Blog Entry #4
29 Septiembre Huelga General—29 September General Strike
Yesterday all over Spain there was a massive general strike that affected transport, mining, industry, and various other sectors of the Spanish economy. Markets were closed, and picketers forced department stores to close their doors. I decided I wouldn't let the day go to waste, so I armed myself with my trusty camera and went to the streets to see what the fuss was about.
Yesterday made me remember Berkeley, because thousands of people came from all around to struggle together for their historic causes. I walked to central Madrid, to the Atocha train station,1 where I joined a march put on by the CGT2 The march ended up in La Puerta del Sol, Madrid's living, breathing, pulsating heart. There were teachers, workers, doctors, gays, lesbians, immigrants, students, and all different types of ordinary people. Even a couple of crazy folks too!3
Why were they out on the streets? Directly, it's because of a recently implemented labor reform measure. The new law raises the retirement age, changes pensions, gives employers more rights to fire workers arbitrarily, cut salaries, and cut benefits. This is part of a general craze affecting the “developed” world, particularly the PIIGS countries,4 European states which have in recent decades invested more heavily in their societies. Politicians seem to like to call them “austerity measures.”5 What they seem like to me is simply taking from from hard working people to justify and rectify the fuck-ups of the people who like to think they run this society, and who gambled with our collective wealth on a system based essentially on nothingness. But hey, what would a gambler be without a system? It's too bad that that lost wealth is usually scooped up by people normal folks will never get to meet.
What I saw today was, literally, people yelling and screaming—the most basic expression. My favorite chant was, “Tthe capitalists should pay for the crisis.” Makes sense to me, not a single working person did anything to destabilize international finance.
But the experience made me think about the nature and necessity of protest. All demonstrations should be an expression of identity: “I am young. I am poor. I work. I study. I am different. I am the same. I am you. You are me. I don't want to buy what you're selling, or produce what you tell me to produce. But still, I have value, and you need to hear me.” Seeing it reminds me of the power of standing up for yourself and for your causes. Fear locks us up and sells us a bill of goods that compels us to want to be the same. Breaking out of that, even with small acts of resistance such as yesterday's strike and marches,6 is what stands in the way of a singular world of fear—the neoliberal world dream (or nightmare) of one world with one market, denying identity, denying history. Protest stands up for a world, entirely possible, of love, identity, and difference. The difference between Spain and the US is that here people seem more disposed to putting work on a back-burner and standing up for who they are. I'd like to see how it turns out. Hopefully the resistance here—the resistance everywhere—breaks the chains of fear instead of reusing them for just as nefarious activities.
Working for a cause is really rewarding. In my case, I've been most recently involved in the struggle to pass Proposition 19 in California.7 To me, this cause isn't about me being able to light up a joint without feeling like a criminal,8 although that's certainly a plus. The struggle against the War on (some) Drugs is part of the civil rights movement of my generation. We arrest far too many people. We arrest a greater percentage of our Black population than South Africa did at the height of Apartheid. We've maintained the color-caste system and reinforced it by expanding it to a whole litany of “undesirables.” With regards to this war on drugs, we see clearly the struggle of history: that there is an “US” oppressing a “THEM.” The good thing about this historical process, though, is that usually the oppressor pronoun's original sin is overcome—rectified—by the oppressed pronoun's eventual supremacy in numbers, motivation, and endurance. The risk, as always, lies in the latter pronoun's (the oppressed) propensity to want revenge.9 That propensity is part of the great human weakness: FEAR. Fear causes you to hate and it is often difficult for people to remember that hate is what got “us” and “them” into this unsustainable situation in the first place. You see, the drug war serves financial purposes that are a lot bigger than the people getting locked up for it. The problem “they” have is that those interests (the prison industrial complex, the police, and their inadvertent allies—large international drug kingpins benefiting off of the underground economy the Drug War has created) are losing justification for it. And with this contradiction, like all systems of oppression, it will fall.10
The lynch pin of this historical process is fear. Fear of those who haven't by those who have. A fear of moms for their children's safety, a fear of what's new and different. And even the fear of the injustice of yesterday returning—and the hate that this fear drives. On top of this, we're human. This means we have a lot of assholes around, both literally and figuratively. There's a good number of assholes who make use of this fear in the arbitrary lust for power and material wealth.11 Getting rid of this fear needs to be the object of revolutionaries. We must fight fear with the best tool there is to fight it with. The great thing about being human is that we have, an most often untapped, infinite capacity and possession of this tool—which in English, we've called Love.12
I'll Post more pictures once I get a better internet connection w/o a 250mb limit
2Several unions called this general strike. The CGT is an anarchist union that is now the largest anarchist group in the world, with 60,000 members representing 2 million workers through collective bargaining. These aren't the black-clad chain linked idiots representing anarchism in the US, these guys actually read, and organize. The tradition of anarchism comes out of a philosopher named Bakunin, who had a split with Marx in the 19th century over the need for a 'dictatorship of the proletariat.' Anarchism was big in Spain at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. Read more about the Spanish labor movement here.
3This is especially what reminded me of Berkeley!
4Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain
5In a parallel to our country, the USA, it turns out the Spanish politicians are as uninspiring as their American counterparts. The Minister of Labor, on speaking about the Strike, commented the usual tried squawk talk about “continuing dialogue.” The expression on his face while he said this, at least to me, conveyed a feeling that he wasn't all too interested in actually listening to what other people had to say about the situation.
6By the way, Madrid's events were tame, nonviolent, and rather fun. However, the news is showing that not all the demonstrations were peaceful. In Barcelona protestors ransacked a library, rioted in the city center, and were the target of police action.
8"I have always loved marijuana. It has been a source of joy and comfort to me for many years. And I still think of it as a basic staple of life, along with beer and ice and grapefruits - and millions of Americans agree with me."--Hunter S Thompson
9This is where we get firing-squads, and charismatic people who tend to repeat the mistakes of history. Example: 20th century.
10“History is a relay of revolutions.”--Saul Alinsky
11Example: Hitler, Stalin, Nixon, etc,
12Let me just say, at the risk of sounding ridiculous, that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love." -Ernesto “Che” Guevara