MADRID — Tens of thousands of people participated in a demonstration last week, calling for new elections and protesting the austerity measures in Spain.
Spain is currently experiencing a high unemployment rate of 25 percent. Among the youth and population of more southern regions, this rate has even reached 50 percent. The scale of discontent among the population is rapidly escalating, too.
The austerity measures made by the Popular Party have taken a toll on many Spanish citizens, and protesters are demanding new elections after claiming to be misled by Prime Minister Mariano Rahoe.
Due to the government’s mishandling of the current economic crisis, protesters took to the streets to surround the lower house of Congress in Madrid.
The series of protests that have been occurring in Spain since May 2011 are referred to as the 15-M movement, El movimiento 15-M or the Spanish Indignants Movement. Devoid of any major union or political party involvement, web-based social networks provided organization for this protest and all of those prior to it.
The police received prior notice of the oncoming protesters and blocked the routes to the parliament building with double metal barricades. Protesters remained and continued their demonstration before the police.
What started out as a peaceful protest broke into a violent clash between the demonstrators and the heavily armed riot police. Officers eventually took out their batons and even used rubber bullets to subdue the crowd of civilians.
Paul Funkhouser, an NYU Madrid student and CAS junior, attended the demonstration and noted several distinct similarities between the 15-M and Occupy Wall Street movements.
“Spain is not so different from the U.S.” Funkhouser said. “People are fighting cuts to social services and impunity for the financial sector. In Spain, like in the U.S., the two-party system is controlled by financial interest.”
“The movement is fundamentally nonviolent and the police have been known to incite violence,” he added. “On Tuesday, I watched national police beat demonstrators with excessive force without provocation, comparable to the NYPD’s repression of Occupy Wall Street.”
As a result of the clash between protesters and the police, 38 were arrested and 64 injured.
Caridad Dawson, student life and wellness coordinator, expressed her concerns regarding the violence and the attendance of her students.
“Spain is going through a turbulent time due to the crises, no doubt about that,” Dawson said. “I worry about my students’ well-being because it can get violent and aggressive at the protests.”
“I don’t want them to be in the eye of a political hurricane; however, it is an exciting time,” Dawson added. “The Spaniards are really trying to make a change. In due time, I definitely believe change will come.”
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Oct. 1 print edition. Natasha Babazadeh is a foreign correspondent. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.