What Is The Recipe For An Illustration About A Municipal Movement?

30 01 2018

(This interview WITH Zemos 98 by Llano Del Rio Collective Member Robby Herbst was published in Critical Practice Notes then Lumpen Magazine’s Municipalism issue. )

What's the Recipe for Municipal Movement

If there’s anything we can say about the moment it’s that the current spectacle of national politics even-more-so points to its own spectacle. That’s why we should turn it off and tear it down and demand actual control of our lives and cities from the people who would rather make a dollar for themselves than make our lives together something beautiful. When so much federal power appears as a farce and a death sentence,  people must animate another kind of power. There’s a deep history of American Insurrection and rage but our actual history of sustained control of power by the grassroots in the two-party states, is slim. We can look to the international stage for inspirational ways to switch off the Trumps and turn up the Podemos. On the international stage there’s a library of stories of people radically altering their relationships to everyday life. 

In 2016 Alan Moore hipped me to a Spanish Illustration outlining some of the magic taking place there that’s going hard against the American vein. What’s known as the 15M Movement there has led to political reform from the grassroots up, fostering winning socialistic parties & a radical civil movements where people demand the right to their cities. The narrative of contemporary Spanish politics tilts strongly against the story of the rise of fascism & isolationism in Western democracies. What’s The a Recipe For A Municipal Movement is a graphic that explains the history behind the movement that helped Spaniards gain control of their government from insiders and businessmen. I tracked down its illustrator María Castelló Solbes who got me in touch with Lucas Tello Pérez of ZEMOS 98, the images producer. We talked about the Spanish Municipal Movement, the diagram that illustrates how it came to be, and how Americans might use such a drawing. 

Robby Herbst – Can you provide some background for a foreign reader of the Recipe?

ZEMOS 98 – The 15M in Spain was the awakening of major fragments of society to a different way of understanding politics, unmediated by the traditional political parties. After three years of deep crisis, & with complete lack of faith in political representation, a protest against property law lit the fuse. Thousands of people set up tents in the main squares of their cities & debated in huge assemblies about the main political struggles society faces, in a respectful manner, with an intersectional approach. This produced a deep shift in the mindset & boosted a culture of sharing & building together.

ZEMOS 98 s a cultural & political collective that’s been working from Seville, Spain in local, national & European projects since 1998. We produced 17 editions of an underground festival on the independent media landscape, the commons, feminism, informal education & other issues. We strive for citizen’s participation on the issues that shape our future. With local councils we develop participatory processes. We produce media content like the Municipalism graphic & a board game that interprets the present. Like others, the 15M movement turned upside-down our collective’s feelings & beliefs. Since then we’ve turned into a much more politically engaged practice.

Our institutional assault on Spain’s government arose 3 years after the end of the 15M movement. In that period there were massive mobilizations called ‘the tides’. You could find one for each color; green was about education, white was about public health, & so on. Podemos had great success in the European elections obtaining 5 MEPs out of nothing. The social movements started organizing candidacies to take the local governments in different cities. It started in Barcelona leaded by Ada Colau (a famous activist who was the spokesperson of the Platform Against the Evictions -the PAH) & spread to Madrid & other cities. The elections were in Spring 2015. Activists & social movements won some big Spanish cities: Madrid, Barcelona, Zaragoza, A Coruña, Cádiz ,Valencia among others. Our graphic image of the combo-platter was produced 2 months before the elections. It tried to summarize some of the movements that inspired, directly and indirectly, the social movements to take back the institutions.

Two years have passed, & these councils are having different grades of success. ZEMOS98 has collaborated with A Coruña, Barcelona & mainly Madrid in developing culture plans co-designed by the sector & citizens.

RH – How did you develop the categories and specific menu items in this radical meal?

Z98 – The graphic was developed with illustrator María Castelló. We were working on Municipal Recipes, a project representing & reflecting the emerging processes of assaulting the local institutions. Within that framework we thought the metaphor of the kitchen was an interesting way to portray what we wanted that movement to be: an organic group of people reclaiming the cities, making them more livable, removing the spotlight from economic exchange, turning it to caring for each other, creating communities taking part in politics, & building public space together. The kitchen seemed a nice place to devise such a plan.

We went with that idea & shared the group of collectives & social movements we wanted represented with María Castelló. She did the amazing work of putting the pieces together -adding her thoughts- & developed the beautiful graphic. It happened in a short time, and later we realized we’d left some things out. We’ve also come to realize that some of those items included shouldn’t be there. We still think it’s a good tool to start thinking about imageries & collectives working toward social change in a radical way.

RH – Did the recipe present ideas already popular in Spanish Society, or were you promoting ideas not yet seen together, providing a vision of this network graphically?

Z98 – It’s more the second option. We’re promoting ideas that haven’t been viewed together before. Maps are like lists: you can’t cover everything & you can’t satisfy everyone. We’ve received some fair criticism about including the Italian 5 Stars Movement. When we were conceiving the map their approach to political struggles wasn’t clear. After we made the map, it become clear that they aren’t exactly left-wing on certain issues. Our intention was to visualize some of the social movements we considered as the foundations of the Municipal Movement. After 2 years there’s been less discussion (in media and academic articles) the concept of “municipal movement”. Maybe, & because it succeeded somehow, there isn’t anymore a movement but some effective platforms running some of the Spanish cities. For us. as a matter of research, it was really important to look & try to define the roots of all these political struggles. The recipe is a metaphor. The recipe is a sort of a source code that can be improved by others if it is open & shareable.

