Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Community Spirit in Catalan Demonstrations

With the Spanish government using all means at their disposal to stop the Catalans from voting on a referendum that the Spanish say is very illegal, the Catalans continue to protest and demonstrate for democracy and freedom.  They do it peacefully, sometimes with humor, and especially in these last few days, with a great sense of community spirit.

While the big demonstrations draw crowds of tens of thousands to a million or more people, this week, just days before the scheduled vote on Sunday, the demonstrations in support of the referendum (that many say is perfectly legal, but in any case, in what kind of democracy is voting illegal?) have been small in scale and very large in terms of the community spirit they show.

When Spain sent in hundreds of their national police to printing presses and small town newspapers where the police entered and seized supposed referendum materials (some of those searches and seizures done without benefit of court order) the Catalans protested peacefully, singing and placing carnations on the police cars.

When Spain obtained three large ships to house the thousands of national police that were being sent from all over Spain and two docked in Barcelona while the third docked in Tarragona, the stevedores announced that they would not service those “ships of repression.”

When Spain realized that it was undignified to have Looney Tunes characters painted bigger than life on the sides of one of the ships destined to house the national police, someone decided to cover Tweety, Sylvester, Daffy, and the Tasmanian Devil with large tarps.

This caused the Catalans to start a campaign to Free Piolin (Free Tweety) and Tweety was incorporated into the visual imagery of the right to vote campaign.  Never mind that by the next day, the tarps had fallen or blown or were taken off and Tweety was once again free.

What we’ve had this week has been, among other things,
1.  High school and university students calling a strike on Friday (no school was held) and holding informative sessions and demonstrations in support of the right to vote.

2.  On Thursday, more than 300 firefighters came to Barcelona from all over Catalonia, to hold their own demonstration and hang a giant poster at the history museum in support of the referendum and the right to vote.

3.  Also on Thursday, more than 700 school teachers, principals, and administrators came to Barcelona, to the Palau de la Generalitat, the seat of the Catalan government, to symbolically give the keys of their schools to the President of the Generalitat, making those schools available for the voting on Sunday.  Those schools are the usual sites of the polling stations in all elections and they did this under threat of prosecution by the Spanish government.

4.  Then, on Friday, several thousand farmers drove their tractors from the countryside throughout Catalunya, causing all sorts of slowdowns on highways and city streets, as their tratorcades came to the largest city in their area -- Lleida, Girona, Tarragona, or Barcelona, to show their support for the referendum and their right to vote.

5.  And finally, starting Friday afternoon and continuing until the polls open on Sunday morning at 8 am, there has been an organized effort to keep the schools open.  This involves people actively occupying hundreds of public schools that will serve as polling stations on Sunday.  Over 60,000 people are participating in this marathon initiative that is being carried out throughout Catalonia by parents and other members of each of the communities where the schools are located.  It was done to prevent the police from blocking entry between Friday afternoon when the schools closed and Sunday morning when they are supposed to be opened to people who come to vote.  These groups have many activities planned for adults and children, and many brought sleeping bags to spend Friday and Saturday night there.  They’ve had food brought in by the box to feed everyone, and as in all these demonstrations, there is a festive spirit and a strong sense of community.

Photo and image credits: all found on the internet

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Free Tweety! The New Catalan Battle Cry

The Spanish government rented three ships and sent two to Barcelona and one to Tarragona to house the thousands of riot police and army personnel that it is sending to Catalonia to keep order. Never mind that the Catalans are keeping perfect order without them. What they are really doing is intimidating the Catalans so that they won't go to the polls on Sunday to vote on the referendum. For days there have been hundreds of thousands of Catalans in the streets with the slogan "We Will Vote."
But to that slogan another, unexpected battle cry has just been added: "Free Tweety!" The reason for this new campaign (which is taking place on the internet and not on the streets) is that on the side of one of the ships docked in Barcelona are painted the Warner Bros. cartoon characters Tweety, Sylvester, Daffy Duck, and the Tasmanian Devil. Because people were making fun of the cartoons on what is currently a military ship -- not very dignified by anyone's estimation and not particularly intimidating -- someone in charge had the bright idea of covering the cartoons with huge plastic tarps, which they did (although not very artfully) a few days ago.  Thus the campaign to Free Tweety.


