Friday, September 16, 2016

Harvesting from deep roots: Alice's Garden grows carrots, confronts segregation, heals a community

Two miles northwest of downtown Milwaukee, 21st Street and West Garfield Avenue frame a small plot of publicly owned land. It’s called Alice’s Garden, named after Alice Meade-Taylor, the first African American director of the Milwaukee County Cooperative Extension. Here, crops push from the earth—corn and tomatoes, sunflowers and herbs—surrounded by wood chips, wheelbarrows, and tool sheds. At first glance, it might look like any other community garden.

But this two-acre tract, hemmed in by chain-link fencing, is about more than urban agriculture. It connects two essential movements in Milwaukee’s African American neighborhoods: Black Lives Matter, and a garden movement focused on healing a community traumatized by the racism, abandonment, and day-to-day realities of living in the country’s most segregated metropolitan region.

Jalanah Smith-Rainey, 10, playing in the garden on movie night. "That's my first time seeing a sunflower," she says.

The garden is in the 53205 ZIP code and just south of 53206, in an area where male employment hovers around 50 percent and more than 40 percent of residents live in poverty. In 2014, when the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a child welfare organization, ranked Wisconsin the worst state in the country to raise an African American child, that designation was driven largely by Milwaukee.
Barbara J. Miner
Alice’s Garden is not isolated from those struggles, but it provides some refuge from them—especially this summer, when the city experienced its most violent racial unrest in decades. Central to that sense of refuge is Venice Williams (pronounced “Venus,” as in the goddess of love and fertility), the garden’s modern-day steward and executive director.

But the story of Alice’s Garden is not just about Venice Williams, as she’d be the first to tell you. It’s a long tale about the land and who lives on it, about justice and injustice, and about the changing nature of a city that has been tormented in recent decades by a loss of industry, and joblessness, and racism.

It’s a cloudless Monday night in early August. Families gather at the garden, unfolding lawn chairs and spreading quilts as gardeners tend nearby plots: watering corn, picking peppers, weeding the peanut patch. Ning Thao, a Hmong gardener, is packaging green onions she’ll sell at a farmers’ market the next day. It’s the garden’s first Family Movie night—a screening of Disney’s Zootopia. The DJ plays a final song while children dance on the makeshift stage. And then, at sundown, Williams addresses the audience—a diverse crowd of people, many whom have never visited before.

Venice Williams.
“Who we are in Milwaukee, it’s here,” she says. “The garden is not just about growing food, but growing the health and wellness of our community.”

Five days later, her words will take on added importance. On Saturday August 13, Dominique Heaggan-Brown, a Milwaukee police officer, shoots Sylville Smith, a 23-year-old black man, after a traffic stop. The killing sets off the city’s worst racial unrest in half a century—angry crowds who will not be mollified, random gunfire, a squad car ransacked and burned, eight businesses torched.
One of the businesses is MJM Liquor. According to witnesses, shortly after 2 a.m., six cars stop at the store. Three or four people get out of each car; they burglarize the store, then set it on fire. The incident happens just three blocks from Alice’s Garden.

After urban farmer Will Allen won a MacArthur “genius” grant in 2008 for his work at Growing Power, Milwaukee became recognized for the strength of its agriculture movement, in which a new generation of green-thumb activists linked wholesome food to racial equality. For years, Alice’s Garden played a role in that mission. But after the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin—the 17-year-old black teenager whose death galvanized the Black Lives Matter movement—the garden pivoted.

“At that moment, when we chose to address that issue,” says Williams, “we turned a corner in terms of the purpose of Alice’s Garden.”

After George Zimmerman, Martin’s killer, was found not guilty in 2013, Williams hosted a showing of the film Fruitvale Station, which tells the true story of Oscar Grant, a black man who was fatally shot by an Oakland transit cop. The post-screening discussion featured an unorthodox twist: only the African American men in attendance were allowed to speak.

“For many of them, it was the first time they felt fully heard,” Williams told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “I’m still hearing from grown men about how powerful that night was for them.”

Meanwhile, gardening continues. There are 122 rental plots at Alice’s Garden, ranging from 8-by-16 feet for $15 a year, to 32-by-16 feet by $50 a year. The plots are rented by 90 different families or community groups, from youth groups to churches. Some gardeners are well past retirement age, some are teenagers. Some are gardening for the first time; others have been working land in one form or another for their entire lives.

A 54-year-old lay Lutheran minister with a theology degree from Valparaiso University in Indiana, Williams says her mandate includes the spiritual.

