If there is something to say about these massive gatherings, it’s that they are a great opportunity to walk through the main avenues of Madrid unhindered by traffic. You can shout here and there in angry protest and then enjoy the sights in between. Ask an anarchist to take a picture of you and your loved one in front of the Palacio de Comunicaciones. Dance to the rabid beats of the bongos. As your nearest riot police for directions to the Plaza Mayor.
I returned to the center just in time for the 23-F demonstration to kick off. This day was chosen in part because it was Saturday; and if you don’t know, Saturday afternoons are almost always the times for the biggest protests because that’s the only real chance for most people to take their grievances to the streets. Sometimes they pick Sunday mornings, but it’s rarer, as people most often want to get some rest or go for an aperitivo. And on only two occasions that I can think of, they were held during the week. One was for the assassination of Miguel Ángel Blanco, on a Monday in July, and the other was a Friday, March 12, the day after theMadrid train bombings.
But it is generally believed that if you want a lot of people to attend, Saturday afternoon is your moment. Anyone in this city knows that. That’s what expectations were high. Going to a protest may not be mainstream tourism, but it just might be an alternative way to discover what is going on in this country. If you have a hotel room at the Palace with a view of the Plaza de Neptuno, you may not have a choice, but otherwise you might spend a weekend in the capital in the bars and forget there is a huge crisis afflicting the country.
That’s where you have the political left in this country going all out to blame the severe recession on the present government which is currently being ripped for a scandal caused by the former Treasurer. Embezzlement, laundering, payoffs, and all the good stuff were on the agenda. And as the country’s economy still wallows in a directionless motion, the thought the leaders were hording all the cash, did not sit well.
I’m trying to stay out of politics, but I should add thatSpain’s woes cannot be attributed to any one party, and the current allegations are just that, suspicions yet to be confirmed, but suffice it to say it is just the latest in a long line of frustrations which have wearied this country. They have wearied those who follow the weary.
In any event, there was this big event calling all of the citizens to become a part of the “rising tide” against the injustices of the current situation. It was one of those Bastille moments; the WinterPalaceconfrontations, cavalry aside. On top of that, February 23rd was astutely chosen because it is the anniversary of 1981 Spanish Coup D’état attempt. Then, and I can get to that one day, members of the Spanish right barged into the parliament and tried to stop democracy in its tracks. It was a major flop, thank God. Anyway, everything was very symbolic. Democracy prevailed, and so the opposition forces 32 years later felt it was the right time to rally the citizens again.
Well, it kind of worked. There were thousands of people there. Ten of thousands. My final estimate ran as close as 100,000, but that may be generous. It can be so hard to tell. That is a sizeable number, but even from close up, even in the very center near the Plaza de Neptuno, one had the feeling we weren’t jammed pack. Plus, these days, 100,000 is not the number you want to really send a message. Every two weeks 100,000 fans pay plenty of money to watchBarcelonaplay football. Failing to match the number for free in the name of social outcry does make the turnout seem a little disappointing. I can see couple of reasons why, quite possibly the biggest being that it was a general upheaval against the mismanagement of politicians in general, but a unilateral swipe at the ruling party, which is legitimate if that is what you wish. But don’t expect the other side to join in.
More concerning was the low number of young people there. That doesn’t mean they were totally absent. But I expected to see more. I mean, according to the statistics, about 50% are unemployed. They are so often mentioned as a mainstay of disgruntledness. Shouldn’t they have been out in legion making their voices heard? In theory, yes.
All in all, 100,000 is almost a paltry number given the current situation. 100,000 is the number of fans who flock toBarcelona’s Nou Camp soccer stadium every Sunday. And they have to pay a pretty penny to get in. That makes attracting 100,000 for a free event in the name of social outcry seems less impressive, given the current state of things; given what I thought was the current state. But maybe I was misgiven.