“To be clear, this book is primarily about action.”Paul Kuttner, CulturalOrganizing.org
On October 6, 2007, thousands of people gathered in front of city halls in various Spanish cities to break the world record for the number of people simultaneously shouting “No vas a tener casa en la puta vida!” (You’re never going to have a home in your fucking life!).
How had the struggle to solve Spain’s housing crisis come to this?
With a housing bubble well on its way to bursting, prices in Spain had risen to such an extent by 2007 that having a home was a luxury that few could afford. Organizers needed a way to call attention to the issue of unaffordable housing that would profoundly shift how the public thought about the issue.
This protest spectacle was devised to work in two ways: It would occupy public space as a form of protest against real estate speculation, and it would bring the problem of access to housing to the public eye. To achieve the latter, it was essential to create a story that a lot of people could identify with. It had to be a story where the protagonists would be regular people who suffer daily and personally due to the devastating effects of real estate speculation. The arc of the story had to reach its climax on the day of the action and, afterward, it had to stay in the collective imagination for a long time. That was the action’s primary objective. And it more than succeeded.
Organizers contacted the Guinness World Records organization in an attempt to include the event in their catalog. After extensive negotiations, the Guinness technical team rejected the proposal on the grounds that it was “too strange” (this from the weirdos at Guinness??). Of course, that decision didn’t discourage the organizers one bit. They moved on with their plan.
To publicize the event, organizers used every single resource that they had available to them, including a series of viral videos that received thousands of visits in the days leading up to the event.
Events were staged across Spain; Barcelona’s was the largest. An enormous stage was set up in front of Barcelona’s city council and from there a group of entertainers and activists led the action, all of it conceived as a grand spectacle. Above the stage, a large screen showed live images from the gatherings that were happening in other cities. The screen also displayed a “putómetro” (a fucked-o-meter), a gauge to measure the fury of the shouting crowd, designed specially for the occasion.
The event was a complete success: The thousands of participants broke the record on their first try. And with it, the issue of access to housing shifted from being perceived as a personal problem to what it is increasingly seen as in Spain today: an authentic social conflict requiring record-breaking collective action to resolve it.
Simple, everyday language, with a healthy dose of humor, was a key element, as was the use of a variety of media, from stickers and posters in the street to online videos and web pages. As a result, the action — and the shift it provoked — opened a social space in which a lot of people felt included. A discomfort that up until that moment had only been experienced individually and privately found a popular collective outlet. The housing crisis in Spain came to be understood not as personal failure but as a widespread social problem that could only be solved by structural changes and collective action.
The call was clear and concise: “Come participate in the loudest collective scream ever directed at real estate speculation.” It was a matter of joining a performative action in a public space, an event that was conceived and designed so that thousands of people, strangers to one another, could join together to confront a shared problem.
The action had to be an irresistible piece of candy for the media, something that they could not help but cover. Organizers took great care to make the event as accessible as possible to journalists, as well as document it themselves. Many of the images published by the media in the days that followed came directly from the documentation that event organizers had themselves made.
“No vas a tener casa en la puta vida” expressed something publicly that everyone was feeling privately; it was a slogan that everyone who shouted it could embrace as their own. It quickly became a brand of the movement, and a meme with a lot of staying power that has been applicable to all of the struggles against real estate speculation since. By finding a compelling and catchy brand of its own, the movement was able to define itself (as well as the problem it was fighting), before hostile media could hang distorted labels on them.