Occupy Wall Street and its U.S. offshoots pale in size compared to their Spanish cousin, which may be taking a leading role in an increasingly globalized and coordinated movement.
In Spain, the Occupy protests are known by the nickname 15M, for the date the started, May 15 and as the “Indignados” for those that populate it.
On Oct. 15, these indignant Spaniards spurred a coordinated global protest that spanned 90 countries and 1,000 cities. In Spain, several hundred thousand people participated, supporting the view that the Indignados have become an inspiration and coordinating force for actions beyond Spain's borders.
Spanish public broadcaster RTVE estimated that between 6.5 million and 8 million Spaniards have participated in protests during 2011, and according to polls, 80 percent of the Spaniards support the Indignados' cause, EU Observer reported.
Recently, a group of Spanish Indignados arrived in Brussels, the EU capital, after they walked there from Spain in a trek that took 80 days. They hoped to bring their case to top EU officials. In a YouTube clip, one of the marchers said, "I speak five languages and I'm a physicist, and I'm unemployed."
The labor market in Spain looks grim—according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Spain had an overall unemployment rate of 21.2 percent in August 2011, and during the year various sources have put youth unemployment at about twice that figure. Meanwhile, the Spanish government, like most European governments, has had to introduce various austerity measures to deal with its economic problems.
The Spanish grass-roots citizen organization Democracia Real Ya (DRY), which means "real democracy now" has played an especially important role, focusing on demanding an end to austerity measures and a new approach to democracy. Among other things, they have suggested a whole new European Constitution, created in a way similar to how the new Icelandic Constitution is being written, with the help of crowd-sourcing, bringing in suggestions from the people via social media. The Epoch Times conducted an email interview with Miguel, a Spanish DRY spokesperson who preferred not to give his last name.
At 50, Miguel is old enough to have participated in the struggle for a democratic Spain, an effort that took in the 1970s after the death of longtime dictator Francisco Franco. Memories of then make the current movement resonate, he said.
"The 15M has become a breath of fresh air, that perfectly defines who the current enemies are and what is the most accurate claims to address to them," he said, indicating the DRY slogan, "We are not goods in the hands of politicians and bankers."
Miguel calls the movement "a matter of self-defense," and said it is the obligation of this generation not to let the welfare system that previous generations fought for be ruined.
"The government saves the banks and extorts money from the workers, inflicting worse working conditions, indirect taxes, and social security cuts," he said.
He says high unemployment among young Spaniards with higher education is one reason why the movement has been particularly strong and coordinated there.
While the protests on Oct. 15 led to riots and unrest in Italy, in most of the about 90 countries where they took place, they were peaceful. In Spain, the turnout was huge. In the capital Madrid alone, some estimated 500,000 people participated. Miguel calls the event and its horizontal grass-roots nature "a milestone in history, which should be studied later."
"The civil society has globalized their proposals and actions, something unthinkable a few months ago, we opened a new horizon, but I still could not say what might happen," he said.
There is already talk of recurring global protests on the 15 of each month, or at some other interval. Miguel wants to raise an even greater awareness in his own neighborhood, and he is also looking forward to the Spanish elections in November and seeing how this budding movement will evolve.
"Now we must have some peace and quiet to do our work, thinking globally and acting locally. It's time for neighborhoods, workplaces, and study centers," he said.
With additional reporting by Yvonne Mendy