RH – Please explain the more esoteric items in the recipe like Copylove, Marinaleda, & Metropolitan Observatory.

Z98 – Copylove was non-academic research ZEMOS98 began with Rubén Martínez from La Hidra & Txelu Balboa from Colaborabora. It gathered first hand experiences looking into the bonds & relationships communities create between agents during the production of common goods. It was very revealing for us in our way of working, because it made us reflect on the relation we were building with each other within the collective, & it changed many of the practices. It made us see caring acts as an invisible common good within communities. Bringing this to light is very important to unveil power relations & build better ways of living together.

Marinaleda is a council in the region of Seville, in the South of Spain. It’s been governed by a local party & led by Sánchez Gordillo for around 30 years. It’s attempting to build a communist solution to the problems of their neighbors. They have social housing for all, a cooperative that is in charge of giving strength to the workers, a television managed by the council, etc. Dan Hancox, of The Guardian, has written several articles & a book about it.

Metropolitan Observatory was a leftist think-tank based in Madrid & Barcelona in charge of producing some of the most exciting & interesting theory about the change of those cities, their public spaces, the way their common goods are managed, & how to build alternatives. As you can imagine, most of the activists working in those cities struggled in different social movements. It was one of those initiatives where folks who’ve gone on to institutionality were involved organizing events & lectures, publishing books, or designing alternative policies for the cities. Not surprisingly, the Metropolitan Observatory doesn’t seem to have been producing work since the municipalism movement started in 2014.

RH – Do all elements in the Municipalism graphic work in harmony? Judging by the strength of en Comú I imagine the movement is robust. I wonder if all of the elements in the graphic contribute to this.

Z98 – This representation simplifies the complexity of what happened & is still happening in Spain. Barcelona & Cataluña are probably the most successful example, not only because Barcelona en Comú won the elections (we should remember they got the 25% of the votes). But there’s a history of associationism & cooperation among the civil society actors. That partly explains why the political arena was able to produce such a platform as Barcelona en Comú. That’s interesting because it wasn’t even a party then. It was an initiative gathering all kind of bodies such as parties, social movements, small unions, NGOs, etc.

What was robust is the belief that our system needed to be changed. During the 15M according to some polls there was 90% of the population supporting the idea that changes had to be introduced in the way parties were working & acting. Parties were representing their own interests, not peoples. That explained the rapid growth of Podemos at national level, but specially the creation of local initiatives. These strategies weren’t created by the same people, there were some huge differences. It’s obvious that some political changes can only occur at a national level (protecting the educational system or the health care system). But many activists preferred the municipal context because they felt it was coherent to change things from the bottom, having taken into account the notion of proximity. On the other hand Podemos created a lot of illusion, but it was an initiative lead from a group of people in Madrid mainly.

The 15M acted as a political moment. A lot of people felt the need to be politically involved. Today we aren’t sure we can consider the municipal movement as still robust. Many of the most important activists got involved in institutional jobs, fulfilling the promise of occupying the institutions, & changing them inside. But that also “emptied the streets”. So in that sense, taking into account the general precariousness Spain is experiencing, it’s really hard to maintain citizens political activity because in some cases individuals don’t even have resources to survive.

Right now, & following the metaphor of your question it seems we need to start a new map. Not exactly explaining how the municipal movement grew up, but how to re-start the situation to recover the strength of the social movements.

RH – With the results of the 2016 elections in the US many citizens & municipalities are looking to defend gains made in the last decades. Secession is tempting, but so is the anti-federalism of Spain’s democratic Municipal Movement. Do you think your recipe is transferable to other nations?

Looking at the example of Cataluña, it’s really a complex issue how federalism is conceived in Spain. In Cataluña there’s people (and people involved in parties like Esquerra Republicana) who truly believe in the self-determination of people. The interesting thing is that they made an alliance with a right wing & Catholic party (Nuevo Partido Democrático). What happened is that at some point they thought, “Ok, we want to be independent too. But once we are out of Spain, from whom are we going to be independent? From the factual powers such as the Troika?”. So before asking for the independence of Cataluña some activists felt there was the need to defend social rights. But that doesn’t mean they don’t believe in federalism. It means they believe it’s a priority to defend citizen’s rights. In the rest of Spain it’s different. But one of the oldest & now traditional center-left wing parties (the Socialist Party) has a tradition of people supporting federalism. So it’s not clear how federalism is assumed by the different political actors.

Secondly, we don’t think the recipe can be imported to other places, especially not for those with worse economic or social conditions; that’d be neo-colonialism 😉 We do think the idea of having a recipe itself is importable. Sharing practices increases learning processes among peers worldwide. The idea of open source is very powerful & appealing in activism. There aren’t magic solution for our social struggles but we can all benefit from sharing certain methodologies/ actions/ideas. That’s the political lesson we learned. We should share our local recipes for cooking global revolution.






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