Interviews

Basha Changue: “Our presence matters and black children need to see us everywhere doing everything”

AfroFemKoop is a cooperative organisation that was born in Catalonia with the
intention of supporting the social, political, cultural and economic development of the
Afro and black community, especially women and femininities. This founding team
emerged from the split of Afrofeminas Catalunya due to a series of political
disagreements in public positions and internal dynamics

As the driving force behind this organization and an active member of the Black, African and Afro-descendant Community in Catalonia (CNAACAT), Basha Changue spoke to us about AfrooFemKoop’s role in promoting the rights and equality of Afro-descendant women. “It is very invisible because we do a lot of reproductive work which, rather than promoting rights and equality, defends them on a day-to-day basis on the basis of concrete facts: we advise our members in the development of their projects to help combat the difficulties they encounter, which are the result, of course, of racism and misogyny in this territory”. However, some projects are more visible, such as the traveling exhibition “Queens of Africa” that “seeks to make the struggles of African women visible with the intention of changing the excessively western referentiality of Afrofeminisms or the training services that we offer to entities or organizations of all kinds to advance in anti-racist policies in and from their spaces”.

AfroFemkoop and Politics

This experience in AfroFemKoop also influenced Changue when it came to running for mayor of Barcelona. “In AfrofemKoop, political anti-racism is one of the basic pillars. As a militant of a political organisation, the coherent thing to do is precisely to take this discourse to places where we were not expected in order to vindicate ourselves as an autonomous political subject with our own agency. In this way, we break the narrative of subsidiaries in which racialized and migrant people are used to being placed”. Likewise, belonging to AfroFemKoop and CNAACAT helped her to better understand and address the challenges facing the Afro-descendant community in Catalonia. “Through my militancy in these spaces, I am able to articulate discourses that are faithful to the reality we live in and to territorialize here the analyses from other places in the Afro-diaspora”. As for how to solve the problems faced by Afro-descendant women in today’s society, Changue believes that “it is utopian” and, as long as the structural causes are not addressed, “We only gain privileges for a few, but we do not solve any problems”. It is therefore important not to settle for superficial anti-racist policies that “reduce racism to individual social interaction and blur the structural and institutional framework in which they are embedded”. If there is one thing the activist stands out for, it is her commitment and her ability to lead processes of change and social transformation. She stated that “we don’t want inclusion, we want reparation. Inclusion requires mutilation in order to fit in. And from this perspective, I do not advocate inclusion policies but rather the recognition of a diverse and cohesive society, adaptable to the realities of its population and with the guarantee of fundamental rights unconditionally, for the mere fact of existing as people”.

Representation of the Afro-descendat

Another issue to be addressed is the representation of the Afro-descendant community in politics as well as in other areas of society. “We have to be everywhere, the more the better. We exist, we are here, and we occupy the places that belong to us and that have been historically denied to us.”

In politics, this presence is extremely important, “not only in terms of image but also in terms of action.” The system, and therefore the state, is designed to protect itself, and in this framework, any hint of revolution will be understood as an attack on the status quo. Therefore, “they will pursue and want to nullify the potential of political anti-racism, pan-Africanism, black feminisms, and the decoloniality of all the critical theories that nourish our black and Afro struggles and that attack those foundations of the system.” It is important that, when entering institutional politics, “we are clear about our limits in this journey so that we do not become, unintentionally and without guilt, weapons of the system against our community and movement.”

AfroFemKoop also collaborates with other Afro-descendant and feminist organizations in Barcelona to achieve greater equality and social justice. “We do this through specific projects and various forms of support. One example is the theatre project against legislation with tictac and Periferia Cimarronas, or the calls for joint mobilizations with other collectives in the community”

A large part of her life has been dedicated to the fight against racial discrimination and the promotion of equality, and so, to conclude, Changue spoke to us about his long-term vision for the Afro-descendant community in Barcelona. “We are growing, and the presence is increasing in society. The community has been flourishing in recent years, and we are now in an exciting moment of recognition in many spaces.” However, he believes it is important not to get carried away by the aesthetics of representation and to understand the political responsibility that comes with such representation everywhere, even in everyday spaces. “My speeches in Parliament are no more important than the work of a sister at the supermarket. In short, she considers it fundamental that the presence of the Afro-descendant community be visible everywhere, doing everything, so that black children feel represented.”

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Basha Changue: “Our candidacy is oriented towards the needs of the residents”.

The countdown to the municipal elections in Spain has arrived. In less than two months,
on 28 May, Spaniards will have to go to the polls to vote for the candidates they trust
for their local councils. Among those at the top of the list is Basha Changue, the CUP
(Popular Unity Candidacy) candidate for mayor of Barcelona and currently a member of
the Catalan Parliament. Since she was announced last September as the anti-capitalist
party’s favourite candidate to return to Barcelona City Council, Changue has been in
the media spotlight ever since

Q: How would you describe your experience as a member of the Catalan Parliament and how has it influenced your decision to run for Mayor of Barcelona?

A: I would describe it as a constant challenge, as I was not used to the institutional political environment. However, I quickly realised that there were many others who were familiar with it. This environment, although far removed from reality, taught me the dynamics and power games that explain why the world works the way it does, and why it always benefits the same people. As an MP, my role was to legislate and establish general frameworks, sometimes even to debate ideological or theoretical issues, which I enjoyed very much as I love to discuss and debate. But, municipal politics is closer to the people in every sense, and in that sense, it is more rewarding as a public service.

