PostDem (VI). Ada Colau: citizenry. The PAH: from the ILP to the ‘escraches’

Notes from the Institutions of the Post-democracy: globalization, empowerment and governance conference, organized by the CUIMPB and the Communication and Civil Society program. Held in Barcelona, Spain, the 17th August 2013. More notes on this event: postdem.

Ada Colau. Citizenry. The PAH: from the ILP to the ‘escraches’

We are living the end of a regime, kidnapped by corrupt political en economic leaders. And the regime needs a renovation. How?

How do we rethink social organizations? There is no regeneration of democracy without a strong and well organized civil society. The solution, if any, is not expected from the institutions that corrupted democracy from within. Only a watching and alert civil society will enforce the correct government, as power naturally tends towards corruption.

This social organization, besides its role to watch the power, needs also new forms. Because most organizations nowadays have not aged very well. This includes political parties but also labour unions and NGOs: organizations that were very useful when they were created but that have become useless to provide answers for today’s problems.

The problem is that we [Spaniards] have not been educated into Democracy. We have always been told not to participate in politics. We need to be critical against corrupt institutions, but also self-critical with ourselves and our not-being involved with politics.

And empowerment is the word, the way to do politics (again), to win back for the citizenry the agoras, the squares, the collective discourse, etc.

Back in 2008, before the government and the population in general realized the problem of the housing speculation in Spain, the Plataforma d’Afectats de la Hipoteca (PAH, Platform for people affected by their mortgage) was created to weave a network of people with a common interest. The worst error then was staying in “maximalism”: remaning on the theoretical approach, on the macro approach, on raising awareness on the issue of evictions and personal debt… but not going into action, addressing specific issues, very concrete problems.

The new initiatives of the PAH then attacked several issues in the short, medium and long run, with plural strategies that would address both the macro and the micro levels, the economic crisis and the individual drama of a given citizen, etc.

The Platform succeeded in mobilizing people that had no experience in being mobilized and that did not even had the will to do it: instead of angry people aiming to fight for their rights, the Platform found devastated people being stigmatized by the society. The Platform provided a new mindset, a new context, and a new strategy to overcome the problem: instead of lamenting oneself, fighting for one’s legitimate rights.

Another success was empowering people: it is you that will solve your problems, not anyone else, not the Platform. But the PAH will empower you so that you are able to solve your own problems: no one will defend your case better than yourself. But by oneself does not mean alone, but, on the contrary, collectively and, above all, in a shared way.

All this activity has been done with almost no resources. The person that becomes empowered is reborn and helps others to go through the same process. High level politics can be done with almost no money.

A last resource for activism is civil disobedience. If a law is unjust, it is not only fair but a duty to fight the law back by disobeying it.

Besides civil disobedience, and in parallel, the mainstream way was also taken, by means of a popular legislative initiative. Of course no practical success came out of it, but two major successes came out of it: raising huge awareness on the topic and de-legitimizing the ones in the Parliament that were proven to be useless to citizen problems even if those were channelled within the system itself.

The main challenge is how to substitute the old mechanisms and institutions with new ones. There is a need for some form of organization: participative, non-hierarchical, democratic… but a form of organization in any case.


Q: changes, but towards which way? what scenario can be envisioned? Ada Colau: the horizon is not clear and, above all, we should not rush it. What is clear is that we have to open processes of debate and processes to design this new scenarios. And do not delegate these processes but, instead, be ourselves the main actors. Some urgent initiatives or issues to be addressed is fighting corruption, sanitizing institutions by changing their design (by changing the regulatory framework that shape them), etc.

Q: how do we design the communication strategy? what kind? Ada Colau: this is very difficult because mainstream media react depending on many factors. On the other hand, media tend to identify the movement with one spokesman or visible head. Thus, even if the movement plans a decentralized strategy based on a collective message, while the identification with a specific spokesman works for the movement, ok with it.

Arnau Monterde: how does the movement replicate? Ada Colau: empowerment is without any doubt the most important part of it. Notwithstanding, replication has been an issue from the very beginning: the movement should be able to be replicated, de-localized, decentralized, so that it became sustainable and could grow. Information, procedures, etc. have always been shared and socialized. The movement has taught not only the end users or the members, but also the professionals have been retaught in new ways of sharing their expertise and provide advice openly.

Ismael Peña-López: what is the legitimacy of a Platform such as the PAH to speak with other institutions? Ada Colau: first of all, elections have been proved not to legitimate parties, especially when they do not carry out their own political programmes. On the other hand, anyone can represent the defence of human rights: what the PAH does is to remember that human rights cannot be violated, and asking for respect for the human rights is a duty for everyone.


Institutions of the Post-democracy: globalization, empowerment and governance (2013)

Communication and Civil Society (V). The transformations of Civil Society in the Information and Knowledge Society

Notes from the Civil Society and Politics transformation in the Internet Age, organized by the Communication and Civil Society seminar of the IN3 in in Barcelona, Spain, in October 26-27, 2011. More notes on this event: comsc.

The transformations of Civil Society in the Information and Knowledge Society
Oscar Mateos (Ramon Llull University, chair), Joan Coscubiela (UOC-IN3), Gemma Galdón (UOC), Ada Colau (Plataforma d’Afectats per la Hipoteca).

