Joaquin Guerra lives in Seville. His two daughters, in their twenties, introduced him to the Movimiento 15-M in the city. Here he traces the roots of the indignados movement now taking hold in a Spain divided by ethnicity, market speculation and each fist-blow of austerity.

When I was your age, Spain was in full economic and democratic development after Franco’s dictatorship. I left university when I was 24 and the same year I got a job as an engineer. This is all a world away from the country my daughters live in today: a Spain harassed by markets and speculation, without jobs, and no real prospect of long-term change unless we replace the current system.
 
The 15-M movement has changed my daughters and, through them, I have changed. The 15-Maistas say: “We slept...we woke.” And it’s true. My children are no longer comfortable with their old friends. They seem empty, unsupportive, lacking in substance. But my age lets me better combat the deep schizophrenia that most Spaniards are living in today.

“They do not represent us”
 
On May 15, 2011, thousands of Spaniards of all ages took to the streets to show their outrage at this crisis, shouting slogans and calling for the change that had never been delivered in the past. These slogans are now part of our history: “They call it democracy but it isn’t,” “This is not a crisis, it's a scam” and “They do not represent us.”
 
That night 40 youths, now known as the "Sol 40", decided to occupy the Puerta del Sol in Madrid. They were harshly evicted by the police the next night, and in response, thousands of young people from all over Spain occupied the squares of the biggest cities in Spain, mobilised by social media. Here was born campamento (camping) – the true origin of 15-M – exported throughout the world thanks to the Occupy movement.
 
Since then ordinary citizens have discovered that these young people are not what they expected at all. Spain suddenly remembered its youth, until then accused for being drunken, vacant and aimless. In the camps they had organized themselves into commissions (kitchen, logistics, communication, feminism, co-ordination), banning alcohol and keeping the streets clean and full with art and activism: information booths, witty and intelligent slogans, art and debate.

A not very popular party
 
The electoral victory of the Partido Popular (the People’s Party) under Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, and the aggressive policy of welfare cuts introduced by it, has forced other social groups – unions, civil servants, students, self-employed, unemployed, the Asturian miners – to take the streets.
 
Our current situation is explosive. Unemployment grows every day. Over 50% of young people are unemployed, students are unmotivated and without illusion. Our best minds leave the country, and the rest suffer more with each new fistful of austerity. Our youth have nothing to lose, only their fight to end a system in which banks are "rescued" again and again and "markets" become the masters of our country. Free universal healthcare is gradually disappearing (co-payment, no coverage of illegal immigrants). Evictions increase, leaving thousands of families without homes, who must then return to live with their grandparents who spend their retirement income putting up the next two generations of their family. The traditional left is unresponsive, and the PP has shown its true colours, evoking the darkest days of the Franco regime.
 
Like those early days, street-level repression has increased. The authorities stop and identify people in groups on the street, even for just distributing pamphlets. This is criminalizing social activism and civil liberties, and spreads the old maxim fascist order into the 21st-century.
 
“Simple power”
 
But this is where the 15-M has proved itself. Violent antisistemas (radical agitators) attack us for being “soft” and not “forceful” enough, but we believe our power is in the grass-roots activism carried out every day. 15-M resists dozens of evictions by the simple power of hundreds of bodies standing in the way, then redistributing dwellings to house homeless families. (In Seville there are 46 families who have benefited from this under 15-M). Actions such as the complaint against Rodrigo Rato for the BANKIA case was supported through crowdfunding, raising €15,000 in a single day. That’s just one example of positive, progressive action taken on a day to day basis in Spain.
 
At present, 15-M can be found in thousands of neighbourhood assemblies and towns throughout Spain, with tens of thousands of people of all ages and social classes resisting cuts and crisis. It has abandoned the political struggle only at the polls. The indignados, unlike some from Occupy, do not generally want to turn themselves into a political party, preferring to fight alongside the people as leaderless citizens.
 
And so here we are, two generations fighting side by side. The youth fighting and struggling with iaioflautas (Spain’s elderly indignados), and in between, 40-year-olds and over.
 
In some ways, I was lucky. But at your your age, I was less aware of the problems in the world, less involved and ultimately, I think, less human than young people are today.
 
And this is our blessing and our curse: that we must never go back to sleep.

Joaquin tweets at @Indignado50.
 

 


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