In Spain, they’re never too old for a revolution

Seniors take ‘actions’ on budget cuts

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They say they are proudest of their invasion of the stock exchange in Barcelona on Sept. 21. Mrs. Fernandez was there for a half-hour chanting slogans such as “This is not a crisis; it’s a rip-off” and “Your money or your life.” When they exited, anti-riot police were waiting for them.

“They surrounded us, didn’t let us leave, asking us to show them our identity cards, which we refused to do because we weren’t doing anything illegal,” Mrs. Fernandez said.

YouTube footage of them, screaming at helpless police officers, went viral in Spain.

After an hour, they were allowed to leave.

“Old people have a level of impunity that the younger generations don’t have, and they also enjoy a high social standing so they have to take advantage of that,” said Ramon Cotarelo, a sociology professor at the Spanish Distance University.

The group was formed after about 15 grandmothers and grandfathers sharing a meal at a Chinese restaurant in Barcelona decided they needed to do something because they thought the younger generation was too passive about the situation in Spain. Since its founding, the group has grown to more than 1,000 members.

What they want is a change of direction.

Spain is in its second recession since the economic crisis erupted four years ago across the 17 nations that share the euro currency. The unemployment rate is 25 percent, and double that for those younger than 30. Meanwhile, the government is pushing to cut public services – especially unemployment benefits, health care and education – to reduce public debt by $83 billion by 2014.

These gray protesters say the pace of reform needs to slow down. They argue that money can be saved in ways besides cutting education and health care to rescue banks.

The older protesters say they understand the younger generations’ plight well.

More than 50 percent of Spanish grandparents take care of their grandchildren on a regular basis. The average age for Spaniards to leave their parents’ home is 29, while more than 40 percent these days live with their families even after their 30s.

They fought Franco

Mr. Gonzalez said civil disobedience is old hat for many of them who fought Francisco Franco’s dictatorship in the 1960s and 1970s.

“They dedicated lots of time and effort, and many even ended in prison or in exile, all of that so that we could enjoy certain rights and benefits and many of the freedoms we have today,” he said.

Now, what was so hard-won is being eroded quickly, the retired activists say.

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