Que Se Vayan Todos: Argentina's Popular Rebellion (2)
An eyewitness account of the financial meltdown and ongoing grassroots rebellion.
2 July. 2002 Returning to Rebellion
I arrived back in Argentina the day after the suprise announcement that early elections are going to be held in March next year. "I'm not going to vote, why condemn your candidate to hell? No one can govern this country," exclaims my friend Anabella on the way home from the airport.
It's true - no one in their right mind would want to take on the presidency of a country in such crisis. It's difficult for any politician to appear in public without being hounded by angry citizens, making campaigning a difficult task. General elections in most countries tend towards farce, George W Bush's Florida coup being the most memorable recent example. But in a situation where the hatred for politicians is so endemic that the ex-finance minister, Domingo Cavallo has to employed a decoy in a mask, Argentina's elections are set to be pure burlesque.
Voting is compulsory in Argentina, unless you are 500km from your home on polling day. During the elections of 1999 an anticapitalist group took several hundred people 501km outside of Buenos Aires, to hold debates about direct democracy and register with an extremely perplexed local police force the fact that they weren't going to vote. In last October's congressional elections, a record 22 per cent cast blank votes or abstained - many put pictures of Osama Bin Laden in their voting envelopes. Recent polls have revealed that 63 per cent of Argentineans don't believe in representative democracy. This time around many more will abstain. But breaking the law is commonplace now - even the middle classes, or what's left of them, are regularly refusing to pay taxes, or electricity bills.
There are three serious candidates who are neck a neck in the polls. One of them is a fascinating political paradox - Luis Zamora. Zamora is an ex-Trotskyite who has rejected his political past and has set up a social movement called "Self-determination and Freedom" which is influenced by Zapatismo and Autonomist ideas.
His movement is using the public space opened up by the election process, mainstream media debates and so on, to bring to light the rejection of representation and highlight other forms of power such as the assembleas and direct democracy. When asked what he will do if he is elected, Zamora says he wouldn't last a day and that he doesn't want to be president anyway. "Go self-determine yourself," he says. "Take care of yourself, take it in your own hands, if you don't take it in your own hands, nothing is going to change."
He describes what is happening in Argentina as "a revolution in the heads of millions", a process where the entire country is rethinking representative politics, discovering horizontal ways of organizing and beginning to realise a situation where the "population is doing politics" rather than the politicians. "The population is finding that it is facing itself," he explains, "its culture is to always look above, this is the culture that we all have. This is why this moment is so passionate and beautiful, because it is rethinking this."
Only in Argentina could one have a presidential candidate who does not want to be president and says things like: "the motto of the 'anti-globalization movement' that the resistance to capital be as international as capital itself, is showing a way, that the resistance to the barbarism of capitalism that is today globalized, be global."
One of the most visible changes in Buenos Aires since we were last here is the number of "cartoneras". These are the poor who collect paper and cardboard from the streets for recycling. In February we saw a few of them. Now on nearly every block of the city there are groups of cartoneras scouring the waste bins and bags of rubbish with their bare hands to find scraps of paper or cardboard to sell to recycling companies. As darkness falls the streets are filled with small groups of them pushing shopping trolleys loaded up with enormous white bags bulging with paper. In the morning they are gone. All that remains are trails of rubbish spilling from the bin bags that have been opened.
Over half the country's population has now fallen below the poverty line. Hunger continues to spread to places where it was previously unheard of and unemployment is so endemic that there is a now a popular TV game show where contestants compete for a job. Sony and Time Warner are currently trying to outbid each other in an effort to buy the show and take it worldwide.
Banking restrictions remain, and the ahorristas continue to pressurise the courts and attack banks to get their savings back. Now they even have a leader, a trashy TV comedian turned political activist. Banks are still protected by steel sheeting. But the repeated visits of the ahorristas armed with their hammers and kitchen utensils have left thousands of dents and marks on the steel, vivid traces of continuing rituals of resistance.
The Red Global del Trueque, the barter network, is expanding all the time. It now has 7 million people participating in it, credits are even accepted on some railway lines and many families rely on it for 90 per cent of their needs.
