Many people who live in Spain, as well as lots of observers outside the country, have been asking the same question for the last few months: where are the young people?
With youth unemployment as high as 46% and the PSOE (‘Socialist’) government using the economic crisis as an excuse to force through radical changes to the country’s social framework, why weren’t Spanish youths protesting on the street? The clues to the answer lay in the failure of September’s general strike. Young people weren’t interested. This lack of interest in officially organised and accepted methods of protest (the strike was organised by major trade unions, generally seen to be partners of the PSOE) wasn’t the same as apathy, though it did initially appear similar.
The events of the last couple of days in Madrid, then, are heartening. Thousands of young people, using Facebook and Twitter to organise followers there bought them here, converged on the capital’s iconic Puerta del Sol square and protested against the lack of real democracy, the spending cuts, the incredibly high youth unemployment (higher than in many of the north African countries where revolutions were fuelled by similar complaints), new copyright laws, and much more. Hundreds have also camped out in Barcelona’s Plaça de Catalunya, mingling with bemused tourists and surrounded by itchy-looking Mossos d’Esquadra (Catalan police with a reputation for enjoying beating-up students and anarchists). The protest camps are organised: popular commissions have been established to distribute information, food, blankets, legal advice.
The Spanish political establishment, focused only on this weekend’s municipal elections, was taken by surprise. Its response has been telling: Barcelona city hall switched-off the city’s webcam of Plaça Catalunya. Then the Junta Electoral, Spain’s elections commission, noted that the protest camps would have to be cleared because they are in breach of Spain’s electoral law. The PSOE (PSC in Catalonia) has tried to make it sound like they sympathise with the protestors, Barcelona’s mayor bemoaning “international speculators and the damage they do” (the same speculators he sees it has his job to entice into our city). In Madrid, the police have moved to close access to the protest camp apparently in preparation to fulfill the Junta Electoral’s controversial and unpopular judgement.
What will happen over the weekend remains unclear. It is likely that the police will attempt to clear both camps. If they only clear Madrid’s, then Barcelona’s might grow. Whatever happens, it would be wrong to continue to ask why Spain’s youth has done nothing to oppose the country’s corrupt politics. The kids are on the streets. And they want radical change.