The challenge facing 15-M
Police control of protests and political disengagement are threatening the future of the movement
In spite of the absence of an institutional structure to represent the 15-M movement — also known as DRY (for Democracia Real Ya, Real Democracy Now) — this civic rebellion is still alive a year after its first appearance, and in some respects constitutes a political entity to be reckoned with. The salutary lesson given by the demonstrations and sit-ins that burgeoned in May 2011 has colored the electoral programs of all the parties, and has crossed frontiers.
After the precedent of the Arab Spring, the affluent societies of half the world — in particular in Europe and the United States — witnessed similar demonstrations in the streets, inspired by the same desire for a recasting of politics and for a fairer distribution of the costs of the crisis: particularly in Spain, a country suffering huge levels of youth unemployment.
Even without granting this movement any monopoly on the things it stands for, the fact is that it has generated public debate on issues such as the electoral laws, mortgage foreclosures, transparency, remuneration levels of professional elites, and whether public institutions actually reflect the will of the people. With the support of a majority of the population — though it has been declining, according to recent polls — this diffuse movement voices the aspirations of a population hard-hit by sudden impoverishment, and by cutbacks in social services.
But this same public malaise has also encouraged the rise of the extreme right in certain countries, which may lose the movement a measure of public sympathy, and see a disengagement from politics, which is exactly what it was supposed to be fighting.
Now that the embers of its early, fiery enthusiasm have died down, the 15-M Movement finds itself obliged to seek new channels of expression. The authorities do not now seem prepared to allow lengthy sit-ins in public spaces, as was shown when the police cleared out the 200 people who remained in the Puerta del Sol in Madrid early on Sunday morning. The government delegate in Madrid (the office that handles questions of public order) had allowed the peaceful demonstration being held in the square to go on longer than had initially been authorized, but decided to draw the line at the setting up of tents for an open-ended stay. The absence of problems in Barcelona, and the minor incidents in other cities, complete a picture of relative calm.
Both the authorities and the 15-M movement appear to have learned the lessons of the past, though the fate of the 18 persons arrested in the early hours of Sunday morning was a matter of concern for several thousand people who gathered again in the Puerta del Sol on Sunday night.
The movement possesses a powerful instrument: the internet and social networking sites. But its real reason for being stems from a deep, ongoing crisis, which is increasing inequalities and depriving democratically elected institutions of their power; and which especially affects the working classes, the elderly and the young.