A new grassroots movement is trying to take control of Barcelona's government

Too many tourists? A street sign in Barcelona’s Gracia district. Image: Jennifer Woodward Maderazo on Flickr, reused under creative commons.

This week, an organisation collected its 30,000th signature in support of its bid to take part in Barcelona’s municipal elections next May. But it’s not aligned with any of Spain’s political parties, either major or minor; nor has it ever played any role in government before.

Guanyem Barcelona, which translates as "Let's Win Barcelona”, is a brand new grassroots movement founded by a group of intellectuals, activists and people working in the arts. And it wants to control the city council.

The group has set itself a number of objectives, should it achieve this mission. It wants a greater focus on ethical policies and social justice. It wants to allow residents to "decide what kind of city they want to live in". It’s also unhappy about the number of tourists visiting Barcelona, which has grown six-fold in just 25 years, from 1.7m in 1990 to 10m this year.

Here's a section of the group’s manifesto, available in English here:

"If we are able to imagine a different city, we will have the power to transform it.

"We want a city without evictions or malnutrition, where people aren’t condemned to live without electricity or to put up with abusive increases in the price of public transport. Access to housing, education, healthcare and a basic income should be rights that are guaranteed for all, not privileges that only a minority can afford”.

Barcelona is an affluent city, but the rhetoric is a reflection of quite how hard Spain as a whole has been hit by the Great Recession. Unemployment reached  26 per cent in 2013; welfare cuts have left many unable to pay their rents or remortgage payments. And Spanish mortgage regulations mean that your home can be repossessed if you’re even one month late in paying.

Evictions are a major focus for Guanyem Barcelona: the group’s leader is Ada Colau, the co-founder of the “Mortgage Victims Platform” (“Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca”) set up to help those threatened with eviction by banks.  

It was motivated, too, by events last May, when organisations and squatters were evicted from the Can Vies building, which had served as an unofficial civic centre for grassroots groups since 1997. That led to widespread riots, arrests, and the city government’s eventual agreement that, contrary to the original plans, the building wouldn’t be demolished after all.

At the end of June, over 2,000 people attended Guanyem Barcelona’s inaugural meeting in El Raval, a historically working class neighbourhood, that’s been increasingly gentrified and overrun with tourists. The group will need more votes than that to win – the population of Barcelona’s administrative area is around 1.6m – but it’s a healthy start.  

 
 
 
 

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Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.