Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Breaking Camp In The Puerta Del Sol

Arriving far later than originally intended, a photographic summary of the dismantling of the protest camp in Madrid's Puerta del Sol. The decision to leave the camp on Sunday 12th June was taken after a long assembly the previous week. Long because every attempt was made to accommodate the opinion of the minority who were against leaving the square. Eventually a consensus was reached which consisted of those who wanted to remain having to make proposals acceptable to all if they wanted to stay in the name of the 15-M movement. That didn't happen, and on a hot Sunday morning the work began to clear the camp.

Huge amounts of material were removed from what had become quite solid structures during the lifetime of the camp, as well as the hard task of removing traces of posters and stickers from the Metro entrances and other structures in the square. The people from the camp took the task of clearing up very seriously and the municipal cleaning services provided the containers and lorries to move the debris away.

Not everything was removed from Sol, and there was even a bit of new construction. The movement had decided to leave an information booth about the campaign in the square, and here it is in construction.

Alongside the information booth there were a series of other reminders of what had been here since the middle of May.

The vegetable garden was still there in Sol when I passed by on Sunday following the big demonstration in Madrid. Doing surprisingly well considering the hostile environment in which it has to survive.

After the dismantling of the camp there was still time for an assembly to mark the occasion and to make clear that the campaign that took off on the 15th May is far from over. 

This is the information booth in the square once it was up and running.

Some of those who opposed leaving the camp claimed that the extension of the campaign to the barrios of Madrid wasn't yet ready. In reality, it had been running well already for a couple of weeks and the proof of that was there to see in the successful protest held on June 20th, as well as in the huge range of activities that are now being organised at local level around the city. 

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Whose Square Is It Anyway?

To stay or not? This is the issue which is dominating much of the discussion about the protest camp in Madrid's Puerta del Sol. After 3 weeks the camp looks a much more solid and permanent construction after successive changes, but its role as as a focal point for what has become known in the press as the 15M movement has undoubtedly declined. It seems clear that there are those within the camp who feel that the time has come to move on to other tactics, yet there are also those who are determined to keep it going.

What makes the decision harder to take is the participatory democracy that has also been one of the factors making the camp so successful. This idea that anyone can participate in any assembly, and that consensus rather than a simple majority is needed to take a decision. This system has been criticised for failing to produce the set of concrete proposals that so many critics of the movement demand, presumably as a homage to their own lack of ideas. But it has undoubtedly helped to make more cohesive a movement that, despite media stereotyping, is simply not composed of people who all think the same way about everything.

The problem now is that the determination of a few can mean that no decision on the future of the camp can be made, and there are claims that some of those who have joined the protest have done so more for lifestyle reasons than any interest in participating in the movement itself. Friendly voices have pinpointed this issue, which may well just lead to those who are tired and have had enough packing their tents and walking away. This, I think, is a pity. A decision, perhaps also involving the camps in other cities, to move on voluntarily and with the possibility of mobilising again many of those who initially supported the camp seems a much better way to go than just hanging on grimly until the police are sent in.

That latter option is certainly what Madrid's city and regional administrations would love to see. The calls got louder on the very day of the hugely violent, and terribly misjudged, attempt by the Catalan government to evict the camp in Barcelona. The desire of Esperanza Aguirre's administration to see similar treatment meted out in Madrid was evident as wild accusations were launched about "chabolismo" in the Puerta del Sol. A strong campaign has also been launched by those representing businesses in the area with equally exaggerated claims about the effect of the camp on the nearby shops combined with nonsense about the danger to hygiene represented by a supposedly filthy camp.

In reality it is probably these same organisations that have done the most damage to the local shops in Sol by making untrue claims. The camp already cooperated with shopowners a couple of weeks ago by clearing the posters and banners from the shops and the simple fact is there are no obstacles of any kind preventing people from shopping in the zone or circulating around the square. The camp has always been clean, which given the state of some of the streets in the centre since the ayuntamiento got difficult about paying for rubbish collection is something of a contrast. It's cleaner than my street. For some the Puerta del Sol will always be much better as a haven for pickpockets than as a place where citizens can freely express their discontent.

It's funny, the city authorities constantly hire out the squares of Madrid for all sorts of mercadillos and events sponsored by any company prepared to pay to do a bit of advertising. All of this fine to the city's rulers, despite the way in which such events obstruct the use of this space by ordinary citizens. Meanwhile the sacred "right to shop" is added near to the top of the post-modern charter of human rights, just behind the right to travel anywhere you want on a puente.

Those responsible for the assault on the camp in Barcelona have continued to lie freely about the events on that day, despite the vast amount of audiovisual evidence available. False claims of violence against the police have been launched, just as there were lies on the day itself about the use of extreme tactics such as rubber bullets. Lies are told about an image that has become famous of a man in a wheelchair caught in the midst of a police charge, with laughable claims made that the police were just trying to help him. The fact that the police broke their own regulations by not displaying any visible identification (a common practice by those claiming to uphold the law) is almost an incidental detail compared to everything else that happened. A criminal case has been presented against those responsible, test the democratic health of the society by seeing how far it gets.
Regardless of what happens in Sol or other acampadas the campaign has already spread beyond this tactic. Successful assemblies have been held in many barrios of Madrid, the intention being to build local campaign bases with initiatives that combine neighbourhood activities together with support for national action. Another national protest has been organised for the 19th June, and it promises to be a significantly bigger one than 15th May. There will also be protests in several places where newly elected city administrations take power this week. Many people outside of the traditional parties or structures are now involved around Spain in activities calling for change and the momentum is still there. It's not over yet.