Following the events of Tunisia, Egypt and other Southern Med States where a popular people’s movement was started over the Facebook and Social networks, a small group of Portuguese youth started up a Facebook page-calling for a million people march on the main street in Lisbon, Avenida da Liberdade, for March 12th 2011, to fill up the entire street. They called themselves the “Geracao A Rasca” or the “Angry Generation”.
Most people thought it was a joke but the emails, Twitters and SMSs went on and on and went around until lots of people began to take it seriously. Political Parties, unions and most of the press ignored it but it just gathered force. Other emails were circulating at the same time about a possible popular demo in Zimbabwe and also in Angola (both quickly repressed), with very little mention in the press.
Portugal is going through an economic crisis like Greece and Ireland and the IMF are at the door, although like what happened in Ireland very recently, the ruling Socialist Party is in denial (In the Nile as us Irish would say). Merkal denies it and says that Germany/France are not forcing Portugal into any agreement but just like in Ireland it is only a question of what percentage the country will have to pay, open markets have now risen to a 7.3% bet on Portugal and the EU can offer 6%, the same figure as in Ireland –which after the recent elections is now trying to renegotiate this figure. Portugal’s economic madness was not based on the foolhardy bank loans to property builders and speculators like in Ireland but on crazy infrastructural investments like the proposed third bridge across the Lisbon Tagus River, a third unneeded airport for Lisbon and the TVG fast train service linking France and Portugal across Spain. Portugal now has more motorways per population than England and huge vanity construction projects like the ugly Aquarium Project which cost billions near Lisbon and which turned out to be just huge white elephants.
Though Portugal may have changed into ‘a modern consumer society’, people are shit poor, there are huge pockets of poverty hidden behind the glitzy veneer of modern hotels and golf courses, there are no jobs, no cheap labour. Immigration has always, like in Ireland, been a major problem but unlike the Irish they don’t have the skills or the language to go to such places as Australia or Canada. And of course who would want to go to the US anymore, what with their paranoia about terrorism and Mad Hatter Tea Parties, this despite the illusory hopes inspired by Obama.
So in Portugal there is no choice (well, where is there?) The left parties, the Communist Party (PCP) which has had a long struggle against Fascism and has just celebrated its 90th birthday, operate within narrow boundaries. It works through the traditional trade union methods but is always very cautious to not to lose political credibility and so turns to a conservative methodology (although the unions, especially the teachers’s unions have been particularly radical). The far left which have now aligned into a Left Alliance (Bloco do Esquerda, BE) play the parliamentary game while pretending to be revolutionary, but have really nothing to say.
So those young people whose parents were revolutionary in 74-75 during the “Carnation Revolution” have nowhere to turn to. They are a lost generation, the “geracao a rasca” and have no choice but to go out on the streets and shout out loud “Enough is Enough”. So while in Greece there are still political parties/trade unions that can at least call the attention of young people and while Ireland has a language and educational card to play for its migrants, the youth of Portugal have nothing, nothing at all.
This is why some 300,000 according to the police, actually more like half a million people, turned out to a demonstration called on Facebook and which no-one believed would happen. A daughter of a friend called me earlier in the day asking me if I was going, I messaged back to say I was but she said she had no credit on her phone. I did meet up with her and she had a load of Post-Its, those little yellow stickers to hand out to people. Another good friend I met had made up her own little poster saying “Uma Avo a Rasca” (An angry Granny). The demo started on the Avenida at 3 o clock. It started slowly but soon grew huge. Everywhere there were home-produced posters and slogans as well as the slogans which had been suggested on Facebook, Against instability, Music and drums and slowly the whole avenue just filled with half a million people. Pure Magic.
Probably nothing will come of it. Like the huge marches against Blair’s war in Afghanistan. It seems we have to burn down a few buildings before the political class take notice of us. And tomorrow’s news, a Tsunami in Japan or some massacre in Libya or somewhere else (all of which are dreadfully serious) will grab the headlines and make it all seem like nothing. But it wasn’t nothing.
A half a million people marching angrily in a demonstration organised through Facebook is a new phenomenon. The growth of decentralised self-organisation leaves the political parties, the unions and the left with something to think about –their possible eventual obsolescence.