June 22, 2021

3,500 euros fine for 22 minutes of feminist disobedience: "For us it has been a success"


“Dear gentlemen of the City Council: we are Cate and Pato, dear citizens of our town, we are writing this letter to try to solve the unpleasant incident related to the mural that we tried to paint on March 8 of this pandemic and complicated year, to happily celebrate the Day of the woman”. That was just the beginning of the self-incrimination letter that the Fresnedillas de la Oliva City Council received by official record a few weeks ago. The confession, in a satirical tone, continued in this way: “We are mature ladies very close to the dramatic menopausal burden who on this day wanted a bit of hooligan emotion to return to the spark of a distant youth of militancy.” And, attention spoiler, they had it. “The mischief turned out quite badly for us: 22 minutes after the start of the protest, unauthorized and presumably cool, they caught us red-handed.”

These days, the five women who decided to paint an 8M mural without municipal authorization, aware of what they were doing, are receiving fines, at a rate of 600 euros per person. 3,500 euros in total for drawing an open mouth inside which reads: “We are the cry of those who are no longer there” and, a little closer to the sidewalk: “Down with the patriarchy.” They did not have time for more. The police appeared and dropped the brushes. Following the complaint by the Local Police, the City Council has resolved the events as “a relevant disturbance of coexistence that seriously, immediately and directly affects the tranquility or the exercise of legitimate rights of other people, the normal development of activities ( …) or to public health and ornamentation “. The wall had been carefully chosen: municipal, in gray concrete in sight, rather ugly, with access to a public parking lot. “They have made a graffiti, for the Police the content is irrelevant”, clarifies councilor Andrés Rapaport. “I am one hundred percent convinced of the feminist cause, at no time is the content in the pillory, I do not feel comfortable with this sanction,” says the councilor to this newspaper. Two months later, the interrupted mouth, the hastily abandoned mural, the unfinished work, “the mischief”, has been covered with gray paint by the council. An option that the City Council itself gave them to stop the sanctioning file: that they themselves clean up what they had done. “The fact of erasing with gray paint a phrase that says ‘the cry of those who are no longer here’ is very violent because it is a very powerful symbol,” explains Cate.

But let’s start at the beginning. Who are these five women and why have they preferred to disobey to cooperate with a City Council, which is also governed by a neighborhood group of people who come from the ideological sphere of the left, candidates even for whom these women admit to having voted? What is special about Fresnedillas de la Oliva?

It is a Madrid town of 1,396 inhabitants, almost the same distance (one hour) from the cities Madrid, Ávila and Segovia. In Fresnedillas de la Oliva the words of Neil Armstrong were heard “Houston, Tranquility base here. The Eagle has landed” half a second earlier than anywhere else in the world; The famous physicist Luis Ruiz de Gopegui was the director of the NASA station in the town when the man stepped on the Moon in 1969 and, of that, there remains today a Lunar Museum. In addition, there is an innovative space for learning and reflection around the design of digital products and services, something similar to the Medialab Prado, called La Nave Nodriza. There is a group of women called Las Ruiseñoras where collectively purchased feminist books are shared and that promoted the idea that there would be a feminist shelf in the municipal library. Three years ago, Fresnedillas welcomed an unusual influx of journalists when it was learned that it held the record for foreigners by locality in its autonomous community: “the people of a thousand cultures and 30 nationalities“They called him. The town lives a tension that is common to other municipalities in the Madrid highlands: the population settled there for generations – the Jarandos, which is the name of the place – has its clashes with the young people who have just arrived, fleeing the city ​​for environmental or economic reasons: they are nicknamed “the bioguays”; Pato and Cate do not mind appropriating the term and eliminating its pejorative connotation. They went to live there ten and five years ago respectively and they are happy with their choice. They feel part of the town and often hatch plans to energize it, to make pineapple, to weave nets. Almost always in collaboration with the municipal government. What happens is that, this time, they did not want to go through that ring.

The Fresnedillas mural also arises in a context of feminist murals as a vehicle of expression and intervention in the public space that is happening in many places throughout Spain. But that matter on the feminist reading shelf had not turned out as they expected. They thought they would have the last word on the titles and the timing of the assignment, and they did not. There the activism collided with the institution, the initiative with the municipal regulation: “The library books have to be from the library,” they were told. They asked that the donation be temporary. “It can’t be,” they replied. Some women took their books away, others put them down. Then they received from a councilor the list of feminist books that the City Council was going to buy. “I would have liked the women on the shelf to decide on the books on the shelf,” says Pato. The titles of the councilor’s list were fine, “but that was not the question, but sometimes you have to shut up because if you speak [el concejal], the women do not speak, they are the ones who have proposed the idea “.

