Citizen's Parliament in Catalonia

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From an interview with the Catalan urban activist Itziar González, by Núria Bigas:

* What is the Citizens' Parliament and how did the idea take shape?

"The Citizens' Parliament has emerged because our representative institutions are demonstrably not working. They don't perform their basic functions; they don't engage with the public to think about what to do, and they don't ask questions. Rather than truly legislating, they bow to the will of lobbies. They don't promote political culture or public involvement. In fact, they encourage passivity. In the face of this situation, the Citizens' Parliament reflects the intuition that the power to legislate derives from the knowledge of the citizenry in many sectors. We can exercise executive capacity through civil disobedience, campaigns, social movements and actions, and spaces for learning and fostering political culture. Compared to lobbies, our strength lies in the fact that we're working for the common good in the hope of creating a collaborative world.

* The Citizens' Parliament proposes a new model for citizen participation. How important is social education in implementing this model?

Social education and socio-political education is what the Citizens' Parliament is all about. What educators do with children ? telling them to take responsibility for their lives, and that the world will be what they make it ? is what we're trying to do in the Citizens' Parliament. We want to tell each citizen that they shouldn't give up politics just because politicians fail to represent them. They have the right to engage in politics; it's a right we have. As we pass through the world, we should be able to play a role in transforming and improving what we find around us to the extent possible. We're going to create a digital platform so anyone who wants to change the world can find every conceivable cause there and choose the one they want to fight for.

* Is there any chance of the Citizens' Parliament becoming a political party?

Absolutely not. If we want those elected to institutions of representative democracy to have the strength to fight against exclusive lobbies, we need to have a citizens' lobby that can act as an effective rearguard. We play an essential role. I myself was elected to government but couldn't effectively take on the hotel industry lobby. If we strengthen the citizens' lobby, a councillor who fights against the hotel lobby will have the backing of a powerful counter-lobby. The citizens' lobby can ensure that the councillor is respected by the lobby representing private interests, that they don't make threats to her life. We need to defend the common good. The pressure I came under from local residents was based on legitimate demands; the pressure from Millet [Fèlix Millet, currently on trial on corruption charges in connection with his management of Barcelona's Palau de la Música concert hall], wasn't so legitimate. The other day at the trial (for the Palau case), I spoke and all the local residents were behind me. The courtroom had been empty every day. Then the revolutionary former councillor appeared and it filled up. It's clear who's defending the common good.

* Do you think the public is ready for the changes proposed by the Citizens' Parliament?

The public is demanding these changes. The Citizens' Parliament wouldn't have been set up if we hadn't felt it was necessary. I have a hunch it will take nine years, but we'll be there. I want to engage in politics but I can only do it in the Citizens' Parliament. So as far as I'm concerned there will be a Citizens' Parliament wherever I happen to be, even if it's just in a square with four people.

Is it politicians who fail to represent citizens, or the electoral system that doesn't allow for it? It's a mix of everything. The challenge we face as a society is to overcome a lack of political culture. In Catalonia, the Civil War and the Franco dictatorship destroyed a very interesting political culture that generated incredible social experiments. That's our problem: we have a very weak political culture. But the silver lining of the current crisis is that the direct attack being launched in the war of capital is driving us to rebuild that culture. I want to see us make progress in Catalonia. I'd like to see us get to a point where we can inspire other peoples to follow our lead. Rather than standing apart from the general confusion, we should move forward, generate light and offer an example based on our actions rather than lofty rhetoric."