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News ::
Tears of Inspiration from Argentina (english)
09 Apr 2003
"The chorus is "We are the future and the present, to resist and to occupy". It goes on with more inspiring lyrics. (Somewhere between 150 and 200 factories are now being occupied and run by the workers, the form ranges from occupations like Zanon or Brukman, to occupations that then ask for a judicial nod and become collectives."
Tears of Inspiration from Argentina, by Marina S

Each day since I arrived in Buenos Aires, my eyes have at least once filled with tears. Tears that are not of sadness, yet neither are they reflective of an absolute or complete joy. They are complicated tears, tears of inspiration from the creation taking place all around, tears of sadness and frustration for the pain and hunger caused by the economic crisis, tears of intense contradictions, tears of a new beginning, incredulous tears, tears for the future, tears for the present. Beautiful tears.

It has been difficult over these last few weeks to write of my experiences thus far. I am overwhelmed in so many ways and search for words that do not come. Many people with whom I have spoken talk of the need for a new vocabulary, a new language. I more than agree. In light of that new language being in its infancy, I will try to summarize with words a few of my experiences thus far.

Argentina right now is easily the most inspiring place I have ever been. Folks reading this remember what it feels like to participate in spokes councils before global justice mobilizations, from Seattle to Washington. Take that grain and multiply it, add people from every social, economic and political background, make it not only reactive, but pro active/creative, take the question of subject and place it in the fore, along with questions of power and autonomy. Change the subject matter from a demonstration to running a factory, or keeping a neighbor from getting evicted, to organizing against the elections, to running a collective kitchen or sometimes discussing what autonomy means or how to maintain a horizontal group, questioning power and how and where it can meet and diverge with leadership. (I am speaking mainly about the neighborhood assemblies (asambleas), factories that have been taken back by workers and the Movements of Unemployed Workers (MTDs.)

I have already met and spoken at great length with dozens and dozens of people. I could not, at this moment, relate all my experiences.

Many of the conversations revolve around the politics of horizontalism, which is, as it sounds, horizontal as opposed to vertical, or hierarchical organizing. People describe it as direct democracy, where everyone has a voice and participates as equals. One young woman told me that she feels more heard and complete than ever before through participating in her asemblea, many heads nodded. There are people who hold responsibility, but are not in charge. Everyone makes a line with their two hands, gesturing a horizontal line not a pyramid, which is indicated with two hands making a point or triangle at the top. Direct democracy and horizontalism are so logical here, that people often give me a funny look when I ask them to describe it. I have to ask folks to remember how politics worked before the 19th and 20th of December, to then think of how to explain it to people from other places. The last year here has been a long one.

Last week I went to the Hotel Bauen where worker had their first asamblea since taking over the building. (It was/is a five star hotel in the center of the city.) They are not only occupying it, but are going to run it collectively and plan to open it in two months. The owners left almost 2 years ago and some of the workers have been meeting since. They have received a lot of support from the network, and I do mean network, of Occupied Factories. While the actual asamblea of the workers was closed, dozens of supporters from various asambleas and occupied factories waited for them in the lobby. (Again, imagine here the lobby of a five star hotel filled with workers and students, old and young, sitting around talking vision and creation.) At the end of the asamblea, a group of workers from the network sang a song, accompanied by a grand piano from the piano bar. The chorus is "We are the future and the present, to resist and to occupy". It goes on with more inspiring lyrics. (Somewhere between 150 and 200 factories are now being occupied and run by the workers, the form ranges from occupations like Zanon or Brukman, to occupations that then ask for a judicial nod and become collectives. Currently Zanon is under threat of eviction. See indymedia Argentina.)

I participated in an asamblea a few nights ago that really took my breath away. It is/was in large part what I dream of seeing in neighborhoods around the world. I don't know if folks can imagine what it is to see direct democracy and horizontalism in action, but I am here and it is still hard to imagine. Between 75 and 100 people met on a street corner under the banner of the asamblea. There is a coordinator (facilitator of sorts) that has a mic, there is a sound system and it begins with anyone putting out topics for conversation. One of the things discussed and debated was the upcoming elections. After some discussion all agreed that they are a farce. They then agreed to help organize a carnival with various other neighborhoods to both point to the farce, as well as show what "democracy looks like." Also discussed was how to help a neighbor who is under threat of eviction, as well as other day-to-day matters in the neighborhood. There was also a discussion of the discussions themselves and what they mean, in the sense of if people agree to do something, do they have to do those things, what does it mean to agree. One person wanted a way to make things binding which then opened the conversation as to what direct democracy and horizontalism means to them individually and collectively. All agreed that there could be no formal mechanism. There was then a group that started the chant/song "Que se Vayan Todos". It was more than beautiful. It gave me such confidence. A number of people have told me that their dream is that not only for Argentina, but also for the world to function with their version of local asambleas, autonomous and connected, directly democratic and horizontal. I not only share the dream, but have more confidence than ever that it can and will happen.

Yesterday I attended an encuentro of autonomous asambleas and MTDs. Autonomous is stressed here because a few of the groups are dominated by left political parties. There were people there from many dozens of asambleas and MTDs. There was a general conversation in which folks decided on topics around which to generally speak, and then the group broke out into many smaller ones so that all could have an opportunity to speak. In the end all came back together to relate the conversations in the smaller groups and have an open conversation on all that was discussed. The topics ranged from the war, to the politics of autonomy and horizontalism, to the upcoming elections. In many ways the conversations were a way to work together and network, as well as discuss theory. Again, I am afraid that words do not work to relate the power and scope of the conversations. This was not a conference; it was an exchange between people from around Buenos Aires who are working toward a more general direct democracy.

There has been some discussion about the fact that there are fewer people participating in the asambleas than before. (We are still talking about dozens and dozens of asambleas in almost every neighborhood that meet weekly, and are very active, though there used to be hundreds.) Many respond to this with an understanding that movements shift and change. While there is a decrease in the number of people meeting each week on the street or in an occupied space, there is also an increase in the number of factories that are being taken over by workers. All is a process, as I am told.

I smile now. I could write so much more. I am working on a book that is based on interviews and is looking at the politics of direct democracy and horizontalism. I hope through the voices of those participating in the movements to help reflect what is being created. The book will be both in Spanish and English, and will hopefully inspire those around the world, as I, and many many others are being inspired.

Back to tears. It is not only my eyes that fill with tears. I have interviewed many people, and after talking for a long time, we get to how it feels personally, what is being created. It is not just a few people who at that moment get teary, smile and sort of shake their heads, also incredulous.

Con Amor, Imaginacion, y Autonomia,

There is currently a tour of workers from the MTDs in the US. To find out more and help support it, please go to

"Seamos realistas, hagamos lo imposible." ~Che
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