EYEWITNESS: A night with the protesters in Barcelona

EYEWITNESS: A night with the protesters in Barcelona
Photos by Jennifer Lutz
Jennifer Lutz, an American student in Barcelona, goes out on the streets to talk to the protesters.

The violence begins at night. 

Cars burn and windows break and rubber bullets ricochet off cobblestone streets to the dismay of Barcelona residents, squeezing tired bodies through narrow streets towards home- the usual way is closed off by police or protesters or both. 

But who is causing the violence?

There are different reports and different witnesses who will tell you different things – because there is no one group behind the violence.  There is no one incident of violence. The violence is coming in waves; a result of two years’ anger, “people were waiting for the result, and the result is a catastrophe,” Susan tells me. 

She was one of the many Catalans, who worked alongside the jailed officials. For the people taking to the streets, this is about oppression- and for some, they act out of fear that the iron fist of Franco still haunts the Catalan capital. 

But, the majority of the half-million marching on Barcelona do not want violence, they want change.  5pm Friday, October 18th: the sun is shining. You can feel the rhythm of the drumbeats in the pulse of your blood.  The people are dancing with arms in the air and Catalan flags draped over their backs. 

“Our government is in prison, and we say enough is enough. Police attack and we try to defend…” Marta tells me. She is one of the thousands who marched from her village to the streets of Barcelona. 

Chants reverberate off stone walls, as people pour into Barcelona, in organized streams of protest. It is similar to Catalan demonstrations witnessed in Belgium, two years ago- when the Catalan officials were first jailed for organizing the October 1st Independence referendum. 

But last night’s violence is fresh in the minds of police, who charge down Via Laietana, holding body shields and shooting rubber bullets into a crowd armed only with the Catalan flags on their backs. They are nervous- cars have been burned in the street and people have been beaten and violent dissenters have crawled into the city.  But the bullets shot in the afternoon are unprovoked.  

The violence comes at night. “The younger ones burn things,” a Catalan protester tells me. “People are very angry because politicians are in jail for their ideas and for protesting and for disobeying the State… but most of the people do it in peace.” 

I talk with members of Committees in Defense of the Referendum (CDR).  The Spanish State should not fear them for violence, they should fear them for their organized resilience.

In days, the Catalans organized massive, peaceful protest. “You must have the app…to make meetings online,” Marta tells me. Which app?  It doesn’t matter.  Today the Spanish Government shut down the website for Democratic Tsunami. Already they have found another way.

In the night, the streets are full of fire.  “The police are extremely violent,” Oriol says, and I see it in the swinging of batons and in the bouncing rubber bullets. But, it is not only the police. 

Marta insists that all the protests are planned to be peaceful. She is not the only one. Each Catalan I speak with says the same “The CDR rejects violence.” The Catalans reject violence on all fronts; it is perhaps why they’ve never achieved independence.

Photo: AFP

“People want the Catalan politicians release out of jail,” says a Catalan artist, who protests in the day and paints in the night.

“Its not about independence. Some people want independence, but not all. People are marching on Barcelona for democracy; they are protecting their freedoms,” the young Augustin says. 

“The people are frustrated from not being heard,” a university student tells me. She has marched every day since Sunday. “A minority became violent, but the majority disagrees. Yesterday, there was a fascist group, beating people with bats, so the tension built up.”

Will the violence escalate? Marta says no and then, “maybe for some hundred young people but we are more than two million. I understand that for newspapers, its better to speak about violence, but we want peace.” 


Photo: AFP

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