Spain’s Creative Protests: Flamenco Flash Mobs and Supermarket Robin Hoods

Angry demonstrations are one thing, but the irate in Spain are stomping their flamenco heels at banks and robbing supermarkets to give to the poor

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Jon Nazca / Reuters

Marinaleda's mayor and Izquierda Unida Parliamentarian Juan Manuel Sanchez Gordillo, center, walks next to protesters in Osuna, Spain, Aug. 9, 2012.

On a sweltering Saturday evening, a small crowd gathered in Madrid’s La Latina neighborhood to kick off a festival dedicated to one of the city’s patrons, the Virgin of the Paloma. In the nights to come, there would be paso doble contests, heaps of fried sheep intestine to consume at outdoor stalls and plenty of drunken dancing to Shakira at 2 a.m. But now, at this more politically inspired celebration, the biggest attraction was a carnival booth, called the Pim Pam Pum Indignado, where people paid 50 cents for the chance to throw a ball at a target adorned with the cartoon faces of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Rodrigo Rato (the recently resigned head of Bankia, which had to be nationalized earlier this year to the tune of 21 billion euros) and other protagonists of Spain’s economic crisis. As one bearded young man aimed carefully and toppled Angela Merkel with missile-like accuracy, the crowd erupted in a gleeful “Olé!”

Protests are everywhere and in almost every form these days in Spain. Ever since the Spanish government requested a bailout from the E.U. for its troubled banks in June, the growing list of austerity measures (a 7% reduction in civil servants’ pay; an increase in the value-added tax on goods and services; the abolition of subsidies for most medicines; rising power rates) has pushed a steady tide of demonstrators into the streets. Most of these protests are of the chanting and placard-waving variety; hardly a day goes by in Madrid without some kind of angry march in front of a government building or down a central artery. But as the crisis wears on and Spain appears to approach a second bailout — this one of its rapidly growing sovereign debt — new varieties of protest are emerging. Like the Pim Pam Pum Indignado, the criticism and outrage are becoming downright creative.

(MORE: Europe’s Good News: Economic Decline Is Bad, but Could be Worse)

No one knows the value of a little dramatic action better than Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo. A member of Andalucia’s regional parliament and mayor of Marinaleda, 115 km outside Seville, he is also one of the leaders of the Andalucian Workers’ Syndicate (SAT), a union composed primarily of agricultural day laborers. Reviving a tradition that dates to the 19th century, about 1,000 SAT members occupied an estate owned by the Spanish military on July 24 and demanded that the land be redistributed to the area’s workers. When that action failed to garner much attention, the SAT resorted to another tactic: members entered two supermarkets, loaded carts with staples like milk, pasta and olive oil, and walked out without paying (though with a bit of scuffling from management). They later turned over the stolen goods to charity.

“We robbed to give to the poor because the rich are already robbing,” says Sánchez Gordillo. “This crisis is a great robbery.”

Sánchez Gordillo has been a political activist for decades. After years of sit-ins and other actions, in 1991, he and his organization convinced the regional government of Andalucia to expropriate nearly half of an aristocratic estate in Marinaleda and transfer it to the town, whose 2,700 residents now farm it collectively. But the situation now is worse, he says, than at any time since the death of Francisco Franco, which is why more dramatic measures are warranted. “People are losing everything,” he says. “We wanted the authorities to really pay attention to what is happening.”

(PHOTOS: Spanish Miners Protest Spending Cuts)

They certainly did. Police arrested several participants in the thefts and, on Aug. 10, dislodged the SAT from the estate it had been occupying. But Sánchez Gordillo, who says the accompanying media attention has helped publicize the plight of average families in southern Spain, says his union will continue its unorthodox protests. “We’re planning more supermarket actions,” he says. “And we may occupy some banks.”

