On February 15th I participated in what turned out to be the largest demonstration ever held in the city of Madrid.
Over one million people turned out to protest at Prime Minister Aznar?s backing of George Bush’s warmongering stance on Iraq. We started our march outside the Prado museum and it took our small group over three hours to reach the central square of Puerta del Sol – a distance you would normally walk in 20 minutes.
The march was so big that many people never made it to Sol at all, including the leaders of Spain’s major unions and political parties. In fact, film director Pedro Almod?var, who was making the main speech at the end of the march, had to be hustled through side streets just to get to the stage. As he was speaking on the platform we were still over an hour away from the finishing point but we were able to hear snatches of what was said through loudspeakers erected along the last 600m of the route.
One of the reasons it took so long to cover those last 500m was because we were witnesses to a ‘Greenpeace-style’ piece of direct action, which, deliberately or not, went unreported by the mainstream media the following day.
One of the buildings along the route was having its fa?ade cleaned, which meant it had scaffolding right up to the roof. As per usual, the scaffolding was covered by an enormous poster advertising, ironically enough in the circumstances, the armed forces and encouraging people to enlist.
The small group of activists, waving a skull-and-crossbones as their insignia, climbed up to the top and to the cheers of the delighted crowd, started untying the canvas. They eventually got it down and then proceeded to replace it with their own – albeit smaller – handmade banner which read:
“No m?s sangre por petr?leo. No a la guerra. Asesinos!”
Translating as: “No more blood for oil. No to war. Murderers!”
They added a smaller poster with the “Nunca M?s” ( Never again ) slogan in reference to the broad-based protest group which is fighting the government over its disastrous handling of the “Prestige” oil spill in Galicia in North-West Spain.
In fact this was also a theme of the march with chants encouraging Aznar to “go to Galicia” if it was petrol he wanted.
The march was peaceful and good-humoured but there was an underlying mood of determination. I saw whole families walking towards the starting-point with anti-war stickers already on their coats. There were many people – who admitted that they were marching for the first time in their lives and in fact there was everything from Palestinian scarves to fur coats on display.
The chants were constant and varied and often completely spontaneous as people came up with new rhymes. One went – “With this government, we’re going backwards!” ( ?Con este gobierno, vamos de culo! ) – at which point everyone would turn around and start walking backwards until the chant died out. Another more irreverent one was “?Aznar, confiesa, Bush te la pone tiesa!”, which translates as “Aznar, own up, Bush gives you a hard-on!”
At the end of the Almod?var speech, in a scene repeated in Barcelona, a siren was played, at which point everyone fell to the ground in an expanding wave from Sol in a simulation of an aerial bombardment.
TOM SPAIN can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org