And Tweety has, in fact, been freed! 

I don't know if freedom came as a result of the wind, Catalan activists, ineptitude by those who hung the tarps in the first place, or for aesthetic reasons.  But he has found a place in the hearts of many Catalans, and has been adopted as a kind of mascot for the independence movement. 

Photos and images found on the internet

Friday, September 8, 2017

Catalans Want To Vote

Wednesday, 6 Sept, the Catalan Parliament approved a bill calling for a referendum on independence to be held 1 October.  This has been in the making for a few years, and many Catalans never thought it would happen – some still don’t.  Because during all those years, despite the millions of Catalans demonstrating each 11 September that they want to vote, the Spanish government has refused to talk to Catalan leaders on the subject.  They say it goes against the constitution (something many people contest) and that a referendum is illegal.  That voting should be illegal reminds me of the places where the law once said that women were not allowed to vote.  Those laws were changed.

The Catalan parliament was elected two years ago with the majority pro-independence coalition winning on the platform of organizing a referendum on independence.  And ever since that election, with that majority, the parliament has been moving forward, always asking that Spain negotiate with them so that it could be an agreed upon referendum such as Quebec held a few years ago, and that Scotland also held recently (in both cases, the independence option lost).  It has never been a case of negotiations where no agreement could be reached.  Spain has always simply refused to talk at all.

In response to the referendum bill being approved on Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría condemned the Catalan leadership for carrying out what she called "an act of force" and for acting more like "dictatorial regimes than a democracy".

Not being a journalist and this being my blog, I am free to comment.  A duly elected parliament that is carrying out its electoral platform, presenting a bill for debate and vote, is hardly performing “an act of force.”  It is carrying out a democratic act.  This is what parliaments that serve their public do.  As for acting more like a dictatorial regime than a democracy, that could only be said by someone who hasn’t the slightest idea of how democracy functions.  What is dictatorial is for government to take no heed of people who want their voices to be heard.

If in fact holding a referendum goes against the Spanish constitution, maybe the constitution should be amended.  The American constitution, for example, has been amended 27 times.  The Spanish government, having little experience with democracy, doesn’t see that as an option.

The same day that the Catalan Parliament approved the law calling for the referendum on independence to be held 1 October, the Spanish Guardia Civil installed itself at the entrance to the premises of a small printing company near Tarragona. They had no court order so they couldn't enter and search. But it seems they didn't need a court order to stay there and stop and search every car and van and truck that came and went: employees, suppliers, delivery companies, everyone had to stop and have their vehicle searched.  They did this for 48 hours.

Today a court order was issued and seven agents of the Guardia Civil entered the printing company building. They were supposedly looking for up to 7,000 papers that pertain to the referendum. Everyone assumes they were looking for the paper ballots.   It turned out finally, after they searched for three hours, that they didn’t find anything and left with their cardboard box empty.

Last night, before this comedy act played out, Josep Maria Piqué, who has a small printing company, was inspired.  He figured that the Guardia Civil was about to confiscate all the ballots for 1 October.  But there are samples of them on the internet, therefore, he decided that if they were going to confiscate ballots that had been printed at the other company, he would just go and print some more. So he printed 45,000 ballots, enough for his own and the few surrounding rural counties.

Although I believe it is supposed to, Spain does not seem to have separation of powers between the government and the judiciary.  The judiciary clearly takes its instruction from the government and acts accordingly.  Thus, the Spanish government and the attorney general have been busy little bees, filing complaints with the Supreme and Constitutional Courts for every act the Catalan government has taken.  Most recently, this includes the referendum bill, the regulations pertaining to it, the transitory law that, if the Yes vote wins, would provide an interim constitution until a real constitution could be formulated and voted on by the public.  The original referendum bill was already declared illegal when the parliament attempted to debate it several months ago.  And charges have been brought against several people in the government accused of disobeying the Constitutional Court in doing whatever they have done to make the referendum a reality.  There are almost as many complaints connected to the referendum filed by the government with the courts as there are criminal corruption cases before the courts (with hundreds of people from that same government implicated).   

