General Strike, Barcelona, February 2019
When I was in about the tenth grade, my P.E. class decided to go on strike.
It was Friday, January and 8 in the morning…
And we were scheduled to do an outdoor run.
Before the P.E. teacher arrived, we all agreed: we weren’t going to do it. It was too cold to run. We were going on strike.
A few minutes later, the P.E. teacher – all five foot six of him – showed up to where we were sitting, on one corner of the basketball court in the gym.
“Ok, let’s go,” he said. “Time for the Friday run.”
In the space of about 5 seconds, I watched everyone except myself get up. Incredulously, I kept sitting there, about 7 seconds more.
(I’ve always been stubborn like that.)
I was the only one who stuck to my principles… the only one to hold out longer than 10 seconds.
“C’mon, Danny!” Said the P.E. teacher. “Friday run!”
It was over so quickly that I don’t think he even realized we’d been on strike.
I rolled my eyes, got up, and did the damn run. It was my first protest, and it failed miserably.
Fast forward a few years…
Not long after, I started going to protests in the center of Phoenix.
My dad would drop me off, because they were usually close to where he worked.
The first one I remember must have been on Colombus Day or something, because otherwise I can’t explain why my dad was at work, but I wasn’t at school.
I can’t really remember what we were protesting, but it was soon after “The Battle in Seattle” – the anti-WTO protests in 1999 – so I assume it had something to do with globalization. You know, Nike and such.
There was a lot of shouting, and some sitting down on the pavement while a greasy-haired girl in all black instructed us to “come to a consensus”.
Afterwards, the police broke it up, and I wandered to the mall to buy some frozen yogurt and wait for my dad to get off work.
As far as I can tell, globalization survived that one.
Some time later, I moved to Spain, where striking is one of the national pastimes.
Which brings us all the way up to today, February 21st 2019…
The General Strike in Catalonia
Today, Catalonia is on strike.
Not that anybody tells me about these things. I saw a passing mention in El País this morning, and Morena told me she might be late to work if the buses were delayed.
I went out a couple of times in the morning and didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.
Otherwise, I stayed at home, working away on the computer.
But when I went out to buy cheese for my sandwich at lunch, I suddenly found myself in the middle of the uprising.
What I mean is, the deli 2 blocks up was closed for the strike. Because of the “General Strike”, according to the sign on the door.
Taking a sharp left, I was soon at the municipal market, where all the stall owners were hard at work.
I bought cheese, as well as chorizo and some sort of exotic paté.
Take that, capitalism! Take that, opressive Spanish police state!
(“Cheese is a social construct of the petite bourgeoisie, and you’re out buying 200 grams of Edam? How could you engage in such conspicuous consumption during a general strike?” That’s what 16-year-old Mr Chorizo would say right now, probably. And if not him, then one of his loser friends.)
Back at home a few minutes later, I got on google to find out more about this mysterious strike.
Soon I found someone on twitter, claiming that commerce had halted all over the “country” due to the wildly successful general strike.
“Fake news”, I replied. “I’m here in Barceloneta and everything seems 99% normal. Except for the 1-minute delay I experienced while buying cheese.”
About 4 seconds later, a typical Catalan leftist was replying to me…
“You know nothing! Go home!”
Apparently this is going to be a weekly occurrence.
She also told me I needed to speak to her in Catalan, and if I can’t, I should leave.
Of course, if we were back in Arizona, I’d never be so stupid as to tell anyone to speak English or go home. That would be insane.
But I guess that’s another story.
Why a general strike in Catalonia?
The reason for the strike the members of the regional government responsible for the independence referendum a couple of years ago are now on trial.
Further investigation online led me to take a walk later in the afternoon, looking for signs of an actual strike, closer to the city center.
I went all over Barceloneta, Born, Gótico and Passeig de Gracia and didn’t find any other businesses that were closed for the occasion.
The Apple store on Plaça de Catalunya was closed, but that was apparently for remodeling.
Tiffany’s was open, but had most of their steel shutters down, just in case.
Zara was open. Diesel was open. Even Nike, evil symbol of globalization from my youth, was open.
On Passeig de Gracia, though, the traffic was blocked, and they’d set up a stage. People waving Catalan flags were arriving. A lot of people… I’ll give them credit for that. I guess there would be some speeches later.
No police anywhere near the protest. The only police cars were two blocks away on either side, diverting traffic.
There wasn’t much shouting. A few air horns. Some signs saying things like “Without rights, there is no freedom.” “Free political prisoners.”
You know, stuff like that… but in Catalan.
(I can read Catalan, more or less, but literally no-one looks at me and assumes that I speak it. At most, I overhear a few sentences when I go to buy wine or when I’m in the sauna at the gym.)
More people are arriving at the protest, but I’ve got to get home to cook dinner. I guess the revolution will have to carry on without me.
I wander back on another, longer route through Urquinaona and Born. Everything seems completely normal down here.
Finally, next to home, I stop at my wine shop.
The owner is Catalan, or at least speaks the language to a lot of his customers. I get a bottle of wine and a couple tall cans of Estrella, the bad local beer.
“You’re not on strike?” I ask, as he takes my credit card.
“No, not on strike.” He’s a happy black-bearded guy who always plays good blues music while he works. “I respect the sentiment, but I’ve got loans with the bank that won’t wait around if I’m not working. Priorities. You know?”
Yeah, I know.
I thank him, and walk home.
Maybe the revolution will be televized. Maybe it won’t.
But it doesn’t really matter: I still don’t own a TV.
So hopefully someone will tweet to me about it when it happens. Otherwise, I might miss the whole thing.
P.S. What do you think? Should I go back to my country? Should Catalonia build a wall to keep people like me out? Is fuet better than chorizo, or just a pale imitation? Whatever your opinion, I’d like to hear it. Leave me a comment below… thanks!
P.P.S. If you want more rabble-rousing fun, check out the anti-tourism protests from a couple of years ago, or maybe the 2021 “free speech” riots in favor of the rapper Pablo Hasél. Or for something a bit more leisurely, how about Sex in Spain? Have fun!