We have more power than they've led us to believe

Biography

Ada Colau

I was born in the early morning of 3 March 1974, in Barcelona. Just a few hours earlier, Franco's fascist regime had murdered Salvador Puig Antich in Barcelona's La Modelo prison. This fact, which my mother reminds me of every year on my birthday, had a profound impact on me and has driven my commitment to social change. My parents were separated; Ramón, a talented photographer and illustrator, and later an advertising creative, and Tina, who worked as a saleswoman in a number of different companies. I grew up on Rubió i Ors street in the Guinardó neighbourhood until I was twenty, where I lived with Tina, her partner Antón, and my three fantastic sisters, Luci, Ali and Clara. I have two more siblings in Madrid, Eva and Jorge, children of another relationship of my father's, both of whom I love very much, although I've spent less time with them. My grandparents came to Barcelona in search of opportunities. My father's parents were shepherds from Huel, a small village in Huesca, and came to Barcelona after the war to seek a better future. My maternal grandparents came from Almazán, a town in Soria.

I grew up playing on the streets of Guinardó. Back then it was a quiet neighbourhood where I could play in the square with my sisters and the other children from the street. I took my first steps in the Principito nursery, and went on to the Àngels Garriga primary school, a cooperative run by committed teachers who fought to turn it into a public school in the late 70s. I went to my first demonstrations in my mother's arms, to the chant of "we want to be a public school!" From my childhood, I remember spending time spent in the streets, the Sant Joan bonfires built with old furniture the other children and I collected door to door in the neighbourhood, and the summers spent in Arbucies and El Montseny.

Be it because of my family or my schooling, I've had a strong social conscience since I was a child. I started volunteering as a teenager, working for Amnesty International and Amics de la Gent Gran (Friends of the Elderly). I went on to the Febrer Academy secondary school, where I took the BUP exams, and the Santa Anna Academy, where I studied for the COU university preparation course. At 18, I decided to study philosophy at the University of Barcelona. Personally, I would have preferred to study at a public school, but my parents sent me to a private academy based on their friends' advice. The Febrer was a school with its problems, but it had wonderful teachers from whom I learned a great deal. My history teacher and friend, Vicenç Molina, deserves a special mention and my thanks for giving me my early political education and introducing me to my first political group, the Moviment de Crítica Radical (Radical Criticism Movement). Though I had organized strikes, a theatre group, and a magazine unpopular with the governors at the Febrer Academy, it was at university where I became politically active for the first time. My fellow students and I set up the Philosophy Assembly and carried out strikes and sit-ins in protest against successive reforms designed to dismantle public universities. From my university years, I remember the assemblies, the moments studying in the cafes of the gothic quarter (when it wasn't yet a theme park dedicated exclusively to tourism) and my stay in Milan, which allowed me to get to know Italian culture even better than when I first fell in love with it aged 18, travelling the country alone on an InterRail ticket. I left university 30 credits short of getting my degree. Money was tight at home, and I had to get out and earn a living. I've done all kinds of jobs and courses. I've worked collecting surveys, as a hostess, giving classes, and even dressing up as Santa Claus and handing out balloons to children. I've combined all of these jobs with my main love: reading. At the end of the 90s I started to work in communications; in consultancy, television production, and translation and interpretation from Italian. As always, precarious contracts meant moving constantly; I've lost count of the number of flats. I've lived all over Barcelona, in Congrés, the Gothic quarter, Barceloneta and Camp d'en Grassot.

In the early 2000s, I reconnected with the activist world, taking part in protests against the World Bank in 2011, the Europe of big business in 2002, and the Iraq War in 2003. This wave of demonstrations was accompanied by local examples of social change, such as the Miles de Viviendas (Thousands of Homes), and the Les Magdalenes Community Centre. These experiences allowed me to start to collaborate with others to tackle housing problems. We used these spaces to organize a workshop on standing up to real estate and urban planning violence, and to report cases of gentrification and housing intimidation in the centre of Barcelona. We embraced the V de Vivienda movement, and, of course, the PAH (Platform for People Affected by Mortgages), of which I was one of the founders, as well as its spokeswoman for five years. Through these projects I got to know the local neighbourhood movements, first as a member of the Casc Antic Neighbourhood Association, and later as part of the CONFAVC and FAVB Neighbourhood Assemblies. I am grateful to them for their commitment to their work, and for having shown me the best of all the Barcelonas: the Barcelona of the neighbourhoods and the men and women who have battled for their streets and squares. 