Businesses are closing down everyday. In many cases the directors, unable to pay debts, simply disappear. This happened to some of the factories that are now being self-managed by the workers. They literally came into work one morning to find no managers and after waiting several days for the management to turn up, decided to run the factories themselves.
A book written by participants in the neighbourhood assemblies was being printed at a well-known self-managed printing firm in Buenos Aires when the police arrived to evict the building. A call went out to the local assembly, and literally as the book was coming off the presses they were forcing the police away and securing the building. Across Argentina, capital and the state is in retreat. The spaces that it leaves wide open are rapidly being filled by a multitude of creative social endeavours.
Social Creativity Advances
It's mid-winter here, although you can hardly call it winter - it feels more like a mild British spring. But partly due to the cold weather, the out door assembleas have grown smaller and many have decided to take over buildings, turning them into neighbourhood social centres which provide a permanent presence and meeting space. All kind of buildings are being occupied, and the idea is spreading rapidly.
In the Villa Urquiza neighbourhood they have occupied an old pizzeria. They serve a free meal everyday and free tea to Cartoneras who use the local station to return in the early hours of the morning to their homes in the sprawling suburbs. A large board in the street outside acts as a community notice board, where people can advertise any local jobs going, or share skills and neighbourhood information.
Several banks have been occupied. In Parque Lezama Sur, the assembly has occupied the abandoned Banco de Mayo. When I visited, there were children using the enormous steel door of the bank vault as a goal for a wild indoor game of football. In one corner people were cooking soup and a 'protest art' workshop was taking place in the main lobby. Videos being shown in one of the back rooms, showed the day the space was occupied, local people, young and old, forcing open the doors of the bank and rapidly transforming a space of private commerce into a collective space of cooperation and creativity. Bunches of wires from the banks old computer network hang down from the ceiling and someone had attached the banks mouse mats to all of them. Printed on the mats the banks corporate slogan announced: " Banco de Mayo, changing for you."
The Piquetero movement has been growing across the country and despite a media campaign of criminalisation and warnings from the president that the government was no longer going to tolerate any more road blocks, a large mobilization took place on the 26th of June cutting some major arteries into Buenos Aires. After dispersing the crowd with teargas, rubber and real bullets, the police hunted piqueteros throughout the city, often firing from the back of cruising pick up trucks. What followed was the cold blooded murder of two organisers, Darrio Santillán and Maximiliano Costequi, both in their early twenties and both from the most radical piquetero network. Darrio was shot in the back at close range while he was helping Maxi who had been shot in the chest . By the end of the day 160 people had been arrested and over a hundred injured. It seems that the whole thing was set up as a stage managed confrontation by the state, but it failed to break the movement and the response from every part the popular rebellion was incredible. Thirty thousand took to the streets in support of the piqueteros, and within days the president went on TV to apologise. The head of the secret service, the minister of justice and the chief of Buenos Aires Police were forced to resign and the police officers involved in the operation were put in jail. Days later Duhalde announced the early elections, brought forward by nearly a year, a clear sign that he is hanging onto power by his finger tips and that in Argentina it is people in the streets who are making politics.
Beneath the Masks
The bus drops us beside a dirt track which is dotted with perilous pot holes filled with rubbish. The sulphurous smell of raw sewage rises from shallow channels of grey water that run alongside. We have arrived in Admiralte Brown, a huge sprawling neighbourhood somewhere beyond the southern edges of Buenos Aires. It feels like a hybrid of shanty town, wasteland and a crumbling soviet housing estate, a place where hope is in short supply and jobs are even fewer - unemployment runs at over 80 per cent here. Yet this is a stronghold of one of the most radical groups of Piqueteros, part of the Annibal Veron network that was targeted on the 26th of June when Dario and Maxi were murdered. This network is itself is part of the larger Movimento Trabajero Desocupado (MTD - Movement of Unemployed Workers).
