Tim Pool is worried. He can't find a spot that's high enough for him to cover the rally. It's 7pm on Saturday, September 29, and Plaza de Neptuno is starting to fill up for the third day of protests in a week. Pool is dressed in black and gray from head to foot - his sneakers, his jeans, his sweatshirt and even his woolen hat - and he has been prowling around the area for the last four hours. At 3pm he was already down at the nearby Starbucks, setting up his backpack with the technology he would need for his live videocast: batteries, cables, a microphone, a camera and two smartphones.
Tim's mission right now is to tell the world what is happening in Madrid through his own video stream. A home-made press pass hangs around his neck, but don't even think about questioning its validity. "Why would it be less relevant than one from the mainstream media?" he asks sharply. "Because there is no corporation behind it? My pass is authentic, and it cost me 15 euros to get it made."
At the age of 26, Tim Pool has been glued to his camera for a little over 12 months, ever since the Occupy Wall Street movement took hold in the United States. He is earnest, tremendously pragmatic and not lacking a sense of pride. The son of a firefighter and a car saleswoman, he started earning money at the age of 18, making skate videos for sports brands, working at airports, and raising funds for non-profit organizations. One day, he saw an Occupy Wall Street video in which several police officers were seen dragging a handcuffed man away. His hands were bleeding. That's when he decided he had to go down and see for himself what was going on.
So he got on a bus in Chicago and arrived in New York with a few extra clothes and his smartphones. "I soon realized that I had to manage to broadcast this live," he says. Besides streaming, Tim provides a running commentary on what he is seeing. His style is distant, reminiscent of an experienced newscaster. "I try not to take sides, which has led me to have more than a few confrontations with activists, who believe that independent journalists should only tell stories that benefit protesters," he says.
Al-Jazeera and The New York Times have used my videos," explains Tim
His livecasts began to gain popularity, growing from eight to 70 followers, then 200, 2,000, 26,000... His Twitter account (@timcast) has 24,000 followers and his livecasts have accumulated millions of views. His audience record was on November 17, 2011, with 750,000 simultaneous viewers.
"Al-Jazeera and The New York Times have used my videos," he says. Time magazine, which named the generic character of "the protester" Person of the Year in 2011, selected Tim as one of the 100 exponents of this category, and devoted a video news story to him.
On September 16 of this year, Tim learned through the social networks that a new rally was brewing in Madrid, so he decided to embark on his second international project (he also covered the student protests in Canada). Last Tuesday, he was at the "Rodea el Congreso" (Surround Congress) protest, perched atop one of the media towers on Plaza de Neptuno, where he managed to take two good videos: "Police attack protesters in Madrid," which has attracted 67,500 views, and "Man seriously wounded by Spanish police in Madrid," with 12,000 hits.
But this time things are looking a little tougher; there are no towers to climb. Tim tries to get onto a hotel rooftop, but is told that the regional news station Telemadrid has already reserved the entire area. He tries another building, but that's been booked, too. He climbs a fence, then says, looking up at a palm tree: "I could climb this tree using my belt." Standing next to Tim is Annie, a 21-year-old American who describes herself as "a fan of Tim's." She is studying economics in Berlin, but when she found out he was coming to Madrid, decided to come and see him. She is wearing a Palestinian scarf, and even though she describes herself as "a social democrat," she goes wild when she sees an anarchist flag. They've just met and she follows him everywhere. The palm tree idea does not sound crazy to her. "I'll hold your backpack," she says, supportively. But the idea is ultimately abandoned.
If the government has to hit one person to stay in power, that's tyranny"
After spending a week in Madrid, Tim has reached his own conclusions as to what is going on here: "The problems facing Spaniards are very similar to those in the United States, but they're a lot worse here, and that's why there's more protesters," he says, with typical self-confidence.
"As for the police, from what I've seen they respect journalists more here, but they are harder on the protesters. I was also surprised to see some people face up to the police and even hit them."
Tim believes that by intervening, the police only made things worse. "They should just wait for people to get tired and leave. Deep down, they are both fighting for the same thing. People who are protesting feel that they've lost something, that they need a job. And the police have a job and they don't want to lose it, which is why they do what they're told."
This self-made reporter gets angry when the mainstream media "simplifies" the protests. In the United States, he explains, the only thing they say is that people in Madrid are protesting over the austerity measures, "but it's a lot more than that, and I tell that story." People here, he says, are also angry at the banks. They feel that the government is cheating them, that there isn't proper democracy and that there is no accountability. "And they don't like to see the police hitting those who protest for their rights. If the government has to hit a single person to stay in power, that's a tyranny," he concludes.
The problems facing Spaniards are very similar to those in the United States"
Tim does not charge for what he does, but last year he made $6,000 (4,600 euros) in donations and another 11,000 euros giving lectures and doing consulting work for a technology firm, about which he refused to give further details. "I signed a confidentiality clause," he explains.
Some people call what he does "citizen journalism." He would rather call it "independent journalism." "I'm not an activist," he points out. "If anything, I am an information activist."
Tim never finished high school or college, and is proud of that. "My comprehension level was much higher than that of many of my teachers. That made me miserable and I quit. My friends told me I'd end up at McDonald's while they'd be making $70,000 a year. A few years later I was making $35,000 raising funds for non-profits, and they were unemployed and up to their necks in debt from their student loans. And I'm completely free."
The mainstream news outlets, he says, are beginning to incorporate streaming media, but they don't know how to do it yet. "In 10 years they'll be calling me and I'll be the best consultant in this type of technology."
