I was shocked and dismayed to hear on NPR’s “Marketplace” program on Friday, a reporter from the New York Times, dismiss "riots" in Barcelona as “nothing new”, suggesting that Spain, and perhaps specifically Barcelona, is routinely given to street violence. This disgraceful distortion is fast becoming a hallmark of financial reporting, and needs to be addressed head on by those of us who care about truth and democracy.
For many years, I visited, or lived in, or spent my time writing about Barcelona, from up close. I worked there as an independent journalist, a publisher doing market research, a translator and as a poet trying to get by on what is available to the tourist-artist. I met people who lived their lives in Catalán, in Castellano, in English, in Hungarian, in French, and who held all manner of jobs, almost none of them well-paid.
The Occupy Wall Street movement—now being called “the American Autumn”, after the Arab Spring, or the September 17th movement, after the day it got started in lower Manhattan—is now completing four weeks on the scene. Yet we can still be astounded to hear so many incredulous “experts” unable to understand how a grassroots movement, infused with the zeitgeist of very problematic times, is working toward anything constructive. What is the meaning of this? Why don’t they have a ready-to-go list of demands? What are they asking us to think?
It’s actually very simple. It’s self-evident, but if you’re at a loss, you can also go to Zuccotti Park, or to any of the Occupy Together protest sites, and just talk to people, and what did not seem evident will rapidly become so. The meaning of the Occupy Wall Street movement that is spreading across the United States like wildfire is: democracy. The unifying sentiment, which is actively put into practice every day at Occupy encampments, is that citizens have a right to participate. They are building a participatory process to restore the principle of informed citizen participation to our political system and our economy.
An effort by the Catalan state police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, to remove protesters from the Plaça Catalunya, by use of force, has ended with at least 125 people reported injured, the demonstrators retaking the square, and the Mossos forced to retreat. Protests have now spread to other parts of the city, as students have reportedly closed la Avinguda Diagonal, one of the city’s main thoroughfares, “in solidarity with the protesters in Plaça Catalunya”.
Closer to the central square, chants have been going out, along with sms, email and social media messages, calling on the people of Barcelona to flood the streets and join the demonstrators at Plaça Catalunya, in their demand for “economic democracy” and an end to all forms of “state oppression”. The violence is thought to be likely to spark renewed passion among adherents to the spreading movement, and new calls during the coming weekend, for permanent occupation of public squares, until reforms are instituted.