A small, hand-painted sign marks the entrance to the MTD bakery. We pick our way through a pile of bicycles parked in the passageway which leads to a courtyard where about twenty people are sitting in a circle taking part in a workshop. Most are in their early twenties - some a lot younger, a few a lot older. Despite the occasional barking dogs, the gusts of wind, crowing cocks and small children running between the chairs, the participants seem intensely focused as Lola, the energetic young piquetero facilitator, hands out strips of paper. Stuck on the rough concrete wall in front of them is a large sheet of flip-chart paper divided into two columns, the left labelled: "MTD", the right one: "CAPITALIST SYSTEM OF PRODUCTION".
The workshop is about to begin. As if on cue Astor bounces into the courtyard carrying a basket of warm doughnuts which he passes around. Astor works in the collective bakery. Short and stocky, dressed in bright colours - and occasionally nicknamed 'monkey' - his wide face continuously beams a cheeky smile. He sits down munching a doughnut and joins the workshop.
"What's the difference between a bakery here and a bakery in the capitalist system?" asks Lola. "Who are we producing for here?" "We produce for our neighbours," pipes up Yvette, a grey-haired woman in her fifties, her brown face furrowed like a deeply ploughed field, "and to teach ourselves to do new things, to learn to produce for ourselves". "For whom do the bakers work in a capitalist system?" Lola continues. "For the managers, for a corporation," replies Maria, who sports a silver ring in her nose. "The people working in bakeries are people like us," says Astor, "but they have to work long hours, often up to 3am in the morning when the dough goes in the ovens, they work their bodies to the bone." Miguel, slouched in the corner and wearing an Iron Maiden sweat shirt, butts in: "And yet the people who work hardest get the least reward, they work in subhuman conditions, earn nothing and continue to work. But we produce so that everyone can live better." For a moment the group falls into contemplative silence.
Each strip of paper that Lola handed out has a statement written on it about either the self-organised collective "MTD" form of production or capitalist forms of production. The idea is they attach their strip of paper on the appropriate column of the flip chart and explain why they think it should go there. A glum looking guy with long shaggy hair in a polyester black and red Nike track-suit stands up first. He reads out his strip of paper. "The most important aim is to make profits." He shakes his head. "In the capitalist system, they don't care about peoples health or nature, to them all that is interesting is to make money. We produce for the needs of our neighbours, we all need a little bit of each other, we need each other."
Yvette is next. "Only one person makes decisions." She slaps the strip onto the "capitalist" column. "We decide things together here, and the money we make we share between all of us..." One by one they all take turns, standing up, eloquently explaining the ways the different systems are organised and discussing each point at length.
Suddenly two cats start to fight in the tree that overhangs the courtyard. Tanya, a punky 21 year old who wears a chain and padlock around her neck, and is in charge of the piqeteros Security, throws a stone at the screaming cats, who scamper across the roof tops.
The workshop winds down with a long discussion about the problems of working collectively. They discuss the issue of some people in the groups who didn't participate in the process of contributing part of their income to the collective and how the assemblea after much discussion decided to expel them. Then one young woman explains how she is confused about how to manage her handicraft work group in a non-capitalist way. "We work five days making things, it takes so much time, materials are expensive, we have to pay for travel to the markets at weekends to sell stuff. It's so difficult." She worries that she is falling into capitalist ways by selling things so far away from the neighbourhood, things that people don't really 'need'. The group comforts her, telling her that there are different ways of producing things, that some compromises always have to be made, and suggesting that she tries selling stuff at the craft fair run by the social movement the Madres de Placa de Mayo.
"Do these principles we have been talking about really happen in the MTD ?" asks Lola, provocatively. Her extraordinary facilitation had meant everyone in the group has contributed to the debates. "When we work together there are always some problems, not everyone is used to common work." says Yvette. "We are so used to a capitalist work system," exclaims Maria. "My father worked in a capitalist system, so did his father - we are all so used to being told what to do. For many people it's difficult to have any initiative, they just wait to be given orders. And you know what?" she continues, grinning. "We still have some authoritarians in our group ! I'm not going to name names." Everyone bursts into laughter.
As I sit there witnessing this extraordinary workshop, I try to imagine a similar group of young unemployed people in my own country, Britain, on a crumbling housing estate at 9.30 on a weekday morning. I wonder if they could ever have such an engaged and keenly developed critique of the system that had excluded and marginalized them so utterly from society.
