How the Spanish Police Celebrated 15M

On Wednesday, the 15th of May, people across Spain were preparing to celebrate the second anniversary of the 15M movement – the wave of plaza occupations, open assemblies, and huge protests that coincided with a series of general strikes against the worsening effects of capitalism. In some cities, people planned to march, in others they would attempt to reoccupy the central plazas and hold assemblies and other events. The protest came at a time when crowds of people are increasingly coming together to resist evictions and foreclosures, or sack supermarkets to feed themselves.

But the police had their own plans. In a coordinated wave of assaults across the country, the government marked the two year anniversary with the eviction of a popular rural social center in a Catalan village, the beating and injury of protesters in Málaga, the arrest of a Basque activist, and a major anti-terrorist operation targeting anarchists in Sabadell.

In Montcada i Reixac, a small village in Catalunya, a huge force of riot police evicted the rural squat Can Piella. Can Piella was an anarchist, ecological social center that held permaculture workshops, planted gardens, employed models of environmentally sustainable living, and mobilized against real estate speculation and development in the area. They enjoyed strong support from neighbors, and even the local mayor opposed the eviction, but the major development company Alcara wanted their land and they had the legal system on their side. The police arrived early in the morning with 20 riot vans and construction equipment. Local farmers had dug pits in the path to the house, dozens of supporters were in the fields and at the doors, and residents had even constructed a hanging platform over the house, all to impede the eviction.

Unfortunately, Catalan police already have plenty of experience in strong-arming their way through passive resistance tactics, which have not stopped an eviction since the case of the rural social center Can Masdeu in 2002. The police filled in the holes, arrested three people in the fields around the house, paved the path to bring in a crane, and then cut down and arrested the two people in the suspended platform, all in under four hours. In response, two people suspended themselves from a 20-storey skyscraper owned by the evicting company, and dozens more blocked a major highway for an hour. Protests and attempts to win back the house are continuing.

In Málaga, a city in southern Spain, the 15M assembly decided to move their meeting from the usual plaza to the gates of the CIE, the immigrant detention center where Algerian activist Sid Hamed Bouziane is locked up, about to be deported even though he is on the point of receiving asylum. Back in his home country, he faces possible execution. But the Spanish legal system, even as it keeps its humanitarian asylum laws on the books and basks in the illusive aura of its democratic First World status, shows perfect complicity with its Algerian counterpart. The police did their part, charging the protesters and injuring six of them, one of whom required hospitalization. They then arrested four people in the crowd, accusing them of assaulting officers.

In the Basque village of Ondarroa, a huge force of riot police fought their way through a crowd of hundreds of resisters to arrest the independence activist Urtza Alkorta. Alkorta was given a five year prison sentence for supporting ETA after police claimed she was a ” legal” who had not joined the organization, but participated in the cause of Basque independence. The press labeled her a ” terrorist” and claimed she had gone into hiding after being convicted. In actuality, she went back to her village and refused to turn herself in as an act of civil disobedience. A huge crowd of supporters was able to protect her for five days. Finally, on May 15, police attacked again, beating their way through the supporters and arresting Alkorta.

But the biggest police operation this May 15 targeted an anarchist group in Sabadell, a city in Catalunya. For weeks in advance, the media had been whipping up the figure of anarchist terrorism, and once the ground was prepared, the police struck. They arrested five young anarchists under the anti-terrorism law, which had been developed in earlier decades against the Basque independence movement before being unleashed on other dissidents. Under that law, detainees can be held incommunicado and tortured for the first few days, which has probably also happened in this case, though due to the complete lack of transparency, information is still hard to come by.

The same day as the arrests, the police raided and destroyed the Libertarian Social Center of Sabadell (outside the US, ” libertarian” means anti-authoritarian). The assembly of the social center has asserted that none of the five arrested participated in the space, although they have also declared their solidarity and denounced the arrests.

In a typical move that mirrors the misinformation campaign against Occupy in the US, the media claimed that the anarchists had ” infiltrated” the 15M movement, though in reality they were one of many currents that participated from the beginning. In fact, the 15M assembly in Sabadell had been holding their meetings in the very anarchist social center that was raided.

Police also raided the homes of the five anarchists, encountering a frightening selection of stickers, t-shirts, buttons, gas masks, fireworks, slingshots, dark clothing, books and posters, darts, and a couple boxes of matches, or in the words of police, “terrorist materials.” The anarchists are not accused of injuring anyone, nor have any of the acts of anarchist sabotage in Catalunya or the rest of the Spanish state in the last few years caused any injuries. Meanwhile, the police have permanently injured dozens of people with rubber bullets and batons at protests, and killed several immigrants during arrests, but neither the media nor the legal system pay much attention. Instead, they are accusing five young people of running a Facebook group, “Bandera Negra” or “Black Flag,” that promoted terrorism. Concretely, they say the five encouraged violence against politicians, police, and banks. About the only available evidence to uphold these claims are a few graphics on Facebook, the most egregious of which contains an edited image depicting ruling politicians and the King of Spain with bullet holes in their heads.

Yes, Spain still has a king, a useless oaf who was appointed by a fascist dictator, who owns dozens of luxury cars and goes elephant hunting in Africa while hundreds of thousands of people throughout Spain are ending up on the streets. Faced with such a situation, who wouldn’t say “off with his head!”?

