The collective rage of the Spanish populace against a banking system blamed for bringing the country to the brink has collided head-on with a public sector strike in that protest-weary country. What resulted was one of the most creative -- some may say trashiest -- protest actions so far.
After a call by various protest groups in Madrid, where hundreds of garbage collectors were on strike this week, citizens across the municipality turned their uncollected bags of refuse into symbols, dragging them out into the street and leaving them to block the doors of local bank branches Monday night.
The protest went viral on Twitter, where netizens used #TuBasuraAlBanco (which roughly translates to “Your trash, off to the bank.”) to organize and document their actions.
Hundreds posted grainy pictures of trash bags blocking the entrances to ATM kiosks, propped against glass-and-steel security doors and fouling the marbled steps of some institutions. Democracia Real Ya Madrid, an offshoot of a national activist organization, was specially instrumental in riling up the Web protest into a real-life demo, with messages reassuring Spaniards that “if it smells bad, bankers are probably all right with it.”
Various Twitter users reposted what appeared to be the unofficial motto of the action, urging others to put “your trash in the bank, and your bank in the trash.” Others played off variations on the idea that the banks were getting back what they had given the people or used a pun to note the “cajas” (savings and loans institutions known colloquially as “boxes”) were finally useful for something.
But even Twitter betrayed the deep social rifts behind the somewhat lighthearted protests. Monday night, the top trending hashtag in Spain, where insulting royalty is a crime punishable by prison time, was one that wished for the imminent demise of the king. Thousands posted messages with the phrase #DEPMajestad (Spanish for #RIPYourMajesty) after the crown confirmed King Juan Carlos would be undergoing hip surgery on Wednesday.
And the trashy protest on the banks itself wasn’t immune from sobering reminders of how desperate the situation in the country has become.
“Make sure you check that it’s not where someone sleeps,” Anita Botwin, a notable protest organizer in Madrid messaged her nearly 7,000 followers, reminding her fellow activists of the sad fact that many homeless in the city use ATM kiosks to keep themselves warm at night.