I saw the best minds of my generation” being dog-walkers or asking ’Would you like fries with that?’”
This may well be the sentiment of plenty of young people under the age of 30 across the developed world. Certainly, I include Catalonia, and especially those who camped across Barcelona’s main street of Gran Via and into the public square in front of the University of Barcelona.
Yes, they had other issues too that are important to them: the jailing of independence movement leaders, police brutality against protesters, increasing legal restrictions on free expression, but one of their other three stated aims was “a dignified future.”
It’s worth considering what this means. I see no reason why we should simply ignore the different groups who made up the “encampment”. When I visited the area in early November I saw groups of surprisingly youthful-looking kids being politically active. Some were in their mid-teens but were confident and obviously happy to be there. One young woman I spoke to had a makeshift stall that was all about a red plastic rubbish bin and her own writing I read was a vague and confusing attempt at satire. Another group were encouraging tweets as a method of expression where you could win a prize.
It’s difficult to argue though, with much of what the main section of the Gran Via campers have said. Calling themselves the ‘October 14 Generation’, their manifesto states, “We are a generation without a future. The generation of precariousness. The one that does not have access to housing, the one that is the victim of a system that threatens the very existence of our planet. We are a generation that has been robbed of the most basic social and labour rights.”
To me, that is all clear and true. Only someone living with their eyes closed could dispute it and in fact the far right continue to dishonestly and selectively use these young people’s sense of frustration and alienation for their own political benefit all across Europe.
Of course, it’s easy to write off the street-campers as just some university student vandals and fire-starters who are abusing the privileges that they’ve been given. Sadly, even a great writer and thinker such as Antonio Muñoz Molina (considered to be progressive) did this in a recent article for El Pais newspaper. His comments seem to have at least partly come from jealousy when comparing his own strict upbringing compared to “the academic authorities’ paternal and maternal indulgence” over these students’ postponed exams.
To make a comparison, I originally come from a part of the planet (Australia) where the level of political interest in most of the population, but especially the young, could best be described as minimal. In fact, apathy rules. I’m filled with optimism (rare for me) when I see young people taking a strong interest in anything outside their own narrow lives, even if I don’t happen to agree in all cases with everything they are on about. If any protester anywhere uses violence against people or private property then I naturally condemn it.
History has taught us that for protest to gain enough popular support to cause meaningful, long-term, lasting change it has to be non-violent. If that means camping out in a public square and main street, then that is a far more humanitarian option than us attacking each other with sticks. It might even help to foster a future that is less unstable.