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The victory of the "outraged"

The victory of the "outraged". This is how France’s TV5 referred to the municipal elections in Barcelona and Madrid. For me, it’s an excellent summary, to which I’d only add: and of ethics and solidarity. Surprisingly, that happens sometimes. But how did we get here?

Here is a quick summary: during the past few years the governments of the right have contributed fiercely to unbalancing the power relationships between the various social classes. Willingly or perhaps because they had to, that’s besides the point now. Result: inequalities of a brutality that we thought we had left behind, and which have annihilated the social cohesion that we had achieved. To this point, the first reaction of the people was disbelief: "This can’t be!" Well, it was. The question immediately followed: "Where shall we find someone capable of slaying this dragon?" Difficult: the biggest political parties have become private interest groups. What can be done in the face of a brutal offensive by a capitalism that doesn’t respect anything?

First, demonstrations by sector: there was unrest, but not a project or a joint direction. Later, 15-M (the popular protests of 15 May): the outrage. But from outrage to an alternative there could be a long way to go, with many options. One appeared, perhaps the most obvious: "Let’s split from Spain and create, once and for all, a different country, our own". The solution seems obvious, but it is neither immediate nor clear: what sort of Catalonia? Would a Catalan government guarantee less inequality and more welfare for the simple fact of being Catalan? This is a crucial question that has not been debated, because "now is not the time".

In Spain, more slowly that in Catalonia, a different alternative began to take shape in different places: that which proposed the priority of general interests. It emerged from the outrage, but it has gone further; the "indignados" (the outraged) have begun to rebuild the world to their liking, with old material, indeed, but with their own makings, which brings us back to the core issue: the intolerable inequality. Bit by bit, with undeniable courage, they organized themselves, jumped into politics, and sketched out options for readjusting the social balance. And they connected with a significant part of the public that needed this message to rediscover a little bit of hope.

It is the big cities, once again, that are leading a change that, in addition to being a response to the desperation of poverty, the loss of jobs, and disgust with corruption, responds to other needs. Two of which are urgent, as I see it. The first: there is a new generation that is being initiated into politics, and it demands its place and its own way of doing things. It’s their turn, and they have the right. They have been denied access to work, to an adult life, to their own place in the world. The doubt was: will they claim this place, collectively, some day? It took a crisis to make it happen, but now there is no stopping them.

The second: Barcelona --and I suppose Madrid too, and many other cities-- needs a new drive, a new project. I was a councilor when Pasqual Maragall was no longer mayor; he left the bar so high that to represent City Hall meant to be heard everywhere as an oracle. Potent, brilliant, exciting projects that had emerged from our city. We lived off of this, materially and morally, for a long time. But after a few years, it came to an end: your credit eventually runs out, too. Barcelona will have to find another project for the common good, for knowledge, for caring for people, for taking advantage of its talent, or else it will have to go down the road of the theme park, sold to the highest bidder, with the excuse that we need the money and jobs.

The triumph of the "outraged", then, is very good news: we have alternatives --it was high time. Now it will be necessary, essentially, to move from outrage and hope to a solid project. Years ago I had the chance to deal with Manuela Carmena: an exceptional woman, with a very refined intelligence and a civic sense that are quite uncommon. Congratulations, Manuela. As a city, Madrid will be reborn, I’m sure, as happened with the Movida (1) and the Viejo Profesor (Old Professor). She will definitely receive much criticism of all sorts. But the people of Madrid, who have many problems but want to live in peace, and with equality and freedom, will gain a lot, just like the people of Barcelona.

For the moment, Ada Colau has said that she wants to be everyone’s mayoress. I do hope so; the Maragall project moved forward, dragging along even its opponents. Barcelona en Comú (Colau’s coalition) is proposing an alternative to the economic, political, and ethical crisis that we are living through, in the same way that the independence movement is an alternative. They have the same roots --they arise from the same fatigue. For this reason we must avoid being seen them as opposite poles. Should the Catalonia that we want not be more egalitarian, too?

Independence, or whatever increase in self-government, can only be achieved from power and prestige, which Barcelona was losing. We hope that Barcelona en Comú will bring people together and lead a collective action by the majority of political and social agents, so as to give us back the innovative, cutting-edge city, able to find creative solutions in this moment of such difficulty worldwide.

 

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(1) N.T. Madrid’s “Movida” was a period of cultural buzz in the 1980s which some attribute to the leadership of then-Mayor Enrique Tierno Galván, also known as “el viejo profesor”.