Wednesday, August 03, 2011

La Plaza Tomada

It was a pathetic sight last night in Madrid. Circling the (police) wagons in the Puerta del Sol, all entrances to the square blocked by fully equipped riot cops. The police helicopter had been flying low over central Madrid for hours. At one point, over the heads of those in front of me, I caught a glimpse of the barrel of one of those guns the police use to fire gas canisters or rubber bullets. Preparing for a major assault, obviously. But it wasn't going to happen.

"Estas son nuestras armas" (these are our weapons) has become one of the standard chants of those taking part in protests organised by the 15-M movement. Shouted with your empty hands raised in the air. The authorities just don't get it, and the kind of over the top policing that converts many a peaceful protest into a public order problem found itself unable to cope yet again with a movement that refuses to play by the traditional rules. 

Last night, following the clearing of the square yesterday morning, the Puerta del Sol was closed to everyone except the police. Metro trains didn't even stop there. At first the police allowed some to enter the square, based it seems almost entirely on the appearance of the people who wanted to pass. Although well-dressed journalists were not admitted. Again they don't get it. Five "indignados" in a taxi dressed in business clothes were able to pass the barrier the police had put last week around the Spanish parliament. Eventually last night they decided they had to close the square to everyone. 

People came to protest against the eviction that had taken place earlier in the day. The authorities might have calculated that August was a good time to do it, but Madrid is no longer as empty in this holiday month as it used to be. Yet again a miscalculation by those in charge turns out to be a boost for 15-M. The streets around the Puerta del Sol filled with protesters, but the outcome wasn't going to be just a sterile stand-off for hours between demonstrators and riot police. Once again, the old rules didn't apply.

We arrived a bit late, to find crowds of people moving down the Gran Via, but not walking on the pavement. "Where are you all going?" we asked someone. "For a walk" was the reply. Half the Gran Via closed to traffic was much better than none of it. Down in Cibeles, where they are already building the stand for the Pope's visit, there were thousands of people and Real Madrid hadn't won anything. Nobody stopped long there, and soon the whole of the Paseo del Prado was occupied by protestors. The police were still busy recreating Custer's last stand inside the city centre.

Nobody gave any orders, another thing the idiots who govern us fail to understand. Everyone more or less knew where we wanted to go, so the Calle de Atocha ended up closed to traffic too as the ever bigger crowd turned back towards Sol, observed by bemused tourists. "Esto es lo que pasa por echarnos de la plaza" was probably the chant of the night. But Sol is not the only square in Madrid, after stopping for a while at the police line where the man with the gun was probably feeling anxious to test his weapon the protest moved onto the nearby Plaza Mayor to celebrate a mass assembly. Custer's men spent the night in the otherwise deserted square, protecting their wagons. They're still there this morning. Was it worth it?


ejh said...

The authorities just don't get it

I suspect that actually they do, or at least some of them do, and that within the police and governing apparatus there's a fairly sophisticated understanding of 15M. But I also think that the over-the-top firepower is for public consumption, a way of saying to the general population "we have no choice but to come tooled up, because these people are dangerous".

Graeme said...

It looks like they got to use some of their weapons last night, but it's hard to see how it corresponds to a clever strategy. Not a single public statement from interior or Madrid authorities on what they are hoping to achieve.