Lisa Garrigues | 11.06.2002 01:59
The Argentine Neighborhood Assemblies, born in early January 2002 from the December cacerolazos, are almost a half a year old. Despite repeated rumours that the assemblies are "dying out", the opposite seems to be true.
Though the individual assemblies are smaller in attendance than they were in January, and some are still beset by problems in organizing and finding common aims to work on, these 200 plus groups of neighbors continue to be an important force making "politics without politicians" in Buenos Aires and other major cities of this country, where poverty, unemployment and an unpopular bank freeze have magnified the struggles of every day life.
One assembly is actively participating in the administration of a local hospital, another is working with the streetside recyclers to help them maintain their source of income in the face of city government threats to turn over the recycling to private business, and others have continually showed up en masse to support the efforts and actions of their neighbors. Three weeks ago two pot-banging assemblies showed up to help a retired couple get their savings back in Colegiales (see http:// argentina.indymedia.org article), and assemblies in Pompeya and Barrio Once have gathered in large numbers to support workers who took over factories in those neighborhoods.
Julio Tamae of the Pompeya assembly says new participants are showing up every week at the meetings in his barrio. Another resident of Pompeya, Hernan Gonzales, says: "The assemblies continue to be the red line that is drawn before repressive government policies, the line that says "Here, and no further."
The profuse and enthusiastic chaos of the early "interbarriales", the inter-neighborhood assemblies, has been replaced by a structured delegate voting system in which each assembly sends two delegates to the interbarrial with a mandate to vote on particular issues from the neighborhood assembley. This was done because some assembly members felt the assemblies were being taken over by organized left wing political parties, and they wanted to restrict voting to people who were actually participants in the assemblies. Proposals currently being discussed include the organization of an interneighborhood press committee and actions against the raising of prices by the private utility companies.
Threats and Harassment
A few months ago stick-wielding supporters of President Dualde descended upon the assembly of Merlot and beat up several members. In other assemblies people have been followed by unmarked cars as they walked home. Assembly members continue to receive threats and harassment.
Many members, who rely on emails to keep up their connections with fellow asambleistas, have received repeated computer virus attacks, some of them disabling. One virus-laden email message had a title that said: "assemblies go".
One neighbor in Saavedra received the following telephone threat: "Stop messing around with the assemblies, because if you don't, you,re dead meat."
Others have received threats via email.
One group of asambleistas who were distributing invitations to a party in the Saavedra train station were threatened with jail by federal police.
Three people who were getting out of a car after a demonstration at economy minister Lavagna's house were asked for identification by police in a car.
Four neighbors who were leaving a bar in their neighborhood were intercepted by police who asked them what they were doing inside the bar and asked them for identification.
In Saavedra park one man made death threats to a group of asamblistas and other people who were enjoying a fair.
Despite the threats, and the onset of winter chill, assembly members are still meeting on streetcorners and inside buildings, continuing their experiment in solidarity, organization and direct democracy. Last weekend, the assembly of Palermo organized an event called La Trama ("The Weaving") which consisted of music, dance, encounters and other cultural events in which local businesses and neighbors participated. Here is what one asambleista, Eduardo Coiro, had to say about La Trama:
"Yesterday, I lived the closing event of La Trama, a beautiful and powerful exprience that went beyond listening to ideas and proposals. I heard the sounds of soul and communion in each participant, each drumbeat, each fire juggling, each dance to bossa nova, afro, folklore or rock. I watched people thoroughly enjoying themselves, living with the intensity of those drumbeats that echo in your chest, the rythms of a shared heartbeat. I felt a strange pride in knowing that among the originators of this assembly, born the 17th of January, there were friends with whom I had banged on pots in front of Congress, with whom I had demonstrated against the Supreme Court.
Today they, these doers and sustainers, are a part of the collective miracle that is La Trama and that speaks of how in the neighborhood assembly we have managed to overcome internal differences in an activity that was real, shared and open to everyone.
(It) was overflowing with people, it was a fountain, a force full of impact. There were kids dancing with their moms and dads, all ages, all stories, lots of different political ideologies. Everyone of us on the same ground, one made of dreams and hope.
In this profound wound that is Argentina, it is not easy to get organized, go out onto the street, and recognize in each one of us the seed of what is human and equal despite our differences. We have to overcome the prejudice and terror that has destroyed time and again the collective body, the continual crises that have left us without bread or illusions, that have stripped us of words, of the capacity to love, of the capacity of the direct and transparent human encounter.
We have been forced to retreat into immobility, into the defense of our own entrenched solitude, into a culture of desperation. I see no remedy that is more healing than the collective action of the people, whether it be a roadblock, an assembly, a cacerolazo, or this indefinable collective creation of La Trama, a beautiful experience of initiation into political life for whole families.
With a certain difficulty in describing experiences that go beyond mere reason, I can't stop tellling you of my admiration for La Trama, for the work of the wonderful and honest people of the Assembly of Palermo Viejo.
Hasta La Victoria
For more news and article on Argentina, see http://argentinanow.tripod.com.ar and http://argentina.indymedia.org