Tens of thousands of people came again to Madrid’s Neptuno Square on September 29 confronting the police and demanding the resignation of the government and a constitutional reform process.
The action was conceived of in July by a group called Stand Up Platform (Plataforma En Pie), which is made up of members of various collectives, including the Platform of People Affected by the Mortgage and some assemblies of the 15M movement. A few days after Stand Up Platform released its call to “Occupy Congress,” several thousand people signed on for the event online. But many people had doubts about the call: nobody knew who was behind it, and when some extreme right-wing groups showed their support for the 25S call, most of the 15M movement’s assemblies rejected the initiative.
In early September, Stand Up Platform asked for support to organize the protest of 25S. Dozens of members of the 15M assemblies created a 25S Coordinating Committee, which held open assemblies in El Retiro Park in Madrid. They didn’t have much time until the date of the protest, but within a few days they formed three work commissions: Communication, Action and Content. While the Communication commission worked on spreading the call, the Action commission drew up a plan for the day of action and those involved with the Content group worked on proposals to change in the current system.
Soon, the name of the call — Occupy Congress — was changed to Surround Congress to make clear the nonviolent intent of the action, despite government allegations that described the 25S call as an attempted coup d’etat and threats to charge the organizers with crimes “against the nation’s institutions,” which could mean prison sentences of between three and five years.
The government attacks on the 25S call escalated on September 15 when some members of Stand Up Platform and a few unionists were arrested for carrying a banner that said “Surround Congress” in a demonstration organized by the largest unions. This was the beginning of more direct repression. In the following weeks, police went to El Retiro and identified everyone in the assemblies of 25S Coordinating Committee and Stand Up Platform.
“The trucks arrived and several policemen came out like they were a S.W.A.T. team,” says Chema Ruiz, a member of Stand Up Platform. “They cornered everyone, even elderly people.”
On September 20, the squatted social center, Casablanca, was closed by police who believed it was the headquarters of the 15M movement. In fact, the center was full of organic vegetables belonging to consumer groups and cooperatives, and more than 10,000 books collected by BiblioSol during and after last year’s Sol square encampment.
Nearly a thousand people went to Lavapiés square that day to protest the closure of the social center, where a member of the Casablanca collective read a manifesto which connected the closure to the call for the 25S protests and invited people to go that day to the Congress:
We know that this is not a random eviction. This is a product of a process of increasing repression closely related to the recent calls for civil disobedience that demanded the recovery of popular sovereignty. In this context, the eviction of Casablanca today is part of the strategy used by economic and political elites to fight a new stage of social mobilization. We who want to build a new reality have passed from a position of resistance to direct confrontation, and 25S will mark the turning point.
The detentions and closure of Casablanca won over many in the 15M movement who still had doubts about the call for 25S.
Meanwhile, Democracia Real Ya — which organized the protest that swelled into the 15M movement last year — invited people to tell legislators not go to the Congress that day. Members of Parliament received more than 6,000 tweets with the hashtag #queridodiputado, meaning “dear member of parliament.”
September 25 started with dozens of buses headed towards Madrid to join the call to action. Some of them were stopped by police, who identified and registered everyone inside. “When we reached Madrid, there were three police trucks waiting for us,” tweeted one of the people coming from Granada.
By late afternoon, however, there were thousands in Plaza de España and Atocha, the two meeting points. At 5:30 p.m., they marched towards Cibeles, where the two marches met to go together to the Congress. Soon, the Congress building was surrounded by more than 1,400 policemen, who formed a security perimeter of 500 meters in diameter around the building. The city center was also taken over by police.
The demonstrators responded to the police barricade with a citizen barricade. Hundreds, holding hands, surrounded the security perimeter. “If they don’t let us surround the Congress, we will surround the entire city center,” shouted the protesters.
At 10:00 p.m., police began charging against them. Many sat on the ground and remained in Neptuno Square, but many others were forced to retreat towards Atocha Station, where they were chased by police, who fired rubber bullets at them inside the train station.
Half of Madrid became filled with police trucks, and police officers asked people for their IDs in the street. Alberto Casillas, a waiter at a coffee shop near Neptuno, refused to let the police inside the establishment, where demonstrators were taking refuge. “You will not enter here with batons,” shouted Casillas to the police.
By the end of the day there were 35 people arrested and more than 60 injured.
But the threats made by the government about charging the demonstrators with crimes against the nation’s institutions have fallen on deaf ears. Last Thursday, the National Court refused to investigate the 35 demonstrators arrested and said that charging them with that kind of crime would be a “legal aberration.”
Inside Congress, support for the protest is growing. The party Izquierda Unida asked for an investigative commission regarding the police actions of 25S. Photos and videos of the police repression are flooding social networks, and more than 50,000 people are demanding in an online petition that the government punish those responsible. Meanwhile, the 11 Izquierda Plural legislators have announced that they will join the protest themselves.
Last Wednesday, thousands came back to Neptuno Square to ask again for the resignation of the government and the release of detainees from the day before. There were fewer people, but the message was clear: 25S was not only a one-day protest. Last Saturday, hundreds arrived to Madrid again from all around Spain and several other cities, including Murcia and Barcelona, for their own demonstrations. The next call for protest in Congress is for October 23 or 25, the day the members of Parliament have to discuss the Spanish National Budget. Autumn in Spain promises to be hotter than ever, now that the people know what they want.
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