Spain’s 15M movement gears up for May 12 and beyond

Poster from madrilonia.org.

“We don’t want May 12 to be a celebration of our anniversary, or a one-day demonstration,” one often hears activists in the Spanish 15M movement saying lately. “We want it to be a new milestone.” For months now, many of them have been taking part in local and international meetings to prepare. Through online conference calls using the open-source platform Mumble, organizers from Occupy, 15M and movements all around the world chose May 12 as a day for a global mobilization, leading up to another on May 15.

After its birth with occupations in public squares across Spain last May, 15M has been a model for movements around the world, many of which have reached a critical mass and brought to the fore issues of austerity, wealth inequality and political corruption. Yet, in Spain and elsewhere, governments continue to respond with more budget cuts and increased police repression. Activists hope that this latest round of mobilizations will help turn the tide.

In Madrid, work on mid-May started among the movement’s various collectives in January, and, over the course of weekly meetings, a group was formed to put all their ideas together and coordinate citywide actions. Although the pace was slow during the early months, by April there was a basic outline for the mid-May mobilization. On May 12, Madrid will probably look much like it did last October 15: Four marches will depart from the four cardinal points of the city and join in Sol square at 9 p.m. for a dinner together until midnight. People in cities across Spain will also be in the streets. But, this time, the day of action will be only the beginning.

The night of May 12, or early the next morning, people will move from Sol to 12 nearby squares. Then, until May 15, each square in the center of Madrid will represent a particular issue: education, employment, health care, democracy, economy and so on. The 15M working groups will organize workshops, conferences and assemblies dedicated to sharing ideas and finding solutions related to each issue. The conclusions reached during a given day will be brought to a nighttime general assembly. Other initiatives are being discussed as well, including the formation of a people’s tribunal on May 13 to hear evidence presented by activists who have been collecting data on the practices of the banks. That day, also, housing groups are planning to occupy banks while demanding a collective renegotiation of mortgages.

A big question, however, is whether 15M will be able to camp again in the squares at all. In Madrid, the movement has announced that, from May 12 to 15, Sol square will be the space for a permanent assembly, without using the term “camp.” But news that 15M would be creating another encampment in Sol was quickly announced by the Spanish mass media, and the government responded quickly and firmly that no such thing would be allowed. In Barcelona, the movement secured a permit to camp in Catalunya square from May 12 to May 15, possibly to alleviate the city’s reputation for harsh repression, especially after the police violence of the recent general strike. In Madrid, however, repression against 15M has hardened in the last few weeks, although without physical violence.

After an announcement of further fare increases on public transportation in Madrid, for instance, the collective Yo No Pago organized a new protest in Sol square on April 20. Nearly 200 people marched from Sol, walking through several streets in the city center, until they were surrounded by riot police in Gran Vía. The activists were identified, and all of them may receive a €300 fine. The following week, there were more actions related to public transport, including one in which activists pulled the brake levers of 13 subway trains, causing a halt in service for 10 minutes. Within hours, police had arrested three suspects, who now face five years in prison. Last Friday, hundreds of people went to Sol square to show their support for those who were arrested, and, again, police surrounded the protesters, together with bystanders, identifying them in order to charge them further fines.

These precedents in Madrid are troubling, but if the movement is able to bring hundreds of thousands of people into the streets as it did on October 15, all the police of the city will be not able to prevent Sol square from being reoccupied and turned once again into the space of public debate and resistance that it was a year ago.

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