Anyone who’s spent much time in Madrid knows that the Spanish have made the public protest into an art form. There is typically at least one demonstration a week and it isn’t uncommon to find road detours as you approach the center of town. Today on my walk back from French class I came upon a protest of the largest trade union in Spain. The CCOO is a conglomeration of several other unions and represents, among others, teachers, miners, pensioners, and health workers. So perhaps it’s normal that they have a lot to protest about. I say that because I have seen three of their demonstrations in the past month - two on Gran Via (the sight of todays) and one in Sol. The disruptive-ness of the manifestation depends on the government’s involvement. There are two kinds of protests in Spain – government-sanctioned ones and not. All three of the CCOO protests I’ve seen were of the former kind. You’d think that would have made them less intrusive, less problematic. Not true.
Perhaps erring on the side of caution, today’s protest was a clear example of them exaggerating the hazard. The police – both local and national – closed two of the largest, most-trafficked roads, Gran Via and Alcala, for about one mile from Plaza de Espana to Puerta de Alcala. As I climbed Gran Via I wondered what was going on. There were ambulances at the ready and dozens of police officers on the streets. It even crossed my mind that there had been some kind of car bomb or real security threat. Not so. It was merely a protest. When I finally reached the scene of the “action” I was surprised to find a mere 100 or so people with banners and whistles. They were surrounded on all sides by national police officers but no one, not the “protestors” nor the police, was overly concerned with the demonstration. People stood around chatting as if they were in a bar having a caña, and had it not been for the banners I would have thought they were a tour group.
Including the officers required to redirect the traffic, the ratio of police to protestors was at least 1:1 or better. Were that many police really necessary? Did they have to close the roads for a mile? Once I reached the point where the roads were open again I realized the true extent of the traffic jam. Cars were backed up for nearly another mile. I’m not against the public protests and I’m not against the police involvement in them but isn’t there a better way to do them? Close the roads for two miles if you are going to have a thousand protests, but for a hundred? The same goes for the protesting group – if you’re going to the trouble of organizing a protest, at least show up – physically and mentally.