On my walk to Spanish class today, a mass of people came running from around the corner, carrying picket signs and covering their faces with scarves. The leader noticed an open restaurant and dashed towards it. The mob followed, storming the entrance, yelling and banging fists on the glass windows.
Across the street, I saw two girls launch empty glass bottles over the crowd, into the helmets of policemen who did not retaliate. Suddenly the protesters all began running towards Universitat Metro, the location of my school. So I also ran, as not to be trampled. Near the Metro, everyone was cheering, cameramen were scrambling to get photos and I had to stand on top of a bench to see the police car go up in flames.
Later, while observing protesters strategically arrange garbage bags and dumpsters to block the streets, I heard a man explain the situation to some French girls standing nearby.
"Today," he said, "is the real Spanish fiesta. Last weekend, all the fireworks, that was for the tourists. This is how the Spanish really party."
Today was the Huelga General, the General Strike, across Spain. Responding to the 20% unemployment rate and massive deficit, the Spanish government recently made severe cutbacks including a 5% wage decrease for civil servants, a freeze on retirement pensions and a limit on compensation for fired employees, thus making it easier for big companies to lay off workers.
Even though 10 million people (70% of the workforce) participated in the strike, it doesn't look like anything will change. For the day at least, the nation was paralyzed and we experienced our first real Spanish party.