Although in the US there is a general sentiment that we are a “free country,” there are certainly some areas that need improvement. We’ve all been noticing more and more of these areas in recent days. One aspect of our liberty that has always seemed sub-par to me is in the arena of free speech – more specifically, our right to express opinions. In a group. In the street. With air horns.
Having lived in Madrid and now in Barcelona, I can say that over here, people feel much freer to express their opinions via a demonstration in the streets. Workers protest the closure of factories; university students voice their disapproval of the Bologna Process.
In the above video clip from TV3 News, you don’t have to speak Catalan to understand that the students are basically mobbing the Catalan president, José Montilla, who only has a few rent-a-cops to help him get through the crowd. If you watch the whole video, you see that some some students climb onto the roof of the building to lodge their protests via the skylights. Scary!
While these demonstrations sometimes involve intervention from law enforcement, they usually occur thanks to police escorts, crowd and traffic control, and city permits. Buses are rerouted. If bus drivers are the ones demonstrating, public transportation is reconfigured for minimal disruption to service.
Maybe I was living under a rock in the US, but it always seemed to me that groups making use of these resources and staging a demonstration are usually seen as pretty radical. I don’t remember more than a handful of street demonstrations in my entire life living in the US, but I have personally witnessed a demonstration almost once a week here in Barcelona. Even the children learn from a young age to pound the pavement:
Public demonstrations (or manis) are so common here that I have even been happy to join a few myself. In Niskayuna, the only public march I ever joined was singing jazz standards in the Niska-Day parade. America has gone soft! Stop writing op-eds and start demonstrating!