In a country disgusted by endless corruption scandals and whose citizens are being progressively dispossessed of social rights and basic services by neoliberal austerity measures that failed in Latin America during the 1980s and 1990s and proved to boost inequality, it is hardly surprising that the verb robar–to steal, to rob–has been mobilized by citizens when taking to the streets to protest what David Harvey calls accumulation by dispossession.
To mention just a few examples of many many more, in the at least 17 demonstrations that took place in 2011, including 15M, robar was made visible on the streets throughout the Spanish state on signs that ranged from the moral imperative of “No robarás” (“Thou Shall Not Steal”) to the colloquial “No hay pan para tanto chorizo”– literally, “there isn’t enough bread for so many chorizos,” chorizo being a Spanish sausage sliced for sandwiches and also slang for swindler:
“No robarás.” Demostration against the Euro Pact and cuts in social services. Madrid, 19 June 2011.
“No hay pan para tanto chorizo.” Photo: Madrilonia CC BY-NC-SA. May 2011.
Photo: Marta Ferrás Drago. CC BY-NC-SA. Barcelona, 21 May 2011.
The following year, “No hay pan para tanto chorizo” was also present in the large mural “Las calles siguen siendo nuestras” (“The streets still belong to us”) (14m x 4m) by street artist Astro Naut in the outskirts of Madrid:
Photo: Astro Naut CC BY-NC-ND. May 2012. Slogan on far left side.
A year later, the slogan even made it to The Economist on February 9th, 2013, to explain to its readers the Bárcenas corruption scandal.
Robar also occupied a prominent place in the Manifesto of the Marches of Dignity 22M in March of 2014 against unemployment, precariousness, budget cuts, and repression: the collective voice declared that while there are more than 6 million people unemployed and without paid work and more than a million people living below the poverty line, the government “continues with its cuts, destroying and robbing the health system, education, culture, pensions […] privatizing anything that’s profitable” (Manifesto.)
Robar is also present in this fading writing on a wall I came across on May 31st, 2014, on Calle Pizarro in Madrid:
The “COPIAR NO ROBAR” (loosely, “COPY/WRITE DOWN DO NOT STEAL”) line in block letters brings to mind the infamous “write it 100 times or more” punishment in Victorian schools where kids were ordered to write out the same line over and over on paper, supposedly so that the line would stick. The line on the wall may be read as an ironic admonition from citizens to the institutions and individuals involved in ongoing fraud schemes given that, as the Manifesto of the Marches of Dignity states, those who govern “turn a blind eye to massive fraud, corruption and capital flight.”
The “COPIAR NO ROBAR” writing on the wall seems to have been intervened by someone who wrote an “es” (“is”) in cursive letters on the right hand corner of the third line, discreetly altering the sentence to read “COPIAR NO es ROBAR” (“COPYING is NOT THEFT/STEALING”), which echoes the “Copying Is Not Theft” minute meme by Nina Paley and QuestionCopyright.org. As you may remember, the viral meme seeks to reframe the way people think about copyright and educate the general public “about the benefits of copying throughout history.” The meme goes: “stealing a thing leaves one less left, copying it makes one thing more.”
“Copiar no es robar” has also been mobilized by net activists, professionals, and users in Spain in their long and fierce opposition to Ley Sinde (Sinde Law, Spain’s Intellectual Property Law, enacted in December 2011) which aims to combat piracy in the internet but which, according to lawyers and net activists, threatens freedom of expression and users’ privacy rights. One of the ideas informing the anti-Sinde campaign lauched by FACUA-Consumers in Action in July of 2011 was that the “Non-profit exchange of cultural works has always been a socially and morally accepted practice“.
Image: damoslacara.net CC BY-SA
The meanings of “COPIAR NO es ROBAR” on Calle Pizarro resonate with those of “COPIAR NO ROBAR” as passers-by are left to consider that the enclosure, appropriation, and commodification of public resources by neoliberal accumulation by dispossession are not limited to “material” resources but extend to the commodification of ideas and knowledge. The scope of that appropriation is what is at stake in the proposed amendment to the Sinde Law brought before Congress on February 14th and expected to be passed this month. Given this context, citizens’ mobilization of the verb robar on the streets of the Spanish state raise questions about the kind of society we want to build and live in, and how to organize to make it happen.