"Barcelona isn’t just a wave...it's a tide, which goes up & up & up and is unstoppable"
Stirring on-the-ground report from Open Democracy about Barcelona En Comu, the ruling political coalition in that city which is using its municipal powers to "bring water, energy, and housing to the people". And this enabled by "a front – sometimes united, sometimes less so, but a front nonetheless – between citizens, movements, and institutions."
it's fascinating to note the expectation of the En Comu leadership that they're there to be tested and challenged, not admired, by the bottom-up social movements pressuring their administration for change.
We're reminded of Hardt and Negri's idea (which we've explored variously here) that we should reverse the standard relationship between leaders and the multitude/people. it's the latter that is now capable of strategy and big visions, with the former becoming the tactical (and temporary) servants of the plans of everyday citizens.
See extract below:
Much of the attention on BComú has focused on its origins in activism; but the story doesn’t end there. It’s impossible to speak of BComú’s contributions to the city without acknowledging the relationship it now holds with social movements, one that’s not always friendly.
As Escorihuela puts it, many “act as opposition.” But this is “normal of all governments,” she adds. “In the end, it’s still an institution, and the movements stay outside.” Moreover, criticism from all sides adds an important balance.
Creating change, she says, is in fact harder “when the only pressure that's put on people is from economic lobbies and from the right.”
Bàrcena values a space where movements will show up to express ideas about parties and institutions, without it “implying giving unconditional support.”
“We’re not here to be applauded,” he says, of BComú. Instead, their goal is to ensure that “when other people are in power, the agenda is will still be influenced by social movements, citizens.”
Barcelona is in a unique situation. In the midst of a tense debate on self-determination and Catalan independence, it is still reeling from the financial crisis and reckoning with the ghosts of a past dictatorship. It embodies a powerful history in activism and local life, where focus is placed on policies for individual neighbourhoods and their different needs.
But this does not exclude the larger aim of facing outwards. BComú has published its ‘How to Set up a Municipalist Platform’ in several languages and has started a yearly International Municipalist Summit called Fearless Cities. They also hold monthly debates called ‘From the Neighbourhood to Europe’ in Spanish, which are live streamed, so far concentrating on housing, water, and energy.
In both Spanish and Catalan, the word ‘marea’ means both ‘tide’ and ‘powerful social movement.’ Barcelona en Comú has set high – maybe unachievable – goals for the city. But they’re not expecting to go it alone.
By nurturing local neighbourhoods, reaching out to create a worldwide community, and encouraging connection between institutions and grassroots movements – even if in the form of criticism – a ‘marea’ is the goal.
As Bàrcena insists, what’s happening in Barcelona isn’t “just a wave.” Instead, he says, “it's a tide, which goes up and up and up and is unstoppable."