A Pierce Progressive's View from Spain

Michael Kagan

This is the first of what may be several stories, some political, some cultural, all personal and hopefully enjoyable and informative, from my next three months in Spain.

After an extremely arduous four months of preparing to sell our home of 28 years, including a massive sorting out of "stuff"; listing, marketing, and negotiating a deal; designing the remodel of an apartment to move into; moving; cleaning the house; and packing for our trip, we arrived in Sevilla on December 6, my birthday, but also el Día de la Constitución. This is the anniversary of the day in 1978, three years after the death of Generalísimo Francisco Franco, the dictator who ruled with an iron fist since 1939, when Spain was re-born as a parliamentary monarchy. Thus this amazing country, with thousands of years of history, some glorious, some hideous, is only 37 years old!

Sevilla was crowded with people taking advantage of a four-day weekend: Saturday, the holiday on Sunday, the holiday in honor of the Immaculate Conception on Tuesday, and a "puente" (bridge) day off on Monday. (Spaniards love to throw in an extra day between a Thursday or Tuesday holiday!) They were there to shop, see the festive (LED) lights strung across the pedestrian lanes, view the clever, cute, miniature "belénes" (nativity scenes) in churches, the newspaper office, and other public buildings. (No "War on Christmas" here!)

While eating a big selection of tasty tapas outside a bar in a quiet neighborhood, we caught parts of the televised debate among candidates for president in the December 20 election. Except that one debater was not the candidate, but a fill-in for the incumbent Mariano Rajoy of the right-wing Partido Popular (People’s Party, or PP) while he was on vacation. What a scandal! He knows his record and policies have been disastrous for Spain, and did not want to take the heat, so sent a deputy in his place. On stage, however, were the heads of the centrist Ciudadanos (Citizens’, or C) Party, the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (Socialist Workers Party of Spain, or PSOE), and Podemos (which means "we can").

PSOE was organized in 1879 to represent workers, but abandoned its Marxist leanings in the modern era, and is considered center-left. It has alternated majority status with PP since the Constitution was signed. C started in 2006, with its main power base in Catalunya, the northeast, where Barcelona is, but does not push for separation from Spain. Podemos has been attracting an enthusiastic following of mostly young people, intellectuals, Marxists, and progressives, making significant gains since its inception in March, 2014. The party arose from the 2011 Indignado movement (a forerunner of the Occupy movements in the US) against inequality and corruption.

In our little town west of Sevilla the other day, i went to the public market to get fish and vegetables for that day’s lunch. (I love joining the parade of old ladies doing that! Feels so authentic and old-timey!) There i found a flyer put out by Podemos, stating one of their platform planks. They propose creating 400,000 jobs in the next two years through programs that will renovate homes to use sustainable energy, conserve energy, and lower emissions. This would also save families 700 euros ($780) per year in their energy costs. The end of the flyer says, "Only a valiant government, without chains to the great electric companies, can undertake this work. Let’s make Spain the world reference en renewable energy. We Can!"

Spain has a pretty good start in this endeavor, as there are already forests of wind turbines and fields of solar panels around the countryside. So it is not a case of starting from scratch and trying to convince people of the importance and value of these alternative forms of power generation.

Podemos implies that they would govern without obligations to the corporate behemoths, and perhaps they will be able to do so if they win enough seats in the Congreso. Is it possible for, say, a Green Party to accomplish that in the US?

For many years, we have heard US politicians talk about infrastructure jobs. Of course, we know that our roads and bridges are in desperate need of repair, and addressing those problems would create many jobs that pay well. But for whom? Sure, there are plenty of people who would be happy to put on a hardhat, gloves, and boots to perform physical labor for eight hours a day. But there are millions of unemployed or under-employed people who cannot work like that. Why couldn’t we train those folks to take clipboards into homes and businesses to do energy audits, to determine what can be done to conserve energy, to figure out what retrofits are possible? None of these jobs would be outsourced, and would employ parents while their kids are in school, or people who can’t find jobs in existing fields. An added benefit, of course, would be reducing carbon emissions and their contribution to climate change. Let me hear "We Can!"

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