The Strength of Sharing
Martin is in his thirties, short, with dark piercing eyes and sharp features. He founded the Admiralte Brown piqueteros group with Dario. Inspired by the nearby Solano group, one day they put up posters around the neighbourhood advertising a piquetero assembly. That was two and a half years ago - things are now very different. The group now has two sections within Admiralte Brown which meet in four different assemblies, with over 200 participants. The national Piquetero movements have become the key energy behind the popular rebellion that has spread across Argentina and Dario is dead, shot by the police three weeks ago.
Martin is the main person showing us around and introducing us to people here. His commitment, like everyone in the group, to non-hierarchical organising is total. He seems to have a leadership role that is not about coercion or command but about networking and storytelling. He displays a potent humility yet has a charismatic confidence which enables him to make connections between people, and he has a great knack for telling inspiring tales.
As we walk through the sprawling district, he lists the different activities that they have self-organised: "We have a group building sewage systems and another that helps people who only have tin roofs on their houses to put proper roofs on. There is a press group which produces our own media and makes links with the outside media. We have the 'Copa de Leche' (cup of milk) which provides a glass of milk to children every day. There's the bakery you just saw, and we're building vegetable gardens and a library. What we are about to see is the Ropero, the common clothes store."
Another wooden sign welcomes us to the MTD Ropero. We walk into a small room where half a dozen women are sitting around a table. Behind them a set of shelves has a few clothes folded on it. One woman is sewing by hand.
They greet us warmly and sweet mate is handed around by the Griselda, who shows us her red swollen fingers: "We mend all the clothes by hand," she says, "it hurts my fingers so much, we have no sewing machines."
She explains the function of the ropero. Its role is to distribute clothing to families who can't afford them. MTD people hand out explanatory leaflets, especially on the other side of the neighbourhood which is marginally better off but suffers just as much unemployment. People who have old clothes bring them here, where they are cleaned and mended. Then, twice a month, the Ropero is open for people from the whole neighbourhood to come and take clothes for free.
"How do you avoid people taking more than their fare share?" I ask. "We have simple rules: no more than 3 clothes per person, and we have a book where we write down who has taken what clothes," she says, showing us a neatly written ledger with a dedication to Maxi and Dario written on the inside page. "But the other day a mother came who has ten children, and we didn't have enough to give them all clothes they needed," she sighs.
A collection of objects are stuck to the walls of the room. There is a faded picture of Jesus wearing a crown of thorns, a gaudy plastic clock, and next to it a press cutting with the large headline 'AUTOGESTION', a beautiful word that has no direct equivalent in English but means autonomous self-organising, self-management. Beneath it is a hand-written sheet of paper that explains some of the points of principle of the movement. Listed under the "Criteria for work" are such things as: "Don't be a tourist in your groups, don't just sit and watch"; "Respect others"; "Give voluntary money to the common funds, especially if you get a Plan (unemployment subsidies )" and "Go to the assemblies". Another column explains the criteria for assemblies, including "Give priority to those who don't speak"; "Don't be authoritarian"; "Don't speak for others", and finally, "Criticise , don't complain". Griselda points out the back copies of the Aldmiralte Brown MTD photocopied newsletter also pinned to the wall, telling us that many of the women here cannot read and that every week when the newsletter comes out she reads it to them.
A woman at the end of the table holds up a pair of child's trousers she is working on, pointing to a large rip at the knees. "We don't have any material to make a patch, so we are cutting off the legs and turning them into shorts," she explains. She then picks out a pair of Nike trousers from the shelf to show us what good condition some of the clothes that she mends are in. As she shows them to us, I wonder about the journey these trousers must have made, from the hands of a sweatshop worker in East Asia, via ships and shops, to Argentina, where they were bought, worn, donated and then mended by another hand, finaly to be given away as part of the project of an anticapitalist movement of unemployed workers.
