What Spain’s Protesters Are Doing to Get Attention
On a sweltering Saturday evening, a small crowd gathered in Madrid’s La Latina neighborhood to kick off a festival dedicated to one of the city’s patrons, the Virgin of the Paloma. In the nights to come, there would be paso doble contests, heaps of fried sheep intestine to consume at outdoor stalls and plenty of drunken dancing to Shakira at 2 a.m. But now, at this more politically inspired celebration, the biggest attraction was a carnival booth, called the Pim Pam Pum Indignado, where people paid 50 cents for the chance to throw a ball at a target adorned with the cartoon faces of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Rodrigo Rato (the recently resigned head of Bankia, which had to be nationalized earlier this year to the tune of 21 billion euros) and other protagonists of Spain’s economic crisis. As one bearded young man aimed carefully and toppled Angela Merkel with missile-like accuracy, the crowd erupted in a gleeful “Olé!”
Protests are everywhere and in almost every form these days in Spain. Ever since the Spanish government requested a bailout from the E.U. for its troubled banks in June, the growing list of austerity measures (a 7% reduction in civil servants’ pay; an increase in the value-added tax on goods and services; the abolition of subsidies for most medicines; rising power rates) has pushed a steady tide of demonstrators into the streets. Most of these protests are of the chanting and placard-waving variety; hardly a day goes by in Madrid without some kind of angry march in front of a government building or down a central artery. But as the crisis wears on and Spain appears to approach a second bailout — this one of its rapidly growing sovereign debt — new varieties of protest are emerging. Like the Pim Pam Pum Indignado, the criticism and outrage are becoming downright creative.
No one knows the value of a little dramatic action better than Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo. A member of Andalucia’s regional parliament and mayor of Marinaleda, 115 km outside Seville, he is also one of the leaders of the Andalucian Workers’ Syndicate (SAT), a union composed primarily of agricultural day laborers. Reviving a tradition that dates to the 19th century, about 1,000 SAT members occupied an estate owned by the Spanish military on July 24 and demanded that the land be redistributed to the area’s workers. When that action failed to garner much attention, the SAT resorted to another tactic: members entered two supermarkets, loaded carts with staples like milk, pasta and olive oil, and walked out without paying (though with a bit of scuffling from management). They later turned over the stolen goods to charity.
“We robbed to give to the poor because the rich are already robbing,” says Sánchez Gordillo. “This crisis is a great robbery.”