Greta Thunberg at the Casa Encendida in Madrid: “We are getting bigger and bigger, and our voices
are being heard more and more,  but of course that does not translate into political action”


by Rose Maramba

When the Spaniards have gotten it into their heads that a cause is worth taking up, they’ll plunge head on and carry it through with such an enthusiasm it could make your head spin. Yesterday, 6 December, was Constitution Day in Spain. Other people take their Constitution if not quite for granted then as a natural milestone in a significant politico-historical process. But not the Spaniards who regained their freedom only after four decades of dictatorship. Only after winning that freedom were they able to frame their own Constitution which was enthusiastically approved by an ample majority in a referendum on 6 December 1978.

After four decades of dictatorship, a Constitution for freedom.

In a sense this was a demi-miracle and the Spaniards surprised even themselves that they could actually produce such a piece of enlightened political framework. And so there was a cause for celebration. In fact, 6 December is a national holiday, one of only eight during the entire year.

This year, though, Constitution Day acquired an extra dimension. Due to the violent street unrest in Chile, which exercises the COP25 presidency, Spain offered to host the Climate Change summit. The UN and Chile accepted the generous offer and Spain quickly and efficiently mounted the infrastructure in Madrid for a summit of 25,000 delegates, among whom are governments, world leaders, environment organizations and activists from 197 countries.

The summit opened last 2 December and is ending on the 13th of the month. So far, it’s running smoothly and fervorously. At least, that’s how it feels out in the streets of Madrid. Not only is Spain proud of the undertaking; it’s facing the climate challenge with more vigor and conviction than ever before, now that it’s hosting COP25 and is a center-stage actor.

That is why the massive crowds around Madrid on Constitution Day is apparently imbued with the spirit of double celebration — for the Constitution and for the climate summit.

Thunberg at the Rally for Climate in Madrid

Moreover, not that she’s timed it so she’d arrive in Madrid on Constitution Day; that’d be ludicrous. But just the same, it so happened that the 16-year old Swedish environment activist, Greta Thunberg, reached Madrid in the morning of the 6th of December after traveling three weeks from Hampton, Virginia, USA to Lisbon, Portugal on the La Vagabone catamaran powered by solar panels and hydro-generators. From Lisbon, Greta took the Lusitania sleeper train and set foot in the Spanish capital ten hours later, her iconic Skolstrejk för Klimatet (School Strike for the Climate) placard under her arm.

(Thunberg: “I am not travelling like this because I want everyone to do so. I’m doing this to sort of send the message that it is impossible to live sustainable today, and that needs to change. It needs to be easier.”)

Thunberg, center front, arrives at COP25, Ifema. Like the teenage idol that she actually is.

She wasted no time dropping in on the ongoing UN Climate Conference at Ifema.  And in the afternoon, she held a press conference like a teenage idol in a pop concert. Joining Greta were three activists from Fridays for Future Spain, a group that draws inspiration from Thunberg’s first school strike in August 2018 in front of the Parliament in her native Sweden. Also present was 23-year old Vanessa Nakate who’s on to saving the rainforest in Congo.

Media reports across the globe drummed up support for the event. Greta herself contributed to the massively successful news conference, held at the La Casa Encendida cultural center, and the Rally for the Climate which kicked off at Atocha. She twitted: “Tomorrow December 6th we strike again around the world for the climate!  I’ll join the strike in Madrid at #COP25 18.00 at Atocha! See you there!#FridaysForFuture #ClimateStrike #schoolstrike4climate

At the news conference, she declared, “We are getting bigger and bigger, and our voices are being heard more and more, but of course that does not translate into political action. I sincerely hope that world leaders, that people in power, grasp the urgency of the climate crisis because right now it doesn’t seem like they are.”

Later, Thunberg went and joined the climate march supported by 850 social and environmental organizations. Among the “strikers” were three busloads from Murcia in southeastern Spain where thousands of asphyxiated fish suddenly washed up dead on the shore of the Mar Menor saltwater lagoon.

This time, she twitted: “They say more than 500,000 people showed up tonight [at the climate march] in Madrid.”

One might say that on 6 December COP25 and Greta Thunberg drowned out the spirit and festivities of Constitution Day. But it didn’t.  One can have one and the other too, and the Spaniards are delighted more than twice over because what transpired on Constitution Day was a happy synergy.



Featured image: Greta Thunberg/Lea Châteauneut, CC BY-SA4.0; Casa Encendida/La Casa Encendida, CC BY-SA4.0
Spanish Constitution of 1978/Cortes Constituyentes, PD

Thunberg and the Skolstrejk för Klimatet placard at the climate march in Madrid/Thunberg’s social media
Thunberg at COP25, Ifema/Ministry for the Ecological Transition, Fair use
Rally for the Climate poster, Fair use


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