Paseo de la Castellana avenue has frequently been clogged with anti-austerity demonstrations this year but last Sunday – for once – the crowds were not there to protest.
When Spain’s biggest disabled association, the Organizacion Nacional de Ciegos Españoles (ONCE), which looks after its visually impaired citizens, announced it was holding a party in central Madrid last weekend to celebrate the 75th anniversary of its foundation, they expected 60,000 supporters to turn up. In fact almost double that number came.
Clad in the association’s bright yellow colours or waving yellow flags, the throngs of ONCE supporters came from all four corners of the country to celebrate one of Spain’s most enduring social institutions.
“We’ve been up since four in the morning just to get here but the occasion deserves it,” Manuel, a 57-year-old blind man from Andalusia told El País as he jigged around to the music from several top Spanish bands. As one of ONCE’s 70,000 associates, Manuel has a guide dog – a black labrador named Colombus which El País wryly reported looked more exhausted by the prolonged Madrid festivities than its owner.
But whilst ONCE said Sunday’s mass street party was “to thank the citizens of Spain for their collaboration and a homage to our lottery sellers” – its highest profile public activity, with ONCE kiosks on many a Spanish street corner – as an association it has a lot to celebrate. Thanks to ONCE, since 1988 more than 60,000 jobs were created for the disabled in Spain; in the ongoing recession, good news indeed.