The 15-M Strikes Close to Home
May 17, 2012
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It wasn’t until this week that I realized that I am actually studying in the birthplace of the movement that, in addition to the Arab Spring, was a precursor to Occupy Wallstreet. El Movimiento 15-M, as it is called here in Spain, began a year ago Tuesday, on May 15th, 2011 in response to the economic crisis that Spain is still facing. The citizen-led movement advocates for participative politics and reduced dominance of banks and corporations, offering several proposals including reforming their electoral process and assisting with debt and bankruptcy. The protestors are called los indignados, or the indignant, and like Occupy Wallstreet, they cut across class, race, and age boundaries.
The leftist movement flared back up again this weekend as the one year anniversary was approaching and Spain’s economy had reached new lows, with unemployment up to 24% at a record high of 5.6 million, which has only gotten worse since the country’s debt was downgraded last month. This last weekend was also Madrid’s first weekend of real heat, too, so countless people were out on the streets at night. Coinciding with San Isidro Day, a holiday dedicated to Madrid’s patron saint, May 15th and the days leading up to it were dominated by the voice of the people. The night of May 14th, I saw the protests in Puerta del Sol, the “kilometer zero” of the city, which was completely filled with workers, students, unemployed people, and journalists. When I walked back several hours later, the plaza was surrounded by dozens of police vans and policemen in riot gear, getting ready to disperse the gathering.
The following night, the protesters ventured away from Puerta del Sol, reaching the stock exchange, city hall, and blocking Plaza de Cibeles, the main point of bus departures in the center of the city. Encounters with the police were surprisingly peaceful, though, as both the government and 15-M protesters want to distance themselves from the civil unrest in Greece. Advocates of the movement see it as representative of the people as a whole, explaining that everyone comes for their own reason and the only ones who aren’t affected by the issues for which they are seeking reform are those with “their hand in the cake.”