Thursday, July 6, 2017

Getting Elected: Barcelona “Fearless Cities” Report (4)

This post continues reportage on the “Fearless Cities” convergence in Barcelona. The need for effective inventive organizing in the USA is so urgent I prioritized sessions on strategy and application. This was one of them. The panel was “Como creat una canidatura municipalista y participatia” (panel in English, title in Catalan in the program, go figure), How to Create a Municipalist Candidacy.
[REVISION: Video of this session has been posted, July 2017.]
Maria of Ahora Madrid introduced.* She presented activists of Spanish and European platforms who explained how they conducted their electoral campaigns.
Clare Walden of Take Back the City in London has a background in Occupy London. Her group launched a campaign to elect representatives to the Greater London Council. Her platform came together in 2015. Politics then seemed bad, Both the Labor and Tory parties embraced austerity and neoliberal policies. With privatizations, the housing crisis and evictions were massively increasing. Homelessness was increasing. Low wages was also an issue. A group of teachers working with mostly young people of color realized that the politicians didn't reflect them. Their students were so removed from politics that the teachers decided to form this platform, this association called Take Back the City.
In one incident, young mothers and pregnant women were about to be evicted. (In a well-publicized action, exactly this kind of group squatted vacant public housing to draw attention to their issue. Clare Walden didn't confirm that this was the same incident.) Two-and-a-half years ago working-class politics was dead. Take Back the City wanted to launch a peoples' mayoral candidate. Then 25 Greater London Council members were to be elected, so they decided to go for that instead.
Participation was at the center of the project. From day one young people of color were invited in. Part of our success has been including young black and brown kids. We started with a massive outreach. We met with 75 groups around London. We were going around to homeless people to ask, What do you want from London? What would a fair just London look like? We held a Peoples Manifesto workshop. We met with migrant cleaners in their lunchbreak. We met with 75 groups, and also did an online thing. We got policy proposals through this process. (She shows a slide: “Building a peoples manifesto.”) We prioritized the physical, not the online outreach.
A mayoral campaign was such a large undertaking we decided not to do it. (Later, in plenary, she said Mayor Sadik – weirdly criticized by Trump after the recent terrorist attacks in London – was the most left candidate standing, so we also did not want to run against him.) We picked East London to run a Greater London Council candidate, and another one in the south. Gentrification was a big issue. We tried getting people talking, having them bring their children around. We had big trays of free food, also singing and dancing. We wanted to create an environment to give people confidence in their own viewpoints. 800 young people came to an evening of political music and spoken word. In the UK there is no history of open air assembly, “because the weather is so shitty.” We had singing workshops for kids while we chatted with their parents abouut politics. We had our candidate standing on the back of a bus campaigning. We tried to do campaigning in a different exciting way. We did crowd-funding.
We weren't very successful – you have to knock on doors and such in the UK. Our manifesto was the most successful product. (They have a great yellow graphic – Take Back the City.) Our language is sensational, not academic or political.
After she spoke came Laura Berges from Comu de Lleida, a small city of some 139,000 near Barcelona. It is a rural city, with an agricultural base, a service city for a rural region. The politics are “a traditional city with its fat cats.” It has been Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) since democracy came to Spain (mid-1970s). The same political landscape for 40 years. There is only 50% voter participation. In the last round all the right wing was elected.
Comú de Lleida

