Sí Se Puede – Yes We Can
The collapse of the housing bubble in Spain resulted in hundreds of thousands of families being evicted from their homes. In response the PAH (Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca) was formed, a grassroots movement that stands up to stop evictions and for the right to decent housing. Compared to London and the UK, the Spanish movement is much stronger and far ahead in terms of organization, direct action and programmatic strategy. The rise of the PAHs can be seen in connection with the rise of other forces: the platform Democracia Real Ya! (DRY), the 15-M movement, the new political party Podemos, and the creation of municipal citizen platforms aiming at political power in the cities, beginning with the next local elections in May 2015. Significantly, the first PAH was founded in Barcelona and also the first municipal citizen platform “Let’s Win Barcelona” (Guanyem Barcelona, later named Barcelona En Comú), which was launched by Ada Colau the former spokesperson of the PAH. All the above forces together add up to a broader process that represents a challenge to the dominant economic model and the established political power. Welcome to the democratic revolution!
In the wake of the global financial crisis of 2008 housing bubbles all over the world collapsed and Spain was among the worst affected countries. Unemployment rose dramatically and so did the number of people unable to pay their mortgages and facing foreclosure and evictions. Not only could they become homeless, but in addition to that they could remain prisoners of huge debt even after the bank had repossessed their property and home. The PAH or Platform of People Affected by Mortgages was created in response to this housing crisis and the experience that the government does support and promote the interests of the financial sector and real estate, but not the interests of the citizens and people in need.
V de Vivienda (H for Housing), social movement dedicated to the right to decent housing; born in the internet, young people, organized in assemblies; anticipated the future crisis but remains an unheard minority in a society of homeowners
Beginning of the global financial crisis; the real estate bubble collapses
Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH, Platform of People Affected by Mortgages) was established in Barcelona in response to the housing crisis and the experience that the state and legislation protect and promote the interests of banks and real estate at the cost of ordinary people as the weakest player in a game of accumulation that uses finance to dispossess people of their fundamental rights and of their home by turning housing into assets that generate rent.
Real Democracy Now! published its manifesto. Click to read the Manifesto of Democracia Real Ya!
The 15-M Movement was born. PAH participated in the movement from the beginning and experienced a tremendous boost with increasing numbers of PAH created all over Spain.
Guanyem Barcelona (Let’s Win Barcelona), a citizen platform was formed. It’s first aim is to win the 2015 Barcelona city elections. In 2015 the name was changed to Barcelona En Comú: Website
Inspired by the initiative in Barcelona other cities started their own “Let’s Win”-initiatives: in Madrid, Sevilla, Málaga, Valladolid, Las Palmas, Almería and Toledo… Click to open a list of Ganemos -initiatives
(1) Dación en pago: It means handing back the property to the bank (lender), and in exchange the bank will fully discharge all mortgage debt, not holding you liable in the future.
(2) Stop evictions immediately (where it is the family home and sole property)
(3) Obra Social: Empty houses owned by banks (financial institutions) are to be converted into social housing for evicted families.
In order to confront evictions the first thing we had to do was create and consolidate a space of trust, a place of encounter where those in danger of eviction could experience that (1) their problem was not individual but collective and that the causes were structural; (2) as a result we shouldn’t feel guilty or ashamed; and (3) that collective action can transform reality and make possible what seems impossible. (Ada Colau, quoted in Provisional University)
The PAH is a nationwide network that consists of autonomous PAHs, which are all committed to the following set of basic criteria:
(1) The PAH is a citizen-run organization born from civil society and as such is politically independent and nonpartisan.
(2) The PAH is a non-violent movement.
(3) All resources and guidance from the PAH must be free.
(4) The guidance of the PAH must be collective.
(5) All PAHs must accept all demands and claims contained within the memorandum of understanding.
(6) Beyond these criteria, the PAH node enjoys full autonomy to develop strategies appropriate to the local context.
0:17 One fine day, some years ago, a (very) Spanish Prime Minister
0:20 had a gust of inspiration
0:23 “X%&*@… I have a dream!
