July 19, 2012. It’s 2:30 A.M. Occupy Madrid Doesn”t Play by Daniel Bruno
Puerta del Sol, Madrid
Under a half moon and the eternal gaze of King Carlos III on horseback, they gathered. Northern coal miners arrived on foot from Asturias after a 400 km journey and local urbanites who, in their imagination, wannabe angry, defiant miners too…but like many across the First World, would privately scoff at doing any truelly dirty or drudge work, let alone crawl into dark holes to bring more carbon to industry…and the atmosphere… hence the legions of Third world immigrants all around Spain, including ubiquitous, ambulatory Bangladeshis eeking out a rude existence hawking brewskis at this very square tonight, the epicenter of Madrid and the symbol of Spain. The time is 2:30 A.M.
There’s a real reverence for working class man, a hero worship of sorts, that finds its expression in the living statues of maids, miners, soldiers and working class folk in general to be found at this square during daylight. Men and women spray painted in black, copper or silver from head to toe, frozen and motionless for hours, like a freeze frame from a golden news reel of old. A dish placed in front is the repository for the spare coins of tourists. Some people make a living this way, averaging 20 euros an hour.
“We are all Miners” read the signs. Large black balloons float above. There’s chanting, singing and speeches. A lot of young people who probably don’t have anywhere to be at 9:00 tomorrow ( this ) morning. Official unemployment is at 20% or more.
Madrid’s nightlife is incomparable, in fact there are more bars here per capita than anywhere else on Earth. Tonight, some 5000 people have combined nightlife with political activism. Guy Fawkes masks dot the scene. Rows of paddy wagons guard City Hall across the street. A police helicopter buzzes nervously overhead.
But tonight would be peaceful. The real action would take place the following day, or rather, tonight.
Sundown between 8 and 10 that night. I’m back.
Row after row of police and their vehicles are in view. The police are heavily armored with flack jackets and shields fit for gladiators. Each one looks like Darth Vader from Star Wars. A river of people, too many to count, stream towards the square. The flags of Republican Spain, defeated by Franco 75 years ago, wave overhead along with large red banners bearing the yellow hammer,sickle and star; symbol of the Soviet Union, now defunct for a generation, before the memory of many in attendance.
The chants are angry, class conscious and insult the mayor of Madrid. It’s unsettling and must be terrifying to those whom the rage is directed; in particular, the financial class, bankers and Spanish elites…the winners of the Capitalist system in Spain. The 1%. They too have their admirers and wannabes.
Speeches are made and cheers go up. I step over to the Europa cafe for a light dinner. My waiter is an immigrant from Asia. Next to me are tourists from Poland, where membership in the EU is seen much more favorably but where the Euro has not yet been introduced.
Suddenly, a very loud bang. Then another. Hundreds of people rush towards but around us, as the cafe is separated from the square traffic by a heavy metal fence.
Then the stampede starts like bison on the Kansas prairie of old. Terrified masses of people forge ahead towards us, over the fence rails as a dozen dining tables, chairs, plates and glasses crash to the ground and terrified tourists scurry inside for cover.
The crowds rush past us by as a column of marching soldiers comes into view. They beat and grab a straggler, arresting him. Tear gas wafts through the air. Cameramen for the BBC and CNN race to catch up with the action. Soon, rubbish fires are burning in front of the fine shops of Calle del Carmen.
Today, the Spanish powers that be have answered Spanish Occupy, the Indignados. It is not clear why the police were given orders to disperse a peaceable crowd.
Across the way at City Hall there is a plaque in honor of protesters killed at this square in 1808 by Napolean’s armies of occupation. Spanish public opinion turned against France in spite of the anti-monarchy, democratic rhetoric of the French Revolution. A famous Picasso is based on these events.
The situation here today is very tricky. Facts and public perception against a backdrop of deflation, stagnation and EU rescue packages.
To be continued.
Among the ususal hubub, rivers of animated people stream calmply away from Sol, towards Opera. Middle aged folk, many bearing hand-made placards. I start moving towards Sol for a looksy.
A small stream of white bubbles oozes down Arenales, the bubbles getting larger and larger as I approach Sol. Its starting to look like Christmas. An uncountable number of people flood the square and rows of paddy wagens stand ready, blue lights flashing in silence. Bubbles abound. Foam from firehoses to express solidarity or foam to discourage protesters? Nobody seems to know.
The people out here tonight are old enough to be the parents of the crowds out here last week. Union men and women who have had it. Today’s announcement of austerity measures to secure a 30 Billion euro EU bailout for Spanish banks was the last straw. Things are at low boil here tonight and anything could happen at any moment in the heat of the night.
I take a position at the top of the metro stairs to give myself an escape route in case things get hectic. Undercover cops furtively take fotos of me but I quickly move my face out of the camera’s view. Other plainclothes cops have eavesdropped on my conversations with protesters. How easy it must be for intelligence agents to scapegoat swarthy foreigners for the unrest. But this upheavel is as Spanish as tapas and sangria and traces its heritage to the civil war in the 1930s, when Hemingway lived up the street on Gran Via and reported on the fighting. A few blocks further, a brass plaque marks the house where Jose Marti lived in the 1880s, another time of turmoil in Spain and the remnants of its rotting empire, lost to the USA a few years later. Marti himself would be martyred in 1895 in the Cuban wars of independence from Spain.
Its the same here as it is in the USA: the truce between capital and labor, as archaic as those terms may sound, is over. The 50 year pact that promised the working class a comfortable and secure life in exchange for loyalty to the system is obsolete. Communism no longer haunts the ruling elites and technology has made outsourcing to Asia business’s best and often only option. Asset bubbles and credit expansion swept the problem under the rug for 30 years, but now its game over and its time to pay the debts…but asset values have collapsed. There’s no new easy way to keep up with the Joneses anymore. In fact, consumers wont be able to keep up with themselves anymore.
The consensus from Occupy Wall Street to M15 is that the banksters created this mess, so let the banksters pay for it. We the people refuse to pay their debts.
If only it were this easy. The truth is that the public will pay dearly whether the debts are honored or not. Not paying the debts could be more painful than paying them. This can be seen in the Spanish 10 year bond, which hit 7% this week. This rate means that the Spanish state has to pay 7% interest, in euros, to retire older debt at a much lower interest rate. This is unsustainable and will lead to bankrupty and other calamities. The interest rate is so high precisely because bondholders are concerned about the sentiment in the street coupled with Spain’s receding ability to honor its debts, even after the bailout was granted. Good luck trying to make the indignados understand this. “Let the banksters pay” they will surely retort. Sure, the top 1% can be taxed much more and their ill-gotten wealth confiscated. That will help the budget defecit and make things more equitable. Banks could be nationalized and mortgages forgiven. This could be part of the answer but a new civil war might be the price of the ticket. At any rate, gasoline that evaporates in an open container does not fill anybody else’s gas tank. Its lost to the open air. The same is true with money. Falling real estate prices
to be continued
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