Protest 'village' takes root in Madrid

20th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

With tents, mattresses, a kitchen, a workshop and even a pharmacy, the protest camp in Madrid has grown into a real 'urban village' for hundreds of young people.

Under blue plastic tarpaulins, thousands were gathered on Thursday in the central Puerta del Sol square, many of whom had spent the night there, to decry politicians who left Spain with a 21-percent jobless rate.

Calling for "Real Democracy Now," the protests popularly known as M-15 began May 15, lamenting Spain's economic crisis, politicians in general, and corruption.

A sign at the entrance to the Puerta del Sol informs anyone entering what they need: "blankets, food, medicines, generators, ice..."

The protesters, mostly young and well organised, work at nine specific tasks in the camp, in which meetings are held every two hours to gather ideas.

"We need volunteers for the kitchen!" shouts a voice over the camp's megaphone.

"Yesterday the kitchen was full but it quickly emptied," said Elena, an 18-year-old who was putting cakes onto plates.

Javi Numerov, a 21-year-old student at the camp, said: "Everything we have in the kitchen was brought in by neighbours and restaurants. On Tuesday, a van from a restaurant with pots of macaroni, beans and ham."

In a makeshift workshop, some were constructing a cubicle with wooden boards.

There are two plastic toilet blocks with a sign on the door: "these are presents from a company, take care of them."

At the pharmacy, volunteer doctors and nurses are ready with medicines. In the 'living room', young people lie on the sofas as they are entertained by a guitarist while some are building a wall with newspaper clippings about the protest.

"This is not a street party," warned one speaker on the megaphone, asking for the "cooperation of all" to keep the site clean.

"You don't accept money, is that right?" asked Eulalia Izaguirre, a 70-year-old woman who had come to join the movement.

"It's been many years since young people have taken action. It should have happened long ago, and I'm excited," she said, with tears in her eyes. "In my day, it was more difficult because we had Franco, now though it's easy."

The protesters have refused to budge -- defying the Madrid authorities' refusal to grant a protest permit on Wednesday evening -- before regional and municipal elections on Sunday.

"We are not politicians and we are not engaging in political campaigning," stressed a spokesman for the organisers, Juan Cobo. And on Sunday they would "respect the electoral process."

He said that the protest "is long term because the demands are huge."

A pamphlet distributed by organisers said they "do not represent any political party."

"We want a new society that prioritizes life over economic and political interests. We advocate a change in society and social consciousness."

Protest camps have also sprung up in several other cities, in the largest spontaneous outcry since the country plunged into recession after the collapse of a property bubble in 2008.

© 2011 AFP

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