Flashmobs with a purpose: Protests in Madrid organized by SMS, chatrooms

In Spain today, thousands gathered in the streets demanding answers from their government about this week's deadly terrorist attacks in Madrid. Bloggers in Spain tell BoingBoing the gatherings were decentralized "flash mobs", organized primarily by short text messages sent via Internet-capable mobile devices, and online in chatrooms and weblog forums.

Around 6PM local time in Madrid, an estimated 3,000-5,000 protesters gathered spontaneously in front of the headquarters of Spain's ruling Popular Party (Partido Popular, or PP), located on calle Genova. Participants shouted slogans against media manipulation, and carried signs asking, "Who did it?".
Flashmobs spread by SMS throughout the country, with parallel gatherings quickly emerging in other cities.

The protests occurred one day before general elections take place in Spain. Government representatives denounced today's gatherings, describing them as illegal assemblies -- but because they were organized in a decentralized manner using mobile technology, there was no single responsible party against whom punitive action could be taken.

Protesters accused Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar of covering up information about the attacks for political advantage. Aznar is not seeking a third term in office, and has appointed ex-Interior Minister Mariano Rajoy as his successor.

Aznar's center-right administration first blamed the 3/11 massacre -- which killed more than 200 people -- on the Basque separatist group ETA, designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union. Their position has since been revised to acknowledge that Islamic fundamentalist groups, perhaps al Qaeda, may have been involved. Critics of Aznar allege that his strong support of the U.S. war in Iraq has transformed Spain into a leading target for such groups.

The events of 9/11 and 3/11 share a number of unsettling connections: the Madrid attacks took place exactly two and a half years after those in NYC, and there were precisely 911 days between the two. For these and other reasons, including this taped message, a growing number of observers in Spain and elsewhere are questioning whether or not the ETA is to blame.

Some Aznar supporters accused Cultura Contra la Guerra of initiating the text-messages calling for protests. The well-known art-protest group is a collective of artists and performers, and was originally founded to protest Spain's support for the Iraq war.

"Whether or not that's true, I don't know -- today was a long day filled with intense emotion for people throughout the country," says Cadiz-based blogger Antonio Delgado of caspa.tv. "Right now -- at 3AM -- it's hard to think clearly. The only thing that matters now is that everyone needs to get out and vote tomorrow."

Blog coverage at Caspa.TV, Barrapunto, MiniD, commentary and live on-the-scene observations by popular Spanish web pundit Nacho Escolar here. Some photos are here, including the one above. A moblog/photoblog dedicated to the event is here. More news: NYT (eng), El Mundo (SP), and Corriere (Italian). Leander Kahney's report "'Net Cries Out for Madrid" in Wired News, here.
Earlier BoingBoing posts about 3/11 news from Spain are here and here.