We have broken the silence: Fresh from Madrid, a member of the Communications team of the 15 May Movement

This interview with Beatriz Pérez took place in the early morning of Thursday 26 May in English with additions from an interview she gave to radio Una linea sobre el mar (thanks to simultaneous translation by Mayte Carrasco). It was checked and finalised by Beatriz on Saturday 28 May.

Anthony Barnett
Anthony Barnett
30 May 2011

How are you feeling?

Tired but happy. I feel I am living in history, that I am part of something really important: that is bringing hope to people, that gives you a real feeling of doing something worthy you need to fight for. I want to explain how I have been very moved, it is like a collective act of love, as if the universe has given me a present.

Everyone wants change from what we have. It is in the nature of being human that we should. I had been worried about the silence of Spanish society. But what could anyone do?  We needed to express ourselves as citizens, but how? To assume our proper nature we had to break the silence.

How did it start for you?

I couldn’t go to the demonstration on Sunday 15 May but I knew about it from a friend who asked me if I was coming. The next day I knew some people were still gathered there so I read the manifesto of Democracia Real YA, it had just four or five points. I totally agreed and I went along. When I arrived there were about 700 people. It was structured. People there wanted to raise their voices and state their opinions and there was a moderator, people were taking notes. It was being done in an orderly way to ensure everyone could speak. I’d never seen this before in a citizen movement and at the same time they are asking for really important things. I decided to support it.

The immediate challenge was to keep people there for the night. About 150 of us stayed. At around quarter to five the police arrived. They closed the roads into the square. We’d been talking about what to do and we planned three things if they came but we didn’t use any of them! There is a law in Spain that rural people with livestock have the right of way in Puerta del Sol and the right to stay three nights, so we thought we’d say to the police “Hey, we have the right of way here for three nights”. But this was not very convincing. The second option was to try just walking around the square and say we were just walking, but when they came in their lines it didn’t make any sense to start walking! The third option was to split into groups of less than 21 because that is not treated as an illegal gathering. But if we divided, we would have lost us our strength. So we linked arms until the police removed us. They didn’t rough us up. They just took us away. I recorded it with my mobile phone, went home and put my videos on YouTube. This was like, 6.30. At about 8.30 I went back to Puerta Del Sol and some of the others were already back and the police too, asking for documentation. We called the media but they didn’t come to cover what was happening.

That evening everyone who had heard of the police action came to support us. There were about 2,000. And during that evening we started to create different commissions, groups that focus on different issues. I joined those working on communications for the 15 May movement. The communications commission was large. It was very difficult to moderate, a lot of people wanted to talk. We found a structure and created sub-commissions. We came to some conclusions and we wanted to talk to the general assembly. I remember that I finished my intervention about 5.30 in the morning, it was to a thousand or so people. But I was so tired as I’d not slept for two nights that I couldn’t even speak clearly! You need to be very clear when you are talking to a group of people who want something. If you are not clear they just feel like “What is this? I don’t like this, go away!” It was a good lesson. I realised that when you are so tired you cannot speak to a meeting.

Then it grew.  With the elections coming on Sunday 22, we wanted people to come to Puerta Del Sol. On Thursday the Electoral Commission said that the concentration was illegal because we were asking for a “responsible vote” and this could influence the elections! We thought that the police might take us out again. But as they opposed us, we grew in response. There was a kitchen by the second day. The present structure, with a library and a kindergarten, was created during the weekend.

You speak as if you have already achieved change, do you think so?

Yes, I think so. 

We have planted a little seed in everybody’s mind. We have broken the silence. Now everyone can say, “We have the right to say that we are tired of things and want change”. We know now that we have the strength that comes from being many people, and not just left-wing, as well as support from all over the world. We know that we have the strength to go onto the street and stay for over a week, nothing like it has happened before that I can remember. When I was young, at school, there were big demonstrations. But they were just demonstrations. This is a form of ongoing self-organisation. Including in the occupations outside Madrid, in the many squares where people are concentrating, even if they don’t have the same infrastructure of a parallel city like we have.

Is what you are doing really different?