We united around “a minimum consensus.” We made a call to social movements and left parties. We held open assemblies and private meetings. We made a call for a united candidacy. The social movements did not want to be identified with one party. They worked with us, but not in the name of their movement.
To launch our candidature we had primaries, spending one week on the streets. We had a total of 573 votes – 397 present, 176 e-votes (“telematic”). We sought a consensus to choose the first candidate. We presented a group of electors, not a political party. For that you must gather signatures. Most of our signatures were acceped by the Town Hall secretary. The process was time-limited – we had 20 days. The town secretary told us, Next time do a party because this is a lot of work for me.
Her slides: “Strategies. 1) Transparency – give information with meaning. 2) Participation – open structure. 3) Commons – common wealth / collaborative work / common discourse.”
“How: 1) Streets. 2) Hard work. 3) Reports. 4) Social digital networks. 5) Meeting with local entities. 6) ooking for agreements with other parties. 7) Supporting but not absorbing social movements.”
The traditional media did not give us much space, so we needed our own.
Slide: “Problems: 1) keeping and improving levels of volunteer participation. 2) time management – differiing rhythm of institutional workers and volunteers. 3) Money for something – space, legal advice, etc. 4) Us as “strangers in the hall: some political isolation.” 5) Low media impact. 6) “Goliath infuriated: the aggressive response of those in power.” 7) Are we a local autonomous group or part of a bigger project?
Then came Claudia Delso Carreira, counselor for participation in A Coruña, a city in the northern province of Galicia. (I met Claudia at a workshop on micropolitics held by a feminist collective in Barcelona a few years earlier. The book is forthcoming!) Historically, she said, A Coruña was a big party government – socialist (PSOE) for more than 30 years. Then a short period of coalition, which failed, then the right took power. Then we appeared – Marea Atlántica. We wrote a manifesto. We came into the streets, into the squares with a small piece of blue fabric and a microphone to share the question. The people took the mic and stated their concerns: “I want to change this in the neighborhood,” etc. It was really natural, really organic, without any kind of structure. After those kinds of meetings there arose in the neighborhoods groups we call mareas.
We called ourselves Marea Atlántica, something really charateristic, from our identity as a city on the Atlantic coast. A poet, Manuel Rivas, named us. The vocabulary of the marea is our own. “Marea” means tide, which is low and then high. We spoke of “buiding our own house.” We proposed the salary for elected people, and explained the kind of government we wanted. Now we are in it. Now we are it.
We invited people in the parties to join us but not as party members. Some came in, but not without tension. That really depends on the character of the person, how they deal.
There is no recipe of how to win elections or do municipalism. It is how we build the space – like standing up, speaking to you, to build another kind of situation. We walked, from 9am to 9pm. The media wasn't speaking about us, but the people were speaking about us. And that is how we won the election.
During the discussion session, a guy from Capetown asked, how do we organize across racial and class lines in the city.
In Barcelona, Claudia said, they made a map of classes and races in different neighborhoods. In A Coruña we have a favela (area of “informal settlement”) of gypsies from Portugal. We came to talk to them and said, “We have a common desire” that everyone can make their own solutions. Each person can really relate to that. (I'll note here that in addition to different theoretical orientations, the municipalists of Spain have a research-based approach to governance. They are well prepared for many problems by the time they enter the institutions of governance. This is because they are already working outside the institutions, so winning elections isn't a totalizing goal for them, without which they will have nothing, stop working and go home.)
A young man of color from Denmark said, We are organizing in peripheries of the city which are like asylum camps hidden away. These are racialized cities, like London.
In Madrid, said the rep from Ahora Madrid, the south is popular and the north is wealthy. This disparity has been increased over years by policy. We did maps of inequality, how money was put into one neighborhood rather than another. The north was cleaned more often than the south. So we took that question to the assemblies. We lost in the north, but won in the south, and also won in the center where gentrification and excessive tourism are issues.
Trina Turner from Stockton, California: Class is an issue. People aren't comfortable with one another, and don't know how to interact. “You have to be creative about how you put different classes together” so they can have conversations comfortably.
Woman from Budapest: We went to every door in our part of the city twice, 3,000 doors. We lost. The winner was a celebrity. But we got people who had never voted before. Even so, participation was only 17%. It was a poor district abandoned by the city, so people think this is no point. We continue now with small discussion circles around different topics.
Man from [Crowd?] party in Amsterdam: Geographic segregation of people in Amsterdam is strengthened by policies. Many narrow interest group parties rise up. No coalition seems possible. How do you combine when the city has a clear policy to segregate people?
An elderly woman from Vermont (part of the Bookchin contingent, his widow perhaps) said, “We came close to winning twice.” Now we try to have assemblies, planning assemblies, once a month. This starts with a community dinner. Within the assemblies we encourage people to discuss things as if they themselves were the legislators. Our candidates vowed to support only policies approved by the assemblies.
{This is classic libertarian municipalism. It's nothing like what the U.S. delegates I met have in mind. It would be a new political habit for them – or, as Fred Dewey has it, a very old one.)
A guy from Belgium also spoke about class and politics. Our working class candidates have been elected, but they have problems. The French language is used in the legislature, and lawyers are common there. Our representative was an electrician. He was laughed at, and when he voiced his concern about people unable to pay high electricity bills, he was referred to a social worker who might help him.
Later he explained he had been in the city council five years in opposition. “Don't only represent,” he said. Be part of the protest. Join the movement. “What happens in the city is more important than what happens in the council.”
A man from “Zagreb Is Us” platform in Serbia said their group came out of Reclaim the Streets mobilizations. They got going in a few months. They took four seats in the city parliament, two dozen in neighborhoods and 40 in local councils. Their city council members will rotate, so everyone gets to see how the system works, and get ready for the next election.
A man from Belgrade said that in opposing mega-developments their big problem was how to raise money. A woman from City is Ours in Warsaw said the same. How can we fund our campaigns? Our friends are not enough. In Poland political parties are funded, but we are an association and we don't want to change that.
Laura Berges from Comu de Lleida said they are doing a summer school, with workshops on law and bureaucracy as it affects neighborhoods.
A woman from (where?) said that their movement is voluntary. “Human resources are a huge problem.” Our activists in the institutions now have 60-hour-a-week workloads. “The movement is empty.” Dealing with the frustration of people expecting change is hard. We are always explaining to the neighbors why we can't do things.

* The speakers listed were not the speakers who presented. I regret I did not catch all the names, only the English ones I could get on the first pronunciation. I got almost none of the names or platforms during the Q&A.


Take Back the City

Aditya Chakrabortty, “For real politics, don’t look to parliament but to an empty London housing estate,” Guardian online, 23 September also followed the story closely

PDF of the book "Situating Ourselves in Displacement"
edited by Murmurae (Paula Cobo-Guevara and Manuela Zechner) and JOAAP (Marc Herbst)
Print edition forthcoming from Journal of Aesthetics and Protest Press

Nice blurb on Fred Dewey's book "School of Public Life"

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