If you’ve been paying attention to international news or have a Twitter account, it’s likely you’ve noticed that something is going on in Spain that’s a little different from your run-of-the-mill siestas, churros-con-chocolate, and bull paraphanelia. For the last week, thousands of young protestors have flooded the Puerta del Sol (the main square in Madrid) to speak out against the government. On Friday night alone, there were an estimated 28,000 “indignants” in the square. They feel the system is failing them: the unemployment rate in Spain is at 21.3%, and it is much higher for those ages 15-24. The local elections were yesterday, and protestors wanted to make their voices heard in an attempt to push for change.
While it remains unclear what the long-term effects will be of the Spanish Revolution of 2011, named “15-M” because it began on the 15th of May, it is clear the protestors, and the feelings of bringing about change, are here to stay. (One example of this – protesters have planted a vegetable garden in the plaza).
As I commuted this morning, I grabbed a free issue of ADN and skimmed over the results of the election: the PP (Partido Popular) beat out the PSOE (Socialist Party) in a record defeat – clearly sending a message to President Zapatero that the status quo is failing many of Spain’s citizens. Interestingly, the region of Castilla – La Mancha fell to the PP, even though the PSOE had been in party ever since Franco was ousted. In one editorial I read, however, the author urged the PP to heed the warnings of the 15-M movement if they want to win national elections, and even Zapatero himself said he understood the frustration of the protestors. Worth noting that voter turnout rose from 63% to 66% this year, with 13 out of 17 municipalities holding local elections. Maybe the U.S. should follow Spain’s lead in this area and start holding elections on a non-work day?
I went to Sol a few times this weekend and was impressed by the energy and the creativity of those protesting – it was unlike anything I had ever seen before. I joked that “this was just like Berkeley” – but Berkeley’s protests were usually short-lived and poorly planned…or just weird and un-hygenic (remember the tree sitters, anyone?)
While the events of 15-M waged on in Sol and spread to Spain’s other large cities, I was able to reflect on Spain and my time here. While I lament the lack of efficiency in the country and often say “Welcome to Spain…” anytime something weird or negative happens, this country’s culture and vibrancy is truly unlike any other, and it’s important to remember that this whole “democracy” thing is relatively new to Spain. It was mentioned to me this weekend that perhaps Spain’s way of life (siestas and fiestas) inhibits its residents from getting jobs and developing a work ethic. That rationale brings a little bit of merit to my job here, which is sort of cool, in that the English levels of the next generation will undoubtedly be higher due to the bilingual schools and the Auxiliar program. The rising rates of English will allow Spaniards to be more competitive in the international job market as well. While I don’t think I am saving the world by living and working in Madrid, it´s interesting to see how my job plays a role in the bigger picture.