Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo is a man who swims against the tide. When the people of his hometown were suffering, he took direct action.
He stormed supermarkets with a gang of farm laborers. They filled their shopping carts with food and fled before coughing up the cash. They then dished out the food to local food banks.
Gordillo was dubbed the Spanish Robin Hood for his actions. He said he did it because, “There are many families who can’t afford to eat.”
Gordillo is also the Mayor of Marinaleda. As a rule, mayors don’t usually lead raids on supermarkets. But Gordillo is no ordinary mayor.
Gordillo loves his small town in rural Andalusia and the 2,700 people who live there. Since he’s been mayor, Marinaleda has been described as a communist utopia. In his town there is no police force, nearly everyone works, and there are no homeless people.
It hasn’t always been this way, though.
Gordillo was born in Marinaleda in 1949. During his youth, unemployment was widespread. Many of the townspeople would travel to Germany or France to look for work. In Andalusia, 50 percent of the land was owned by two percent of property owners. Marinaleda was surrounded by huge areas of private land. Yet poverty was rampant, and housing was an issue.
In the late 70s, Gordillo led a movement that would change his town’s fate. Tired of working land they didn’t own, the people of Marinaleda rose up. They began occupying unused land surrounding the village. This land was owned by the Duke of Infantil. For 12 long years, they fought tooth and nail with the police for the right to farm this land.
In 1992, the powers that be finally gave way. The citizens were awarded 1,200 hectares of land previously belonging to the duke. Since then their farming cooperative has been a runaway success.
It has also led to wage equality and cheap housing. Citizens are given workers and materials to help build their own houses. They then pay only $15 a month in mortgage. Over 350 family homes have been built this way.
Marinaleda has also done away with its police force. Crime is almost nonexistent. Gordillo said, “We make our lives together and plant trees together. We have no need for a police force.”
Gordillo said all he wants is for everyone to have a roof over their head, food in their bellies, and work which gives them a purpose.
Is it really too much to ask?