0:25 Such was his faith that he performed the SPANISH MIRACLE
0:32 I can turn bricks into Gold
0:35 he, he, he…. SPAIN-IS-GOING-WELL
0:38 This is how the housing bubble started, Spain gambled its wealth on a single card:
0:45 endlessly building houses in order to sell… mortgages”
0:52 So-called experts told us: relax,
0:55 as the supply of housing rises, prices will go down
0:59 What happened was exactly the opposite
1:02 Housing prices went through the roof and so did corruption and speculation.
1:07 Spain turned into a mortgage flea market”
1:11 You won’t find it cheaper, don’t let it get away,
1:13 Mortgages Forever…!
1:14 Designer Mortgage, pays for your new sofa.
1:16 Cheaper when you mortgage your daddy too! What every young couple wants!
1:19 Maxi-Mortgage, last chance to buy! Migrant worker, integrate, get into debt!
1:21 You say “dump”, we say “potential”!
1:23 A few people became very rich
1:28 And hundreds of thousands of families got into debt for life
1:32 Did we buy yachts, luxury cars and holidays in the Bahamas?
1:36 No!… to gain access to a basic right:
1:39 a home in which to live
1:42 Just sign here, we’ll do the rest
1:50 It wasn’t a state of collective insanity.
1:54 They deceived us, both the bankers and the PP and PSOE governments,
1:57 hostage to their interests.
2:00 The Spanish financial system is probably the safest in the world
2:09 It was not a miracle, it was a mirage, and as such, it faded away.
2:14 But that’s not gold, that’s… only a brick.
2:20 As the bubble grew a few made a lot of money
2:24 but when it burst a lot of people lost everything.
2:30 It’s the same pattern with every capitalist crisis.
2:34 Not very fair, is it?
2:37 Unemployment rose sharply and the ECONOMY collapsed
2:45 The neoliberal mantra ‘if you go down, you’re on your own’
2:50 was conveniently reversed; banks were “rescued” with our taxes.
2:56 Did we get anything in return? NO, quite the contrary,
3:00 we got cuts and foreclosures.
3:05 And we came to feel the full weight of an unjust law
3:08 designed to protect financial institutions.
3:13 The blah-blah-blah… law states that you have to leave your home
3:17 but you’ll still have to pay for it and for our abusive interest rates,
3:21 we’ll take whatever you earn in the future,
3:25 and you’ll carry the life-long stigma of being… a Defaulter
3:29 Chapter 2: The PAH (Platform of People Affected by Mortgages)
3:33 Do you have mortgage problems?
3:36 Difficulties keeping up with your payments?
3:39 Have you stopped paying, and is your bank harassing you?
3:45 Did you get your court summons yet?
3:48 Do you have a date for the auction?
3:50 Do you have an eviction date?!!
3:53 WORRIED? ANXIOUS? ASHAMED? DESPERATE?
3:56 Don’t do anything silly, you are not alone.
4:00 You must be clear about two things:
4:04 1. IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT
4:07 2. NO BANK, NO HOUSE, NO DEBT IS WORTH YOUR HEALTH OR YOUR LIFE.
4:12 But, what can I do?
4:14 Find out about your nearest PAH on our website
4:17 There are over 160 PAHs across the country
4:21 You are not alone, we are many. Come to one of our meetings,
4:26 we are educating ourselves, becoming experts in mortgage law,
4:30 empowering and helping one another.
4:36 The PAH is achieving a lot: stopping evictions,
4:40 ensuring social housing and cancelling debts.
4:45 You’ll learn to negotiate and if your negotiation fails,
4:48 we’ll put pressure where it’s due.
4:51 Hello, I’ve come to talk about my case.
4:53 No, I don’t have time for this, get out!
4:55 We’ve discovered we’re defenseless alone, but unstoppable together.
5:00 Yes we can! Yes we can!
5:02 Ehhh… come in, come in…
5:05 Our slogan is YES WE CAN! because… WE CAN!
5:10 Chapter 3: Agenda setting initiative (ILP) and “Escrache”
5:17 We gathered 1.5 million signatures supporting a law that would stop all evictions,
5:21 provide social housing and cancel debts once the house is relinquished.
