Most of the time there I spent with a U.S. delegation – (there was more than one, but the one I was invited to seemed to vanish) – comprised of hardcore political activists. Working Families Party operatives, Democratic Socialists and Black Lives Matter people predominated. Their discussions were intense and focussed on building electoral campaigns. It was exciting to watch them grappling with the tenets of the municipalist program and ideology. It seems simple: It's direct democracy, high ethics, transparency, and at the center feminism, ecology and the care economy.
There are many rough stumbling blocks along the path to realizing or using these new ideas in practical political organizing. (They're really not so new; ancient, actually, but refashioned.) I know these folks will get it together, though. And I am convinced, through spending time with these energetic, committed and intelligent political activists that we're going to see some dramatic electoral results on the local level around the USA. I'm sure I was in the room with many future elected leaders – but people who also know that the ration of glory high office holds is not what their work is all about.
This was a wildly diverse conference, with people from so many countries, and so many sessions I could not hold names and positions together. I just tried to keep up with the conversations. Now I'm giving only a mostly anonymized taste of some of that talk. Please comment if you wish to add some detail.
Arriving for the conference, I was fortunate to have a solidarity apartment from an Italian professor and writer on Spanish politics. Steven Forti presented on Italian municipalist platforms in the conference, while running around doing things for his radio station as well. Almost immediately I ran into some SqEK academic/activist comrades – Miguel Martinez, Claudio Cattaneo who lives in Can Masdeu, Julia Ramírez Blanco, Andrej Holm and Galvao Santos.
The first event of Fearless Cities was a welcome in the public square in front of the art museum MACBA. (I longed to see the show inside of “Forensic Architecture” and punk in contemporary art, but – no time for my love.) We heard Ada Colau, the mayor of the city and head of Barcelona en comu, the political platform that has taken power in the city government. She welcomed us “back to the squares” in springtime, a reference to the 15M movement of 2011 where in a sense it all began. That pivotal Spanish political event was one among many “movements of the squares,” including the US Occupy. Numerous recently-elected dignataries spoke, including Madrid's own mayor Manuela Carmena. The event was live-streamed, and is still online (in Spanish only, however; highlights also, all over-dubbed in Spanish).
Photo: Manuela Carmena y Ada Colau at opening of Fearless Cities
The next day saw an opening plenary with statements from muck-a-mucks in BCN en comu laying out their ideas. Is that online also? Maybe... as the conference went on, less and less seems to be, although it will likely come along later, as happened after the 2015 MAK-1 and 2016 MAK-2 conferences on muncipalism, which featured reflections by many participants (search #MAK2; the first MAK saw afterwards an important assemblage of texts on the transversal website – see my own post here “Where Does Municipalism Come From? II” from February 2017 for a precis). The big difference now is that these folks have been governing for a while now, and their ideas are tempered – chastened in some cases, stronger in others.
Still optimism and inspiration ruled the day. Looking at some of the conference-time tweets conveys some sense of the lead themes as seen by conference organizers and speakers:
Kate Shea Baird (a key organizer of BCN en comu's international group) @KateSB – “Can the municipality be a space of self government rather than the local branch of the state?” asks @anametropolitan
“Municipalism is not about implementing progressive policies,but about giving power back to ordinary people.” – @debbiebookchin #FearlessCities (she's the daughter of Murray, the revered theorist of libertarian
"Without the soil of fear, the 1% can't win" @drvandanashiva
“We must put life and care at the centre of politics! 💚”
"Gender equality isn't about specific policies for women. Gender must be integrated in all public policy" @L_Makeba
"Without feminism there is no revolution of municipalism" Laura Perez Castano - Councillor for Feminism and LGBTI, BCN en comu
"We measure the amount of time men and women speak in meetings to visibilize inequalities and reduce them"
“Ada Colau (mayor of Barcelona): States are slow, authoritarian and patriarchal. Against this municipalism is a must, it is morally obligatory.” #FearlessCities
“When the states fail to assume their responsibilities, cities should step in. This is why we need more #FearlessCities working together.”
"Intelligence, diversity and self-organization are the essence of life, and it's stronger than fear" @drvandanashiva in #FearlessCities
“There is no one size fits all in municipalism. You have to find your formula"
Social Protection instruments for housing are not enough without civic mobilization @AndrejHolm #FearlessCities
More than the pep talks and high-flown rhetoric to which the left is addicted, the “Fearless” conference included numerous discussions of ground-level strategy on how municipalist platforms in different cities were built. There were fascinating statements of the kind of new subjectivities the movement was both based on and was constructing. And there were discussions about how to apply some of these lessons in the USA.
I listened to a lot of it, but know I missed a lot as well. The organizers handled the event as well as may be expected, given the language divide between Spanish and English.
The need for efficient organizing in the USA is now so urgent I prioritized sessions on strategy and application. The best of these I saw was in English, “Como creat una canidatura municipalista y participatia” (title in Catalan in the program, go figure).
Next: Fearless Cities 2: Local Strategies from:
Comu de Lleida, Spain
A Coruna, Spain
The US contingent of organizers held their own sessions and breakouts. You could feel the urgency in their meetings. One session I came in on dealt with white supremacy, and the personal damage of racism. (Other sessions I missed considered neo-fascism.) It was very affecting to hear the stories of oppression people of color are often reluctant to share. From the terrible shared childhood experience of "Mommy, what's a nigger?" to the the call from the agency after you have rented the apartment, "Oh, we made a mistake, it's already rented."
These are stories white folks read about, from the children of families trying to better their situation who were kicked in the face on their way up the ladder – as you are reading now. But to hear people tell them, and to see the effect these oppressions as children, these experiences had as remembered by mature people is to realize something fundamental about the nature of our rotten society. And as well, to see something of the motor spring of revolutionary intention. During lunch, one white conferee from Canada asked me, when will there be a truth and reconciliation commission in the USA as their had been with indigenous people up north?
Yes, white organizers need to relearn the lessons of the New Left, and let organizers of color lead. This was such a sturdy, intelligent, sensitive and militant bunch!
But when some tried to generalize to Europe as, yes, ideological cradle of white supremacy, the contemporary application of the argument broke down. In Europe it is Muslims who are the oppressed and racialized minority, and also most of the refugees and the terrorists. The “M” word was not spoken during that US session. But it struck me then that Barack Hussein Obama was for the extreme right in the USA a convenient way to displace and deny their racism. When Trump inveighed against Muslims while before he had denied Obama had been born in the US, he was playing to a deep-seated Other-izing fear of white USAians stretching all the way back to Malcolm X. It wasn't a dog whistle, it was a fog horn. And it was a lesson learned by the US extreme right from the international neofascist movement.
A key question for me at this conference was how could the US progressive left and its various movements use the lessons of Spanish municipalism? How does it differ from the practice of politics in the USA?