The outbreak of Covid-19 has once again shown the fundamental role that municipal councils play in the day to day life of our citizens. Local governments are always on the front line, the first institutions people turn to when they have any kind of problem.
The pandemic is no exception, to the contrary. Municipal councils have drawn strength—and resources—from wherever we have been able to, to help our townsfolk. We are talking about reaching out to those who are suffering most from the effects of the social and economic crisis the pandemic has brought upon us: vulnerable families, businesses, the self-employed and stores that have suffered a sharp drop in income, and in many cases, very suddenly.
Cities and towns will thus play a key role in the recovery; a process in which we trust we will prioritize the well-being of people over and above economic interests. The experience and personal relations of the municipal administrations guarantee we will be able to manage this. What is more: municipalities and metropolitan areas enjoy the leadership and experience to drive new projects, goals and paradigms. The forthcoming 21st century post-pandemic world will be that of cities.
Obviously, we are not just talking about public management. The squares and streets of our towns are where the major social, cultural, and sports initiatives spring… projects that strengthen the social cohesion of communities. 2020 has been disastrous in many ways because of Covid, true, but it has also seen the birth of solidary initiatives with huge potential. Opportunities have emerged from vulnerability. In Lleida for example, the first days of the state of emergency saw the emergence of what we have come to call the Lleida Solidarity Network. The Network was an instrument for two-way aid, dedicated to supporting and providing help for the most vulnerable and/or most distressed by the restrictions and the effects of Covid. In Sant Cugat del Vallès, a very similar network was also woven and was fundamental in providing material support for the most needy.
The pandemic and projects like these show that we need to recover empathy and emotion as a pillar of public administration. 2020 may have accelerated this, true, but politics has long needed a new push. The difficulties in connecting with the public, especially in turbulent times like those we are experiencing, proves this.
Public servants need to manage resources, of course, but also expectations and fears. We may not have all the answers—at least not immediately—but it is essential that we understand what we are being asked for. You cannot govern a society you don’t understand. And to achieve that, it is essential that we mirror one another. Empathy must be a fundamental tool for reconnecting with the people, and all too often we have neglected this.
The pandemic has put everyone to the test, without exception. But we cannot lose sight of the republican approach to deal with it. The values enshrined in republicanism that characterize us—and that characterize the municipalities where we govern—are the best tool we have to fight this virus, this pandemic that has robbed us of so many embraces.
As public servants, we need to learn from this challenge and provide the right answers. We need to be stirred, to feel. We talk about good management, of course, but also honesty, humility and empathy. If we understand what is being asked of us, we will fine-tune the solution and how to get there. The cities and their councils will be there to accomplish that.
Mireia Ingla i Mas
Mayor of Sant Cugat del Vallès
Miquel Pueyo Paris
Mayor of Lleida