Hopes run high for left gains in Spanish polls

Article @ Morning Star, published 21 December 2015

A community-led playground might sound like the cliche setting for interviewing an anti-capitalist activist, but that’s exactly where I found myself on Friday afternoon chatting to Gonzalo Garate Prieto as he minds his toddler daughter Amaia.


He’s reserved when he speaks of the situation the Spanish left finds itself in, not so much because he is speaking to the press but rather because, after 15 years in the movement, he has learnt the hard way what overenthusiasm can do to good activists.


He’s been a housing activist and a squatter, a social centre organiser, a student protester and a child of the anti-globalisation movement.


Later he got involved with the anti-austerity Indignados protests, which rocked the Spanish Establishment to its core.


“The main thing here is that somehow, since the 15M movement broke out, somehow civil society has gone ahead of the political parties,” says Gonzalo between stopping Amaia from eating a crayon and giving her a new communal toy to play with.


He lists the main issues in Spain — the economic crisis, the crisis in the political system and the widespread corruption that brings la casta (the Establishment) together.


“[The] interesting point here is that some people, the people who started Podemos, did read the situation really well.


“At the same time, we have to say the soil was fertile, not only because of the crisis and of the 15M movement but also because of all the social movements that were at work the years before.”


In May, Gonzalo was part of a list of 49 Ahora Madrid candidates for the Spanish capital’s municipal council.


With him under the Ahora Madrid umbrella stood members of collectives, Spanish communists, environmentalists, neighbourhood association organisers and members of Podemos.


The campaign was a success and Madrid elected Manuela Carmena, the head of Ahora Madrid, as the city’s mayor.


Twenty other members of the party became city councillors.


Gonzalo recalls the door-to-door period of the campaign as “amazing” and tells me how, as he fly-posted a bus stop, a city cleaner came up to him, not to berate but to ask for some extra posters to put up in the workplace.


The fertile soil he speaks of is visible now too, as Spain goes to the ballot box and Podemos supporters hope for a second place and the end to the Conservative People Party’s (PP) majority.


At a Madrid rally ahead of Sunday’s elections, the ages ranged from babies in buggies to dancing older people in purple T-shirts with the Podemos logo sprawled across their chests.


So what would be the best result coming out of the elections, I ask Gonzalo.


“A kind of draw between these four parties [PP, social democrats PSOE, liberal-right populists Ciudadanos and Podemos] — that would make for an interesting situation,” he says feeding little Amaia some banana.


To longstanding activists like Gonzalo, even perhaps to residents of cities across Spain, the important part is not so much which party wins the elections but rather a change in a rotten system.


Taking the PP’s majority, ending an era of “bi-partidism” — as Gonzalo calls it — is already a victory in itself.