Liz Castro


Building a tower to democracy

What can you say about a people that builds human towers? At first glance, they look freakish, like a contortionist from Cirque de Soleil, eliciting the same proportions of wonder and terror: will that tiny child who has climbed 50 feet up a wavering pillar of color-coordinated, barefoot actors fall to a gruesome death? Is that even legal? Certainly not in my country, where we seem determined to legislate ourselves into a false sense of security that requires that children be kept off the streets, out of the trees, and certainly not on human castles 10 (human) stories high.

(@Borinots from Sants in Lisbon (left) and @Bordegassos in Rome)

But the outward manifestation of human towers—the graceful, seemingly fragile, sometimes trembling tower itself—is only a tiny part of what castleing is about. The most important part is the mass of people at the base, carefully shaped into a pinecone formation—la pinya—in order to properly support the towering structure above. The construction is a metaphor for Catalan society: everyone in the community, whether young or old, fat or thin, man or woman, strong or weak has a role to play in constructing this ephemeral, outlandish, dare to gravity and to complacence.

(@CollaVella dels Xiquets de Valls, in Paris)

The real beauty of a human tower team is what they did on Sunday: travel en masse, more than 5000 of them, to 7 European capitals and 41 Catalan cities, plus a few in the Americas, paying most of their expenses themselves, spending hours and hours on the road, just so they could wave a flag saying "Catalans want to vote", trying to be heard above the Spanish scorn, demagoguery, and fear mongering. Catalan human tower builders are just one somewhat curious representation of the rock-solid Catalan community, built against 300 years of Spanish pressure on their language, their culture, and their traditions.

(@Xiquets de Reus in Geneva)

The secret to Catalan community is "associacionisme" or "associationism" and it's evidenced both by the incredible number of neighborhood and pastime groups and the breadth of the work they do. In the Barcelona neighborhood of Gràcia alone, there are more than 400 associations—from human tower builders to fireworks devils, shop owners groups to hiking clubs. This "associationism" is the "pinya" for the sovereignty movement, the foundation that makes it possible to send castlers all over Europe, to line up 1.6 million people holding hands from one end of the country to the other 250 miles away, to bring out 2 million people this coming Catalonia National Day in September to form a massive letter V along Gran Via and Diagonal in central Barcelona, a V for "Via" (Way), for "Voluntat" (Will), for Victory, and most importantly, for Vote.

(@XicsGranollers in Berlin, left, and @Verds from Vilafranca in Brussels)

For all this is about one thing, and one thing only: Catalans exercising their democratic right to vote on their political future. Make no mistake, a country that can come together to build human towers is a force to be reckoned with.

(Photo in the @Independent of the @JovesValls team constructing a tower near the Tower Bridge in London)