See all those languages up there? We translate Global Voices stories to make the world's citizen media available to everyone.

Learn more about Lingua Translation  »

One Activist's Vision of a Feminist Democracy for Catalonia

Young people holding signs spelling the word “democracy” at a protest against police repression during the independence referendum.  Barcelona, October 3, 2017. Photo by Silva Valle, used with permission.

With its current push for independence from Spain, the region of Catalonia is experiencing one of the most intense and critical moments in its recent history. Throughout Spain, debates and  analysis surrounding the issue are everywhere, from mainstream media to social media, and from the streets to people's living rooms. Tensions are high, but different sectors of the population are asking for dialogue and calm.

The breaking point came on Sunday, October 1, with the celebration of a referendum — considered illegal by the central government — that asked: Do you want Catalonia to be an independent state in the form of a republic? According to the official vote count, 2,286,217 people participated (43% of the electorate). The “yes” camp received 2,944,038 votes (90.2%), the “no” got 177,574 votes (7.8%) and 44,913 votes were left blank (2%).

The referendum was violently repressed by state security forces. As a consequence, a strike was organized for October 3, as were various protests in the region.

To understand firsthand how people are experiencing these events on the ground, we interviewed a Barcelona resident who participated in the referendum and the strike. Silvia Valle is an activist and educator who brings a feminist perspective to a number of struggles she is involved with.

Silvia Valle. Photo used with permission by subject.

Global Voices (GV): On October 1, you voted in the referendum. How was the experience? What was the atmosphere like? 

Silvia: Creo que como a mucha gente el sábado noche me costó dormir… nos levantamos el domingo temprano con una mezcla de sensaciones. Los medios están manipulando mucho la información y no sé cómo cree la gente que se han vivido estos días aquí, pero la realidad es que siempre se ha entendido como una fiesta. Hace tiempo que dejó de ser por el sí o por el no y pasó a ser por la democracia.

El censo era electrónico y se podía votar en cualquier centro. A las 9 se presentaron la Policía Nacional y la Guardia Civil en el mío y no llegó ni a abrir. Así que decidí quedarme en el que estaba, en un barrio humilde muy cercano a la montaña, el barrio donde estudié de adolescente. La cola daba la vuelta a la calle, no sé cuánta gente habría… 200 o 300… La gente había dormido ahí, había ido a las 5 de la mañana.

Silvia: I think, like many people, it was hard for me to sleep that Saturday night…we woke up on Sunday with a mixture of feelings. The press is manipulating the information a lot and, I don't know what other people who have experienced the situation these days think, but the reality is that it was always understood as a celebratory event. The situation stopped being about a yes or a no a while ago, and started being about democracy. 

The vote was electronic and you could vote in any voting center. At 9 am, the National Police and the Civil Guard showed up at mine and the center wasn't opened. I then decided to stay in my center, in a humble neighborhood very close to the mountain, the neighborhood where I studied when I was young. The line went around the block. I don't know how many people there were…200 or 300… People had slept there, they had come at 5 in the morning.

As the day went on, the situation took a turn:

Silvia: Empiezas a recibir mensajes. Están pegando a gente en otros colegios. Llegan fotos de abuelas sangrando. Han cargado en los dos colegios electorales que te rodean. Sabes que si siguen la ruta, el próximo va a ser el tuyo. La organización coge el micro y va por toda la fila hablándole a la gente: “no necesitamos héroes, habíamos comentado que haríamos resistencia pasiva pero no lo recomendamos”. Están cargando muy fuerte e indiscriminadamente. “Por favor, gente mayor y niños que se vayan a casa. Quién quiera quedarse éstas son las recomendaciones: si vienen no responderemos a preguntas. No seremos violentos. Nos iremos. Tenemos cámaras en el tejado, no hace falta que nos peguen, lo que queremos es que se vea que hemos venido a votar.” Las abuelas dicen que no se van. Los padres mandan a sus criaturas a casa. Más WhatsApps de compañeras: “¿estáis todas bien?” Los bomberos han defendido algunos colegios electorales. Después de las cargas de Sabadell ¡vuelven a votar!. Han usado balas de goma, un chico puede perder un ojo. Y en ese momento, te das cuenta de que llevas 4 horas bajo la lluvia por votar. De que están agrediendo a las abuelas de tu gente, a tus compañeras, a tus profesores, han reventado a mazazos la puerta de tu instituto. Solo quieres que pase rápido, quieres votar. Que nos dejen votar.

