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Children of Rebellion:
The Protest Movements One Year Later

by Luis Gruss
Excerpted from Hijos de Rebelion, by Luis Gruss, published in Tres Puntos, December, 2002. Translated by Lisa Garrigues.

In a year, the landscape has changed considerably. Now, there are no longer (thank god) marches to the Plaza de Mayo every Friday. This initiative was relatively effective for a time, but it finally wore itself out. Even the assemblies have stopped being important gathering places in the neighborhoods, although they have not disappeared, as some have claimed. Martin, of the assembly of Colegiales, says that although their meetings no longer bring 300 people to the corner of Zappiola and La croze, they still have consistent meetings of 60 people each, besides a network of sporadic contacts that would probably triple this number.
Although it may seem untrue, our agenda of activities is so vast that it doesn´t seem to quit,î he says, counting off some of the activites that are currently underway: the community garden, the street festivals, the book presentations, the bicycle trips to occupied factories, the cooperative, the sidewalk sales.
Gustavo, an ex activist from the 70´s, who is now a member of the Almagro assembly, tells a similar story, proud of the soup kitchen that theyíve put together for the unemployed, the huge mural that theyíve painted, and the newspaper which they are editing along with neighbors from other assemblies.
One has to admit that in many cases the assemblies, which were so ìpureî and powerful at the beginning, have abandoned their role of convocation to become the expellers of neighbors who became disenchanted or who moved on to work in other ways. Shortly after their birth, diverse leftist groups moved in--in their curious desire to ìapplyî to the assemblies what was supposedly learned in the manuals--and caused a large number of people to leave. But this was not the only cause of the weakening of these spontaneous formations. ìItís that right now everything works much more horizontally and decentralized,î says Gustavo. And itís possible that this is true. These are times of great fragility but also of great multiplicity. The Interbarrial of Parque Cententario, for example, doesnít spark a lot of interest in the neighborhoods.´
The more active neighbors prefer to collaborate with the occupied factories (which are now about 200 in the entire country), or with cartoneros, cooperatives, unemployed workers, and piqueteros.
The piqueteros who, unlike the assemblies were born from a constant relationship to the State, have grown considerably in the last year, despite their well known internal divisions. And they arenít just blocking roads. Going much further than the roadblock, some groups have created their own housing developments, childcare centers, libraries, and even drugstores. And strong ties have been created between them and the same middle class which before viewed them with suspicion. "Before the 19th and 20th we were rejected by the same people who later went out into the streets and demanded `Que Se Vayan Todos,´" says Andres, who´s the press contact for the MTD, Movement of Unemployed Workers in Solano. The main thing that was gained was precisely this union with other sectors that now understand that nobody can save themselves alone.
A revolution in the desert? Not so much or so little. A parallel society? It´s difficult to give a definition like that to newborn social movements who are still taking their first wobbly steps. Nor should one rush to ìreadî the new phenomena with the glasses of other times or leap to rapid conclusions. "There is a huge anxiety among journalists, adherents and tourists of all kinds to resolve the question of how this is all going to express itself in the electoral arena," said a member of Collective Situations, a group of university and non-university activists who work with the unemployed of Solano to produce ideas from experience. They are studying the piqueteros, the assemblies, the occupied factories and the entire realm of agrarian and educational experiences which are linked to human rights, to the rights of indigenous people, to art and to the production of thought in general. "Contrary to what the political parties of the left and the intellectuals believe, these movements show that it is not true that outside the factory the organization as such doesnít exist. Nor is it true that the unemployed are condemned to organize themselves as victims or people in need. On the contrary, these movements indicate to what point they are born and create themselves directly from their own productive power, their own projects of economic elaboration, of education, of health and of all their capacities for the theoretical and the political."
This focus is equally as valid for all the other variants of social movements that were born after the 19th and 20th of December of 2001. The society of the media, which at times is far removed from the society of reality, rushed to conclude that the assemblies would end once the corralito or bank freeze ended. But most of the media were wrong about this. In any case, the assemblies weakened sooner, and as I said, for other reasons. The same could be said about the diverse and very active movement that brought together the bank savers who had lost their money, and who donít limit themselves to the actions of their ìleaderî, the charismatic actor Nito Artaza. The meetings of these groups continue weekly in Buenos Aires, but also in Mar del Plata, Cordoba, La Plata and other places. A lawyer for the savers, Fabien Bergenfeld, reminds us that even without the bank freeze the fight continues for the redolarization of the deposits and the return of lost savings. "Our relationship with the other social movements is goodî, says Bergen feld...there is a mutual respect, a support and a recognition, although each group logically is taking care of its own needs."
Faced with this dynamic panorama, at times confusing and in appearance nothing so extraordinary as to seduce the skeptics--one might be inclined to think that those ìold daysî of the 19th and 20th brought nothing more than blood and social fragmentation. But it would be a very partial reading of the facts. The perpetual naysayers should check out the ex bank of Mayo that is now occupied by the assembly Cid Campeador, or go to the old Normal School #10 in Belgrano, or to the old pizzeria Ideal, or to the Portuguese Clinic taken by the Flores neighborhood assembly or to any other corner where the neighbors spent the winter and arrived together and complete into this hot and certainly difficult summer. It's good to point out that, even with their ups and downs, the two large barter networks that have been generated in less than a year are still functioning. Almost a million families are using this system (with its own central banks and money) to exchange products and services in a network of solidarity clubs that keeps on growing.
The different groups of political pressure and self-empowerment are not, however, taking over the undelegable function of the state in its basic attention to the population. The piqueteros have understood this very well, but other sectors with more immediate needs have not. Everyone, in their way, understands that they canít completely cut themselves off from what happens in the political and economic power, locally or nationally, without risking giving support to the neoliberal argument that the state is dispensable.
Flowers can certainly grow in the desert. The worst would be to ignore in these times the dangers that surround them. "We canít forgetr that there are loaded guns"--they say in Collective Situations." And that there are those demanding order who are waiting in the shadows for an opportunity. To assume that war can never exist would be as dangerous as to fall automatically into its game. The necessity to protect these new worlds without sacrificing their creative capacity is at the root of this multiple movement."
In this persistence of wanting to live and achieve happiness despite everything lies the true force and the future of these children of December of 2001, and also of those who have been pushing for change since long before that unforgettable date.

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