by Isidra Mencos
I narrowly escaped a police beating once. Franco, the right-wing dictator that had muzzled Spain for the last 36 years, had just died. His successor, King Juan Carlos de Borbón, promised a transition to a pluralistic society, but it was slow. Demonstrations demanding amnesty for political prisoners and a faster pace towards democracy were frequent.
I had the “brilliant” idea to attend a protest with clogs, which were fashionable at the time. I was in the middle of the Ramblas, in the heart of Barcelona, with a crowd of several hundred. We started marching towards Plaza Cataluña, arms linked, and bellowing slogans: “¡Amnistía, Libertad!”
All of a sudden we saw police jeeps rushing to a stop on both sides of the Ramblas. Dozens of policemen in their grey uniforms stormed the street, batons in hand, a plexiglas mask attached to their helmets covering their features. “¡Los grises! ¡Los grises!”. We sprinted in all directions, amidst terrified yelps and the thump of batons methodically crashing into backs and heads.
My feet kept slipping out of the clogs and I couldn’t run fast. I foolishly stopped for a second to put a clog back on, when I felt somebody grab my arm and propel me forward like a rocket. It was Joan, a friend from college. I looked back for a second and saw a policeman running towards us, baton raised over his head, a mere five feet from my back. It was only then that it dawned on me that this was real, not just an exciting exercise of youthful rebellion. With Joan anchoring me, I ran the fastest I have ever run. We turned a corner and barged through an open door and up the stairs of an apartment building until we reached the terrace. From there we could smell gas and see the police charging and beating as students scattered like flies when you try to swat them.
I continued attending demonstrations. They became huge, with over a hundred thousand people marching down the streets.
In June 1977, almost two years after Franco’s death, Spain held its first election in four decades. I was proud to vote in that election, to support the democracy so hardly won, not just by us, but by the previous generations who had suffered and plotted a comeback from exile, from prison, from clandestine political meetings, who had dedicated their lives to giving a voice to every citizen.
That’s why I consider voting not only a right and a privilege, but also a duty. It’s the reason I became a US citizen, after several years living here. I wanted to vote. I wanted to join the growing force of the Latino community and help build their political power.
The statistics are sad. Millennials make up the largest portion of eligible Latino voters. Yet, only half are registered to vote. Out of those registered, only 40% cast their ballots. How can that be?
Democracy can’t be taken for granted. We forge our democracy in every single election, when we go to the polls and express our opinion, when we choose the candidate that best reflects our vision for our future and our children’s future.
Latinos have a lot riding on this election. From immigration reform to subsidized college education, there are issues at stake that can open or block a pathway for our youth to have a better future.
Even if you don’t have a candidate you love, you can support the one whose positions align the most with your personal values. Your voice and your vote are part of keeping our democracy alive.