Photography & Text by Derek Clark
They arrived on the Barcelona metro with bedsheets tied in massive bundles, crowding platforms and filling trains. At La Rambla they struggled to pull the bundles through the turnstiles and drag them up stairs to street level. Some had already spread out their goods inside the Metro, a prime spot possibly.
I took the escalator to the street and stepped out into the evening heat. The sun was low in the sky and Saturday night and all that it brings, had already begun. I had never seen so many counterfeit items in one place. The bedsheets now laid flat on the ground and the goods for sale placed neatly on display. The usual (fake) Rolex watches, Beats Pill speakers and Ray-Ban sunglasses were all available, but the obvious favourites were Michael Kors handbags and Nike shoes.
I made my way down La Rambla, watching the bartering and both sides were giving as good as they got. Money was exchanging hands in every direction, but the sellers were all looking nervously in one direction.
Further down I could see the bright yellow of police shirts, then bedsheets being hurriedly stuffed full of goods and moved rapidly in my direction. As I got closer, the crowd became denser and the noise levels were rising rapidly. One voice stood out more than most and very quickly became the dominant one. A group of police officers on scooters were trying to make their way up La Rambla, but the protesters had blocked the way and refused to move. It was an awkward scene and no doubt embarrassing for the police involved.
A middle aged woman was shouting in Spanish, screaming at the police above the roar of the crowd. The police looked at each other, they seamed unsure how to handle the situation, After a while someone made the decision to move the police scooters off the pedestrian area and onto the road next to it, pulling back to avoid escalating the situation, at least until backup arrived. The protesters cheered as the police rode their scooters out onto the street, no doubt seeing it as a victory.
It looked as though the protest had developed in the heat of the moment, but more people started to arrive with handmade banners. For them at least, this was not about selling counterfeit goods, but about race and the persecution of migrants. There were banners saying 'Stop the war against migrants' and 'No more refugee's in prison' . While others claimed that violence was a legitimate defence. Further up La Rambla the sellers were cautiously setting out their goods for sale again.
Meanwhile, two Catalunya police vans had arrived full of cops armed with handguns and riffles at Plaça De Catalunya. They reversed both vans behind a large fountain and awaited instructions. But the standoff had been diffused to an extent and the sellers had decided to call it a day and pack up their counterfeit goods and gather near the entrance to the Catalunya Metro.
One eager entrepreneur opened his bundle for a couple of tourists that showed an interest, but the sale didn't develop and he was reprimanded by another seller, who looked as though he may have had some authority among the group.
In the end the situation was diffused and what could have developed into something more serious turned out to be an embarrassment for the police and lost revenue for the sellers. The protesters may have scored a victory, but I'm sure faces were noted and even photographed for later collection.