We are invited to have lunch with some of the people who work on the newsletter. They live on the other side of Admiralte Brown where small concrete houses give way to row after row of identical grey apartment blocks. Over lunch in a small flat which doubles up as the newsletter office, we talk about global networks of resistance and swap stories of struggle and tactical tips. I tell them about the very different kind of roadblocks that I had been involved in with Reclaim the Streets in London. They tell me about the "Queen of the Piquete" fashion show that was put on by queer piqueteros during a road block. The extraordinary image of drag queens dancing through barricades of burning tyres is a hard one to shake. The next day someone tells me that Carla, the large woman in her late fifties who cooked us lunch is in fact the same person who appears in the middle of the double page spread of the first edition ( and this edition) of our Argentina report, pictured sitting in front of burning tyres on blockaded motorway, masked up and wearing mirror shades!
These kind of apocalyptic images are, the overriding public image of the piqueteros. Leading up to the murders of the 26th of July, the mainstream media were manufacturing stories of violence including rumours that some piqueteros were preparing for armed uprisings inspired by leftist guerrillas. On the day itself, minutes after the deaths the media reported the police statements which said that the deaths were the result of rivalry between different Piquetero groups, something they had to retract as soon as pictures of the police shooting directly at individuals at close range came out. Two enormous demonstrations of support with people from every social strata have taken place since then and the piquetero movement itself is continuing to grow rapidly. "Since the 26th, links to the neighbourhood Assemblies movement have grown, they realise that we are not that different from them" explained Anna, one of the editors of the local MTD news letter.
The murders and mass arrests of the 26th changed a lot for the Annibal Verron network: "None of us are born MTD activists, we have to become one, we are a new movement," Maria explained to me, "since the deaths we have two priorities - to change the way we organise so as to dismantle the fear of repression that is growing and to have food for everyone in the movementî. A big debate is taking place about the role of masking up during actions, and it seems a decision has been made to stop wearing masks for the time being.
The challenge is to present the movement as unemployed workers, first, piqueteros, second. The piquete is just a tactic - though an amazingly successful one. "Direct action gets the goods," was the slogan of the Wobblies at the turn of the 20th century, and for the piqueteros that is certainly true. They block the roads, demand a specific number of 'plan trabajor', the unemployed subsidies, and more often than not get them from the local government - about 40 pounds a month per person. They have also used the tactic to back various demands, including getting food from supermarkets. Last Christmas they picketed eight blocks, closing down six supermarkets in one go. They demanded food for the neighbourhood's Christmas dinner. Lines of supermarket workers, who had been threatened with losing their jobs if they did not comply, protected the supermarkets behind a line of shopping trolleys and security guards. Eventually the Piqueteros convinced the management that it would be cheaper for them to give them food than to remain closed for the entire day.
But it's the constructive aspects of the movement which they want to show to the world: the self organisation, the direct democracy and the numerous neighbourhood projects, the bakery, the ropero and so on. As in many protest movements it is these constructive elements which are so difficult to make visible. The powerful current in our culture which obscures constructive, creative situations with the spectacle of conflict and confrontation runs deep.
The murders were less than 20 days ago, and yet no one seems paralysed by despair: "If another companero had been killed, Dario would have kept up the struggle, in fact he would have worked even harder... we have to continue to fight for food and projects - if we give up, we will have nothing," says Tanya.
Pillars of the Movement
After lunch we go to one of the two weekly MTD assemblies which are happening simultaneously in Admiralte Brown that afternoon. Besides piles of burnt plastic and a ruined wall with a circle A and the words "False Euphoria" graffitied onto it, a group of 70 or more people stand in a makeshift circle. Raising their voices against the cold biting wind, they openly discuss the problems of the last week, share information and make plans for the following days. A key event will be next week's commemoration of the June repression. Activists from the United States, part of Art and Revolution, one of the key groups involved in the Direct Action Network that Shut down the World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting in 1999 in Seattle, have been working with the piqueteros here over the last few days building giant puppets out of cardboard for the commemoration events. A young woman proudly presents her puppet, attached to a long stick which she holds high in the air.
