Spain, austerity and police brutality

IssueNovember 2012
Feature by Miguel Aguilera


Since 15 May 2011, Spain has witnessed the emergence of a massive protest movement demanding a democratic revolution. 

Organised through the internet and through social media, a series of protests has taken place occupying the main squares of every major city in Spain as well as those of many small towns, demanding a radical change in the Spanish political system. 

Between six-and-a-half and eight million Spaniards have taken part in what has been called 'the 15M movement'. 

The economic situation has worsened and the two main Spanish political parties have just followed the orders of the European Union, the IMF and the European Central Bank, implementing austerity measures that are rejected by a great part of the population.

Meanwhile, the 15M movement has created a decentralised network of organisations running throughout the country, stopping foreclosure evictions, protesting against education and healthcare cuts and unemployment, undertaking civil disobedience and other actions against the bankers responsible for the Spanish financial crisis, among many other initiatives.


As both the government (the People's Party) and the main opposition group (the Socialist Party) are completely discredited, part of the 15M movement announced a massive civil disobedience action on 25 September, surrounding the Spanish Congress of Deputies building. 

The objective of the demonstration was to ask for the resignation of the government as the first step of a process which would culminate in the creation of a new constitution ensuring a real democratic society. 
The protest gathered tens of thousands of people. Although the demonstration was strictly peaceful in its first hours, the police charged the crowd several times using batons and rubber bullets.

Several police infiltrators were identified among the demonstrators, suspected of provoking some of the police charges. Nevertheless, most of the demonstrators responded to the police violence with peaceful resistance, surrounding the Congress for several hours.


This is a personal account of 25 September in Neptuno Square, Madrid. Contrary to stories spun by the media, my story is about a multitude of people resisting and looking after each other for hours while confronted with riot police using brutal and disproportionate measures.

Just before 6pm, a huge crowd gathers, bringing together people from cities from all over the country, and marches towards Neptuno Square, to be met by fences which block off the road to parliament. The police are behind the fences, with mounted police at the front.

There is a festive atmosphere full of energy – placards, frisbees, shouts, smiles. Little by little, more and more police come to the front line and put on their helmets. A young lad throws a small beer bottle over the police lines only to be told off profusely by nearby protesters. 

Everything remains calm until more and more police start to mass on the other side of the fence. Maybe in reaction or maybe as a provocation, some people start moving and lifting the first line of fences. We don't know if they are infiltrators or protesters or both. 

The first charge

All of a sudden, the police surge forward, swinging their batons and starting to charge.

After the first threatening avalanche of protestors, people start falling back in better order. We all start to shout 'to the floor, to the floor' and 'everyone sit down!' and once we've sat down, we manage to stop the charge. 

However the police have managed to gain ground and to divide the first row of protesters in two. We're on the left side. The police charge again, with no provocation. 

In half an hour we've learned a vital lesson: if we all sit down, if none of us run, if we endure, then the police can't charge. If we don't get scared we're safe. If we don't stand up, then the people at the back can see what's going on and don't get stressed. 

We are many and we are not afraid. We have the power. 

We are a core of 200-300 people sat in the front line on the left hand side. They no longer attack us. This has allowed a group of people with cameras (whether journalists or not) to sit among us and feel secure, which means we're safe from wanton attacks by the police. 

The action has become what we intended – civil disobedience around parliament, and you can sense the feeling of the people. They can't throw us out. Congress is still in front of us but it feels like we've already occupied it.

Unfortunately, over on the right hand side, people are still standing. A couple of objects are thrown. The police respond by charging and shooting plastic bullets into the crowd which starts to run. 

The police start to have more space to run, charge and shoot. They get confident and every time the charges are wilder. People defend themselves in whatever way they can – throwing glass bottles, running, moving away, coming back – but this doesn't seem to stop the police who are gaining more ground. They shoot and charge taking advantage of the big empty spaces that the waves of protesters leave in trying to avoid being charged.

Where we are, we continue resisting on the ground. The lesson is that if we are sitting on the floor we are safe. The police can't charge if we are on the floor. At the most they can hit the first line of resisters, but we are not scared because we know we are looking after each other. 

Safe zone

The police charge almost completely surrounds us, but we have made a safe zone, and we continue resisting in the first line in front of the fences. We resist for a long time. But the police have already got what they want in that one part of the protesters are playing the game of throwing stones, escaping and coming back. 

The stupid strategy of some people is to use the group of sitting people seated as a way to protected themselves after throwing objects at the police. 

Every time there are more police around us and our numbers drop. 

The police are trying to charge. There are even people provoking the police in front of our group.

It is almost 10 o'clock, and we realise it is time to leave. The police start to pressurise us from the fences, and we stand up and move back in order.

Everything has finished, but we have achieved our objective. We have resisted in front of the parliament peacefully all the time. We have stopped all the charges and provocations of the police, staying seated on the ground. 

We have created a safe zone where everybody could avoid the indiscriminate violence which has dominated the last hours of the protest. 

Unfortunately, the police broke the cordon from the other side, surrounding us. 

But above all, we have discovered that together we are not afraid.