Up to 300,000 people marched in Barcelona last Saturday demanding the Spanish state welcome more refugees.
The demonstration was enormous and drew in people from all walks of life.
Black and Muslim activists from Unite Against Fascism and Racism in Catalonia (UCFR) were among those holding the main banner at the front.
The street vendors in the city, mostly from Senegal, Gambia and other African countries, have recently formed a union. They joined the march as a block with a former Black Panther.
They are organising against repression from the city council. It heavily harassed them when it was run by the right and still does sometimes now it’s run by the left.
Syrian refugees and left activists marched behind the banner of Tadamon—“solidarity” in Arabic. This campaign opposes the Syrian dictatorship, its allies and bombing by the West.
The two largest movements for Catalan independence mobilised for the demonstration, with independence flags very visible on the march.
The campaign was called “Our home is your home” with the slogan “We want to give refuge”.
It was called by well-connected young media professionals returned from volunteering with refugees in the Greek islands. And it was built through an extremely high-profile media campaign.
A concert the previous week was broadcast live on the main Catalan TV station, in support of the protest and refugees. Top Catalan politicians were in VIP boxes at the concert in support of the demonstration.
The TV station advertised the demo every day—on the news, in special reports, even the political satire programme had a sketch on it.
The Catalan government and all the pro-independence parties—including the centre right—also supported it and built for it. This raises the obvious question, if you want to welcome refugees why don’t you just let them in?
They say it’s the Spanish state that won’t let us, we can’t do anything without independence. But they are facing pressure over this.
The Spanish government has banned Catalonia from holding a referendum on independence, and the Catalan government vows to organise one anyway, one day.
The anti-capitalist CUP party campaigned for “no more excuses”. It says if we want independence we need to disobey Madrid now, not just put it back to some distant future.
This mobilisation shows that people want to welcome refugees. But the top-down nature of the campaign also brings some limitations.
It was run in a way that excluded broader anti-racist demands.
One of the main banners was set to say “No to the immigration law” but was changed to “Catalonia, land of welcome”.
Many marchers clearly hadn’t engaged with anti-racist activity before. It’s fantastic that they were brought onto the streets, but it shows we need to keep building the fightback.
The UCFR was central to building some of the delegations to the demonstration.
This is feeding support for initiatives against Islamophobia and the far right.
For the ongoing battles against racism, we can’t avoid those issues—we need to build a movement that can take them on.