Silvia: You begin to receive messages. They are hitting people in other high schools. Photos of bleeding grandmothers arrive. They are charging into the two voting center schools that surround you. You know that, if they continue on this route, yours is next. Organizers take the microphone and go through the line, telling people “we don't need heroes. We have said that we will practice passive resistance, but we don't recommend it.” They are charging against people hard and indiscriminately. “Please, older people and children go home. For those who want to stay, here are the recommendations: If they come, we won't answer their questions. We won't be violent. We will leave. We have cameras on the roof. We don't need them to hit us, we just want them to see that we have come here to vote.” The grandmothers say they won't leave. Parents send their children home. More WhatsApp messages come in from friends, “Are you all okay?” Firefighters have defended some voting center schools. After charging the crowd at Sabadell, the vote is back on! They have used rubber bullets, a young man could lose his eye. In this moment, you realize that you have been waiting in the rain for four hours to vote. Why are they hitting your people's grandmothers, your classmates, your teachers? They have busted down the door to your high school. You just want it to go by fast. You just want to vote. You want them to let you vote.

GV: On October 3, two days after the referendum, a protest was held in Catalonia. What was the objective of this protest and what was the atmosphere like? 

Silvia: Hay que entender una cosa, la huelga vino como respuesta a las cargas policiales del domingo 1 de octubre [el día del referendum]. Lo que se pretendía era, una vez más, salir a la calle a expresarse en un ambiente pacifico. No tenía nada que ver con el sí o el no. Esta huelga tenía que ver con reclamar que las calles son nuestras, que creemos en la democracia y que rechazamos la violencia.

Una de las cosas que más se repitió a coro en la manifestación fue: “Als nostres Avis no se'ls pega” (a nuestros abuelos no se les pega). Y la gente lo gritaba emocionada, porque eso es algo que jamás creímos que podríamos ver. Todos conocemos los relatos de nuestros abuelos o abuelas durante el franquismo. Sabemos qué se vivió porque nos lo han contado. Sabemos que les persiguieron, les torturaron, sabemos la represión constante a la que se enfrentaban. Y se nos cae la cara de vergüenza al ver que estamos dejando que eso pase otra vez. Nuestros abuelos y abuelas no se merecen pasar por esto. Se merecen poder mirar atrás y ver que dejan el mundo un poco mejor.

Se vivió con la alegría del que sabe que el mañana será mejor, mezclado con el amargo sentimiento de saber que en realidad, tienes la necesidad de creerlo.

Supongo que en los medios han salido constantemente las imágenes de gente echando a los cuerpos policiales de sus hoteles. Yo ahí solo puedo ver gente valiente, gente que una mañana se levantó y se negó a servirle el desayuno a unos señores que habían ido a dormir a su casa tras hacer sangrar a sus amigos, a sus hermanos o a sus abuelos. 

Silvia: You have to understand one thing, the protest came in direct response to the police violence from Sunday, October 1. The goal was to, once again, go out into the streets and express ourselves in a peaceful way. It didn't have anything to do with the yes or no. This protest was about reclaiming the streets as our own, it was about showing that we believe in democracy and we reject violence.

One of the things that was repeated most was a protest chant which went: “Als nostres Avis no se'ls pega” (Don't hit our grandparents). And the people shouted this passionately because it is something we never thought we would ever see. Everyone has heard the stories from our grandparents about the years under [dictator Francisco] Franco. We know what they lived through because they told us. We know that they were persecuted, they were tortured, we know about the constant repression that they were up against. We are left absolutely ashamed that we are allowing this to happen again. Our grandparents don't deserve to go through this. They deserve to look back and see that they have left the world a better place.  

They lived with the happiness of one who knows that tomorrow will be a better day, mixed with the bitter knowledge that, in reality, one needs to believe this to carry on.

I suppose that the press is constantly publishing images of people kicking out police forces from their hotels. In that, I can only see brave people, people who one morning got up and refused to serve breakfast to people who had come to sleep at their homes after making their friends, brothers and grandparents bleed.

GV: How do you mix other causes you are involved in with the Catalan independence process? 