“We use gardening as the carrot, pun intended, to get people to walk through that gate,” she says. “But we want to impact their entire quality of life. We’re talking about physical health, spiritual health, and the health of the community as we deal with issues of social justice.”
Williams has expanded the garden’s programs to include an array of initiatives–from potluck dinners to yoga in the garden, music concerts, back-to-school clothing swaps, labyrinth walks, herbal apprenticeships, summer job programs for teens, batch cooking classes, and working with Marquette University on production of rice varieties able to withstand Wisconsin winters, including varieties from Africa. Williams estimates that last year, about 5,200 people visited or took part in programs at the garden. To complement the work done there, several years ago she started the Body and Soul Healing Arts Center, which operates year-round at a former Lutheran church.

With predominantly African American heritage but also some Choctaw through her great-grandmother, Williams feels a particular connection and responsibility to the land at Alice’s Garden. “The complexity of this piece of land, I don’t even try to explain it,” she says. “But it’s very real to me.”

Talk to her for more than a few minutes and it’s clear that land, history and ancestors are ever-present forces in Williams’s life. She’ll often tell a story, jumping back and forth through time to eventually make her point. Take for instance, the story of her daughter’s name, Sojourner.

Williams grew up in Pittsburgh and in the summer she would visit relatives in Battle Creek, Michigan. “Going to Battle Creek was like watching paint dry, and one summer, I think I was ten or eleven, I told my aunt I was bored,” she says. Her aunt gave her a book to read, the autobiography of Sojourner Truth, the abolitionist and women’s rights activist. “When my aunt came back later that day, she found the book on the kitchen table and asked why I hadn’t read it,” she says. “I told her I’d already finished it.” A few days later, Williams’s aunt took her to Sojourner Truth’s grave in Battle Creek. “After I saw that grave, I said, ‘If I ever have a girl, I will name her Sojourner.’”

From a mural at Alice's Garden.

The modern-day story of Alice’s Garden began in 1832, when the defeat of Sauk leader Black Hawk signaled the end of armed Native resistance in what is now Wisconsin. In 1833, the Treaty of Chicago turned over Native lands to the U.S. federal government, allowing white settlers to move into the region.

One key moment started early on the cold and grey morning of December 4, 1834. Samuel Brown and two companions took a narrow Native American trail north from what is now Chicago, reaching a trading post in what is now downtown Milwaukee four days later. Brown was one of the first white settlers in southern Wisconsin and became a leading figure in the growing Milwaukee settlement. Among his holdings was a farm on the city’s outskirts, on land that today is the home of Alice’s Garden.

Brown made another mark on history. On July 4, 1842, Caroline Quarlls, a 16-year-old fugitive slave from Saint Louis, reached Milwaukee, having traveled by steamboat and stagecoach. But bounty hunters were on her trail and she knew she had to continue to Canada. To elude her captors, on her final day in Milwaukee she was hidden in a barrel. A deacon in the Presbyterian Church and a deeply religious man, Brown picked up the barrel and took Quarlls to his farm for safekeeping. The next evening he hid her in his wagon and they set out for a farm in Pewaukee, several hours away. Weeks later, guided from one abolitionist home to the next, Quarlls arrived in Sandwich, Ontario. Hers was the first documented case of a runaway slave reaching freedom via Wisconsin’s Underground Railroad.

Over time, the land changed. Cities swelled across the country, and Milwaukee grew up, too. Brown’s farm was swallowed by development. German immigrants dominated the neighborhood for many decades, but that changed with the Great Migration of southern black people to the industrial north. Though Milwaukee’s Great Migration was several decades behind Chicago’s and Detroit’s, it no less shaped the city. In 1930, black residents were less than 2 percent of the city’s population. Today, they make up about 40 percent of the city’s roughly 600,000 people. Predatory housing and real estate practices have long restricted the African American population to certain neighborhoods, including where Brown’s farm had been.

In the 1960s and 70s, African American communities bore the brunt of eminent domain policies and an “urban renewal” effort to bring a network of freeways to Milwaukee. In the 1960s, a north-south freeway tore in half the historic Bronzeville neighborhood. Then plans were developed for a downtown freeway heading northwest—right through what had been Brown’s farm. Homes were demolished, trees razed and an entire neighborhood destroyed—all for a freeway project that in 1972 was ultimately abandoned. The empty lots, however, remained.