It's mostly women who do the speaking at the assemblea. Earlier, Anna had told to me how woman are the ones who are hit hardest by unemployment. When there is no food to put on the table, no clothes to dress the children in, it is they who are at the sharp end of poverty. Often the men feel rejected and are paralysed by the loss of identity which follows unemployment and in many cases it has been the women who have been the first to get out of the home into the streets to take part in piquetes. "Women's struggle is the pillar of the movement," she tells me. Astor's mother had joined the movement before him. He had a job selling loans for new cars, and every time he saw his elderly mother on TV, masked up and blocking the highways, he would cringe with embarrassment. But now no one buys cars and the job disappeared. So one day he went to the piquetero assembly out of curiosity, and he saw how women, many of them elderly, many of whom had never had the possibility to make decisions or express important things about their lives, were able to put up their hand and talk freely and people would listen to them. They would propose good ideas and then they would then go into the streets for their children's sake. Astor has three children and soon he realised that he had to join the movement too.
Transforming the Fences
After the assembly, Martin takes us across a football pitch that has probably never seen grass and whose goals are so rusty that they seem to have been bent by the wind that blasts across this place. He shows us the "Copa de Leche", the project which distributes milk to children. It is in a squatted building next to an occupied plot of land. They took the fences down that surrounded the land. All that remains of them are a few broken concrete posts. The rest have been cut up and used to build a brand new oven for baking bread. The old fence posts are literally what makes up the base of a huge roaring outdoor oven standing on the edge of this deserted football pitch and surrounded by newly dug vegetable plots. On the side of the oven one could just make out the words 'Cambio Social' - social change - roughly painted there the day before by young piqueteros, trying out their paint brushes during the puppet-making workshop.
Two huge guys are stoking the fire and as we arrive we see them pull out a tray of freshly baked bread. Their faces erupt with pleasure as they set eyes on the steaming loaves, the first batch ever to come out of the oven. They pass them to an elderly woman who takes them into the building, only to return a few seconds later scowling and handing them back, saying they haven't been cooked enough, that the dough inside is still raw. The men hang their heads with bruised pride and hastily stuff the tray back into the oven.
Fences coming down has been one of the most powerful images of emancipatory movements throughout history, a perfect practise and metaphor for challenging the enclosure of life and land by capital. It was the 18th century philosopher, Jean-Jaques Rousseau who said of the first man who enclosed a piece of land as his own, "If only someone had pulled up the stakes and cried to his fellows: 'You are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody!" Unfortunately no one cried out then, but stakes have been pulled and fences been falling for hundreds of years - from the 16th Century Diggers to the assaults on the security fences during the actions against Free Trade of the Americas Agreement (FTAA) in Quebec and G8 in Genoa.
The image of fences being pulled down and the posts being turned into something practical strikes me as a beautiful metaphor for the transformation of the enclosures of capital into creative autonomous tools of social revolution. A transformation which involves people beginning to build the life that they want and preparing to defend it rather than simply protesting against what they don't want.
Most of my life has been an attempt at finding a space where poetic acts and pragmatic solutions merge, a space between the imagination of art and the social transformation of activism, between utilitarianism and utopia, symbols and survival. But I realise that it is perhaps a luxury to dwell on the beauty of metaphors when faced with hunger. Here fences were torn down and were transformed by people, most of whom had never even heard of Quebec, Genoa, or the Diggers, but who simply knew how to make the best use of a redundant fence.
Earlier, Martin had illustrated some of the difference between the symbolic nature of protest and the pragmatic nature of social revolution. He told me that they had once used a banner against the FTAA during a road block, but that they couldn't do an action against the FTTA itself. He re-emphasised the fact that the road blocks are specific tools to get specific demands. "You couldn't do one to demand that the FTAA is abolished, because it's too much risk with no direct reward," he explained. "When you do an action with a pragmatic end, even if you fail the first time, then the next time you try harder. No one would be willing to risk so much for an abstraction."
This same dichotomy came up again the following day when I am shown the indoor bakery. On the wall are beautiful ceramic tiles, a blast of colour amongst the dusty greys and browns of Admiralte Brown. "How beautiful," I say. "Yes," says Astor, "a ceramicist made them for us and gave us a furnace too." "Great," I think, imagining the piqueteros making tiles and giving their houses some brightness. "But we are trying to work out how to transform the furnace into a bread oven - we don't need tiles." He takes a deep intake of breath. "Trouble is it burns too hot."
