Walking through the Puerta del Sol in the centre of Madrid was quite a different experience in June than the same walk during May and even more unlike what it was in April. In April a stroll through the Plaza would primarily have been to get from one shop to another whereas any attempt to do so in mid May would have been disrupted by 5000 protestors crying out against an unrepresentative government. But this weekend it was a trip for tourists, looking in at the tent village of “Los Indignados” or “the indignant ones”, the Spanish protestors making a stand against the 47 per cent unemployment rate for young people.
It is easy to see why they have decided to finally disband the tent village, by the end the majority of visitors to the square were there to take photos rather than carry banners. And the creation of a library, an IT tent and the porter loos made this once powerful political protest strangely domesticated. But although this protest took a slightly unconventional form it can teach the rest of the democratic world a thing or two about instigating political change.
In England our two main protesting strategies are marching demonstrations or strikes. In simple terms, one is too noisy the other too quiet. Demonstrations were somewhat provocative in this country until they were abused and the government ended up focused on the yobs with their arms through Topshop’s window rather than the people’s message. There was a run-in with the police originally in Madrid but the remainder of their month in the square was focused on developing a political community that highlighted their political unrest to the government at the same time.
The Spanish also seem to have mastered an understanding of the reality of their situation. It was not uncommon to hear protestors on the anti-cuts march in Westminster likening their situation to that of Egypt. That sort of ridiculous ideology only seeks to rile people up into an unwarranted aggressive response. Understanding their role in a democracy “Los Indignados” have created a type of counter democracy. They make their decisions through voting which then gives them time to make considered choices on the forwarding of their protest rather than creating a dramatic uproar only to be forgotten the next day.
Although the future for “Los Indignados” is unclear it is already obvious their alternative protesting technique has the ability to out live any flash in the pan shouting fest we have here in England. Their time in Puerta del Sol has allowed them to unite a political force that will be difficult to diffuse as it is based on mutual understanding and relationship.
On leaving the square, one of the protestors commented that her fellow demonstrators felt like her family now, and it is this sort of deeper connection that will keep up their protesting momentum. By engaging with one another on the street “Los Indignados” have drawn our attention to the need for us to speak to each other first and agree on long lasting strategies if we ever want to see anything change.