5:24 The European Justice Tribunal found Spanish mortgage law to be illegal,
5:28 abusively biased against the debtor.
5:36 Neither 1.5 million signatures nor a European tribunal sentence
5:40 made our government change its position, so we went to find the congress members
5:44 at home and in their workplace to appeal to them directly.
5:48 Yes we can! Yes we can!
5:51 Everything was in the hands of the Popular Party politicians
5:53 who held an absolute majority.
5:56 They had 2 options: voting green saved thousands of families.
6:00 Voting red condemned families to misery in order to save the banks.
6:03 And what did they do?
6:06 this one! this one! this one!
6:08 It’s a NO from me.
6:10 The new law approved by the PP DOESN’T address our demands,
6:14 DOESN’T solve the problem, DOESN’T avoid all this suffering.
6:17 What now? Can´t we do something?
6:20 Of course we can, it’s only a matter of time.
6:23 Plus, you won’t end up in the streets because we WON’T allow it.”
6:29 Chapter 4: Obra Social (Social Housing)
6:32 There are more than 3 million empty flats in Spain. Many belong to the banks.
6:39 They are neglected, slowly deteriorating, waiting for prices to go up again
6:44 while thousands of families are losing their homes.
6:51 It´s so simple, basic and logical, that even a child understands this better than the Government.
6:55 If banks have so many empty flats… why can we not live in one of them?
7:02 The PAH Community Public Housing functions by moving evicted families
7:07 back into empty flats owned by banks.
7:12 We bailed out these banks with public funds and didn’t receive anything in return,
7:16 only cutbacks. These flats rightfully belong to the citizens.
7:20 This is not an “illegal occupation”, it’s a “legitimate recuperation”.
7:28 The PAH has already reclaimed 13 apartment blocks and will carry on at this pace
7:32 until the banks acknowledge their social responsibility.
7:38 and for as long as the state remains passive and incapable of responding
7:42 to the social emergency.
7:44 The social function the PAH performs is not optional,
7:46 it’s a duty felt by citizens organizing to demand that
7:49 the fundamental right to housing be fulfilled.
7:52 Yes dad, we really can… Of course we can!
From the beginning it was very clear how important it was to accumulate small big victories, as much in the symbolic terrain as in the concrete one. Victories that have carved out the way and at the same time fed a movement, making it each time stronger and more clearly articulated. Celebrating these victories is a fundamental component and probably one of the most important tasks for any political intervention that seeks to challenge prevailing predatory capitalism. We have to prove to ourselves that, contrary to the sentencing from the political, judicial, academic and media platforms, a more just and egalitarian world is possible and the current dynamics are reversible. (Colau & Alemany 2014, 145)
The PAHs form a grassroots movement driven by people directly affected by housing problems. It expresses itself through direct actions and campaigns, which step by step should lead to the attainment of medium and long term aims. For example, the PAH together with other social movements and organizations launched an agenda setting initiative (local name: iniciativa legislativa popular) demanding a change of the foreclosure law so as to fulfill the three basic demands. Despite overwhelming support in the population the parliaments response was resoundingly negative. This should not have come as a surprise. The design of the Spanish agenda initiative is not user-friendly at all. In the experience of the initiative proponents the process has been “difficult, confusing (…) and full of obstacles”. Even without additional obstruction by the authorities it is a formidable task to collect the required 500’000 signatures within the nine-month time limit. Finally, parliament must only discuss the proposal, but it can simply refuse it and without further considerations. Governments may also try to block unwanted agenda initiatives at the start; the Spanish government tried it without success with the PAH agenda initiative, the European Commission refused to register the agenda initiative Stop TTIP (TTIP = controversial trade agreement between the EU and the US). Based on the experience with agenda initiatives in different countries, municipalities and in the European Union, I draw the following conclusion: Approval of an agenda initiative is to be expected only when the purpose of the initiative is to further (or does not contradict) the government’s interests, or under conditions of extreme pressure, which is rare.
The ground for the mortgage and housing crisis was prepared above all by state policies in favor of finance and real estate. Social housing was decreased through privatizing and cutting money for constructing new social homes. Land and credit were deregulated. The state favored property development and speculation. All measures aimed at promoting homeownership instead of the right to decent housing. In order to have a home people had to buy one, and for this they needed credit.
