Liz Castro


It makes a difference

What can I say to you who go to the polls today? Only that I wish I could vote. I'm not that enthused about a system in which 380 million people in 28 countries go to vote. It just seems so big and untenable, and so susceptible to the status quo. But I've already seen what happens when people think that it doesn't matter: it happened in 2000 in my country, in the election between Al Gore and George W. Bush. Many, many people were disgusted with both choices, and either voted for Ralph Nader, or stayed home. Well, thirteen years after 9-11, I can tell you it mattered a whole lot. Even with imperfect choices, one is always better, and one is always worse.

Of course, you don't have just two choices, you have a gazillion, more or less. Thank goodness for Wikipedia, and VilaWeb's guide, or I would never have deciphered all of the abbreviations and party names in play. It's not enough to have a myriad of different parties, but the way you gather them into coalitions and then divide them back up into various overlapping European-wide parties and groups is simply baffling. And even if you can accurately trace the lines between your vote and the European party that will represent you, it seems that the European Commission president will be chosen mostly in the backrooms. So does it matter?

Yes. It matters. One important part of an election is saying what you want, but another important part is being heard, being noticed. If you vote, you are a constituency, candidates have to listen to you. It is in their interest to notice you. If you don't, you have to rely on their altruism, which is never a good idea.

Does the EU care about Catalonia? I think only relatively. I was in Rotterdam on Thursday to explain the technical aspects of producing my series of #CatalanTalk Twitter interviews in book format and though I kept politics mostly out of my talk, I did ask people afterward if they knew anything about the Catalan independence process. They did not. They seemed mildly interested, but much more concerned about issues in their own country. I asked my companions at the table if they had voted—the Netherlands voted Thursday—and every single person said that they had, it was their civic duty. These design and publishing professionals were most likely not very representative, although early exit polling signalled that the anti-immigration parties had done considerably worse than expected.

I found the Netherlands extremely civilized in the admittedly short time I was there. The connection between the airport and the train station is transparent; they are side by side. They have special lanes that accomodate bicycle traffic, a plethora of trains and trams and other modes of public transportation. They all speak English—even the cashier in the grocery store—but most importantly, they all speak Dutch. There are no Dutch who only speak English. They told me that it is American TV and movies that play a key role in learning English, but it was clear that English is pervasive, a common language in international business and very useful for study, and that this might be another reason it is so universally known. English enjoys no special governmental privileges, no special official status, and is just another subject in school, not a language of instruction. The relationship between Dutch and English might be a good model for Catalan and Spanish in a future Catalan state. Such a strong language needs little protection, but that doesn't mean it doesn't play an important role in the community.

But even as I marveled at how different everything felt, I was very aware that there are 27 more countries, 27 more internal systems and local issues. Although the EU and the US are similar population wise, this is the thing that is so crazy for me. Sometimes we folks from Massachusetts feel different than say, Iowa, but really, it has simply no comparison to Catalonia vs Holland, or Bulgaria, or Sweden. It is amazing and wonderful that you Europeans have all come together to figure out some common goals. It's not perfect, nothing ever is, but it's way, way better than what there was before. Vote, participate, make yourselves heard.

Comments welcome through Twitter @lizcastro. You can read the Catalan edition of this article here.