Barcelona, Spain Elects First Woman Mayor.

by Jerry Alatalo

 BARCELONA, SPAIN Population: 1.6 million (photo:
Population: 1.6 million

The people of Barcelona – Spain’s 2nd largest city with a population of 1.6 million – elected Ada Colau as its first woman mayor. The energetic Ms. Colau has spent years as an activist in Spain working to prevent housing foreclosures, and her campaign victory signals potential great changes in the political dynamics of Europe and beyond. In her view, political and economic elites have joined to cause a rich city like Barcelona to experience increasing wealth inequality and a political crisis.

She gained the respect and appreciation of Spain’s citizens when she went to parliament and dressed down bankers invited to speak as experts:

“This man is a criminal, and you should treat him as such. He is not an expert. The representatives of financial institutions have caused this problem. They are the very same people who have caused the problem which has ruined the whole economy of this country, and you are treating these people as experts.”

Ada Colau describes her parliament address:

“Well, this reality is that I went to speak in front of the parliament after many years of housing rights activism, and working with the thousands of families that were affected by the mortgage fraud which the banks had committed, and by the evictions that came after that. The evictions and the interest rates have literally destroyed the lives of thousands of families. By destroy the lives, they’ve caused depression, disease, even suicides. The only thing I did was describe what I know and had been living on the front lines for many years.”

“When I encountered this banker who denied the reality and said there were no problems in Spain, when there were thousands of families in a dire situation, the least I could do was denounce those lies and talk to them about what was happening in reality. I think what surprised people more, and what generated a media phenomenon after this appearance in parliament, was that someone was talking about reality inside parliament. Because, sadly, this is something that had not happened in a long time.”

“In Spain, you have the paradox of, while the corrupt politicians see the statute of limitations for their crimes lapse, and they make off without going to jail, the families who got into debt for something as basic as accessing housing became indebted forever, because it is impossible to forgive this debt. So in the face of this barbarity, what happens is that hundreds of thousands of hard-working families that just wanted to have a normal life suddenly lose their jobs, they lose their house, and they become indebted for life.”

“And becoming indebted means economic and civil death. This leads to people committing suicide, to diseases, to broken families. And the positive effect of this was the birth of an exemplary people’s movement which has succeeded in stopping thousands of evictions. That forced the banks to negotiate, and it showed that if our institutions did not resolve this problem, it was because our institutions were accomplices in this fraud.”

Democracy Now host Amy Goodman: “What do you mean by a democratic revolution all over the south of Europe?”

“What is happening in Spain and in Barcelona is not an isolated event, rather there’s a crisis in the way we do politics. There is a political elite which has become corrupt and has ended up as accomplices of a financial power which only thinks to speculate and to make money, even at the expense of rising inequality and the impoverishment of the majority of the people. Fortunately, there’s been a popular reaction here and in other parts of the Mediterranean, for example in Greece, to confront the neoliberal policies which are not only a problem in Spain but in Europe and around the world.”

“We see very clearly that the city councils are key to confronting this way of making policy, meaning that is where the everyday policies are made and where we can prove there is another way to govern – more inclusive, working together with the people, more than just asking them to vote every four years, and that you can fight against corruption and have transparent institutions. So, we think the city governments are key for democratic revolutions, to begin governing with the people in a new way. But on the other hand, we’re very aware that the real change must be global, that one city alone cannot solve all the problems we’re facing, many of which are global because today the economy does not have borders – the big capital and the markets move freely around the world, unlike people.”

Ms. Goodman asks about a public banking system’s potential in Spain.

“I think in the financial world there’s been a problem of absolute misrule. You can’t leave something as important as economic policy and money which has a social value in the hands of speculation and private interests. Here, there’s been a democratic deficit and a lack of global, collective and democratic control over money and the economic system in general. So we have to take back that democratic control, and that doesn’t mean that all the banks have to be public. It can be implemented in different ways.”

“What we need are laws that make private banks comply with the law, because now in Spain we have a banking system that breaks the law systematically and nothing happens. For us, the people, they don’t forgive anything. They make us pay all our debts; they make us pay all our taxes; they make us pay each small traffic ticket; they don’t forgive anything. But the big banks, on the other hand, which have lied, defrauded, and destroyed thousands of families are forgiven for, for example, breaking European consumer protections.”

“So this is unacceptable. The first thing we need is governments that serve their people, not the private interests, and that enforce the law. We’re talking about something as basic as enforcing the existing law. The first thing we need is to force the financial power to comply with the law and to obey the democratic power – something that is not happening now. It’s also true that t would be good if private financial power is complemented by some form of public bank that offsets and guarantees that there’s financing for what is in the public interest. Because, if not, what happens is that the private financial system has the power to decide what is funded and what is not funded.”

On her arrest for civil disobedience in banks:

“When we have unjust laws like the ones we have in Spain, oner has to massively disobey those unjust laws to defend human rights. Here, the right to housing is being infringed upon and that’s why thousands of people, in a peaceful manner, we’ve had to practice civil disobedience, to defend human rights. In this sense, this action was one of many that have been performed in this country, and not by me, but by many other people who have defended the human rights of all the others. Throughout human history it has happened this way – in order to defend rights and to win rights, many times it has been necessary to disobey unjust laws.”

“Of course, now as Mayor of Barcelona, I hope the police will be in the service of human rights, and not of the banks.”

“Movements around the world have had many things in common. First, the global dimension; the awareness that there are political and economic problems that have a global dimension. So we need to work as a network because there’s a single global economic reality and it’s essential to work in alliances. Also, the necessity for real democracy – the awareness that even if we have formally democratic institutions, we have the sense that decisions are not being made in parliament, but by the boards of directors or by international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, which are profoundly undemocratic – and which the people do not control, and they make decisions against their own people generating misery around the world.”

“This awareness of a kidnapped democracy has led to the rise of many grassroots mobilizations propelled from the bottom by the people, which are seeking a way of direct representation. They’ve seen that formal democracy is not enough, that we need to find new ways of political participation where everyone can be an actor and each person can directly contribute as much as each person can contribute. So, I think that all of these mobilizations which have happened in the last 15 years, that has also increasingly used new technologies – the internet, social media, that have produced new forms of innovative and direct communication – in some way we are seeing an upgrade of democracy, an upgrade of the forms of political participation that have had many different expressions and different global movements. But there’s clearly a nexus that unites them all.”

After a few more comments, including on transformative, positivist values when women enter politics, the new Mayor of Barcelona, Spain Ada Colau said, “A political change is happening – the people have been empowered.”


(Thank you to Democracy Now at YouTube)