My decision to run for mayor of Barcelona is based on the urgent need to strengthen communities in all neighbourhoods and cities to confront the neo-fascist upsurge we are experiencing. When my colleagues proposed me for the post, I approached my candidacy from the perspective of what I could contribute to the community strengthening that is so necessary at this time.

Q: Your official speech once you were confirmed as candidate was based on the reduction of tourism, stressing that you want to “build a model of a city where those who work can live, and those who live there can enjoy themselves”. How do you approach a candidacy for mayor of a city like Barcelona?

A: Barcelona’s mayoral candidacy faces the challenge of building a city model that prioritises the quality of life of those who live in it, and not just those who visit it. Barcelona is a complex city in which diverse groups coexist, including tourists, students and workers. It is essential to keep in mind that the city is for those who live there, and not just a place of consumption and entertainment for tourists. The aim of a socialist candidacy is to return the centrality of municipal policies to the residents, and to take care of the social, political, territorial and economic connections of the city with the rest of the country. It is about guaranteeing a dignified life for working people, who are often disadvantaged by the arrival of big events, international prizes, vulture funds and multinational companies seeking to take advantage of the city.

Q: What is it like to prepare a campaign?

A: Stressful (laughs). Campaigns require a lot of preparation, internal debate, reflection, analysis and also flexibility. A lot happens in a very short period of time and you have to be prepared to react quickly to political events. My favourite part is the contact with the people, which is what keeps you grounded in the maelstrom of institutional politics. So, preparing a campaign and carrying it out is stressful, but above all very fun and enriching.

Q: One of your challenges in this candidacy is to win back representation in the City Council of the Ciutat Comtal. How do you regain the trust of the citizens once it has been lost?

A: In these elections, the CUP Barcelona’s candidacy focuses on proposing viable and achievable alternatives with political will, both in the social and pro-independence areas. Unlike other political forces, we not only point out what has been done wrong and what has fallen short, but we propose concrete and solid solutions in our proposals. However, it is also true that our candidacy has been made invisible because the current political arc has a more or less explicit connivance to maintain the same model of a showcase city, oriented towards tourism and not towards the needs of the residents. Our candidacy is completely opposed to this line and seeks to represent the citizens who are looking for a change in this direction.

Q: You yourself have said that “putting on the table proposals, proposals and proposals beyond criticising what has been done well and what has been done badly”. What are the CUP’s proposals for the city of Barcelona?

A: Our proposal focuses on guaranteeing social rights, tourism degrowth and economic diversification in Barcelona. Our main focus is to ensure that all neighbours have access to universal public services, such as education, health, social services and basic supplies such as water and electricity. In addition, we defend the use of the Catalan language in institutions and in the street. We believe in building sovereignty from the municipalities, which means preventing private companies from running basic services and key supplies, and protecting workers from casualisation. Some of our concrete measures include the municipalisation of services such as dependency care and water supply, expropriation of large landowners, sanctions for landlords who do not comply with the anti-eviction law, limiting tables on bar terraces, advancing the banning of cruise ships in the port, creating the Department of linguistic rights, advancing the city’s historical memory archive, promoting industrial production and studying the reintroduction of agriculture and livestock farming in Collserola.

Q: What do you see as the main shortcoming of the current Barcelona City Council?

A: The main shortcoming of the current Barcelona City Council is the lack of a long-term project that takes into account the city’s relationship with neighbouring municipalities and with the rest of Catalonia. Instead of conceiving Barcelona as the capital of the region, the parties that have governed the city under different names for more than 40 years have worked to disconnect it from the rest of the region and connect it to the Spanish state. These policies, which take the form of trade agreements and institutional headquarters, are not improving the quality of life of the citizens.

The parties that govern in the city (PSC-ECP) and in the State (PSOE-PODEMOS) do not take structural measures that could improve the situation, such as the regulation of rental prices or the repeal of the law on foreigners. In short, I think there is a lack of long-term vision and a real commitment to improving people’s lives in the city.

Q: And its strength?

A: Barcelona’s greatest strength lies in its people and its organised social fabric. It is the residents who have built this city and it is they who are fighting against the superficial and neoliberalist policies of the current local government. It is admirable to see how they mobilise against macro events that do not take into account the needs of the citizens, such as Mobile or the America’s Cup, and how they put their bodies into defending public services and preventing evictions.

Q: You already have experience in municipal elections, as in 2019 you headed the list of the Popular Unity Candidacy in Moià and obtained two councillors. Going back a bit, how did those two years help you in your candidacy for the mayor’s office in the capital?

A: In Moià I learned, above all, that we are neighbours first and foremost, we are people. Likewise, that political discrepancies should not make us lose sight of this. Obviously, I also learned about the dynamics of local politics at the level of circuits, bureaucracy, etc.

Q: With less than two months to go before the elections, what are Basha Changue’s feelings about what might happen at the polls?

A: Polls come and go, but we see that the intention to vote for now predicts a comfortable return to the council with at least two councillors. In any case, the important thing is that the campaigns serve to mobilise people, to rekindle hope that an alternative to politics as usual is necessary and possible if we do it together.

Q: Regardless of the results, once the elections are over, what does the CUP have to work on?

A:The CUP always has one foot in the street and the other in the institution. Regardless of the results, the important thing is always that, on the street, people are active and cohesive to face whatever comes and to continue fighting for transformation from the neighbourhoods.

Q: And personally, if you don’t achieve what you hoped for, what will Basha Changue do after 28 May?

A: I will continue as I have been doing up to now, militating in the organisations I belong to and continuing my public service in Parliament. When the legislature ends, I will resume my work in the AfrofemKoop cooperative.

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