Column: Lessons from Catalonia

Catalonia is a region of Spain containing the city of Barcelona. Many Catalan people speak a completely different language than the rest of Spain and have an equally separate culture. Because of this, among many other reasons including taxes and cultural suppression, Catalonia seeks independence from Spain.  

On Oct. 1, Catalonia held a vote, or rather attempted to hold one, for independence from Spain. Whether you agree or disagree with Catalonia separating itself remains irrelevant. The problem lies in Spain's denial of the Catalan vote on such a matter.

The Spanish government took many measures to prevent the vote. They called it illegal. They claimed they would ignore the results. And then they sent the police in like a military force and absolutely brutalized peaceful voters. The police force, in full riot gear, was caught on many occasions beating Catalan people, dragging them by their hair out of buildings and shooting rubber bullets into crowds. Things got so dire that Catalonia firefighters formed human shields to protect those trying to vote from Spanish police. 

The Catalan government claimed that over 800 people were injured and that 319 out of the 2,300 polling stations were shut down by police; meanwhile, the Spanish government said only 92 stations were shut down. An estimated 2.26 million voters out of the 5.3 million registered voted, with 90 percent in favor of independence. However, there are conflicting reports on the number of votes possibly due to police officers taking ballot boxes and the fear of double voting.

There are two main takeaways from the Catalan referendum that Americans must understand: Value your vote and recognize division within society.

If you were to ask a student around you for their opinion on the Catalan referendum, most would not know what you were talking about. This ignorance is dangerous, it leads to not knowing how great things are in the U.S.

Americans have the privilege of living in the greatest nation in the world. Our nation does not suppress our voice over matters deemed controversial, such as independence in Catalonia.

Yes, you can liken Catalonia to protests like the ones in Charlottesville that broke out into violence. The major difference is that the violence in Spain deals with the violation of the right to vote. The riots in America are controversial, yes. The riots in America are over important matters, yes. However, police in Spain are not shutting down violent mobs attacking one another nor violent protests in general but those trying to vote for what they believe is their right to independence. Also, the Spanish police stops those who would vote against the independence. Recognizing this violation is important.

On the idea of voting itself, it stands as a right that should not be violated. The idea that the government can shut down a vote, especially one they already stated they will not listen to, is ridiculous. It is a dangerous notion that violates the rights of people and does so on a whole other level compared to the stoppage of protests in America.

All of these violations can be traced back to the division between the Catalans and Spanish people. Heavy division within a nation damages it. Whether you believe that Black Lives Matter or neo-Nazis or any group is justified, unity in our nation must be valued. We, as Americans, must learn from the extremities of division, as seen in Spain, and adapt.  

Whether voting for a presidential campaign, local campaign or a referendum, value the vote. It is a privilege and civic duty many ignore; and one that even first-world democratic countries violate. I implore everyone to value their ability to vote, to hold peaceful protests and to meet with others. People in countries we believe to be democratic cannot do so.

We need to recognize this awful suppression and learn from it.

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