From victims to activists: The role of communication for the empowerment and impact of the PAH anti-evictions movement in Spain
Abstract: The anti-evictions movement Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH) is one of the most effective and valued grassroots initiatives in Spain. It has convinced the majority of the population on the need to change the mortgage law, given solution to the immediate needs of its members via civic-disobedience actions and dignified the people who are not able to pay their mortgage debts. From being considered irresponsible victims, now they are seen as heroes fighting for a just cause and as the representation of the collective power of organized citizenship to produce social change. To find out if –and how- communication has been key in this transformative process, this research uses observations and in-depth interviews to respond to the question: What role does communication play in the PAH for the empowerment of its members and for the overall impact of the movement? The findings suggest that empowerment has been necessary to obtain impact, while impact has further promoted empowerment, in a virtuous cycle where internal and external communication practices, both interpersonal and mediated, have been central. The main communicative goal, as we will see, has been to transform people and society, and not to obtain visibility. Decentralisation, open and horizontal collective knowledge-sharing and decision-making, diagnostic and motivational counter-frames, a focus on positive messages and results, graphic elements, the savvy use of different media (Twitter, Facebook, videos, mass media) and a very skilled spokes-person are some of the key aspects of a successful communication strategy that has been able to challenge neoliberal frames and representations related to poverty. Several concrete activists have been very competent in designing and adapting the PAH’s use of communication, and in promoting contributions of many other participants throughout every part of the network. However, only a continuous effort in spreading knowledge and skills throughout the movement, in line with participatory communication approaches, will guarantee a sustainable and long-lasting impact.
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