In our newest guest column, read our special on-the-ground reports of what’s happening on the streets of Barcelona from American journalist and Barcelona resident-of-two-decades Lynn Baiori.
The helicopters have returned. We’ve been hearing them for months, although I can’t remember when they first appeared circling overhead. Most likely during one of this year’s growing demonstrations. Maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention. It seemed to happen gradually, the growing discontent, the bands of neighbours gathering in solidarity in the squares and in the streets chanting, the river of protesters carrying Catalan flags down the Passeig de Gràcia and along the Diagonal. Here, in Barcelona, it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish a political protest from a street party. Young and old form circles of camaraderie, you meet someone you know in the crowd and kisses are exchanged, children sit atop their parents shoulders to get a better view of the gathering. Police helicopters always seem superfluous, threatening, a ridiculous show of force at such peaceful gatherings.
I’m not Catalan, although I’ve lived here for more than two decades and consider this place to be my adopted home. I speak the regional language, I’m married to a Catalan and have two Catalan daughters. As an immigrant, I have the privilege of watching the rising tide of discontent from a somewhat safer, emotional distance but I am not immune to sometimes feeling swept up in the fervor of the moment. These people, my neighbours, my friends, my family, are asking to be heard. I listen to their conversations and understand their frustration. They want more respect for their institutions, they want to move forward, they don’t want to be the patron of a state that doesn’t consider them an equal partner, of a ruling party that treats them with disdain and is willing to take their taxes while ignoring their grievances. So they gather in the streets and march patiently, stubbornly.
It is no longer possible to separate oneself from what is happening. Sides are becoming more entrenched. A dinner appointment my husband and I had this week has been cancelled due to an ideological falling out between friends. School was suspended and businesses closed as part of a general strike, an outcry against police violence during the recent referendum; my eldest daughter joined with other students in local protest marches. The other night, tens of thousands of people held a candlelight vigil in solidarity with the head of the Catalan National Assembly and the president of the Catalan cultural organization, Òmnium, both of whom have been arrested and charged with sedition. The next evening traffic was cut again along Barcelona’s main artery, the Diagonal, as street cleaners scraped wax from the pavement.
My father calls me to ask if we’re okay. He’s been watching the international news and has a different picture of what’s happening here. I assure him we’re fine. While we’re talking, I stand at the open window and hear the sound of people banging kitchen pots; the noise has become a nightly ritual, another means for people to show their frustration at the Spanish government. Meanwhile, my cell phone fills with messages from neighbors and friends with the latest news, political satire and calls to action.
The next night, another rally. My husband arrives late after navigating the streets packed with protesters. He turns on the television to see it all replayed on the local news. Meanwhile, I sit at the kitchen table helping my daughter with her French homework. Overhead, more helicopters sweep through the sky.