There is 21% unemployment in Spain. It's hard to believe for someone like me, coming from a 'poor' Third World country. It's full of big buildings swamped in history, pretty, trimmed parks and public transport systems with undergrounds and busses. That work. No swerving taxi's full-to-overflowing, disregarding road rules and stopping mid-stream. The busses stop at appointed places, the Metro tells you how many seconds until the next train arrives. All things that, somehow, don't gel with unemployment.
But there you have it. 21%. And, when we arrived in Madrid, airport-dirty, plane-air-filled, slightly weary but thrilled by the feeling of being in Europe, we were surprised to find a little bunch of tents at the manicured park across from the station, banners announcing angry things in Spanish. We had heard about the revolution, of course, on the news, but weren't expecting to see it.
Two hours later we found ourselves at the Puerta del Sol, where, the previous weekend, the 15-M march through Madrid (which included some nasty incidents with police) had ended with a group setting up tents and camping, long-term. The day before we flew, apparently 160 000 people gathered there, under close police scrutiny. It was a Spain-wide protest against the political and financial state in Spain and Europe. Look at "2011 Spanish protests" on Wikipedia if you want the full story.
What we found was a Spanish square surrounded by beautiful, old buildings that had been solidly bedecked with protest posters, a fascinating contrast of old and new. I wondered how many protests those old buildings had looked over, what stories they could tell, what they thought of the large group of very ragamuffin-looking creatures camped out at their feet?
Because, essentially, it seemed, that here we had a bunch of hippies, each with a cause, ranging from animal rights to gay rights to refugee rights to what I think must've been marijuana-smoking rights by the looks of them., all camped out on the square. There was a lot of lying around going on. I'm sure it was just post-protest fatigue, as opposed to apathy...
Across the road the Spanish police camped out looking serious. G and I thought they looked just like policeman in the movies - all clean cut, dark and swarthy, with uniforms tight enough to show their pecs and Ray Bans to finish off the look.
Then, in Barcelona, we caught the Metro into where we needed to collect keys and came out of the mole-inspired underground, our eyes adjusting to the bright sunshine, into Placa Catalunya, where the Barcelona arm of the protest was happening. Here it seemed a little cleaner, more focussed. On day three in Barcelona we came across a march, streets closed, helicopters overhead, electricity in the air. And in Valencia too, the (even cleaner) Placa Adjuntement, covered with people, an incredible drumming group providing background noise. This was no small revolution.
I loved it. Not the apathy/layabout post-protest fatigue bit, but the combined human spirit bit. Because, between the dirty lying-about people there were highly spirited people fighting for things that many of us believe in, things we take for granted sometimes, Important Things. It's so very important to look up and take notice. And what a treat to witness something so big, something that's in Wikipedia, that'll probably be in history books!
So now I know what talking about a revolution sounds like (apologies Tracy Chapman - it's not so much like a whisper, more like a throbbing rhythm, an electrical pulse coursing through cities, a human stream of, urm, conciousness I guess. Ole!
*All Spain pics are courtesy of G, who took fabulous pics! This one is Peurta del Sol in Madrid.