New municipalism’s approach to political processes
How can we make our organisations more democratic? How can we make our work and activism more inclusive in practice? How can we, as activists, practitioners, educators, citizens, members of movements and organisations ensure that we implement feminist values at work and in our everyday lives? These questions have been on the minds of leftists and feminists for a long time and have been addressed in depth by the municipalist movement, which has developed practices designed to democratise politics and thereby put feminism centre stage. This publication offers insights into what the movement has learnt and presents a set of tried-and-tested tools based on its political experience, a toolkit that can be adopted, adjusted and implemented by like-minded organisations, movements and activists.
A few years ago, when the municipalist wave swept through major cities, especially in Spain, inspiring ‘rebel’ or ‘fearless’ cities in many countries, left-wing movements and actors held their breath. In the aftermath of the economic crisis and ensuing imposition of harsh austerity measures, whilst elsewhere the (far) right was racking up huge gains by making scapegoats of the poorest and most vulnerable members of society, here was a progressive, positive, constructive movement effectively responding to a system that had failed countless societies. Municipalism harnessed together a wide array of local struggles for solidarity in a bid to shape the agenda and radically transform politics. And it succeeded in winning elections! Since then, the municipalist movement’s radical participatory programme has revitalised discussion on the left about what democracy can look like in practice, and new municipalism has become an arena for practising feminism. This should come as no surprise, for feminism is on new municipalists’ political agenda in the form of attempts to feminise politics. Municipalists’ critique of institutions mirrors many aspects of the feminist critique of liberal democracy. Indeed, their emphasis on empathy, care, togetherness, sharing, empowerment and non-violence represents a veritable paradigm shift in political culture, a progressive step that feminists have been trying to take for a long time.
New municipalism’s approach to political processes enables us to see politics as a realm that can serve to create communities, empowering people to take care of themselves, their peers and others. It provides extensive food for thought on our own practices, biases and unacknowledged assumptions, with inbuilt mechanisms designed to prevent reproducing stereotypical divisions of labour and responsibility. This outlook derives from an understanding that political activism focused on mutuality, social justice, equality and plurality has to be based on practices that implement these values. In addition, municipalism views power as a positive, creative force for overcoming local, economic, patriarchal and racist prejudices and other forms of domination and exploitation.Although municipalism comes in various forms, its variants share key commonalities. On the whole, the approach asks important questions and, aligned to varying needs, develops dynamic, practicable answers. Among many other things, it asks how political institutions (including leadership within our own organisations, for example) could be designed to ensure the participation of disadvantaged and/or marginalised and excluded groups. It also asks how we can prevent co-optation and avoid succumbing to the rationales of existing institutions and external structures, for example when competing in elections or when cooperating with others. It asks how we can create structures of community that enable responsibility to be shared and us to look after ourselves, others and each other. It also asks how we can make certain that our own interactions and communication do not end up excluding specific groups. And it asks how we can use our own resources more efficiently without falling back on stereotypical divisions of labour or exhausting ourselves.
At our foundation, the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung, we believe there are many lessons to learn from the municipalist experience, not just for political platforms, but – crucially – for activists, social movements and organisations everywhere. Over the past five years or so, ‘new municipalists’ have experimented with different political practices, trying to make political decision-making include groups that tend to steer clear of politics or are less vociferous, and also attempting to radically transform politics, not so much in terms of devising specific policies, but focusing more on the political process.
For this publication, activists from the movement joined forces to share and discuss the experiences of six cities, which should help to clarify the raison d’être of the measures proposed in the toolkit. They reflect on the obstacles, challenges, contradictions and limitations they faced and crucially on ways of overcoming them. Their input invites us to reflect on our own organisations and think about ourselves. Many scenarios will be familiar to readers and thus constitute excellent starting points for trying to adopt ideas taken from the toolkit. Of course, this is but one contribution to the debate about the feminisation of politics, fueling a dialogue that has only just begun. We therefore thank all the women* involved in developing the toolkit for their openness and willingness and for enabling us to engage in their process, learn from it and build on it.
Foreword by Ada Regelmann & Vera Bartolomé