Municipalism: A Reading List


Since publishing Becoming a Fearless City, the Phoenix has heard from many people who would like to learn more about Barcelona en ComĂș and the municipalist movement, including whether such movements are practical in their own cities. To answer these inquiries, we are proud to share a version of the reading list developed by the San Francisco Democratic Socialists of America to study the Barcelona en ComĂș government. We hope this reading list can serve as a resource to help other groups find a path to uniting people power on the left and claiming their cities for a democratic socialist future.

Barcelona en ComĂș (Catalan for Barcelona in Common), formerly known as Guanyem (Catalan for Let’s Win), is a citizen platform launched in June 2014 that is currently governing in minority in the City of Barcelona. Its policy agenda includes defending social justice and community rights, promoting participatory democracy, introducing mechanisms to tackle corruption, and developing a new model of tourism for Barcelona. (adapted from Wikipedia)

Since 2015, the Guanyem / Barcelona en ComĂș movement has taken root and inspired others to successfully advance popular power in Madrid, Zaragoza, Malaga, Valencia, Sevilla, and other cities. It does not operate as a single political party but as a platform for locally-developed coalitions to organize and win power in their cities.

Resources published by Barcelona en ComĂș

1. Let’s win back Barcelona (original Spanish version here): This is the original manifesto that over 30,000 people signed, to validate that the BComĂș vision had political possibility in Barcelona.

We are living in a time of profound changes. Taking advantage of the economic crisis, the economic powers that be have launched an open offensive against the rights and social conquests of the majority of the population. However, the longing for real democracy is ever stronger in the town squares, on the streets, online, as well as at the ballot box.

2. Handy Guide to Setting Up a Guanyem: This is a three-page document useful for initial organizing support.

We at Guanyem Barcelona (Let’s win back Barcelona) are publishing this guide to help anyone who wants to set up a Guanyem. We also want to use it to explain the processes that define Guanyem’s DNA and philosophy.

3. How to win back the city en comĂș: a guide to building a citizen municipal platform: This is a more developed, 10-page vision and organizing document that details setting up new Guanyem-style platforms in your city. Can be useful to print a run as pamphlets or zines.

We’re living in extraordinary times that demand brave and creative solutions. If we’re able to imagine a different city, we’ll have the power to transform it” — Ada Colau

Additional links to BComĂș resources:

Stories about Barcelona en ComĂș / municipalism in Spain

1. How to win back the city: the Barcelona en ComĂș guide to overthrowing the elite [Stephen Burgen, The Guardian, 06/22/2016]

With no money and little experience, just how did they wrest the city from the entrenched political caste that had been running it for the past 40 years?

2. America needs a network of rebel cities to stand up to Trump [Kate Shea Baird, Barcelona en ComĂș and Steve Hughes, Working Families Party, on Medium]

With Trump in the White House and GOP majorities in the House and Senate, we must look to cities to protect civil liberties and build progressive alternatives from the bottom up.

3. Why the municipal movement must be internationalist [Kate Shea Baird, Enric BĂĄrcena, Xavi Ferrer and Laura Roth, originally published in Spanish in PĂș on 12/21/2016]

The municipalist movements of the Spanish state can’t ignore the global crisis of neoliberalism. It’s up to us to stand up and defend our idea of bottom up, feminist and radically democratic change.

4. Is this the world’s most radical mayor? [Dan Hancox, The Guardian, 5/26/2016]

When Ada Colau was elected mayor of Barcelona, she became a figurehead of the new leftwing politics sweeping Spain. The question she now faces is a vital one for the left across Europe — can she really put her ideas into practice?

5. 30,000 people have signed up to validate the municipal project Guanyem Barcelona [Barcelona en ComĂș, 8/9/2014]

The Guanyem platform has reached its goal of 30,000 signatures of support a month before its deadline. “We sensed that it was time for change so we put forward a proposal. Now, this is no longer just a proposal of the initial group of organizers. It’s a proposal of 30,000 people who agree on the problems we face and share the same dreams and aspirations. There is still a long way to go, but this was the first step in building a tool that will allow us to win back Barcelona and put its institutions at the service of the people; to start a real democratic revolution from the local level”, said Jaume Asens, legal scholar, writer, and spokesperson for Guanyem Barcelona (Let’s win back Barcelona).

6. A new grassroots movement is trying to take control of Barcelona’s government [Barbara Speed, New Statesman CityMetric, 8/21/2014]

This week, an organisation collected its 30,000th signature in support of its bid to take part in Barcelona’s municipal elections next May. But it’s not aligned with any of Spain’s political parties, either major or minor; nor has it ever played any role in government before. Guanyem Barcelona, which translates as “Let’s Win Barcelona”, is a brand new grassroots movement founded by a group of intellectuals, activists and people working in the arts. And it wants to control the city council.