Yes, it is different. The main slogan ”Real Democracy, Now!” hasn’t been used before. In this way we are being original. But I think that in many other demonstrations people were asking indirectly for real democracy. So by putting this first, as the goal that we want, yes we are being original. But I think we are not that original in the things that we are asking for below the headline.

Beatriz Pérez (talking to openDemocracy author Pedro Silverio Moreno)

Do you want to achieve the demands in the Manifesto that I read on the web in London?

Seriously? I have never seen this manifesto with these nine demands before. However, they are what we are asking for and I recognise the discourse that we are using. But there are a lot of people doing their own manifestos. I think that’s good!

What do you think of the manifesto with its call for fairness and social equality?

I don’t think it is radical at all! I think we have put forward a traditional manifesto. This is the minimum. This is something we obviously need. It is the minimum, something we deserve just for being human and for living in society. I mean, what is most outrageous for me is that I have to be out in the street asking for something that is fair. But I am not representing the movement when I say this, or speaking on its behalf in this conversation. I am just giving you my point of view, as you ask, as someone who participates.

I don’t know how to express it, but the most important thing for me, which motivates me, is that I am an optimist and I think what we are doing will spread. There is a need we all have to feel that we are not alone.

So your methods are more important than your manifesto?

We need change. And we are also changing the way that we ask for change. That we are asking in a non-violent way gives us legitimacy. It also makes it attractive for people to join us. It will spread like a virus. People have been silent, they have been afraid – they still are afraid – after many years. The authorities want them to keep their fear. We want them to lose it. It is marvellous that we are peaceful also because we want the future to be at peace. And because we have no rush, we don’t need to be violent.

You say you have “no rush” and you have said it is like planting “a seed” and yet you are calling for “Real Democracy NOW”!

Yes, but we want it now because it is what should be. We just want to have what we deserve. That’s why we want it now. But we have no rush in achieving real democracy because, as it is something that I deserve I don’t need to be in a hurry. I want it now because I think I deserve it. We are not demonstrating for something we deserve in the future. But this also gives us all the time in the world to get the changes, because they are what we deserve. I know it sounds a little bit of a contradiction, but I think it makes sense.

So how do you feel you will all grow it? I mean if the party leaders came to you tomorrow in Sol and said you are right - you can have power -  it would be a catastrophe. Even if you can hardly be more incompetent than them, you are not yet prepared to run Spain.

Of course not!

But in ten years time?

Yea, I think so.

That would be very fast for you to succeed.

The thing is that we cannot be in Puerta del Sol for ten years living in a temporary city, it’s not possible to do that. So we need to grow in a way that we don’t need a single place to gather. And that’s the challenge we are trying hard to meet and resolve. For example, on Saturday [28th May] when we start the neighbourhood assemblies in Madrid.

Do you expect the media to be interested?

The media is very complicated. We have a history of media manipulation in Spain, as all over the world, and people are very tired of this. We know the news we receive is not objective. We know that if you watch this or that TV channel you will be different and this happens with newspapers too. People experience different realities, depending on the media they read or watch.

At the start when the media came to Sol they could not even talk to us because everyone was saying “television, manipulation”. People were shouting at them when they came to interview anyone. So it has been really difficult to work out the relationship with the media. We decided anyone could be a spokesperson provided they took a short course on how to speak to the media. We are very plural, it is not about what you wear, we are all different people. It is about putting a positive message, not waving your hands in front of cameras, being truthful.

But right now we are ceasing to be the focus of newspapers. Last week, before the election, we were the fifth item for all coverage. The first was Libya, so it was very strong. This week we need to gather all the messages that we want to say, from all the squares all over Spain, and around the world where Spaniards are gathering.

It is really difficult. Everyone is wanting to raise their voices which is wonderful. But we are saying we are in no rush. We do not need to be eager to say things if they are not final. We were working on this, this evening. The general assembly earlier today said certain things with a consensus. Fine.  But maybe there will not be the same consensus on Friday, so it is not approved. So, what’s the point of saying what may not be approved to the media? You can see it two ways: We have been working for a week and a half and we know what we want, why be scared to say so? Second, that it is fine to wait, but then we need to say to the media we will communicate when we have a common position and to come back in a week or whatever.

It is difficult because everything goes through the general assembly. All want to raise their voices, which is fine, but all of us need to manage the process so that our message gets through to the right places in a clear way without confusion.

