In Spain women indignadas bring spring to Spain and cities everywhere


Spanish cities voted, and now two feminist, progressive, anti-austerity, anti-eviction, lifelong activist women are set to become mayors of Barcelona and Madrid: Ada Colau and Manuela Carmena. “It’s the victory of David over Goliath”, said Ada Colau, although this time it’s the victory of Deborah over Goliath. Before the elections, Ada Colau and Manuela Carmena may have been symbols of change, but the people’s vote changed all that. Now they are not only the embodiments of a Spanish Spring of Change, they are the harbingers of a global Urban Spring. Indignons-nous!

After casting her vote in Madrid, Manuela Carmena said, “Each one of us has an enormous potential for change; each one of us can decide the fate of our city. We can change the world.” And she should know. 71 years old, Manuela Carmena has been fighting the good fight for years. A former member of the Communist Party, she fought for human rights, women’s rights, workers’ rights and prisoners’ rights during the Fascist regime. Manuela Carmena served as a judge, and was widely recognized as a leading progressive and anti-corruption jurist. She was a founder of Jueces para la Democracia, Judges for Democracy. When called upon by the Ahora Madrid coalition to come out of retirement to run for office, she immediately agreed. Her platform focused on guaranteeing basic utilities, such as water and electricity, to all households; guaranteeing universal access to healthcare services; and developing an emergency job creation plan for the young and long-term unemployed. At the heart of her campaign was the human heart, the recognition of the centrality of the people, the individuals and communities that comprise Madrid.

Likewise, Ada Colau is well known as the founder and face of the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca, PAH, the Platform for People Affected By Mortgages. She began the anti-eviction organization and movement in 2009, in response to a spike in evictions. Immediately, Colau saw that the evictions had nothing to do with the so-called real estate market crash. Instead, they resulted from mortgage clauses, organized by realtors and banks, that virtually ensured mass evictions, sooner or later. In 2008, later came sooner, and in 2009, Ada Colau roared onto the scene, organizing local and mass anti-eviction direct actions, stopping evictions; restoring individuals, families, and communities to decent housing; and addressing the collusion of local municipal agencies, in this case in Barcelona. Colau highlighted the individual and mass evictions as part of Barcelona’s program for `urban redevelopment’. Sound familiar?

What may be unfamiliar is Colau’s vision of urban development: “Barcelona could become a world reference as a democratic and socially just city. Barcelona has the resources, the money and the skills. The only thing that has been missing to date has been the political will.”

What may be even more unfamiliar is this: victory! Ada Colau, of Barcelona en Comú, and Manuela Carmena, of Ahora Madrid, won. They won because they organized and people responded to their campaigns. They won because they courageously rejected the logic, and the violence, of austerity, exclusion, expulsion, and “urban redevelopment”. They not only said another city is possible, they lived it. Now they are set to become mayors of Barcelona and Madrid, respectively.

As the commercial says, “What’s in your wallet?” What’s in your city’s wallet? How much violence are we, in our various municipalities, willing to countenance in the name of “urban redevelopment”? In Spain, women indignadas have had more than enough. They have organized, and are organizing, and are calling for a Spanish Spring, and a Global Urban Spring. Podemos. We can do it.


(Photo Credit: Publico)

Women indignadas carry Tahrir Square and Spring, and occupy prison

Women occupy Yare Prison in Venezuela

In Nigeria this week, in response to fuel prices and, even more, to astronomical unemployment and crushing hopelessness among young people, protests, and more, have punctuated the landscape. Occupy Nigeria. Labor unions, women’s groups, farmers’ groups and others have joined, and to a certain extent followed, the lead of their younger comrades. In Kano, for example, the youth have established what they call “Tahrir Square”. Elsewhere, some say that an “Arab Spring” is coming to Sudan, to Zimbabwe, to a theater of engagement near you.

In Haiti, as in Chile as in the United Kingdom as in Spain, students are protesting the inequality of education and the crushing hopelessness it produces. As various forces attempt to privatize a university opening in Limonade, the students of the University of Haiti, l’Université d’Etat d’Haïti, have declared themselves indignés. Indignados.