After the abandoned freeway project, Milwaukee County maintained ownership of the razed land. Alice’s Garden was inaugurated in 1972, but like much of the central city it was an afterthought, given minimal attention and funding. Then Venice Williams entered the picture.

Williams came to Milwaukee on a summer internship in 1988, thinking she would ultimately move on to work in Africa. But, like her stories, her life is ever unfolding. “There is nothing about my life that has ever been linear and I hope there never will be,” she says.

She became involved in the garden about 12 years ago through her husband Demetrius Brown, a Milwaukee native whose family came to the city during the Great Migration. Brown works with urban teens as part of 4-H Youth Development for Milwaukee County, affiliated with the University of Wisconsin-Extension, and had a project at the garden.

“That first year I came in thinking I would plant right away,” Williams says. “I saw these tall mounds in the corner, and I thought it was soil. But it was trash. So that first year all I did was deal with those mounds and apologize to the land for its condition.”

Gardener Shu Yang tends to her corn crop. 

Beyond Williams’s vision and drive, the garden’s transformation is due to two main factors: the support of Lutheran churches, and a public-private initiative to transform the 13-acre Milwaukee County Johnsons Park, of which Alice’s Garden is the northwest tip.

“This place would not exist without Lutheran money,” Williams says of the garden, ticking off a list of Lutheran-funded projects, from the porta-potty to the yoga instructor.

The development of Johnsons Park, meanwhile, was made possible through a $3.2 million project that began in 2009, spearheaded by the Wisconsin-based Center for Resilient Cities. Almost half a million dollars went into Alice’s Garden. Trees were planted, running water installed, and basic infrastructure built: picnic tables and shelters, tool sheds, and a cyclone fence.

In the early evening of Thursday, August 18—four days after Milwaukee’s violent unrest and two days before another potentially tumultuous weekend—women of various ages and races gather at Alice’s Garden for a full moon ceremony and campout. The evening was billed to pay homage to fertile crops and “to honor the fullness within.”  But the week’s events have forced a shift in tone and focus. “We need healing,” Williams says.

A burned-out gas station from the Sherman Park protests.

The almost three-hour ceremony involves a range of spiritual and cleansing rituals, many of them based in Native American traditions and all with an emphasis on renewal and forgiveness. The formal activities end with a potluck dinner.

Shortly before 10 p.m., the full moon makes its way above tree line, its rays forming soft shadows. The sounds of basketballs bouncing at a nearby playground mix with the chirps of crickets. People break into various small groups–some teens make chalk drawings, some women linger over the campfire, a few lay out sleeping bags while others, especially the older women, head home.

I find myself sitting next to Linetta Davis, a 41-year-old African American woman who is dean of students at a Milwaukee middle school. Neither of us is sure if we will stay the night, but we’re not in a hurry. Perhaps it’s the residual effects of the ceremony, perhaps it’s the stillness of the moon. But Davis takes her time explaining how she became involved in the garden, showing little hesitation even though she and I are strangers.

Davis goes back about a decade with Williams, first working with her on a program for African American young men, “Safe in My Brothers’ Arms.” She admits that gardening “is not my thing,” but her 8-year-old daughter, Zora, loves Alice’s Garden. Davis is also a member of The Table, a “first-century-style community in the twenty-first century” that is based at the garden and recently became part of the Lutheran Greater Milwaukee Synod.

I ask Davis to describe the garden’s essence. She pauses before answering. “This is the only place in the city, honestly, where our differences aren’t that prominent,” she says. “And I’m not talking from a color-blind perspective … You can’t ignore race. But it’s not the first thing that enters your mind when you come here.”

“This is almost like an oasis,” she continues. “I wouldn’t just come to this neighborhood and hang out at night. I wouldn’t do that within a two-mile radius of this place. But here, it’s safe.”
We continue talking, and a few minutes later we hear gunshots. Not particularly loud, and not particularly close. But clearly gunshots. I pretend to ignore them. Davis doesn’t.

“Like right now, we’re in this oasis and we’ve just heard gunshots. The contrast is …” Her voice trails off. “I don’t know how to articulate that.”

We talk a few minutes more. “You know,” she says as our conversation ends, “you can come here and forget about the chaos. Even if it’s just for one night.”

Williams, meanwhile, is looking not just to heal the present but to also build the future. What would she like to see at the garden in 5, 10, 20 years? “Oh my god,” she begins, then rattles off a wish-list: a year-round educational facility, food trucks, year-round jobs at the garden, more gardens on empty lots from the never-built freeway, the garden as a tool to revitalize the neighborhood, to build a less-segregated Milwaukee.

