Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Repression and Demobilization in Spain

After the 2011 emergence of the 15-M “Indignados” movement, the streets of Spain were bursting with people power. In Madrid, for example, where the movement began, hundreds of thousands flooded Puerta del Sol in massive general strikes and color-coordinated mareas (street tides) to demonstrate their indignation against the rightwing government’s austerity cuts. While snaking your way through the city’s streets, you would be greeted by bright green and red stickers from the anti-eviction movement which plastered the glass windows and ATMs of Spain’s major banks with the phrases “Sí se puede” (“Yes we can”) and “Pero no quieren” (“But they [the government, the banks] don’t want to”). Coming from the United States, where such an action could land you in some serious trouble, it was breathtaking.

But when I visited Spain in early 2015, things had certainly changed. Gone were the constant mareas and stickers on bank windows. It was eerie. While anti-eviction groups like PAH or Plataforma Afectados Hipoteca (Platform for Those Affected by Mortgages) or STOP DESHAUCIOS (Stop Evictions) continue to successfully postpone evictions of working-class families across Spain, I was told that the numbers of supporters had dwindled. But this change was not simply because of the cold weather or post-holiday malaise that strikes almost every social movement in the West; it was the product of other troubling circumstances, namely the implementation of the Ley Mordaza (Gag Law) in December 2014 that outright criminalizes public protest and mobilizations that recently made Spain one of the most vibrant centers of social movements in the world.

Repression and Demobilization

Passing through Puerta del Sol on a Sunday afternoon in late-January, I noticed how two policemen approached a group of about seven or eight elderly protestors holding a banner protesting cuts to social services. After what seemed like a bit of a tense moment, one of organizers pulled out a white sheet from his backpack and waved it in the face of the officers, who eventually walked away. For me, this appeared to be a rather strange sight, having attended many unauthorized gatherings and marches beginning in this plaza. But that has all changed since the passing of one of the Gag Law’s most contentious legislations that prohibits protest in public spaces without permission. Depending on the context, one can be fined anywhere between 30,001-60,000 Euros for not having received the proper authorization.
While the U.S., birthplace of the prison-industrial complex, throws demonstrators in jail for the most minor of infractions, this Gag Law aims to criminalize and shut down Spain’s social movements by bankrupting them.

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