Podemos political party gather outside Reina Sofía Museum in Madrid for a campaign meeting. Demotix/Marcos del Mazo. All rights reserved.Podemos was an exciting surprise, though an uncertain one. This young man with a ponytail, who cut down to size the media pundits of the Spanish right in their own television networks, was creating a political party to stand for election to the European Parliament. It was somewhat shocking that this university professor and his faculty colleagues were getting involved in institutional politics, even for those of us who had already been following his public speeches. It wasn’t only about ‘going into politics’, but about creating an ambitious new party.
For left-wing voters who were feeling disappointed with the situation and the prospects offered to us by the supposed ‘crisis of capitalism’, Podemos represented more than a breath of fresh air; it was a shot of adrenaline. We could not know how this adventure would progress but in those moments we were filled with enthusiasm. Izquierda Unida (IU), the benchmark party of the most committed left in Spain for many years, could not bring together the discontent that was expressed in the streets of the country. The 15-M was a very powerful catalyzing force but lacked real influence in the institutions. The PSOE said it had learned the lessons, but their speeches sounded like little more than talk. And here came the surprise.
With a short campaign that was carried out hardly with any means and that was very dependent on the street and social networks, Podemos blew all the forecasts aside and managed to establish itself as a political force to be reckoned with. They won 5 seats and an enhanced media presence that made an entire country look to a new formation that hadn’t even acquired a logo for the ballot papers. Instead, it showed the face of the guy with a ponytail who had been speaking with common sense on TV, but who had hardly been taken seriously.
Suddenly, all the media outlets wanted to have him on air. He was trendy. He had a lot of media exposure and managed to increase his popularity and that of his party, but also risked burning their own bridges early. That’s when many of us started to know about Iñigo Errejón, Juan Carlos Monedero, Carolina Bescansa and other colleagues who were beginning to get wide media access too. We began to learn about the ‘círculos’ (assemblies) that were emerging throughout the country. We noticed that the ambitious claims of Pablo Iglesias after the European elections had not fallen on deaf ears. Podemos went for it. It was its time.
Then began the carousel. One after another, surveys were showing an unstoppable rise of Podemos, reaching first place in some polls. There was euphoria, but Podemos was also cautious. The attacks coming from other parties and the media proliferated. Any trick was valid, from comparisons with parties in other countries to attacking their looks. One could sense a certain underlying nervousness in the face of what had until then been considered funny and anecdotic.
‘Old politics’, a term used to satiety after the appearance of Podemos, attempted to address this new situation by applying more cosmetic than substantive changes. Pedro Sánchez took the lead in the PSOE, which was suffering a steady decline, but he has been more about image than substance. IU put forward Alberto Garzón, who should have been given this possibility much earlier. The PP remained oblivious to change while sitting in its comfortable bubble of being the only Conservative Party, until the birth that was to come of Albert Rivera’s Ciudadanos - the regenerators of the Spanish right.
At this time came the first great victory of Podemos. Although polls suggested otherwise, Podemos – in confluence with various political forces and social groups – managed to win the Mayoral Office in the two largest cities in Spain and earned victories in other significant cities. Hope was finally becoming a reality.
Nevertheless, it might be expected that the wave Podemos was surfing would start to destabilize and descend. The continuous attacks it received, the emergence of Ciudadanos that increased the competition over who would occupy the centre of the political chessboard, a few mistakes and the moderation of some of the initial guiding principles, were some of the causes that explain this decline.
Pablo Iglesias then made less of an appearance on television and the focus moved on to Monedero, one of the most charismatic and visible faces of the party. Latent pessimism grew where before there had been enthusiasm. The clear defeat in the important Catalan elections did nothing but encourage this feeling. Moreover, this election marked the turning point in the growth of Ciudadanos, another force which presents itself as ‘new politics’.
Actually, I got this impression from the media, but it wasn’t what I felt in the streets and in the social networks. There, Podemos was alive and not a residual force as had been proclaimed, although perhaps it did not enjoy its previous strength. With the general elections just around the corner, Podemos began to work with other forces that share the same spirit and message to build consensus. Along the way there have been misunderstandings and people who have disappointingly stayed away.
But I write these lines after the televised debate between the four main political forces. It seems that the motto coined in recent days, Comeback, is not just a word thrown into the void. We can feel the hope of beating the odds to make history again. The opponent is tough and we play by their rules, but there’s always a game until the end of the match. To paraphrase a much-valued hip-hop band, Podemos was not born to resist, it was born to win.