Starting a new country isn’t easy
Things have been pretty interesting around here lately. Here’s the deal:
The Catalans have been planning on voting on independence on November 9th since December of last year, and they were planning on this being a type of referendum that would determine how many people actually want independence, which would then help the organizations and the government figure out what the next steps would be. Even though the vote was never going to be binding, the government in Madrid was never very happy about this plan. So, when the President of Catalonia called for elections at the end of September, the government and court of Spain quickly ruled this illegal. This sent things into sort of a frenzy, because the government workers promoting the vote and helping people register were now “breaking the law,” and a lot of people were nervous about this. But it was really just Madrid’s attempt to scare them, and the President decided not to let this method work. They continued forward with plans for the vote, business as usual despite how much tension it caused between the governments.
Then, somehow, and I’m not really sure how, the political parties in the Catalan government started to disagree. They had these plans for a vote all along, but something changed and they started to argue and be unable to come to an agreement on how to move forward. Some parties wanted to declare independence outright, some wanted a different type of vote, some don’t even want the vote - it’s pretty confusing when instead of two political parties there are like seven. I’m still learning how the politics here work, but it’s fascinating.
So, they “called off” the original plan for a vote, and made a new plan for pretty much the exact same thing. The original vote was declared under a new law, which was the one that the central govt/court ruled illegal. So, to get around this, they said okay, we’ll have a “consultation” and it will be legal under a different law. Huh??
Basically, they made the vote slightly less official, more legal, to try and keep things moving without breaking the law. But its the same vote that’s still going to happen on November 9th! The media was freaking out, saying that the vote was cancelled, that they were backing down…no. They just made a new strategy, because this stuff is complicated! They realized that Madrid was going to stop them at every stage of the process, so they tried to find an alternative path that would still give the people what they want - a vote. Even though the political parties disagreed and a lot of people were disappointed by their lack of unity, I think it’s pretty cool that they have a government that is so determined to give them what they want.
Anyway. Pretty crazy stuff. It’s still confusing, and I’m still not sure where my organization stands in the whole thing - the government is running elections, but it’s our job to make sure people vote, which will be really important. But they also want to make sure that once the vote happens, it actually means something and isn’t ignored. That’s going to be very interesting to watch. They had a huge rally on Sunday that I missed because I was in Dublin (which was INCREDIBLE) but there were 100,000 people there, and they were demanding that the government not only set up the vote, but hold elections so that they can vote in new leaders who are united and pro-independence. I’m not sure if this will happen, but if it does then things could start moving very quickly.
Sagrada Familia and my Familia
My parents just left Barcelona after being here for a week, which I’m pretty bummed about - but having them here was so awesome. I got to show them around the city and take them to all of my favorite places, and they learned a lot about what I’ve been doing and everything that’s going on here.
The first day that they arrived, two Northeastern students who are in Madrid right now also arrived in Barcelona for the weekend! So, we all got together to go to the Sagrada Familia. It’s probably the most popular tourist attraction here and maybe even in all of Spain. It’s a massive church designed by the famous Barcelona-born architect Antoni Gaudi, who was known for his weird, unusual designs that were way ahead of their time.
The church is so huge that it isn’t even finished yet - and they started building it over 100 years ago! Gaudi was still alive when they started, but he knew that it wouldn’t be completed in his lifetime, so he left behind lots of designs and models for future builders to follow. One side of the church was completed when he was alive, and it’s pretty interesting to see the differences between that side and the other parts of the church that have been done since then.
The Sagrada Familia is really amazing to see, and it was great to have fellow NU students to share this experience with. We all just kept staring up at the inside of the massive church, unable to put into words how spectacular it was. My friend who I met in Barcelona also came with us, and she studies architecture at her university, so it was cool to see her perspective on things, too. It was also really interesting to see the different things that everyone noticed - my mom was amazed by the stained glass, my friend was really into the big pillars that held up the church, I was interested in the words written in the doors and windows (mostly bible passages) - there is so much to see in this one building, and so much to try and comprehend. We got to go up in the towers that are iconic to the outside of the church, and they have windows so you can look out and see the whole city of Barcelona. This was great on my parents and the Northeastern students’ first day in the city, because they got a birds-eye view of the city they had just arrived in. I got to point out the important landmarks and help them understand where we were, but even more than that I think it helped them appreciate how cool of a place they were in.
