Fed up with conservative economics and fueled by Syriza’s recent victory in Greece, tens of thousands of Spaniards flooded the streets of Madrid on Saturday to say: “No to Austerity and Yes to Change!”
The march, dubbed the “March for Change,” is the first mass demonstration in support of the country’s new leftist party, Podemos, which is Spanish for “We Can.”
According to reports, demonstrators chanted “yes we can” and “tic tac tic tac” suggesting the clock was ticking for the country’s two main political parties. Many waved Greek and republican flags and banners reading “The change is now.”
“This is not about asking for anything from the government or protesting. It’s to say that in 2015 there will be a government of the people,” said party leader Pablo Iglesias when the march was first announced.
“We want a historic mobilization. We want people to be able to tell their children and grandchildren: ‘I was at the march on January 31 that launched a new era of political change in Spain,'” Iglesias said.
“People are fed up with the political class,” Antonia Fernandez, a 69-year-old pensioner from Madrid, told reporters at the demonstration. Fernandez explained that she previously supported the country’s socialist party but reportedly lost faith in it because of its handling of the economic crisis and its austerity policies.
“If we want to have a future, we need jobs,” she added.
Since its inception last year, Podemos’s popularity has surged. Caputuring the momentum of the populist wave currently sweeping Europe, the party surprised many when it won five seats in the European Parliament in the May 2014 elections and a poll published earlier this month found that nearly half of Spain’s population would support Iglesias if he ran for Prime Minister.
Iglesias, a 36-year-old political science academic, is frequently compared to Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras. Like Syriza in Greece, Podemos has captured the country’s attention by running on a slogan that politicians should “serve the people, not private interests,” and promising to write off a portion of Spain’s debt, which has caused soaring unemployment.
The party has struck a chord with Spaniards enraged by a string of corruption scandals, as well as public spending cuts imposed by the conservative ruling party and previously by the Socialists after the economic crisis erupted in 2008.
Born out of the “Indignant” protest movement that occupied squares across Spain at the height of the economic crisis, Podemos has overtaken the mainstream opposition Socialist Party in several opinion polls, and in some has topped the list ahead of the conservative ruling People’s Party (PP).