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Spain: ‘I Won't Pay’ Campaign Hits Catalan Highways

A wave of protests against rising tolls on Spanish highways reached its five-month mark last week, when a clash between motorists and private authorities near Mollet del Vallès motivated Abertis, the conglomerate company that oversees more than 6,713 kilometers of European motorways, to put up barriers blocking the flow of traffic [ca] on the C-33 highway.

Logo for the #novullpagar campaign. Source: Wikipedia

The popular movement began on 29 March 2012, when Josep Casadellà i Turon recorded himself refusing to pay on the AP-7 tollroad and uploaded the video on YouTube [ca]. The video has over 200, 000 views. Within a month, motorists throughout Catalonia, Valencia, and to a lesser extent, the Balearic Islands, were following his lead.

Participants relied heavily on Twitter and Instagram to build solidarity around the idea and the hashtag #novullpagar, Catalan for I won't pay, quickly surfaced. Soon thereafter, Catalan netizen Jordi Torres Bonet founded novullpagar.cat to formalize the movement. Supporting websites have also surfaced, most notably novullpagar.com and proupeatges.cat, the latter having been named for an eponymous hashtag, Catalan for #NoMoreTolls.

#Novullpagar has tapped into a raging debate in Spanish politics about the fiscal inequality between regions. Highway infrastructure in Catalan-speaking territories is disproportionately privatized, so this case truly represents the tension between public and private services and the relationship between corporations and the state.

The movement has earned the unanimous support of pro-independence political parties in Catalonia, including ERC, CUP, RCat and SI, the latter having recently proposed a law [ca] regulating the relationship between toll rates and actual investment in highways. Outside the political sphere, this debate has resonated online, where #novullpagar began, receiving attention from several high-profile media outlets:

@ElHuffPost [es]: Contra la subida de precios de los peajes, insumisión http://www.huffingtonpost.es/2012/07/29/conductores-insumisos-cor_n_1716090.html … Eso han hecho muchos conductores bajo el lema #novullpagar

@ElHuffPost: Civil disobedience against the rising price of highway tolls http://www.huffingtonpost.es/2012/07/29/conductores-insumisos-cor_n_1716090.html … Many drivers are using the slogan #novullpagar

On his Vilaweb blog, Joan Garces wrote:

Mire de fer un viatge; si m'en vaig cap a Espanya, a Madrit, sols hauré de pagar el gasoil (uns 30 euros aprox) pel contrari si m'en vaig a Barcelona hauré de pagar el gasoil (més o menys el mateix) però a més, he de pagar 36 euros de peatge, eixe és el robatori encobert i legal que patim els valencians i catalans des de fa anys i anys, que consisteix en pagar, pagar i després tornar a pagar, a Madrit, a l'Espanya que ens maltracta i ens ofega.

I'm looking to take a trip. If I go to Spain — that is, Madrid — my only expense is gasoline, which costs approximately 30 euros. On the other hand, if I travel to Barcelona, not only will I spend a similar price for gas, but I will be charged another 36 euros in highway tolls. This is more of the same subtle, legalized robbery that Valencians and Catalans have been suffering for years: paying the government in Madrid that drowns and mistreats us.

#Novullpagar's organizers, participants and supporters have made remarkable use of social networks like Youtube, Instagram, and Twitter to build solidarity and motivate action, as well as announcing their own contributions, commonly described as “Fer un #novullpagar,” Catalan for “doing a #IWontPay”:

@Piulador_CATALA [ca]: #BonDia, sabíeu que cada català paga de mitjana a l'any 95€ en peatges, mentre que a la resta de l'Estat la mitjana és de 30€. #novullpagar

 @Piulador_CATALA: #GoodMorning, did you all know that every Catalan pays €95 on average in highway tolls, while in the rest of Spain citizens pay an average of €30? #novullpagar

@proupeatges [ca]: Peatge de Mollet col.lapsat i barreres aixecades. La victòria és nostra!

@proupeatges: The toll station at Mollet has collapsed and barriers have been erected. Victory is ours!

@francescribera [ca]: Fent un #Novullpagar a Girona-Sud

@francescribera: In the middle of an #IWontPay in southern Girona

@miquelsi [ca]: Per fi he pogut fer un #novullpagar!

@miquelsi (Instagram): Finally, I've been able to do an #IWontPay myself!

@CristinaDomenec [ca]: Estic fent #novullpagar…

@CristinaDomenec: I'm doing a #IWontPay…

@jordiborras [ca]: A Sicília tenen «La cosa nostra» i aquí tenim Espanya i Abertis, que actuen igual #30minuts #novullpagar

@jordiborras: In Sicily they've got the mafia and here we've got Spain and Albertis, who act the same  #30minuts #novullpagar

Organizers have also been using social networks to offer legal counsel to participants:

@ArseneLupin25 [ca]: #novullpagar ens han arribat moltes multes per no identificar-nos, de requeriments que ni tan sols ens han arribat, ajuda siusplau!
@jcasadella57 [ca]: . @ArseneLupin25  multes de #novullpagar sense identificacio? Envia-ho a juridica@cayalunyadiuprou.cat

@ArseneLupin25: #novullpagar we've been receiving a lot of fines for not presenting our ID – something we had no idea we had to do, help us please!
@jcasadella57: . @ArseneLupin25  fines for #IWontPay without ID? Send them to juridica@cayalunyadiuprou.cat

As the Spanish recession enters its third quarter and the Catalan government negotiates economic independence with Madrid, it is unlikely that anxiety over regional inequalities and the effects of privatization will fade away any time soon. At least on highways in Catalonia and Valencia, it seems, protest and civil disobedience will continue to grow.

Perhaps the greatest evidence of #novullpagar's continuity, is that it is no longer isolated to Catalan-speaking territories. Last week, on the A9 tollroad north of Portugal, a driver refused to pay [ca], tweeting his act of civil disobedience with a new, Galician language hashtag: #nonvoupagar.

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