Spain’s Parliament "took on the appearance of a heavily guarded fortress" today, according to the AP, as police sealed off the perimeter in anticipations of thousands of protesters converging on the conservative government for an event dubbed "Occupy Congress."
Police (the BBC reports some 1,300 police are at the Congress building) surrounded Parliament even though protesters state they have no intention of storming the chamber, but instead plan to march around it.
One of the main protest groups, Coordinadora #25S, said the Indignants did not plan to storm parliament, only to march around it.
"It will be a non-violent action," she told AFP news agency, asking not to be identified.
"We are not going to prevent members of parliament from entering."
Under Spanish law, individuals who disrupt parliamentary business while the government is in session can be jailed for up to one year.
Coordinadora #25S’s manifesto reads: "Democracy has been kidnapped. On 25 September we are going to save it."
"Parties who have betrayed their manifestos, their constituents and the public at large breach promises and contribute to impoverishment of the population," the 25S statement continues. "We believe that the time of the decisions made by a few is over, for, against those who want to leave us without a future, we have the means and collective intelligence to decide and build the society we want."
Demonstrators are calling for new elections in response to the government’s austerity measures implemented in part to convince the country’s euro partners that it’s serious about refusing its deficit during a time when nearly a quarter of the population is unemployed. The government is expected to unveil a new batch of reforms Thursday when it presents a draft budget for 2013.
The austerity measures have included public sector pay cuts and a substantial increase in sales tax.
In anticipation of 25S, police cut off main routes to Congress with a double layer of metal barricades, "backed by vans and with a helicopter hovering overhead," the AP reports.
Rallying outside the city’s Atocha railway station, Carmen Rivero, a 40-year-old photographer and "indignant" anti-establishment activist, said she travelled overnight in a bus with 50 protesters from the southern city of Granada to make her voice heard.
"We think this is an illegal government. We want the parliament to be dissolved, a referendum and a constituent assembly so that the people can have a say in everything," she said.
"We don’t agree with the cuts they have made."
Meanwhile, the right-wing People’s Party (PP) has attempted to smear the protest as an "attempted coup" by the indignados.
"Spain is on the brink of insolvency and under huge pressure to accept a rescue package," Katharine Ainger writes in the Guardian, "In return, Europe’s fourth largest economy will have to surrender sovereign and financial control to the IMF, the European commission, and the European Central Bank."
Ainger argues there may be a coup at play in Spain, but it’s not the indignados implementing it. She writes:
If talk of a financial coup d’etat sounds far-fetched, consider this statement from a recent Goldman Sachs report: "The more the Spanish administration indulges domestic political interests … the more explicit conditionality is likely to be demanded." That’s banker-speak for, ‘We can do this the easy way, or the hard way.
Quite revealingly, most establishment media coverage has been devoted to how bond investors feel about Spain’s economy, or how Wall Street will react to the news of another round of austerity measures. Little time is spent fretting over Spain’s citizens who will suffer even more under a new wave of cuts, or the fact that 25 percent of them can’t find jobs.
Occasionally, however, there is a glimmer of actual journalism like this slideshow put together by the New York Times, highlighting the real-life consequences of austerity measures, and featuring a family awaiting eviction and desperate citizens sifting through trash in search of food. One photo shows a soup kitchen in Girona, where the local government has announced that it is going to put locks on the garbage bins around the city to stop people from searching for food in them.
Another photo shows people waiting in a line for food during a march of unemployed people in southern Spain.
"Hunger, most experts agree, is on the rise in Spain. A report by the Catholic charity Caritas, released earlier this year, said that it had fed nearly one million hungry Spaniards in 2010, more than twice as many as in 2007. That number rose again in 2011 by 65,000," the caption reads.
The following video (in Spanish), clearly shows the kind of turnout the protesters are hoping their actions will eventually inspire. During a September 15 protest, some 50,000 anti-austerity protesters converged on Madrid, holding banners that read, "They are destroying the country. We must stop them."
Spain isn’t the only country facing harsh austerity measures. Check out Nation coverage of a U.S. senate candidate hoping to "do away" with vital entitlement programs.