In the end, he took me to the door of the Facultad de Economia of the university on the outskirts of the city. I was just in time for the start of the conference. As I registered folks talked to me in English – for the last time. In the auditorium, a lineup of reps from different cities spoke about their concerns, their objectives, their main problems. I tried to understand, but of the various accents of Spanish (which is in fact Castilian, of one province) some are not so hard, and others are really difficult to understand, like one slurred stream of sounds. As the panelists hurried to finish, my comprehension decreased. Still, I got some sense of the issues that would be negotiated here at the MAC 3 as the municipalistas “oil their network.”
Unlike the “Fearless Cities” conference in Barcelona in June (see blog posts on that here), there were no explanations and no exhortations. There were also no Americans or Brits. This MAC was to be a working meeting, and what was proposed from the stage to the crowd of some 200 conferees was a rough agenda. With partial comprehension my notes are choppy. There was no press office to clear any of this up. (There was one in Barcelona, but they folded right after the conference.) Comments on this post are welcome and corrections and emendations will be made.
A woman took the stage to introduce. (Who? No idea.) She said, “There is a difference in times between institutions and social movements” (I take this to mean sense of time, movement of actions and ideas, the former being slow and deliberate, bureaucratic, and the latter meditative but moving straight to action.) The institutions don't reflect the “urgencies of the micro-political.” We want to tap the richness of the citizens' knowledges and ideas.
Then a parade of folks clad mostly in black, some with declarative t-shirts, took the stage. Emmanuel Rodríguez of the Instituto DM (Instituto para la Democracia y el Municipalismo) spoke first and super-fast, as I knew from the seminar he conducted at Traficantes de Sueños bookstore in Madrid. All I got was a remark on the “brutal differences in economic power,” not only between poor and rich citizens, but between the municipal governments and the banks and corporations. (This leverage was brought into play immediately after the recent vote of secession in Catalonia as a number of major Spanish banks and firms announced they would withdraw their headquarters and hundreds of jobs from the province.)
A guy from A Coruña announced that in December they would hold a “classic party congress” of the Marea Atlántica platform (that includes A Coruña – our host for the meeting – and number of other cities in Galicia). They would use the MAC3 discussions to “introduce debates into our own process.”
Another poor guy had first a loud buzz in his wireless mic, apparently from his mobile phone, and then immediately afterwards feedback from his notepad! (New tech = new problems.) When the different electoral platforms meet and talk here, he said, some of the questions they will work on include contesting monopolies, diversity, working on a European scale, and ….(?). Reps from other cities were introduced. Juan from Málaga with a Casa Invisible t-shirt spoke of the problem of corruption and the hidden transactions made by former regimes. For them – the Málaga Ahora party – a key value is transparency of all actions by the municipality. Real estate speculation is a huge problem in that city.
Santa Rosa (?) of Zaragoza en Común in Aragon, adjacent to Galicia, spoke (much more clearly, for me) of using “institutional rhythms to activate the potential of the 15M movement” – (here, unlike in USA, the broad mobilizations of 2011 have not only not been forgotten, they formed the ground floor for everything that has come after) – to “intervene in the constituent processes.” The PSOE has power in Málaga. (That's the socialists, conservative left, like the US DNC – their slogan, a bald lie, is “we are the left”).
So Zaragoza en Común tries to set up “posts of participation” in the neighborhoods (barrios) of the city to contest the proposals of the PSOE. The PSOE's informal networks of power influence the institutions disproportionately. ZenC are also working on remunicipalization of city services. “We don't want to obssess on the electoral problem.”
Marta of Pamplona (the Basque city where the MAK2 was held) mentioned the social center in the center of the city. I assume she is from Aranzadi: Pamplona en Común, and was referring to the September occupation of empty palace of the Marquis de Rozalejo, in the center of Pamplona. It was taken in 2007, evicted, and retaken in September '17 by a group which proclaimed the Rozalejo “open to all the neighborhood, all popular groups in the neighborhood and the city that need it, to all those people who want to contribute to building social change from the foundations." They consider that "not having gaztetxe while building luxury hotels is unfair, not having gaztetxe while building the high-speed train is unfair, not having gaztetxe while dozens of public buildings remain in disuse or in abandonment is unfair” [from diariodenavarra.es]. (Gaztetxe is the name of a self-organized occupied social center in the Basque language of Euskara; it also means youth house.)
