Spain's Enormous, Inspiring Protests Are Rooted in Restoring Democracy and Decent Life in an Era of Turbocapitalism
"No one expects the #spanishrevolution." That's one of the signs in Madrid's iconic - and occupied - Puerta del Sol Square; Monty Python revised for the age of Twitter.
"I was in Paris in May '68 and I'm very emotional. I'm 72 years old." That's one of the signs in Barcelona's iconic - and occupied - Plaza Catalunya. The barricades revised as a Gandhian sit-in.
The exhilarating northern African winds of the great 2011 Arab revolt/spring have crossed the Mediterranean and hit Iberia with a vengeance. In an unprecedented social rebellion, the Generation Y in Spain is forcefully protesting - among other things - the stinging economic crisis; mass unemployment at a staggering 45% among less than 30-year-olds and th e ossified Spanish political system that treats the citizen as a mere consumer.
This citizens' movement is issuing petitions that get five signatures per second; it can be followed on Twitter (#spanishrevolution); streaming live from Puerta del Sol at Soltv.tv; to see its reach, click here. Reverberations are being felt all across Spain and word-wide - from Los Angeles to Sydney. A mini-French revolution started at the Bastille in Paris. Italians are planning their revolutions from Rome and Milan to Florence and Bari.
Outraged of the world, unite
They call themselves los indignados - "the outraged". Puerta del Sol is their Tahrir Square, a self-sufficient village complete with working groups, mobile first-aid clinic, and volunteers taking care of everything from cleaning to keeping an Internet signal. The May 15 movement - or 15-M, as it's known in Spain - was born as a demonstration by university students which spontaneously morphed into an open-ended sit-in meant to "contaminate" Spain via Facebook and Twitter and thus turn it into a crucial social bridge between Northern Africa and Europe.
They were only 40 people at the beginning. Now there are tens of thousands in over 50 Spanish cities - and counting. Soon there could be millions. Crucially, this is without the support of any political party or institution, trade union or mass media (in Spain, totally exposed to ridicule by political power). That's extraordinary in a country not exactly known by its tradition of dissent or the power of citizen organization.
The outraged are pacifists, apolitical and altruists. This is not only about the unemployed, "no future" youth - but an inter-generational phenomenon, with a middle-class crossover. This full stop to Spanish inertia - as in the sign "the French and the Greek fight while the Spanish win on soccer" - implies a profound rejection of the enormous abyss between the political class and the population, just like in the rest of Europe (Greek and Icelandic flags are seen side-by-side with the Egyptian flag.)
The outraged want citizens to regain their voices - as in a participative democracy embodied by neighborhood associations, and in favor of the right to vote for immigrants. Practically, they want a reform of the Spanish electoral law; more popular say on public budgets; political and fiscal reform; increased taxes for higher incomes; a higher minimum wage; and more control over big banking and financial capitalism.
Early this year, students in London protested en-masse against the rise in university tuition costs. The potential for protest is huge all across Europe. In Mediterranean Europe, the lack of prospects is absolutely bleak - from Generation Y to unemployed thirty-somethings stacked with diplomas. Even though the context is markedly different - in Northern Africa the fight is against dictatorships - the Arab Spring has shown young Europeans that mobilized citizens are able to fight for more social justice.