On our previous lecture Mikael Brunila came to talk to us about the situation in Barcelona, where many families have been evicted or are facing the threat of eviction from their homes because they can not pay their mortgages. When the property bubble burst and unemployment in Barcelona increased at the same time, many families found themselves in a terrible situation where they were unable to pay their mortgages, which they were basically forced to take because of the high cost of living and had to leave their homes. To make matters worse, in Spain even after the bank repossesses the property, it does not mean that the family’s debt is automatically fixed. Basically this means that families affected by this mortgage crisis will not only lose their homes but can also be left with crippling debt.
Mikael Brunila also referred to the economic anthropologist David Graeber who has written a famous book about debt, Debt: The First 5000 Years. Graeber discusses in his book about the struggle between rich and poor and how it largely is responsible for the conflicts between creditors and debtors. Graeber argues about the rights and wrongs of interest payments, debt peonage, repossession, the seizing of properties and the selling of debtors’ children into slavery. Instead we should be discussing how to relieve the burdens of private debts and prevent future abuses of the financial industries power. (R. Kuttner, 2013)
La PAH was formed to fight the injustice that these families have to face. It is based on the belief that solving these injustices can be achieved through direct activities, such as assemblies. Mutual aid is also a key approach to the PAH and individuals are expected to help each other as equals. Collective action within la PAH is creating power for individuals as well as for the whole group. As a result, people feel empowered. The larger context in which la PAH is working is set by the global economic turbulence – and as Crowther and Lucio-Villegas (2012, 59) remind “(T)he global nature of social, economic and environmental problems can lead to feelings of being immobilised by the sheer size of the task; alternatively, shrinking the scale of the problem to community size solutions is to embrace parochialism”.
The change that can happen when people fight for their rights together is remarkable. La PAH has become a very powerful movement in Spain. People have won their cases against banks just because there is La PAH involved. La PAH has made the unfair system known for larger public and taught that the problem is not the individuals – it’s due to the unfair system.
La PAH has given a fresh start for many people. Instead of being left alone and ashamed they have become empowered and have had support to fight against banks and the system. Could this kind of activism be possible in other contexts or in other countries too? Could this kind of peer support help in other social problems too? What are the crucial/critical factors through which PAH is able to contribute and make remarkable change in the way people see themselves in an overwhelming situation? Even if some of the methods la PAH is using are highly bound to cultural and social context and maybe not as such directly implementable into other environments, the basis of the assembly /activities are very simple: la PAH can be used as an example for analyzing how group support might reduce shame.
Within our group we discussed a lot about the concept of mutual aid, which describes the la PAH movement very well. Could this kind of peer support help for example unemployed? Especially long term unemployment can have a very negative impact on individuals self-esteem. They might have a strong sense of failure or feel ashamed, and very often start blaming themselves for the situation they are in. The la PAHs mutual aid concept could be priceless for many individuals. So the question is, is the concept bound to Spanish culture or could it be implemented elsewhere? For example, would Finnish people feel at ease discussing with strangers at assemblies about their unemployment or bad self-esteem? We think that the peer support groups would give people opportunities to share experiences and information and it could give meaning to many people’s everyday life.
“Don’t be ashamed of your story, it will inspire others…”
Crowther, J. &Hall, Lucio-Villegas E. (2012) Reconnecting intellelect and feeling: Max, Gramsci, Williams and the educatior’s role. In Learning and education for a better world: The role of social movements. Rotterdam, Netherlands: Sense Publishers.
Kuttner, Robert (2013) The Debt we shouldn’t pay. Review on Graebers book Debt, the first 5000 years. www.nybooks.com/articles/2013/05/09/debt-we-shouldnt-pay/