The Spanish Spring

So the Spanish revolution – or the 15M (el movimiento 15M)*  as the Spanish like to call it – is not led by the young only, It is about building an active civil society rather than changing regimes, and it isn’t about money but rather ethics! I talked to consultant in International Cooperation and Development, Alberto Hedo Delgado and screenwriter, Mario Cuesta Hernando, who are both actively participating in the 15M, to find out what “other” misconceptions I have about the revolution.

 “From Tahrir to Madrid to the world, world revolution,” says one of the banners raised by Spanish protesters referring to sit-ins organized by Egyptian protestors in Tahrir square. Do you think the Arab Spring will turn into a “European or Spanish Summer”? Why do you think so?

Mario: There have been slogans linking the Spanish Revolution to the Arab Spring, to the Greek fury in Syntagma Square, and the Icelandic demonstrators who refused to pay their bank debts… The difference is that in Spain (and so Europe) we demand economic changes (like protection of public services, stopping the international stock-market speculation and cutting the links of governments with the economic powers), while the Arab Spring is about politics and demanding democracy. I think the main link is that in a global economy, citizen movements are global too. With different demands, we look around and we think “this is the time”.

What do the two revolutions have in common?

Alberto: Both movements avoid (at least in principle) concrete ideologies. What unites people in both movements is the desire for change and the need to find a better form of government. Both movements are using social media to expand and take both national and international hold. Another common element in all the movements that have emerged this year is occupying a physical space (squares) as a symbol of taking over the power by the people.

Mario: Both [revolutions] have the impulse of the youth but involve people of every age and are supported by the middle class. All of them were unexpected in their strength and persistence. For me, persistence is the singularity of all these demonstrations.

Analysts say the Spanish revolution is about the power of the globalised industrialized corporations and their partnership with banks rather than democracy and politics. What do you think? If yes, how are you hoping to change this power relationship between banks and corporations?

Mario: We demand new economic ethics, but this can only be done through politics. I don’t expect banks and corporations to change their mentality, but I do expect the parliament to release laws that will force them to act ethically.

However, every person you ask from the 15M will give you a different perspective on what economic and politic changes he/she expects. Some people just expect stronger regulations for banks and stock exchange, others want to protect public services (Health, Education…), but there are anarchist tendencies demanding a complete change of the rules. I think all of us would agree on two things: we didn’t provoke this crisis, so we shouldn’t pay and suffer the consequences (that we already do); and we must do whatever it takes to avoid a crisis like this in the future.

How to make that happen? First, by encouraging people to express their anger. It is necessary to spread an individual “revolutionary state of mind” and the sense of responsibility that as citizens we should be aware, meet with those who share our concerns, and find tools for citizen participation other than voting.

Second, – and I think this is the main goal of the 15M till now- to control media’s agenda. The last decade journalists were supporters of political parties. Their agenda was the same as the parties’ agenda. The political section of [local] papers were like “kids’ fight” between the government and the opposition. “You did this”, “but you did it before”, “but you do it more often”. The political debate was extremely shallow. Now, whether journalist and politicians agree or disagree with our movement, but they talk about us daily, and that means they talk about our concerns, our demands, and they can’t do it without using our vocabulary: poverty, abuse, speculation, unemployment, justice… we pushed politics debate to a more adult level.

And finally [we are achieving change] through specific actions, some of which were already taken before the 15M, but the revolution has provided them with better logistics and higher numbers. For example, since the start of the financial crisis, thousands of families were evicted from their homes because they couldn’t pay their mortgages (200 families daily since 2007; 15.491 only in the first three months of 2011). When the police and the court secretary go to the house to evict the family, they find hundreds of people at the front door. Only riot police can move those people, and usually banks (who own the mortgage) prefer not have that bad publicity. So families can stay. It is working so well that we have caught media’s attention, and the parliament had to approve a law to protect families. Still, the [new] law was not good enough and we keep meeting at front doors. Persistence is working.

Protestors called for boycotting elections. Yet municipal elections witnessed a relatively high figure this year (65 per cent of Spanish voters). Why do you think is that? And what do you think of the elections’ result?

Alberto: The 15M is not an organized movement, with a visible head or leader to follow. Each person or small group choose the best form of protest they like. Media promoted the view that protesters were mainly calling for abstention. I doubt that the majority did so, since the election results showed that abstention was not significantly higher than it was in previous elections. Major political parties, large corporations, banks and mass media fostered the view that we are young “anti-systems”, we ignore politics and elections, just a bunch of anarchists protesting without any proposal. This is clearly an attempt to discredit a movement that is taking shape and gaining growing acceptance by society. But we will not stop. To quote one of our slogans: “we do not fear” and since many people have no jobs, no homes, no peace of mind or rest… we have plenty of time!

