A good end cannot sanctify evil means; nor must we ever do evil, that good may come of it... We are too ready to retaliate, rather than forgive... And yet we could hurt no man that we believe loves us. Let us try then what love will do: for if men did once see we love them, we should soon find they would not harm us. Force may subdue, but Love gains: and he that forgives first, wins the laurel.
William Penn

Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone...
George Fox

Friday, May 4, 2012

The May Day Demonstration in Barcelona; Peaceful Solidarity, And Threats of Violence

The Free Hugs Campaign
 While staying with friends in Vilanova i la Geltrú I'd heard there would be demonstrations in Barcelona during my stay here, one of which would take place on May 1st, Labor Day. I've read and heard a lot about Barcelona's demonstrations, and about the violence that often occurs, and I've heard people blame either demonstrators or the police; I've even heard some people claim that the police start the violence, posing as demonstrators. I thought I'd attend to find the truth on that matter and  to know what this worldwide movement is all about. I also thought I'd do a little amateur reporting for this blog.

'Mossos' help out a tourist
Being the amateur reporter that I am, I had no idea where the demonstration was to take place, or when. I'd heard Plaza de Catalunya was often the site of demonstrations, so I went there only to find two 'mossos d'esquadra' vans with their crews standing idly by and two riot policemen with riot gear ready to go. The van crews didn't seem to mind being photographed, but the riot policemen told me I'd better not photograph them. I didn't.
As far as demonstrators were concerned, the closest thing I could find to a demonstration were a few people from the 'Free Hugs Campaign' offering free hugs. This campaign was started by a man named Juan Mann, from Sydney, Australia, who decided to give free hugs after being given a spontaneous hug when he was depressed. Juan claimed that that hug had given him joy and hope and thus the campaign was started. It has gone worldwide since then.

 I eventually found two young men walking hurriedly in another direction with 'no cuts' flags. They pointed me to Plaza de la Universitat to find the demonstration. I knew just where to go, having waitied in the Plaza for my host the night before. As I approached the Plaza I saw more riot vans and mossos in full riot gear, but among them I saw what I thought were protestors, dressed in civilian clothes, with bandanas covering their faces and ball caps pulled down . They had police arm bands and stood truculently with their arms crossed. I thought this must have been a parody of what protestors viewed the riot police to be like. I raised my camera when one of the 'protestors' stepped forward and told me to put the camera away. I thought he was joking, and looked at another 'protestor', then another, and they all looked pretty serious. I put the camera away. Later I would stand with a group of journalists who were also ready to photograph these guys, and were also told they'd better not. They also didn't photograph them, at least not at close range while they were idle. One of the journalists told me that some of these 'secret police' would infiltrate the crowd at some point.

As the demonstrators gathered, I noticed that many were elderly or well into middle age. Many were university students, and most seemed to be ordinary people. There were also large and well organized groups of various political influences; communists, socialists for Catalan independence, anarchists. At that point there was no air of tension; the crowd might have been gathering for a concert rather than for a demonstration.
 It was only the photojournalists who seemed tense; they seemed to know something I didn't know.

It wasn't long, though, before there was a scuffle. There was shouting at the edge of the crowd, where the mossos were, and people started surging towards the police line. Journalists were snapping off photos, people were running, there was some yelling, a water jug was thrown at the police, a plain clothes policeman pulled out a telescopic truncheon and gestured threateningly. As the crowd surged, the riot police line moved forward; there were a few minutes of standoff, then the riot police line backed down and the crowd thinned as the demonstration got underway, marching off into the opposite direction. I later asked a journalist what had happened; one of the plain clothes policemen had been discovered in the crowd and some of the demonstrators had reacted in a less than peaceful manner.

 As the demonstrators marched down Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, drums played and many groups chanted slogans. On several occasions there was jeering and whistling heard from one part of the crowd or another; usually at the plain clothed, masked and truculent 'secret police' who blocked off exits to contain the demonstration. At one point it seemed violence would flare up when a group of these plain clothes police retreated from the crowd, having been among the demonstrators.
They were quick to get out though, and no violence occurred.

 At one point, as I stood on a curb, clicking away with my camera as the procession made its way peacefully down the Gran Via, a young lady handed me a small leaflet. I'd already been handed several that called one to the cause of this or that political group, but this leaflet was directed at me in particular. It was in Catalan, and said, in summary, that:
 the demonstrators were tired of our photos; that lately because of cheap technology and mobile phones, demonstrations had become free rides for photo taking tourists who do nothing to contribute to the cause. Furhtermore,

'Many of our colleagues have been condemned because of these images...  We can scare off the journalists and the 'secret police', since cowards run from the possibility of confrontation. But what do we do with you, buddy?  Leave your camera at home; demonstrate with us, to protest and fight. Next time we might not tell you in such a polite way.'

I was a bit put out by this leaflet, and even offended;  the presence of the 'secret police' on one side and so many gentle people expressing their discontent with a corrupt system on the other had me identifying with the demonstrators.
A scuffle broke out when a 'secret' policeman was discovered in the crowd. The men dressed like thugs in the background? Policemen.
But I kept taking photos, standing on park benches to get a better view, and going down side streets to have a better look at the police dressed and behaving like thugs.
One of the 'secret' police pulls out his telescopic truncheon in the background

 When the demonstration passed a second floor home for the elderly, an old woman smiled and waved enthusiastically. Many in the demonstration smiled at this. I smiled too, and my heart was lifted. At that point I left the demonstration as it headed in the direction of Plaza Espanya.
The riot squad moves back

In the background along the sidewalk, 'secret' police retreating to the tune of jeers and whistling

Journalists and demonstrators photograph the police while the police photograph us

What 99% of the demonstration was; festive, albeit discontented solidarity

Riot vans bring up the rear

Plain clothed, masked, policemen. These guys created tension rather than alleviating it.

The demonstration moves peacefully along Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes

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