Ten years ago today, on Thursday March 11th 2004, a series of bombs ripped through the Atocha train station in Madrid. The attack on 11-M, as it’s known in Spain, killed 191 and wounded 1800.
Ten years ago tomorrow, on Friday March 12th 2004, 11 million people from every corner of Spain took to the streets in peaceful, unified demonstration.
Vigo has a population of 300,000 yet 400,000 marched. In Barcelona, at least 500,000. In Madrid, a city of 4 million, over 2.2 million came out. All told a quarter of the entire population of Spain joined the demonstrations. A minute of silence took place at the same time across the country. In Madrid, they stood still for 10 minutes huddled under umbrellas in the cold, drizzly rain.
Months earlier Spain had joined the USA in Iraq, an extremely unpopular decision among the vast majority of Spaniards. In the two days following the attacks there was an attempt by the government to deflect blame away from anything related to the Middle East, suggesting it may have been the usual suspects, the Basque separatists ETA or maybe others. But evidence quickly emerged that those suggestions were not the case. Three days after the attack, on Sunday, national elections took place and the incumbent prime minister, who a week earlier was the clear front runner, got soundly defeated. A few days after that, the new prime minister terminated Spain’s involvement in Iraq.
A staggering whirlwind of events, from start to finish barely a week had elapsed.
I remember following all of this as it happened. I recall being surprised at the comparatively little coverage it received here in the USA, particularly noticeable after Spain announced their immediate withdrawal from Iraq. From then on, there was scant mention.
But I vividly remember seeing the pictures of those 11 million Spaniards. It was overwhelming.
The next year I visited my relatives in Madrid, and they told me how awesome it was to see that ocean of people marching that day, saying “you can’t imagine what it was like.” The largest crowd I’ve ever been in was 700,000 in Brasilia, with a population of 450,000, when Pope John Paul II came to visit. But 2.2 million in Madrid, where I was born, my hometown? That’s over three times as many. They’re right, I can’t even begin to imagine.
I live in the USA, the USA is home, and it’s a great country. But The Spanish Red blood still runs hot through my veins. The thought of those 11 million Spaniards gives me pause to this day.