Que se Vayan Todos

Rivers of Sound

15th Feb. 2002

Our friends tell us to meet them for tonight's cacerolazo in the cafe of the Popular University of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo. The place is an enormous social centre, right opposite the national congress building, and is run by the well-known mothers of the disappeared, whose courageous actions brought to the attention of the world the mass disappearances during the military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983.

Surrounded by shelves crammed with books, journals, and newspapers documenting radical Latin American political struggles, we drink the quintessential Argentinean drink of health and friendship, yerba mate, an extraordinary herbal infusion that increases energy and mental alertness and is believed to contain all of the vitamins necessary to sustain life. The warm drink is served in a gourd with a silver straw and is passed around and shared between friends. No political meeting in Argentina is complete without mate, and some of us wonder whether this seemingly innocuous green twiggy tea is the secret ingredient behind this country's inspirational rebellion.

Night falls, and before long we begin to hear the repetitive rhythm of pot-and-pan banging drift across the square. A small crowd of around fifty people has congregated in the street - they are young, old, rich, poor, smartly dressed, scruffy, but all are armed with spoons, forks, and a whole variety of metal objects to hit: cooking pots, lids, kettles, Coke cans, car parts, biscuit tins, iron bars, baking trays, car keys. The rhythm is high pitched and monotonous, and above it people sing catchy tunes instead of dull political chanting; often they include the key slogan of this movement: que se vayan todos, they all must go, meaning that the ENTIRE political class goes, every politician from every party, the supreme court, the IMF, the multinational corporations, the banks - everyone out so the people can decide the fate of this economically crippled country themselves.

Our friend Eva tells us that the movement has lost some of its momentum over the last few weeks. We admit to being surprised by how small this crowd is - having imagined the cacerolazos to be enormous. But as we're thinking this, we reach a crossroads. To our right we see another crowd, perhaps twice as big as ours, coming towards us, waving and cheering. We continue for a few more blocks, and on the next street corner another stream of people flows out from the underground station, singing and jumping up and down as it merges with our group, another junction and yet more people come towards us.

We began as 50, grew to a hundred or more, then we were two hundred, then five, then a thousand, two thousand, perhaps more. Rivers of people pouring into each other, growing bigger and bigger, rising to a roaring, banging torrent as we near the final destination, the Plaza de Mayo, where the presidential palace, the Pink House, stands protected behind police lines and barricades.

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