Indignant at the Spanish Embassy
Her national flag flapped lazily in the cool London breeze as Laura Martin stood across the street from the Spanish embassy on May 28th. With tarps covering sleeping bags and bottled water stacked high, she and her fellow protesters were prepared to stay outside until someone paid attention to their demands.
She is a part of Real Democracy Now, a Spanish protest movement that began demonstrating in Spain and across Europe two weeks ago. They oppose the corruption and cronyism they believe is systemic in Spanish government. Also known as #spanishrevolution, the Twitter hashtag they use to deliver their message, Real Democracy Now is fuelled by frustration and powerlessness young Spaniards feel as unemployment soars in their country.
But last weekend their determination was been overshadowed by the biggest football game of the year, the Champions League final between Manchester United and Barcelona FC at London’s Wembley Stadium.
“Football is one of those tools they use to keep people happy and sleepy,” said Martin. “Everyone is talking about football.”
And football was the justification given by Spanish police for the most violent crackdown on the movement so far. The day before the game authorities cleared the tent camp in Barcelona’s Placa Catalunya, claiming that it was a sanitation issue and the space was needed for the next day’s football celebrations. Hundreds were injured in the clashes and Youtube videos show police beating demonstrators with clubs as they sat on the ground.
The protesters are known as “Los Indignados”, the Indignant Ones, and Martin’s indignation overflowed when she saw the images from Barcelona, pointing to the police’s actions as proof that real democracy does not exist in Spain.
“The politicians should just come down and talk to the people,” she says. “They don’t want to understand. They’re not going to stop it with violence. It just showed us we have to fight for a long time if we want some change.”
Many of the people camped outside the Spanish embassy are young people who have come to the UK to find jobs. One in five Spaniards under 30 are still looking for their first job, and youth unemployment hovers around 45 per cent nationwide. Martin came to London six years ago to find work and would like to return to her country one day, but the chances of her finding a job in her field are low.
Esther, who doesn’t want to disclose her last name, is the London chapter’s unofficial communications person. She came to London two weeks ago to find work as a language teacher. The 25-year-old from Santander has seen her country go from an overall unemployment rate of eight per cent in 2007 to 20 per cent in 2010 despite the government spending $15 billion to prop up the economy, driving the deficit from 3.8 per cent of GDP in 2008 to 9.7 per cent in 2010.
The Indignant Ones support neither the left-wing Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party nor the conservative People’s Party. Politicians of both parties have failed to guide Spain out of recession, according to the demonstrators, and have instead made Spain’s economy one the worst in Europe.
“It’s a people’s movement,” Esther said. “We want to say to the politicians and bankers that we are fed up with the situation. We want to take part in the political system. We want to be a part of the policies that affect us all.”
Real Democracy Now has used Twitter and Facebook to organize meetings and distribute information, creating a spontaneous and very grass roots movement that would have been impossible a decade ago. Meanwhile, they complain that mainstream media is ignoring their movement.
Protesters in London tried to take advantage of the media focus on the Champions League final. They unravelled a banner behind a Spanish television reporter live on air but the broadcast was cut. Supporters at Wembley brought a Real Democracy Now banner in hopes of getting it on air but it didn’t work.
“It’s been ridiculous,” says Ira De Gama, who is originally from Madrid. “There’s been no media attention whatsoever. Nobody’s talked about the human rights violations in Barcelona. It’s been very disappointing because I thought they’d care about the story.”
Barcelona beat Manchester United and secured its place as the best football club in Europe as The Indignant Ones of London sat outside the Spanish Embassy. Martin hopes that with the football season over, attention will shift to their cry for political change that transcends the left/right divide.
“For the first time in Spanish history, since I’ve been an adult, it’s not been left against right,” she says. “Now it’s the people against the state. We’re just looking for a fair system. It’s not about ideologies.”