Silvia: En concreto una de las cosas que más me afectan a nivel de lucha son las diferencias entre la ley de violencia de género (VdG) y la ley contra las violencias machistas. La primera estatal, la segunda catalana. Su diferenciación principal es que, hasta ahora, la Ley VdG entiende que solo hay una agresión condenable como violencia de género cuando el agresor es pareja o ex-pareja. La ley contra las violencias machistas es más amplia y contempla (tal como hace la ONU) como agresor a cualquier hombre que agreda a una mujer por el hecho de ser mujer. Sin embargo, tal y como está ahora la ley, Cataluña tiene poderes sobre lo social pero no sobre lo jurídico. Eso implica que podemos reconocer a la víctima como tal y ofrecerle un mayor soporte, pero no podemos condenar al agresor con el agravante de violencia de género. Eso hace que las penas sean menores para los agresores, que no tengamos un estudio real de víctimas a nivel nacional y que la gravedad del feminicidio no se comprenda como lo grave que es.

Pero eso es algo que todo el mundo tiene claro que tiene una fecha límite. Hay otros partidos, muy votados, con una concepción fuerte de la importancia de implementar medidas sociales, controlar la subida de los alquileres o aplicar políticas feministas. Se tiene muy claro que se quiere una república feminista.

Silvia: Specifically, one of the things that affects me on the level of activism is the difference between the gender violence law (VdG) and the law against misogynist violence. Firstly, on a state level, and secondly at the Catalonian level. The biggest difference is that, until now, the VdG law only sees punishable aggression as gender violence when the aggressor is a partner or ex-partner. The law against misogynist violence encompasses more, seeing any man as an aggressor when he attacks a woman because she is a woman — just like the UN does. However, the law as it is established now, means that Catalonia has power over the social area but not the judicial area. This means that we can recognize the victim as such and offer them support, but we cannot sentence the perpetrator under the rules that apply to gender violence. So the sentences are shorter, we don't have a real study of victims on a national level and the gravity of the situation concerning femicide is not understood for what it is.

However, this is something that everyone knows won't last forever. There are other parties — backed by a lot of votes — with a clear understanding of the importance of implementing social justice measures, like controlling the rising cost of housing or applying feminist policies. They are clear that they want a feminist republic.

GV: So, now what? 

Silvia: Pues bueno, supongo que aplicarán el artículo 155 de la Constitución española [dota al Estado de un mecanismo para controlar a las comunidades autónomas que incumplan las obligaciones impuestas por la Constitución (u otras leyes) o que atenten gravemente contra el interés general de España] y puede que lo perdamos todo. Me daría vergüenza decirle a mis hijos que no lo intentamos. Ellos venían con armas y nosotros escondíamos urnas. Me gustaría seguir pensando que intenté hacer la revolución lo mejor que supe, como diría María Mercè Marçal: “A l’atzar agraeixo tres dons: haver nascut dona, de classe baixa i nació oprimida. I el tèrbol atzur de ser tres voltes rebel” (al azar le agradezco tres dones: haber nacido mujer, de clase baja y nación oprimida. Y el turbio azul de ser tres veces rebelde). 

Silvia: Well, I suppose they will apply Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution [a rule that provides the state with a mechanism by which they can control an Autonomous Community that fail to meet obligations placed on them by the constitution — or other laws — or seriously infringe upon the general interest of Spain]. It is possible we will lose everything. I would be embarrassed to tell my children that we didn't try. They came with weapons and we hid ballot boxes. I would like to continue thinking that I tried to create a revolution in the best way I knew how. As María Mercè Marçal said: “A l’atzar agraeixo tres dons: haver nascut dona, de classe baixa i nació oprimida. I el tèrbol atzur de ser tres voltes rebel” (I thank luck for three gifts: being born a women, from the lower classes in a oppressed nation. And the dark blue that made me three times the rebel).

2 comments

  • J.L.

    Could be interesting to present also the opinions of catalonian people who do not support independence (a half of the population)
    Also it could be interesting to note how many fake pictures were presented as evidence of brutality. For instance the picture of the firemen facing the police resulted to be an older protests against cuts proted by the “govern”, and the policemen were the catalonian riot police!!!!!!

  • J.L.

    By the way… It was the highest Catalonian court (TSJC) who ordered the police to impede an illegal referendum, not the central government. That order was sent to all the police corps present in Catalonia
    In my opinion the way police acted was an useless nonsense, but not very different as the Mossos acted against the 15M protesters

Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »

Guidelines

  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.

Receive great stories from around the world directly in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the best of Global Voices
* = required field
Email Frequency



No thanks, show me the site