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Spain's Indignados: The 'original' Occupy reemerges with force

One year after it burst onto the scene, Spain's youthful protest movement has inspired similar efforts globally – and is being embraced by older crowds. But will it shape policymaking?

By Correspondent / May 16, 2012

People banging on saucepans with spoons shout slogans during a gathering marking the one year anniversary of Spain's Indignados (Indignant) movement in Madrid's Puerta del Sol May 15. The movement which spawned similar protests worldwide, reemerges in a new protest over government austerity measures, banks, politicians, economic recession, and the highest unemployment in the eurozone.

Juan Medina/Reuters

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Madrid

Spain’s 15-M movement, the first to occupy public spaces in peaceful protest against leaders’ handling of the global economic crisis, marks its first anniversary today. It has broad public support, but there is little evidence of growing coherence among its members, who share a desire for reform but differ on what it should look like.

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Few thought the Indignados, or the Spanish Revolution, would survive, much less spread from the US and Europe to Israel and Australia. But like all its global offshoots, it has been unable to channel protest into influence on policymaking. Spain’s conservative government has dismissed the group and tried labeling it as a political proxy for the left.

However the Indignados, while still refusing to take up any political agenda, appear to be adopting an increasingly assertive role, with the worst economic crisis in Spain's history as a powerful rallying call. The 15-M came back with force last weekend with more than 100,000 people gathered in dozens of Spanish cities. Smaller daily protests continued through yesterday. There were minor violent clashes and several injuries and arrests as police prevented more tent cities from rising.

In Madrid’s emblematic Puerta del Sol, protesters yelled, “People, wake up, the siesta is over.” Last night, thousands gathered to bang pots.

“We were surprised by its survival and its ability to still fill up plazas,” says Fermín Bouza, sociology professor and public opinion expert in the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. “It made a forceful showing.”

“But without a structure, it can’t survive. There’s lots of people, but without any visible leadership or agenda. Their biggest challenge is their self-imposed contradictions,” Dr. Bouza adds. “They need more coordination to survive, but they don’t want to coordinate further. The more they grow, the weaker they are because accountability is harder to manage.”

A mixed anniversary

The movement is named after May 15, when police forcefully removed the first group of protesters who had set up more than a dozen tents in Puerta del Sol under the slogan “They don’t represent us.”

It started off as a youth initiative, but a year later is increasingly backed by older crowds, retirees, labor union members, and a myriad of disenfranchised movements. While the group refuses any political alliances, it mostly espouses left-leaning ideas, albeit ones supported by many in the center.

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