I don’t want to attempt to write the history of Catalonia or summarize Catalan independence politics. Choose your favorite news source and I guarantee they’ll be at least one article explaining the economic and cultural reasoning behind the referendum or the increasingly strange series of events that has taken place over past two weeks.
But I would be remiss to avoid the topic completely. I’m in Catalunya during a turning point in its history, and the spirit of revolution and fear of instability has flavored every day. The streets are colored by massive manifestaciones. The voices of anxious news anchors speaking in rapid Spanish (of which I can understand about 50%) or Catalan (probably 10%) dominate my small apartment. My phone is filled with messages akin to “So any crazy stories from the referendum?” and nights spent relaxing in one of Catalan’s many plaças get a 10pm sound effect: the ring of cassoles—pots and pans that Catalan’s bang with silverware for about fifteen minutes each night to show their support for a democratic referendum.
I am also not going to take a public stance on Catalan independence. I am not Catalan, and as a brief visitor to the region I do not think it is my place. However, I do think it is important to reflect on how the independence movement interacts with Catalan’s cooperative movement.
Cooperatives are connected by shared values and principles, set forth by the International Cooperative Alliance. Coops value democracy and self-responsibility and the fourth coop principle is Autonomy and Independence. As Joseba Beldarrain, the director of the Confederació de Cooperatives de Catalunya explained to me, the beauty of cooperatives is their ability to return power to their members from shareholders or bosses. Cooperatives allow people to determine their own future.
Naturally, the cooperative emphasis on personal self-determination can carry over to a belief in geopolitical self-determination. Certainly not all Catalan cooperators that I have met want independence. But the desire for a future controlled by the people—-whether that be workers at a factory or citizens of a small region in northeastern Spain, drives both the independence movement and the cooperative movement.
This desire scares authority. It scared the Spanish government who sent in police in riot gear to try to suppress a vote, large financial institutions that have moved their legal headquarters out of Catalonia, and the Spanish monarchy. Catalan region is in crisis, and nothing is certain. However, chaos and the disruption of long-standing institutions leaves room for something new and hopefully something better. The same is true for business. When inequality skyrockets and volatile financial systems crash, what will we create in the wake?
Below are some of my photos from the past few weeks. I hope they share at least some of the pain, anger, excitement, passion, and resilience expressed daily on the streets of Barcelona.