Inside the #SpanishRevolution

The spirit of insurrection is sweeping around the globe

Steven Böhm

Read an eye-witness report on the situation in Spain at RoarMag.org.

For the last several days, thousands of Spanish citizens have occupied the central square in Madrid and demanded systemic political, economic and social change. Rallying under the battle cry of "Real Democracy Now: we are not goods in the hands of politicians and bankers," these everyday people turned rebels have brought to the shores of the West the popular spirit of insurrection that has swept across the Arab world. Perhaps it is not a historical coincidence that of all the Western nations, Spain has a most unique historical relationship with Islam: the country was once part of the Islamic Caliphate, Arabic was the main language of large areas as late as the 15th century and many of its citizens have ancestors who were once Muslim. Let that be a question for future movement historians to debate, the fact remains that the people of Spain have done far more than simply transpose Tahrir onto Madrid. They have actually transformed the model of Tahrir into an even more democratic form. They have conceived of how to carry out a popular revolution in a way that will soon catch fire in the imagination of the West.

Generally speaking, the tactical insight of the Egyptian activists was the idea of seizing a public square and transforming their presence into a symbol powerful enough to topple a tyrant. To be fair, this model had been successfully used before, such as in the 1986 Filipino People Power Revolution in which two million protestors occupied the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, but the major breakthrough of the Egyptian activists was to prove that this tactic was once again relevant and that even the most highly policed state cannot stop the people if they organize themselves spontaneously. The gift of the Egyptian revolution was a sense of optimism, that a revolutionary spring has arrived in which, to use the slogan of the 9/11 antiwar movement, another world is possible.

The Spanish Revolution takes the lesson of Tahrir one step further. Rather than simply holding the Puerta del Sol square, the people of Madrid have transformed the street into proof that real, direct democracy is possible. The catch-phrase of this revolution is the "assembly", hours of discussions where people decide their demands, their manifesto, and the fate of their movement all without leaders. Horizontal, de-centralized, people power has been realized. A reporter for the Spanish newspaper El Pais describes the scene:

"At eight o’clock in the afternoon the assembly starts. There are a hundred people sitting on the floor. People of all stripes. Mostly young. Some come wearing Ralph Lauren polos, others torn t-shirts without sleeves. The neat boy exchanges ideas with the hippie. Talking. They’re different, but there’s one thing that unites them. They’re tired of this deceit, they are tired of being the political puppets of simplistic slogans, of the accused politicians on the lists. Chorus: 'They call it democracy and it’s not.'"

The Spanish Revolution is the closest that contemporary activists have yet come to reviving the dream of true democracy. In the following words of the reporter, we can finally taste the arrival of the glorious commune, the political assemblage of liberty and equality that births a true revolution because it fundamentally changes the social bonds:

"On Wednesday morning, the outraged mini-republic is fully operational. There are meetings in every corner. Those gathered line the entrance of the Metro station with messages on white sheets. It’s turned into a mural of indignation. Maps of the city-in-planning indicate where each of the committees are. One near each of the lampposts in the square: Power, Action, Extension, Internal Coordination, Legal, Care / Cleaning, Infrastructure (lost items), Communication. The infirmary is full of medicine and bandages. Every night, bars and restaurants in the area give the campers everything they can spare. At the food place, housewives arrive with full shopping carts. A restaurant owner brings pots full of stew ... 200 lawyers were appointed ... A total of 15 nurses. Seven solar panels, 15 computers."

Go to RoarMag.org to read the full eyewitness account of the first few days of the Spanish Revolution and come back to post your reflections here.