Friday, January 21, 2005

Report from Enero Autonomo

La Matanza, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Crouched on the factory’s cement floor, amidst dust and cigarette butts, I watch Enero Autonomo (Autonomous January) participants mingle and interact. Barefoot kids of every size and color dart between the adults and practice murga (a resistance dance created by African slaves) in the open spaces. People from each collective stand beneath their respective banner, selling homemade sandals, leather pouches, pastries, picture frames, wild-crafted herbs, and self-published literature. Of all the participants, those from the Movement of Unemployed Workers (MTD) have the greatest presence here. They are the most numerous, the most vocal, and the most at ease in this environment. Their ease makes sense: Tucuypaj is an abandoned factory, the MTD abandoned people.

Enero Autonomo is a four day “gathering of autonomous thought” that takes place in the outskirts of Buenos Aires. Unemployed people, neighborhood assemblies, indigenous groups, and national and international activists come here to reflect upon their actions, share experiences, and brainstorm new strategies for social change. Participants host and attend workshops, discussions, performances, and video screenings. They share meals and sleep beside one another in tents or on the factory floor. Like the World Social Forum, Enero Autonomo is intended to transcend the event itself, as participants incorporate the lessons they learn and the relationships they form here into their daily lives.

Throughout the first two days of Enero Autonomo, I’ve heard activists speak of autonomy the way we speak of sustainability in the United States: as a concept that is difficult to describe and even harder to embody. Since what is non-autonomous and unsustainable relies on hierarchy, oppression, and dependence, we speak of “horizontality”, “freedom”, and “self-reliance”. But we realize these are abstract notions, words that mean little until translated into food, shelter, and healthy relationships.

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