Our sphere of action over the last ten years has been rights associated with the Internet, Technology, and Digital Innovation. We believe there is no need to elaborate on this as our work is well known and respected in the city of Barcelona, in Catalonia, in Spain, and in Europe. Accordingly, if we pretended not to see what is happening now, we would be betraying our role as a watchdog body monitoring the institutions in the domain od digital rights.
In Barcelona and Catalonia, thanks to historic citizen-led struggles, great advances have been made in this area. We’re not just referring to the ten years of Xnet, Fcforum, Oxcars, etcetera. We don’t want to speak for others but would recall that, for exemple, Guifi.net is the world’s biggest free, open and neutral community/network or that Creative Commons Spain, the busiest section in Europe, has its headquarters in Barcelona.
Under the present government, initiatives in this area have been able to expand with new economic models led, for example, by the Barcola platform, and also in forms of participation. In the latter case, professionals have adapted the Decidim (We Decide) code and created a state-of-the art “machine” which is internationally recognised, but it is greatly underutilised in the municipal sphere.
However, at the level of policies strictly pertaining to the Internet and Digital Rights and, in fact, the general digital environment as today’s context of opportunities and freedoms, we can safely say that most of Los Comunes (the party ruling in Barcelona with the lema “Rebel city”) leaders who might read these lines don’t understand what we’re talking about. And this is a very serious matter, given the present major assault on the Internet, and the grave dangers for freedom of expression and freedoms in general which we are now facing in Catalonia and Spain. And it is also a very serious matter when they call themselves by a co-opted name which is one of the key words in the struggle for free culture: the commons.
The incompetence concealed by all the hoo-ha of previous governments about Smart Cities was criticised, but no less inept are present patronage networks whose flaky policies are being presented with much hot air and fanfare but with little understanding of what is at stake, and without listening to the active and informed organizations in the field. Instead, they are siphoning off possibilities from the already existing or nascent ecosystem of organised citizenry and channelling them into other, sterile places (or barren at least with regard to the common good). At the very minimum, this looks to us like top-down politics.
We don’t want to speak for others so we’ll talk about our own case. At the level of digital policies and rights, our recommendations are heeded in many institutions at the municipal level, in Catalonia, in Spain, and in Europe but, oddly enough, are not taken into account by the Commissioner for Technology and Digital Innovation in the Barcelona City Council. This doesn’t happen to us alone but also to the vast majority of other older and well-respected groups in the city which have been working in the field. The situation has been getting worse since we condemned instances of serious malpractice at a series of meetings with the Commissioner a year and a half ago.
This malpractice persists today, which is why we believe that it must be discussed in public. We have great respect for the integrity and solid reputations of people in Los Comunes with whom we have personally shared our activism, for example Ada Colau, Jaume Asens, Eloi Badia, Janet Sanz, and others. We trust that the City Council and the wider Comunes parties are not aware of what is happening. The City Council may be a competent administrator in several social domains but we know that, generally speaking, it is really incompetent in the sphere of Technology, Digital Innovation and the associated rights. In this field, the person in charge, Gerardo Pisarello, First Deputy Mayor who heads the area of Work, Economy and Strategic Planning but with very little knowledge of the digital sphere, has turned out to be easily and dangerously beguiled by bright promises and appearances, even though he has been warned about the situation.
What the Commissioner, Francesca Bria stands for—not what she says, which is wonderful, but what she does—is not only undesirable but, worse, it isn’t what she tells us it is. We hope that Los Comunes will wish to remedy this situation. We have therefore requested a meeting and have sent a letter to a large number of leaders of the three groups of Los Comunes in Barcelona, Catalonia, and the Spanish parliament asking for this meeting and, if necessary, a public debate.
We look forward to the response and, since this is our field of action and responsibility, we intend to address all the parties on this matter in order to set the situation to rights before the next elections.