In the midst of an economic crisis that is several orders of magnitude worse than a year ago, the 15-M demonstrators returned to Puerta del Sol in Madrid and other public spaces across Spain to prove that their grassroots protest movement is not dead. Amid heavy security measures, thousands of people filled Madrid’s central square chanting slogans against the political class, the banks and the world markets, which they blame for causing -- and deepening -- a crisis that has left nearly 730,000 more Spaniards out of a job than one year ago.
On May 15, 2011 a group of citizens decided to demonstrate against a crisis that hit Spain particularly hard on the back of a real estate bubble which decimated the construction sector and left banks with thousands of foreclosed homes whose value keeps dropping. The movement caught on and derived into a permanent campout in Sol. Images of the protest made world headlines and spawned similar movements in other world cities, including Occupy Wall Street in New York.
In Barcelona, around 45,000 people marched, according to police figures, although organizers put the figure at five times that amount. Elsewhere in the world, there were protests of some size in Frankfurt, Paris, London and Brussels, but very few came out in support of the 15-M agenda in Lisbon and Athens.
I saw the police pulling a girl away by her hair”
Despite concerns that this year’s protest in Spain would turn violent, the police only took action at 5am to clear out the square after around 300 protesters decided to defy the government’s sit-in prohibition.
“While I was picking up my things the police were pushing me towards Calle del Carmen,” said Emilio, a 26-year-old public servant who was sleeping inside a tent in the square. “They pulled a girl by her hair.”
Other protestors confirmed that the police used force to evict them from a spot that has become the national symbol of citizen discontent. In the days prior to the protest, government representatives had warned that sit-ins would not be tolerated, and that protestors must stick to the approved schedules. But the ruling Popular Party (PP), which was in the opposition during last year’s 15-M protests, also knew that it could not use undue force against a movement that enjoys broad citizen support.
Protestors chanted slogans that have become classics of the 15-M movement, such as “Who voted for those markets?”, “We’re not paying for this crisis” and “They call it democracy, but it isn’t.”
“Today was a day for reliving the hopes of 15-M,” said activist Olmo Gálvez. “We have picked up that energy to keep moving forward.”