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Spain’s greatest export: protest and outrage

The country’s indignados protesters are yet to see solid results of their ongoing push for political and economic change. But they can claim credit for helping spark the worldwide unrest seen on October 15.


Anger and frustration, Spanish-style: protesters in London on October 15.

El País newspaper’s decision to put its coverage of the October 15 (or “15-O”) global protests on its “National” pages, rather than in the “International” section may have looked at first glance like a heinous editing error, but it was in fact a telling decision.

Spain’s own indignados protesters, who have been clamouring for economic and political change since May 15, are claiming the credit for the demonstrations held in around 1,000 cities and 80 countries worldwide at the weekend. This may sound fanciful, but, amazingly, it is close to the truth.

When the indignados occupied Puerta del Sol in central Madrid during Spain’s local election campaign, it was clearly a new phenomenon for the country. The protest’s visual impact, with tents and a highly organised tarpaulin camp filling one of the capital’s most well-known public spaces, made it a good media story, especially given the vacuity of the official campaign. But back then, even many of the participants I spoke to were uncertain about the movement’s long-term strategy and whether it would have an impact on society, let alone on Spain’s politics and economy.

The presence at Puerta del Sol and other protest camps around Spain of a small number of mongrel-owning, skittle-juggling crusties with little interest in politics, was seized upon by critics as proof that this was just another bunch of anti-sistema protesters. Occasional violent incidents, such as those in Barcelona, where local politicians were intimidated by demonstrators, also distracted from the message.

But despite these problems (and organisers appeared to succeed in stamping out further violent tendencies), it seems the rest of the world was watching and saw how peaceful, mass protest, coordinated through social networks, could make itself heard. In Spain, many commentators have ridiculed protesters’ lack of a coherent message, in much the same way that Fox News has lampooned the Occupy Wall Street activists, but it could be argued that in the era of 24-hour news, their main achievement has been to be seen and heard.

As early as mid-June, Spanish indignados were meeting with would-be protesters from across the world, with a view to exporting their model. It’s impossible to say whether the October 15 international outpouring of anger would have happened anyway even if Spain’s 15-M had not happened – possibly, given the state of the global economy. But while Spain’s economy and political system are yet to see much concrete change as a result of its protests, the indignados movement can take the credit for having changed the world last weekend, at least a little bit.

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Published: Oct 16 2011
Category: Iberoblog, Featured
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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