"If I Stop, They Win"

Saturday, 28 May 2011

While in Spain last week covering the protest that has been taking place in Madrid’s main square, Puerta del Sol, I spent a great deal of time speaking to some of the activists and demonstrators whose action has sparked a wave of similar protests in more than 60 cities across the country.

It all began on May 15, when police arrested 24 political activists who were marching through the city, as part of a protest against mass unemployment and austerity measures.

The arrests sparked more protest, and numbers snowballed. Within a few days a handful of around 100 protesters had become a mass demonstration of tens of thousands.

By chance, in Puerta del Sol I met one of the 24 activists who had been arrested on May 15. He was handing out pamphlets that detailed his and his fellow protesters’ ordeal while in police detention. Though he did not want to give his name for fear of police reprisal, he agreed to give me a short interview.

The activist, a 22-year-old sociology student at a Madrid university, spoke about the harsh treatment he faced while in police custody. He detailed what he believed could be next for the movement, and gave a fascinating insight in to the origins of a demonstration that has since sparked protest across Europe – in London, Italy and Greece.

Audio of the interview along with an edited transcript can be found below by clicking "read more".

  • Listen!

    How did it all start?

    First it was la manifestación [the demonstration on May 15] – it ended here [at Puerta del Sol]. And when it ended some people thought that it wasn’t right that it was only two kilometers of nothing. We wanted to do a bigger one.

    Somehow the police appeared and they started to … not kick us, but just stayed there … to prepare to be in a fight.

    [Ed. – he explained at this point that the protesters tried to evade the police by moving down different streets away from Puerta del Sol.]

    We came back to [Puerta del] Sol and coming back to Sol, they [the police] came back to us from behind. They took some of us and they were kicking us.

    They took us to the biggest police station here in Madrid. It is the one where a special force of the police work. They are called the police información brigade.

    They were really nervous. They left us with handcuffs for eight hours face down on the floor, and they were walking over us – standing on our back, standing on our knees, everything. It was a very difficult and violent situation.

    And after that they took us to the prison of the police station. And they put us in different cells.

    If they were feeling what we really were doing … it was because of the economic and political situation over the world; it was nothing to do with them. But they start feeling it was with them, the thing [the protesters’ grievance], so they treated us like animals at the circus.

    We stayed there at the prison for 48 hours, until we … were charged … things that we hadn’t done. It was like ‘what are you saying to me? I wasn’t doing that! – I was there, but I wasn’t doing what you are saying.’ So it was a very difficult situation.

    When you got out, did you just come straight back here [to Puerta del Sol]?

    Yes. Of course, man. Because if I stop – they win.

    And this is why people then came out in to the streets here? To protest the treatment of you and your friends?

    That’s the only reason.

    Incredible that it has built since then into this huge … more than 20,000 people here.

    Because I think that not everybody [in the square] knows how this started. But they know that this has started. So it’s like – ok I don’t know why, but I’m going there because I have to do something. And that’s the best thing that is happening here. Everyone feels that this is something that they are in to.

    Do you think that what’s happening here, that it will affect change? That it will cause the political establishment to reform themselves and that this will even spread to other countries, like in France or Germany or maybe Italy?

    Maybe it can be. I would like it to be. But I really … It’s hard to say because this … this is what has happened in one week. I don’t know in one month. I really don’t know. So maybe I think it’s a little bit difficult to predict it. Because this is very big. This is very big.

    Here in Spain there are only four million people that don’t work, but in other countries there are more people. So if people of Europe rise up, if people of Africa rise up, if people of every rich part of the world rise up, this is very big. But if we only work here, at Sol, this can’t be.

    So I think that maybe, with all the effort that everyone is making, that maybe it can be possible – a little change.