The Indignados and the Occupy movement: cracks in capitalism?
Before the Occupy movement there was the Indignados 15M movement (15 May movement). This was a call to 'take the square' of the major cities in Spain, the first of which was Madrid, on 15 May 2011. The call to protest was a direct response to the financial crisis, in particular, the level of youth unemployment in Spain, as outlined earlier. It started off as a protest and then turned into an occupation. It was called by two main social networks: Real Democracy Now (Democracia Real YA) and Youth Without Future (Juventud Sin Futuro). The impetus came from the youth who felt that their future was in jeopardy because of the financial decisions made by the Spanish government and global financial elites. According to a researcher of this movement, who interviewed activists at the time and observed the protests for a week:
Every single banner, every single poster from these groups was all about how there was no future for the youth; the young people were suffering the most. There were slogans like 'no houses', 'no mortgages', 'no jobs', 'no future'. (George)
In addition, when he asked them to explain their motivations, the activists told him: 'We are here, because we have to be here. We are here because we have got no choice.' In short, they were there because of the extent of the financial crisis.
The researcher also informed me that on the morning of 17 May 2011, just two days after the protest emerged, the camp was cleared by the police. However, the reaction to this was that more protesters, in their hundreds, came to set up camp and, by the end of the week, on 20 May 2011, there were thousands. This second encampment set up additional facilities, including a library, a creche, a committee for gender, a committee for education and general assemblies, to facilitate longevity.
In addition to Madrid:
By the end of the first week similar camps cropped up in cities all over Spain, most notably Valencia and Barcelona. And time and again it was all about 'We can't live any more with the level of crisis', 'We can't live with the level of employment', 'The government of Spain is not representing us'; there is a lot of European focus so there was a lot of criticism of the EU, as this authoritarian body that was imposing these measures, austerity. (George)
The camp in Madrid lasted approximately four weeks and, by agreement reached by consensus, the occupiers decided to disband. According to George, the camp was not organized by the trade unions or leftist political parties but by youth movements who used consensus decision-making mechanisms. They did not have a platform of principles or a manifesto because of the way they organized themselves. It could be argued that the reason for disbandment was largely due to the inevitable impasse that arises at a certain point in the life-cycle of such movements. In the Spanish case, an agreement was made to disband into smaller neighbourhood groups; these lasted for approximately a year.
Three months after the Indignados, the Occupy movement emerged in New York on 17 September 2011 and then in London in October 2011. Some parallels can be drawn between the Indignados and the Occupy movements in New York and London. According to George:
the themes were exactly the same, 'We are the 99%', 'We have no future.' There is a really interesting parallel between the discussions in Spanish about Youth Without Future and the discussions in the States under a different name... all about a generation that's going to be worse off than their parents. Identical motivations behind it, the identical methods of protest in the camp.
The Indignados and the Occupy movement are a continuation of a critique oriented against neoliberalism. They are part of the wider alternative globalization movement (AGM) field. Although there is not a seamless connection between the Zapatistas, the Seattle protesters, the Indignados and the Occupy movement, there is some connection. I argue that the Occupy movement grew out of the activities, motivations and politics of the AGM field. Activists, academics and publications that were around during the Seattle protests in 1999 were key to the emergence of Occupy movement, for example,
David Graeber and the radical subvertising journal, Adbusters were key initiators.