But the police are trying to argue that this online “support for terrorism” has manifested in real damages, as when protesters during the November 14 general strike in Barcelona set police vehicles on fire. In strictly logical terms, there are a few pieces that don’t fit in this puzzle. Namely, there’s no evidence that shows the five accused participated in such tactics, while on the other hand, such things were happening at protests before the Facebook group “Bandera Negra” was created. The aggressive humor displayed on the page is an accurate sign of the times, and the kind of politics the five arrestees seem to hold are shared by an increasing cross-section of society. But the problem for police is that in general they haven’t been able to catch anyone in the act, so they have to go after those who are “advocating” such tactics.

The progressive judge Santiago Pedraz, presiding at the Audiencia Nacional or supreme court in Madrid, agreed with police reasoning and sent the five young anarchists to prison without bail, where they may wait up to two years until trial on terrorism charges.

Many have already pointed out this use of the law amounts to thought crime or the punishment of speech. But the repressive operation at work reaches much farther. As more and more people discover that the democratic, legal means available are wholly inadequate to protect their livelihood, prevent their eviction, stop their deportation, save their forests and clean water, halt the privatization of their education and healthcare, feed themselves, or fight for their freedom and dignity, they are turning to tactics like sabotage, confrontational protest, unarresting or interfering with police raids, road blockades, the sacking of supermarkets, the damaging of corporate property, and the collective defense of houses. All of these tactics share three characteristics: they are illegal; they are described by the press as violent and they sometimes work.

What is at stake are two antithetical conceptions of legitimacy. The one is manufactured by the media and enforced by the courts and their armed mercenaries, and for many years has been accepted by the reformist wings of various social movements. The other is created from below, forged in the experiences of people who are fighting for their freedom and wellbeing, who have often been deprived of the histories of those who struggled before them, and who are starting from scratch, experimenting to see what works.

The State desperately wants to cut short this process of experimentation before it goes any further. To do this, they are trying to define sabotage and damage to property as terrorism, and branding the most radical elements of the conflictive social movements as terrorists. But this is by no means an operation that only targets anarchists. If they can criminalize and suppress sabotage and confrontational protest, next they will be able to increase the criminalization of peaceful resistance and civil disobedience, such as the popular acts that were carried out to stop the eviction of Can Piella or the arrest of Urtza Alkorta. While the police are now trained and equipped to easily overcome such forms of resistance, they still constitute a nuisance, and they can inspire other acts of resistance or reinitiate a collective learning process of intensifying resistance.

The criminalization of such acts has already begun, but for now the State’s priority is to root out the popular use of sabotage. For all its massive security apparatus, the State still cannot protect the banks, corporations, and political parties from those whose lives they are ruining. Its last resort is to convince us into giving up these tactics of resistance. And if we do, then the only moments of collective struggle we will have are those we announce in advance, or moments the State chooses and comes prepared for, such as an eviction. We will lose any chance of hitting them where they are weak, or when they least expect it. And if we lose the last forms of self-defense we have, the criminalization of our resistance and any form of autonomous activity will not stop, it will only continue, because that is the nature of the State: to seek total control.

After the tremendous general strike of March 29, 2012, I wrote about how the Spanish state tried to repress struggle with a new round of criminalization, including the outlawing of masks, the increased use of cameras, and the increase of penalties to the point where disobeying police orders can be punished as harshly as assaulting an officer and vandalism can be punished as harshly as terrorism. But in the aftermath, the sectors of Spanish society that have been rising up did not let themselves be cowed, nor did they accept the division of “good protesters” and ” bad anarchists.” After all, many people besides anarchists were involved in the forms of resistance the government wanted to criminalize.

So instead of accepting the repressive measures and police powers, people resisted. 113 people were arrested in Catalunya alone, accused of property destruction, illegal picketing, or fighting with police, but neighborhood assemblies and protest organizations have come forward to support them and to raise money for their legal costs, so that no one should have to face repression alone. Meanwhile, people protested the new public snitching website until the Interior Ministry took it down. Some protesters whose photos were featured on the website – in a move the government hoped would allow them to be identified and arrested – even held a public gathering, backed by a large group of supporters, to defend and justify their actions in the general strike. And in May Day of this year, a large group of people openly broke the law by wearing masks and not carrying ID, in order to assert the legitimacy of their self-defense against government surveillance.

So now, the government is hitting back, and hitting harder. They may be using soft tactics against those who resist eviction, as in the case of Can Piella, and hard tactics against those they wish to portray as terrorists, but it is all part of the same strategy. And it will not work as long as we refuse to fall for it. This means supporting those who are targeted by repression, even if we have political differences, recognizing the threads that connect one case or form of repression with another, fighting back against every new police power or repressive measure the government tries to create for itself, resisting surveillance, and refusing to back down. This great collective learning process that is occurring in tandem in countries around the globe has enabled us to develop more appropriate methods of resistance and direct action, and to recover lost histories of struggle. But we still have a long way to go.

The State will try to use the specter of terrorism against us, but it is the rich and powerful who are trying to terrify the rest of us. The intensifying crises of capitalist accumulation and the destruction of the planet will result in intensifying resistance. Those in power will do everything they can to make sure they are the only ones able to propose solutions to the problems they have caused. But they have long since lost any credibility. It is time to stop listening to them, from the false solutions they propose to the lies they spread about those who struggle. It is time to turn off the television, and begin discussing our own solutions.