For Barcelona Activist Turned Mayor, The Anti-Corruption Goals Stay The Same : Parallels Ada Colau is a former Occupy activist, once arrested for blocking home evictions during Spain's economic crisis. Now she's Barcelona's mayor, a job in which, she says, "you're closest to the people."

For Barcelona Activist Turned Mayor, The Anti-Corruption Goals Stay The Same

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


An activist in Spain who has no experience in office is now the mayor of Barcelona. Ada Colau was swept into office on a wave of anti-establishment anger. And now almost two years into her term, she spoke to reporter Lauren Frayer about her transition from activist to politician.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: A few years ago, at the height of Spain's economic crisis, protesters used to form human chains around houses to prevent authorities from serving eviction papers.



FRAYER: Often at the center of the crowd was Ada Colau with a megaphone.


ADA COLAU: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: She founded an anti-eviction group, protested in front of thousands of homes and banks and got hauled away by police many times. She was evicted from Spain's parliament after she interrupted a debate on banking laws in 2013...


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Si, se puede. Si, se puede.

FRAYER: ...With shouts of, si, se puede - yes, we can - from the gallery. Colau became such a folk hero that she was eventually invited to testify before parliament. A spokesman for the Spanish Bankers Association went first, though, telling lawmakers that bankers had played no role in the economic collapse here. And when it was Colau's turn to take the mike, her voice was shaking.


COLAU: (Through interpreter) This man is a criminal and should be treated as such. He's no expert. Bankers are the ones who got us into this mess.

FRAYER: Nearly four years later in an interview at City Hall, Colau recalls how she felt that day. She hadn't planned to be confrontational.


COLAU: (Through interpreter) My reaction was simply to say what I thought. Every day, I was with people who were losing everything, and this guy had no idea what was happening in our country.

FRAYER: Ada Colau is now a politician herself, barcelona's first female mayor and the boss of those police who once cuffed her.

COLAU: (Through interpreter) I'm the same person with the same goals - to fight corruption and solve problems - just in a different role.

FRAYER: Since winning office in May 2015, she's quadrupled public spending on social housing and fined banks that kept foreclosed homes empty. She slashed her own salary, refused a government-issued Audi and rides the Metro to work instead. Her latest target is President Donald Trump. After Spain's conservative prime minister had a friendly phone call with Trump, Colau launched a social media campaign with the hash tag #NoEnNuestroNombre - not in our name.

COLAU: (Through interpreter) He questions human rights and says sexist and racist things. You have to put limits on diplomacy with someone like that.

FRAYER: Kate Shea Baird is a democracy activist who's worked with Colau. She says it's ironic that Colau's supporters are not unlike Trump's or even like Britons who voted to leave the European Union. They're people who felt underrepresented in politics.

KATE SHEA BAIRD: They all feed off a similar hunger for what in Spain we've called real democracy, what in the U.K. has been called - take back control. That kind of frustration can be channeled into positive projects or nationalist authoritarian projects, so it can go either way.

FRAYER: Colau denies any ambition for higher office, though she's more popular than most national politicians here.

COLAU: (Through interpreter) People think being a mayor is like being on the lowest rung on the ladder of politics and that you always want to move up.

FRAYER: But she says she disagrees with that classic vision of politics. Being a mayor, she says, is where you're closest to the people.

For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Barcelona.


Copyright © 2017 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.