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Demonstrations were organised in 50 cities by youth group Democracia Real Ya ["Real Democracy Now"] with the slogan: "We're not merchandise in the hands of politicians and bankers", but the massive camp that formed in Madrid's main square - Puerta del Sol - on May 16 exceeded everyone's expectations. Locations, dates, and details about the protests spread through social media, flooding users with pictures, videos, and text updates from demonstrators in Madrid and the rest of the country. In the context of increasingly decentralised information, mainstream media have had a hard time keeping up with news and events, while citizen-led media has covered the protests effectively.
"Don't vote for them"
Is there a connection between the online campaign against the "Sinde Law" and the mobilisations taking place now? For more than a year now, Spanish internet users have been fiercely opposing the "Sinde Law", which allows the Ministry of Culture to decide which sites should be blocked or have their contents removed, once complaints are received on the basis of public order, national defence, protection of minors or "safeguarding intellectual property rights". Reactions to the law sparked an online campaign called "No les votes" [Spanish] ["Don't vote for them"] that tried to mobilise citizens against all political parties that had supported the law, including the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE), the People's Party (PP) and Catalan nationalists, the Convergence and Union (CiU) party. Spanish blogger Enrique Dans [Spanish] wrote:
"Your decision is important. We don't ask you to vote for a particular party but to see that there are alternatives that oppose Sinde Law and its ideological scope. We ask you to protect net freedom through your vote, opposing those who deserve our punishment."
A few months ago, in a piece for Global Voices Advocacy, we wondered if users supporting this campaign were fully aware of what was at stake - and if opposition to the "Sinde Law" could turn into a catalyst of a much-needed questioning of a system that threatens citizens' basic freedoms. Now, it looks as though it has.
The Madrid Election officials banned organizers of the 15-M movement from camping out on May 18, allegedly because "there are no special or serious reasons" for the urgent call for the mass demonstration. Organisers defied them by converging on Sol for the third day, in spite of the rain - and opposition to the Election Board's decision swelled across the country and the internet, with further demonstrations called in Malaga, Granada and Tenerife - and users sharing updates and supporting each other through social media, especially Twitter: "#acampadasol We are out in the rain because we care about democracy and fair rights and duties. Keep it up, from #acampadasegovia #nonosvamos."
By occupying public spaces, both in the streets and online, Spanish citizens are taking inspiration from a global movement and reacting to a political system that is worn out and does not meet their needs and demands.