The Spanish 15-M Movement Deepens Its Civil Disobedience, With A Dash of Gene Sharp


Ter Garcia – Waging Nonviolence

Last month [January 2012], Spanish activists associated with the May 15 Movement began a new campaign, Yo No Pago (I Don’t Pay), inviting fellow citizens to practice civil disobedience by not paying for public transport. Contending that the current political regime is not giving people a say in how their taxes are being spent, they feel there is no choice but to withdraw payment.

The campaign, modeled on the Greek Den Plirono effort, emerged after a 50 percent increase in the cost of public transport in January. A government advertising campaign compared the prices of the subways in Madrid, New York, London, Berlin and Paris, concluding that Madrid was getting “More for less.” But criticism of the increased fares soon appeared in social networks and with posters and graffiti on the government’s ads, which included additional information comparing the minimum wage in Spain with that of other countries.

This reaction to the advertising campaign in Madrid was the start of Yo No Pago, which today has more than 13,500 followers on Facebook. The first action was on January 15, coinciding with similar actions in Greece and Sweden. Nearly 200 people slipped into subways and buses in Madrid, Valencia, Barcelona and Bilbao, resulting in several arrests. But that didn’t discourage the organizers; “This is a civil disobedience action,” says the Facebook page. “Without journalists and police it is useless.” On February 1, they tried again, this time with twice as many people and five arrests in Madrid. There was national media coverage. Now, the next action is announced for Valentine’s Day in front of the stock-exchange buildings in Madrid, Barcelona and Bilbao. More than 500 people say they will take part. Gradually, the campaign is growing.

Along with using public transportation without paying, Yo No Pago promotes other actions aimed at weakening the power of the government and banks. It encourages people to cancel direct billing and direct deposits, close bank accounts and declare themselves insolvent:

If they catch you using public transport without a ticket, no problem. If you get a fine, you are not bound to pay it; if police fine you for going to a 15-M demonstration, you’re not bound to pay it because you have economic immunity since you’re insolvent; if the bank takes your house because you don’t have a job and you can’t pay the mortgage, and, further, you have a huge debt with the bank… Stop paying, you’re insolvent.

Such acts of civil disobedience have been spreading through Spain since the beginning of the year. The group Derecho de Rebelion (Right of Rebellion) has started a crowdfunding project to print 5,000 copies of a handbook of economic disobedience that will be distributed for free before tax season in May. Meanwhile, in several cities, there has been a significant increase in time-banks, cooperative projects, and evicted families squatting in empty houses owned by banks and the state.

In forms like these, the 15-M movement remains very active, focusing its activity on creating solutions to the country’s problems rather than simply protesting the government; as many people in the movement say, “It will fall by itself.” If the movement could help Spanish society find its own solutions to problems of housing and employment, it would strike a real blow to the government, which at the moment seems unable to resolve the economic crisis. Civil disobedience actions help draw attention to this failure and make “do-it-yourself” initiatives seem all the more necessary to people.

Indignation has spread to every corner of Spain, with demonstrations taking place almost every week around the country, and organizers are thinking hard about what to do next. Recently, public television aired the documentary How to Start a Revolution, about political theorist (and WNV contributor) Gene Sharp. Sharp’s nonviolent tactics have been for days a topic of discussion in collectives throughout 15-M. This could be a very positive part of defining the next steps for the movement as it faces a major mobilization on May 12. At the moment, organizers are planning strikes, boycotts and occupations of public spaces. But defining goals on a global level, in coordination with the movements in numerous countries, is a difficult task. The work continues.

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