Trans-Iberian

Trans-Iberian

Covering everything from the major news of the week and burning social issues, to expat living and la vida local, EL PAÍS’ team of English-language bloggers offers its opinions, observations and analysis on Spain and beyond.

One Point for Street Justice

Por: | 14 de julio de 2011

IT IS THE PRIVILEGED modern condition to accept injustices as they are presented, as long we are not the victim of them. We’re comfortable, so we tolerate or even embrace the status quo. Ive been alive for 30 years, and I’ve never been part of a successful, meaningful insurrection.  

Perhaps four or five decades ago, things would have been different. Now that I think of it, old footage of the turbulent civil rights-anti-Vietnam-Watergate era may be as close as Ive gotten to Angry America.
 
Granted, I don't live in Wisconsin, where Governor Scott Walker is providing plenty of fodder for collective rebellion; and I don't believe that governments, or the taxes they require to provide services, are inherently evil. I work in international development and have seen the kind of conditions failed states and incompetent governance really produce.
 
But alas, the last time I attended a protest was against the Iraq war; and sadly, that fire died down soon after the invasion.  Now American military families exclusively bear the brunt of two, (now three?) wars while the rest of us preoccupy ourselves with fleeting distractions and petty grievances; that new IPhone Ap;  that bitch at work; not going to the gym, the Groupon for a haircut about to expire.
 
I live in a nice flat in Washington, DC. My friends are well-educated and generally privileged. Its been a long time since anyone I know has really challenged anything with more than just a blog post.

All this useful bemoaning my own complacency brings me to the point.  

On a recent trip to Madrid, where I used to live (and write for this newspaper) I spent a large amount of time playing Devil’s Advocate to friends active in the May 15 movement. Though grossly simplified in the non-local media as youth aggravating about unemployment, the situation on the ground is far more complex, and interesting.

Over the past few months, 15-M, as its known in Spain, has become the umbrella for tens of thousands of people upset with a wide range of injustices, not least among them, rampant political corruption, entrenched power structures, and the inept handling of the economy.

At first they camped out in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol, and other squares around Spain. They held topic-based community meetings. Sixty thousand deep, but they hashed out accords. They agreed on principles.  Now, according to a former roommate, they have retreated to the neighborhoods where the revolution's future form is being ironed out.

In hearing him talk about those neighborhood gatherings, it is clear that they are really about civic engagement and community participation.

Unlike many movements, 15-M is not about traditional left and right politics -- at least not yet. Words more commonly used are justice and dignity. It’s non-ideological voice pleads for common sense. According to the indignados, the angry folk, the status quo provides little of all three.

Though Ill admit to having doubts whether 15-M would evolve into a sustainable driver of change, my roommate recently sent me some uplifting footage of Spaniards taking the revolution to the
barrio, shaming a racially-motivated police immigration control out of one of Madrid's multicultural neighborhoods.

Just weeks ago, I recall arguing that the 15-M movement was eventually going to have to acquire political form: start a party or throw its weight behind one in order to have real impact.

Well, I may have been wrong. This video is not about large-scale systemic change. This is grass-roots, home-spun, community-organized insurrection. And it works. As the cops backpedal, protesters can be heard shouting: "This is what dignity looks like," and "No human being is illegal." Go indignados! Go Lavapies!

It remains to be seen whether the revolutionaries will be able to continue to approach the problem from the outside, or will have to gear up as political force when interest wanes. After all, what they are really rising up against is much larger than a bunch of thugs demanding proof of residency. But for now, I’m contented to see them at the neighborhood level, rooting out evil. One point for justice and another for dignity! 

Kelly Ramundo is a DC-based writer and editor of USAID’s magazine FrontLines. She is unapologetically tardy to the blogosphere, where she coauthors Bright Spot. 

For more on the May 15 protest movement see: Spain gets Indignant; Madrid March; Police Beat ProtestorsMovement Packs Bags 

 

 

Hay 2 Comentarios

Though it is inspiring to watch a crowd of citizens expelling a racist police after years of complaining about its behaviour, I can't but feel weary of crowds acting in the name of justice and dignity.

I went out to the squares in its day, I support most of the 15M's ideas and I want a real change in our political landscape. But "crowd-justice" is not among my aspirations. Crowds may lose control, ideas and common sense blur and their feeling of self-righteousness tends to step on the rights of those disagreeing. I don't like seeing my police -the rule-of-law after all- leaving any quarter. How would you feel? It would be an exaggeration to suggest mob justice as the next step, but it quickly comes to mind. How would that crowd deal with a criminal situation?

This video is moving, but it needs a practical alternative behind. That's part of the challenges ahead. Anyhow, it is the police who should approach the neighbours now. They could meet their representatives or send one to an assembly. That'd be the most intelligent and democratic outcome.

However, and that is among the finest parts of this movement, these actions (there was another one in the same district a few days ago) are a very good warning to those who have been ignoring the people for too long. We can as well bite... (and this was just a nibble).

The other type of actions with a deep impact on the Spanish population the 15 M has produced is the collective resistance against foreclosure of houses. When the authorities try to expel jobless people from their homes because they defaulted on their loans the neighbors gather, supported and coordinated by 'angry mobs' and make it impossible to kick them out. It has successfully taken place several times in recent events and has been widely broadcast over the media, producing a very nice multiplying effect. Thanks for keeping an eye on Spanish events and telling other about them. Mainstream media (manipulated by Murdoch & cronies) never will let you know about this type of civil resistance.

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of Andalucia.com and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at korenhelbig.com.

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area perelloplus.com. @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Spain-Holiday.com. Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check: www.lookingfordrama.com.

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