What had been a 12-day-long peaceful protest against austerity, corruption and a lack of economic opportunity and political representation, today saw its first outbreak of violence, as Spanish riot police cleared out the incredibly positively-spirited protest camp at the Plaça de Catalunya in Barcelona.
But while the mainstream media spoke of ‘clashes‘ between protesters and police, the violence was really rather one-sided: the vast majority of the 120+ injured were peaceful protesters. While the people in the square wielded flowers, the police came crashing in wielding full-armor protective gear, batons, shields, pepper spray and rubber bullet shotguns.
Clearly, it was the stupidest thing Spanish authorities could have decided to do at this point. While the attack was explained as an attempt to ‘clean up’ the square ahead of tomorrow’s Champion’s League final, there were clearly ulterior (political) motivations behind the sheer brutality of the attack (I’ll let the images speak for themselves, no need to delve into this point any further).
The unprovoked violence of the ‘Mossos d’Esquadra’ will only further reinvigorate the determination of the 15-M movement to push for real democracy now. The popular Facebook group Spanish Revolution today posted the following ‘call to arms’ (although it was very clear to tell its followers to refrain from using violence and only to use passive forms of resistance and civil disobedience):
In this respect, there are a number of clear lessons to draw from the past. In their early stages, the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions actually thrived because of the excessive use of force of the state security apparatus. The images of brutality helped radicalize large segments of the population that would otherwise never have engaged with the protests.
The exact same happened in Madrid last week. When riot police cleared some 150 peaceful protesters off the square in the night from Monday the 16th to Tuesday, the protesters — instead of backing down — came swarming back in the thousands. People just kept pouring into the Puerta del Sol until late in the night, occupying the square and still refusing to budge.
Today, while the international media was slow to pick up on the crackdown, footage of police brutality quickly spread around on social media. Facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere were abuzz with outrage at the entirely unprovoked and unnecessary violence, especially against women — and even a protester in a wheelchair carrying nothing but a flower in his hand.
Within hours, the Facebook group of the AcampadaBCN, which had previously counted only a few thousand members, boomed to over 38,000 followers. An online petition denouncing the police violence has already been signed by some 40,000 people. By the late afternoon, thousands of peaceful protesters had retaken the square and forced police into a humiating retreat.
Right now, as I write this on Friday night, tens of thousands of peaceful protesters have flocked to the Plaça de Catalunya to show their defiance and resolve. Now this is no longer just about idealism or changing the world. This is about preserving our most basic human rights to freedom, physical integrity and a dignified life.
By doing what they did, the authorities only confirmed what the 15-M movement has been arguing for almost two weeks now: “they call it a democracy and it’s not.” The movement will only swell in numbers. Now, more than ever before, it will have something to fight for, which is particularly important as the endless general assemblies of recent days had slowly begun to wear out morale.
This morning, the authorities showed that they’re afraid of us. The resort to violence is an attempt to exert physical authority in the absence of political legitimacy. They’re hoping to scare us off, to put the youth of Spain and Europe back in its place. But the genie is out of the box by now and any attempt to stuff it back in will only make it bounce back with even greater thrust and resolve.
Today, Spain, Europe and the world were handed the images of injustice that will become the very symbols of our peaceful resistance. This will only strengthen our resolve. La lucha continua. The revolution is only just getting started, and the people are back in control of the streets.