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January, 2002
Cazerolazo With Rain
Friday night I participated in the Argentine national cacerolazo, an experience which was just as moving as the one which ousted Cavallo and de La Rua. This one was far more organized, as it had been scheduled by the neighborhood assemblies and was not a spontaneous outburst as others had been. At eight o'clock in the evening, I began to hear the clanging of pots and pans from the street below. I looked outside and saw a mass of several hundred people congregated on the street, complete with flags and banners waving. This was the Belgrano Neighborhood Assembly, one of the largest and most organized in Buenos Aires.
When I went down to join them, I was impressed to find that this group even had their own security force to prevent violence and infiltration, wearing white arm bands. As in previous cazerolazos, there were young people, old people, children sitting on their parents shoulders, dogs, and lots of Argentine flags waving in the warm evening breeze. The rhythm of the clanging of pots filled the streets; people shouted chants against the corrupt current government and supreme court, and sang the Argentine national anthem.
Eventually, the Belgrano crowd, facilitated by the white armband wearing crowd control, began to march determinedly down the street, still chanting and banging on pots and pans. It had by now swelled to four or five hundred people. One woman, in green surgical clothes, wore a sign that said: doctor, offers her services as maid, dramatizing the plight of many professionals in Buenos Aires, 50% of whom are unemployed. Other signs called for the ousting of the Supreme Court, an end to hunger, unemployment, injustice and the "coralito" which first froze and then "disappeared" large portions of the bank savings of the middle class.
I marched with the Belgrano Assembly about a mile and a half to the intersection in Colegiales where my own neighborhood assembly, composed of another two or three hundred people, were also chanting and banging on pots. Small fires blazed at several different intersections along the way. There was a feeling of celebration and power which crackled in the air as the two contingents greeted each other with shouts and smiles.
The decision about whether to march to the central Plaza de Mayo had been left to the individual neighborhood assemblies. Belgrano had decided to march, Colegiales to stay in the neighborhood. I stayed for awhile with the Colegiales group and then took the subway down to Plaza de Mayo. What I found was astonishing. Some twenty thousand people filled the plaza, with banners, flags, drums, placards, and the ubiquitous pots and pans, with more neighborhood contingents continuing to arrive. The rhythmic potbanging was hypnotic, the clanging filled the plaza, the streets, and got into your very bones, an incessant metallic clanging ringing out into a sky, seeming to challenge the staid government buildings around the plaza with a noise that said loud and clear "We are here, and we´re not going anywhere." I caught the eyes of several women, older women, housewives and grandmothers with wrinkles in their faces, and in their eyes I saw a look of pride and accomplishment.
In the center of the crowd, people were shouting the one chant that I continually hear in these demonstrations, and the number one "demand" that was voted on by the last general Assembly: que se vayan todos. Everybody out. Get rid of all the current politicians. To a non-Argentine, and in fact to some Argentines, this chant is understandably suspect: does it mean get rid of government, is it an invitation to a country without government,to anarchy,to another dictatorship, what? And if everyone leaves, who is there to replace them? But this is the chant that continues to swell from every assembly and demonstration that I attend, with no explanations, embellishments, or amendments: que se vayan todos. Everybody out. Basta. Enough. Years of corruption, swindling, theft, seeing the same old politicians clinging to their power and refusing to let go. One neighbor in my assembly came up with a new phrase "Que se vayan todos, que queda la democracia, que venga la justicia. Get rid of them all, keep democracy, bring on justice. "I like this slogan. But the single mindedness of que se vayan todos, get rid of them all, to me reflects the crowd´s absolute frustration with the old way of doing things, not a desire for anarchy or authoritarianism but a desire to create something new.
Other chants spontaneously arose from the crowd: "the people united will never be defeated," and "Argentina! AArgentina!" Some people carried signs protesting the the supreme court, the politicians, the banks. One man, who seemed to have stumbled into the crowd from a different revolution on another continent, carried a sign that said "politicians to the guillotine". Another was wearing a pot on his head. Vendors moved in and out of the crowd offering drinks. Colored banners and flags fluttered in the breeze. Then, suddenly, it began to rain. Hard. A subtropical downpour that created ankle deep floods in the street and immediately soaked through people´s clothes. I expected the crowd to disperse. But they didn´t. Twenty thousand people in the rain chanting "Let the rain come, we´re gonna stay!
The rush of water seemed to make the people even more exuberant...whole groups were jumping up and down like pogo sticks, and neighborhood contingents were continuing to pour into the plaza. Just before midnight, Belgrano, the group I had started with, arrived at the plaza, marching and chanting behind their banner, water streaming down their faces. Finally, people began to seek refuge from the rain, pressing themselves up against the walls of buildings, jumping onto buses. I caught a bus that was headed towards Palermo, which quickly filled with demonstrators who continued to chant and bang pots along the way.
Afterwards, I heard on the radio there were sixty some arrests and some violence. The information was confused. One radio station said something about molotov cocktails, rocks, ten policemen injured, demonstrators taking over the Congressional building. Another said the police were indiscriminately arresting people and throwing them into vehicles. Someone else said something about policemen in civilian clothes and unmarked cars, driving down the street with bloody demonstrators inside.
A retired policeman called in to the radio station saying he thought the people causing the violence were police agents, that the government wanted to make the citizens of Buenos Aires afraid to demonstrate in the plaza. "I was a policeman for many years," he said, "I know the games they play." Another woman said on my neighborhood assembly web site that the police had started the violence by spraying tear gas into the crowd without reason. What was generally agreed upon was that although the police presence was minimal during most of the demonstration, it was massive at the end, and backed up by members of the infantry.
The government has announced it will conduct an investigation of possible police misbehavior. A local paper, Pagina 12, said today that police had also harassed photographers and videographers to prevent them from documenting what was going on. Generally, despite the arrests and scattered violence at the end of the demonstration, the overwhelming feeling among the demonstrators in Buenos Aires was one of success: they had non-violently and in an organized fashion taken to the streets, once again, to vent their frustration and protest the difficult situation in Argentina. Similar demonstrations took place all over the country.


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