Barcelona en Comú: Urban Democracy and ‘The Common Good’

Greig Charnock

Abstract


The sudden rise to power in Barcelona of the citizens’ municipal platform Barcelona en Comú (Barcelona in Common, or BeC) is quite remarkable.  In the fall of 2014, BeC formed the ‘citizen platform’ Guanyem Barcelona (Let’s Win Barcelona) as its electoral vehicle, and ‘crowd-sourced’ its code of ethics and allowed online citizen input into the design of its manifesto. Just ten months later, BeC won a quarter of the vote in local elections in the capital city of the Catalonia region (Spain’s second largest city, with a population of around 1.6 million people), and took control of the city council (albeit, in 2016, in coalition with the Catalan Socialist Party).  Guanyem Barcelona’s bold aim in competing for office was to bring about a ‘democratic rebellion in Barcelona’ that would ‘be the trigger for a citizen revolution in Catalonia, Spain, Southern Europe and beyond’. This, they understood, would require a new form of democratic organization – like BeC – whose task would be to realize the political potential of the popular movement that had arisen in the midst of crisis, to seize control of local government, and to dis- and reassemble the city’s institutions from within on a more transparent and participatory basis.

It is this kind of strategic approach that inspires many within Guanyem Barcelona. Their principles of openness and participation combined with their deployment of new digital-technological means of developing democratic capacity to foster new democratic experiments at the local or regional scale. The hope is that that particular movements will thereby be able to learn and demonstrate to others like them what might and might not be achievable. This essay attempts to gauge the potential of BeC to realize transformative change in Barcelona on such a basis. We focus first on the capacities for complex representation and administration being developed within the movement, as well as the ‘first steps’ BeC has made to recalibrate municipal institutions and effect policy change at the city level ‘in the service of the majority and the common good’. In order to do this, we first elaborate on the broader political-economic circumstances within which Guanyem Barcelona was conceived as an essential means to comprehend why certain issues have been prioritized under BeC’s initial tenure in office. We then go on to ask whether there is the political will and capacity within the movement to push beyond addressing immediate issues of institutional democratization, particular grievances around housing, and the amelioration of the worst manifestations of a crisis of social reproduction within the city to push for a transformative agenda beyond formal ‘citizenist’ democracy.

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