Hey Spain, Stop Attacking Civil Liberties

“You don’t need to be in favor of the Catalan Republic to be horrified by how the Spanish State is behaving,”-Jordi Solé, member of the European Parliament and secretary of international relations for leftist independent party Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya. Spain’s most recent attack on democratic freedoms, threatens to persecute private citizens for freedom of speech and peaceful protests.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy appears less like a politician working to rebuild a region and more like an autocrat using the judicial system to satisfy his personal disputes. On April 2cd, the office of the prosecutor of the Audiencia Nacional publicly announced that they “will continue to pursue criminal investigations” against the Committees for Defense of the Referendum (CDR). The official press release accuses the CDR of sheltering and praising with violence individuals judicially prosecuted for the most grave crimes…such as rebellion.” It is another step in Spain’s revived judicial attack on political dissenters. But this is an EU member State, with constitutional provisions for democratic markers such as freedom of speech, is it not?

I am familiar with the CDR; during my last visit to Barcelona, I joined them for community paella. The event was organized to raise money for a housing project; we all donated whatever we wished for heaping servings of paella and while the band played I watched two small girls dance in front of the stage, their yellow dresses twirling in a light breeze than chilled the air. Between bites of paella, I asked the men around me questions. There were seven of them, two I had met the night before, one fluent in English. One carried a chair to the table for me, another carried my drink, together asked if I was warm enough and apologized for not having better English.

“This will be the first independence won without violence,” Roger had told me the night before while we sang songs and pinned yellow ribbons to our chests and waved banners calling for the release of jailed Catalan leaders. I laughed then and I laughed again sitting amongst him and the other CDR members who insisted on non-violence.

“You can’t win this way.” I insisted.

‘We are patient.” They answered.

I didn’t agree with them when I sat down but as the breeze picked up and my paella grew cold, I couldn’t argue their persistence. I was reminded of an anecdote from my interview with Mr. Jordi Solé. He’d told me that independence was not the goal, but a vehicle for a better government, one that had become impossible under the rule of Spain.

I asked how they would win. “We are organized and we are growing; we are throughout Europe, not just in Spain,” Roger tells me. It’s true. There’s a CDR is Boston now.

And then, with a sly smile, hugging his jacket closer to his thin frame, the youngest of the group says, “They call us terrorist, Spain does.”

I had come to Spain for a respite and ended up eating Paella with the friendliest group of “terrorist” I have ever met. They were the type of “terrorists” history will call civil justice leaders.

Women’s rights.

Improved healthcare.

Free legislation of local laws.

Diplomacy.

Freedom of political prisoners.

These are some of the things the CDR is fighting for. They began fighting in defense of the referendum. Now, they are fighting for the defense of democracy. Madrid can send police to brutalize them with batons, the CDR will not stop. They will pack sandwiches and sit between borders, blocking roadways and singing songs that were sung during Franco’s dictatorship.

But me, I am not Catalan, I am American. I live in The United States, where police are sent to arrest Black Lives Matters protestors who gather to block intersections and march for an end to racist police brutality. I live in the United States where the government has begun to monitor private conversations and list Black Lives Matter as a hostile threat. I live in the United States where school children are punished for walking out of schools to rally for gun regulations. But just like the CDR, we continue to gather and march and rally, because oppression thrives on fear, and government for and by the people relies on courage. Change is not born from silence, it is manifested by citizens who know that together, they are stronger than the government that seeks to mute progress.

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