Alternative projects have an important role to play in The Art of Organising Hope, but so do alternative media. Many of the movements we spoke to in Barcelona advised us to pay a visit to the independent Catalan newspaper and news site La Directa. Getting in touch with La Directa wasn’t that easy. But after a few days, the eagerly awaited text message arrived with the address where we would be able to interview a journalist the next day.
On Monday 17 July, we are standing at the entrance to the editor’s office at 10:30 a.m. prompt, as arranged. The doors are open, as if everyone is welcome to walk in. There are already a few editors sitting at their computers inside. Jesús Rodríguez, the editor we have arranged to meet, isn’t there yet, but we are assured he will be arriving any minute.
That gives us the chance to take a look at the bookshop next door. It turns out to be a cooperative bookshop selling socially committed books on all kinds of subjects, from feminism, anarchism and other ideologies, climate and obscure fanzines to Catalan literature and alternative educational books for children. We couldn’t believe our eyes. Besides books, the shop also sells hip fair-trade T-shirts, bags and dresses, made by a neighbourhood cooperative of Moroccan and Latin American seamstresses.
The young bookseller tells us he makes a good living with the shop, and that he is also active in a local cooperative called “La Ciudad Invisible”, The Invisible City.
We buy a few inspiring books and magazines for The Art of Organising Hope project and can’t resist a T-shirt and bag either. At that very moment, Rodríguez comes into the shop and takes us to a nearby café terrace on a square for the interview. We hurry to bag the last free table in the shade, because the sun is already beating down fiercely again today.
“Besides a network of citizen journalists, they regularly exchange articles with other alternative media locally and abroad as well.”
La Directa is a Catalan media organisation that spreads the news both in print and online. It has already been around for eleven years, Rodríguez tells us. They do not receive subsidies: their only income comes from subscriptions and advertising. That is enough at present to afford eleven permanent staff. They also have an extensive network of correspondents who provide news and updates on a voluntary basis. Besides a network of citizen journalists, they regularly exchange articles with other alternative media locally and abroad as well.
Every two weeks, readers receive a copy of the newspaper through their door; the articles can be read online behind a paywall. La Directa has about 2,300 subscribers, including many social movements and cooperatives in Catalonia.
Social movements in Spain and around the world are the most important sources of news for La Directa, Rodríguez emphasises. They are usually voices that don’t get much airtime on mainstream media in Spain. La Directa’s intention is not just to inform people about who, what and when, but above all to focus on why and how.
“La Directa acts as a kind of catalyst”, Rodríguez claims. Besides news from social movements, investigative journalism is also an important part of La Directa’s work. In those articles, their main aim is to expose abuses of power in politics and conflicts of interest between politics and big business. “That sort of news is not easy for the mainstream media to cover, for fear of offending their major advertisers,” Rodríguez says.
“If the scandals La Directa exposes cause a huge commotion on social media, the mainstream feels obliged to cover the story as well. In this way, La Directa has brought several scandals to light”
But it is news that seldom goes unnoticed among mainstream media channels. After all, if the scandals La Directa exposes cause a huge commotion on social media, the mainstream feels obliged to cover the story as well. In this way, La Directa has brought several scandals to light in Catalonia that have led to major debates in the mainstream and even to court cases.
A good example of investigative journalism like this is the story they ran on infiltrations of social movements ordered by the police. The editors found out that the police were bribing young people to infiltrate social movements. The young people passed on information to the police about members and the movements’ activities. In exchange, the police gave them money, free holidays and help finding a nice place to live. La Directa itself got someone to infiltrate these young people, which enabled it to gather evidence in the form of recorded conversations and the like. When La Directa exposed the scandal, the mainstream media were unable to ignore it and legal proceedings are now underway.
Confrontation with the police
The role that La Directa plays in the fight for social change also means that the editors regularly bear the brunt of heavy-handed responses from the police. Rodríguez shows us his ring finger: the top joint is crooked. “A police officer broke it when he was trying to restrain me during a demonstration in the street”, Rodríguez says. Confrontations with the police usually only happen on the street though, and the editors are otherwise left alone. However, the police did once break all the windows in their office. It had to do with a specific publication that Rodríguez cannot talk about in detail.
But it is not like in Latin America, where being a critical journalist puts you at risk of your life, Rodríguez emphasises. And although La Directa has received official complaints, it has succeeded in overturning all of them up to now.
“The mainstream media tries to make us believe that there is nothing we can do, that everything is settled and that there is no hope for the future. […] But we can.”
Is Rodríguez hopeful about the future, we ask? “Of course there is hope”, is his resolute response. “The mainstream media tries to make us believe that there is nothing we can do, that everything is settled and that there is no hope for the future. The interests are so great, thanks to the uneven distribution of wealth, that every effort is being made to overwhelm us with images that make us believe there is nothing we can change. But we can.” Rodríguez believes that people need to become aware that we really can take charge and change things. That is where hope lies.
He gives us a tour of the editors’ office, although it is a very short one, since they are all packed into a room measuring about eight by five metres. There are posters all over the walls, the desks are crammed with computers, old editions of La Directa are spread out on the tables and there are stacks of files on the shelves. Rodríguez also gives us all kinds of tips about several interesting cooperatives working nearby. When we ask him to give us a tour to help us create trust and make it easier to communicate, he agrees. But for now we have to leave, because the newspaper will be hitting the press at the end of this week and he has a whole series of deadlines waiting.
Tour of cooperatives in Barcelona
We have agreed to meet at the same time and place the following day: at 10:30 a.m. on the square near La Directa. This time Rodríguez is a bit stressed out when we meet him. They are struggling with a technical problem in the office, he tells us.
So we set off at a brisk pace to the first place he wants to show us, an occupied space called Centro Social Autogestionado Can Vies. We can’t go inside, but the murals on the outside are impressive. The building now belongs to the city, but it used to be inhabited by the CNT, the anarchist union. When they moved on, the building was left empty.
Local residents found out that the city was planning to sell it to project developers and occupied it. Serious confrontations with the police ensued, and a whole wing of the building was demolished by the police. But the residents held out and proclaimed their victory. Now the building is a space where the barri organise activities, hold meetings and allow artists to organise their projects.
The next stop is El Centre Civic Lleitat Santsenca. It was one of the first cooperatives in the neighbourhood around Montjuïc, barri Sants: it was founded in 1891 and has now been reopened.
Our final stop is at Can Batllo, a large factory site that has been taken over by all sorts of different cooperatives. The various factory halls have all been given a different function. One has been converted into office space, another is a large bar, and there is yet another where large woodworking machines are housed.
But the most promising project of all is the school. The cooperatives aim to create self-managing communities. And that is only possible if the members of the community cooperate. For that, you need education. And Can Batllo is where that will start.
By then Rodríguez really does need to get back to the editors’ office. As for us: we need to pack our suitcases and be on our way. It’s time to go and see the next project.
Interview and photos by DeWereldMorgen.be
This article was originally published on DeWereldMorgen.be on 20.7.2017