Madrid protest camp rails against politicians
Spearheading a protest that has taken Spain by storm, demonstrators in Madrid camped beneath plastic sheets and refused to vote for the major parties they blame for economic despair.
Two years searching for a job despite a master's degree in engineering, 29-year-old Ana Rodriguez is one of the thousands who describe themselves as the "indignant" and demand "Real Democracy Now."
After spending her second night in a sleeping bag in Madrid's Puerta del Sol square, Rodriguez said she planned to go to a nearby polling booth on Sunday to cast her ballot in local elections.
But, like many of the thousands of people who filled central squares across Spain over the past week, she will boycott Spain's two main parties in favour of a tiny party not represented in parliament.
"There has to be a change in Spain's political system to give more strength to small parties. We need a change," Rodriguez said as she sat on a sleeping bag.
Rodriguez, who like hundreds of others is defying an electoral commission ruling that the gathering is illegal because of the vote, vowed to keep pushing for a reform in the voting system.
"I am going to protest until there is a change," she said.
The protesters blame the major parties -- the ruling Socialists and the conservative opposition Popular Party -- for the country's bleak economic prospects and an unemployment rate of over 21 percent, the highest in the industrialized world.
"It is time to give other parties, with another vision of how to structure a society, a chance to govern," said Carlos Casado as he lined up to get a free breakfast dished out by volunteers.
The 21-year-old anthropology student said he would vote for a small environmental party. He, too, wants a change in the voting system to give smaller parties more seats in parliament.
Hundreds of posters pasted up in the camp reflect the disdain for mainstream politicians.
"They do not represent us," which has become a daily chant when the square packs with tens of thousands of protesters in the evenings, reads one prominent sign.
"No to bipartisanship" and "The Socialists and the PP are the same" read others.
When the clock struck midnight signalling election day Sunday, the crowd gathered at the Puerta del Sol square erupted into chants of "This is how Madrid votes!".
Surveys forecast devastating losses for Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's Socialists as voters vent their anger over high unemployment and spending cuts, including to state salaries.
Marcos Mela, a 25-year-old unemployed university graduate, said he would not vote at all.
"Politicians are all people with connections who are self-interested. We need honourable and qualified people," he said as he swept the square clean and people slept in tents and sleeping bags around him.
Javier Pena Pinto, a 20-year-old high school dropout who is out of work, was equally distrustful.
"I have never voted in my life because I never felt myself reflected by politicians, I never felt they listen to us," he said as he lay in the sleeping bad where he spent the night with three friends.
"I think they listen more to people like this, who gather in the streets, than to people who vote."
The protest began May 15 and swelled each day. Protest organisers will decide on Sunday afternoon in an assembly whether or not to keep running the camp at Puerta del Sol after Sunday's elections.
© 2011 AFP