Courtesy: Flickr user OpenMinder
Young people in Spain grew up in a country where most citizens had access to all levels of education, where the welfare state provided healthcare, and where access to university permitted dreams of a decent future. Now all this has suddenly disappeared in the name of austerity, which the government has unilaterally proclaimed the only option. None of the measures being implemented appeared in campaign platforms of the governing conservative party Partido Popular, now 10 months into its tenure in office. With university fees rising, general social budgets disappearing and the youth unemployment rate over 50 percent, it is no wonder that many young people feel cheated.
The protest encampments of the indignados sprouted all over Spain in May 2011, and since then demonstrations have cropped up regularly in objection to specific measures—cuts to education, cuts to healthcare, cuts to mining subsidies. But on September 25 of this year, the indignation took the form of a clear and confrontational questioning of the entire governing system. The goal of the action was to “highlight the distance between governors and citizens, and to demand the reopening of the constitutional process.”
The first call to “take the Congress” took place before the summer, from a largely unknown platform called “En Pie” (literally “On foot,” but colloquially translated as “Rise up”). As other groups adapted the call over the next few months, the rhetoric changed: “taking” the Congress morphed into a plan to “surround the Congress,” and by September a dedicated group called 25S Coordinator was formed.
Much like the Occupy movement in the US, Spain’s 15M movement, more than a year after its apex, was struggling to maintain relevance in the public eye. Although it did not bear the name, the action on September 25 was mainly a 15M event, and, according to sociologist Miguel Martínez, it “has saved its [15M’s] political year.”
The government was wary after recent events like the massive coal miner’s march against subsidy cuts. A campaign of “preventive repression” highlighted its fear of the coming protest. At a demonstration on September 15, people bearing banners promoting the 25S action were arrested by police. One of the most important okupas (squatted social centers) in Madrid, which was linked to the 15M movement, was suddenly evicted on September 19 in a legally ambiguous manner. The weekend before September 25, the police interrupted an assembly of the Coordinator group to demand participants show their identification cards.
For months, police patrolled the perimeter around Congress. On September 25, there were fences, police vans, anti-riot units and over 1,400 officers waiting for the protest. Tension among protesters was palpable: “People did not sing, slogans were not chanted, and there were very few of the typical 15M DIY banners,” said Marco Godoy, a political artist working on a visual “Protest Archive.”