Òscar Mateos

What are the big changes that we are facing? It is not an era of change, but a change of era, Joan Subirats. The 15M movement has put the spotlight on many ongoing dynamics that were working for the change. And, arguably, the ones that understand the 15M are part of it, and one can only be part of it if one understands the movement. There are new languages, platforms, ways to communicate, and that is part of the change too. And maybe these processes are the very true outcomes of the movement, and not what it is traditionally asked to a movement: an impact on institutions or the taking of power.

Joan Coscubiela

Our society is in a dire crisis, especially in our social organizations. And this crisis is boosted by technological change.

The relationships between economics and politics, and between corporations and unions have been altered, and the balance of power amongst these institutions has radically changed. Some reasons are that the habitat (the factory) has been radically transformed; the disappearance of the aggregation of interests due to the disaggregation of identities; the difficulty to build a collective identity upon which to leverage a movement.

The dismantlement of the factory, the dismantlement of the national economy, and the dismantlement of the nation-estate. The integrated factory becomes the networked enterprise. There are central workers and workers on the periphery.

There is also a crisis of the communication channels in traditional unions, based on the integrated Fordist factory and the assembly of workers.

All these crises are undoubtedly weakening the strength and even legitimacy of traditional trade unions. But, if this crisis of legitimacy will be especially tough in Anglo-Saxon unions (based on the firm or the factory, or European unions (based on the economic sector), it might be that Mediterranean-type unions (based on the notion of class, or of social equity) will have it more easy to regain legitimacy, even if a deep transformation is notwithstanding required.

The great opportunity for trade unions is how to leverage the power of ICTs to regain legitimacy to refund the forms of participation.

Gemma Galdón

With the coming of the Internet and the intensive use of social networking sites and similar tools make the medium become the message: the fact that the 15M movement is very live on the Internet is part of its very definition, of its DNA, and tells much on the nature and characteristics of the movement.

There is a qualitative leap in the way participation is understood: besides being present on a demonstration, being active on the Internet (gathering information, commenting, creating opinions, broadcasting messges, etc.) can be as much important as physical presence. Notwithstanding, either on the street or on the Internet, legitimacy comes not from the diffusion of information, but from being committed with the movement. Only commitment leads to legitimacy and reputation, and not only mere participation by being active on social networking sites.

The logic of expansion of social movements is no more centralized, but rhizomatic: it obeys to no traditional logics, especially cultural logics or logics of power.

Indeed, social movements of the past five years have detached themselves from the international political and economic agenda. Nowadays movements no more follow international leaders to their international meetings of the World Bank or the G8. Social movements increasing have their own agenda, and an agenda that is created and updated ad-hoc.

This change is partly due because information and the communication tools have been democratized to the limit. What is difficult now is opacity and non-transparency. Diffusion of information and ideas and calls to action are now cheap and fast. On the other hand, this is a double-edged sword: repression is now more easy than ever for the ones in power, as identification of individuals and collectives is immediate.

The problem is: are we making any impact? When the whole world protested against the second invasion of Irak, nothing happened. And, worst indeed, there does not seem to exist an alternative to the broken representative democracy.

The challenge is how to leverage the common sense we reconquered and turn it into a driver of change, based on new forms of political transformation.

Ada Colau

The new forms of participation not only surprised the traditional social movements, but also the newer ones, that became “obsolete” even if they were recent. These newer social movements were based on platforms that (a) focused on a specific issue and (b) acted as a helping collective so you could reach out (instead of a vertical organization where the individual helps the organization to reach out). These platforms had to transform into networks and the new ways to organized that the Internet and, especially, social networking sites made possible.

That was the case of V de Vivienda [H stands for Housing] in Spain, on of the seeds that afterwards would nourish the 15M Spanish Indignants movement. V de Vivienda was auto-convened and auto-organized, by means of SMSs and e-mails.

V de Vivienda succeeded in putting on the political agenda the housing bubble and the social and economic problems derived from it.

The answer from the political institutions to the movement was very shy and myopic. So, after all the energies poured into the movement, it does not seem be having much impact. What to do about it? How to keep on without being discouraged? The new strategy is increasingly being civil disobedience, so that a change in the Law is forced. But civil disobedience is individual, not collective, so the collective has to find ways to support the individuals that will enter civil disobedience (i.e. in the present case debated here, resistance to eviction and the movement helping people to resist evictions and, at last, stop them).

The network helped in building a critical mass around the issue of mortgages and evictions, as this is not a geographically concentrated problem, but quite a spread one.


Manuel Castells: one of the reasons of the crisis of trade unions is that they are part of the power, they come from a paternalistic way to understand society. And social movements are fighting just against that.

Manuel Castells: changes, real and structural changes need their time and own pace, and that that change begins with a change in the processes.

Ismael Peña-López: acknowledging the truth of the aforementioned statement, the problem is that people’s lives happen in the short run (evictions, unemployment subsidies have limited time spans in the range of months), and thus some milestones have to be achieved in the short run. This is especially true not only to protect the victims of economic crisis, but also to avoid the draining of energy of social movements, that can fade away and dissolve if anything tangible and concrete can be achieved (and this should be achieved without violence).

More information


Civil Society and Politics transformation in the Internet Age (2011)