When the Goths plundered Rome in 410, they showed a minimum of consideration towards the proletarian masses. In the three days of violent orgy that ensued, they spared the lot of them and mainly limited themselves to looting the residences of the rich and destroying the remainders of classical antiquity.
When the Huns invaded Puerta del Sol in August 2011, they didn’t leave anything at all. The entire citizenry got evicted, their food storage was looted, and everything that was nailed down was taken away and destroyed. Three days the occupying force prevented the citizens from returning before they ceded to popular pressure and retreated to their barracks.
Saturday was the first full day in which Puerta del Sol was free again. The only visible signs of the 15M movement are small gatherings around pieces of cardboard on which is written: ‘Culture’, or ‘Info’. The once mighty Acampada with its 4000 volume library, its day care center, its temple and its internal telephone lines is a distant memory.
As I walk over the square in the evening I am happy to see that it is full, not only with young people, not only with people drinking, but with citizens of all ages in small groups, discussing among each other. I look at the clock. It’s almost midnight. The moon has just risen. It’s one of those fairy tale moments when something unexpected is about to happen.
And so it does. Suddenly I hear voices, in crescendo. “No human being is illegal! No human being is illegal!” I see two municipal police officers with steel faces hastily walk by, followed by a growing crowd of people. I deduce that they have been trying to check the identification of an immigrant and maybe even tried to make an arrest.
People here don’t like that. They don’t think that not possessing certain papers is a crime. And fortunately we are living in a time and place in which they are not afraid to express their feelings of humanity. The mass of people grows, the police officers walk back to their car, which gets sealed of quickly by a line of national police on stand-by. They didn’t perform an arrest. They are forced to retreat. People applaud, they sing their hymn, “From North to South / From East to West / The struggle continues / Whatever the cost!” and they turn back to their conversations.
The whole scene didn’t take more than five minutes. It was an amazing display of civilized protest and heartwarming solidarity. People were determined, but never aggressive. As if to say: “You can occupy this square whenever you want. You can destroy everything that we build. But in the end you can never take this place away from us. We are stronger, because we have our human dignity, and we have our freedom.”