Thursday, September 27, 2012


Tuesday continued with more lectures and discussions on Spain, but with a more political bent. By the end of the day I found myself living Spanish politics, awash in a sea of voices massing around the Spanish Parliament.

Our lecture/discussions took place at the beautiful Casa de Americas. We first had a chance to sit down with  Jose Antonio Gurpegui, a Professor of American Studies at the Univserity of Alcalá and a politcal commentator. He gave us a rundown of the political history of Spain since the death of Franco and how Spanish politics have affected US-Spanish relations.

His version of history seemed to be viewed through a slightly more conservative prism, while our second speaker seemed to balance him well. She (I can't seem to find her name at the moment) filled us in on the 15M movement in Spain, which she explained as the precursor to our Occupy Wall Street movement. I was initially skeptical on this point, but after seeing the language of inequality and disenchantment with the economic and political system, as well as tactics of long-term camping out and democratic/consensus decision-making that defined a movement that predated Occupy by months, I could only conclude that 15M heavily influenced the protests that spread across US cities in 2011. We were lucky to have a student of Instituto Franklin sitting with us who had been at the initial protests in May of 2011 and she underlined the very spontaneous nature of the movement in its early days - a feature that has helped it from being hijacked by a demagogue but has hurt its ability to organize more effectively, in my opinion.

The discussion was timely as major protests were scheduled to occur that evening in front of the Spanish national parliament. I walked down to Plaza del Sol with Naveen to see a pretty small crowd confronted by a line of policemen blocking off an access road so that the parliament could be accessed.

Initially disappointed in the size (after what was promised) we walked closer to the parliament, where the milling crowd got thicker and thicker.

We eventually reached the Plaza de Neptuno, where the roads had been closed off and the crowd gathered like flies around the beleaguered parliament. The thing that stood out to me most was that there didn't seem to be any leaders. No one was doing much, just talking, not even angrily. Every once in a while someone would start up a chant, others (but not everyone) would take it up, and then it would die out. This was that spontaneity, but also disorganization that seemed to be this movement's greatest strength and weakness.

One of the more successful chants was "hijo de puta!" apparently referring to the Spanish parliamentarians.

The protesters seemed to be angry at the Spanish Government for not representing their interests, at the German-led Eurozone for imposing austerity as a requirement for economic help, and at the financial system that had gotten the country into this mess. I saw many protesters and many policemen but I didn't see any violence. You'd think differently if you didn't read the next day's New York Times too closely, which liberally interspersed images of Greek rioters with Spanish protesters. Apparently there were some rubber bullets fired after I left, but I haven't been able to find out much more than that.

Two days later I went for a run and I passed through the Plaza de Neptuno and it looked as if nothing had even happened. It was a weird feeling.