“You have taken everything from me,” said Inocencia Lucha, a 47-year-old Spanish woman who recently walked into her bank in Almassora, Valencia, poured gasoline over her body and set herself on fire.
She was indebted to the bank, living on 360 euros (US$470) a month, and had just received an eviction notice. Behind Spain’s new unemployment figures, with 27 percent of the population now out of work, lie many such stories of desperation: in the last three months there have been 14 suicides where economic hardship was a factor reported in the media.
It is nearly two years since the indignados (“the outraged”) took over public squares around the country to protest against the economy being run for the benefits of the banks and not the people.
Now, from the Mortgage Victims’ Platform to the Citizens’ Tide — a coalition of 350 organizations, from health workers to trade unions and youth groups, that have mobilized hundreds of thousands against privatization and austerity — more people are making the journey from private sadness to public indignation.
There is a dawning realization that recovery is not, as the politicians promised, just around the corner. All signs point to a “lost decade.”
Figures published last week show a large increase in the number of those out of work for more than two years, indicating a newly growing underclass. The unemployment rate is a staggering 40 percent for some regions in Andalucia and 57 percent for young people; one in five people live below the poverty line.
The Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza said that sadness arises from a disconnection from our potencia — our power to act.
It is no coincidence, then, that the powerful use the language of shame to keep us impotent: unemployment and debt are the fault of the individual alone, they say, and social sadness a private affair.
This is no doubt why Maria Dolores de Cospedal, general secretary of the ruling Partido Popular, recently boasted that its supporters “would go hungry” rather than fail to pay their mortgage. (This, it must be pointed out, is one way to weaken your voter base.)
Cospedal was targeting the Mortgage Victims’ Platform, which is transforming the isolating stigma of eviction into a groundswell of popular outrage that is fueling practical action. Widespread mis-selling of mortgages contributed to the huge foreclosure crisis — running at 500 eviction orders a day — that is leaving families destitute and homeless.
In just a few years the Mortgage Victims’ Platform has defended hundreds of homes from eviction and forced banks to renegotiate. Ada Colau, its spokesperson, is now a household name after calling the representative of the Spanish Banking Association “a criminal” during a hearing in Spain’s congress.
“He is not an expert,” she said. “The representatives of the banks are the cause of the problem.”
The Mortgage Victims’ Platform trudged pavements for more than a year to gather 1.4 million signatures, forcing the government to debate its proposal to change the draconian mortgage law where you can lose your house and still carry mortgage debt with you for life. Its other demands include a halt to evictions and social rent. This week the Partido Popular gutted the legislative proposal, despite a recent ruling by the European Court of Justice that found Spanish mortgage laws contravened EU directives. Huge popular support for the Mortgage Victims’ Platform demands have put Partido Popular politicians on the offensive: Politicians have described the group as “Nazis” and “terrorist sympathizers” because activists were doorstepping them in their homes to pressure them to pass the new law.