles" are the latest form of popular outrage to premier Jean Charest's new special law that curbs freedom of assembly and association rights, in a bid to break three months of social unrest.
Yesterday marked the beginning of the celebration of the one-year anniversary of the Indignados movement in Spain, which helped to inspire Occupy Wall Street and like-minded efforts in many North American cities. Hundreds of thousands are participating in actions across Spain over the next few days, including some attempts at 're-occupation' of public squares, to mark the anniversary and to protest the Spanish government's austerity agenda.