“The City Council has a problem with citizen participation – Pato summarizes – when all the ‘bioguays’ moved there and voted for them, we asked them to articulate participation and they have not done so, it is difficult for them to ask us. Everything has to pass many filters. and the attitude is always ‘it’s a good idea but you haven’t thought about it well, you have to give it a spin’. “Hence the mural,” intervenes Cate, to anticipate what happened on the night of March 7 to 8.

“8M. Pandemic. There is no demonstration. Nobody has done anything because we are all a little frozen,” Cate paints the photo of that moment. “And it occurred to us: because we do something without authorization because asking for authorization would be to do nothing, a kind of liberation was needed, as a political act, without interference. That is why we decided to do an illegal, subversive, irreverent, disobedient act … no to be good girls, even though we are already mature ladies. ” “We have touched the noses, much more than we expected, they have angered the beast,” admits his partner. “We realized that the fact that it had bothered would have more visibility, it would make it not stay here, have a greater weight, in a certain way we are happy, in quotes, that it would have bothered”, Cate answers: “For us, It has been a success”.

The activists began to make templates, they looked for a powerful design —Cate and Pato are designers by profession— “to be able to protect and clothe” the messages it was going to contain. They carefully chose the words where they could find more consensus: “instead of machismo, patriarchy”, statistical data, a space for participation. They bought 100 euros in purple, black and white paint. They met early so as not to break the curfew. They painted for 22 minutes, until a car from the BESCAM (Special Security Brigades of the Autonomous Community of Madrid) appeared. It turned out that there were two women on duty: “but how do you do this to us?” They asked the feminists. “This is not against you,” Cate replied. “But why haven’t you asked for permission?” and, again, it was Cate who answered, with the harshness of her voice, with her boldness, with her distant Italian accent: “It’s because it has more merit if we don’t ask permission.

In such a small town everyone knows each other. The Councilor for Equality, Andrés Rapaport, is a piano tuner by profession and Cate has sometimes hired his services. Right there, with the rollers soaked in purple, leaning on the buckets, they decide to call him on his mobile, explain what is happening. Pato says that when the councilman answered the call, the first thing he said to him was “I’m calling you for a brown one.” Rapaport remembers that call: “He caught me in pajamas, I was not expecting it, they call me and tell me that they are carrying out a clandestine action and they ask me what are we doing? The women want to continue painting, they ask permission to finish the work. “I cannot make a political decision because they are feminists or because they are my voters, I would be a cacicada,” explains Andrés Rapaport. They say they were treated “in a paternalistic way.” They go home. The next day, they decide to project onto a couple of town walls what the full mural would have been if they could have finished it.

“I am not happy sanctioning nor do we have a repressive spirit in this City Council. That is why we find a solution in the municipal ordinances: if they whitewash the wall, if they clean the graffiti, repairing the damage, there will be no sanction. From there, we can make a mural in which we all agree, I fully share the desire to make a feminist mural and the City Council can pay for the materials, “says the councilor. But they did not accept, they did not want to erase what they had done, so they sent the incriminating letter in which Pato and Cate discharge the responsibility of the other three and claim the project and the disobedient spirit. “I am trying not to sanction them but they do not let me, it is delusional,” says the politician.

Let’s go back to the letter, which the councilor describes as “inappropriate” and with whose ironic tone he does not quite feel comfortable. “From our deep intention of collaboration, closeness and good vibes, we propose a plan B that would make everyone happy, we believe, and also would not expire the kilos and kilos of paint that we buy and that are bored to death in the garage of a of the ladies, “it reads. This is plan b: “We propose to bring joy to this sad and gray wall, object of discord, and this time in a totally official and totally authorized way, with your approval, to use the paint cans and our friendly and, this time innocent , creativity to transform the protest, unauthorized and cool act into a participatory pictorial act, joyful and above all POLITICALLY VERY CORRECT “. The capital letters were on the writing.

Pato says that the immediate effect of this letter was an immediate summons to the office of councilor Rapaport. He says he announced to them: “Feminism is going well.” But he added that the number of proposals they had received by 8M was “zero.” “And you don’t draw any conclusions from that? Maybe it’s because of something that people don’t direct their proposals to you and decide to do things on their own,” Pato replied.

Feminists talk to each other. They decide they don’t want to erase. They collect signatures of support. On April 21 comes the first fine. They were told it would only be one. “We couldn’t conceive of it being more than one,” says Cate. But little by little they are receiving the other four. They are penalized for the minimum, the range is between 601 and 3,000 euros. Still, it’s a lot of money. “We are all mothers, we are all separated, we all live in a precarious economic situation and this also gives depth to the mural: it is not the same to be alone with a child than to be a man and with a salary. Of the five, there are three who they are going through fear. You can uphold your principles with integrity if you are confident. If not, you start to waver, “sums up Pato.

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