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.
The call from the 15-M folks for Granada was for people to gather at 9pm in the Plaza del Carmen, which is a small square across from Granada City Hall.
Arriving early, we saw the massive police presence that was being prepared: half a dozen paddy wagons and at least a couple of dozen cops were in the Plaza itself while we saw others coming and going from the building housing city hall. They were not just municipal police but the Guardia Civil, who have a far more fierce reputation on the streets of Spain. We also could not help but be aware of the police helicopter that was circling overhead all evening.
Granada is – despite the heavy tourist industry centred around the Alhambra – a small town in southern Spain. The protest here wasn’t expected to be large so the overwhelming police presence was disturbing, to say the least.
In Madrid and Barcelona, there were tens of thousands marching, as they were also in Bilbao, Palma and Valencia – all much bigger cities, but also communities with long histories of radicalism and anarchism.
Here in Granada, which has historically been more conservative politically, we were not sure of what to expect. Around 10pm, the core Indignados movement here marched down Calle Reyes Catolicos (named for Isabella and Ferdinand, proving once again how close history is in Spain) with large banners reading, ‘Todos a la Plaza – Encuentro Permanente 12-15 Mayo.’
Although the crowd here in Granada was probably only a thousand people to begin with, people joined in on the march through the streets. By the time the march swept into Plaza del Carmen on its second circuit of the downtown core, there were probably a couple of thousand people there, all supporting the spirit of the movement.
Mari Carmen, a young woman in an orange Indignados T-shirt, told us about the year of organizing work behind this demonstration. Here in Granada, they have been holding meetings in barrios across the city and in small towns across the province. These workshops and mobilizing sessions have been about educating people about the reality of the ‘publicization’ of private debt in Spain that lies at the heart of the recession here.
Spanish governments ran mostly balanced budgets until the crisis hit here in 2008. Then, in an attempt to rescue their failing savings banks, the central government bailed out the institutions, and in the process discovered they needed to cut social spending in order to pay for the bailouts. Across Spain, reports here confirm that hundreds of thousands of people have been marching under the slogan of ‘We don’t owe; we won’t pay.’
The anger over the bailouts to the financial institutions is only further inflamed by their cavalier treatment of mortgages. Young Spaniards and other newcomers to the Spanish property market bought into what seemed like low interest rate mortgages at the height of the property bubble, only to find that when they lost their jobs and couldn’t afford to pay their mortgages, the banks could and would repossess their homes at the lower valuation rate post-bubble and then still hold the now homeless person responsible for the rest of the mortgage amount.
Homemade signs in the crowd pointed out that the 10 billion euros most recently cut from the education and health budget is the amount recently handed out to the banks.
Mari Carmen – who is in her 20s, speaks four languages and has a degree – has been unemployed for over two years. Eduardo, who was with her, is in a similar situation. She’s planning to spend the next three nights at the demo, joining those who are already making themselves comfortable (or as much as they can, given that the ground is poured concrete slab) on the Plaza.
“Our plaza,” they chant. For Mari Carmen and Eduardo and many of the other young and desperate people here, it’s the lack of jobs that cuts most deeply but she also tells us that the housing crisis is so bad that elderly parents, who have remortgaged houses already paid off in order to help their children buy their own dwellings, are now facing eviction.
When I ask them what they hope for, she says, “We are simply here to continue the fight. It didn’t end last year or with the general strike [March 29]. We do not stop until the system of capitalism changes. We want people to be respected.”
Watch this space for an update about what happened late last night to the Indignados who began to sit down on Plaza del Carmen in defiance of the central government’s widely publicized stance that it will not permit encampments in public spaces over the next three days.
Archana Rampure works as a researcher for the Canadian Union of Public Employees.