2011 – 15M and the Indignados

On May 15 2011, anger at corrupt traditional political parties and their prioritization of the banking sector above the public interest in the midst of an economic crisis led to the spontaneous emergence of an internet-organised Democracia Real Ya (Real Democracy Now) movement. Arrests at the end of a protest in Madrid led to a spontaneous sit-down in the city’s main square, the Plaza del Sol. This became a weeks-long camp and the start of the ‘15M – Los Indignados’ (Spanish for “The Outraged”) movement which would go onto inspire the Occupy movement globally and lead to a surge of activism and movements within Spain.

During the occupation of the Plaza del Sol, people gathered to hear opinions and debates. Everyone had the right to speak and to vote, but not to veto. Free donated food and water were dispensed every day. The protests generated a public debate about the country’s institutions, its electoral rules, the financial crisis and particularly the house repossessions that resulted, senior officials’ pay, and corruption within the Spanish ruling party elite. Much of these debates and the movement’s later work was shared constantly and imaginatively through social media and live streaming platforms.

Though these camps lasted just a few weeks, the 15-M movement continued to work at neighbourhood level and with other collectives to find solutions to the financial crisis This was a fundamental difference with the occupy camps that would emerge a few months later.

Returning to the neighborhoods ensured the movement continued beyond the camps. The San Blas assembly in Madrid, for example, created a ‘Time Bank’, enabling neighbours to exchange services amongst themselves without money; the Concepción neighbourhood in Madrid organized an exchange market every Sunday while a debtors’ cooperative in Catalunya brought together debtors to respond collectively to creditors.

Other Indignados worked with movements such as the Platform for those affected by mortgages (PAH) that took direct action to stop people being evicted from their homes, while others joined together to help people unable to pay increasingly expensive rents or those in precarious employment situations.

The 15-M network was both inspired by Tahrir Square and in turn inspired the ‘Occupy’ movement, which saw long occupations of squares outside London's St Paul's Cathedral and in central New York. The Spanish diaspora also helped spread the energy to other countries. On 15 October 2011, the diaspora helped facilitate a day of action “United for Global Change” that led to 1000 demonstrations worldwide and energized the global occupy movement.

As well as seeding a flourishing of social movements and activism within Spain, by 2013 the 15M movement would also evolve into the political Podemos party as well as new participatory radical municipalist groups such as Barcelona en Comu.