Barcelona en Comú

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= the Spanish coalition that won the municipal elections in Barcelona, Catalonia (Spain)



From the Wikipedia:

"Barcelona en Comú (Catalan for Barcelona in Common, formerly known as Guanyem Barcelona) is a citizen platform whose aim is to bring together progressive social and political organizations to win the 2015 Barcelona city elections. Its policy agenda, currently being developed through a number of participatory processes (in person and online), includes defending social justice and community rights,[24] promoting participatory democracy, introducing mechanisms to tackle corruption, and developing a new model of tourism for Barcelona." (


Kate Shea Baird:

"Since the launch of Barcelona en Comú less than a year ago, Colau has taken pains to emphasize that she is just the most visible face of a movement that is horizontal in structure and collective in spirit. It was no surprise that she opened her victory speech thanking the people who had undertaken in the invisible work of logistics, cleaning, childcare, leafletting, and translation that made Barcelona en Comú's win possible.

This was not the typical posturing of a party politician. The Barcelona en Comú electoral programme was drawn up by over 5000 people, with contributions made in open assemblies and online, and the strategic and political decisions of the platform are made by the ‘plenary’ assembly, held twice a month.

As well as local groups in every neighbourhood of the city, the platform has also given birth to SomComuns, a network of cyberactivists who campaign on Twitter and Facebook, and a group of local artists and designers dubbing themselves The Movement for The Graphic Liberation of Barcelona, who have put their creative skills and the service of the cause.

The complexity of the make-up of Barcelona en Comú has led to both understandable attempts to simplify it as well as deliberate attempts to misrepresent it. While the foreign press has tended to conflate Barcelona en Comú with Podemos, local critics have accused it of being a rebranding operation by Catalan “post-communist” party ICV.

In fact, five existing political forces (Guanyem, ICV-EUiA, Podemos, Equo and Procés Constituent) signed up to the proposal of standing on a joint electoral list. While it is true that the institutional experience and resources of ICV and the political appeal of Podemos have contributed to its success, many of Barcelona en Comú's most active participants come from neighbourhood associations and social movements, particularly indignados from the Spanish Occupy movement. This mix of loosely associated groups and individuals has contributed to Barcelona en Comú's broad appeal and to its success in increasing turnout in some of the city's most deprived areas." (


The predecessor: Guanyem

Joan Subirats:

"Guanyem was created in June 2014, 11 months prior to the municipal elections, with a minimal program in 4 points:

we said, we want to take back the city, it’s is being taken away from the citizens, people come here to talk about a ‘business-friendly global city’ and they are taking it away from the citizens, we have lost the capacity to control it, as the first point; there is a social emergency where many problems don’t get a response; we want people to be able to have decision-making capacity in what happens in the city, so co-production of policy, more intense citizen participation in municipal decisions; moralisation of politics. Here the main points are non-repetition of mandates, limits on salaries of elected officials, anti-corruption and transparency measures, etc. So we presented this in June 2014 and we decided that we would give ourselves until September to collect 30,000 signatures in support of the manifesto and if we succeeded, we would present candidates in the municipal elections. In one month we managed to get the 30,000 signatures! Besides getting the signatures on internet and in person, we held a lot of meetings in the neighbourhoods to present the manifesto – we held about 30 or 40 meetings like that, some of them small, some more massive, where we went to the neighbourhoods and we said « We thought of this, what do you think? We thought of these priorities, etc’. » So, in September of 2014 we decided to go ahead; once we decided that we would present a slate, we began to discuss with the parties – but with the strength of all that support of 30,000 people backing us at the grassroots, so our negotiating strength with respect to the parties was very different. In Dec 2014 we agreed with the parties to create Barcelona en Comun – we wanted to call it Guanyem but someone else had already registered the name, so there was a lot of discussion about a new name, there were various proposals: Revolucion democratica, primaria democratica, the term Comu – it seemed interesting because it connected with the Commons movement, the idea of the public which is not restricted to the institutional and that was key. It was also important that in the previous municipal elections in 2011 only 52% of people had voted, in the poorer neighbourhoods a higher number of people abstained and that it was in the wealthier neighbourhoods where a larger proportion of people had voted. So we wanted to raise participation by 10% in the poor neighbourhoods more affected by the crisis and we thought that would allow us to win. And that was what happened. In 2015, 63% voted, but in the poor areas 40% more people voted. In the rich areas, the same people voted as before.

