How to run a low-cost revolution

As the Spanish May 15 movement was getting started in February of last year, it did so with almost no money. What it had, instead, was a lot of participation. Little money, but many hours of voluntary work, made possible the country’s most important social movement in recent memory.

The demonstrations that followed May 15 in more than 50 Spanish cities were a surprise for many people, but they were partly the result of months of preparation among the different nodos (local teams) of the organization Democracia Real Ya (DRY). Thousands of posters, paintings and stickers flooded the streets of Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and other cities calling citizens to the demonstrations. Each nodo had to find ways to pay for this as best as it could.

Benefit parties, for example, were the main method of financing the Madrid team. “We organized two parties in a squatted social center, where we’ve held meetings since before the 15th of May,” says Laura McMihail, one of the first members of DRY Madrid. At those events, they sold food, beverages, pictures and posters, collecting €1,400. They opened an account at a bank they considered ethical and, through their website, they received hundreds of euros more. With this money, they paid for the posters, stickers, leaflets and banners, as well as the rental of sound equipment and a stage for the demonstrations of May 15, June 19 and October 15.

The nodo of Barcelona had to manage with less money. “The truth is that we don’t have external financing,” explains Klaudia Álvarez, from DRY Barcelona. “The things we have to pay, we pay out of our own pockets.” They’ve tried to sell T-shirts and badges too, but that didn’t raise very much. “With the crisis, people aren’t in the mood to buy T-shirts. Badges worked a little bit better, but we still don’t get much money, so our position remains precarious.” They tried to solicit donations at the demonstrations, but that didn’t work either. DRY Barcelona therefore had little financial support, but it had a lot of support-in-kind from the beginning.

Supporters provided a truck, sound equipment and a place to meet. A printing house printed the posters, the stickers, the leaflets and the nodo’s monthly magazine out of solidarity with the movement. This way, although without much money, the nodo of Barcelona was able organize its demonstrations of May, June and October. The only thing they ended up having to pay for was the demonstration banner, which cost €40.

In smaller cities, fundraising falls a lot more on the activists themselves. “We have a canister and, each time we have a meeting, each one of us puts in €3,” says Jesús Bustos, a member of DRY Alicante. “That way we’ve borne the cost of materials for continuous use, like Xerox copies or ink.” That, however, is not enough to organize large actions, such as the demonstrations of May 15 or October 15. For those, DRY Alicante also turned to selling T-shirts and badges, as well as having to put up more money out of their own pockets.

Democracia Real Ya as a whole hasn’t had any kind of financing, and the only cost it has is €90 per month to pay for the server that hosts Red Dry—the internal social network—and it is paid for together by the almost 80 nodos of the platform.

If Democracia Real Ya itself has managed to work with very little money, at many camps there was no money at all. “In the camp in Madrid we decided not to accept money,” explains Juan Cobo, one of its members. Since the night of May 15, when some dozens decided to stay in Sol square, in-kind donations were continuous. The next day, when hundreds more arrived in Sol, the donations multiplied. “Sometimes we received anonymous packages,” says Cobo. “People gave us all kinds of things: routers, solar panels, fridges and especially food. One guy came every day with a truck full of fabada and macarrons from his restaurant. People offered us money and asked for bank account information as well, but we decided not to accept money. We had to make that clear publicly, because there were people who started asking for money for themselves on behalf of the movement.”

The camp of Sol, now Asamblea Popular de Madrid (Popular Assembly of Madrid), existed for a month without a single euro. Every need was addressed with collaboration-in-kind and with what things the activists themselves could contribute. Sound equipment was provided, at the beginning, by friendly organizations; later, as sound engineers themselves started to be part of the movement, they brought their own equipment. Other members lent video cameras and formed a communication team. A library was set up with more than 4,000 books and hundreds of newspapers donated by people.

Although the more than 60 Spanish encampments disappeared months ago, assemblies continue on in neighborhoods. In the area around Madrid alone there are more than a hundred assemblies each week, all with no external financing.

The situation of the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (Platform of People Affected by Mortgage, or PAH)—closely associated with the May 15 movement—is not very different. In the beginning, its organizers themselves put up all the money that was needed to pay for posters, banners and leaflets. In the past year, they have raised €1,700 from online donations and T-shirt sales, but the most important aspect of the platform, the legal support it provides, requires no money at all. “All the lawyers that have collaborated with PAH by giving advice did it for free,” says Ada Colau, one of its founders. These lawyers offered legal advice and informed the activists about relevant legal issues, so they could give training to other activists in turn. In court, affected families use free lawyers provided by the government, whom PAH activists help advise. “By working this way, we don’t need to pay lawyers, enabling people to create new PAH chapters in lots of cities and to train people in the assemblies,” explains Colau.

PAH is looking now for new ways of fundraising—such as donations and benefit concerts—to pay for a new signature-gathering effort. The PAH’s rapid expansion is also leading it to explore other options for raising money as well. “But we’re going to think about that quietly,” Colau says. “We never want to endanger the independence of the PAH.”

This story was made possible by our members. Become one today.