International Women’s Day In Barcelona

“The Revolution Will Be Feminist Or It Will Not Be”

Throw your energy into organizing a few demonstrations and you’ll learn quickly that the police and most reporters have a habit of dramatically underestimating the size of a crowd. The general rule seems to be to cut the most likely estimate, usually the most agreed upon estimate, by at least half. Often times the cut will be more than half. By most of the accounting in the press, Barcelona’s International Women’s Day demonstration drew in around 4,000 or so participants. That seems about right to me.

I say this because yesterday I had the distinct feeling that we were marching alongside maybe 8,000 people. This doesn’t include the incalculable number of bystanders and onlookers who would flocked to the edges of the march to take photos, pump a fist, or at least arch an eyebrow at the sea of people making this delightful ruckus.

And it was quite a delightful ruckus to be sure.

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The bringers of this ruckus were feminist groups, trade unions, the various organizations of left, and a giant army of women of all ages marching under no particular banner save for that of sisterhood. Alongside them marched nearly as many male allies, wearing purple bandanas, chanting and singing with their sisters.

International Women’s Day seems to be a bigger deal here than anywhere I’ve ever been in the United States. It’s a shame too because the first Women’s Day was publicly celebrated by the Socialist Party of America, in 1909. The following year it was adopted by the whole of the Socialist International. Since then it has become so mainstream that on March 8, countless millions of people all over the world gather together to make demands of their governments and societies at large and to celebrate womanhood.

I’m not sure what the 8th of March normally feels like in Barcelona but there was a palpable mood of defiance this year.

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One group of women marched by with placards displaying the heroic visages of women fighters like Leila Kahled, Angela Davis, and Marina Ginesta. These are faces I know well from the history taught to me by women friends who have made it their business to have me know them. Another group that caught my attention immediately were all wearing the Hijab. There are some people who tragically mistake the very identity of Muslim women as somehow oppressive. These women were concerned about oppression to be sure. I knew this despite only being able to make out a few key words from their bold chants as they marched past me: Colonialism…Iraq…Palestine.

Fluttering above the heads of the thousands of purple-clad marchers I could see independentist flags; Catalan, Galician, Basque, and the tricolor of the Spanish Second Republic. There were red flags emblazoned with the hammer and sickle, the syndicalist black and red, the LGBT rainbow, and the flag of Palestine. As I observed this mosaic of regional, national, and international symbolism I recalled what Diego Canamero said during his speech about the March For Dignity: “unite all of the struggles.” At least for the day, this is precisely what was being done. And it was being done with gusto.

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By placing ourselves in one spot in order to observe the whole of the march, we were able to watch every contingent from the first to the very last. We noticed, after a short while, that each new wave of people seemed to bring along with them an even greater amount of energy than those who preceded them, as if the locomotive of this human train was in the rear. In the front they were marching, or at least walking briskly. Toward the back they were dancing, still moving forward but dancing.

More and more I felt my heart pounding out a rythm somehow in step with them, though my feet mostly stayed planted on the ground. The source of this change in mood and tempo was a group called Percudones8m. They had drums.

This was nothing like the neo-hippy drum circles I remember from political events back home. To me, those gatherings always feel subdued and insular. This was different. This was the sound of war drums. The women wielding them were fierce and lively. They stomped the earth with their feet and they waved their arms in the air only to bring them forcefully down, over and over again, creating a hypnotic pulse that I could feel from the soles of my shoes up. Just as the cadence reached a fever pitch it softened. The whole troupe squatted lower and lower, til they were bouncing on their haunches, all the while playing more softly until the drumming registered just above a faint whisper. Then suddenly the whole ensemble bolted upright and pounded away as though they intended to be heard at very front of this long march. The crowd was absolutely entranced.

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At that moment, I wished that I could have participated in this demonstration as a woman, as someone who identifies as a woman. Maybe this is what the so-called “men’s rights activists” feel in the presence of such an overwhelming display of feminine power. Maybe what they feel, by virtue of momentarily losing their otherwise permanent limelight, is a bit of jealousy. Maybe instead they should feel humbled by the fact that at best, they only hold up half the sky.

I stopped marching in order to take a photo of this amazing performance. A woman in the crowd who walking backward, (taking her own photo) stepped on my foot. She turned and apologized and then, flashing a giant grin, said something I couldn’t quite understand. It sounded like she said, and I’d like to believe she said something like: “If you stand in the way, the women will roll right over you.” We both laughed and continued on.

Evntually we stopped marching. Like any good demonstration, there were speeches to be given. I didn’t get the opportunity to insert myself into a group of strangers to ask some questions and get a deeper understanding of the local issues, as I had originally intended. I spent the closing rally inside my head, reflecting on the women I know and asking myself: what role do I play in their lives? Is it one which builds them up or tears them down? Is it one which invites them in or excludes them? Is it the role of a self-appointed protector or that of a comrade-in-arms? Is it a role that I would feel comfortable seeing described in writing, for all the world to see?

These are questions I want to ask myself more often.

As the event came to a close, we began the trek back across the city to the train station. Along what had been the route of the march, we saw slogans written in large script with purple spraypaint on the walls of various buildings and posters slapped over shop windows which would otherwise be displaying expensive women’s clothes. Despite the dissapation of the crowd and the return to the streets of the hordes of tourists, the defiant mood of this particular International Women’s Day would would make itself felt at least for the rest of the day.

For me it will last for a long time.

– Jason

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3 thoughts on “International Women’s Day In Barcelona”

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