So it was not impossible to think we could win. And from the beginning the idea was to win. We did not build this machine in order to participate, we built it in order to win. We didn’t want to be the opposition, we wanted to govern. And as a result, it was close, because we won 11 of 41 seats, but got the most votes so we head the municipal council, the space existed. From the moment Guanyem was created in June 2014, other similar movements began to be created all over Spain – in Galicia, in Andalucia, in Valencia, Zaragoza, Madrid… One of the advantages we have in Barcelona is that we have Ada Colau, which is a huge advantage, because a key thing is to have an uncontested leader who can articulate all the segments of the movement – ecologists, health workers, education professionals…. If you don’t have that it’s very difficult, and also the sole presence of Ada Colau explains many things. In Madrid they found Manuela Carmena, who is great as an anti-franquista symbol, with her judicial expertise, very popular but who didn’t have that tradition of articulating movements, and as a result now they are having a lot more problems of political coordination than here." (


Lessons from the electoral victory


1) Movements should keep pushing for radical and participatory democracy

... "by engaging directly with electoral politics—while also maintaining their independence from established parties.

In advance of Spain’s municipal elections, movement activists worked with existing political parties to create new “convergence” platforms of “popular unity” specifically for May 24. Barcelona En Comú and Ahora Madrid were not traditional parties, but rather a mix of groups working together—including Podemos and more local efforts that had come out of 15M and the activism that preceded it—while maintaining their own structures and decision-making process.

Though complicated and challenging, this structure allowed movement groups to maintain their autonomy without being engulfed by the larger party, Podemos. (While many Spanish activists are encouraged by the rise of Podemos, they are also quick to remind you that the party did not come from the 15M movement).

2. Take steps before the vote to make sure the officials you elect will be accountable to the movement.

Barcelona En Comú candidates signed a code of political ethics called “Governing by obeying,” in which they agreed to a reduced salary and making their schedules and income sources public. They also pledged to open up local government, democratize government institutions and promote increased, direct citizen participation as a way to strengthen social movements and make sure they don't lose energy post-victory. Marina Lopez, an activist with Barcelona En Comú, says that now that they have taken power in city government, “we have to continue to exist as a political organization that is close to the citizens and neighborhoods… this is our strength.”

When Ada Colau and 10 new City Council members took to the stage at the Barcelona En Comú victory party on Sunday, what struck me was that they looked like, well, activists, and not professional politicians. Colau wore jeans, and the others looked like they’d been out organizing all day, no suits or heels in sight.

What these local efforts in Spain have done so far is rightly say that activists should run for office—but that once elected, they can remain activists pushing for a more open and participatory democracy.

Ernesto Garcia Lopez, an organizer with Ahora Madrid, says that in addition to working inside the governing coalition, he and others are now focused on showing that the outside movement continues.

“We’re going to create a huge wave of collective assemblies in each neighborhood in order to create pressure to power local government by the movement and citizens directly,” he says. “If we only think about management of new government, then our idea of radical democracy is not possible.”

3) Create physical spaces for local organizing outside of existing institutions

An important part of progressives’ recent electoral success can be traced to a strong network of locally organized “social centers” across Spain. These are spaces where community members can interact and share ideas, whether that means organizing a demonstration, taking Zumba classes or checking out library book. Many subsist on small membership fees or income from a bar or café. Many served as gathering places for organizing 15M after the movement decided to end its large-scale occupations and focus on building neighborhood-level power.

In the United States, similar spaces are much harder to find—partly because rents are so much higher in major cities. But some American activists are taking inspiration from Spain’s social centers and starting their own. Lucas Shapiro, who organized the activist delegation to Spain I took part in, is creating the Mayday Space in Brooklyn, with the aim of fostering a “interconnected movement ecosystem” where different projects and people can overlap, share ideas and shift the political terrain. Shapiro, who spent time at the social center Ateneu Candela in Terrassa, Spain, says that these centers “create a cultural current within a city that reinforces the autonomous spirit of resistance.”

