Luis Morote, a neighbour of La Verneda, defended the ballot boxes because a friend asked him to and the experience opened his eyes.
Translated by AnnA (@annuskaodena)
A friend told him they needed people at Infanta Isabel de Aragón secondary school. It was Friday, that one had been his secondary school and he went there to spend the afternoon for the sake of friendship. He liked the atmosphere, so he went home to get a sleeping bag and went back to spend the night. Luis Morote is a twenty-four-year-old from La Verneda who believed that independentism was a movement that plays the victim role and he had even felt offended, as a Spaniard, by what he had been listening to and reading in the media. That weekend turned to be the beginning of the rest of his life. “Once inside the school, there was a lot of mystery, a lot of a paranoia, but I realised I had to do it”, he explains. An impulse led him to stay there. Paranoia was nothing but fear. A constant and enduring fear which, that night, urged a group of young people to defend one of the district’s polling stations so that the neighbours would be able to vote on the 1st of October. The fear was justified. Opposite the school, you can find La Verneda’s Spanish police Complex. Nine thousand square meters of police forces premises. During that weekend, there were dozens of parked vans and uniformed officers who were expected to prevent the vote, by force, if necessary. “I had a very spontaneous feeling of defending the school and my people, because they are, essentially, my people”, he remembers.
Morote grew up in a block of flats with immigrant neighbours from Spain and many national police officers. His father is one of them, and during the Franco regime he was a ‘grey one’*. Her mother is from El Salvador. ‘As I have no Catalan roots, I didn’t feel Catalan, either,’ he says. ‘Bac de Roda’ was his school. He learned Catalan there. He did not get involved in the 15-M Movement, but he sympathised with it. So, progressively he changed from the right-wing mentality instilled at home to the left. “But above all, I wanted the unity of Spain,” he asserts. He used to read, and still does, a lot of Spanish press, and he thinks that was a big influence on him. He is blunt when he reflects on it: “The Spanish media manipulates so, as a Spaniard, you feel offended by independence.” The 1st of October? Luis was convinced that it would be like the 9-N. If he didn’t vote then, why should he do it now? The 20-S had an impact on him, fair enough. “It was a kind of warning: listen, things are happening here and they are not like how you see them.” But it was a voting called by the Generalitat, the Spanish State did not agree with it and it was ‘illegal’. The day before sleeping at the school, Morote thought that the 1-O would come to nothing.
That Friday night, they took turns to watch the door. In the morning, grandmas from the neighbourhood brought them breakfast. “People won me over”, says Morote, who works as an administrator in Badalona. The day after more neighbours arrived and they organised activities. They also took turns to open other schools in the neighbourhood so that people could spend the night. He describes the mood as ‘recreational-festive’. “We supplied whatever was needed: water, basic stuff.” The interaction with the people improved his conception of independence, but he kept thinking about the 3%** and Jordi Pujol. “To swap one bourgeoisie for another … I did not get it. But on the 1st of October, I saw a lot of left-wing people, a lot of people who at the end of day just wanted to vote and wanted a republic.”
The thing that had the most impact on him were the actions of the Spanish police. Officers like his father. He was shacking all Sunday. “When we got up at 6am, we could see all the police vans.” Someone brought the ballot boxes to the school through the back door. Luis did not see them arrive. From first thing in the morning, queues were formed to vote. And then, the phones went off. “We were all sitting down, more or less calm, and we started receiving videos of the police charges. I thought it was not possible. I began to feel a brutal hatred”, he assures. “It was very unfair that those police charges were happening on the grounds of a voting.” More and more vans and officers were gathering opposite La Verneda police station. Morote condemns their provocative attitude, even though they had shared coffee at a bar near the school and the police complex. “The hours went by and you could see that the police force I had always considered mine, would stand in front of you –they had surrounded the police station- armed and with a defiant look. That’s when I started crying. It was a shock. Everything I believed in disappeared. I said: what a crap State we have.”
The streets were packed with mobilised people. A working-class and poor district, heirs to many neighbourhood struggles during the Franco regime, with a constituency mainly in favour of the unity of Spain, were defending the ballot boxes. Suddenly, Morote discovered a Verneda neighbourhood he had not seen before, they had switched their mindset. He visited several schools, such as La Caixa and Els Porxos. At Els Horts school, the Spanish police charged against civilians, but neighbours managed to save one of the ballot boxes and carried on voting. A friend who works there explained that the police caused significant damage. The following day, the children asked what had happened. “How do you explain a young child that all the damage was caused by the police, if, in theory, a child has to view the police as their protector?” he asks. “They turned up full of hatred just because we were Catalans. At Els Horts, there was a brutal hatred. Luckily, we were not beaten up”, Morote continues.
At the Infanta school, there were queues throughout the day so Luis went to vote at Els Porxos. “Observing the police charges and everything, I knew they would achieve a null effect. My vote was blank because, at the time, I was still trying to assimilate everything. It’s was a day that changed my life. It changed my mindset with regards to Spain, its people, the process … Because it was all about people who just wanted to vote.” Nowadays, he is pro-independence. “The 1-O changed my mind”, he admits. He hasn’t explained this to his father yet, he is old and sick. Sometimes Luis enquires about his grandfather, who was a Republican, an assault guard. “Sometimes I try that my father explains things to me. I tease him some information so I can find out exactly where I come from. My grandfather was from Murcia, Abarán. He probably suffered a lot of repression but nobody says so. There is a lot of fear. Now it’s my turn to be a little republican, a Catalan republican”, and he smiles.
Later, the Spanish media said there had been no referendum and that Catalonia had carried out a coup d’état. “They are all lies. It’s not like that! I became pro-independence, partly because of the PP, because of their governance, not because I have been convinced by any parties or platforms”, he justifies himself. In many of the demos he has attended, Morote carries the tricolour Spanish Republican flag, with the star of the people’s army. “Most probably my grandfather fought for the people’s army, I do not know for sure. They are republican values.” He thinks that there should be a third Spanish Republic and this should ideally give way to the Catalan Republic. “But I can also see that this is not viable. Spain is still a Francoist state and fighting for the Catalan Republic is a lot more plausible,” he says. Morote would certainly step forward to fight for the Spanish Republic and he regrets that no justice has been delivered to the republicans who suffered reprisals. At some point I also want a Catalan Republic because historically, they have fought for self-determination. It is only fair”, he concludes.
On the afternoon of the 1st of October, Luis shouted in favour of the Catalan Republic in front of the Spanish police. The officers laughed. The people also kept chanting ‘We have voted, we have voted!’ “Maybe it was all a way of letting off steam after what had happened. At the school, we were afraid of possible police charges all day long, and finally, in the afternoon, the votes were counted and the Mossos were allowed to take the ballot boxes away”. Morote recalls it as ‘an explosion of amazing adrenaline’. “When the ballot boxes were released, that was the moment we realised it was over, we had resisted”, he says. What he experienced on that day is already part of his personal memory, of the past he is researching and of the present being built: “This is something I will explain to my children and, hopefully, to my grandchildren, if I ever have any. It’s something we should never forget, it’s impossible.”
Source: VilaWeb @VilaWeb
Author: Odei A.-Etxearte @oetxearte
Published on 27th of September 2018
Images source: VilaWeb i O.A.-E.
* Armed Police established by the Francoist State in 1939 to enforce the repression of all opposition to the regime.
** A political corruption scandal involving the collection of 3% of the budget of awarded public works by the CIU government of the Generalitat.