Originally written for YouWeekly
Madrid. Image Credit: Miguel Diaz
I’m walking along the St. Kilda beachfront when I first spot Virginia Sanchez.
She’s an olive-skinned girl with her hair thrown up into a messy ponytail, enjoying the sunshine in front of the water. A copy of Jane Eyre is lying by her side. She looks laid back and intelligent, and I figure it can’t hurt to go over and say hi.
She responds with a big smile and a flowing Mediterranean accent. There’s a warm-hearted, casual vibe about her – I find myself liking her instantly. She’s also very Earth Mother, and it’s perfectly fitting that she’s studying biology.
I’m a little surprised, then, when she tells me she also has a fiery side. In May 2011, in fact, she could be found in the middle of Madrid, screaming her lungs out and demanding social justice.
She wasn’t alone. In fact, she was joined by tens of thousands of similarly dissatisfied citizens, in what the worldwide news media would later refer to as the 15-M movement. In the middle of a collapsing economy, these furious rebels swarmed the streets, to let the government know the people didn’t think they were doing a very good job.
It was, as Virginia understatedly puts it, “a really big deal.”
These days, she spends her time in a more relaxed environment, studying on the other side of the world. Despite the distance, however, she remembers the protests like they were yesterday.
“People took the biggest square in Madrid, we just took it and camped there for like one month or something like that,” she describes. “The police tried to kick us out but they couldn’t.”
“It started there in Madrid, and then all over Europe people started doing it and everyone felt the same at the same point,” she continues, her voice rising as she recalls the event.
“It was like a small city there!” she marvels. “It was so exciting.”
Virginia’s job was to man the information points, directing people through the mass of protestors that each had different priorities.
Even after knowing her for only fifteen minutes, it isn’t unexpected that one of her biggest concerns was environmental care. But she says it was heartening to see so many fellow Spaniards politically engaged, regardless of their own personal interests.
“Before that, I felt that in Spain young people weren’t interested in politics,’” she explains. “And it really pissed me off because it’s not something you hear in the news, it’s something you have to live with, it really affects you every day.”
“We didn’t really change big things, but small things,” she remembers proudly. “A lot of people were going to be removed from their houses, but we stopped [that from happening]. Or education laws, things like that.”
“It’s not like we expected things to change the day after. It’s more thinking about the future,” she concludes.
As for what’s in store for her own future, Virginia isn’t too sure.
She loves marine biology, but there isn’t much opportunity to get into that field in Madrid.
When she does eventually return home she says she’ll keep politics as a hobby and focus on her passion: preserving the great outdoors. On that front Spain is definitely not lacking, even if she will have to stay on land.
“We have a lot of natural parks and places where you can work,” she says, smiling. “I love nature and animals. I want to do ecology and protect the environment.”
It’s easy to talk to Virginia, thanks to her friendly demeanour and bubbling, contagious laugh. I leave her to get back to her book, confident in the knowledge that if the governments of the world don’t step their game up, she’ll be out in the streets again, raising hell. Whether it comes to running the country, or conserving Spain’s awe-inspiring mountains, forests, and marshes – if there are many more people like Virginia, the country is in safe hands.