Madrid, September 26, 0030 hrs.
They said there were about 1400 hundred riot police operational today. First thing I did when I arrived was check. I walked around all the access roads to parliament. I counted about 60 or 70 police vans. With all the backup, I think the figure was correct.
And yet, it wasn’t enough. Today, police got their asses kicked.
But let’s go one step at a time. All through the day, people kept arriving from outside the capital. Clearly, this is not a Madrid protest, it’s a national one. The amount of people I knew was stunning. From Acampada Sol, from the marches to Brussels and Athens. Almost all of them are here.
Until six o’ clock it wasn’t clear if it was going to be a success as far as the total attendance went. When I got to the gravity centre of the protest at Neptuno I knew it was. I don’t know about numbers, but the square was packed, and part of the boulevards leading up to it as well. Thirty thousand maybe. More likely fifty. Six thousand according to authorities.
The crowd wasn’t like the ones I remember. This is not only 15M, it’s much wider. Anarchists, communists, and lots of republicans. Compared to last year, the amount of republican flags has grown considerably.
Another thing, there were lots of journalists. ‘Official’ ones, and citizens. Almost all of the citizen journalists had created their own accreditation cards. Police didn’t know how to distinguish them, so they let them all pass. The citizen journalists were also prepared for the worst, they arrived with helmets.
The possibility of the protest turning violent had been a worry for many in the months leading up to 25S. They feared infiltrators, or people who simply wanted to riot.
At seven, a first provocation. A handful of demonstrators start throwing plastic bottles and cans of beer. Police react with a charge. They wanted to alleviate the pressure on the barricades by creating space on the square and dividing the crowd.
Unlike other times, people were determined to stay. The crowd is dense. We resist, hour after hour. Some of us throw frisbees and paper planes, or they blow bubbles. We’re not thinking of leaving. Around nine thirty, more provocations. Fire crackers this time. The reaction of the majority didn’t leave room for doubt. ‘Don’t throw anything!’ ‘Infiltrators!’ ‘Go away!’
The fire crackers were one too much. Police react. In the blink of an eye, they start to charge in small platoons. A fringe of fifty to a hundred protesters take up the challenge. They raise their scarfs over their noses, and they counterattack, without fear.
To be completely honest, I didn’t really mind that it went down. I was becoming a bit uncomfortable standing in the middle of a crowd of which I ignored the full extent. After the charge, there was space. Suddenly I could move freely and shoot footage in between police and rioters backed up by the crowd. It was absolutely exhilarating. Sedition is a wonderful drug, people. One of the best.
All around Neptuno police began firing rubber bullets. It felt like New Year’s Eve. The rioters dug up the stones of Paseo del Prado and began hurling them, together with trashcans, glass bottles etc.
I didn’t understand police strategy, at all. Had they used tear gas, the square would have been empty in a matter of minutes. I think they didn’t because of the police horses near parliament. Maybe they were convinced the crowd would run once they started to shoot. It didn’t happen. Instead, they were surrounded. They hid behind their shields, like a Greek phalanx. I have seen a dozen of them pushed against a wall, desperately seeking cover against a storm of stones raining down on them. When they charged, they charged out of fear, and they didn’t spare anyone. I have seen middle aged women caught in between the stones, the bottles and the rubber bullets. I have seen them resist. I have seen them return.
Police panicked once they were surrounded. They were beaten back on all sides. We won.
Finally, they only managed to break the siege by shooting their way out in direction Atocha. It was a crazy experience, no matter how many action packed movies you have watched in your life, to have a gun pointed in your direction and see it belching fire. At the end of the night, we collected the rubber bullets as souvenirs.
I won’t go into the violence question. The people who resorted to it were a minority. Maybe there were infiltrators, or maybe people are just really, really angry. The thing that counts, in my view, is the spirit of resistance that I felt today. We refused to let ourselves be intimidated.
Many stayed in Neptuno or returned there. They sat down, and they sung “No! No! We’re not violent!”
Casualties of the night are more or less these. About twenty arrests. Fifty wounded. One serious.
At this moment the hard core protesters keep resisting in Neptuno. Tomorrow there will be another demonstration. In solidarity with the general strike in Galicia, Asturias and the Basque country. We will be at Congress at seven. The siege continues. Good night, and good luck 🙂