For one effective way of doing that, he might look to Flo6x8. A group of Seville-based flamenco performers (the name comes from a standard flamenco rhythm), it has been staging flash mobs with a decidedly critical edge. At a Bankia branch office not long ago, a portly man in sunglasses suddenly burst out with the characteristic wail of a bulería — a traditional flamenco song. As dancers stomped their heels on the bank floor, the singer declared, “You’ve lowered my salary and raised everything else.” By the time he got to the song’s closing lines (“Even if you lowered my interest rate, Bankia, I wouldn’t love you anymore”) the bank’s customers — and even a clerk or two — were clapping along in earnest.

“It’s a form of civil disobedience,” says member La Paca Monea (Flo6x8’s performers use pseudonyms). “We go into a place where the powerful are and invert the order of things. We demand attention and say, ‘Here we are, using our bodies to fight the financial system.'” After a performance, Flo6x8, which hopes to mount a continental tour of European banks, posts videos on YouTube and its own website. “After the Bankia flash mob, we got 600,000 visitors to our site,” says La Paca Monea. “People really responded to it.”

Which is the same thing that humorist Fito Vasquez discovered with his Pim Pam Pum Indignado carnival game. When he drew the cartoon faces that would serve as targets, he chose, he says, “the people that would be the most hated because of their involvement with the crisis.” But the level of intensity that people brought to the game surprised even him. “People were throwing those balls with real ire,” he says. “Some of them didn’t even want the beer you won if you hit three targets. They just wanted a chance to knock out Merkel.”

MORE: The Big New Idea for Saving the Euro

18 comments
Jordi Trenzano Vilar
Jordi Trenzano Vilar

Collider makes an excellent point, Spain's economy needs to be headed towards new directions. Tourism is keeping us alive after the housing market crumbled. For many years the cost of buying a flat was growing 10-15% every year: A bubble that burst and created a snow-ball effect that hasn't stopped yet.

The spanish left blames the banks, the bail outs and the evil Germany for the recession. And, to a limited extent ,it might be true. The right and foreign observers (I live in the US) blame it on the huge amount of public workers, the costs of universal health care and redistribution. And they might be right regarding public workers.  But Spain's reality is really complex. And complex economic realities need realistic sollutions, which is not what Sánchez Gordillo is doing. The article doesn't mention that the NGOs where the stolen food was supposed to be going rejected it because they don't agree with Gordillo's methods. Also, his "communist utopia" is based on the fact that almost 80% of the town's budget is based on subsidies that come from the regional andalusian government, the central spanish government or the European Union. In an average spanish town, that percentage doesn't reach 50%. 

FranciscoGarcía GómezdeMercado
FranciscoGarcía GómezdeMercado

Misleading news since it relates to a very exceptional behaviour. Unfortunately, international press (including TIME) is full of clichés about the "pain in Spain".

Collider
Collider

Spain should of put more money into Ramp;D, to diversify the wok force, create employment opportunities in new markets.. The country depended to much on home construction business, to many jobs were allocated there, when the housing market collapsed it left a large chunk of the Spanish population unemployed.. (Don't put all of your eggs in one basket) Spain, Italy, Greece, also rely too much on tourism -too many jobs are allocated there. Spain, Italy, Greece, need Ramp;D to develop new products, services, -to diversify the wok force more. They should also seriously cut welfare, it would force people to look for work, come up with ideas for new businesses, self-sufficiency.

Recently I read that Spain was looking to bring 50,000 workers from Eastern European countries, because supposedly fruit picking is taboo for spaniards, even when 24% of the country is unemployed.

jconceicao
jconceicao

Here's a page from Obama's memoirs of his days as a community organizer. 

Harte Robba
Harte Robba

socialism at work. Not very successful is it Spain.

Pluscachange
Pluscachange

 What a profound analysis! What a refreshing, new, and well-thought-out point of view you have to offer us for our edification!

Actually, anybody who knows anything about the Spanish crisis knows that it has its origin in capitalism -- real estate speculation and the banks. Now the bill has come due and social welfare programs will be cut to pay for Bankia malfeasance. 

