(I wrote this today for MAPMagazine where I sometimes contribute, and thought I’d share it here)

REDI rally

As the elections here in Spain come creeping up on March 9th (often referred to in the press by the shorthand  “9M”, much like the terrorist attacks are 11M, giving elections an odd catastrophic ring to them) the economy has become a rallying point for the Partido Popular, who, until recently, were not seen as a threat to the governing socialist party. And as is true of the political debate in almost any economic slowdown, someone’s finger inevitably ends up pointed at immigrants- as a drain on welfare, as a downward push on wages, as an easy scapegoat for almost any problem.

So it’s no surprise that the Red Estatal de los Derechos de los Inmigrantes, after a meeting in November which brought together over 120 different immigrants organizations from all over the country, decided to have their first public demonstrations, in Madrid and elsewhere, just 2 weeks before the elections. They’ve got some things to say.

Coincidentally struggling with the very same legalization mess that’s got these activists riled, this journalist felt it was her duty to go and see what kind of a movement this Red is hoping to form. (And all psyched up from an anti-FARC rally organized by Colombians via Facebook, I was in the mood for a good protest.)

The first indication that this perhaps wasn’t going to be a massive outpouring was that on the metro to Plaza Puerta del Sol, where the protest started at 7pm, there were none of the tell tale signs of an approaching political demonstration such as cars full of people with signs and banners, excitedly traveling together to their rallying point. Out in the plaza itself, there was a modest crowd of maybe 300 or so portesters gathered around a speakers’ platform. (Note to REDI organizers – take a page from the Colombians playbook, get a Facebook group)

But once in the crowd the atmosphere was one of energy and solidarity, outrage and motivation. Various groups were visibly present: the fringe political party Partido Humanista (complete with a whimsically idealistic banner calling for La Nación Humana Universal – a universal human nation…awww): Medicos del Mundo was there, as was the Izquierda Unida, and a relatively young group (the group itself is 8 months old and the members present all appeared well under 30) called El Patio de las Maravillas- a collective organization offering legal advice, Spanish classes and general support.

The speakers took turns leading chants, (“native or foreign, we’re all working class!” sorry, it rhymes in Spanish) and reading off the 12 Urgent Measures for the Dignity of Migrant People that were drafted in November. This journalist admits to having felt a flush of solidarity when the number one Urgent Measure happened to be the very bureaucratic process she is currently battling. Yup, I raised my fist a little.

One element of the discourse that stood out is that this movement doesn’t just demand rights as humans, as individuals, but that they are very and increasingly aware of their situation arising from a global economic system, one in which business and capital moves ever more freely and people are ever more restricted. Slogans like “The South, Plundered. The North, Closed Off” reflect the global, economic dimensions of this conflict.

But there are politically oriented complaints as well, one of the most cited being Mariano Rajoy (PP leader)’s recent call for an “Integration Contract” to be signed by immigrants. Widely criticized as being insulting, legally redundant and practically unenforceable, it’s a comment target of anger: people got particularly riled up by the chant insisting that Rajoy sign one himself.

Of course, any good political demonstration has to have a bit of entertainment value and party atmosphere, and though the Brazilian samba musicians were mysteriously prevented from arriving there was a nice moment when a group of African drummers burst in, provocatively sporting white-face while white supporters were in black face, drumming happily to the chant “No soy blanco, no soy blano, somos amigos, somos hermanos, somos humanos.” And looking to the three people to my side: a Moroccan boy of about 6, a Spanish man of around 80, and an exuberant African man in white-face animating everyone with his positivity, for a moment, you had to hope it was true.

(P.S. What am I doing making blog posts at in the morning on a Saturday? Note to self: get a life.)