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October 26, 2013

Marina Sitrin on Horizontalism-- transcript part 2

By Rob Kall

Marina Sitrin talks about horizontalism and the horizontalidad movement in Argentina


Marina Sitrin, photo taken at 2012 Left Forum, NYC by rob kall

This is the second half of the transcript of my interview with Marina Sitrin, recorded April 25, 2012. 

Marina Sitrin is the author of Horizontalism: Voices of Popular Power in Argentina and it seemed like all the time when I was at the different Occupy Wall Street locales, the idea of horizontalism came at me, and almost always it was Marina Sitrin as the editor of this book whose name came associated with it. So, welcome to the show, Marina!  Now, let me give a little bit more of a bio that I've collected on you. Marina Sitrin is a writer, lawyer, teacher, organizer and dreamer. She holds a Ph.D. in global sociology, and a J.D., that's a legal degree, in international Women's human rights. Her work focuses on social movements and justice, specifically looking at new forms of social organization, such as autogestion, horizontalidad, pre-figurative politics and new effective social relationships.

Part one of the interview is here.

Rob:  Now, let's talk about those banging pots and pans. What's the word that is used for that again?

Marina:   Cacerola, a Cacerola is like a big pot. Yeah, so the Cacerolazo is the banging of pots and pans.

Rob:  C-a-c-e-r-o-l-a, cacerola, right?

Marina:   Uh-huh.

Rob:  And this is something that hundreds of thousands of people went out into the streets and did, right?

Marina:   Right, and regular people. So many people described this to me. People went out in flip flops. People went out in pajama tops. It was everybody. This was not some kind of activist scene at all. This was just everybody, your neighbor. Well, when millions of people go out in the street, it's a whole other thing.

Rob:  Now. I have to say that OpEdnews, the site I publish, probably has published over a thousand articles on Occupy at this point, and I had one reader who would write to me every couple days and say, "Don't forget to talk about banging the pots and pans."

Marina:   Really? Were they from Argentina?  That's interesting.

Rob:  I don't think so, but she must have known about it. Did you see that happen at all with Occupy?

Marina:   I didn't see it in New York - I think it happened a few times in San Francisco. It might have happened in other places. One of the remarkable things about Occupy Movement, their movements, is that it's in so many locations, and all over the country. So, it's quite possible that it's happened in hundreds of towns, and we don't know about it.

   I find out every day (and I feel like I'm pretty informed). I'm very deeply involved in Occupy. I have Google Alert. That's Direct Democracy. And I've had it for a few years. And after Occupy, I would get one or two alerts about where Direct Democracy was mentioned at some blog or some article, maybe once a week. And now I get an alert every single day that has 15 articles and 20 blog posts, and I don't know how many more; So much information. And regularly there I find out about Occupies that I've never heard of, towns that I don't even know where they're located--in what state, or if they're in the United States, and I feel like I'm really informed and I make it my -- it's what I'm about, to be  informed about this movement. And yesterday I found out about this teeny place in Oregon, and before that it was a place in Southern California I'd never heard of that was inland. Just doing interesting assemblies, or having popular education, or the kinds of things they're doing. So, it's quite possible that there's lots of people banging pots and pans. I just think the movement is so large and so diverse.

I learn every day about people who are kept in their homes and evictions are prevented. A lot of time it's just neighbors helping neighbors. It's pretty amazing.

Rob:  It really has gotten very big and very diverse, in spite of the efforts to break it down and beat it up, and the occupation of the locations - It seems like that part of the phase is mostly over.

Marina:   The occupation where people sleep in the plazas, you mean?

Rob:  Yes.

Marina:   Right. Yeah.

Rob:  So, having learned what you've learned from observing what happened in Argentina and elsewhere, where do you see Occupy heading?