The first gun to the head was forcing people to buy, pushing them into mortgages by making them believe that this was the only way to have access to housing. In reality, what this did was set up the global capital needed for opening up new fields for extracting more interest and profits. (Raquel Rolnik, quouted in Colau & Alemany 2014, 151)
Government policies, driven by finance, lead to a construction boom and the creation of a housing bubble. Eventually the bubble had to burst, with all the dramatic consequences that this involved. Banks went bust, construction businesses got into trouble, unemployment rose, hundreds of thousands of people had problems with paying their mortgages. Insolvent banks were bailed out, whereas ordinary people had to face unemployment, eviction, homelessness, and despair. Rather than to protect people in need, the state helped to streamline eviction procedures and sent the police to drag people from their homes into the street. In such conditions concerned people had no other recourse than organising for self-help. That is how PAH was born.
(W)hat is illegal is not to resist an eviction, but the attitude of the Spanish authorities by defending a mortgage law that tramples over the fundamental rights of people and tacitly condoning the eviction of thousands of families through their silence. (Raquel Rolnik, quoted in Colau & Alemany 2014, 152)
As a political movement the PAH has the following long term goals: implementing the right to housing, creating a better democracy and social justice. These aims are such that a confrontation with the established powers and the dominant neoliberal ideology is inevitable. Analysing the housing crisis the PAH came to the conclusion that the crisis was caused by financialization (see below). This process has to be reversed in order to guarantee that everyone’s right to decent housing can be put into practice. Housing has to be regulated as a primary good and not as an investment or commodity. This means that the dominant economic model should be replaced by a model based on the needs and fundamental rights of the people.
The PAH concluded that the economic crisis is also a crisis of politics and democracy. The existing “democracy” has been taken over by finance and corporations; it is geared to serve primarily big business and profit making and not the common good. Obviously this has to be changed if democracy is more than just an empty word. Finance and big business should serve people’s needs not enslave them with debt. That is why they must be controlled by real democracy, by the power of the people.
“We know that those who have power today are very well organised, because they’ve had power for a long time, and they are well used to having it and having it with impunity. And obviously, as soon as they see that we citizens are organising among ourselves, it’s clear they will not make it easy for us.
They’ll call us idealists, they’ll say we’re good people, that we’re nice, that we’re activists, they’ll call us ‘anti-system’, they’ll call us ‘alternative’, and they’ll try to ridicule us, silence us, criminalise us. And they’ll treat us as trespassers, in what they say is a democracy, when it ought to be the best of news that the citizens are organising themselves – to decide what it is that they want and how they want to do it. This is democracy, and everything else is just words.
We are not trespassers, we are protagonists, and we want to be protagonists in this city and in the democratic revolution that is underway.” (Ada Colau)
The rules of the game must be changed. Elections and reforms alone will not do the trick. Institutions need to be changed and new institutions created, and the neoliberal frame of mind overcome. In other words, where hierarchy and domination was shall autonomy and deep freedom be. This precisely is the context where implementing direct democracy has a crucial role to play. For this to happen strong social movements, which must reach a critical mass, are needed. Otherwise the forces of dissent and change will be re-integrated into the established system via repression, the need to survive, and/or old habits, like it happened with the greens.
Democratic capitalism: from crisis to crisis (see Wolfgang Streeck 2011)
Since the 1970s the neoliberal project of unlimited expansion and mastery has been on the rise and the project of real democracy marginalized more and more, nearly to the point of being completely lost. However, for an ever growing part of the population the fear and pain inflicted by this process become increasingly unbearable, not to speak of planet Earth. The seeming triumph of western “democratic capitalism” culminates in a double crisis of humanity and capitalism. People (and earth) can only take so much strain and no more. However distorted it may become, people have a sense of justice that cannot be suppressed completely. However repressed, the struggle for freedom and self-determination continues. There is always the possibility of revolt, and once people have lost their fear, revolution comes next. Countless examples throughout history testify to these struggles for autonomy, which sooner or later, almost without exception, ended in defeat.
