For the first time, Spain's civil society bypassed the established channels to mount its own public protest against the country's political class. On Sunday in over 50 cities across Spain, thousands of people heeded the call of an organization called Democracia Real Ya, and joined another 200 small associations to scream out their frustration with politicians.
Their message: we're tired of being ignored by the very people who have been elected to protect us.
The protests also proved that digital word-of-mouth can bring a lot of individuals together - people who represent only themselves but also people who represent entire social groups, like the "ni-nis" (ni estudia ni trabaja, meaning someone who neither works nor studies), executives from global corporations, and activists who support all kinds of causes. But they were all there to fight a common enemy: politicians.
"There were people represented there who had never bothered with politics until now," explains Javier de la Cueva, a 48-year-old lawyer specializing on internet issues who is also an activist against the government's anti-piracy legislation and a supporter of the grassroots movement No les Votes (Don't Vote for Them).
The protest was the brainchild of a small organization created just a few months ago. Democracia Real Ya is an amalgam of very diverse people, yet so well organized that they put together a security team of 200 people to prevent any trouble during the Madrid demonstration; they also had enough vision to use all the tricks in the book to keep the protest among Twitter's most popular conversation topics in the world for the entire day, using the term 15-M or 15mayo.
Fabio Gándara, the spokesman for Democracia Real Ya, said that the goal of the protest was to bring together the entire civil society. "It is time to leave all ideologies and specific interests aside, and focus on the things that make us angry," says this 26-year-old unemployed lawyer who is studying to be a civil servant. "What we're denouncing is the lack of real democracy and the tendency toward a two-party system where corruption at all levels is simply scandalous. These issues bring a large group of people together."
Democracia Real Ya found inspiration in the Arab revolutions and the Greek student revolts before them, says one of its members. Iván Olmedo, 22, studies tourism and says he has held all kinds of precarious jobs. The protest was three months in the making, and earned support from several high-profile individuals through its website. Organizers also used social networks and local assemblies to spread the word, although the media barely registered their efforts. Only three news outlets (including EL PAÍS) attended their press conference prior to the demonstration. Now there is a waiting list for journalists who want to interview them.
"Qualitatively, what has happened is very important," says Ramón Espinar, a 25-year-old student and member of another group called Juventud sin futuro, which organized a similar march a month ago. "This is the first time that the left, working outside the big parties and unions and without their support, and using a spontaneous, citizen-based organization, has gone out onto the street to play out the failure of the model," he says. "People are visibly tired."