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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?

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Spain is already immersed in a painful double-dip recession, one that will last at least for another couple of years, most analysts agree. Unemployment, already at 23 percent, keeps rising; severe austerity keeps crippling the welfare state; and the future is altogether uncertain.

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The 15-M movement ultimately understood it could not influence short-term decisions, as it lacked the numbers or organization. It doesn’t even have visible leaders. Everyone has the same vote and voice, in a form of direct democracy that is nonetheless stymied in promoting direct change.

The movement wants more political and financial accountability, but members have failed to agree on any specific demands, other than rejecting banks bailouts while defending the welfare state and demanding more job creation, public housing, and better wages.

More than 35 percent of Spaniards say they feel represented by the 15-M, against almost 58 percent who don’t, although almost half agree the movement has had a positive effect by stirring up debate, according to a poll published this week by the newspaper La Razón.

Its future is entirely uncertain, its own members admit. José Luis Saiz, a 36-year old salesman, was deeply involved last year in publishing a newsletter of the 15-M. In interviews then, he was inspired and optimistic.

“But I got fed up with everyone trying to do their thing. Too many claiming power but no real leadership. I don’t have a lot of time, and things at the national level didn’t really accomplish much. We decentralized as a result, and at the neighborhood level we are getting a lot more done,” says Mr. Saiz.

“The 15-M is like a groundhog, always working under the radar. And it’s becoming more political now. At the beginning, it was a lot of people with ideas, but now we are focusing on specific ideas.”

Analysts largely agree that the 15-M is limited by its own contradictions. “Throughout this year, the movement has moved forward in their process of self-organization, especially in the neighborhoods and squares. It’s hard to predict the future, but taking into account that the economic crisis, I think the movement will survive,” says Jaime Pastor, political science professor at UNED, a university here, and a specialist in mass movements.

“It won’t be alone, either, and its autonomy is not guaranteed. But it will have to improve on decisionmaking and coordination, and still achieve some partial victories,” Dr. Pastor says.

He points to housing evictions, dozens of which have been delayed or cancelled under pressure from peaceful sit-ins. “They haven’t achieved anything concrete on evictions, but the 15-M is responsible for putting the issue on the political agenda.”

Dr. Bouza sees no alternative for the 15-M but to seek a bigger political role. “It’s impossible to deny association to the left and right. That balance is absurd, especially because most of their supporters come from the left.”

“On first glance, their future is not very good,” Bouza adds. “That doesn’t mean they won’t find a way to succeed. The movement has already influenced public opinion and galvanized  opposition against the handling of the crisis, and against corruption. But I can’t see the 15-M changing governments or voter intention.”


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