On Saturday 18th January, around twenty people gathered chairs together in the basement of Orfeó Martinenc, a cultural centre in the north-east of Barcelona. They came from all over Clot-Campa de l'Arpa to debate the future of the Catalan constitution. "It's the first time that I've come", explained Luisa Martin, a local pensioner. "I want to step out of the silent majority and act". Next to her, Rosa Matteu has already started taking notes in her notepad. A left-wing party campaigner, she has invested several months in this local assembly "to change politics".
"EVERYONE CAN GET INVOLVED"
At the other end of the room, Francesc Consuegra sets up a large banner on which "Procés Constituent a Catalunya" (Constituent Process Catalonia) is written. The 51 year old jurist, large and bald, launched this local assembly with some friends last September. "The politics in Spain and Europe are in need of reinvention!" He says, laughing. Currently on the assembly organisation committee, he is in charge of organising meetings and fixing agendas. "Everyone can get involved", he insists.
Once all the chairs had been set up in the round, the participants sat down and opened their debates. The first point on the agenda was the right to vote at 16. "It is a democratically radical aim!" announces Rosa, who fiercely defends this measure. "At 16, you can start working, it is therefore logical that you can also vote" explains Francesc, sitting opposite her. But in the assembly, the critics stand up. "You are too young at that age!" proclaims one man. "At that age you can be manipulated" his neighbour adds. "That is irrelevant", Francesc retorts: "at 20, 25, even 50 years of age, you can be manipulated, it's not a matter of age". It proceeds to vote, with hands raised, and the measure is adopted with an absolute majority. Rosa has a hint of a smile as she ticks an item on the agenda.
LAUNCHED BY A SISTER AND AN ECONOMIST.
The Clot-Camp de l'Arpa assembly is not the only one preparing the future constitution. All across Catalonia, around 120 local assemblies are participating in this "constituent process". They are all supervised by a general assembly featuring representative delegates from each local assembly. Seven topical assemblies are also addressing specific issues, such as the environment, immigration or education.
The constituent assemblies were set up after a call to action made by Benedictine Sister Teresa Forcades and economist Arcadi Oliveres. It was during a Singulars episode (Catalan talk show) on Catalan television last April that they made their idea known: a draft constitution written by citizens themselves in a democratic, inclusive way.
Teresa Forcades and Arcadi Oliveres, in a "Singulars" programme
"The aim of this draft constitution is to allow the left-wing forces to unite in the next election", explains Arcadi Oliveres. The manifesto that he has drawn up with Teresa Forcades effectively comprises ten very strongly "leftist" points including: improvement in public banking, the establishment of a more inclusive democracy, ecological conversion and even an exit from NATO. "We hope to have a draft ready for the end of March or start of April" Arcadi Oliveres continues. And there is a history of being ready in Catalonia - just in case Artur Mas, the President of Catalonia, decides to call earlier elections.
THE PRIORITY: SOCIAL JUSTICE, NOT INDEPENDENCE
Although a Catalan constitution is being prepared, the constituent process is distinguished from other independentist organisations. "For us, independence is an important point, but not vital", Arcadi Oliveres insists, "What matters to us above all, is having a different state, a more social one". "Our main aim above all is to change society to render it more equal", Jordi Espin explains, he is one of the coordinators of the Terrassa assembly. Terrassa is a town about 20 km north of Barcelona.
"Teresa Forcades and Arcadi Oiliveres are in favour of a Catalan state, but their constituent movement is not working closely with other independentist associations", judges Salvador Cardus, a Catalan sociologist involved in the independence cause. So, when the Great Human Chain was organised on 11th September, in favour of independence, local assemblies made their own chain, which encircled the la Caixa Bank head office in Barcelona.