Marina:   From what I've learned in Argentina as well, I see it continuing, as far as the assemblies and people organizing. Some of the things we can learn from Argentina are that, of the movements in Argentina that continue and deepen, are those movements that are not only using horizontalism, but they also have the autogestion that we were talking about: the self-organization, the self-management, where people are doing something, whether that's preventing evictions, but also about opening places where people can work or live - just finding ways to be very concrete in what we're organizing, or it's an alternative newspaper, or a radio station, but some form of doing. And so, making sure that as our movements are continuing and deepening, that it's not just our radical forms of democracy, but that we are doing things that are meeting people's basic necessities, and creating alternative structures in ways that is self-organized and with autonomy.

Rob:  Okay. I'm going through your book, I've made a lot of notes. I'm going through these to get where we're going to go here. There's talk of the idea of protagonism. Now, a protagonist in a story is the hero, is the main character fighting the antagonist. What does protagonism mean in the ideas of  horizontalidad?

Marina:   Protagonism people talk about both in Argentina horizontalidad, and in other parts of Latin America, coming out of social movements. When people talk about being a protagonist, they mean they have become that main character in their own life. So rather than being passive, they have come forward to be an actor in their life, a protagonist in their life. Not the hero, but becoming important, but important in making decisions, and being an agent, and having say in your life. But people then link that idea of protagonism as, "I am an individual, you know, me, Marina ,now feels like I can do something in my life." Then it's linked to other people in a collective sense. People also use the language of subjectivity, so you're a subject, you're a protagonist, but you're a subject as you relate to other people. So, a lot of these concepts are tied to each other, so you feel like you are that character, but you only work in the story in the novel, you only work as you interact with other characters and working on a similar project, so in social movements, no more autonomous social movements, it's about working together without power over one another to create something new together. So it's meant in a very, very positive way and even though it is "yes" about you as an individual feeling that power and strength, it's also integrally related to being social.

Rob:  Now, you've organized the book into a collection of different words where you have a place for people to tell their stories. And so, we've talked a bit about horizontalism, I want to go into that a little bit, and then I want to go through some of these other ideas or concepts. In one part, one of the voices talks about party structure, political structure as macho. Now when I think of macho, I think of male and the other side, I think of the feminine. And it seems to me in some ways the horizontalism, or the bottom up idea, they're both more of a feminine model. They're more of the yin than the yang.

Marina:   Yeah, I guess it depends how, when you think about feminine, what one means. I think when people refer to some of the Party structures as macho, what's being referred to is a kind of power, and wielding a power, and wielding a power over, which a lot of people identify as a more male behavior than a female behavior. Not that women can't do it, because they do, and the President of Argentina right now is a woman, and she definitely got some power. But in society and our relationships people identify more. I don't know that it's more of the useful framing, I like to look at it as far as power more of it, but then on the opposite side, I do think that when people in the movements talk about feelings and trust, and what it feels like to be an assembly and how you've changed, that gets identified as female engendered, and I also think that we shouldn't do that either, the same way we shouldn't say that political parties are male and macho. I don't think we should say, because we have positive feelings, that it's female, because it can also be quite exclusive in the process, and it takes a way a little bit of the validity of the emotion to just relegate it to this sphere of emotion, but it's how our society plays out too, so it is contradictory.

Rob:  Well, let's go to that emotion. You have a section on politica afectiva, or affective politics. What's that about?

Marina:   That's about this, people in the process of talking about their protagonism and their subjectivity and their feelings, but talking about the feelings as the base of the construction of a lot of that - the base that allows horizontal construction that continues, that allows, for autogestion, is that we have to have a base of trust in one another, and a caring for one another. And that's something that I think is very important to distinguish between saying we must have a caring and an affect and a love of base, and saying we have to like each other. You don't have to be friends with someone in the movement. You can actually have some serious negative emotions about that person: you don't like them as a friend. But the base from which you organize together has to have a base of trust, otherwise you can't move forward. When workers take over a workplace and run it together in Argentina, there must be a foundation of trust and care for one another.

