This was first published in Salon and an edited version with hyperlinks can be read on their website here.
With virtually no police, crime, or unemployment, the Spanish town of Marinaleda has gained celebrity status in Europe. Can we learn something from this democratic ´utopia´, and the maverick mayor who advocates shoplifting?
On the face of it, the Spanish town of Marinaleda is indistinguishable from any other. Nestled in the picturesque Campiña valley, the surrounding countryside is made up of rolling green hills, miles of olive plantations and golden meadows of wheat stretching as far as the eye can see. The town is pretty, tranquil, and typical of those found in Andalusia, Spain´s poorest and most southerly province.
Flowers tumble from white-washed buildings as old men while away the summer´s afternoon on shaded benches, silently watching the world go by. Families take their evening paseo in the rose-filled municipal park, while shouts and thuds can be heard as boys play soccer in the schoolyard.
But on Avenida de Libertad (Liberty Avenue), Marinaleda´s main street, dozens of colourful wall murals quite literally paint a new picture.
´War on Capitalism´, one reads. ´Peace and social justice´.
´Turn off the TV, turn on your mind´, says another.
Anti-fascist slogans depict stickmen throwing swastikas in the trash, while paintings of doves- an image also used in the town´s flag and logo are pitched against military tanks with the message:´Don´t stop searching for peace´.
This street art, along with a metal sign outside the town´s commonly-owned bar declaring ´Another world is possible´, are small clues to Marinaleda´s identity as a self-styled ´Utopia for peace´.
Since the financial crisis began in 2008, Marinaleda has shot to fame- and so has its maverick mayor Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo, who earned the nickname ´The Spanish Robin Hood´ after organizing and carrying out a series of supermarket raids in a direct action protest last August. Basic groceries such as oil, rice and beans were loaded into carts, wheeled from the store and taken to a local food bank to help the poor as helpless cashiers looked on, some crying.