This year we can make history. We, ordinary people, can win. If we believe in ourselves and get organized, there’s a democratic revolution underway that’s unstoppable.
Now 2015 is beginning, an election year and our challenge is to show that we can also win back public institutions. The first date will be the municipal elections in May 2015 and in Barcelona thousands of us are really excited to have the chance to be the starting point of this democratic revolution, a revolution that wants to do more than just gain power, that wants more than anything else a profound change in prevailing values. We can win and show that there is another way of doing things. In the face of a logic of competitiveness, privatization and speculation, we want to win back the city for its people, promoting cooperation, social justice, and shared responsibility. We want to end corruption and bad political practices but, above all, we want to put people’s lives and dignity at the centre of public policy. To do this, we’ll have to put our goals above party acronyms and bring in as many people as possible with broad ambitions, bravery, and great generosity. We’ve discovered that we have much more power than they would have us believe. At last, fear has changed sides, at last, and now they’ll try to ridicule us, criminalize us and censor us. That’s why, more than ever before, we have to be brave and persistent, for ourselves, for our present but, above all, for our sons and daughters. Get ready, everyone, wherever you are, because everyone can and should be a protagonist. Happy Democratic Revolution 2015
El Run Run – es defender el bien COMÚN
Ada Colau is running for mayor in Barcelona in the upcoming municipal elections on May 24, 2015.
Source: Ada Colau website (cat, cas, en)
“Delegating institutional politics to a few professionals and just voting every four years has been a disaster. Putting the control of public resources in the hands of the few has led to widespread corruption and criminal public policies. It’s up to our generation to democratize democracy, to take back our institutions (and) to put them at the service of the people. That’s exactly what we’re doing. Standing for mayor of Barcelona is my small contribution. I can only do this thanks to Barcelona En Comú, an exciting and ambitious new project that aims to show that things can be done in a different, better way, with honesty. Barcelona en Comú is allowing ordinary people to be political protagonists again, and putting wellbeing back at the centre of public policy. We feel able to do this because there are so many talented and dedicated people working to make this change happen, and because our institutions have been playing catch-up with citizens for some time now.”
Source: Ada Colau, Nothing to hide, everything to share
Delegating institutional politics to a few professionals and just voting every four years has been a disaster. Putting the control of public resources in the hands of the few has led to widespread corruption and criminal public policies. It’s up to our generation to democratize democracy, to take back our institutions (and) to put them at the service of the people. (Ada Colau)
The PAH movement is part of the historical current of the autonomy tradition, and so are local citizens’ platforms in many cities that were formed after the model of “Barcelona En Comú” (originally “Guanyem Barcelona”), and the new national political parties Podemos in Spain and Syriza in Greece (see also above: Timeline and Context). What all these movements have in common is the search for a democratic alternative to the dominant social and economic model. They know that such an alternative exists and that it is achievable, step by step, by the people themselves, but not on behalf of the people. Therefore a political party alone, even if it is elected to power like Syriza, and possibly also Podemos, is perhaps a necessary but certainly not a sufficient condition for implementing fundamental change in order to create a free society. Because in a free society “the citizens are organizing themselves – to decide what it is that they want and how they want to do it. This is democracy, and everything else is just words.” (Ada Colau)
Ada Colau elected mayor of Barcelona
“We are proud. This is not happening in Barcelona alone. This is a democratic revolution. It is unstoppable and it is happening in Catalonia, all over Spain, and we hope to see it happen in all of Southern Europe.”
This is a victory of David against Goliath and we have to congratulate the thousands of people which disinterestedly, without expecting any recognition, anonymously, have worked their fingers to the bone to make possible a candidature such as this, which in only a few months succeeded in winning the city of Barcelona and its municipality for her people. As a result of this victory, we are here to say what we said during the campaign: being the most voted list, we are ready to govern the municipality of Barcelona and to “lead by obeying”. We will govern the city of Barcelona, and I’m ready, humbly but proudly and with determination, to be the mayor of this city, of its 73 neighbourhoods, of all the neighbours, those who voted for us and those who didn’t, with the primary aim that never again there will be citizens of first and second class in this city.
