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Spain: The “Indignados” of the 15M

This post is part of our special coverage Europe in Crisis.

The date for the first citizen protest in Barcelona to celebrate the first anniversary of 15M (May 15th) was on Saturday 12M (May 12th) at 6pm in Catalunya Plaza. Sixty-one year-old Mari Ángeles left her place in El Prat, a neighborhood close to the airport within the city limits. With a group of neighbors, she took the banners they had prepared and rode the bus to Spain Plaza. There they met other members of the “southern column” which had already marched for a couple of hours starting at Cornellà near mid-day.

Miguel Ángel, 44 years old, joined the protest when it was passing by Esplugues. Sixty-nine year old Josep Maria did the same when it arrived to the Les Corts neighborhood. Karlos, also 44, stepped in carrying a backpack with all the necessary items to camp at the plaza until 15M.

Miguel Ángel. Photo by Lali Sandiumenge.

All except Karlos, who lived in Mexico some years and supported the Zapatista movement, had never been involved in any social or political activity before 15M. Since May 15th, 2011, they haven't stopped. Mari Ángeles is a member of the platform El Prat against cuts [ca] that denounces the austerity measures with which the Catalan government is amputating the welfare state; Miguel Ángel belongs to Aturem Eurovegas [ca] (Stop Eurovegas) to prevent the multimillionaire American mogul Sheldon Adelson to transform Llobregat river delta into a huge and complex casino and entertainment compound. Josep Maria has signed in recently to Iaioflautas, a group of retired workers hardened by the anti-Franco, left-wing, union struggle.

Karlos has found an escape valve. “I'm living this wake up with a lot of hope,” he said. “We, the restless people, were in a helpless situation and with 15M we found each other.”

Josep Maria. Picture by Lali Sandiumenge.

There are many reasons why people have taken action, but the main one is – and everybody agrees – that the situation has to change. “The prospect is raw, more than ever with so many cuts in Catalunya, we'll see how this ends,” said Miguel Ángel. “I have neighbors that are agonizing. If we keep going this way, there's going to be a civil revolution.”

There's no need to ask Josep Maria what he's thinking: the banners that cover his body are very eloquent. “We denounce is that in our society nobody cares about inequality and that the 1% and 99% is not about entelechy,” he commented to sum it up explaining that has researched and asked about the income levels of Spanish people – without success – to elaborate his own Lorenz curve. The outrage is so high, he added, that he doesn't rule out camping and spending the night at the plaza even though he is not young enough to be sleeping out in the open on top of anything.

There are also personal reasons. Miguel Ángel, a creative, lost his job at the Spanish auto-maker Seat four years ago and he hasn't been able to find another one. His strike subsidy is over and he's been struggling to live with what is left from his compensation.

Mari Ángeles. Photo by Lali Sandiumenge.

Mari Ángeles was forced to take an early retirement a year ago from a private health company. Her pension doesn't even reach 500 Euros free of taxes and it is not enough to live with her son, a grown man, so now they share his home. “My son is at the strike. He's studying English like crazy so he can look for a job outside in England or Canada,” she explained, although she interrupts herself often to join the chants her companions make to the cars that get impatient with the protest: “Don't look at us, join us!” Josep Maria, on the contrary, has a good pension. “If the distribution of wealth was more just, I would end up losing,” he declared while walking to Catalunya Plaza without hurrying, but also without pausing.

Desi (left) and Raquel collecting signatures for ILP. Photo taken by Lali Sandiumenge.

When it arrived to Catalunya Plaza, at the end of Grace Roadway, the protest converged with other columns that arrived from other parts of the city and beyond. At that spot, Desi and Raquel, 33 and 31 years-old respectively, installed a portable table to collect signatures to support the Popular Legislation Initiative (ILP) promoted by the Plataform of Mortgage Victims (PAH) [es] that is fighting for the approval of a law that rules a retroactive payment.

Both are dressed up in the green t-shirts that distinguish this group with the name of one of their main campaigns: Stop Evictions. Raquel also voluntarily participates in PAH since she took part of an action to prevent a family from her hometown to be evicted. Desi is one of the victims: it's been six months since she cannot pay the mortgage and there's no way to reach an agreement with the bank to hand in the apartment in exchange of the debt that adds up to almost 250,000 Euros.

Yo no encuentro trabajo y mi marido, tras estar en el paro, cobra ahora 1.200 euros al mes, y tenemos que pagar casi mil de la hipoteca. Tenemos dos hijas y tenemos que tirar adelante. Gracias a la PAH vamos haciendo, la unión hace la fuerza.

I can't find a job nor my husband, who after being on strike now receives 1,200 Euros monthly and we have to pay almost a thousand for the mortgage. We have two daughters and we need to keep at it. Thanks to PAH we are succeeding, together we strive.

Just in front of us a women is performing an act of protest. She has photocopied one of the movement's flyers (“If you pay your debt, let them pay your mortgage”) and has placed herself in front of a wall that protects a building under construction that says “The drums of rebellion are sounding.” Maria, that's her name, is 56 years-old and has been there for a couple of hours standing without moving, silent and with her face covered with the paper. The protesters pass by and stare at her, clap, and leave her alone. Photographers and tourists stop, take pictures and walk away. She holds on. She works at a nearby office and joined the protest after work. “I've photocopied the flyer and I now I'm with them, we are all part of the same package”, explains.

Voy a casi todas las protestas, no por mí, sino por mis hijos. Hemos luchado mucho por lo que tenemos y ahora se lo están cargando. Ya no reconozco a esta España.

I attend almost all the protests, not for me, but for my children. We have fought for what we have and now they are taking it away. I don't recognize this Spain.

Picture by Lali Sandiumenge.

This post is part of our special coverage Europe in Crisis.

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