17 October 2011

El pueblo unido jamás será vencido

"The people, united, will never be defeated."

[I wrote this right after the 15O protests, and am publishing it on 7 Nov 2011.  The last few weeks, with continued politics in Europe deriving from and influencing the credit crisis, and notable events in Oakland, CA, only confirm to myself what I've written and thought about this already.]

For the last few days, I've been thinking about how to discuss Saturday night in such a way so as to share what I did and why, and also to respect the possibly divergent views some of my loyal readers might have.  Then today, the NYT Architecture critic Michael Kimmelman gave me the answer:
It's something I've internalized for the last 10 or so years of my life, and the idea of "the European social compact" is something I've been thinking about intensely for the last few months (because a lot of my life is balancing between European and American social contracts) without knowing exactly how to verbalize it. 

I remember when we first moved to Rome, 11 years ago - back then people were angry about most of the same things, but it was a more anti-corporate vibe, whereas now it's a much more anti-banks, anti-financial institutions vibe, and one that seems to me to be more accurately placed.  Simply speaking, if I want a cell phone or computer or most other consumer goods without making things really difficult for myself, I've got to get them from some huge multinational corporation, so choices have to be made and usually the market supports that.  On the other hand, the sort of actions banks and other financial institutions have been making over the last 30+ (100+, 500+) years has helped us get to that point while they have stolen money from just about everyone possible - us, and the governments they bought that are supposed to also represent us.

Anyway, I remember when I saw my first march of ~20,000 communists walking down Via Barberini (strange place for a march, I know, but that's where they were that day) and I almost peed my pants, I was so scared because I thought, "Oh no! The communists! And there's so many of them!"  Meanwhile, other people around paid no attention and went about with their business - and in the last 11 years, communists have not taken over Italy or anywhere else, really - not a threat, and yet the fight continues.  Then September 11 happened and I remember standing in Piazza del Popolo around significantly fewer members of Italy's right wing parties in solidarity with the USA (a strange experience, mostly because of the creepster neo-Fascists present), and a few years after that, I demonstrated for peace in Oakland (before Schenley Plaza was built and gained notoriety during the G20) and Central Park, and then the great Rally to Restore Sanity on the Mall in DC, and Kimmelman's point is proved.  These spaces are integral to our public conversation.

Yesterday, in Palma, I had a cortado (read: espresso macchiato) while sitting on a bench the Passeig de Born.  A few hours later, it would be filled with 20,000+ people who were united for #globalchange, and then, just a few hours after that, back to normal again.  Nothing got broken, no one got harrassed - back to that old European social contract.  

The other important part of the social contract is an inherent respect for others -- the communists present did not beat up on the socialists over the differences they may have on the distribution of wealth.  Folks recognize what they have in common, and get together to help make a step in the direction of the world they want to live in, myself included.  These demonstrations are not monoliths, they're many different groups of people who get together to help each other make their voices even louder.

The atmosphere was pretty much a party, because of the Drums for Peace, which also set a rhythm for the march, there were songs and dancing and it was a warm, autumnal Saturday evening so we were all out for a nice walk!  But do not misunderstand a party-like atmosphere for this being taken lightly - except there's so much to celebrate: our humanity, being alive, being together, and our shared convictions.  Spain has gotten plenty of practice lately in this sort of thing, because of and from the 15M movement -- and in a lot of ways, this was an extension of that, because the problems have still yet to receive an adequate solution and so truth must continue to be spoken to power.  This demonstration had it all - the communists, socialists, anarcho-syndicalists, grandmothers, kids in strollers, middle-aged folks blowing whistles and some awesome Adbusters-inspired street theatre weaving through the crowds.  As public buses passed, drivers honked in solidarity, causing us all to make sure the driver could hear our thanks.  Now might also be a good time to add that there were posters for this demonstration at both of the schools where I teach, and I actually ran into a colleague there!  So, this is not a movement of a bunch of hippies - it's people who look like you and me, who work for an honest living, and who actively participate in the democratic process.

There were some great slogans and chants, again, many carried over from 15M, and responding to the huge amounts of money that is being siphoned away from taxpayers everywhere, as we're coming to find out.  For example: "No hay pan por tanto chorizo [there's not bread for so much chorizo, meaning thievery in addition to sausage]" and "Manos arriba, esta es un atraco [hands up, this is a robbery]!" And another: "Si no nos dejan soñar, no os dejaremos dormir [If you won't let us dream, we won't let you sleep]".  And another: "Protesta como un ciudidano o calla como un servo [Protest like a citizen or shut up like a servant]".

The police were pretty unobtrusive and mostly were there to serve as traffic cops, but as we were walking from Plaça Rei Joan Carle I up the Avinguda Jaume I, I realized real fast what a terrorizing tactic kettling could be.  I think my American experiences (seeing mounted police, riot police, plain clothes police - thankfully only using intimidation tactics when I've been present) made me way edgier than 99% of the people there, and I was jealous of that -- how wonderful that so many families were there with small children, so many older people walking with canes, and so obviously unworried about any potential violence -- there's our social contract again, that the police are there to protect the demonstrators, not others from the demonstrators.

"I too am indignant, like my mom and my dad."

Towards the end of the march, we, following one of the themes of the march to "toma el calle [take the streets]" we sat down on the pavement in the street for a while, then got up and ended with a rally of sorts in Plaça Espanya, where I got to see the street theatre up close:
Adbusters-inspired street theatre, with actors representing various negative aspects of capitalism (military spending, education cuts, etc) being pushed in shopping carts by zombie televisions

After getting some real, cut-with-scissors-and-weighed-by-an-Italian pizza a taglio, I was able to catch the end of the ball de bot across the street in the Parc de ses estacions.  There, the castellers were grilling meats on public grills, with public tongs chained to said grills.  A European socialist paradise, indeed!

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