Even if, at the end of the day, they're not going to go and have a beer together. So, it's that kind of sense, that foundational sense, in the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. In the Southern Non-violent Coordinating Committee, Ella Baker and earlier Martin Luther King, had talked about the idea of beloved community. And it's that similar idea of creating a base of community and care and trust that is foundational, especially as you become more militant. It's not to be confused with some kind of commune dropout, "Let's all just love each other in the countryside." It actually is a foundational place where more militancy can actually come from there.

Rob:  Well, I've observed and found and had reported to me that trust is a core element of the bottom up movement. So it certainly makes sense that, for horizontalism and autogestion, any movement where people are working together in cooperating, that trust is so important.

Marina:   Right, absolutely.

Rob:  Now, another word that is used a lot is verticalism. Now verticalism, I see it kind of used the antithesis, the opposite, of horizontalism. Can you talk about verticalism a bit?

Marina:   Yeah, I think about people having power structures. It's not just power over another person, but we actually make structures where that power is in place, and where that power is in place in a way that's not democratically decided. So there a few pieces to it. So not just, "You have power over me," but "That power was decided in a way I had no decision making in how that was going to happen," and then there's some kind of structure to it. Does that makes sense?

Rob:  So, what would be some examples of verticalism?

Marina:   We live in a society where all of it is vertical: as far as your workplace, how decisions are made, how often, and everything, from how often a bus runs, to your work hours, job descriptions, things like that. It's very rare that you have any participation in those decisions, and even if you do, it's not meaningful participation, though--

Rob:  It seems like verticalism is somewhat similar to top down decision making / *(inaudible) 43:04

Marina:   / Right, it's very much like top down decision making. Yeah, very much, because there could be a moment--I'm trying to be careful in what I'm saying to make it clear that there might be moments where a group of people decide that certain people might make decisions in certain instances. And if we democratically decide together that, for example, you know I've worked on a legal team quite a bit in Occupy Movement, and there are moments when a lot of people are arrested, you decide ahead of time that the legal team might make certain decisions. And that's democratically decided, so even though it's a small group of people making a decision without consulting with everyone, because they can't consult with everyone, it's not vertical.

Rob:  Right.

Marina:   It can get tricky, but no I would simply verticalism--saying that its top down is fine.

Rob:  And I've gone through these words: "collective."

Marina:   In the working together, coming together sense of collective?

Rob:  Okay?

Marina:   And I'm going to need to go to Occupy soon, too.

Rob:  Okay. Then, there's the word "autonomy." You use that word and it is used, I think, with some specificity. I'm just trying to get the language here.

Marina:   Sure. This is specific in Argentina. The way people are talking about autonomy was not in reference to any specific historical or theoretical body of literature. There are all kinds of Autonomist Marxists, and people who talk about autononism. In Argentina, what people were talking about when they said they were autonomists (or wanted to be autonomists), it was really just as it related to power over, and power of the state ,and institutional power. So, it was linked to the idea of horizontalism and autogestion, that people want to make decisions for themselves, and are going to make decisions for themselves, and don't want that interfered with by the state, or from any other forms of institutional power, or power over. So that was the sense of creating autonomy as we're going to create this together with one another. That doesn't mean that there is zero relationship to the state. It means that people decide amongst themselves if and how there might be a relationship. They decide autonomously. It's not, "We drop out of society and have no relationship." Early on that is what a lot of people wanted to do; and then they realized that actually the state still existed, and the stated doesn't let you drop out even if you want to.

   So, figuring out the relationship to the state, became a much more complicated and nuanced relationship, and so both movements are both creating autonomy, trying to create their own agenda, and not have it interfered with; but if there is a relationship to the state, they make the decision of what that's going to look like.

Rob:  And there was a language of autonomy?

Marina:   Uh-huh, absolutely.

Rob:  What is that about?

