“The Key is in Sol”

In Acampada Sol, Madrid, Spain on 21 May 2011 at 15:00

… then one morning not so long ago – yesterday it was – I decided I had seen enough of Málaga. I took my backpack and I walked to the bus station. There, on the basis of the various options at my disposal, I would decide on where to go next.

Initially I wanted to stay close to the sea and travel further southward to Gibraltar or Cádiz, or else inland to Seville. But at the bus station it appeared that there were other possibilities as well… And in the newspaper, which has been an integral part of my breakfast ritual these days, I had read that there were things going on in Spain. I had already noticed that personally: I was present at a swinging protest in Granada on the 15th of May, I had seen a sit-in take place at a square in Málaga in the days after. People are protesting under the slogan “Real Democracy Now!” And the heart of the protest is in the capital, at the square of Puerta del Sol.

I decided to take the overnight bus to Madrid.

So here I am now. I was a bit sceptical beforehand, but when I walked out of the Puerta del Sol subway station onto the square just before sunrise I suddenly found myself to be in quite a different world. A world where imagination rules. The entire square was occupied and furnished as an enormous living room of the people. Sofas, beds, tents, a large canopy against the sun and the rain. It looked like an Arab bazaar. And all around, people were perfectly pieced together like a puzzle, dreaming.

What is this? I thought. What’s going on?

I do not know if and what you have heard about it, but here they call it the ’15M’ movement. In all large and medium-sized Spanish cities there are protests going on, and this is the center. People have permanently occupied this busy square four days ago. There are local elections coming up, but they’ve had enough of it.

Apparently Zapatero didn’t do a good job these last seven years, because people desperately want change. They are fed up with corrupt politicians, whether they call themselves left or right. They want direct participation in democracy, they don’t want to be puppets in the hands of the banks any more, they want free health care for everyone and they want much more. Old slogans are taken down from the attic again, even though in Spain it is the first time they are used on this scale: “Let’s be realistic and let’s demand the impossible.”

I’ve witnessed various demonstrations in Rome and Florence when I lived in Italy, but I always had the feeling that it was a kind of ritual outlet of frustration. People take the streets for a day to protest, and afterwards they continue to bow their heads as if they never really believed in it. But here they do. People have occupied the square and they don’t plan on leaving. They mean what they say.

And so here I am, on the ‘Tahrir Square’, as some people are starting to call it, writing you this dispatch in the midst of tens of thousands of compañeros.

I’ve joined the revolution. And though I might be somewhat cynical as a result of the years I spent in Italy, I’m still very curious to see where all of this could lead to.

The protest has been officially banned by the election committee. Today is the day of ‘reflection’ ahead of the tomorrow’s elections. But people defy the ban, they argue that this is not a political meeting in the sense that we are not trying to gather votes, and that the Spanish Constitution grants everyone the right to assemble without having to ask permission. The police are at ease and don’t interfere with the camp. And sure, on the day before the elections it wouldn’t be good publicity for the authorities if they were to evacuate a public square by force and evict peaceful citizens demonstrating for ‘real democracy’. There is no riot police present, only a handful of officers, who don’t have the air of being unsympathetic. All around, there’s joy. It’s a celebration of democracy.

The organisation and the civilised spirit reigning in the square are truly admirable. Everything seems to be taken care of. There are toilets, there is a first aid tent, there’s an Information desk where you can get a map of the square. There is a Communications and Documentation commission where films, photos and other testimonies are gathered for storage and copyleft publication on the internet. There is a Kindergarten, and a bag drop where I have been able to park my luggage. Drinking water is distributed everywhere, there are blankets on hand for those who want to spend the night. And thanks to the contributions of all the supporters there are meals being offered by the Nutrition commission three times a day. You can even find announcements hanging around of people offering the campers the use of their shower.

I still cannot quite believe it. It seems as though an atmosphere of true brotherhood has descended upon the square. A great and very significant detail is that the use of alcohol is strongly discouraged. Discussions are held with simultaneous translation into sign language. There is a stage for concerts, and there is more, more, more. You feel that the groove of Sol irradiates over the adjacent streets. The natives and the tourists walk around in amazement, just like me. They all witness how the protesters spontaneously join in to keep the place clean, and how they help to guarantee the flow of traffic along the square. People are also starting to organise meetings in the neighbourhoods and in the villages, hoping that the movement will spread throughout the country and beyond. They say that there are already people taking the streets in Italy as well…

This is not just a protest. It’s not an outcry against the establishment. It is an example of how things could work if people organised society themselves. There are ballots where you can deposit your ideas. And everywhere, absolutely everywhere, people have pinned down pieces of paper with messages, sometimes ironic ones, sometimes poetic, and some of them sounding pretty desperate. I don’t really know the situation in Spain, but one of the messages seems to sum things up: “I have two college degrees, I speak four languages, and they don’t even hire me to clean the stairs.”

What this protest will lead to is impossible to predict, I’ll stick around to take a look. Because if history is going to be made here, then I don’t want to miss it!

I’m going to salute you, a retired colonel of the Spanish army just passed by in full uniform. Most probably he has served under the Franco regime. “Long live the republic!” he says, and people respond with a cheer, they want their picture taken with him. That’s what the atmosphere is like in Puerta del Sol at the moment!

Finally, for good luck, I want to share with you one of the many messages you find hanging around here, it comes from a Spanish movie, it’s pretty zen:

Amanece, y no es poco!

Which would translate into something like:

“The sun’s risin’,
and it ain’t shit!”


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