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Davis, California

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Guest opinion: Perspective on protests from Spain

On Mar. 29, a general strike, or “Huelga General,” struck Spain with a historic and sobering dose of citywide solidarity. With 75 percent of flights grounded, a stopped public transportation system and police teams mobilizing in the city’s major plazas, Barcelona appeared to be preparing itself for a Zombie outbreak or coup d’etat.

After following 2011’s Occupy Movement, and as a student from Davis in the recent aftermath of the pepper spray incident, I like to think that I’ve seen a lot regarding student protests and strikes, but the Spanish students’ protest of Mar. 29 really opened my eyes to the possibilities and inevitable hypocrisies of large-scale student protests, with the riot-like student assembly that ensued, here in Barcelona.

Students at my host campus, Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, blockaded entrances to the school in addition to vandalizing the majority of windows, walls and pretty much anything they could find. A physical assault on a faculty member was also reported in the days proceeding the general strike.

My host university here in Barcelona has a reputation for being “more politically active” than its sister universities in the city. This reputation most likely stems from its highly ranked social science departments, but upon returning to my campus after the protest, labeling the university “politically active” seems like the naive equivalent of labeling a Michael Bay movie as an Academy Award nominee.

Upon leaving the train and walking into my campus’s main entrance, the main student entrance and plaza appeared somewhat like the aftermath of a war zone. Table barricades were half beaten down, walls were covered in blood-red Catalan graffiti, windows were smashed in and the on-campus bank was nearly completely destroyed. It was almost like a horrible, twisted episode of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” with chairs thrown into windows instead of a freshly landscaped garden.

Students assembled to protest a variety of things, but mainly focused on the alleged “privatization” of their campus, budget cuts and tuition hikes that result from the widespread economic recession, similar to the UC-wide protests in the fall, made infamous by the notorious “pepper spray incident.”

While I can admire the unrivaled passion and all-encompassing solidarity that the Catalan students have gathered together, I can’t help but be slightly disgusted at the hypocrisy of it all — the looting, the vandalizing and destroying of the physical campus (not to mention assaulting a faculty member). This vandalism closes the gates of healthy communication and instead makes the students look like toddlers throwing tantrums, not to mention that the students are destroying what they are fighting for — their university. While insurance might cover some of the damages, the university will ultimately have to pay for the damages caused by the students, and since the university already struggles with a limited budget, they will most likely make the students pay for the damages.

So, despite “good” intentions, the students will inevitably hurt themselves and their campus. We can personally relate to their cause, as students at a supposedly public university with tuition rivaling private universities, but I can’t help but wonder which type of student protest will prove to be more effective: those of peace and strict nonviolence at my home university in California, or those of budding violence, vandalism and passionate anarchism here at my host university in Barcelona?

Gandhi once said that “violent means will give violent freedom,” but with the lack of change and continued decisions that seem to neglect student voices, maybe violence will help raise the volume of the student’s agenda.

BRYAN STEELE
Junior, international relations and anthropology major

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