“When we moved into city hall, there were only paintings by men,” Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau tweeted in March, attaching a picture of her current office wall, which now featured portraits of eight prominent Catalan women—including the legendary anarchist leader Federica Montseny.
“Redecorating the walls, that was the easy change,” Colau’s second in
command, Gerardo Pisarello, joked when we spoke with him in late June.
“The other ones take quite a bit longer—they are more difficult and
don’t just depend on us.” Pisarello’s office, too, features
black-and-white photographs: one of a woman celebrating the proclamation
of Spain’s Second Republic in 1931, and another taken at the country’s
first LGBT protest after dictator Francisco Franco’s death in 1975, a
demonstration that, as Pisarello proudly points out, happened in
Colau and her team were unexpectedly swept into the mayor’s office in May 2015.
Barcelona en Comú (“Barcelona in Common”), the progressive political
platform Colau and others founded less than a year before the elections,
won by the narrowest of margins, with a mere 11 of the 41 seats in the
city’s council. It was just enough to form a minority government.
the BeC platform—a coalition that includes the Catalan branch of Spain’s new anti-austerity party Podemos,
the United Left, and the Catalan Green Party—has faced a difficult
challenge. Their aspiration is not just to alleviate the severe social
and economic consequences of the Great Recession. They also want to
reinvent how city government functions, from the ground up.
“I think what’s happening in Barcelona is unique,” Laura Roth,
who teaches political science at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra and runs
BeC’s neighborhood assembly for Ciutat Vella, says. “There are struggles
everywhere. There are movements everywhere. Some are more democratic
and others are less democratic. Some are more active and successful and
others are less. But I think that there aren’t many movements today that
are rethinking how to do politics.”
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