Years after the Indignados movement erupted across Spain to ignite similar uprisings across Europe and inspire the Occupy Wall Street protests, prominent activists are poised to take over the mayoralties of the country’s two largest cities.
The stunning breakthroughs augur well for Spain’s upstart anti-austerity and anti-establishment party Podemos (“We can”), which backed both local candidates and is currently rivalling the two establishment parties in national polls.
The new mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, is a long-time anti-poverty activist who has been arrested many times, notably for occupying banks to protest the eviction of tenants. Riding the wave of a crowd-funded and citizen-powered movement to challenge the country’s entrenched élites, she has vowed to transform Barcelona into a “world reference as a democratic and socially just city.” Colau is also the Catalan metropolis’s first woman mayor.
In Madrid, a retired judge and one-time communist activist, Manuela Carmena, is set to break two decades of dominance by the right-wing Partido Popular (that governs nationally as well), and has pledged to usher in a new era of grassroots and “feminized” democracy centred on the principles of “coexistence, caring and non-aggression.” Like Colau, she leads a coalition of leftist and citizen groups powered by youth activists and backed by Podemos.
Much like in the U.S., Spain’s government bailed out Spanish banks in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis, funnelling tens of billions of dollars into the coffers of the very ones that had caused the collapse, while citizens struggling to make ends meet were forced to pay the unbearable costs of their frivolity. Inequality soared across the country and unemployment attained 50% among youth, sparking a prolonged phase of social instability that is rattling the foundations of the post-Franco-era political establishment.
The crisis in Spain exposed the fundamental rot at the root of representative institutions that have been hijacked (“kidnapped” in Colau’s phrase) by financial and corporate powers, with the country suffering some of the most extreme manifestations of the global élite’s mode of governance through class warfare. But much like the game-changing victory of Syriza in Greece, these latest victories for social movements in Spain signal a growing citizen backlash that is sweeping the Mediterranean.
These ground-level and peaceful political revolutions are arising not from the top, where the illegitimate intimacy between political and corporate actors continues to dominate the status quo, but from the rising forces of networked mass movements using the tools of the 21st century to circumvent and challenge the hegemony of establishments.
The power of these new mass movements derive, in a word, from the people. And that is a triumph worth celebrating.