Six years after the 15M: the protest that changed how politics work

On May 15, 2011, protests erupted in cities across Spain, one week before local elections. It was the first public display of what would come to be known as the 15M or Indignados movement (what in English could be translated as The indignant Ones Movement). People occupying the city squares and streets, and connecting and planning online, were demanding governmental reform and at the same time building prototypes of alternative forms of social organization. “They were at once rejecting old systems and experimenting with new ones” says Adrienne Russell in her book Journalism as Activism.

Source: Spanish Ministry of Interior

Some of these experiments took the form of new-style collaborative public spaces, such as El Campo de Cebada, a square in Madrid transformed through online organizing and offline construction. Participants turned the abandoned site into a local meeting space and a hub of activity. Other projects included Sol TV created by two journalists who set up digital cameras throughout Puerta del Sol, the major site of protests in Madrid, to live-stream the action as it unfolded in the square, and Toma la Tele, a network of media groups that produced and aggregated news about evictions, civil rights and unemployment. These initiatives lead by journalists are in fact, a great example of global techno-libertarian vanguard where popular journalists work at mainstream outlets that integrate activist material and use their distribution channels. Russell adds that this vanguard should include “international technology activists setting mobile internet hubs”- which was seen in the 15M protests-.

Journalist Diego Beas, who witnessed the movement, says that it was “a hybrid and novel experiment of online and offline activism that steered clear of the traditional and weary avenues of political engagement.” As for online tools, some activists created Convoca!, an open-source mobile app that allowed users to check in at gatherings, events or encampments. Others used existing platforms to organize and map their cities: #Voces25S allowed people to collectively map police whereabouts by tweeting the information with that hashtag, while the Stop Desahucios (Stop Forecloses in English) map displayed the location of home foreclosures, directing the members to assemble on doorsteps and halt the eviction process.

Its success could be measured by the large number of Spaniards who got involved in the initiative. Young and old prove that age is just a number when it comes to challenging the rigid, “top-down, party driven system that has dominated Spanish political life since 1978”, as stated in The Guardian. 90,000 people were said to played a part just in Madrid, according to the Spanish Ministry of Interior. Jaime Pastor, sociologist and specialist in mass movements reflects on the activism of this initiative: “five months after the movement started it transformed itself into the most interesting political development since the death of Franco.” Even though, it avoided engaging with ideological agendas, its political connotations would later plant the seed of new political parties that have nowadays representation in the Spanish Senate.

The next timeline shows the key events during the protests:

Ultimate Consequences

The 15-M movement had repercussions not only at a national scale, but also at international level. Its immediate impact oversees could be identified in two countries: Israel and the U.S.

It was the harbinger of the massive Israeli protests in the summer of 2011 and in North America, it led the way of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Has this movement had any long-term repercussions? The answer is yes. May 15th is now a date in the calendar of 130 cities all over the world. It has become a call to action. It is an invitation to fight against big enterprises such as Coca-Cola and to occupy public squares with one goal in mind: “bringing back control over politics”. Paris -with the Nuit Debout- London, Germany or Milan represent how a manifestation that started in a single square has kicked in almost everywhere.

When it comes to Spain itself, the most prestigious analysts declared on 2012 that the project had exhausted all its ideals one year after it was born. They added that the movement had its peak in May when the Spanish Revolution shocked the whole world, but the lack of organisation had made the activists dig their own tomb.

It is certainly true that a few months after the protest started the debt and the corrupt practices -exposed in the streets and online- remained the same; however, it was, without a doubt, a red flag upon the political sphere. Six years have now go by and the consequences in Spain are unbelievable.

A new political party was born because of this manifestation. Podemos (In English We can) is a left-wing, anti austerity party that today holds 65 seats of the total 350 in Parliament. Its leaders took an active part in the 15M movement. Pablo Iglesias, the founder of the group, was the one that claimed in Puerta del Sol that one nation can work itself out without political parties. To quote, communication scholar: “we are here to transform anger and disgust into a political party.” Podemos voters and the group members are itself the movement, the 15M.

If the international consequences weren’t enough, this protest exemplifies how a single initiative that begins from below, can be the precedent for something much bigger. Although, Podemos is not ruling Spain at the moment, it has managed to divide in simply six years, the power that has been in hands of just two parties for more than three decades.

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