Hundreds of organizers, activists, artists, families, workers, piqueteros — members of asambleas, unions of the unemployed, and self-managed collectives — gathered in a reclaimed warehouse for the Ronda de Pensamiento Autónomo (Round of Autonomous Thinking) January 8-11 at Roca Negra, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. As part of Enero Autónomo (Autonomous January) the gathering sought to discuss and expand upon the concept of autonomy and horizontal practices and movements. From many countries and struggles they gathered to build upon the practices of direct democracy, horizontalism, autonomy, and struggle that unite the many fibers of people and practices into a fabric of passion and hope for bringing the new world in our hearts into existence. Here is the space where these shared stories and dreams meet, where rage meets pragmatism in fruitful dialogue and strategizing.
Roca Negra (Black Rock), as the space is known, is a former chop shop in Lanus, an area on the outskirts of greater Buenos Aires that was reclaimed by the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. It is a fitting a space as any, a place that was formerly used for the operations where those screwed by economic conditions would steal from others to survive – a place that is now used for the growing of vegetables and raising of livestock to support the members of the unemployed worker unions that have called for this international gathering.
The hundreds gathered in this space come from many locations and struggles, from the Unemployed Workers Movements (MTDs) and neighborhood assemblies to indigenous communities of the Mapuche and Guarani and activists from the US and Europe. There are members of countless autonomous collectives and self-managed workplaces, including Mujeres Creando (Women Creating) from Bolivia, the Landless Peasants Movement (MST) from Brazil, Autonomista Socialista de Suecia (Sweden), the Worcester Global Action Network (from the US) and Cooperativa La Asableraria (Italy). Coming from many places and experiences the discussion is united by many common features: struggling against the corporate globalization of the Free Trade Area of the Americas, building and sustaining cooperative projects and community organizations, fostering independent media and sources of information, confronting the many varieties of oppression that exist worldwide.
International encuentros such as this one reinforce and make clear the need to build common projects, genuine solidarity, and connections of mutual aid between radical organizations. Through many discussions any emphasis was placed on how solidarity must go beyond fundraising to genuine political support and working together, common projects and work beyond piqueturismo (activist tourism) and fetishizing militant chic. When funding from NGOs, grant making foundations, government sources, and religious charities come with questionable strings attached, the building and maintaining of truly autonomous movements necessitate webs of support that enable the maintenance of dignity and self-determination. Poverty pimping and paternalism don’t magically disappear when the situation becomes international.
While it is important to appreciate the beauty and resistance displayed by organizers in Argentina, Brazil, and everywhere, it is also important to not overly idealize such movements or to forget the situations they face. For instance, while the work of MTD La Matanza and Solano is amazing and encouraging (and largely responsible for bringing together this gathering), these unions represent only a small portion of the unemployed workers who are involved in such organizations, many of whom are being co-opted and bureaucratized by the Argentinean state as it continues to repress the more radical organizers. Many of the community asambleas neighborhood associations that formed after the December 2001 financial crisis have since fallen apart as things have become more stabilized and the middle class has been bought back into the system, even if slowly.
The point of such observation is not to deny the validity or importance of such organizing, but to realize that if we as activists and organizers want to understand, support, learn from, and from with organizations not just from Argentina but anywhere in the world, it makes little sense to try to do so without gaining a fuller understanding of the political situation. Building common projects and forums of understanding means interacting with the situation as a whole, and not just the organizers whose politics and practice comes closest to the kinds of organizations that we find most desirable.
There is much to be gained by the formation and maintenance of such networks and spaces of dialogue, passion, and autonomous thought, strategy, and action – but also much to lose if idealism prevents seeing the situation in full view and acting upon such. Imagining new worlds cannot blind us to the harshness of the existing world, or to overlook the inevitable growing pains as words from the heart and social creativity expand to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.
Enero Autónomo: www.eneroautonomo.org.ar