postvirtual

Yes We Can

In Madrid, Spain on 30 September 2012 at 01:42

September 30, 0145 hrs.

Dear people,

Rumours may not mean much, most of the time, but the fact is that people act on them. According to today’s rumour, the #29S demonstration was illegal and police were going to arrest everybody who participated in it.

No way they could have done so. I don’t know if the rumour had anything to do with it, but the turnout far exceeded my expectations.

When I arrived at Neptuno around six thirty there must have been already ten to fifteen thousand people in the square. In two hours the crowd reached its largest extent. All of the roundabout was packed, and part of the boulevards. Not as many people as last Tuesday, but many more than the day after. Foreign press estimates vary from forty to a hundred thousand people. National press say ten to twenty thousand. According to authorities there were 64 protesters and a dog.

Curiously, and contrary to my personal predictions, the average age of the crowd had gone up compared to the last two demonstrations. I see lots of middle aged and elderly men and women. I also see families with children. The tactic to scare them away clearly didn’t work.

As I walk around, I think of the determination with which the Egyptians returned to Tahrir in January 2011, and many times after that. ‘We must go on’, is what you hear people say, and I have a feeling that many of them are angry because the government continues to ignore them.

Police are relatively few, and at ease. They control the square from five sides. After the outrage caused by the infiltrations of last Tuesday, they had received the order to avoid the use of force wherever they could.

At around ten an assembly is improvised to harvest ideas on how to continue the protest. There is a lot of energy here, and we all feel the need to make use of it to take this movement to the next level. One speaker reminds us that the real power is not political, but economic. He calls on people to start boycotting certain multinationals and to transfer their money to banks that only invest in sustainable projects. Other ideas include not just blocking parliament, but the major arteries of the city and the country as well. Tomorrow at eleven a.m., the assembly will try to reach a consensus on these issues during a meeting at the Crystal Palace in Retiro.

After the assembly, only a few thousand people are left. They are waiting to see what police will do. They expect them to charge. “Midnight probably. Like last time.”

It all starts earlier. At around eleven thirty there are tensions and provocations on the side of the square, and bottles flying. With a small charge, police drive part of the crowd towards Cibeles. Then a line of vans moves to the centre of the square. The remaining protesters are divided over two fronts. At the barriers near congress, a few hundred of them peacefully sit down as they are surrounded by police. Others are driven into one of the side streets, where they try to make a barricade out of containers.

For a while, it’s not clear what’s going to happen next. It looks like police are preparing to make a mass arrest at the congress barrier. But finally they just force people out relatively peacefully.

On the other front the crowd is trying to get to congress from the side, so police push away the trashcan barricade and advance up the street. Citizen press is all over them. Wherever there is police, there are people with cameras shooting pictures from very close up.

It turns into a game of cat and mouse. Initially the riot cops chase people into the alleyways of old Madrid. Then at a certain point, the roles are reversed. Police don’t feel at ease in the small streets. Protesters go after them vociferously, singing that the people are not at all tired of resisting. They push the officers out of the centre, until the last units hastily get picked up by police vans that bring them to safety. Saigon, 1975.

That’s it for the night. The square is empty. The streets of the old city are left to the mob. Not a single window was broken. Not a single container was burned.

When I get back to media centre, news from Lisbon comes in. The crowd is massive, they are joined by one of the Portuguese police unions. Who knows, one day we might see something similar in Spain as well.

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