Exactly two years ago, the local elections in Spain returned an unexpected result, in the proportions and in its political effects: The lists of “civic platforms” conquered the main city, electing mayors in Madrid, Barcelona and many other smaller cities. And Friday night, in the Catalan metropolis led by Ada Colau, began the international meeting Fearless Cities, promoted by Barcelona en Comú. It will be launched in a few weeks and will be attended by over 600 accredited participants, from more than 180 cities in 40 different countries.
To all effects, it is the first opportunity for the initiatives, which have identified privileged ground in democracy and local self-government, to meet. For the promoters, the starting point is that “in the world, a growing number of large and small cities sided with the defense of human rights, democracy and the common good.” The goal of the meeting is to “enable local movements to build global networks of solidarity and hope in the face of hatred, the boundaries and the old and new walls” that surround them.
These are very significant numbers and a rich articulation of plenary and thematic workshops with activists, mayors and councillors from around the world (complete program: www.fearlesscities.com ) reveal a growing phenomenon, which is now defined by many as “new municipalism.” A phenomenon that springs precisely from the changes at the Spanish elections of May 2015. But that would be, in turn, incomprehensible without the historical cycle which began with 15M’s demonstrations in 2011, the mass movements that have since burst onto the Spanish social scene in subsequent waves, and finally the different political experiments that have developed in this context.
There are factors that continue to make the “Iberian laboratory” a target of extraordinary attention (and one might say, of desire) for the verification of appropriate practices to effectively decline the theme of social change in the face of tragedies and contradictions of the present. Also because they refer, in most cases, to common starting conditions to other European and global contexts.
The symbolic and material strength of many of the experiences that will compete in the next three days in Barcelona, lies, above all, in the ability to compete with the structural transformations that affected the cities in the era of financialization of the economy. And with the impact that austerity policies have made in urban areas in the recent European crisis management.
The contemporary metropolis has become the space par excellence of production and social reproduction; a space crossed and connected by logistic corridors and invested by the creation of extractive platforms; the place where, more than any other, the current forms of exploitation are exercised; the ideal ground of application for the parasitic logic of financial capitalism: where it deploys its permanent aggression against socially produced wealth, through individual and collective debt mechanisms, real estate speculation and the securities yields.
At the same time, our cities are the place where free and basically egalitarian forms of common life flourish; the place where new social conflicts explode, where forms of mutual cooperation and cultural and independent production initiatives proliferate. This gives — and now the everyday reality reminds us, along with the contributions of thinkers ranging from the geographer David Harvey to the policy philosopher Joan Subirats, from Toni Negri to the American urban planner Neil Brenner — the contemporary metropolis the role of a permanent battlefield, where tension among forces measure one another on the field of power relations.
Right on this magma-impulsed breaking line, the municipal realities placed themselves, expressing an extraordinary capacity for innovation in the languages and forms of action, starting from the key node of the “feminization of politics.” These realities were actually born from the “confluence” of subjectivity emerged from the last cycle of social movements with old and new political leftist forces, ready to recognize the primacy of “citizen prominence.”
In the next three days, these experiences will determine their own challenges, with the mutual exchange of successes and failures, limits and potential of projecting a global scenario, marked by the use of political “fear.” Their challenges can be summarized as one: with the feet firmly planted in the local dimension, attempt to boldly reinvent a democratic practice capable of tackling the major issues of our time, from climate change to migration, social justice and redistribution.