Don’t drink. Think.

Aznar/Azwar

In most developed countries the general complaint is that ‘no-one has any respect for the old.’ However, one of my expat friends, after the umpteenth drubbing from a sharp-elbowed and knife–tongued old lady in the supermarket queue once remarked to me, ‘the trouble with Spain is that old people don’t have any respect for anyone else’, turning this neatly on its head. Today, after a landslide victory for the PP in the local elections, and the ‘Indignados’ in Puerta del Sol voting to stay on for another week, I have seen what looks like a symptom of this disregard for others from those advancing in years.

There is some debate here, over your morning coffee, mid-afternoon beer, evening copa, or the equivalent of the garden fence, about the Sol demonstrations, and whether they are legitimate political protest, or merely the excuse for one big ‘botellon’ (street party). To me, this attitude diminishes what the people there are trying to say, even if their message isn’t exactly clear, and it is an easy accusation rolled out any time you wish to discredit any crowd of young people.

‘Yeah, I’m sure it was quiet today,’ remarked my neighbour when we crossed paths yesterday in the doorway, I mentioned I had been up to Sol to take a look, and remarked how peaceful the demo seemed. ‘They’ve all got hangovers, haven’t they? I can’t take this lot seriously, they don’t even seem to know what they’re up in arms about. I’ve lived through real political protest, not this half-arsed communal piss-up. I’ve been watching it live on the internet and all they’re doing is getting off their heads. Spanish Spring, my arse.’

This wasn’t the impression I got when I visited. In fact, the first thing to strike me was a huge banner strung across one end of the plaza proclaiming ‘Esto NO es un botellon’ (This is NOT a street party). There were polite signs asking protesters not to drink and to take the campaign seriously, I read ‘No Beba, Piensa.’ (Don’t drink. Think.’, exhortations like ‘Lee mas’ (Read more) and even ‘Refuse alcohol, it just makes you a puppet of the system’. There were young men bashing pieces of corrugated iron together to make shelters or to cordon off ‘debate spaces’, there were sealed-off public toilets with apologetic notices not to use them ‘for the good of everyone…’, beds under tents with hand-written signs offering Reiki, and the occasional body laid out on them, receiving a massage. There was a banner hanging vertically from a building opposite, behind the ‘oso y madrono’ stating simply ‘Feminismo’. There was someone on a microphone and distant cheering, boys bearing brooms tidying up the litter, people from their teens up to their seventies mingling and exchanging ideas, and families strolling with push-chairs, taking a look. What I didn’t see were drunk people or anyone obviously off their head. Sure, there were the ubiquitous chinese hawkers flogging cans of beer and soft drinks, but certainly no botellon.

The lady who runs the cafeteria at one of our centres, and is a fellow Lavapies resident also remarked sourly, when I asked her what she thought about the protests:

‘Well, the only people there are layabouts who haven’t got a job to go to. They wouldn’t be able to camp out there all week if they had jobs to go to.’

When I pointed out that this was the point, wasn’t it, that young people didn’t have jobs, and this is one reason they were campaigning, she launched into the argument that,

“No, they haven’t got work, because Spain’s had such an influx of immigrants there aren’t any jobs left,’ missing the glaringly obvious point that she was saying this to an immigrant. I tentatively asked,

‘So… er, do you think young Spanish people would do the sort of jobs immigrants have come over here to do?’

‘Oh no, they’re a lazy bunch, the youth of today, they just want to sit about on their arses. None of them wants to do an honest day’s work.’ Then she asked me if it was fair that if someone had worked hard all their life, and happened to have an empty apartment, it was their choice to keep it locked and empty, wasn’t it? It wasn’t fair that these dread-locked hippies could come and smash the door down and squat in that apartment just because they had nowhere to live. She then finished her remarks with the rhetorical question,

‘But then, what do I know? I could be wrong, Soy del campo y soy paleta.’ (I’m just a hick from the countryside).

So it seems no-one is quite clear what the young people on ‘Plaza Solucion’ are trying to say. Still, I think it’s unfair to dismiss them all as pissheads and layabouts. Every big demo attracts its fair share of miscreants, hedonists and trouble-makers, and t’s unlikely that you can avoid a massive piss-up when there are 30,000 people on Sol on a Saturday night. As far as I’m concerned, I think it’s encouraging that young people are finally making their voice heard- after all, they have as much right to an opinion as the rest of us. The important thing is, they have an opinion. I choose to see it as evidence that Generacion ‘Ni-Ni (Neither/Nor Generation – those who neither work nor study) are finally getting off their backsides, out of Mummy and Daddy’s house, and mobilising on the streets. And not just to get hammered.

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2 Responses to “Don’t drink. Think.”

  1. am just trying to sign up for the next blog entry 🙂

  2. christine Says:

    Lovely peice of writing.Send it to the Independent,we’re all talking about this topic over here in U.K.

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