Marina:   It was just an immediate - the way people were speaking the same way people talked about horizontalizad they talked about autonomia. Some of the unemployed movements used it with horizontalism, autonomy, and dignity or social change, were slogans around which they were organizing which is, "We're going to decide together and not have our agenda interfered with;" whether that's political parties or the state or however, but autonomists' creation together.

Rob:  So, autonomy is a simple word, but it is a central theme of the change that took place in Argentina. It was a major element in the way people thought about and approached how they were doing things.

Marina:   Right, exactly.

Rob:  In some ways it's almost too simple, yet it is perhaps this simplicity that is part of the power that comes from that.

Marina:   Yeah. / I think so.

Rob:  / In other words--

Marina:   I think getting overly complicated is just--people don't actually talk like that. We don't relate that way, and so it makes sense to put that kind of framework on things, because people don't normally do it.

Rob:  Now, I've long been inspired--not too long, because it's not that long ago that I learned a couple years ago of the writings of Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Did his ideas play into what happened in Argentina?

Marina:   I'm sure that they did. I think it depends on who you would talk to. Some of the unemployed movements had some influence by that form of popular education, and in the urban areas as well, but I didn't hear it that explicitly. But I'm sure it was part of it, because that's part of the history of Latin American radical development.

Rob:  Okay. Another word that you have a section in the book is "creation."

Marina:   Uh-huh.

Rob:  What's that about?

Marina:   That's just as it sounds. That's just what people are doing. It's the doing part, that people are creating together. What they're actually creating through their assemblies, whether it's healthcare for each other, barter networks, all kinds of forms of creation, but using that language of creation, it's not just doing, it has that kind of artistic ring to it.

Rob:  And I think what's important is this was manifested in the Occupy Wall Street Movement by the different work groups, I think.

Marina:   Absolutely, New York had hundreds of working groups. So many different working groups doing everything from art and culture to finding creative ways to meet our needs. Yeah, creativity is key, especially when facing some kind of crisis.

Rob:  And I think what's really important is, you're reinventing. In breaking away, as you've described it (or as some of your voices have described it) "In breaking away from the old system, from the old hierarchical system, you have to recreate. It's an essential element, you're starting fresh, you're moving forward and not fixing what's broken: you're recreating." And this creation is an essential element of that and it was manifested beautifully with the working groups.

Marina:   And I think it continues to be. People don't see it as much, because people aren't sleeping in plazas, but in New York, at any given time, you can just go to nycga.net website and look up events for the day, and there will be dozens, and dozens, and dozens of working groups meeting throughout the city, doing all kinds of creative things. Things like ,with May Day coming up, the way food is going to happen, different than I remember the meetings going into September 17th, from when we first occupied and were planning for food, there was a food planning committee, food working group, and they got tons of jars of peanut butter, bread ,and apples; and that was the food we were going to provide for one or two thousand people, which was fantastic. We were able to do it. We had protein and fruit and water.

   For May Day, and this is the creativity and the food working group that's expanded exponentially, they're working with farmers in the region who are organic small farmers, who are going to be donating and bartering food for May Day. That's creativity! (and it's meeting our needs.)

Rob:  What are they bartering?

Marina:   I'm not in the food working group. I'm not sure what some of the things are that they are going to be bartering. It's a combination of barter, gifting, and someone donated money to buy some of the foods, and I think they're being sold at cost directly from the farmers. And then I was told barter yesterday on the telephone. I'm not sure what's being bartered. I can find out for you though.

Rob:  That sounds very interesting. The next word after "creation" is "power."

Marina:   Yes, and this one we've talked about a little bit as it relates to autonomy and horizontalism and the idea of creating power with one another. That power is not a thing and actually in Spanish, "poder" is both. It could be the thing but it's also a verb. In a lot of other languages, power is a verb. And so it's to have power with or it's something you make and you do together. It's active; it's not something you wield. So that's how people talked about power as creating power, not empowerment, that wasn't the framework. It was the power with, or a power to, where people talked about being against a certain concept of power, and creating a power together.