For the Aranzadi platform, remunicipalization is a key economic issue. They are trying to do that with energy, which is now controlled by a monopoly. The question of intervention in the social economy is complex. (It is clear typing these up that the speakers are putting forth issues they face, perplexing problems which can be considered in the days ahead.) For another speaker how to compose their list of candidates was a challenge.
For a speaker from La Hidra Cooperativa of Barcelona, the key question was how to overcome the institutional blockage to redistribute power and wealth? (I heard the same line in Barcelona in June from city officials there, that the system is designed against us in our efforts to use it for egalitarian ends .) This shows the limits of municipal power when confronting problems of urban speculation, tourism, etc. They have built cooperative apartments with public support, bu still the state scale determines a lot of what can happen, like the “habitual” tourist economy. They try to investigate the hidden transactions taking place in the city. These are the issues which have most interested the assemblies in the barrios. The money produced in the center of the city does not get to the peripheries.
Barcelona is a model for the successful remunicipalization of services, in particular water, under the slogan “no nos serviran” (they don't serve us). For the Hidra “think tank” the big question is how to construe (?) the different levels of governance, to coordinate action toward objectives on the different scales of barrio, city, territory, nation and European Union. (This would be the basis of the game we would play the next day.)
As the speakers realized they were going over time, the talk became too fast for me to follow, and the action a little manic. At one point two men wrestled a woman for the microphone... All I could catch was a definition of “social sindicalism” as a struggle for the most precarious of our citizens. (This concept is explicated by Beatriz García of the social center La Villana in Vallecas, and the Fundación de los Comunes in a 2017 article.)
The final speaker from A Coruña noted that while they remained a minority in the city government, and were declining electorally, he remained optimistic. The PP (the Popular Party of the right) was the main enemy. They were threatening municipal autonomy on a federal level. (Shades of Repugnican state legislatures and Sessions' Justice in the USA!) Our next struggle, he said, is to raise citizen participation, to open channels and spaces to participate.
In A Coruña they are fighting now over development plans for an area on the water, near the port. (Actually, all of central A Coruña is on the water; it's shaped like a gnawed-on pork chop sticking into the Atlantic, so land is scarce.) Plans now call for hotels, commercial use, and high-rise residences with no provision for public space. We have to dispute this “common sense” kind of development.
More Local Color
The dinner after was beautifully organized in the cafeteria of the faculty. Several long tables with no chairs were set with plates of tapas and raciones, vegetarian and non (the clear choice). I didn't know anyone, only Emmanuel Rodríguez from his seminar. He was polite, and then moved off. I ran up on the guy from the Hidra Cooperativa who had spoken earlier. “What's that?” I asked. “A think tank,” he replied, explained a bit, then also slinked off. I was left talking with Susanna of La Villakas in Vallekas. Good fortune! She was one of the few folks from social centers here at MAC3. Vallecas is the working class district of exurban Madrid, a traditional site of left resistance,
I also chatted in English with Arturo, one of the information guys (wearing a big “I” sticker on his shirt) who said this meeting is a chance to “oil the network” of municipalism, since they are not as well coordinated city to city as they wish to be.
Later that night I chatted with my host, who is active with issues of “historic memory” in Galicia. That isn't at all an abstract matter. It concerns the recovery and re-interment of remains of those executed by Franco's regime and its fascist cadres over decades, and buried in mass graves all over Spain.
She was interested in some of the meetings, especially the cultural one. But who is speaking?, she asked. I don't see any names. And that was true. It was only the subject under discussion that is listed. No expert opinion was to be put forward, and no single person to organize the talk. I did not even see this as an aspect of MAC3 until she mentioned it, but it's radically different than other conferences with a roster of identified importantxs. I think it's part of the general feeling against expert culture in this movement, and against empowering spokespeople. It's not that there is no leadership in movements like this, it is only that it is not foregrounded. It is not enmarcado, framed out in advance. That is finally very different, and quite refreshing! It's also the procedure of our own SqEK meetings... although finally this can be frustrating when our links are so weak that one forgets who one was talking to!
NEXT: A game of cards....
Emmanuel Rodríguez of the Instituto DM (Instituto para la Democracia y el Municipalismo)
Zaragoza en Común
Aranzadi- Pamplona en Común
La Hidra Cooperativa
Centros sociales y sindicalismo: la potencia colectiva
Jan 16, 2017 - Beatriz García, La Villana de Vallekas/Fundación de los Comunes
Center for the Recovery of Historic Memory (Galicia, Spain)