Hunger Strikers Against Austerity and Corruption

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Jorge Arzuaga (top photo) is a young man from Bilbao, Spain who has participated in 15-M protests, especially in university related assemblies and protests. In October 2013 he travelled to Madrid and set himself up in the Puerta del Sol with cardboard signs announcing that he had initiated a hunger strike against austerity, government corruption, and public apathy, fear and resignation. He decided he would be on strike until the government resigned. He was soon joined by another young man, Alex, who does not come from a university back ground, but who had participated in the 15-M precursor group Juventud Sin Futuro although for work reasons had not actively participated in the movement. 

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He did not know Jorge, but was inspired by his gesture and after careful thought, decided to join him in the Puerta del Sol. Jorge and Alex serve as a focal point within a central plaza that witnesses multiple protests, sometimes four or five different ones in a single day. During the day (they go away to sleep at night) people of all kinds walk up to them, offering them water, supplies, support and telling them their own stories about the effects of the crisis (sometimes in tears), what they think of the government or what should happen in Spain. Protest marchers, such as the protesters for the Recovery of Historical Memory, who march in the plaza every Thursday evening,  will ask them to say a few words in support of their protest. Supporters ask passers by to sign a petition of support and explain the reasons for the protest.

On the 17th of October, after Jorge had been on hunger strike for six days, they spoke with me about what led them to such a dramatic form of protest. Jorge says that he hopes to raise consciousness and encourage people to leave behind the path of resignation and take up the path of rebellion. He hopes to act as a social detonator that will unite people and inspire them to demand justice from the government “who has so shamelessly broken all of its electoral promises, who has received public money illegally (dinero negro) and who are more of a mafia than a government.” He feels that while there are many people resisting in different struggles around Spain such as in the many “colour tides” (white for health, green for education, etc.) “perhaps what seems to be missing is the consciousness of the collective struggle and to understand that we need to struggle together for the common good (a por todos). In the end strength comes from the union between people.”  Alex agrees with Jorge that while the 15-M has had many strengths, the impositions of ideological differences has tended to make people focus more on what divides them than on what unites them. For Alex, the focus on reclaiming the Second Republic and waving flags has dissuaded people from joining the movement despite sharing any of its issues and concerns. “I just think that those are secondary things because I think that today most citizens don’t care about what kind of flag you wave, they care about their salary, the education of their children, the quality of their healthcare and that’s more important than the flags or the ideologies.”  Alex, like Jorge sees their role as acting as a sort of social glue that can serve to untie disparate elements of society “that have separated again after 15 M and we want to raise issues that glue us together again, the issues that connect all of us… He might have an ideology that’s closer to 15 M and I might be somewhat less close to 15 M but we both have issues that we share such as not having a job and not having a dignified future ahead of us.”

After Jorge set up “camp” in the Puerta del Sol to initiate his hunger strike, young people in plazas around Spain have followed his lead. They too feel that drastic times of “austerity” call for drastic forms of protest. (I put camp in quotation marks because the government has now made camping in public spaces illegal, hoping in this way to dissuade the occupation of plazas.)

The Popular Party has been embroiled in a high profile scandal involving slush fund payouts going back years. Despite legal proceedings implicating much of the party leadership, it has no intention of resigning office or calling for new elections.

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