By Ada Colau
May 25, 2015
Just under a year ago, a group of activists, members of social movements, and progressive political forces in Barcelona presented our plan to take back our city council for the people at the May 24 local elections. We're Barcelona en Comú, and this Sunday we have a good chance of kicking out Mayor Xavier Trias and winning back the city for the people.
But from the start we've felt that our movement is about more than just Barcelona. Some of the problems we want to tackle are particular to our city, like scandalously high eviction rates and the pernicious effects of uncontrolled mass tourism. But many of our concerns, like rising inequalities and a professional political class tainted by corruption, are shared by people in cities all over Europe and much of the rest of the world.
We're told we live in a democracy, but many of the most important decisions affecting our lives have been taken out of our hands. We're told to leave it to the experts, that we don't know what's best for us. The Spanish government denies the citizens of Catalonia our right to self-determination, the EU holds secret negotiations on the TTIP, and international financial institutions play Russian roulette with our economies.
We can't resign ourselves to this fate.
The time has come to restore popular sovereignty and create a democracy worthy of the name. In Barcelona en Comú, we think that the best place to start this democratic, citizen revolution is from the bottom up, from our towns and cities.
It gives us great strength to know that we are not the only ones who feel this way. When I visited Greece in January on the eve of their national elections I was struck by the work that Syriza was already doing to improve people's lives in regions like Attica. This week, we’ve received over one hundred international declarations support for our candidacy; intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky and Slavoj Zizek, activists and writers including Nawal El Saadawi and Owen Jones, and political leaders like Governor of Attica Rena Dourou and London Councillor Jenny Jones – all agree that a victory for Barcelona en Comú would have the potential to act as a model for similar movements in cities across the world.
But what does it mean for citizens to take back a city? The answer will vary from place to place, but one thing is clear: it isn't enough just to win elections; we have to change the rules of the game. One of the first things we did in Barcelona en Comú was to crowdsource a code of political ethics for our candidates to make sure we meet the highest standards and to hold us accountable if we don't. The code includes salary and term limits for elected officials, financial transparency requirements, and an end to the revolving door between public office and the boards of private companies. Only measures like this can prevent us from becoming the people we seek to replace.
Taking back a city also means putting decision-making in the hands of ordinary people. This doesn't just mean letting citizens vote on proposals made from above, it also means giving them the power to launch new initiatives themselves. For us, a 'Smart City' is one that harnesses the collective intelligence of the people who live in it. We drew up our election manifesto in an open, participatory way. Over 5000 people took part in its development, resulting in a programme that focuses on guaranteeing basic rights, making the city more liveable, and democratizing public institutions. It's a living document, the start of a conversation with citizens that will continue over the next four years should we win the election.
Finally, taking back a city means taking it back by, and for, its women and girls. The feminization of poverty and precarious labour conditions in Barcelona must end, as must the exclusion of women from the spheres of political and economic power. I am immensely proud, not only that over half of the candidates on our electoral list are women, but that our programme is based on feminist principles that will put tackling gender inequalities at the centre of all our work.
We are proud of Barcelona's history, both as a laboratory for rebellious citizen movements, and as a city open to the world. Now we want to make it the hub of an international network of fair and democratic cities. Taking back Barcelona is just the first step.