When I arrived at the Donostia-San Sebastián City Hall, in the beautiful Basque Country of Spain, I wondered what all the ruckus was about. There were hundreds of noisy protesters waving long, colorful banners.
My goodness, how interesting to witness acts of political agitation on the public square in another country, I thought. Then, atop the crowd some 20 feet opposite the protest, I spied Daniel Schily, a key activist, funder and cheerleading motivator of the direct democracy movement in Germany.
After greeting, he drily brought me up to date: “They’re protesting us.”
“No, really,” I asked, “what are they protesting?”
“Really,” he said, seemingly sincere. “They’re protesting the Global Forum.”
I stood there dumbstruck, for a moment, before I noticed one sign written in English: “Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy,” with a very large, black, bold question mark beside it.
Schily wasn’t kidding.
In almost no time, I met up with friends from Bulgaria, South Korea, Uruguay, Chile — fellow activists, all. We had gathered in this “cultural capital of Europe” precisely because of our belief that all people have a right to not only speak out, but effect change, through ballot initiatives and referendums.
It turned out that the protestors hailed from the Satorralaia neighborhood movement. Their beef? Even after gathering nearly 9,000 signatures on petitions requesting a public referendum on a proposed through-station for the mass-transit metro system project, the city government shrugs.
The same city council that helped organize our forum, ignoring citizens while claiming the city is “The World Capital of Democracy.”
Government. What more proof do we need that it could use more checks and balances from the people themselves?
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.
N.B. This is a Common Sense digest version of Paul’s weekend column. For more information, see Saturday’s and Sunday’s posts. Paul was in transit home when this entry was being prepared for the Web; he may offer further reports from his trip in the near future.