Friday, May 26, 2017

Size Doesn't Matter: Protests

How much sand, do you suppose, is there in the Sahara? It's not that, following yesterday's piece, I have made sand the theme of the moment, it's just that it has become the subject of protest. Saharan sand has been imported to Mallorca, several thousand tonnes of it, and there are some people who object.

It's why one asks how much sand there actually is in the whole of the desert. Don't reply that there's lots, because I think we can all figure that out for ourselves. I have asked Mr. Google, who hasn't proved to be terribly helpful. Someone has calculated that there are eight octillion grains of sand, but I'm afraid eight octillion doesn't register - not with me anyway - and more to the point this doesn't give tonnage. If someone else can come up with an average weight for a grain of sand and multiply it by eight octillion, then I guess we have the answer. Or possibly not.

One would suppose that shifting some tonnes of sand and depositing them somewhere else wouldn't make a great deal of difference to the overall Saharan sand volume. There again, if everyone was doing this, the sand would eventually disappear. On balance, therefore, it probably isn't such a sensible idea. Moreover, the protesters, the friends of the Saharan people, say that the sand is being stolen; the desert is being plundered. There is perhaps something a tad objectionable to someone else's sand being acquired when Mallorca has a fair amount of it as it is. This said, if a crane with a scooping device rocked up on Es Trenc beach, there'd be hell to pay.

The sand, as such, isn't what concerns me here. It is the protest that does. Some fifty odd people turned out at the dockside in Palma to express their anger. Among them were some usual suspect politicians - the environment minister and Més and Podemos sorts from the town hall. The coverage and attention given to a) the shipping of the sand and b) its unloading and the protest have elevated the affair to the status of a cause célèbre; at least where some are concerned. But other than the protesters, how many people in Mallorca do you suppose are particularly bothered? The answer is as impossible or as vague as with the question about how much sand there is in the Sahara, except that it would be the opposite. Not many, one would guess, as opposed to lots.

Protests, always allowing for the permission that is given for them or not, obviously vary in terms of scale. The largest ever staged in Mallorca was the one against the Bauzá government's trilingual (TIL) teaching project. It was a subject in which the whole island had an interest and on which it had an opinion. Education, one can conclude, is of greater importance than sand. The coverage given to that particular protest was entirely proportionate. The coverage for the sand import seems disproportionate, based on the strength of feeling.

Which isn't to say that the protest was invalid. Even a small protest can raise awareness that would otherwise not exist, so I fully defend its purpose. The issue is, though, that protests, and the publicity given to them, can over-exaggerate the cause and also the amount of support that there is for a cause.

There was a different type of protest in Palma last weekend. This one involved around 200 people. Dressed as tourists, they were protesting against so-called tourist colonialism and in particular the increasing number of apartments that are used for holiday rental purposes. This attracted a fair amount of coverage as well, but was this coverage disproportionate given the numbers?

In one respect it wasn't. That's because the whole issue of holiday rentals has genuinely become a cause célèbre. But how representative of attitudes was the protest? A small number of people have the power to blow something up out of all proportion. There were plenty of reactions to the protest which suggested just that. On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence which indicates how much concern there is about the impact of holiday rentals, and it certainly isn't confined to politicians. There may have only been 200, but the groundswell of support, you can be certain, is a great deal stronger.

It was interesting to note that a similar protest last September didn't register with the established media. An anti-tourist route was followed, but there was barely a mention of it. It's not as if "saturation" wasn't a major issue last summer, but since then there has been a constant bombardment. It never lets up.

The scale of a protest doesn't in itself give an accurate reflection of how widespread (or not) attitudes are. The TIL one probably did. In reverse, the Sahara sand protest may also have been fairly accurate. The 200 in Palma? I don't think so.

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