The ‘Spanish revolution’ returns with greater support and more organised demands

The 15-M Movement, also known as ‘The Indignados’, ‘The Outraged’, or ‘the Spanish Revolution’, which occupied squares throughout Spain in May and June 2011, celebrates its first anniversary. Last summer protesters abandoned the squares and the movement was kept alive in neighbourhood assemblies. One year after the first square occupation, the movement has taken to the streets and squares once again. After a massive demonstration on Saturday May 12th, protesters set up a camp in Catalunya Square in Barcelona, which they will leave on Tuesday. Also in other Catalan squares. They will organise assemblies and debates to gather further support for their programme that aims to change the current system.


May 15, 2012 01:55 AM

Barcelona (ACN).- One year on the ‘Spanish Revolution’ has again occupied streets and squares. Tuesday May 15th is the first anniversary of the protests, and ‘the indignados’ (Spanish word for ‘outraged’) have decided to retake the squares in a peaceful way, with more popular support and with better organisation. Barcelona’s Catalunya Square is once again occupied by tents and protesters who are demanding universal and quality health and education, guaranteed access to decent housing, better and more jobs, no public money for rescuing banks, and for a universal basic income. On Saturday May 12th, a massive peaceful demonstration took place in Barcelona city centre against the current system and the crisis. Protesters filled Balmes Street from Universitat Square to Diagonal Avenue (45,000 people according to the police and 350,000 according to organisers). The protest ended at Plaça Catalunya, where one year ago a permanent camp was set up from May 15th to June 30th. This year, the 15-M Movement has initially agreed with Barcelona City Council and the Catalan Government to stay only until Tuesday night. Mayor Xavier Trias stressed that the demonstrations have been peaceful and such non-violent protests can be organised in Barcelona. However, he hopes the ‘indignados’ will honour the initial agreement and abandon the square on the day agreed. On Monday evening discussions were held at the camp to decide if they would stay or leave on Tuesday. One year ago, the movement began with the sympathy of a large percentage of the Catalan population but support waned as the movement became involved in violent protests and the occupation of some squares, such as Plaça Catalunya, turned permanent and degenerated. Later, the 15-M Movement clearly detached itself from violent protests and it has been organising peaceful and non-permanent assemblies in neighbourhoods throughout Spain. One year later they have returned with many lessons learned, with greater popular support and with more structured and concrete demands.

The 15-M movement centred the world’s attention last year. On May 15th 2011, hundreds of people took to Madrid’s Puerta del Sol Square, with an improvised camp that surprised everybody. It quickly became known as ‘the Spanish Revolution’. In a matter of hours, the protest had its replica in Barcelona, and a few days later in many other cities throughout Spain and Catalonia. Catalunya Square (Plaça Catalunya) became Catalonia’s main centre for protest and a second Puerta del Sol. Profiting from social networks and inspired by Stéphane Hessel’s book ‘Time for Outrage’, protesters occupied the squares with the aim to denounce, without personal leaderships, their lack of trust in the current system and the uncertainty of having to live a worse future. The movement inspired similar protests internationally, such as in Brussels, Berlin, Paris, London or New York, with the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ Movement. However, in Catalonia, the 15-M Movement has caused controversy and violent acts, such as the siege of the Catalan Parliament. Over the past year, away from the main squares, the movement has worked in the neighbourhoods to come back for the first anniversary with greater grassroots support and more structured and concrete claims.

Compared with Cairo’s Tahrir Square

The images of the camps organised in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol and Barcelona’s Plaça Catalunya caught the world’s attention. Soon they started to be compared with Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the symbol of the Arab Spring. Some talked about an echo effect. The objective of the ‘Spanish Revolution’ was to show the outrage against the current crisis and how it was being tackled by the system –by the political and economic powers–, as well as to create the people’ agora, forming assemblies to decide which measures should be taken.

Everything was being decided upon voting

The 15-M Movement started in the middle of the municipal elections, which were also regional elections in many Spanish Autonomies (not in Catalonia though). Squares from many Catalan cities were also occupied, such as in the cities of Lleida, Girona and Tarragona. People of all ages, families, active professionals, retired people, gathered in the squares, demanding “real change”, for “a real democracy”. Assemblies were organised several times a day, while commissions had debates on specific issues. Many votes took place as everything was decided upon in this manner. They shouted “nobody, nobody, nobody represents us”. The absence of leaders and official spokespeople was one of the movement’s key features.

In addition, the camp organised its own rules, with commissions to split tasks, such as cooking, cleaning or logistics. Most people stopped by for a short time during the day, although a large number of people slept in the squares.

Riot police charging against protesters

The municipal elections took place on May 22nd, however Plaça Catalunya’s occupation continued. The city’s main football team, FC Barcelona, played the European Champions League final on May 27th, and the supporters’ traditional celebration spot is at one corner of the square. The Catalan Ministry of Home Affairs and the City Council decided to adopt measures for security reasons. In the early morning of May 27th, police and cleaners turned up at Plaça Catalunya. The objective, stated by the Catalan Minister for Home Affairs, in charge of security in Catalonia, was “to clean” the area and remove dangerous objects. Some protesters left the square, but others decided to stay. Trucks took away the belongings of those who stayed, as well as the garbage accumulated. However, the most striking images were that of riot police hitting protesters, some of them sitting on the floor. With those images, many people criticised the police intervention. Even some police heads and politicians were taken to court, but the judge has since exonerated them. Nonetheless, the same May 27th, moments after the cleaning operation ended, the Square was occupied once again, and with greater support from citizens. The day ended with no violent incidents during the celebrations of Barça’s victory.

The Catalan Parliament’s siege

On June 15th, the 15-M Movement went through its main inflexion point. That day protesters went to the gates of the Ciutadella Park, inside of which the Catalan Parliament is located. Protesters besieged the Parliament and some groups of people tried to prevent MPs from accessing the park, by shouting at them, insulting them, shaking them or spray-painting them. In order to ensure the Parliament’s regular activity, the Catalan President and other VIPs arrived via helicopter. The 15-M Movement reacted some hours later and tried to disassociate themselves from the violent protests. However, a large part of the popular support was lost. In addition, some violent protesters were involved in a judiciary process, which is still ongoing.

The Catalunya Square camp degenerated

Slowly, as the days passed by, the Plaça Catalunya camp lost participants. The camp’s decay was obvious to anyone passing by. According to the Catalan Police, illegal activities, such as street vending or drug sales started to take place. In addition, the presence of anti-system groups increased, and the camp was no longer a transversal agora with people of all kinds. On June 30th, Catalan Police decided to put an end to the occupation and removed the last protesters, who were still sleeping on the square, and some of them even in huts built in trees.

The movement goes to the neighbourhoods

On June 30th, and on the days leading to that date, most of the 15-M Movement’s initial spirit was no longer on Catalunya Square. However, it was rooted in the neighbourhoods, with greater contact with local communities. It was the beginning of the new life of the ‘indignados’. The movement survived in the neighbourhoods and in many local associations, holding local assemblies. From these assemblies they have come with a more concrete and structured list of their claims and proposals. One year later, the movement has cultivated grassroots support throughout Catalonia’s neighbourhoods, although on the main public sphere it was not very present. Some people talk about a hibernation or a sort of spiritual retirement. In any case, on the first anniversary, the outraged have taken to the streets and squares once again.