It’s Tuesday morning in Madrid, and word is spreading that a man who has fallen behind on his mortgage payments is about to be evicted. From the neighborhood where the affected house is located, the message spreads like wildfire via social networks amongst the indignados, the members of Spain’s growing protest movement. A demonstration is quickly organized at the house, and the details posted online at Stop Desahucios (Stop Evictions). The website was set up earlier this year to coordinate demonstrations against evictions that are affecting families across Spain. In 2010 about 110,000 family homes were repossessed.
“Stopping evictions just involves gathering a bunch of people in front of the main door of a building and doing a demonstration in order to prevent the judicial agency getting to the victim’s door,” explains Lidia, 27. “If you do that the eviction can be delayed for more than three months.” Lidia, who does not reveal her surname, is the administrator of Stop Desahucios, which makes use of geo-localization technology to plot the location of upcoming court-ordered evictions, as well as the “victories” – evictions that have been prevented.
Anyone can fill in a form on the website with details of an upcoming eviction. Once it’s confirmed as a legitimate case, all the information is added to the map, and an email is sent out to an enormous mailing list with the date, time and location of the demonstration. Just the previous day a family had successfully resisted their eviction thanks to one such protest.
Stop Desahucios is just one part of the vast network of activist groups that make up the indignados movement. What began as a hastily arranged protest camp in the centre of Madrid on May 15 has now developed into an embryonic alternative system of governance, one which is receiving increasing support from a Spanish public grown angry and bitterly disillusioned with traditional politics. At a day of protest on October 15 tens of thousands of demonstrators turned out in 80 locations throughout Spain.
The movement is divided into district assemblies, which gather once a week to discuss, debate and vote. Those assemblies are subdivided into commissions, smaller workshops that tackle particular topics like economics or the environment. They report back on their progress at each week’s assembly and make proposals, which are then voted on by the assembly.
If the assemblies are driving the substance of this movement, then it’s the Internet that has allowed it to grow at a speed that has left traditional political authorities and mainstream media struggling to catch up. Jon Aguirre is a member of Democracia Real Ya (Real Democracy Now), the group which first called for a demonstration on May 15. The organization now has more than 420,000 supporters on Facebook and over 100,000 followers on Twitter. “On the internet we are coordinating the entire movement,” he says. Distrustful of traditional mainstream media, RDN are using the Internet to communicate their message and to act as an alternative news source.
“Online we search for alternative sources of news and information, outside of traditional Spanish media, and then spread that information to our followers. The mainstream Spanish media are misinforming the population, and we’re seeking to provide an alternative source of information.”
“The Internet is a very important tool, but it is not the only tool. We also have to be in the streets,” suggests Segundo González. Segundo, 22, is an economics student and member of Juventud sin Futuro (Youth without Futures) a platform that coordinates various student protest groups from around the country. Their focus is on the bleak prospects Spain’s youth face, which they blame on a system which places profit before people.
In a country with an employment rate of 21.2% (and rising), the jobless rate for those between 15 and 25 is 46.2%. For young males it’s now over 50%. Of those that have found work, 60% are in temporary jobs which pay poorly and provide few rights or protections. Recent labor reforms made firing employees easier and cheaper for business owners, cut public employees’ salaries and postponed the age of retirement from 65 to 67.
Miguel Arana, 29, joined the movement in the weeks leading up to May 15. Miguel works in the International Extension Commission, one of the larger structural commissions that’s in charge of networking with other movements around the world and spreading the word of the indignados movement globally. They have developed a strong working relationship with the Occupy Wall Street movement, where some of the original indignados have now decamped to provide advice and support.
“Without the internet this would be impossible to do,” he explains. An arsenal of online tools make the day-to-day work of the movement possible. N-1 is the free social network the demonstrators use, a kind of Facebook for revolutionaries. “We knew we didn’t want to rely on big powerful companies (like Facebook), so we created our own.” explains Miguel. On N-1 users have access to online workshops, wikis, shared documents, space to upload files, mailing lists for communication – everything a burgeoning grassroots movement could need. “It’s a way to take the assemblies to the online world.”
At Propongo (I Propose) users can log on to make proposals, and discuss and vote on others proposals. On websites like Take the Square one can find tips on how to spot an undercover cop, or information about the rights protestors have. Toma la Plaza provides updates from protests in cities and villages right around Spain, while Agoras is a social forum and news site.
At the main Madrid assembly site there are instructions on how to hold assemblies, minutes from previous meetings and suggestions for setting up commissions. Oiga.me (Listen to Me) is a site that will be launching soon, which will make use of a mass-mailing hacking tool know as ‘Xmailer’, which the group plans to use for emailing political representatives. And like any self-respecting revolutionary movement, they have their own radio station.
The next step is to unify the separate movements around the world. “An international movement is starting to appear,” believes Miguel. “Right now we have contacts. We give information and receive information back and try to think together. But it’s still not really well organized. It doesn’t work like a single movement. It works like different movements connected.”
Miguel proudly cites their strong connections with movements in the US, Brazil, Britain and particularly Israel. “They’re building something really strong there,” he says. “The government is really afraid of what could happen.”
“I think with October 15 we are trying to go in this direction,” he continues. “To understand that we have to build one movement, with much more strength.”
After the October 15 demonstration, at around midnight, a group of indignados occupied an abandoned hotel close to the centre of Madrid. It didn’t take long for the story to pop up on social networks, and people were encouraged to come to the assembly the next day to discuss how best to make use of the facility. Some proposed offering up rooms in the hotel to evicted families, others disagreed. Online and in the streets, the debate continued.
“This is a movement about citizens, it’s not about leaders anymore,” Miguel concludes. “It’s about people talking and deciding what they want to do with their world. These are horizontal movements. We are all the 99%. It’s not about a minority who have a good idea, that’s the old politics. We are reinventing politics. This is politics 2.0.”