But Williams also knows that, as in the past, the land will be shaped by events impossible to predict. The garden, she says, “will always be available to meet the needs of the community. It’s that simple.”

This article was originally published in The New Food Economy on September 13, 2016. 

Friday, September 2, 2016

Homage to Barcelona

At a time when much of Europe is confronting rightwing parties that toy with fascism, hopeful eyes are on Spain—and Barcelona is ground zero.

Ada Colau, it has been suggested, is the world’s most radical mayor. She came to prominence via a video-gone-viral when she called a leading Spanish banker a criminal during a parliamentary hearing and, chastised, refused to back down. An activist from the anti-eviction movement, Colau last year became the first woman mayor of Barcelona last year, one of the world’s most glorious cities.
Part of what makes Colau distinct is her focus on linking democracy, urban revitalization, and global transformation. “[T]he best place to start this democratic, citizen revolution is from the bottom up, from our towns and cities,” she wrote shortly before her election on May 24, 2015. “But many of our concerns, like rising inequalities and a professional political class tainted by corruption, are shared by people in cities all over Europe and much of the rest of the world.”

Colau and her allies in city hall came out swinging, not only defending public schools and public health services but also taking on new battles. Faced with an out-of-control tourism boom, they declared a moratorium on new hotels and hostels. They fined banks that had left apartments empty for more than two years. In a city still recovering from the financial collapse of 2008, they promoted housing, public subsidies, and debt reductions for families facing eviction.
Along with other radical mayors, including Madrid’s mayor, the 42-year-old Colau has become a leading figure in the global movement against privatization, austerity, and corruption. At a time when much of Europe is confronting rightwing parties that toy with fascism, hopeful eyes are on Spain—and Barcelona is ground zero.
The Barcelona City Hall
“We’re living in extraordinary times that demand brave and creative solutions,” Colau said in noting the anniversary of her election. “If we’re able to imagine a different city, we’ll have the power to transform it.”

In a story about Barcelona, it is tempting to focus on Colau. But the power lies with Barcelona en Comú (Barcelona for All), a “citizens movement” that ran candidates on a common platform and has a slim plurality on the Barcelona city council.
Nationally, the forces coalescing around Barcelona en Comú have found expression in the political party Podemos (Yes We Can). Formed in 2014 by university professors and researchers, Podemos was an unexpected force in national elections last December, breaking the dominance of the two Spanish parties that, roughly, can be compared to the Republicans and Democrats. Elections in June, called to break the political stalemate after December, saw a slight resurgence for the center-right party. It was not enough, however, for the center-right to form a parliamentary majority, leaving Spain’s political direction still in flux.
Barcelona en Comú has now been in power for a year, with the thrill of victory tempered by the complexities of governing. Right now, there are more questions than answers.
What happens when radicals seasoned in street protests suddenly occupy the halls of power? What is the balance between overseeing a city of 1.6 million and staying true to the democratic yearnings that brought one to power? Can Barcelona en Comú deliver on its promise of a transparent and participatory democracy?

At the end of a “gap year” of travel to study public sector movements in various countries, my husband Bob and I settled into Barcelona for two months. While in Barcelona, I re-read Homage to Catalonia, George Orwell’s classic on the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39.
Upon arriving in Barcelona, Orwell was struck by the city’s egalitarian ethos: “Every shop and cafe had an inscription saying that it had been collectivized . . . . Waiters and shop walkers looked you in the face and treated you as an equal . . . . Above all, there was a belief in the revolution and the future, a feeling of having suddenly emerged into an era of equality and freedom.”
The Spanish Civil War did not end well for the revolutionaries, and the military dictatorship of Francisco Franco remained in power until the mid-1970s. The right wing kept a tight grip, from outlawing leftwing parties to labeling strikes as military rebellion.
I thought of Orwell in one of my first interviews with young activists known as “Los Indignados” (The Outraged), or the 15-M Movement. The labels refer to the social protests that erupted on May 15, 2011, demanding an end to the austerity and massive youth unemployment that had stifled the hopes of an entire generation. Spain’s overall unemployment at the time was 23 percent, the highest in the developed world; nearly half of young people under 25 didn’t have a job. Evictions in Spain, meanwhile, had reached an all-time high. More important, however, 15-M went beyond individual issues and asked an all-important question: What’s not working? The unifying answer, for both the younger and more seasoned activists: our democracy.
I had initially surmised that Franco had stamped out Barcelona’s egalitarian ethos. Or, if not Franco, the hyper-individualistic culture of consumer capitalism. I was wrong.