We would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate the many other candidatures, forces and promoters of change in many other municipalities, in Catalonia, and in Spain. We will govern this city in order to serve its people, and also as the proud capital city of Catalonia that will do everything possible to ensure their right to decide freely, based on respect. And we would like to congratulate all the forces of change also in Catalonia, which have won many municipalities, or many spaces in municipalities, something that was absolutely unthinkable until a very short time ago.
And of course we congratulate Ahora Madrid and Manuela Carmena, hopefully the next mayor of Madrid. Until yesterday in many municipalities we were gripped by resignation because of the lack of alternatives, and today many municipalities in Catalonia and in Spain wake up to the fact the actually change is possible. We congratulate Zaragoza, Malaga, La Coruña, Madrid, Cadiz, and so many other municipalities which today have conquered spaces of liberty for its people.
(My rough translation)
An interview with Ada Colau on DemocracyNow! (video with transcript, June 5, 2015)
Barcelona – a city constructed from below
Ada Colau began her term as Barcelona’s new mayor by stopping a home eviction, something she had done for years as a social activist and cofounder of the anti-eviction movement PAH. Shortly after she announced that Barcelona will not be bidding to host the 2026 Olympic Winter Games. In addition she decided to cut her salary from €140,000 to around €35,000.
In view of the Catalonian parliamentary elections on September 27, 2015 and the possibility to form a united candidacy under the label of Catalonia Yes we Can, modeled after Barcelona en Comú, Fort Apache analyzes the new mayor and the future of the autonomous community of Catalonia.
A debate with Manolo Monereo (Political Analyst), Xavier Domènech (Historian), Carlos Enrique Bayo (Editor of the daily Público.es), Gemma Ubasart (Podemos ), and Joan Josep Nuet (United and Alternative Left), hosted by Pablo Iglesias (Podemos).
A world after capitalism would transform money and credit from external forces that shape the lives of individuals into instruments that serve people. Two important steps would reduce the power of money. First there would be expanded public provision of key goods and services, think housing, education, health, transport, pensions and insurance, making these available to all as a right. Second there would be growth of the new commons through the internet, making information, the media, music and other goods practically free at the point of consumption. Creative interpersonal relations would flourish giving greater depth to the arts. Greater fairness and equality would go together with greater popular participation in literature, music, theater and all the things that add color to human existence.
There is nothing unrealistic about this prospect and indeed elements of it already exist in capitalist society, think state welfare provisioning health, think costless access to goods and services through the internet. A new society would develop and coordinate these associational and communal practices while insuring democratic accountability. Money would become mostly a practical means of keeping accounts and delivering goods and services to people across society. At the same time money would offer the opportunity to exercise choice, one’s basic needs were covered by obtaining goods such as clothing, food, holidays and so on from the private sector. Credit could similarly be reduced to a practical anf subsidiary role in individual life. There would be public banks offering a secure outlet for saving, while public pension schemes could allow choice on the proportion of income set aside for a time. Modern banks already possess databases as the physical techniques to assess any value and evaluate the creditworthiness of huge numbers of individuals, but they deploy these to make speculative loans. Adopting this model led directly to the gigantic crisis we’re currently going through. An alternative society would take over these methods, using them to smooth consumption according to choice and withouy speculation. Reducing the power of money and credit would eliminate the poisonous role they now play in social, political, moral and ethical matters. The intrinsic merits and qualities of individuals would have more scope to act as true means of distinction. Culture and the arts would be rid of the oppression and monetary wealth. Interpersonal relations would be freed of monetary calculations. The democratic process and the accountability of public office would be improved. With money and credit under control society would gain a profound freedom.
Colau, Ada & Alemany, Adriá. 2014. Morgaged Lives. From the housing bubble to the right of housing. Translation: Michelle Teran, Jessica Fuquay. Click to download PDF
Provisional University. May 2012. Financialization and the enclosure of the city: the right to the city and the right to housing in contemporary Ireland and Spain. (Click to download PDF from here)
Barcelona En Comú website
Ada Colau website (cat, cas, en)