Que se Vayan Todos

Converging Currents

15th Feb. 2002

The raging torrent of sound finally arrives at the packed Plaza de Mayo. The mouth of each avenue feeding into the square is flooded with thousands of people cheering the arrival of each assembly. Banner after banner passes by, some roughly painted and others carefully lettered , but each bearing the neighborhood's name and the time and place of the meeting.

The repetitive metallic rhythm fills the night. Some people grow bored of hitting their pots and start to bang on lamposts or railings, others pound on the barricade which splits the square in half, behind which stand a symbolic row of riot policemen protecting the Pink House. Singing of the movement's anthem breaks out periodically, rising above the sound of the saucepans, voices crying, "They all must go, not a single one should remain, Duhalde must go back up his mother's cunt," sung with equal ebullience by elderly women, youthful punks, unemployed refinery workers, and middle class bankers.

Young kids are busy covering the walls with graffiti; hardly a surface of this city remains that does not carry some phrase or slogan of resistance. The outline of a coffin is drawn with the word "politicians" inside; a ministry building proclaims "My saucepan is not bullet proof;" the closed shutters of a shop declare "Popular assemblies - go out into the streets and claim what is rightfully yours."

In the Plaza de Mayo, people are incredibly open, happy to talk with us, readily telling us stories, and repeatedly emphasizing how important it is that we document their struggle and show it to the world. The diversity of the crowd astonishes us - it seems that every walk of life is represented, and while we struggle to grasp the contradictions we perceive, we meet Pablo, a 30 year old employee of Bank Boston, who tells us, "By day I must work as a capitalist, but at night I'm a socialist. I've been a socialist for a long time, since my father was disappeared when I was six years old." His father was a university student of sociology, and was not particularly political, but was dumped in the Río Plata all the same at age 22, leaving behind an 18 year old wife and his six year old son.

It is this which is particularly poignant, the fact that every one of these people who is over thirty is living with some memory of the dictatorship, has lost some people from their immediate family, (or at least knows someone who did), they know how bad things can get, how disappearances serve to terrify a population in ways that we, with only prisons and courts as official deterrence, can't dream of. This popular collective memory seems to permeate every aspect of this rebellion. Although the continuity of the lineage of resistance has been severely damaged, people seem deeply committed to doing the hard work of rebuilding a movement that was, until recently, in shambles, a movement that was long lulled to sleep by fearful memories not yet dulled by the passage of time, lulled to sleep by neoliberal promises and privatized dreams, convinced that without following the "rules of the market," the country was sure to return to the dark days of dicatorship.

But not everyone is so sympathetic. "They had it coming," is a constant refrain from their Uruguayan neighbors, "They thought that they were European," and it's true that Buenos Aires feels much more like Paris than like São Paolo. However, the seemingly first-world status was propped up on credit and sustained by loans and a national refusal to recognize the symptoms of imminent collapse. Upon returning home, a Chicano activist tells us, "That's what's so important about the uprising. It's Latin Americanizing Argentina. Argentina is remembering where it is on the map."

Time after time when we asked people in their neighborhood meetings, or during cacerolazos, "Do you think that people here have participated in resistance movements in the past?" the answer was an emphatic no, often with the postscript that the near-complete loss of a generation through disappearance and exile meant that there were few people in the country with any prior experience of organizing much of anything.

Extraordinary to imagine, and contrary to everything we thought we knew, to find that a people with so little foundation, so little affinity for each other, coming from such a place of apathy and individualism, followed by outrage and despair, could so rapidly and intuitively develop forms of organization that are inherently disobedient, inherently directly democratic, and inherently utopian.

Although this scene in the Plaza de Mayo is repeated every Friday night, tonight's cacerolazo is special. For the first time, the piqueteros, or literally, picketers, will be joining the cacerolazo. The piqueteros are Argentina's militant movement of unemployed workers, who launched this social rebellion five years ago.

next part: The Power of the Piqueteros | Que se Vayan Todos | Argentina