Inside Madrid’s Illegal Okupas

The community of Moratalaz transformed a branch of Bankia, responsible for the eviction of thousands of Spaniards and a 23 Billion Euro bailout, into a political center. Now, with an eviction notice from the police, the people of La Bankarrota are taking to the streets to protest, despite new “gag laws” banning demonstrations without permission from the government.

Arriving in Spain, the tension between corrupt power structures and the push for an alternative system was immediately obvious. Early on, I remember seeing anarchy symbols spray-painted on Bank windows and I became curious how people were actually addressing this. I actually ran across my first okupa on accident. I was interviewing Vikbass, a Drum n Bass producer, on the underground rave scene in Madrid. He said he sometimes spun at an abandoned school and offered to show me the space. I met the people who lived there and they told me there was a whole movement around taking abandoned spaces and turning them into housing as a reaction to the high cost of rent and youth unemployment.

I explored many okupas. Some were people’s home, others were political, art, or social centers, but the goal was the same: to create a totally free, alternative space without racism, specism, sexism, or classism.

A friend I met at La Quimera, a political okupa, sent me a flyer for a protest being held in Moratalaz against the police eviction of their neighborhood’s okupa, which used to be a branch of the very bank that had stolen so many Spaniards money and homes in faulty loans. Unfortunately, due to undercover cops posing as journalists to record the inside of okupas and subsequently make arrests, these activists were wary of cameras. After speaking to them about my involvement in Occupy Oakland they granted me access.

The protest was stranger than we could have hoped for. The old men of the community who came out to show their support were eager to talk to us about Spain’s economic woes and political corruption. One of them even grabbed the boom mic from us to sing a shockingly graffic song about revolution. The police were not quite as open to being filmed. In fact they told us that due to the new laws that the Spanish call “Ley Mordaza” (Gag Laws) filming them was actually illegal. Which made for a great shot.

I believe that creating media on a small, intimate scale from within a movement can have huge impact. Many times coverage from large media companies is slanted. I hope this documentary inspires dialogue about protecting these spaces. La Bankarrota is more than a political center; it is a space for everyone in the community to come together. We’re sorely missing the preservation of community in this rat race of individual profit, fueled by fear that we will not have enough.

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