I don't remember who it was who asked the provocative question, "What is more beautiful? The paintings of the Sistine chapel, or the sight of carts in the morning bringing bread to the poor?". My answer was always the later, yet I always want to resist the reduction of political acts to those of necessity. From my position of priveledge having never experienced the reality of poverty, it is easy to critique the politics of utilitarianism, feeling it determines limits of change before these limits are even known, that it strangles the spontaneity and creativity of radical action, that it dulls the imagination of a better future.
With these conflicts swirling around my head I say goodbye to Martin. "When I come back to Argentina I'll be able to speak good Spanish." I promise him. "Great," he laughs, "then you will be able to read Don Quixote."
Don Quixote - how could I forget! Suddenly his parting comment dissolves the false dichotomy that had muddled my thinking. It's not a choice between bread OR beauty. The dichotomy between imagination and reason, bread and roses doesn't exist. If your hungry bread IS beautiful and baking bread on occupied land is an act that is so filled with meaning, and symbolism, that few would miss its significance.
Don Quixote ,the 16th century tale of the delusional old man who thinks he is a knight errant travelling across Spain to right all wrongs, fighting windmills he believes to be giants, with Sancho Panza at his side, an illiterate but shrewd peasant primarily interested in eating and drinking, illustrates these false dichotomies perfectly. The differences between imagination and realism, fiction and reality are shown to be illusions throughout the book. "Don Quixote is the best book of political theory," says Subcommandante Marcos, and apparently the book is always at his side. The most effective political practices are those that dissolve dichotomies and play with paradox. Zapatismo is a wonderful example of a practise where the beauty of symbols and the necessity of survival merge. In Martin's laugh and parting words I see someone with a profound vision. An insurrectionary imagination that sees the poetry in a roaring bread oven, recognises the beauty in the fences coming down, and ultimately understands that from all this comes dignity. Dignity which all of us need more than any loaf of bread. And when I look around me, in this landscape of deprivation I realise that the most beautiful thing here is exactly that, it is peoples dignity. Dignity that battles against exclusion. Dignity that is just as powerful and as beautiful as any colour, or poem, or song.
Those who live in Admiralte Brown have been forced to the edges of a system that only cares about the centre, only cares about those who can produce, who can contribute to the monster of economic growth that is choking the planet. Many have talked about the energy and creativity of the global movement of movements coming from the seams of society, erupting from the margins, from those who are without - the lesses - the landless, jobless, paperless, homeless. Here we are surrounded by the seams, a nowhere-land, a wasteland of wasted lives and wasted futures and yet here there is a spirit of creativity and struggle that is so strong, so solid and so irresistible.
The piqueteros know that you gain nothing by winning power. They don't want to take over the crumbling centre, they want to bring down all fences, and reclaim the edges, bringing life that's worth living back into their community. "We are building power, not taking it," is how Martin described it.
Whenever I asked people what had changed in their lives since they became involved in the MTD, they told me that the loneliness and isolation of unemployment and poverty had disappeared. They spoke of the power of togetherness and community. Tanya said to me, "The biggest change was the relationship with other people in the neighbourhood, the development of friendship and the possibility of sharing... When you're on a road block and you have nothing to eat, the people next to you share their food. Now I feel I'm living in a large family, my neighbours are my family." The fear and mistrust sown by the military dictatorship destroyed connections between people and since then the dictatorship of the markets has built even more fences and separations, but the fences erected between people are now being pulled down by the strength of sharing.
When I asked Tanya, weather she was aware of any past examples of self-management and autonomy - the Diggers, the Paris Commune etc, she replied: "No, I don't know these things. All I know is that I have lived here, in the neighbourhood, all my life and I see that people don't have proper homes, or food to put on their table, or streets that aren't muddy tracks - and I don't know what name to give to what we are doing here, all I can call it is "social change ."
John Jordan, Higham, Kent, 27 Aug. 2002