León – a history of a city

as befits a still-grand city, León’s origins date from the Romans who established a military outpost here in the year 70 to protect gold mines and it later became the seat of the VIIth Legion and capital of the empire in northwest Spain. a massive wall, remains of which still mark the limits of the old town, encompassed the Roman settlement. that wall, along with some baths under the cathedral are the only structures that remain from that period.

fortunes in the city ebbed and flowed with the decline of the Romans, incorporation into the kingdom of Asturias, conquest by the Visigoths (in 585), and then the Moors (712) under whose control it remained for over a century. in 746, Ordoño I managed to extricate the city from Moorish control and his successors invited Mozarabic refugees (Christians who hadn’t fled their lands and chose to remain under Moorish rule) from farther south to repopulate the city. despite the success of Ordoño and his immediate successors in building León up as a Christian city (and transforming the Kingdom of Asturias into that of León) — establishing churches, granting land to the bishop to construct a cathedral over the Roman baths, relocating the Asturian court and building a royal palace — subsequent generations proved weaker-willed and in the 10th century monarchs were paying protection money to caliphs in Cordoba to maintain “peace.” evidence of the 10th century prosperity vanished in 988 when the king, seeking aid from his “protectors” to defeat a rebellious brother, essentially invited an attack and occupation. in the 11th century, Alfonso V began a successful campaign to wrest control of Spain from Moorish control and his success led to eventual unification of the Castillian and Leonese crowns (as discussed in a previous post). by the middle of the 14th century, however, economic and political activity had shifted elsewhere as more and more of Spain fell under Christian authority. a series of continent-wide cataclysms, culminating in the arrival of the bubonic plague in 1349 or 1350 decimated León and effectively stunted its importance and growth for several centuries.

population growth stagnated until 19th century; most of the increase came down to influx from surrounding farming communities after the arrival of the railroad in the 1860s, in search of alternative means of employment. throughout the 20th century the population of the city grew rapidly — from about 21,000 inhabitants in 1920 to a peak of over 147,000 in 1995 — still due primarily to rural exodus.

the Leonese language is considered extremely endangered (more nearly extinct) by UNESCO, though the movement to attain Leonese autonomy from Castilla has made an effort to revive it. in 2006, the provincial government approved a Leonese Language Day as advocated for by a variety of language associations. as we proceeded farther along the Camino and away from Castillian influence we saw more and more graffiti promoting independence for León. I assumed the ” Llión Solo” signs we saw stemmed from an autonomy movement like the one in the Basque country, but hadn’t any confirmation of that until now. the University of León established a teacher training course in the Leonese language in 2001 and there are both adult-education courses in the language and lessons at high schools around León.

it seems like León has a good history of protest and procession (you know, like events during Semana Santa) (maybe it’s just a Spanish and/or European thing to go out for a protest of a Saturday?); there was a notable rebel population here during the Franco regime, though a failed attempt at fomenting popular unrest resulted in the arrest and execution of a number of rebel organizers in 1936. when we were out at lunchtime in Saturday, a clump of bicyclers and pedestrian-types streamed past us down the middle of a major road –led by a police vehicle as often happens in the U.S. with permit-holding protesters, headed farther into town to join some kind of protest. based on the protest attendees in the plaza, it must have been something to do with cyclist and/or pedestrian safety and awareness.

a San Diego Occupation?

in something of a San Diego mood today, I did a search for “Occupy San Diego.” enjoy and/or bear with me.

on a whim, I searched for “Occupy San Diego” to see if there were any protests organized for this week. I was somewhat skeptical of finding anything. whether because the radical polarization of the last nine months has changed my perspective on activism in Madison, because of the vicissitudes of memory, or because issues inspiring political activism didn’t engender this degree of passion while I lived there, I never felt like San Diego could generate much enthusiasm for protest. as I’ve said many times, despite popular perception of California, San Diego is the most conservative place I’ve ever lived. even though the city went blue in the 2008 election, the county is still red, and that reality came across in the limited size and scope of Democratic (much less progressive) mobilization.

even though the weather would make for great “Occupying”, I don’t know how many San Diegans feel passionately enough to challenge the establishment and do so. perhaps there’s a greater degree of ambivalence or apprehension about how the San Diego Police Department would react to protesters. seeing how some NYPD officers have reacted to Occupy Wall Street I am even more impressed with how law enforcement officers treated the #wiunion. weeks of protest; people taking up residence in the rotunda to protest the shady way in which Republican lawmakers called and held meetings; hundreds, then thousands of people marching around the capitol day after day, week after week. and no police-protester altercations like those that have come out of New York. would the actions of the San Diego PD be more like in Madison, or New York? if the protests become large enough, how might the strapped resources of the SDPD come into play?

the behavior of the law enforcement officers combines with the real dangers of a city as large and (comparatively) troubled as San Diego. New York City might share many of those problems, but geography changes things, too; in an already more-ambivalent San Diego populace, how are you going to inspire people to drive miles and miles to participate in something that, at least at this point, is largely symbolic? there have been insightful commentaries unpacking the genesis of this protest movement and I’m inclined to agree that the mobilization of the last several months will prove a turning point in our history. my generation is finally mobilizing on a broad scale to affect societal change and we’re using the tools of the 21st century to do it. it’s about time.