For three years now, Europe has been in the throes of the worst economic crisis since the end of the Second World War. Especially in the poorer countries of the EU, the crisis has struck with full force. In preparatory obedience, to make sure it would indeed fulfil all the expectations of international speculators, Spain brutally slashed its public budget. Pensions were reduced, workers rights struck down, public investments cut back and taxes raised. The result is a paralyzed country in which 40% of young people are now unemployed.
On May 15, a wave of public protests swept through Spain’s cities, completely surprising all observers. Where did these protests come from, who was behind them, and what was the goal of the demonstrators? It is still difficult today to assess the success of these protests. But certainly, something has happened in Spain.
In the beginning was the Internet – but the movement initiated via Facebook did not emerge from nowhere; it could build on strong social movements. Fabio Gándara, soon to be speaker of what is now called the movement Democracia Real Ya (DRY), out of which M 15 grew, and several of his friends, in December 2010 began an intensive series of debates about the causes of Spain’s economic crisis.
From the discussions, they identified two countries which they saw as models for the DRY movement: The first was little Iceland, which can afford a democratic political system in which civil society holds together and can call the elites to account. In two referenda, the Icelanders withstood the pressure of international capital, and have to this day refused as a people to pay for the speculations of the financial institutions; they have even brought their former premier to trial.
From the South came the model of the Arab Spring. The peoples of the Maghreb and the Middle East are showing how it is possible under very adverse conditions to succeed in unseating a corrupt elite. The important thing here was the realization that mass mobilization really is possible via the social networks of the Internet.
"There are two main culprits: the politicians, our supposed representatives, acting in collusion with the major economic powers, and the economic powers themselves, which influence the major political parties, impose a framework of deregulation and speculate on the country’s bonds."
The first joint meeting of the organizers was already marked by the open structure of the debate which is what has made the M 15 movement so liberating for its participants. The result was that on Sunday, May 15, 2011, in various cities, more than 80,000 people came out onto the streets. After dry had succeeded in mobilizing the people, the organization moved into the background: people were to take command themselves. After the first major demonstration, some 35 people stayed in the square that evening and spent the night there. On Thursday, May 18, there were already tent camps and 82 cities in Spain.
A manifesto was discussed. Which demands was it to include? Everywhere in the squares, the debates lasted all day, and there was one golden rule: unanimity. If anybody raised their hands and crossed them, that meant that there was still need for discussion. Here, direct democracy was palpable, and new forms of behaviour were being actively practiced.
There are plenty of demands: a reform of the electoral system, the breakup the two-fold monopoly of the Conservatives of the Socialists; revision of the electoral contribution law; income redistribution through a more strongly progressive tax system; introduction of the Tobin tax; a ban on the candidacy of corrupt politicians; and opening of the electoral lists for non-party candidates.
Most of the occupied squares have now been cleared again. As important as the occupation of the central squares in the cities was, people live in the suburbs, not in the city centres. For that reason, M 15 moved from the re-conquered public spaces in the city centres out to other regions. Currently, small groups in the suburbs and bedroom communities are organizing the citizens. On June 20, dry brought more than 100,000 people into the streets – more than ever before.
For years, Europe’s people have been persuaded that the Middle East is the source of nothing but terror, poverty and despotism. It is therefore of particular importance that Spain, which in 2004 suffered an Al Qaeda terrorist attack, is the country where the democratic movement is explicitly referring to the experience of the revolutionaries on the southern side of the Mediterranean. The Spaniards have already won one important victory: they’ve regained the joy of public life. Perhaps it is this joy, the knowledge of what one can achieve together, and the experience of having found in one’s neighbour a true fellow human, that is the greatest victory that is currently possible.
For that reason, it is important even now to Mark October 15, 2011 in red in one’s calendar. This is the day of the worldwide demonstrations against crisis management by the elites. Who wants to join in? M 15 is looking for contacts worldwide to coordinate the demonstrations.