But you are starting out on a journey. How can you have a set of desired outcomes the same way as a party - you are in a learning process.

Yes, that’s right.

The media say that they want to know your ‘news’. But your news is that you are doing it differently, which doesn’t give them news.

Totally, but it seems to me that it is difficult for the movement to understand this. We were saying these kind of things at the beginning, that we are doing it in our own way and we have no need to do things as the media want. But we’ve forgotten this and now we are trying to get into the media. And also I think that we haven’t interiorised that we are in a deep learning process and that we have achieved so much in a week and half.  And we need to focus on what we have achieved and not just on what we have not got right. This is a criticism of myself as well. In this pressure you tend to focus on what is going wrong.  We need to slow down, step back and look at what we have achieved to gain the strength to keep going. 

And what is the role of the internet? You are not building a traditional organisation like a party, but you are building an organisation?

The internet is giving us the tools to know what everybody is doing everywhere. It is also a tool for getting together on the website, in a virtual square. This is very important for when the movement loses its strength in the physical places, like Sol, we will still be there on the internet.

There are many people who have no internet and they need to come to the meeting places like Sol in order to get involved and informed. And we all of us need to meet. But on the other hand there are a lot of people who have no city close enough for them to go and demonstrate, so the internet is very helpful for them.

We need to use the internet to build strong and powerful networks to keep the movement alive. We are working on this, we have a lot of people working on this, from all over the world, trying to build structures to be connected from every place.

So today Greeks were demonstrating saying they support our revolution, and they have Spanish flags in their demonstrations, the Italians are doing something, Spaniards are gathering around the world. It is giant!

But isn’t something special going on here in Spain, with the facelessness of the Spanish system and the 45 per cent unemployment among young people.

The situation is really bad, for sure.

Spain is a country with a lot of separatism but somehow with many occupations going on everywhere this feels a very Spanish movement.

I don’t think it means it is Spanish or not. It is very human. In every country where you have this kind of situation people should demonstrate. What is important is having in your mind the idea, not of an ideal world but of basic changes that will make your life and your society better and I think it doesn’t matter if you are from the Basque country or Catalonia or Andalucía or from Portugal or France. Wherever you are from you feel you need to make changes. It is true that in Spain the corruption of politics is very strong and we are very tired of this and there is something that is unique in Spain. But all people feel the same need.

But what happened in Tunisia is different from what happened in Egypt even though they are related. In Egypt and Tunisia people want their freedom. But here you have the freedom they want. You are making a Spanish politics.

Yes, we are making a Spanish politics. But I think the basics can be imported to any country in the world. Egypt was on everybody’s mind. I always had their image in my head and I think it was very important for us. They had no freedom. Their government was a dictatorship. They had it so much worse than us. Yet they were saying, “Hey, we are here, we want freedom and we want it now”. So for me, of course it was an influence. If they could do it there, where conditions were really, really difficult, we could do it here, where the Spanish people are also very tired of the situation. I am sure in each country there will be different methods and different slogans. But people everywhere need to recover the power to have their right of voice and claim the responsibilities that are shared by all of us.

I feel you are resisting saying you are making a Spanish revolution. You are not making a revolution in the world or even in Greece.

OK, we are not making a revolution in Greece.  We want to change our country.

This is a deep issue. Global forces are at work, the corruption, the international financial crisis, these are world forces from which we all suffer. But in response we can’t organise all at once just at the level of the world: with China as well as Brazil and India and America. The way we join the world is through national struggles.

I agree with that. But it doesn’t matter that it is a national struggle. I think it is important that in making a national movement we can be a model for other national struggles. In other places, I mean we saw in Egypt and Tunisia that their struggles were different but we knew that those people were on their streets doing their own struggle so we can do it as well. The motivation, the influence, I don’t know, the feeling is shared by all of us. That’s the important thing. You see other people doing something. The struggle is different and has its own characteristics but the dissatisfaction and unfairness is the same.


This interview with Beatriz Pérez took place in the early morning of Thursday 26 May in English with additions from an interview she gave to radio Una linea sobre el mar (thanks to simultaneous translation by Mayte Carrasco). It was checked and finalised by Beatriz on Saturday 28 May.

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