Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011

Why I Protest: Carmen Rodríguez of Spain

When it all started, Carmen Rodríguez, 30, wasn't there. On May 15, her father came to visit her in Madrid, and she spent the day with him instead of joining the thousands who marched in the Democracia Real Ya protest. The native of Ourense is still a little sheepish about having missed that primal moment, but she remembers perfectly how she felt the following afternoon when she went to Sol and saw the single tent that had been erected beside the city's emblematic statue of a bear plucking fruit from a strawberry tree. "There were only about 300 people there then, but I knew immediately something was going to happen," Rodríguez recalls. "The ground was wet, and without being asked, people just started bringing us cardboard so we'd have something to sit on." That was the origin of a new, loose organization that went by the name Acampada de Sol. She stayed until 5 p.m., then went home to her nearby apartment with some friends to pick up supplies. "We returned with coffeepots and 5 L of water an hour later. But we weren't the only ones. By then, an elderly lady had come by with snacks for 200 people."

Late that night, the police dislodged the encampment. But their action backfired, as word of the action, hashtagged with #spanishrevolution, spread through Twitter. That evening, Sol began filling up with first hundreds, then thousands of people, many of them determined to stay that night and the ones that would follow. "It all grew so quickly and took on a life of its own," she recalls. "People started putting up tarps, organizing themselves into committees, figuring out ways to distribute food and water. But mostly they wanted to talk. A man showed up with stew for 300 people during the first General Assembly, and we didn't even stop to eat it. We were all hungrier to talk than to eat."

The earliest assemblies were dedicated to figuring out a code of conduct — how to signal approval or disapproval, how to make sure everyone could hear. Rodríguez, who works in health care, had been involved before in political protests but found herself unexpectedly affected by what she witnessed in those early moments. "I loved going home each day, completely exhausted but unable to stop talking about all the new ideas. And then each day, as I walked back, I would get to the top of Carretas Street and see all those people in Sol and just cry. It was so moving."

Rodríguez has stayed with the movement ever since. She estimates she spends five or six hours each day working with it. Once participants began to break into committees, she joined the one dealing with economic issues — a decision prompted not by experience but its opposite: it was the area in which she felt least prepared. These days she can talk sovereign debt and labor reform with the best of them. "It was tremendously enriching, and we were all learning so much. You went from just being indignant to having an argument for your indignation." The commission has just finished elaborating a set of proposals, which range from rejecting further austerity measures that affect workers to eliminating offshore accounts.

Six months after the movement started, she's more tired than before but no less dedicated to the cause. "They accuse us of being antisystem, but that's not it," she says. "The system is antipeople. I honestly don't understand why everyone isn't out in the street with us."