Spain has tended, except in very specific historical periods, towards conformism. This is finally starting to change. But still, there are many people with pessimistic attitudes, who will not vote. Many people who failed to vote cried the next day because the right party won almost everything. It was devastating. Now it is time to convince those who chose not to vote that in the next election they should play an active role and vote.

Mario: participating in a democracy is not only about voting every 4 years. You must get involved and participate. For example, I am against the weapon industry but my savings were in a bank that finances that industry. I was basically demonstrating in the evening against what I was financing in the morning, so I searched for another bank and I moved my savings.

Things don’t happen every 4 years. Suddenly a huge financial crisis happened and we were not prepared to react as sovereign citizens. Politicians didn’t think for a second that they had to ask before giving our taxes to banks, because in their mentality if we don’t like what they do we will vote differently in 4 years time… A decision so important should not have been taken without asking people in a referendum. Look at Iceland, they refused to pay. That can’t happen again, and the only way to avoid it is by having regular citizen participation.

Would a change of regime in Spain, anyway, help solve the economical crisis the country is facing today?

Alberto: The crisis is global, so a change of government and attitude will not change anything related to the international crisis. However, there are concrete proposals that assemblies of 15M made to mitigate the effects of the crisis like limiting bailouts to banks and financial institutions, promoting social spending and supporting families to encourage household spending and revive the economy, identifying the implications of the alleged Spanish debt and rebuilding the Spanish National Bank as a public entity with the capacity to control inflation and financial transactions.

It is clear that the implementation of such initiatives, will not be to the international markets and international financial institutions’ likening. Nor will it be to the likening of many countries that promote initiatives of public spending cuts. This would have consequences for Spain and the debt ratings by rating agencies, but the more important thing for Spanish society is to feel that the Spanish government is more concerned about the people it represents rather than external institutions who are only concerned about their own interests and about maintaining an economic and political system that is clearly unfair.

The Spanish revolution was described by journalist Matthew Campbell in The Australian as “Part new-age festival, part student sit-in” that “has no leadership, no party affiliation and no specific aims”. As participants in the protests, how do you see the Spanish revolution? What is it about?

Mario: Mr Campbell is right when he says “has no leadership, no party affiliation and no specific aims”. But I don’t consider it an obstacle, even more, I think it’s a big achievement, and part of the nature of the movement. We demand new politics, starting by a new way of doing politics. However it is not true that we don’t have specific aims, we do. But we have many. I like very much the distinction that Antonio Negri makes in his last book Multitude. He says revolution of the masses was a XX century movement, meanwhile now people behave as a multitude: a sum of individualities, a net.

Alberto: As I see it, the Spanish revolution is the struggle to overcome a political, social economic, immoral, unfair and violent system that is less democratic than they want us to believe. It is a struggle for the governments to begin to rule by and for the people and not by and for banks and international markets.

The movement is not made up of a few young students, there are all kinds of people: young and old, children, women, men … What unites us is a desire to recover our dignity, control of politics and ultimately to regain control over decisions that affect our daily lives.

Dubbed the “lost generation”, the Spanish youth was described as apolitical and passive. Yet, since the 15th of May, thousands of Spaniards took to the street to demand change. How is the current revolution changing the attitude and mentality of the Spanish youth?

Alberto:  After 40 years of repressive dictatorship, the arrival of democracy without promoting the mobilization of citizens led to conformity. It was as though we’ve gone as far as we could. This is not entirely true! now we can see that people are thinking. A revolution is not something that emerges one day, but it is an amalgam of emotions and feelings and need for change that has been brewing for a long time in the heads of people. They just had to overcome their fear to express themselves publicly.

When everything looks fine, as promoted by all political and economic institutions, you can only think that you’re lucky. During good times, if you say something is wrong, society rejects you and considers you extremist or maybe too pessimistic. This is why people have been quiet although they enjoy a supposedly guaranteed freedom of expression.

Mario:  Not only youth is supporting the movement. Mass media say it does, maybe because they love the label of “youth-revolutions” but that’s a terrible simplification and has been very painful for the 15M. I’m sure many old people who agree with our aims didn’t join because of that awful label. My neighbourhood-assembly had to make specific actions to break that image and involve everybody on the hood, regardless of their age. I can’t understand why some people think that “young” is more romantic.

The two activists stressed that they are not representatives of the 15M and that their views do not represent the views of all protestors.

* el movimiento 15M: the 15 M movement – refers to the first protest that marked the start of the Spanish revolution on May 15.

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