On Innocence as a Political Principle

Gala Pin facebook profile photograph.

When I get to the house of friends who have taken in my baby and me, that Tuesday when the leader of the right-wing People’s Party, Alberto Nuñez Feijóo made his unsuccessful first bid to form a government, they want to know what happened. I tell them I’m still trying to get my head around it, that I feel like a fish out of water, that this isn’t my world … but I’m starting to see the outlines of an insight that the lesson of the day is that innocence must be upheld as a political principle. I still can’t put it into words. They ask me again. They’re curious. This is something new, my something new, their something new (they never had a friend who’s an MP).

I could have told them all about the overblown attire of the senators and MPs, my stupefaction at the way the occupants of the right-wing bench stamp their feet (literally, not a metaphor) when they’re throwing their tantrums, the Speaker berating them like a bunch of kids: “Ladies and gentlemen, no stamping in the House. Ladies and gentlemen! Out of respect for our citizens, stop stamping!” I could have got lost in the story, somewhere between diverting and fascinating, of what I saw, these now flesh-and-blood TV characters in the same chamber as me, the plush carpets, the frames on hoary paintings. I could have given a (hackneyed, I suppose) description of the bullet holes in the ceiling of the chamber, a vividly petrified memory of 1981 and Tejero’s 23F coup attempt, or about my first entry into a universe I’d seen on telly, and where I’d had an off-stage doughnut and some mineral water. But I don’t want to talk about it. I’m reminded of being a Barcelona city councillor back in 2016 and chatting with councillors from other cities, how most of them didn’t want to take it further than funny stories about the clashes between street sense—which was where we came from—and the private logic of the institution. I recall how frustrated I was because we weren’t able to think together, a bit more abstractly, without getting bogged down in the humdrum matters of municipal politics, which engulf all your time. I don’t want to talk about these things, don’t want to rehash the anecdotes that everyone expects or can guess at, about the gulf between my world and that of parliamentary politics. The whole thing gives me an attack of ontological lethargy.

I’m wrongfooted, only have gut feelings, am dazed by the dozens of impressions confusedly solidifying in my head, chaotically distributed in the form of sensations all around my body. Everything’s new, yet I’ve already discovered that, the moment you’re off-guard, they fit you with standard glasses so you can see this world the same way it’s always been seen by everyone (but now I don’t include the right in the elliptical “everyone” of the phrase). My own glasses are out of focus but that’s how I like them. They make me giddy but that’s what I want. No way I’m going to the ophthalmologist.

Actually, it’s not true that I don’t feel like talking about it. My real vocation is as a kind of invisible anthropologist. But I think I should be telling them something else. And I try to do it, telling them about my indignation, my bewilderment. “I was expecting a more ideological debate. I don’t know how to put it.” I’m bothered that there was no debate. I don’t really know how to say what I want to say. Right now, I’m not sure about what I want to say. I’m not so quick at classifying emotions. The fact that there was no attempt to debate from the different political positions about how to change things, makes me feel detached from the place and the people who inhabit it. The sensation is that of having witnessed a discussion in private language, among actors who are ill disposed to help citizens realise that politics also belongs to them. Because, maybe apart from the well-worn “let’s talk about people’s problems”—with which it’s impossible to disagree—the democratic instinct says we have to go further, we have to do politics, and do politics in such a way that citizens know that politics is theirs too.

In the threesome “politics as power to transform reality, politics as a space to conquer quotas of power, and politics as an arena to keep the party afloat as an end in itself”, the first one was absent. Better said, I found this lack of the first notion distressingly hard. I feel deeply estranged.

I clumsily try to get this across to my friends. I talk from disgust, from unease, and with platitudes. “I wanted debate about the climate emergency, the huge challenges we’re facing as a society, and not so much about if you’d done a deal with this one or that one in such and such a year, or if you were more like this or more like that”. But I make a mess of it. At some point it even seems that my criticism (and I don’t know if it’s a criticism or a gauchely subjective blab) doesn’t distinguish between right and left. My friends want behind-the-scenes gossip and lofty thoughts, and I babble on that it’s all theatre, that they don’t talk about what really matters, that they’re commandeering politics, the obscenity of the right-wing way of being … And my friends almost laugh at me. “But that’s how it is, Gala! Where do you think you landed? Even we knew it was like that! What did you expect?”

The same thing happens the next day when I say I’m gobsmacked at what I saw the previous day and what’s happening right now with colleagues and old friends. They diligently explain to me what Pedro Sánchez is up to with his move against Feijóo and towards Yolanda Diaz, they again decode Óscar Puente’s speech like a schoolteacher giving Lesson One in algebra. Undaunted, they lecture me about how Feijóo is partly speaking to his parish, building and consolidating his person as leader of the opposition. They tell me things I know but I just nod at the mansplaining, affectionately offered but still mansplaining. They tell me other things I haven’t read properly and they all reproduce the codes and grammar of that space. There’s no expression of genuine surprise except about the few tactical surprises that appeared. I’m getting angry at this sensation of thought immersed in inertia.

The only certainty I have after two days of investiture debate is that innocence must be claimed as a political principle. It isn’t (or not only) a question of not having the tools to interpret these codes or words to decipher this grammar. It’s about not forgetting, not letting go of the idea that this place also has to be one that gives politics back to the people, that charts horizons for the future, and that discusses visions of the world. The battle for quotas of power, the games to ensure the survival of a party or a candidate are not only secondary but usually an obstacle to doing politics with bodies, where “the people”, where “citizens” become humans with faces, rights, and political agency.

Week one at school, Lesson 1: claim innocence as a political principle. This doesn’t mean being naïve. It simply means thinking outside of inertia. Not losing focus. It’s about never ceasing to be surprised, almost from a distinctly philosophical position, about what is not as it should be if politics is to be an art, closer to the art of love than to the art of war.

Gala Pin is a member of the Spanish parliament.