The Can Vies community center.
When we visited Can Vies, a building “occupied” by young activists and used as a community center, I wanted to set up interviews and asked for a spokesperson. I was all but laughed at, albeit with no hint of malice. “No one is the main person, we are all equal,” I was told.
It was a response I received consistently while talking to occupiers, anti-eviction activists, neighborhood organizations, even lawyers. At the grassroots level, the principal form of decision-making in Barcelona is through “assemblies” that focus on consensus and egalitarianism. They are grounded in a commitment to a “participatory democracy” that goes beyond the right to elect political representatives. Participatory democracy is seen as a counterweight to top-down decision-making, which limits popular input and allowed the corruption that ran rampant within Spain’s traditional parties.
I admit, I was a skeptical about the assemblies. I had been in too many meetings in the United States that claimed to honor consensus but in fact were controlled by those who were the best, or the loudest, debaters. But I also knew that across the globe, the problem is too little democracy, not too much. I decided to see how an assembly worked.

It is 6:30 p.m. on a beautiful spring evening in a working-class neighborhood of Barcelona. Inside what seems to be a former garage, some seventy-five people sit on white plastic chairs arranged in concentric circles. The attendees are of all ages, including a few babies. About half are women.
It is the weekly decision-making meeting of the Platform for People Affected by Mortgages, known by its acronym PAH. The group was started by Colau and other activists in Barcelona in 2009 and now with chapters throughout Spain.
It’s unclear who is in charge—there’s no podium or table with official-looking people. A bearded young man passes around a hand-held microphone to whomever wants to speak, and a woman stands in front of a white board with the agenda. Neither intervene in the discussion and instead act as facilitators.
There’s no Robert’s Rules of Order, no formal votes. Confused at first, I soon realize there is an unwritten formality. If you agree with the speaker, you raise your hand and wave. If you really agree, you raise both hands. If lots of people raise their hands, it’s taken as agreement. The woman at the white board gathers the sense of the crowd, and when appropriate moves to the next topic.
I am impressed with the group’s patience and respect. No one dominates and speakers generally keep their remarks short; those who don’t will find the crowd rolling their hands, the signal to move on. What I feared might be an endless succession of people enjoying the sound of their voice turned out to be impressively efficient, through a process honed by years of practice.
In the main presentation, a lawyer discussed strategy for an upcoming eviction trial, including what public demonstrations might be best. PAH wanted to ensure that people supported the decisions. After an hour of discussion there was no agreement and a special meeting was set for a week later.
Afterward, I ask about this. Why would a lawyer publicly discuss strategy? What if the other side found out?
“We want to train people not just to resist, but to learn the law and be involved in our strategies,” explains Elisa Miralles, a thirty-six-year-old PAH lawyer. “We believe it’s important to give power back to people, to let them know they are not alone but part of a community.”
The assembly I attended lasted just over three hours. Such decision-making assemblies are held every Tuesday and on every other Friday, with usually fifty to seventy people, according to Miralles. There are also support and informational meetings, held weekly.
It’s easy to romanticize the social movements of Barcelona. But they rest on countless hours of involvement by thousands of people willing to not only take to the streets but also sit in meetings and hammer out platforms, strategies, and tactics. Participatory democracy requires significant grassroots participation. 