4) Question the professionalization of movement organizing

Two words we never heard in Spain were “staff” and “volunteer.” Almost every organizer we met—whether for a group, movement or campaign—was doing the work in their free time, without an institutional affiliation or paycheck.

Luis Moreno-Caballud, an activist and professor at the University of Pennsylvania from Spain who took part in our delegation, points out that in the United States, the paid versus unpaid distinction can create a separation between “professional” activists and volunteers or people affected by an issue. In Spain, there are not paid staff who tell volunteers what to do—the volunteers are the leaders, with much more decision-making power.

I’ve found, too, that the large institutions and amounts of money involved in U.S. political organizing can sometimes make it hard to figure out if we’re doing the work we want to do, or the work that we can get funded. And the focus on funding can create an atmosphere of competition for grants and resources.

While it’s tempting to romanticize the purity of getting money out of politics—break free of capitalism!—Spain’s model has its own drawbacks. Organizers in the United States can get paid for doing movement work we care about, and without funding, for many of us that would not be possible. And with an unemployment rate above 40 percent for young people in Spain, I suspect that many Spanish activists would not object to getting paid for doing work that generally aligns with their values.

But Moreno-Caballud suggests exploring alternatives to institutional or big-donor funding. “It can be powerful when you see you can do things without money,” he says. He suggests that U.S. activists can look at strategies of mutual aid and building a social economy—where organizers exchange goods and services—or an alternative economy, through activist-run bookstores or bars.

A volunteer movement means, too, that more time can be spent organizing instead of writing grants or fundraising. As Lucía Lois Méndez de Vigo from the Patio Maravillas social center in Madrid told us, “We have one meeting a year to talk about money.” As someone who’s spent countless hours writing fundraising emails and calling donors to ask for money, that sounds like a pretty great idea.

From what I saw, the lack of professionalization in Spain’s social justice movement also seemed to create a culture that is less ego-driven. For the most part, organizing jobs don’t exist, and there isn’t a career ladder—so people are generally doing things with their spare time because it’s what they want to be doing and believe in, and they aren’t assessed based on title or organization, but reputation and work they’ve done.

5) Inject some creativity into our electoral campaigns

Elections in the U.S. are fast becoming more a science than an art, with a focus on exactly how many times a voter needs to be contacted, in what ways and with which words. Yet for all our data-driven sophistication, as I saw the campaigning happening in Spain I couldn’t help but feel like our U.S. campaigns are, by comparison, a little rote and lifeless.

A week before the election in Madrid, I joined Ahora Madrid for a “walking tour” of the gentrifying neighborhood of Malasaña. But it was more like a parade, led by bikes flying Ahora Madrid flags and speakers blasting campaign songs. Every few blocks, we paused, and a speaker explained through the bullhorn what was happening in the neighborhood. People gave out flyers and buttons, talked to passersby and put up stickers. Up at the front, someone rolled a 7-foot inflatable blue plastic ball emblazoned with the campaign’s demand, Agua Publica, through the narrow cobblestone streets.

We shouldn’t abandon what’s been proven to be effective to get voters to the polls. But what Podemos and these local platforms have managed to do is use imagination and humor to completely transform the sense of what’s politically possible in Spain. As one Podemos banner reads, “When was the last time you voted with hope?”

6) Put feminism and women’s leadership front and center

Sunday’s local election results broke new ground for women in Spain. Ada Colau is the first female mayor of Barcelona—in a region of Spain, Catalonia, where previously only 14.2 percent of cities were run by women. Six of the 11 people elected to municipal offices on the Barcelona En Comú ticket are women, and one, Laura Perez, is a well-known feminist leader.

That’s no accident: The campaigns had an explicitly feminist agenda that includes fighting the “feminization” of poverty and expanding our gendered ideas of leadership. Several of the organizers I spoke with talked about getting away from the traditional idea of a male leader who speaks loudly and confidently and tells everyone what to do, and moving more towards a style of cooperation, discussion and listening. In her election night speech, Ada Colau focused on thanking the “common” people—the people who did the work of caring for the kids and making the food. Feminists, she said, have shown that there’s another way to do politics." (

Barcelona En Comú: party vs. movement

By Eloísa Piñeiro Orge (member of the Executive Board of Barcelona en Comú):

"Is Barcelona en Comú a political party? Legally, yes. However, many of its activists feel uncomfortable about calling this space of political participation a ‘party’, and choose to use other terms, such as ‘organization’, ‘space’, or simply ‘BComú’.

