Rocio pokes her head out of the window, watching the commotion below with interest, as dog-walkers, mothers with strollers, and pensioners carrying shopping bags join the throng.
The scores of people gathering on the sidewalk are no nosey neighbors — indeed, many of them are complete strangers to the family living on the fifth floor — but they are all here to protect Rocio from eviction.
The mother-of-one, with brightly-dyed hair, braces on her teeth, and worry etched on her face, hangs her head as she explains how she got here: The move from Ecuador in 2003, when times were good and jobs plentiful in Spain, the decision to invest in a home for Rocio and her son, now 17 and in high school.
But then the global financial crisis hit, bringing Spain’s economy to its knees; Rocio lost her jobs — in a shop, and as a cleaner — and the mortgage payments spiraled out of reach.
She is an example of the crisis many Spaniards face as the country deals with the highest unemployment since the Civil War in the 1930s, and a recession entering its second year.
For a while, Rocio got by on benefits, but then those stopped too, and now the bailiffs are circling.
“They are about to evict me, and I’m fighting to stay because I don’t have anywhere else to go,” she says. “I haven’t paid my mortgage because I can’t — I don’t have any work.”
Inside the cosy two-bedroom apartment, there’s little sign that the family may be turned out onto the street at any moment: The TV is on in the lounge, shelves and closets are full, and a piece of meat sits on the kitchen counter top, defrosting in time for tonight’s dinner.
In the main bedroom, there’s just one concession to the very real threat that Rocio might be about to lose her home: a large black suitcase sits, empty, atop a bedspread dotted with pink roses.
“I can’t stand the thought of living on the streets with my son, but I have no idea where else to go,” she says. “Just thinking about it makes me very sad.”
Rocio’s story is echoed by others all over Spain: the global financial crisis knocked the bottom out of the country’s housing market and sparked a major recession that left thousands jobless.
The country’s unemployment rate stands at 26% — its highest level ever — and the situation is even worse for young people, with more than 55% of 16 to 24-year-olds out of work.
With no income, many are finding themselves unable to afford the mortgage payments on homes that are no longer worth the prices paid for them.
People are losing their jobs… they can’t pay their mortgages, they struggle. Even people with degrees are living on the street. Nobody is safe
“People have an image of the homeless that is not real — they see somebody with a box of wine and they think we’re all like that, [but] that’s not the case… Even people with degrees are living on the street. Nobody is safe.”
“For every eviction, an occupation!” they shout, accusing the banks and authorities of “real estate terrorism.”
“The next eviction should be at the Palace of Moncloa! [the Spanish prime minister’s official residence]” runs another chant; a few short years ago, most Spaniards would have shied away from such overtly political protests.
In 2011, thousands of Spaniards took to the country’s streets, inspiring the global “Occupy” movement with their protest camp in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol.
Their subjects are anything and everything — from education reform to job losses, government cuts to corruption — but all reflecting a widespread dissatisfaction with politicians and their handling of the country’s economic crisis.
Each protest is color-coded: White for healthcare workers, green for the education sector, orange for social services, red for general trade union members, and black for public service workers.
If memory serves, the Spaniards elected a socialist government in the mid 2000’s. The reporter doesn’t go into the background at all, and my memory certainly isn’t perfect, but I’m pretty sure that’s what’s happening here. We will be there someday too, because as we alienate business men and women, and discourage investment, we weaken the multiple economic structures that keep an economy strong. You might think of it as a Diversity of Economic Activity™, Leftists, if that makes it more palatable for you.