Four years ago Spain's “Indignados” protesters were pounding the streets of Barcelona, one of Spain's top tourist destinations. Soon they could be pacing the corridors of power.
In a municipal election on Sunday, the movement that made front pages worldwide is aiming to elect the first “Indignada” mayor in a big Spanish city: Ada Colau, 41.
She is one of numerous activists who joined in protests that swept Spain from 2011 — credited with inspiring the Occupy movement in New York and elsewhere — and who are now running for office themselves on May 24.
Polls show she may win the vote in Spain's second-biggest city as leader of protest party Barcelona En Comu (Barcelona in Common).
She wants to make the northeastern city a beacon of change in a country fed up with corruption after three decades of two-party rule.
“We can win in Barcelona,” Colau told AFP. “It is the spearhead of democratic change in Spain and southern Europe.”
The latest poll by the Catalan regional government placed Colau's party in first place with nearly 26 percent of the vote, though she would need to make an alliance with other groups to govern the city.
Her party is a blend of left-wing alternative groups in a city with a history of progressive politics and protest dating at least to the early 20th century.
It includes members of Podemos, the left-wing party that has shot to prominence nationwide, campaigning against the ruling elite.
Barcelona in Common “sums up that whole tradition of social activism in the city”, said Jordi Munoz, a political scientist at Barcelona University.
Barcelona is one of Spain's economic motors and its second most populous city, with 1.6 million inhabitants.
But it is also stricken by inequality, with 30 percent of the population classed as being at risk of poverty.
“Barcelona is a rich city. Lots of money changes hands here. But in the past four years the gap between the richest 10 percent and the poorest has grown by 40 percent,” said Colau.
“A city with such inequality is at risk of breaking apart, with conflict and insecurity.”
Colau herself rose to prominence as leader of a group campaigning against the evictions of poor families ruined in the economic crisis.
She proposes to turn empty homes into social housing, set a minimum wage of 600 euros ($671) and make utility companies lower the price of water, gas and electricity.
More controversially, she also wants to ease the pressure related to the 27 million tourists the city gets each year — many of them drunk and rowdy and lodged in unregulated rented apartments that activists say make life hell for locals.
And she wants a better deal for local people from major events staged in Barcelona such as the Formula 1 Grand Prix and the Mobile World Congress telecom fair.
'Indignado' wake-up call
The party presented its political programme in a rally in April in Nou Barris, Barcelona's poorest district.
“People are really fed up here,” said Federico Soriguer, a 38-year-old technician, at the rally.
“We have more evictions than anyone. Unemployment is through the roof. People are struggling to make ends meet and have to go to soup kitchens,” he said.
“That is why people are daring to make radical proposals.”
Like Podemos, Barcelona in Common have been branded as mere populists. Their rival in the race for mayor, the incumbent Xavier Trias of the conservative Catalan nationalist party CiU, says their policies will damage Barcelona economically.
But their message resonated in Nou Barris, where per-capita income is 57 percent the city average.
“We used to be indignant citizens. Now we are citizens with awareness, and we will take power at the polls,” said another supporter at the rally, Manuel Garcia, a retired train driver of 74.
He says he has not voted since the 1990s because the candidates “were all corrupt”. But on Sunday he plans to turn out to vote for Barcelona in Common
“The Indignados have woken me up,” he said.
By Daniel Bosque / AFP