If the government has to hit one person to stay in power, that's tyranny"
When the riot police surround Plaza de Neptuno, Tim does a piece to camera. "It is 11.30pm and the police are about to charge. But we're not here to make suppositions but observations," he tells the audience of around 2,000 people who were watching at the time. Around him, dozens of journalists and camera-wielding citizens are getting ready to record their own version of events. A group of people lobs a few bottles at the police. Sometime after midnight, the march comes to an end. Tim turns the camera on himself once more: "It is 12.37am and I'm here in Madrid, Spain, where it seems like most of the action from today, the big protest, is wrapping up. This is the third day of protests that have happened in Madrid over this last week. We saw huge numbers on the 25th, estimates in the tens of thousands. The government estimated 6,000 but I can say that that's impossible with how big the group was. The 26th saw less numbers and less violence; the 25th was particularly violent. Today not so much, but it did get very intense when bottles were being thrown. [...] You can follow me on Twitter, at @timcast and at www.timcast.com. Donations help me do what I do and they are welcome. Thanks for watching."
"Get rid of them all," cries the public, writing off the entire political class
Members of Congress stood inside the building courtyard, listening with concern to the cries of protest floating in from the street. The police's protection barrier, which included fences, armored cars, dogs and officers on foot and on horseback, could not stop the display of undisguised disaffection from reaching the legislators' ears. There were short chants ("Thieves!") and long chants ("That's the way to Ali Baba's cave!"). There were hundreds of homemade placards, with messages such as "Que se vayan todos" (Get rid of them all) or just a plain and simple "NO," all of which were aimed in the direction of the lower house of parliament, on Madrid's Carrera de San Jerónimo.
It was as though the congressional deputies were a single unified entity, not a group of officials elected 10 months ago by the public.
The first conclusion that experts have reached following the September 25 march on Congress is that "the economic crisis has triggered a phenomenon that had been simmering for a long time: the crisis of representative democracy." So says Pere Vilanova, a professor of political science and administration at Barcelona University. "There's a very deep fracture line dividing the citizens and the so-called political class, a feeling of us-versus-them."
Vilanova believes that citizens view the political class as "a corporate caste that tends to self-perpetuate without considering the general interest, just its own interests."
Public feeling in Spain with regard to the political parties is extremely harsh, notes José Juan Toharia, professor of sociology at Madrid's Autónoma University. "Eighty-seven percent of citizens support the view that parties only think about their own short-term electoral interests, while 88 percent say parties are out of touch with social reality," he adds, citing opinion polls carried out by Metroscopia, where he serves as president.
As of September 2012, angry citizens have taken their protests up a notch; meanwhile, the disrepute of politicians has been growing exponentially for the last 18 months, reaching maximum velocity in 2012. "There is a clear feeling that we've been swindled because the policies that are being implemented were not among the campaign promises that brought about election victory," says Antoni Segura, professor of contemporary history at Barcelona University. Added to the feeling of having been swindled is a sense of "impotence," because "there will not be another general election for three long years."
This, says Segura, may explain why protesters heeded the call to "Surround Congress," because they feel that deputies do not represent them, and they want parliament dissolved so that a new constitutional process can begin.
The moment has arrived, "at last," says José Antonio Pérez Tapias, a philosophy professor at Granada University and former Socialist deputy, with a hint of irony. "Finally, somebody came out with the much-feared placard 'Get rid of them all'. The economic crisis and the growing social drama it is creating are revealing the powerlessness of politics, the paralysis of the parties and the crisis of political representation."
Pérez Tapias says it is "pathetic" that things had to come to this. "Although one may not agree with that slogan literally, we should at least take it seriously as a symptom of a deep malaise, as a warning that the rejection will continue to grow, as a rebellious cry against a situation that is less than desirable," says this scholar.
Political scientists, sociologists and historians are all aware that citizens are not directly attacking the government, but rather rebelling against an institution that is not homogenous; chiefly parliament. These experts do express some surprise at the fact that nobody is marching on La Moncloa, the prime-ministerial palace, nor the Finance and Economy ministries, and that instead the enemy is parliament, where a lot of deputies strongly reject being included in the "political class."
Has rejection of politicians increased with the economic crisis? Experts are certain of it. Citizens see "an inability of politicians to deal with the crisis efficiently, and they also resent the fact that reforms are not a result of consensus," says José Juan Toharia. "The spirit of the Transition [to democracy] is sorely missed, although by now that spirit has been converted into a myth. Citizens want to see major changes in the way parties work, in order to feel closer to them."
This change in the way parties operate is also mentioned by Pere Vilanova, Antoni Segura and Pérez Tapias as the only way to stop the rise of populist tendencies that could threaten democracy itself. That is why they ask that populism not be encouraged, especially from the circles of power. They say they are concerned about the sudden race to reduce the number of deputies sitting in regional assemblies; on the other hand, Spaniards are still voting in large numbers, which is a sign of a strong democracy. At the last general elections, voter turnout was 71.7 percent.
"For now it's not the system that's failing; it's the people at the helm of it who are failing; the way politics is conducted is in crisis," says Toharia. This kind of rejection is something that Pérez Tapias, a former Socialist deputy, remembers well. Last year, he walked away from politics and returned to academia. "Many friends and acquaintances congratulated me on no longer being 'among those people'. I know they meant well, but for me it was very bitter," he recalls.
Experts also note that the economic crisis has not led to protests against the financial sector, with politicians instead the target of people's wrath. "In Italy, the most popular politician is the only one who is not a politician: Mario Monti," says Vilanova.
Just like they must do with the economy, it seems that politicians must immediately make their own adjustments.