As a junior, I have come to realize that early morning classes never get easier. The first internal debate of my day consists of having to chose between sleeping a few extra minutes or eating a balanced breakfast (including a lot of coffee). Starting off the day on the wrong foot makes the simplest obstacles suddenly multiply and everything turns into a pleasant surprise.
This is how I started my Thursday morning last week when the explosions went off. La Universidad Autónoma de Madrid was in its third—and most aggressive day—of protests against an increase in tuition and government cuts. The mission of the protest to make politicians aware that “public education means a guaranteed free education.” However, parliament has steadily increased taxes to make up for the Spanish economic recession between 2008 and 2012. In recent months, parliament announced it would cut 70% of government funding to universities, reduce scholarships (including to those who already have them), and another tax increase.
Between March 25-27, student protesters blocked entrances to the school parking lots by lighting garbage bins on fire and throwing small firecrackers. It was the first time I had ever heard explosions used to prove a point. Even though the protests never impacted me directly, I felt a sense of appreciation and uneasiness at the same time. It was incredible that the students were so passionate about preserving their education system. However, their attempts to gain attention were ineffective since media outlets focused on the violence rather than the actual mission.
This is not the first protest I’ve witnessed either. Spanish citizens are actively raising their voice against the government, whether it is a call to action to send aid to Venezuela or reform their health care system. When the conflict is historically rooted, the protests become increasingly larger and violent. Several Spaniards marched from their respective regions to Madrid on March 22 to join tens of thousands of people in an anti-austerity demonstration. Rioters and police clashed on the main city street, El Paseo del Prado, which resulted in six injuries and 12 arrests.
Protests are more prevalent in Spain that I thought they would be. Now that the weather is getting warmer, the number of protests, whether violent or peaceful, is increasing. I do not feel afraid since the protests are very contained and the violence is not even close to what we see in Middle Eastern countries. Rather, I feel privileged to see them unfold because it not only gives me a different perspective about Spain, but also on the role of what it means to be a citizen passionately fighting for one’s rights.