Madrid: Welcome to the Hotel Ocupa

Back in Madrid after a month in the USA, I find the indignados of the 15M movement have just taken a building nearby. The Hotel Madrid, at 10 calle Carretas is a long-abandoned former Best Western hotel. Now it is swarming with folks coming around to see what is up. The hotel is steps away from the Puerta del Sol, the center of Madrid and site of the original encampment of May 15th, 2011 that launched the Spanish movement which is the big sister of Occupy Wall Street.

I inquired of course of the man at the lobby desk: “What’s going on?”, and presented my hand-carried copy of the “Occupied Wall Street Journal.” He threw it on the rack with the others! The hotel he told me, might serve the many evicted former homeowners who could not maintain their mortgages and found themselves suddenly on the street. (That’s been a key issue of the neighborhood assembly of Lavapiés, the district that hosts the immense Tabacalera CSA. That body has conducted a number of eviction defenses.) But that wasn’t certain yet. He directed me around the corner, to the assembly in Plaza Jacinto Benavente, which was even then discussing plans for the hotel occupation.

I wandered through the teeming halls. Most already had signs indicating their functions. A small boy with dirty blonde hair controlled the heavy glass door of one large empty room. “This is a studio!” he told me. I just want to look outside, kid – a broad open window overlooking the busy street below. I mean really busy, busy in a way that artists and activists haven’t had access to. The hotel gang had already set up an info table on the street to collect signatures on a petition of support.

Back in the lobby I met AJ (Adrian), a sculptor who’d spent years working in the states, at a studio near D.C. He complained about an article in the “Occupied WSJ” that implied that the 15M movement had rioted. “We never did that!” he insisted. It was always the police who attacked.
AJ said when they took the hotel last week the owner sent around some thugs to get them out. But a few heavies were not enough to do that job, and now the case is before a judge. The owner is bankrupt, however, and AJ says the place was a mess they had to work hard to clean up. Big holes in the ceilings upstairs mark where thieves stripped out copper from plumbing and electrical systems. I asked why no graffiti? There was some from before, but the occupiers repainted the walls. There is a theater downstairs, AJ said, a historic site which should be used, “open for the people, even if it doesn’t make money.”

I went to the communications office to check out AJ’s story. A couple guys sitting around dozing, like some old time copy room in “The Front Page.” One young man with long blonde hair strode by, but told me he couldn’t fact check AJ’s story. He’d only arrived a few hours before, and was working on computer security. “That’s my contribution here.” AJ too had plans to move on, to “walk north,” even as cold weather is coming on. He told me he saw the whole thing – the 15M movement, Occupy Wall Street – as the beginning of the real necessary transition. He was hipped on the Venus Project, a “feasible plan of action” for a “peaceful and sustainable global civilization” based on resource economies. (In fact site has a message to OWS.) “I might not live to see it, that kid might not live to see it,” AJ said, as the door-boy ran by, “but that’s what’s gotta happen.”

On my way out, a heavyset man in the concierge’s position nodded to me. Bring on the thugs! While the “desk clerk” seemed unsure of the fate of the Hotel Madrid, a painted sign over the door announces that it is a CSO, an occupied social center. So far it seems to be that, as the indignadoes of 15M show that they are after a lot more than a few changes in the laws.

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Article on Hotel Madrid, with pictures