Because the referendum vote has been declared illegal, the Spanish government, district attorneys, and courts are going after anyone and everyone who is in any way enabling the event. People are being threatened with criminal charges and the possible loss of their personal property (including their homes). Today over 1040 warrants have been issued to a variety of Catalans: public officials and private individuals, including everyone in the Catalan government who has supported holding the referendum.

In the midst of this legal flurry, and at some personal risk, as of yesterday (Thursday) evening, 560 mayors had signed a confirmation that their town will participate in the referendum and provide polling places.

The person who perhaps runs the greatest risk is Carme Forcadell, the President of the Catalan Parliament. The Spanish government has already made public statements that they will go after her with criminal charges for disobeying the law in allowing the bill to come before the parliament to be voted on.  They call that violence and a coup d’etat.  Forcadell is already facing charges by the Spanish judicial system for having done the same thing with a similar bill several months ago.  At that time, that bill was blocked by the court and shelved.  The one this week was left to the last minute and processed on a fast track – not the usual procedure, but the only way to get around the Spanish government blocking it before it could be voted. 

Forcadell is not a professional politician. She's an educator who was the president of the Assemblea Nacional Catalana (ANC), a grassroots independence organization (the organization that organized "We want to vote" demonstrations attended by 2 million people each year for the last five years) and was elected to Parliament at the last elections on a coalition ticket of mixed political groups plus independents such as herself.  She is one of the great heroes of the moment.  Carles Puigdemont is another.  President of the Generalitat, he is by profession a journalist.  Oriol Junqueras, Vice President of the Generalitat, is a history professor.

Although Spain is ripe with corruption, the Catalans are lucky to have people like Carme Forcadell, Carles Puigdemont, Oriol Junqueras, dozens of members of the Catalan parliament, hundreds of mayors, and countless other people in the Catalan and local governments.  These are people who are committed enough to the public will to organize a plan, at personal risk, that hopefully will evade all the maneuvering of the Spanish government, Spanish puppet courts, and Spanish police, and set up polls where any citizen who wants to can check Yes or No and drop their ballot into a ballot box.  And they are doing it with no sure knowledge of whether the Yes or the No will win.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Chez Panisse

Reading a chapter of Alice Water's new book (Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook) in The New Yorker brought back memories.  Chez Panisse, the famous bastion of California cuisine, opened in Berkeley in August 1971.  This was just about the time that I moved to Berkeley with Uri, my first husband, as he was about to enter the Ph.D. program at the university.  We lived two blocks from Chez Panisse, the Cheeseboard Cooperative, and Lenny’s Meats.  Soon there was also Peet’s Coffee, Pig-by-the-Tail charcuterie, Poulet, the café at the French Hotel, and the Cheeseboard’s pizza shop – the best pizza in the whole world.  We lived in the Gourmet Ghetto.

President Bill Clinton ate at Chez Panisse once.  I ate there several times.  I ate at the more formal downstairs restaurant two or three times.  You would be seated and served.  There was no ordering of food, everyone was served the same meal.  You chose your wine.  And whereas the chapter I just read says something about the meal costing $3.50, I only remember that it was expensive.  And worth it.

Subsequently, Alice Waters opened a café upstairs and I went there often.  It wasn’t as formal and it wasn’t as expensive.  You chose from a menu where I always found so many good things that it was hard to choose, although I remember a goat cheese calzone that I was especially fond of.  The walls were decorated with posters of Raimu, the French actor who starred in Marcel Pagnol’s films, The Marseille (Fanny) trilogy.  One of the characters in those films is Panisse.

The café was where I usually went with my friend Judy.  She was one of my best friends for many years until one day when for some reason that she never explained, she didn’t want to speak to me anymore.  But when I think of Chez Panisse I usually think of the café and when I think of the café I think of those posters and of Judy.

My last meal at Chez Panisse was downstairs, on my birthday, with Manel.  Two days later we left California to go live in Catalonia.  We didn’t know what the menu would be that night and were presented with the serendipitous surprise of Catalan food.  Chicken (or was it duck?) with prunes was the main dish.  I don't remember, but surely Crema Catalana must have been the dessert.  What else could it have been?