Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Catalonia's debt to Twitter

How do you change the world peacefully and democratically in the 21st century? By connecting, educating, and getting the outside world to listen. Catalans have spent the last six years determined to have their say in a country that neither listens to them nor respects them, and they have done so in the most exemplary fashion: with five massive peaceful, smiling demonstrations, with debates, conferences, and canvassing, with citizen-led and government-supported though non-binding referenda, and by simply and steadfastly demanding the most basic of democratic rights which Spain refuses to grant: to vote on their political future.

At this moment when people are questioning Twitter's future, I love explaining how Twitter is a key tool for helping us forge the democratic, informed future of Catalonia in a state with one of the most regressive freedom of speech laws in Europe (Spain's 'gag law') by helping us translate our struggle to the outside world, by connecting us directly with our political leaders, and by giving us a place to debate the issues surrounding independence in public, with documented information. We simply would not be where we are without Twitter.

I have spent the last six years on Twitter, forging these connections, first between ebook production artists and more recently between Catalan politicians, journalists and activists. I started out translating Catalan tweets into English. I wanted the world to hear firsthand what a million plus Catalans had to say as they marched peacefully for independence that first September 11, back in 2012. I was tired of the mainstream media calling Catalonia the “northeast region of Spain” and talking only about soccer, paella and Gaudí. Frustrated with Madrid-based foreign correspondents blaming Catalonia's desire for self-rule on selfishness.

I, and many other activists, began to follow journalists and call them out about the inaccuracies in their articles, pointing them to new sources of information. We also follow politicians and community leaders and routinely ask them about their policies and positions. Of the 14 top officials in the Catalan Government—the President and his 13 ministers—10 have active Twitter accounts. Journalists, broadcasters and pundits are almost universally present as well.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal underscored the importance of connecting with people abroad to give direct, unfiltered information about Catalonia's struggle for independence. Another article in Madrid daily El País complained that activists harass foreign journalists. Instead, I believe that Twitter has not only been essential for gaining support for independence but is a fundamental building block for Catalonia's new democracy. It gives us an essential tool for demanding forthrightness and accuracy from both journalists and political leaders, and allows ordinary citizens, like an immigrant American computer book writer like me, to be active participants in determining the policies of our new country. (The Catalan President and eight of his 13 ministers follow me on Twitter.)

And where have we arrived? After six years of massive demonstrations, Twitter campaigns, and many other individual initiatives, we have the first pro-independence majority in the history of the Catalan Parliament. Today, newly elected Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said in Parliament, “We are serious about independence, and you all have realized it too late.” Perhaps those folks don't follow him on Twitter.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Catalan President accused of aiding non-official independence vote

Several thousand people demonstrated in front of Spain's Superior Court of Justice in Catalonia this morning, while current president Artur Mas arrived, flanked by 400 mayors from all over Catalonia, and gave testimony on charges that he misused his office in order to allow a 'participatory process' that allowed Catalans to overwhelming vote in favor of Catalan independence last November 9, 2014. About 2.3 million people (out of 5.5 million) voted, despite scorn and threats from the government, as well as its non-official nature.

The testimony comes on the 75th anniversary, to the day, of the execution by firing squad of Catalonia's earlier president Lluís Companys, who was dragged back from France by the Gestapo and then summarily tried and executed by Francisco Franco's troops. These had the gall to try the president for rebellion, despite that it was Franco and his followers who took up arms against their own government, and that Companys was a democratically elected president, indeed the only incumbent president in Europe to ever be executed. France and Germany apologized for their part in capturing Companys; Spain has repeatedly refused to annul the sentence or apologize for its actions. Whether calling the current president to testify on this date was intentional or not, we do not know, but they evidently saw no need to change the date, once they learned of its significance.

President Mas made a statement at the Catalan Government building a little while later in which he took full responsibility for the vote, but refused to accept that any criminal charges should be brought in consequence. He explained that the Catalan government's actions on the vote could be divided into three periods: First, the government had passed legislation allowing for a non-binding referendum and that he had signed a decree to hold the vote on September 27, but that the Spanish Constitutional Court had suspended the legislation and the decree in record time on September 28 and 29.

On October 14, the president announced that the government would carry out a 'participatory process' with the help of citizen volunteers, and the Spanish government limited itself to scornful comments about said process over the course of the next 15 days. The Catalan government did help organize during those 15 days, but there was no prohibition against it.

