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Column: Why aren't we this angry? An Irish person's view of the Spanish protests

Spain has a troubled economy, toxic banks, and an election without real choices. Sound familiar? That’s why the Irish should be on the streets too, writes Niamh Kelly from Madrid.

Niamh Kelly

THEY CALL THEMSELVES the Indignados, or Indignant, and for more than a week they have been on the streets of major cities around the country voicing their dissent at the economical and social outlook of the current Spanish government, and objecting to the two-party system that leaves people with very little choice when it comes to voting. Youth unemployment is at over 40 per cent and university graduates are facing the real possibility of having to emigrate.

There is huge dissatisfaction with the government’s decision to bail out the banks, who many see as responsible for the crisis, and there seems to be a strong belief that neither of the two main political parties really represent them. It sounds quite similar to our own problems in Ireland. However, the main difference here is that the Spanish have shown themselves to be somewhat proactive and are making a concerted effort to make their grievances heard.

Once again, social networking sites have been instrumental in the organisation of the protest, with pages on Facebook simply titled ‘Spanish Revolution’ and a group called Democracia Real Ya (Real Democracy Now), who seem to be at the forefront of the protest. Twitter has yet again shown itself to be hugely helpful in getting news out quickly, as it happens, and as a tool to gather support both nationally and internationally. The eventual number that gathered in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol square on May 15, the commencement of the protests, was 20,000. The figure rose over the following days and spread to other parts of the country.

The atmosphere around the city centre has been incredible. It has been almost impossible to walk from one end of Puerta del Sol to the other with the number of people crowding around the tents. People are camping in the square, there are free refreshments and food, there is a stage for bands to entertain the crowds with music. A no-alcohol policy has been enforced by the people camping to ensure that the real point of the protest is not lost, and there has been no violence save for one minor clash with police on the first night. There is a real feeling of a community pulling together to make a statement. Seeing the camaraderie among Spanish people in the capital at this time has highlighted for me the lack of togetherness, even outrage, that there seems to be in Irish society right now.

The mere fact that I was surprised and excited to hear that the Spanish had taken to the streets emphasised to me the real detachment that a lot of Irish people seem to have from any kind of spirit of protest. Granted, there have been a couple of marches in Ireland against cuts, but nothing that matches what I have seen here in Madrid. The problems in Spain are almost identical to our own, and indeed it seems as though Spain is on the brink of going under. This reality seems to have brought about an awakening of social and political conscience in Spain, particularly among the youth, and seems to have inspired them to be active and work together.

This belief in people power is something that is severely lacking in our Irish attitude. Most people in Ireland seem to believe that nothing they do or say will make any difference, and furthermore seem to have no desire to come together, and to actually think about and object to the way they are being treated by a system that virtually threw them overboard years ago. The protests here have confirmed to me that there are people who believe in taking the power back into their own hands, rather than letting self-serving politicians run amok in these critical times. I never thought that this kind of movement would happen in Spain, but it pleases me to see, and there is no reason why it could not and should not happen in Ireland.

This article first appeared at Irish Left Review. Niamh Kelly is a student at NUI Galway who is currently in Madrid to learn the language.

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