In 2007 my life took another turn. I met my partner, Adria, with whom I had a son, Luca, who is now three years old. We live on Còrcega street, on the border of Camp d'en Grassot and Sagrada Familia. In the same year, I also began working at the DESC Observatory, first on development cooperation, and then on the right to housing and the city. It's the most stable job I've ever had but, more importantly, it's the job that has taught me the most and given me the opportunity to put my experience as an activist to use, especially in the fight for the right to housing.

In the spring of 2014, I embarked on the project now known as Barcelona En Comú, a citizen platform that aims to win the May 2015 municipal elections and take back the city for its people. We want to make Barcelona a fairer and more democratic city. A city we can feel proud of again. This is the most ambitious and risky thing I've done in my life. We’ll win back Barcelona together, or not at all.

Curriculum

Ada Colau has worked as a researcher and activist in the field of human rights for years, specialising in the fields of housing and the right to the city. Her professional and political experience over the past two decades include academic and informal study, working with civil society organizations, and participating in social movements. This path is typical of her generation, many of whom, in a context of growing labour-market insecurity, have acquired a range of cultural and professional skills that they are increasingly using for political ends, in both social movements and citizen electoral platforms.

During the 1990s, Ada studied at the Philosophy Faculty of the University of Barcelona and as an Erasmus student in Milan. Thanks to her time in Italy, she speaks fluent Italian and takes an ongoing interest in the country's culture and politics. Over the following years, she worked in the fields of communication, audiovisual production, and translation and interpretation. At the same time, she was involved in political activism, including protests against the Gulf War and the first anti-globalization movements, through which she gained knowledge of global debt mechanisms and international financial institutions.

In 2007 she began to work at the Observatorio DESC, a nationally and internationally renowned platform in Barcelona, dedicated to the study and defence of economic, social and cultural rights. As the person responsible for the issue of housing, she organized a number of meetings, seminars, courses and conferences, including the International Seminar on Women and Housing RightsBuilding Habitat for Human Dignity (2007), the International Seminar on the Right to the City (2009) and a Conference on the right to housing and the city in the context of the crisis (2010). These meetings were attended by a number of high-profile speakers, including Raquel Rolnik, Miloon Kothari, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to housing, and the geographer David Harvey, one of the most renowned international scholars in the field of  urban speculation and the the right to the city. These events allowed experts in architecture, housing and urban development, activists, civil society organizations and policy practitioners, to pool their work and experience. A prominent feature of Ada's work in the area of the right to housing and to the city has been her efforts to link citizen action to academic research, legal debates and public institutions.

In 2006, during the official mission to Spain of the UN Special Rapporteur, Miloon Kothari, Ada coordinated a number of meetings between Kothari and local groups in Barcelona, in order to highlight the issues of public policies, the property bubble and the housing emergency being felt across the country. This visit led to the Observatorio DESC's report The right to housing and housing policies (2008). This publication was followed up by another, which is closely linked to the political campaigning for which Ada has become well-known: The housing emergency in the Spanish state: the crisis of foreclosures and evictions from a human rights perspective (2013).

During the same period, Ada participated in international meetings and conferences, including United Nations Habitat: For a Better Urban Future (Rio de Janeiro, 2010); The Second Habitat International Coalition Urban Social Forum, Global network for the right to habitat and social justice (Naples, 2012); Rethinking crisis, debt and property, at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (IAEN) (Quito, 2013), and El nuevo rapto de Europa. Guerra, crisis y revoluciones democráticas at the Reina Sofia Museum (Madrid, 2014).

Ada is most well-known for her role as one of the founders of the Platform for People Affected by Mortgages (la PAH), for which she acted as spokeswoman until 2014. Born of the economic crisis and the bursting of the housing bubble, the PAH's struggle against the housing emergency has gained increasing prominence and recognition. It was one of the first organizations to truly comprehend the scale of the mortgage crisis. Ada has told the story of how the PAH alerted the political leaders responsible for the crisis to its impact in her book, Mortgaged lives: from the housing bubble to the right to housing (2012)co-authored by her partner, Adrià Alemany, and in her subsequent book, Sí se puede! Chronicle of a great victory (2013). Over the past five years, the PAH has become an international touchstone in the defence of human rights, and has been recognized by the European Parliament Citizen's Prize (2013), among other awards, including some given personally to Ada for her work as its spokeswoman.

