15M: 5 Years On, What Has Changed?

by Miguel Luna

25 May 2016

Since 2011, politics has become something that belongs to all citizens. Until then, it was something reserved for parliament and the political parties. The rest of civil society simply participated in democracy every four years when it was time to vote. Since the late 80s up until the outbreak of the crisis in 2008, Spain suffered the social and economic policies of two parties responding to a neoliberal model promoted by the hegemonic EU countries. Submissively, we accepted any law that was imposed upon us – from education and employment, to housing and more.

It was in the field of educational that there began to develop a new wind that would change the country. In 2010, a new educational model promoted by the government and universities set out to instil precarity into the university and its students: the so-called ‘Bologna process’. Rising tuition fees, diminishing job prospects, the withdrawal of social rights throughout the population, and a total absence of democracy from institutions to people provoked a revolt in the minds of the youth, initially in Madrid and Barcelona.

In Madrid we joined university students to discuss how to tackle the imposition of the educational model. Together we began to read the work of the greatest intellectuals of the traditional and postmodernist Marxist left, from Italian autonomism to alter-globalization, through to the Latin American political process. Alongside this reading process, Stéphane Hessel published his 2010 book Time for Outrage!, published in Spanish as ¡Indignaos! (‘Be outraged!’).

Students from universities in Madrid began to get together to think about democratic parameters, and to seek solutions through discussion with one another. The result was the founding of Juventud Sin Futuro (‘Youth Without a Future’), one of two groups that would be the driving force of the 15M anti-austerity movement (the other being Democracia Real Ya – ‘Real Democracy Now’). Early in the spring of 2010 these two groups were able to mobilize a lot of people in neighbourhood assemblies and colleges, to see how we could go about retrieving what was being robbed from us. The slogan that emerged now gives its name to a famous book by Nanni Balestrini, We Want Everything. The government had stolen our present and our future, and now we wanted it back for one reason: to have the right to a dignified life, without insecurity, exile or arrest.

It took many months and years of struggle, with a conservative government trying to override the great social movement that had been born in Spain, as in Greece, the US, Mexico, Tunisia and Egypt. The goal was the same: a real democracy where citizens have a voice and can participate – a government that thinks of the people instead of the economic interests of the few.

Those years of struggle were full of emotion, but also fatigue, exhaustion and stress. Nobody said it would be easy, but we were young and willing to fight to prove that 15M was no fluke. The movement became the ‘tides’: large groups that focused on a specific topic, such as education (green tide) or health (white tide). Feminism became a fundamental part of the movement – a great achievement in a society sick with machismo.

Despite years of struggle, parliament kept telling us we did not have the support of the people – that only parliament could represent the millions through their votes. Then, in the winter of 2014, a group of people from Juventud Sin Futuro, Contrapoder University Association and some professors at the Complutense University of Madrid formed a political alliance that would become the community of reference of a new left party: Podemos (‘We can’). On 17 January at the Teatro del Barrio, 200 people witnessed the emergence of a party that didn’t know what the future would hold.

The old parties of left and right began to worry: bankers, businessmen and mobsters who had ruled the country as if it were a movie began to panic. Within months Podemos won representation in the European elections. As the months passed, attacks by the media were sustained until the 2015 municipal elections when citizens’ platforms supported by Podemos won in Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia – cities which had been ruled by the right for more than 20 years. With the result of December’s national elections inconclusive, there will now be new elections in June 2016.

15M not only changed an entire country’s way of thinking in democratic terms, but even changed the mindset of bankers, gangsters and traditional political parties. It also left a geographical and temporal presence. Now it is the moment of Paris, where following the new labour law we can see its response: a new upsurge in fighting for social rights and democracy, Nuit Debout.

It is essential to live and analyse these cycles of struggle to update our ideas, but they are also about democratizing the whole of civil society and even the institutions that represent us and which can operate an entire country. Without democracy, we are doomed to precariousness forever. Without democracy, we will not have a decent life and social rights. To achieve democracy, it is essential to organize anger and defend joy, as we did five years ago in Madrid.

Photo: Miguel Luna/Novara Media

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