6. Grassroots movements sweep into Barcelona town hall [ROAR Collective, 5/25/2015]: Selection of ROAR coverage on Barcelona en ComĂș

The outcome of Sunday’s municipal and regional elections in Spain is shaking the country. Two activist women connected to grassroots movements and backed by the leftist party Podemos are likely to become the next mayors of Spain’s biggest cities — Madrid and Barcelona — while the ruling right-wing Popular Party has taken a drubbing in cities and regions across the country.

7. Spain: Masses cheer new mayors as right wing is wiped out from main cities [Jorge MartĂ­n,, 6/15/2015]

Thousands came out to cheer the swearing in of new mayors in Spain on Saturday June 13, in scenes not seen since 1979 or perhaps 1931. The May 24 municipal and regional elections represented a serious setback for the ruling right wing PP. But the extent of their defeat was not clearly visualised until June 13, when mayors representing parties and alliances to the left of social democracy were sworn in, in 4 of the 5 largest cities in the country: Madrid, Barcelona, Zaragoza and Valencia. The fifth, Seville, was taken over by a PSOE mayor, with the support of Podemos-backed “Participa Sevilla”, and United Left (IU).

8. Alcaldessa: Ada for Mayor [Nanouk Films, documentary, 85 minutes]

9. Podemos and the ‘Democratic Revolution’ in Spain [Raul Zelik, Global Research Socialist Project, 5/7/2015]

Even if one almost always goes wrong with such prognoses, the fact is that the Spanish state is facing the biggest rupture since the end of the Franco dictatorship. In several large cities, the left radical-democratic lists of the Guanyem / Ganemos Initiatives have real chances of winning the mayoral elections in May. In recent months in Catalonia, millions were on the street calling for the democratic right to self-determination, to which Madrid could only answer with new prohibitions. But it is above all the left party Podemos(We Can) that is dominating Spain’s political landscape. According to some current polls, Podemos, though founded only in January 2014, is the strongest party today with an almost 28 per cent voter approval, one year before the parliamentary elections.

10. Is America ready for a municipalist movement? [Alexander Kolokotronis, ROAR, 11/27/2016]

In the era of Trump, we will need to consolidate counter-power via participatory democracy and economic self-management at the local level.

11. Governing Madrid [Eoghan Gilmartin, Jacobin, 6/14/2017]

Jacobin contributor Eoghan Gilmartin spoke to Madrid city councilors about the challenges their administration faces, the political differences between its constituent factions, and the path forward for the left government of Spain’s capital.

12. Fearless Cities: A Dispatch from Barcelona [Sophie Gonick, Urban Democracy Lab, 6/15/2017]

Yet despite the dramatic demographic shifts, neither “Fearless Cities” nor the broader project of Spanish municipalism has taken up the question of immigration and ethnic and racial difference as a serious component of contemporary urban governance. While Barcelona’s charismatic and charming deputy mayor (and friend of the UDL), Gerardo Pisarello, is a Latino immigrant, the ranks of Barcelona en Comu and Ahora Madrid are startlingly devoid of migrant voices. And despite having emerged in part from the multi-ethnic housing movement, these platforms often appear to treat migrants as objects of political action instead of incorporating them as fellow political subjects.

Stories about municipalism in San Francisco

1. How the 1975 Community Congress Reshaped San Francisco Politics [Preston Rhea, Hoodline, 8/25/2015]

The reason traces back to the early 1970s. It is deeply intertwined with today’s biggest local issues, including this election’s propositions on housing, and the success of causes like LGTBQ rights and cannabis decriminalization. Nearly 40 years ago, a range of activists and community groups got a proposition passed to replace the citywide elections system with districts. The point was to give more power to the city’s various neighborhoods and the diverse mix of people who lived in them. The legislation and organizing in this era got new leaders like Harvey Milk elected, and defined the city’s leftward shift.

2. The San Francisco Community Congress [manifesto, June 1975]

The first San Francisco Community Congress was held on Saturday, June 7 and Sunday, June 8, 1975, at Lone Mountain College. Nearly 1,000 people from virtually every San Francisco community came together to participate in the Congress. The Community Congress was the culmination of a six-month process, during which 600 people attended nine “issue conventions”, developed agreement on these issues and plans of action for dealing with them, and, finally, brought the results of their efforts to Lone Mountain College. Two days of open discussion, debate and voting at the Congress resulted in agreement on a broad range of issues and concerns affecting all San Francisco communities. This document presents the specific positions adopted at the Community Congress.