“The Party told you to reject all evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.” – 1984, George Orwell
When is Travel NOT Political? If You Pay Attention, Hardly Ever
The first conversation I had with my son about democracy and what was a Government was on a bench in the square in front of the Barcelona Cathedral.
The year was 2012, an economic recession was devastating Europe, and we were feeling it well under our skins in Portugal. Money was tight then, with little to spare for savings.
My generation of thirty-something College-educated people was over-qualified, overworked and underpaid.
Those who dared to complain were accused of whining, unappreciative of having a steady job, called lazy, unaware of the value of hard work.
The others, like me, protested in silence.
The majority left the country.
I know people who wouldn’t risk going on a strike because their employer kept note of the people who did, a clear violation their Constitutional rights.
The extra taxes we were made to pay were plugging a hole we didn’t know the size of. The Government at the time kept pushing us forward, convincing us we needed to make sacrifices for the common good, while they drove around in government-appointed expensive cars.
In Barcelona, just as it did in Lisbon, protests were common. On walls and windows, sheets-turned-to-banners with anti-austerity messages were clear – unemployment was rising and people were feeling devoid of their basic rights.
In every tourist office, they would show me the days when there were protests scheduled, to prepare me for the inevitability of a closed door.
We saw the signs of violence first-hand the morning after the protests at the Plaça de Catalunya. Burned trash cans and shattered windows were everywhere.
The night before, the police had warned tourists to stay away from the area and not leave the Barrio Gotic – things were calmer down there and as people sipped glasses of overpriced sangria I wondered if they could hear the people shouting a few blocks up Las Ramblas. I could. My son could. And although I don’t understand a word of Catalan I could hear the anger, the desperation, the sense of betrayal.
In that Spring of 2012, during Holy Week, the people had had enough.
Tourists visiting Portugal and Spain that year noticed confusion on the streets but because they were diverted to calmer locations, they were unlikely aware of the reason why people were fighting on the streets.
Although it was a major issue for the country’s residents, the events didn’t appeal to most of the visitors since they were presented as a local event. Nothing that foreigners needed to worry about unless they were expats.
Any sign of political instability is bad for business, especially, the tourism industry.
The World Post-Brexit and Post-Trump
Having lived in London for a record time of six months, give or take a week, I had a feeling what the results to the Brexit referendum would be.
The “us versus them” rhetoric, fueled by unsubstantiated populist facts, resonated with a lot of people.
Two months ago, when no one saw it coming and those who did, hoped to be wrong, Donald Trump was elected the 45th President of the United States. A man who never uttered a concrete political strategy for the next four years, but who played his populist part to perfection. And continues to do so.
Here, in Portugal, we watched both happenings in awe.
Mind me, I believe in democracy. It’s a faulty system (there is a reason it’s often referred to as “the tyranny of the majority”) but one that allows us to speak our minds and choose our representatives. In Portugal, we take democracy very serious since ours is so young, at 43 years old. And it took a revolution, people who opposed the regime being tortured, killed, imprisoned. I understand the value of democracy and as such, I accept a legitimate election’s results.
I don’t have the answer for what the world will be like from now on but I’m loving the surge of resistance. There is nothing more powerful than people’s movements.
Two months ago, four years after our trip to Barcelona, I was discussing democracy with my son again who will become a legal voter in a couple of weeks. It was a fired up discussion with me being slightly fatalist, in his words, and him trusting the democratic system.
“No one will let him get away with his crazy ideas! There are ways to prevent that!” He’s been repeatedly telling me this since November 8th, 2016. I admire his faith in humanity.
Tyranny of the majority involves a scenario in which a majority of an electorate places its own interests above, and at the expense and to the detriment of, those in the minority, where by that detriment constitutes active oppression comparable to that of a tyrant or despot. – “On Liberty”, John Stuart Mill*
I Digress… When is Travel Political?
When your passport is from a country that’s ranked higher than your partner’s and his process is a lot harder, despite you traveling together, travel is political.
When local authorities at the border ignore your valid visa and scroll down your Facebook profile to check your political views, travel is political.
When you choose to ignore the reality of the country you’re visiting and prefer to believe its carefully curated version, travel is political.
When you prefer to think of yourself as someone “just visiting” and choose to believe you’re not part of any of it, travel is political.
If you choose not to live in a bubble;
If you try to understand all the pieces of the puzzle and how they fit (or don’t fit) together to form the culture of the destination you’re visiting;
If you have the incessant curiosity to see all angles of the story…
… then your travel is political. And travel, above anything else, is learning.
If you’re open to a discussion on this topic, I’d like to hear from you. This is a safe place for discussing current events without bashing each other for differences of opinion, religion, or race. I reserve the right to delete abusive comments.