We are all, or almost all, moving towards our own Tahrir Square; we are all, or almost all, indignés, indignados. Language, concepts, actions not only exceed the borders they cross, they redefine notions of nationhood, identity. Or such is the dream and hope. Indignados articulate with Zapatistas articulate with Arab Spring and Tahrir Square articulate with indigenous movements and keep sending out new feelers, new shoots, new threads that somehow link new and old into something possible, something happening right now.

And so in northern Venezuela this week, 800 women and 150 children occupied the Yare prison complex. They came to visit their loved ones, who suffer overcrowding and overly long waits for trials, as so many do in so many prisons around the world.  Then, they simply refused to leave. They `self-kidnapped.’ They invaded and occupied the prison space with their indignation.

950 women and children looked at armed guards and said, “Nope, we’re not moving.” They invented Spring, the beginning of a kind of liberation.

You want to know what this Spring could mean? Ask the many immigrant women in US immigrant detention centers, women like Julie, who are told they have no right to legal representation, no right to due process, because, well, they’re not in `prison’. They’re in `detention.’ And so they sit, watched, and often sexually harassed and worse, by guards. Most of the detention centers are privately owned. Profit flows from the time women, mostly women of color, sit and wait.

Many of the women live with mental health illnesses. Actually, many are in crisis. Many of the women struggle with the consequences and scars of domestic violence. Many of the women know they are in `detention’ because their English `failed’ them, and because, though they lived in neighborhoods in which English was a second language, somehow the police only spoke English. Who’s failing whom here?

This week, the young women and men of Nigeria have urged us to occupy and liberate public policy. The young women and men of Haiti have urged us to occupy and liberate education. And the young women and children of Venezuela have called on us to occupy prison.

Occupy prison. We have been occupied by the global prison for far too long. Follow the lead of the women and children of Venezuela. Occupy prison. It’s time.

Indignant women and girls ignite the Chilean Winter


Hunger strikers at a secondary school in Buin, near Santiago.

For two days this week, the streets of Chile filled with indignation … and indignados. These protests are the latest event in a movement that began over three months ago, with a scattered series of classroom boycotts and protests. Since then, students from secondary and tertiary institutions have led teachers and professors, parents and custodians, trade unionists and government workers in protest, in action, in song and dance, in hunger strike, in organizing. The State has responded by arresting 14,000. Already one 16-year-old has been shot and killed. And now, after waves of protest, after State-sponsored bloodshed and belligerence, the State claims it wants a dialogue.

The students began their protests to challenge and change the inequalities within the educational systems and structures, inequalities that are funded, or better de-funded, by mass privatization, on one hand, and a tax structure that sends relatively little money into the schools. Most students attend grossly underfunded public universities while the wealthy few attend the very few exclusive and exclusionary private universities. At present, Chilean university education is one of the most expensive in the world. Students assume extraordinarily high debts, with 50% of them considered heavily indebted. The schools are both expensive and lousy.

As inequality has grown in Chile, so has segregation. According to some, Chile is the second most socially segregated country in the world. The rich study – and play and live — only with the rich, the poor with the poor.

Students began to see the inequality gap as well as the increasing barriers and increasingly high walls as the State condemning them to a slow death sentence. Rather than roll over, they responded with outrage.

Women and girls lead the student movement. 23-year-old Camila Vallejo, for example, is the president of the University of Chile’s student union and the principal spokesperson for the Confederation of Chilean University Students. 18-year-old Francia Gárate is on hunger strike. So are 17-year-olds Johanna Choapa and Maura Roque. María José Zúñiga is spokeswoman for secondary school students at Liceo A-131, high school in Buin next to the capital, Santiago. Pictures and articles show innumerable unnamed women and girls on the front lines, at the bullhorns, on the various stages, in the hunger strikes.

Why are women leading the charge? For almost four decades, Chile has “manufactured modernity” by relentlessly pursuing a neoliberal economic policy: privatization, free trade, the works. And who “bears the brunt” and who literally does “the dirty work of neoliberalism” in Chile? Women. Who looks at the promises of an `emerging’ first world national economy and sees that the money goes for teargas canisters rather than books, for corporate palaces and hotels rather than classrooms? Who looks at the gap and sees who’s making those decisions? Women.

Indignant, insightful women and girls are igniting the Chilean Winter with their outrage.


(Photo Credit: Fernando Fiedler / IPS)