I loved sharing this city with my parents and with my peers from Northeastern. Life on coop abroad definitely has its challenges, and sometimes I forget how lucky I am to be here. But being able to talk about Barcelona and all of the great things that it has to offer definitely reminded me how much I’m enjoying being here and having this experience.
The past week has been CRAZY!
I haven’t even been in the office for almost a week. Last Wednesday we went to the press hub for the independence day demonstration and helped set everything up, and then we started checking in members of the press and giving them their press badges…..went home for a little break, and started the same process again early Thursday morning. We had 1000 members of the press come to cover our event on Thursday. And I got to speak to them and make sure that they knew where to go, how to get internet connection, how to get into the special press areas…pretty awesome.
So September 11th is Catalonia’s independence day, and ever since they lost independence 300 years ago, they’ve celebrated it and remembered the war that caused them to lose independence. On the evening before the 11th, there is a walk from one end of the city to another, where there is a memorial to those who they lost in the war, and people carry torches on the entire walk to commemorate them. I got to participate in this walk and it was truly moving and special, especially in this year that means so much to the people here.
On independence day for the past few years, my organization has organized big demonstrations that bring the people of Catalonia together and show the world that they want independence and they want democracy - and that they are a peaceful group who just wants to celebrate their national day and get together for a cause that they are all passionate about. It’s pretty frustrating, as you could imagine, when people call these gatherings on independence day “protests.” Even the word “demonstrations” doesn’t sound right - it evokes thoughts of violence and anger. These people aren’t angry, they just want to vote. And they want to celebrate their culture, which is exactly what they did last Thursday.
1.8 Million people came to Barcelona to fill two streets that run diagonally to each over, to make a “V” which stands for “vote.” My organization put the whole thing together, so you can imagine my pride when they pulled it off without a hitch.
I was in the press hub most of the day — talking with journalists, writing and translating press releases, etc. I even got interviewed for a Spanish TV station about how many members of the press we had, how many participants we had, etc. I was right in the middle of the action without actually being in the action at all.
Luckily, I got to go outside and see the “V” from the very top of it, the vertex. I didn’t go into the crowd - everyone emphasizes how peaceful the people are, but being an NU student abroad I wasn’t about to put myself in the middle of a huge crowd, just in case. But it was actually even better to be on the outside, because I could see down the whole line of people singing, dancing, chanting. And they even did a wave down the entire street!!
My coop allowed me to be a part of this amazing gathering of people that most certainly made history. I feel so lucky to be here and to be part of this movement, watching things develop from the inside and seeing how it affects people on the outside.
The next phase of the campaign starts soon, where they will start registering people to vote on November 9th and will be asking people what they want from their “new country.” I am learning more here about state building, democracy, political movements, and government relations than I would ever be able to learn in a classroom.
Next week my parents come to visit! And another coop from Madrid is coming to see beautiful Barcelona! We’re going to the Sagrada Familia together, which I am so excited about! So my next post will definitely be a more fun, picture-filled one :)
I heart coop
Wow, how long have I been waiting to say that?!
Coop rocks. My last coop….it did not rock. But this time around, I got lucky.
I am currently in Barcelona, working for the Catalan National Assembly with the international press team. It is incredible, rewarding, challenging, interesting, eye-opening work, and I couldn’t be happier here.
To avoid getting into a whole lengthy political discussion about what’s happening here, I’ll try to sum it up: Barcelona is part of Catalonia, a region in Spain that has always felt/been different from the rest of the country (they have their own language, culture, traditions, food, etc), and over the past few years the call for independence from Spain has gotten stronger, leading to the creation of my organization and a whole lot of tension over here. On November 9th they are supposed to vote on independence, but we’ll see if that actually happens. I strongly encourage anyone who is interested to look into this issue more, I’m sure there are plenty of articles that can explain it better, plus I’m not here to give a lesson on Catalan independence!
Anyway, I’ll be updating this blog with what’s happening at my coop - which should be getting very interesting soon, as this Thursday is Catalonia’s independence day, which will be celebrated by a huge demonstration in Barcelona that my organization has organized. I’ll be staying in the press hub, far from the crowds, but I’ll be live-updating journalists around the world about what is happening here. Pretty cool, right?
Aside from the political stuff, I’ll be exploring this beautiful amazing city and posting updates about my adventures here! Stay tuned!