When the Spanish government realized that the vote would be successful, the Constitutional Court disallowed the new format as well, but that didn't happen until four or five days before the vote. The President said that after that point, the Catalan government issued no additional orders nor instructions, thereby complying with the prohibition, and that it was volunteers who carried out all actions related to the vote. He also asked whether any Spanish government body had made any move to stop the participatory process and wondered why only the Catalan government was being held to account. He also noted that the Spanish government had disobeyed the Constitutional Court rulings on many occasions with no consequences.

You can find my Storify of the President's remarks.

Former Vice President Joana Ortega, and current Education Minister Irene Rigau gave testimony on Tuesday, another infamous day, the anniversary of the execution of Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia, the promoter of the Modern School (Escola Modern) in Barcelona.

It's enough to make you think Spain is itching for a confrontation. And to convince you that it doesn't know a lot about democracy.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Together for Yes, Oriol Junqueras, president of ERC

Oriol Junqueras, president of ERC, originally published in El Punt Avui

Junts pel Sí [Together for Yes] is not a political party, nor does it aspire to be one. Junts pel Sí is a temporary fellowship of very diverse members, that goes way beyond the initials of CDC or ERC or other political formations. It's hard to imagine such an unorthodox coalition without taking into account the common objective that responds to the demands of a country and a people as heterogeneous as Catalonia. It is in no way a coalition designed to handily win some regional elections. And if anyone has come to that conclusion, either inside or out of the country, they are way, way off base. Let's make it clear, then: Junts pel Sí has no other raison d'être than to win independence. From here comes its strength and its uniqueness. What we are going to do, what we are firmly determined to do, is create a new country that is more free and more just, a country whose standard is the will to live and let live. And that is only possible through independence. And that is precisely the point that distances a good number of those of us who form this Yes list from other perfectly respectable political options like Catalunya Sí que es Pot. We may share a desire for social justice, for democratic regeneration. However, we are conscious that we can only win a country that is more fair and more free by first winning our independence and constructing—between all of us—the Catalan Republic: a fully democratic state which has the unique opportunity of creating a state that is truly at the service of the citizenry. Trying to make us believe that the solution will come from hypothetical new majorities in the Spanish government is pie in the sky. We all know those majorities are not there. Not only because they require the collusion of the PP and PSOE. But also because in the best of cases, the emerging political options in Spain are simply not interested.

However, it's obvious that many of us are convinced that in the definition of this Catalan Republic it will be inevitable, and indeed desirable to count on all of these good people who long for a more just country in which equal opportunity is a foundational value. In this specific area we consider ourselves very close to these other political formations and candidacies. And the fact that a friend and companion like Raül Romeva (what an awesome candidate we have!) is at the top of the Together for Yes list is, in itself, a categorical declaration of principles. Independence is the essential leverage for change. Independence is the key to a new country, it is the only road to the Catalan Republic, it is the only opportunity to create an efficient country, that functions with rational criteria, that administers its resources for the good of the economic needs of the country and all of its people, that it builds itself a powerful network of infrastructures that connects us with the world and that at the same time responds to the daily needs of its citizens, starting with a decent regional rail network. Or that guarantees a pension model for our seniors. Or access to decent housing. Or that allows our young people, our future generations, to have true opportunities in the country of their birth instead of having to travel abroad to build their future. For that reason alone, independence is essential. It's true that there are also weighty cultural and historic reasons. But above all, beyond everything else, there is the need to construct a country that serves the needs of the people, that seeks a better future for them, for all, regardless of where they were born or the language that they speak. Those that advocate democratic regeneration or social justice will never be adversaries of independentism. On the contrary, they will always be potential allies.

Independence is not an ideology, of course. It has never been one. Independence goes against no one, but rather in the end—and absolutely completely I would say—it is at the service of all of the citizens of the country, of all of them without exception. This is why, as I said at the beginning, there is a group of us that have joined together in Together for Yes that in other circumstances would probably never have come together in a single candidacy. From herein lies its strength, its power, its capacity to enthuse, its unequivocal service to a just cause. That is why independence must be, here and now, an unequivocal commitment to the citizenry.

It's obvious that we have to talk with the Spanish government, to negotiate the birth of the Catalan State in the most amicable manner and to achieve the best neighborly relations. But we do not accumulate this joint strength in order to ask permission, nor to negotiate a new status quo with the State, but rather to reflect a demonstration of sovereign will of the Catalan people which will be exercised without delays in a dialogue among equals with the Spanish State. We are going to win independence, we are going all out, it's been said, and we are going all out not only because it's the only possible path or because they've left us no other alternative. We're doing so out of dignity, because we have every right, because of the wishes of all of those who came before us, and because we know that only the Catalan Republic, in the words of Francesc Macià, can ensure "a politically free, socially just, economically prosperous, and spiritually glorious Catalonia".