You may have noticed that I’ve been pretty quiet around here. I apologize for that, but I’ve had the opportunity to be in Spain as the nation emerges into its own, fighting the impending austerity coming from the “Socialist” government. The irony is really thick, as the outgoing Socialist Prime Minister, Jose L.R. Zapatero, has said that if he were younger, he would be out protesting as well.
But these aren’t just protests. When I was in Barcelona, over hundred thousand protesters came out to call out the nations leaders. To be honest, they know how to throw a protest. As I was walking around, the thousands of outraged Spainards made noise, every kind of noise, keys jangling, the beating of pots and pans, and just plain yelling. With no amplification at all, you could hear the protests for blocks with a deafening roar that no politician could ignore. It really was a spine tingling moment as I just strolled amongst them. There were reports of unconfirmed police brutality, but for the most part, the Barcelona government helped the protest proceed.
And today I am in Madrid, where a tent city has grown up in Puerta del Sol. It is a community in every sense of the word. It has a kitchen serving up free food, a library, and a legal aid booth. Madrid gets blisteringly hot in the summer, so how long they can last is in question, but they seem determined to stay as long as it takes them to wedge the government into fighting austerity.
In other words, the people are forcing the hands of the left. They are demanding action from the nominal leaders of the left, or at least the ones that were elected. And by action, I mean something besides enabling austerity.
The parallels to both California and the nation are easy to spot. In California, it was a Democratic victory in 2010 that enabled massive cuts. And we’ve been seeing small scale rallies demanding that our leaders stand up to austerity, but with over $14 bn. in cuts, that horse has left the barn, and Democratic leaders can only halfheartedly chase after them. Just today, the Bay Citizen has a great report on another of the painful cuts, adult education. It isn’t that the community college and school districts want to cut these services, but ultimately, they have to prioritize. And yet, Democratic leaders can only shout after the horse.
On the other hand, Spanish anger is actually spilling out on the streets. The people are mad, the youth are in a desperate situation as unemployment is staggeringly high, and they are letting the world know. But in California, our displays are limited to symbolic , hour long protests at the Capitol. When do we occupy the Capitol lawn? When doe the streets ofSF or LA look like those of Barcelona or Madrid? It will take a serious committed movement to pressure both the nominal left in the state, but also to make the Right fear for their own hardline positions. The media acts as if austerity is simply a given. It is not, nor should it be.
But we have to let them know.