Ada first came to widespread public attention in 2013, following a rapid sequence of events. First, she gave a combative testimony on behalf of the PAH at the Economic Committee of the Congress of Deputies in Madrid. Then, a Popular Legislative Initiative proposed by the PAH and supported by over 1,400,000 signatories was debated on the floor of the Spanish Congress. This was followed by a speech to the European Parliament Committee on Petitions in Brussels. In early 2014, she decided to leave her position as spokeswoman of the PAH, subsequently taking up the same role for Guanyem Barcelona, ​​a citizens platform set up with the aim of winning the May 2015 municipal elections. She is currently the mayoral candidate for Barcelona in Comú, a candidature made up of civil society, social movements, and political forces (Guanyem Barcelona, ​​BCN Podem, Procés Constituent, ICV, Esquerra Unida, and Equo).

Ada's candidacy for mayor of Barcelona has reinforced her role as a figurehead for the majority who want democratic change to tackle the economic and institutional crises. Over recent months, in the light of her new political activity, Ada's public profile has increased further, thanks to countless public meetings, interviews and newspaper articles, as well as her contributions to books on the new politics and citizen electoral platforms.

Books

  • Momentum
    2015
    Orencio Osuna

    Editorial Icaria, Barcelona. Entrevista a Ada Colau: "Escrache a la Marca Barcelona. Devolver a los ciudadanos corrientes la ciudad que les fue arrebatada por las élites".

  • No estamos solos. Un retrato de gente que está cambiando este país
    2014
    El Gran Wyoming

    Editorial Planeta, Barcelona. Capítulo: "Ada Colau nos hace ver a los invisibles".

  • ¡Sí se puede! Crónica de una pequeña gran victoria
    2013
    Ada Colau y Adrià Alemany

    Editorial Destino, Barcelona. Incluye la "Carta de Ada Colau al Presidente del Gobierno, Mariano Rajoy".

  • Societat Catalana 2013
    2013
    Jordi Estivill (ed.)

    Anuari de l'Associació Catalana de Sociologia, Barcelona. Capítol de Ada Colau: "La PAH i la conquesta del dret a l'habitatge".

  • Perspectives nº 1
    2013
    VVAA.

    Espaifàbrica, Barcelona. Capítol d'Ada Colau: "La conquesta del dret a l'habitatge".

  • Vides hipotecades. De la bombolla immobiliaria al dret a l'habitatge
    2012
    Ada Colau i Adrià Alemany

    Angle Editorial, El Fil d'Ariadna, Barcelona. Pròleg de Gerardo Pisarello.

  • Vidas hipotecadas. De la burbuja inmobiliaria al derecho a la vivienda
    2012
    Ada Colau y Adrià Alemany

    Angle Editorial, Cuadrilátero de Libros, Barcelona. Prólogos de Gerardo Pisarello y José Coy.

  • Ciudades: una ecuación imposible
    2012
    Mireia Belil, Jordi Borja i Marcelo Corti (eds.)

    Editorial Icaria, Barcelona. Capítulo de Ada Colau: "La vivienda en España: un derecho por conquistar".

  • #Crisis. Causas, consecuencias y alternativas
    2011
    VVAA

    Revista Apuntes Ciudadanos, nº 1, Federación Regional de Asociaciones Vecinales de Madrid (FRAVM). Capítol d'Ada Colau: "La vivienda en España: un derecho por conquistar".

Prizes

  • Premio Carlos Cano
    2014
    Ada Colau por su tarea como portavoz de la Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH)
    Asociación Granada Abierta
  • Premio a la Coherencia
    2014
    Ada Colau
    IU de Guardo (Palencia)
  • Defensores de los Derechos Humanos
    2013
    Ada Colau por su tarea como portavoz de la Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH)
    Periodismo Humano
  • Premi Honorífic del Festival de Cine i Drets Humans de Barcelona
    2013
    Ada Colau
    Festival de Cine i Drets Humans de Barcelona
  • Mujeres en Unión
    2013
    Ada Colau
    Unión de Actores
  • IV Premi Proteus d'Ètica
    2012
    Ada Colau
    Editorial Proteus

Transparency