"I've got to say, it makes me uncomfortable that most of these community organizations receive so much funding from the city government," I confessed to Victor Giménez as we sat at a cafe outside his office early Friday morning.
"I’ve seen this kind of funding derail the mission of an organization. Sooner or later, the group becomes more accountable to their financial backers than the people they exist to serve.”
Prodding a step further, I asked Victor: “What happens if the government threatens to take away that money unless the community organization does what they want it to?"
He gave me a puzzled look, his shoulder-length curly brown hair framing a serious face. It was as if I had asked him why pedestrians don’t try to stare down oncoming cars in the notoriously belligerent Barcelona traffic.
"Here,” he replied simply, “the government knows that if it threatens to take away money from the community, there will be thousands of people in the street tomorrow to get it back."
I stared at him in silence for a moment, trying to decide if he was exaggerating or just extremely optimistic. But he was earnest. And as he sat there our the growing silence, not showing any need to elaborate further, the possibility dawned on me slowly, that maybe for him, this was a simple fact. In his world, if people thought something was wrong, it was only expected that they go grab their neighbors and do something about it.
Victor Giménez is the Lead Coordinator The Solidarity Economy Network of Barcelona (XES Barcelona). The entities that make up this network include cooperatively owned businesses, mutual aid societies, community-owned banks, and community-managed facilities (like La Lleialtat Santsenca). They come together in a single entity as XES Barcelona to promote an economy aimed at community wellbeing, ecological sustainability, and satisfying the needs of people over profit.
Collectively, these entities amount to 10% of Barcelona’s overall economic activity and they provide roughly 8% of the city’s jobs. XES Barcelona is also part of the larger Solidarity Economy Network of Catalonia which spans the entire region. They leverage this power through everything from public policy to marches and protests. So, as the coordinator for all this, Victor was the perfect person to help me gain insight into the rise and fall of social movements and community issues across his City.
But, nonetheless, my first reaction to his statement was doubt. “Sounds great in theory,” I thought, “but either he’s talking about this kind of mobilization in the abstract or he’s exaggerating.”
So I asked for an example. The story he shared is one we would all do well to remember:
In the early 2010s, the City Council of Barcelona set their sights on demolishing a community-managed center called Can Vies as part of an attempt to increase property value in the working-class neighborhood of Sants.
Officially known as “The Can Vies Social Service Center,” this entity was originally formed in 1997 when a group of young people from the neighborhood had occupied a city-owned building to protest a lack of public facilities. It quickly grew to become an important hub for the neighborhood, instigating community activities, running a thriving food pantry, and providing support to many in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.
On May 26, against the express wishes of the community, the City Council issued a demolition order for the Center and immediate eviction of all residents.