Argentina: Societies in Movement or Politics as Usual?

Source: TeleSUR English

We arrived in Argentina and everything in Buenos Aires looked about the same as two years ago, and the year prior, and the ones before that for that matter; a city somewhere between first and third world in infrastructure.

The political stencils change, but remain consistent in quantity and most everyone has a strong political opinion. Being close to election time, the conversations on the street were dominated more by the question of state power than usual, but not over much. Will Cristina Kirchner win again or will the far right dominate? And there was, of course, the usual political scandal.

But looks can be deceiving. On the surface Argentina has a progressive government, is struggling with its economy, but is doing better, while traditional party politics dominate the political sphere.

However, another reality is also brewing, one just below the surface and sometimes even right in front of you if you are willing to see it. The other reality of Argentina is one of a Society in Movement – to borrow from Raul Zibechi’s description of the new movements around the world – movements that are creating alternatives from below, looking to one another for power rather than to formal institutions. This piece is a brief introduction to some of these societies in movement by way of personal reflections noted while in Argentina in January 2015. Subsequent articles will delve into many of the experiences referenced below.

We arrived in our hotel, by far one of the least expensive based on the size of our room and location in the very center of Buenos Aires – Callao at Corrientes. The hotel is now in a slightly dilapidated condition, although it once had a four star rating. The lobby is still grand, with wide hardwood floors, bronze handrails, old mirrors with lead embedding, a number of meeting rooms and an auditorium. The hotel has a cafe bar called Utopia – and this is the first indication this is not just any old hotel and bar. Upon entering the hotel, if one looks closely, there is a small bronze plaque reading Cooperative Callao. This is a recuperated workplace – run horizontally by the workers with regular assemblies and equal pay for all. I was fortunate to have been living in Argentina at the time of the takeover of the hotel, and remember with great emotion what it was like back in 2003; sitting in the lobby of a boarded-up hotel, with workers from other recuperations around the city as well as neighbors, assembly participants and unemployed, all supporting the process of a takeover. And now, 12 years later, it is still moving to be here in this same hotel with my partner and young toddler and talking with people from the various movements around the city.

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