For my Photojournalism class I had to cover the 15 M anniversary, and I was really bored with the idea of it, considering all of my classmates were assigned the same work. Thus I decided to do a satirical piece, somewhat like The Onion. Sorry if I offend anyone with my bad California humor as I know sarcasm sometimes doesn´t come across in a written piece. Onegai shimasu 😉
Today, on the anniversary of the movement 15-M, Plaza Cataluña looks slightly different. The flocks of tourists, with their trademark sunburned shoulders, flip-flops, and Starbucks cups, look bewildered as usual, lining up in springtime numbers for the big red tourist buses that will map out their destiny on this Barcelona vacation. Nevertheless, there is more confusion than usual. Tents grow like magic mushrooms on the lawns, and I overhear questions like, “People can camp here?”, “Honey, do you have your camera?”, and “What´s indignado?” I observe a group of Italians trying to rationalize the man without pants crawling out of his tent, against a curtain of fountains and squeaky clean statues with protest signs.
However, most of the people have pants on today, and could be described as relatively diverse: teens, elders, parents, babies, teens, hermits, gays, heterosexuals, transistor asexuals, and just about everything in-between. From everything I have read and heard, in the 15-M movement there are no leaders or political party affiliations, and there is no discrimination against any particular group of people. Thus, I get a little bit dizzy trying to navigate where this revolution is headed. Does someone have a map? Where is the tourist pamphlet translated poorly into English to help me pigeonhole this
movement into my sheltered reality? I find none. I only encounter different loudspeakers and clusters of folks discussing their opinions. Two-party systems are much easier to document; I lose myself in the labyrinth of torn boxes that have clever expressions and drawings scrawled across them.
My only hope is to ask questions. Glancing around, I decide to talk with a cluster people who pass joints on the lawn, surrounded by tents and mangy dogs; they greet my questions with friendly comments like, “Go home, guiri,” or “Why don´t you read the newspaper?” I didn´t expect such a warm response, but just as I become disappointed by the absence of excessive negativity, twisted generalizations, and acts of insanity that would allow me to describe this movement as a bunch of hippies smoking weed and drinking beer, I find my perfect victim. A man with thick dreadlocks and rumpled clothing wields a broom and yells profanities and insults at a woman with a cart of seedy paraphernalia—pinwheels, balloons, overpriced sunflower seeds, and most offensively, birdseed.
¨You sell this birdseed to the tourists for 1 Euro to feed the pigeons and then they poop everywhere and destroy the environment and this city. It´s fucked up!” He swings his weapon at the pigeons and they burst into the air like New Year’s confetti.
The vendor, shaken, doesn´t quite know how to respond. “Well, birds have to eat too.” The broom man yells a little more then goes off to squabble with his flock of pigeon haters. The vendor sighs, rearranges her goods, thinking perhaps she can relax, but the 15-M movement does not let her off so easily.
A man with a baby carriage chimes in, “Feeding these pigeons is bad for the environment. We have overpopulation of these birds. Don´t know you what you´re doing is harmful?” I feel embarrassed for the pigeons that they have to overhear this conversation. Maybe the pigeons have come to participate in the assemblies too. How can we assume their intentions?
But many argue that pigeons are predominantly conservative. Most of them refuse to learn or speak Catalan. A recent survey showed that 4 out of 5 pigeons support the cuts in health care and public education. In fact, if they had it their way, all these police helicopters that hover above us day and night these days would rain birdseed and worms, instead of keeping an Orwellian watch over the city and its disgruntled population. It´s hard to see this as anything but a decadent extravagance designed to keep people in their homes and out of the streets protesting. When I asked some of the pigeons they had no comment. What are they trying to hide?
But is it fair? Our criticism of these feathered citizens? Bird rights activist Paloma Columbae does not think so: “We cannot assume that all birds are against us. Soon they´ll be accusing them of stealing our jobs, even though the majority are unemployed and reduced to begging in the street. It´s an outrage. We should focus our negative energy on immigrants, not our feathered friends.¨ Even the Feminists Indignades, who cite various inequalities within the 15-M movement, had to admit that the pigeons had it worst off.
Not only do some people want the pigeons out of Plaza Cataluña, there are even conspiracy theories involving them. Several activists expressed concern that they were in fact secret police. Pigeons have hearing that far surpasses human abilities, and many pigeons have been seen consorting with the police force. But others say this is just an elaborate distraction to help us forget the king´s quest to find Babar´s cousins.
Night´s curtain falls, and the pigeons return to their nests. Street lamps pour light on sunburned shoulders, beer vendors, and bewildered expressions. Stars twirl and oscillate, but pour no illumination in the blank coffee sky.