Of course, the word ‘party’ has negative baggage, particularly in a political culture impregnated with the recent memory of the indignados. But it’s true that the word ‘party’ isn’t quite right, or enough to describe what Barcelona en Comú is, in terms of both its behavior as a political actor, which goes beyond an electoral tool related solely to institutional governance, and in terms of its internal rules in deliberation and participation processes. These rules provide checks and balances and open up decision-making spaces that seek to distance Barcelona en Comú from classic party structures and thereby increase its capacity for action, a key element of our ultimate goal: the defense of the commons.

However, while it works at the margins of the logic of classic political parties, we can’t quite call Barcelona en Comú a movement. Its structure and internal rules, recognized by its activists, the definition of its goals in annual plans and its tools for communication and collective action aren’t those of a social movement. Precisely because of all these elements, BComú has become an institution, and this shouldn’t be seen as a disadvantage, quite the opposite.

Elinor Ostrom, in Understanding Institutional Diversity, defines institutions as “prescriptions that humans use to organize all forms of repetitive and structured interactions including those within families, neighborhoods, markets, firms, sports leagues, churches, private associations, and governments at all scales.” Individuals interacting within rule-structured situations, says Ostrom, “face choices regarding the actions and strategies they take, leading to consequences for themselves and for others.” During its more than two years of life, Barcelona en Comú’s activists have participated in actions that are the embryo for change we’ve always longed for, and which would be impossible from outside political institutions.

Beyond the technical question of what kind of organism BComú is or isn’t, what’s clear is that it is a living organism and, as such, it breathes the same political oxygen as the other parties, local institutions and social and neighbourhood movements in the city. BComú has to decide how to coexist and interact with them all. BComú itself is a space made up of activists with backgrounds in the struggle for the commons, neighbourhood associations, feminism, ecology, internationalism, workers’ rights, and the fight for democracy. Many of them are active inside and outside BComú at the same time, something which some describe as a ‘schizophrenic’ relationship, while others are pragmatic, using BComú (in a positive way) to multiply the capacity for transformation and influence of other organizations in the city. In this way, BComú meets its transformative goals by means of a relationship with movements that is in constant creation, doubt and critical reflection; uncomfortable when it’s not contradictory and overwhelming.

It’s not up to us to decide whether we’re a movement or an instrument, because this choice, which seems compulsory to us, and which hangs over our heads, is a trap that prevents us from being free and taking the action we want to take. We have to move from one side to the other, acting as a porous interface between institutions of government and institutions of the commons, being more movement at some times and more party in others. Above all, we must seek the cracks in the institutional structures of government and in the suffocating political-institutional fight, in order to go beyond the transformational capacity of traditional parties. We’ll only know who we are from our potential for action. That’s what the activists of BComú are engaged in every day, uninhibited in the institutional sphere, but less so when we act beyond it." (

More Information

Documentary: Municipal Recipes

Video via

Stacco Troncoso:

"One of the most repeated mottos chanted at protests four years ago was Que no, que no, que no nos representan [No, no, they don’t represent us], “they” being the politicians in power. Today, we’re beginning to hear Que sí, que sí, que sí nos representan [Yes, yes, they do represent us], “they” being regular people who, tired of feeling unrepresented, have organized to try to take back the political institutions. This reverse, hopeful motto is what hundreds cheered at a recent gathering of activists running for the May 25th municipal elections as representatives of newly formed citizen candidacies around Spain.

It all started about a year ago with Guanyem Barcelona, now called Barcelona en Comú, an initiative that has inspired people in dozens of Spanish cities and towns to create their own citizen candidacies, where members of various social movements and non-establishment political parties have converged to stand for local government, the most relevant being Ahora Madrid. With the elections just days away, the support for these new non-parties is turning out to be huge. Some of them, notably Barcelona en Comú, have a very good chance of winning, according to the polls.

In Municipal Recipes, a short documentary which Guerrilla Translation subtitled for the 2015 Zemos98 Festival, a small group of activists involved in these municipal initiatives to share their experiences and expectations over lunch." (