So, you're right -- it IS socialism at work. Socialized losses, paid for by the poor and working class, to shore up a form of capitalism that doesn't work on its own.

AdrianarmtRoben
AdrianarmtRoben

Carolyn implied I didnt know that a stay at home mom can profit $9447 in 4 weeks on the network. did you see this(Click on menu Home)

Its_Not_A_Tax_LOL
Its_Not_A_Tax_LOL

Sounds like OWS, the ends justify the means, steal whatever you want, trash whatever you want.  Such exemplary people, ha.

Alejandro
Alejandro

As a spanish citizen, i agree with the solution you propose. Dropping the Euro and going back to the peseta is actually the only way to end with this joke. You know something is wrong when cutting 60.000 milion euros buys you only one week of time until the markets start to attack again. We dont want the "bailout" money from frau Merkel. That money means 3 lost generations at the very least. Regarding fiesta-siesta, the stereotype is nice, but we work as much as the germans. The problem is the political corruption. Corruption. Thats what separates the first world of the rest.

Pedro Hernandez
Pedro Hernandez

 Are you serious? Compare this crisis with the one in 1991 - 1995... 16% interest rates and 10% inflation... You take your peseta, I keep the euro.

h rutner
h rutner

Flamenco protests ? nothing but anarchy celebrating laziness as a virtue while hating hard working folk like the Germans. Best fix for Spain and other siesta/ fiesta folk: get out of EU, print domestic money in trillions like the US Fed, get 100% employment producing everything needed including food and basics for domestic consumption and exports for real money since imports would be impossible with Spanish play money. Meaning, regress 500 years in lifestyle without modern amenities to become a self sufficient economy isolated from and not depending on other nations. And institute a policy of no work, no eat and no welfare for able bodied folk. Crazy? No, that's how most villagers in South America and poorer countries live and have survived for centuries. Any better ideas?

Gentevista
Gentevista

You have no idea what is Spain. Only using clichés and stereotypes baseless. In Spain, the annual day of work is higher than in Germany and the holidays also mean. German banks who lent money cheerfully Spanish banks before the housing boom, are as guilty as the Spanish banks in the current crisis. A speculative crisis, a crisis where the capitalists still earn million and where the German working class lost wages andpurchasing power and also the British working class. Of course most of the Spanish workers earn much less than ten years ago. Our living conditions worse, day by day, butby speculators will better. We need to put the economy at the service of the people andnot to serve the financial speculators. I'm Spanish and work as much as a German worker, with a noticeable difference, surely earn half of what a worker earns my specialty. Do not be too rude to Spanish workers and traveling a little more, that readingand travel opens the mind. Happy siesta today. RegardsSpanish poor worker

Pluscachange
Pluscachange

 Well said, Gentevista.

The same press that insisted that Iraq had WMD is now insisting that the Spanish (and Greeks, and Italians) are lazy PIIGS. 

I'm always suspicious when the press invites us to panic over something, whether it's military or financial. It would be a good idea to look at what interests might be behind press hysteria over the Eurozone crisis.

Julio César Pintos Cubo
Julio César Pintos Cubo

You think in a stereotyped way, full of racist statements. I like positive and resolute people beyond frontiers, citizens of the world. If this crisis was a Spanish siesta problem, wouldn't have affected Irish and Icelandic people. I like greek and portuguese people and flamenco isn't involved. Do you remenber thar German people don't pay the Second World War Doubt to Greece. Encanta lamer el culo a los poderosos.

¿Saben ustedes cuál es el país europeo que más rotundamente y con más éxito se ha negado de forma reiterada al pago de sus deudas? No es otro que Alemania. Y no se trata de deudas derivadas de la mera especulación financiera, sino de deudas derivadas de indemnizaciones de guerra: es decir, de deudas contraídas por haber invadido, destruido, saqueado y matado.

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elfonta
elfonta

From Spain: Go to Shit!