Last night I went down to the Setas, Seville’s new architectural phenomenon. This is the focus of the city’s 15-M acampada (camp-out), our smaller version of Madrid’s 25,000-strong settlement at Puerta del Sol, demanding social, political and economic change, which has made headlines around the world this week.
With exquisite irony, the massive devlopment which was to be our outgoing mayor’s swansong, is being used as the base for a popular protest against politicians exactly like him – self-aggrandising, image-obsessed, and totally out of touch with his city’s residents, of whose money he spent 120 million euros on a vanity project which is now making the front pages for reasons he can’t be too thrilled about. People are fed up with his party, his government, and they’re making themselves heard, both here in Seville, and in other major cities around Spain (besides Madrid, the other main protests are in Barcelona, Bilbao and Valencia). A poll last week found that 85% of Sevillanos support the protest. During the final week before the regional and local elections on 22 May, the limelight has been suddenly wrenched away from the main political parties’ campaigns.
Evidently this movement was inspired, at least partly, by a best-selling book written by a 90-year-old French resistance fighter and philosopher called Stephane Hessel, called Time for Outrage (the Spanish edition, Indignaos, was published in February this year, and has been the top seller at Seville’s two main bookshops ever since) – as a result, one of the many catchwords for this movement is “Indignaos”. The book denounces the “power of money,” reflecting rising popular sentiment against social inequality and the dictatorship of banks over working people’s needs.
Another element being cited as an influence is the Arab Spring, with protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and Bahrain.
So what’s it all about? What do these groups of indignaos want? Well it seems to vary from city to city, but broadly, all are in agreement that the economy is a total shambles which is nowhere near to being sorted out properly; both bankers and politicians should be more accountable (any politician who is under investigation for corruption should be removed from electoral lists; sounds good to me); and unemployment is not being tackled effectively: over 45% of Spain’s youth are out of work.
Many of the protesters are educated twentysomethings – the majority of the organisers I saw last night fitted this profile, although there were also plenty of 30, 40 and 50-somethings too, wearing their home-made papers slogans, though those sleeping out in the acampada on the first floor plaza of the Setas (shadier than Madrid’s Puerta del Sol) were mostly young.
Paper and tape are available from the organisers for making signs, and people are encouraged to express themselves on posters taped to the concrete pillars of the parasols – popular participation is a basic element of revolution, after all.
You can also get extension leads, and they even have WIFI – this is a 21st century revolution.
The list of points of the Seville group is as follows: removal of political class’s privileges; tackle unemployment; right to a place to live; quality public services; tighter control on banks; tighter control on tax fraud; liberty and democratic participation; and reduction in military spending. They have suggestions boxes for each of these topics.
The speakers are spontaneous and without any order – when I asked one of the organisers who had just been speaking last night, he looked at me as if I’d just insulted his mother’s cooking, telling me that there are no leaders (“because they get corrupted”) it is open to all, anyone who wants to say something can. I felt suitably chastened.
The speeches often melt into rhythmical call and response chants – “El pueblo no se callea(the people won’t be silenced), “Tu si que vale” (you’re worth it), “Que no nos representan” (they don’t represent us). The atmosphere was friendly and relaxed – there may be outrage, but it is not being expressed in an aggressive or confrontational way (thankfully).
They even have a daily schedule, which is as follows: 7am breakfast, 12 midday meeting, 3pm lunch, 8pm meeting/demonstration, and 11pm dinner (food is all donated). People are designated into different areas: food, security, information, communications, cleaning, logistics (provides everything from batteries and megaphones to cold-boxes and furniture) etc, and the areas I saw were certainly being kept spotless.
For those on Twitter, there are a number of hashtags to follow: #15M #yeswecamp (geddit?) #acampadasevilla #nonosvamos #democraciarealya #notenemosmiedo and #tomalaplaza, as well as #spanishrevolution
And finally, because this is Andalucia, where humour is never far from the surface, a lady who was attracting plenty of attention from both participants, and curious onlookers, like myself.