While the central plazas of the cities of Spain are no longer occupied, in some places the momentum of May continues with force. Particularly in Barcelona, a dynamic struggle continues to evolve, including a heterogeneous and broad group of people in weekly neighborhood assemblies, protests, hospital occupations, road blockades, fights against mortgage evictions and housing repossessions, and solidarity demonstrations against the inevitable repression.
The neighborhood assemblies in particular form a strong backbone that holds up all the ongoing struggles. In about twenty neighborhoods throughout Barcelona, once a week, twenty to a hundred neighbors meet to discuss their problems, propose actions, and share news. Each assembly has a different structure, and members of each assembly gather periodically to share and coordinate between neighborhoods. Half a dozen neighborhoods had assemblies before May 15, and a couple assemblies even predate the September 2010 general strike, but the participation in these assemblies exploded after the beginning of the plaza occupations, and over a dozen new neighborhoods formed assemblies of their own.
These neighborhood assemblies are changing the face of the struggle in Barcelona, overcoming the isolation and separation of the various, pre-existing political ghettos, creating spaces of informal, intergenerational debate, gathering resources for propaganda and legal support, and preempting the isolation that is the express purpose of government repression. The neighborhood assemblies are directly responsible for at least part of the unprecedented turnout of nearly a thousand people taking the streets in a solidarity demonstration the same day that Catalan police began arresting protestors identified from the June Parliament blockade (see “Wave of Arrests Sweep Barcelona http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/10/10/crackdown-in-spain/). Since we’ve met our neighbors in the streets, we’re no longer alone, and the State can try to lock us up or wear us down, but they cannot isolate us.
What’s more, the neighborhood assemblies attack capitalist isolation and the enclosure of public space in the very act of meeting. Every neighborhood assembly is also an occupation that takes over a plaza, park, or street corner without permission, eroding legality and demonstrating that the city is ours. On countless occasions, neighborhood assemblies have blocked major streets as an act of protest (against a hospital closing, for example), or they have decided, almost whimsically, to hold their meeting in a large intersection and simply shut down traffic. In the feeder marches to major protests the people of a neighborhood have met to march all the way to the center, blocking every street along the way, even though they may only consist of forty people. And because of the greater social legitimacy enjoyed by the neighborhood assembly as opposed to some political faction or specific organization, the police have been hesitant to create problems because any repression would draw more people down into the streets. Temporarily, the neighborhood assemblies have negated government sovereignty in the streets; if the police ask whether marchers have a permit, they just get laughed at.