Democracy In Action

It’s that time again! Hard to believe that we have lived in Spain long enough to see this every-four-year process kick off once more,. May 28th will be voting day in all local, municipal, and provincial elections. Yes, it’s a Sunday so all citizens can participate. No monkey business with who can vote. Age 18 and you’re eligible. No registration. Being a citizen means you can vote in your town. Sounds too simple, I know. Especially coming from the land where voting rights are under threat each and every day. Voters mysteriously purged from the rolls, registrations thrown out, and so much more. Barriers to voting in the US pop up like Brussel sprouts in Galicia. They’re everywhere.

Of course, we are unable to vote in Spain, but not because we are foreigners. It’s because Spain and the US do not have a treaty which allows each other’s citizens who reside in the country to vote in local elections. Any EU national legally residing in Spain can vote in local elections. This is deemed appropriate as a person should have a say in the government where they legally reside. There are other countries included in this, as well. But our lack of voting doesn’t stop us from caring about the outcome and its impact to our community.

The PSOE – Spanish socialist party – controls more provinces throughout Spain than any other. And our Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, is head of this party. He has led the government in Madrid for most of the time we have lived in Spain, after knocking the scandal-ridden Mariano Rajoy from office with a no-confidence vote. I was not a fan of Rajoy.

How the government operates here is very different than the US. There, if you make a catastrophic blunder in electing a morally bankrupt and corrupt leader you have to wait four years to oust them. Even if the mood of the country is torches and pitchforks. Here, a successful no-confidence vote in parliament will bring down the government, forcing an immediate election to form a new government. I like this system much better than the US.

Spain has so many different political parties it feels like ordering a burger off the menu at Burger King. Have it your way! Political parties on the fringe dial their issues down to a fine point. And because it can be difficult for one party to capture a 50% majority, they are forced to form a coalition between the larger parties and small ones. Compromise by necessity. So small parties can wield enormous outsized influence. Both a blessing and a curse.

We have been watching the campaign, which is only allowed to go on for six weeks prior to the election. Imagine it, Americans! Six weeks would be all you’d have to deal with for political campaigns and signs. Then, when the election is over they actually start governing. No two years of campaigning. Or just perpetually campaigning. Spain is a functioning democracy with codified equal rights for women, no guns (except for hunting), protections for LGBTQ+ citizens, and access to the legal full spectrum of family planning services. The identity politics and culture wars of the US aren’t such a thing here. Yes, there are far right groups here. The VOX party, etc. But like during Covid when the population took a common sense approach to protect themselves and their neighbors, people here seem to shy away from the extremes, valuing their lives and those of their families over some lunatic screaming into a microphone with messages of fear about immigrants, religion, drag queens or trans people, and guns. Those crazy messages wouldn’t fly in Spain.

The political signs in town are interesting, as well. No neck ties in the group. Jeans are just fine for photos. More than 50% of candidates are women. And as far as I can tell, half are under 40 yrs old. Some candidates are even younger. Most head shots look like they were taken in a passport photo machine. A few others are half body shots. It seems the PP (People’s Party – centre right) is pouring a great deal of €€ into the race in Melide. Their candidate for the council has the greatest number and the largest, fanciest signs.

There are signs on garbage dumpsters, as well. And lamppost signs declaring the benefits of the socialists. Something you would never see in the US, where socialism is viewed as a great evil, yet is widely embraced in Spain and other parts of Europe. Americans confuse socialism with communism. Spaniards do not make that mistake and social democracy is alive and well here. And it works.

Jeff and I smile as the compact car with the bull horns strapped to the top drives by to tell our village all the benefits of their candidate. It’s like being in the US in the 1950’s or 60’s. Small town politics. But, they say all politics is local and this election is no different. It will decide our fates for the next four years, so we are paying close attention.

I sure wish the US would sit up and take note. Their perpetual campaigning means politics is constantly the number one topic there. Noise and more noise. Fear and more fear. This further divides families and neighbors. Whole communities. So busy fighting each other they aren’t paying attention to the politicians who are raking in $$$ but doing nothing to help solve real problems. Instead, focusing on drag queens reading to children in libraries in Kentucky. Seriously, that’s a thing politicians are pretending they are worried about in America. You can’t make it up. I can just see a politician here trying to get the old men in the square in Melide riled up about drag queens reading to children at the local biblioteca (library).

‘Aren’t you outraged, Jorge?’ The politician would ask.

The old man shrugs ‘Is the child learning to read?’

‘Well, yes, but that’s not the point.’ Counters the politician. ‘He’s dressed like a woman.’

Jorge frowns ‘If my grandson is learning to read should I care what they wear. It is none of my business.’ Then, shakes a stick at the politician to move him along. The other old men laugh at the stupid candidate. This would not happen here.

We can see the US so clearly from over here and we are like the little old man. Culture wars don’t interest us. Kindness is my number one. Show me your kindness and compassion. Your acceptance of everyone. And your willingness to feed the hungry and house the homeless. A party where all are valued and welcome. Then, you’ll have my vote.

In Spain, on May 28th this six weeks of small town election hell ha! will be over. We can peel the candidate’s poster off the dumpster in the road and move on for the next 3 years and 10 1/2 months. Smile at our neighbors. Discuss the jardin and the weather. Share our vegetables and help each other, without the threat of politics, violence or religion invading the conversation. For a country like the US that purports to be the shining city on the hill of democracy; the democracy and freedom, the neighborliness we enjoy here in Spain somehow feels a whole lot freer.

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