Kate Shea Baird, with dual British and Irish citizenship, came to Barcelona as a twenty-two-year-old in 2008, expecting to stay six months. Eight years later, she is still there. Her day job is with an NGO on urban issues. Her free time is consumed with volunteering for Barcelona en Comú, where she facilitates  the international committee and is also part of its overall coordinating committee. She was drawn to the group after attending a presentation.
“Like many people, I had never been involved in electoral politics,” Baird says. “For the first time, I identified with a political project. It was the right people, the right time, the right place.”
Baird and I meet at one of the Barcelona’s ubiquitous and charming cafes. Dressed in a black leather jacket, black skirt, tights, and boots, with her hair cropped shoulder-length, she looks as if she would be equally comfortable in Barcelona, Brooklyn, or London.
Barcelona en Comú, she tells me, uses a neighborhood-based structure, with residents in different areas meeting, organizing, and electing representatives to a forty-person coordinating committee. A ten-person executive committee makes day-to-day decisions.
About 1,700 active members regularly volunteer, attend assemblies, and are involved in decision-making. About 10,000 members take part in major votes. The first and most important was on the electoral platform and code of ethics for the 2015 elections, which went through months of drafts, discussions, and in-person debates before an online vote. The membership also voted this May to broaden the governing coalition to include a left-centrist party.
I ask about lessons learned after a year in power. For Baird, the main tension is between being a movement and being in government. “We’re used to being activists and having a confrontational relationship with power,” she says. “There is this fine line between having an activist critical spirit, but also supporting the people on the front line dealing with the political opposition and with the media.”
One of the challenges is that Barcelona en Comú won the election, but barely. It has a plurality of eleven of forty-one city council members, and governs through a coalition with other left parties. “This has limited the capacity for our councilors to be on the street and neighborhoods, where they want to be,” Baird says. “We are spread very thin.”
At one point, Baird stops me as I am about to ask another question. Her body language makes clear it is important.
“I think it’s great we have the first woman mayor, but sometimes that can happen as an anomaly,” she tells me. “But if you look at any area of Barcelona en Comú, women are on the front line. Feminism not just a political philosophy, but a way of doing things.”

Barcelona graffiti
Child care is provided at Barcelona en Comú assemblies. Women make up at least half of all members of various committees. Six of Barcelona en Comú’s eleven city council members are women. When the coordinating committee noticed that the men were speaking more than women, “We started to experiment with mechanisms to help prevent that.”
A recent publication by Barcelona en Comú on how to build a citizen’s movement declares: “It’s essential that there is a gender balance in all areas of work from the very beginning. A revolution that isn’t feminist isn’t worthy of the name.”
With his gray hair, corduroy sports jacket and button-down shirt, Xavier Riu Sala is not likely to be mistaken as a youth activist. But the sixty-one-year-old former teacher symbolizes an important link between the 15-M movements and Barcelona’s long history of neighborhood activism.
More than three decades ago, Riu helped found an association in his Esquerra de l’Eixample[1]  neighborhood. But over time, he notes, the group “became a little lazy. It became unclear how to move forward.” Then the 15-M movements erupted.
In some neighborhoods, the two movements did not mesh well. Not so in Esquerra de l’Eixample, thanks in part to people such as Riu.
One example of disparate forces working together in l’Eixample involves a 5,500-square-meter plot of land known as Germanetes, formed after a Little Sisters of the Poor convent was torn down in 2003. The city bought the land, promising a neighborhood park, school, and elderly housing. But nothing happened. After the 15-M movements, the young people had had enough talk and were planning an occupation.
Riu knew many of the young people; they had been his students. He reached out, and before long they were meeting weekly at a nearby cafe. The combined pressure of the neighborhood association and the young people worked, and development plans moved forward.
The project has two finished components. One section is self-managed by the 15-M activists and includes gardens, a geodesic dome for meetings and performances, and a rock-climbing wall. The second section, known as Jardins D’Emma, is overseen by the city. It opened in May and includes everything from a children’s playground to a dog park, gardens, and ping-pong tables. The groups are negotiating with the mayor’s office to co-manage the park, with decisions subject to neighborhood control.
Plans are also in the works in Esquerra de l’Eixample for “Superblocks,” each covering nine square blocks. Within each “Superblock,” car traffic would be channeled to the perimeters to allow more green space and pedestrian walkways. Plans also include renewable energy and urban agriculture projects.
There are two main types of struggle in Barcelona, Riu tells me. One are the unions, neighborhood groups, and traditional parties, mostly involving older people. The other are social movements that have sprung up in the last five to ten years, mostly involving youth.
“In this neighborhood, we worked together,” says Riu. “And when you work together, you have power.”

In Homage to Catalonia, Orwell writes about “breathing the air of equality.” He admitted there was much he did not understand about the complicated politics of the anarchists and communists, and some things he did not like. “[B]ut I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for . . . . Human beings were trying to behave as human beings and not as cogs in the capitalist machine.”
Despite Franco’s victory, Orwell’s views did not change: “Curiously enough the whole experience has left me with not less but more belief in the decency of human beings.”
It is unclear how the 21st century people’s movements in Barcelona will end, and it is only natural there will be ebbs and flows. But Barcelona demonstrates that it is the struggle, not just the victory, that defines who we are as citizens.
This article was first printed in The Progressive September 2016 issue. Special thanks to Bob Peterson for his help with the article.