Can Europe Make It?

There's a very different idea of politics and democracy forming in my head

There's a very different idea of politics and democracy forming in my head than the one in the school textbooks. Read more from our You Tell Us bloggers on the topic of apathy in Europe.

Lotta Tenhunen Adrià Rodriguez
1 April 2014

It's cold inside the BBVA office. On the fifth day of the occupation the bank decided to shut down the heating and leave us keeping each other warm with blankets. The office has been closed for business for two weeks. We are waiting for the managers to negotiate with us on retiring the endorsement of the mortgage debt of ten families. Hours and days go by. We sleep, eat, make jokes, tweet, get to know each other among the few who are still strangers. Every few hours I send news to my two flatmates Laura and Pilar with whom I studied journalism at the University.

After the degree, while my flatmates stayed in Barcelona, I left for Madrid. I was offered a job that turned out not to be exactly a job, but an internship in a news agency. I worked 40 hours a week for 300€ and gained no social security nor pension. Rent and bills paid, I was left with only 80€ for everything else. My mom used to try to lift my mood by telling me that at least I gained valuable experience.

Since I came back to Barcelona my mom has stopped saying that my internship in Madrid was the key to a future secure income. I've had a wide range of temporary jobs – as a waitress in two different restaurants and a hostel, as a tourist guide assistant, and as a wedding photographer. I also helped my brother who works on construction sites, supervising electrical installations. Each of these jobs lasted for only a couple of months, some of them only days. It's difficult to make ends meet, and my parents – with whom I'm obliged to live – can't help me economically because they are both pensioners and are paying off my brother's mortgage loan.

I can't ask for unemployment benefit because I don't have one full year of social security contributions. Most of my jobs have been without a contract – even the one in the news agency in Madrid. I still have to gain seven months of social security in order to be entitled to unemployment benefit. Now we've started thinking about starting a cooperative as freelance journalists with my flatmates Laura and Pilar, but were slightly taken back when an old friend told us that after doing the same his income, working full time or even double that, didn't reach 900€ a month.

Many of my friends have left Barcelona during recent years. Some of them went to Madrid, others to Berlin, Rome or London. Many of them came back after no more than a year, because they found out that it's hard to find employment as a migrant.

Since 2011 the neighbourhood assembly of Sants is my main space of work and social security. We gather every Monday for the general assembly and every Thursday we have a small meeting for preparing the activities of the weekend. We are about 50 persons, many of us in severe situations: pending mortgages, looming evictions, constant unemployment or shitty chain jobs. Many can't provide enough to feed to their children so we organize a little community kitchen every day at 9PM.

To stop the evictions just ditching people out on the street there is La PAH. Last month, after long preparations, we recuperated a housing block of the infamous bank fusion SAREB for the use of the evicted families. We call these blocks obras sociales. It means social housing, and that is what we are creating: our own social security. These recuperated buildings multiply at a fast pace and we celebrate each new block. Without them, our dear but uncertain, precarious lives in this city whose administration seems to hate it's citizens would be much harsher.

It is in these places of politics in which we can all participate, where the know-how I learned at the University, meant to be used for a job, finds its use. For my flatmates and most of my other friends it's the same thing.

The idea of a politics like this was never presented to me in any of the numerous chapters I read at school about the importance of voting, parties, representation and citizenship in a democratic society. Like most of us, I too have learned that all of that doesn't matter so much. So when we started wondering among a group of friends what each of us actually does think about the Partido X or Podemos, I was rather clear about this in my own mind – probably just new emperors to replace the old. Some were sure to vote one or the other. Many of them feel eager about Partido X, because it proposes not just a new political programme but a new way of participating in electoral politics. One friend went to the open meetings of Podemos, but he told us he didn't understand whether it was only about an electoral campaign or if something more could be done there. 

If we are continuously working on solving the daily problems caused by a certain way of governing, why doesn't our organization to solve them count as a vote? Why can't we change laws? Will these new parties help us push through all the changes we have expressed and put into motion after 2011?

The daily assembly inside the occupied BBVA office starts and we have set ourselves to discuss our small victories and decide our next plans to pressure the bankers. There's a very different idea of politics and democracy forming in my head than the one in the school textbooks. 

–  Carmen, an imaginary barcelonesa in her twenties  

Correlations with real events are coincidental but nonetheless true.

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Join us for a free live discussion on Thursday 22 October, 5pm UK time/12pm EDT.

Hear from:

Paolo Gerbaudo Sociologist and political theorist, director of the Centre for Digital Culture at King’s College London and author of ‘The Mask and the Flag: Populism and Global Protest’ and ‘The Digital Party: Political Organisation and Online Democracy’, and of the forthcoming ‘The Great Recoil: Politics After Populism and Pandemic’.

Chantal Mouffe Emeritus Professor of Political Theory at the University of Westminster in London. Her most recent books are ‘Agonistics. Thinking the World Politically’, ‘Podemos. In the Name of the People’ and ‘For a Left Populism’.

Spyros A. Sofos Researcher and research coordinator at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University and author of ‘Nation and Identity in Contemporary Europe’, ‘Tormented by History’ and ‘Islam in Europe: Public Spaces and Civic Networks'.

Chair: Walid el Houri Researcher, journalist and filmmaker based between Berlin and Beirut. He is partnerships editor at openDemocracy and lead editor of its North Africa, West Asia project.

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