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.

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