Rob:  So like powering up your engine, powering up your activism, powering up your work groups, powering up your protests?

Marina:   I guess, Yeah. And I'm saying that we have power. Right. Powering up, but it implies that we already have power to power up, so I guess that's yeah--seeing that the location of power is already in us and with us, not somewhere else. Yeah.

Rob:  What is the power that it is not about?

Marina:   Where people have power over one another, where they use it as coercion, as a thing to force people; that kind of power. That's the power that's being rejected.

Rob:  That's hard power. I interviewed Joseph Nye, who wrote the The Future of Power, and when he talks about hard power, it's power of coercion. And really, that's an awful lot of the power that we have in the United States period--in government and politics.

Marina:   Around the world in fact.

Rob:  He describes soft power as power of attraction, where people are attracted to something. People support and cooperate, because they are attracted to it. I think that is part of horizontalidad. I'm not sure I said that right.

Marina:   / Yeah, that's right.

Rob:  / Horizontalidad is the idea that power is attracted within movement, and then it's generated from it rather than purchased with money or weapons.

Marina:   Exactly, that we created together. So, all these words that you were talking about, that the book is organized around, but it also tells one story of creating. The word you're using: creation--to create together, a new power that's not about a power over, and the way we do that is horizontally with horizontalizad, and using autonomy, and not doing it together without creating our own agenda, not that of the state other institutional power and then doing the creating, the autogestion, the self-organizing our lives and managing our lives. It tells a nice story that is both Argentina and actually Occupy Movements.

Rob:  So, the next word is ""repression."

Marina:   Right, which was based in Argentina, both with physical repression - people were killed in the first days of popular rebellion and then afterward. And then with repression using the court system to try to criminalize movements and protests -- no, not "also," that's "both" trying to shift popular opinion away from people organizing, as well as, then those people who are organizing get so caught up in defending one another, that you're caught up in the court system rather than your own agenda, which is hopefully not something we will face in the United States. And I think we just have to be very aware of it.

   Definitely a lot of people have been arrested, there's been really bad police behavior. But at this point, we're still not in a place where so much of the movement's agenda is actually caught up in the question of state repression. So, we just need to be really aware of that, to make sure that doesn't happen.

Rob:  Well, it's in the news just about every day. Just last week, I interviewed Leah Bolger, was arrested because she spoke up for speaking in front of the Super Committee after three days, and the Super Committee did not have one single member of the public speak, only lobbyists. And this week the news is about how protestors from Occupy Wall Street, who went on the Brooklyn Bridge, are being forced to have their twitter tweets be subpoenaed. So, it's happening. / I mean, it is happening.

Marina:   / No, I agree. No, there's definitely repression. I'm sorry, I'm not meaning to - I guess I was comparing to Argentina. There's definitely political repression. There are attempts to criminalize. There are a ridiculous number of people who've been arrested for exercising what's even within our constitutional rights. So no, I would agree that it is.

Rob:  In a sense, this little mini-conservation we just had on repression in Argentina and the U.S., it makes me think of "Boiling Frog Syndrome." The Argentinean government, they made a mistake, they shut down the banks, and they just turned up the hot water so hot instantly, that the people poured out into the street by the millions, and it overturned the government.

   Here they're smarter, and they're gradually turning up the flames, strip mining the rights and the resources of Americans, which is the way I like to think of this being done to us here. And, so it doesn't happen so quickly and so screamingly obviously. It happens in little steps, like legislation that makes it an Act of Terrorism to engage in protest that's ecological in nature, which is already passed legislation. And I think that's the difference. And that's a challenge, really, in some ways, that the Americans are gradually being boiled like frogs, and that it's not--

Marina:   Except that we are resisting. I mean I hear you, that it is a tactic. It's a different tactic, and it is a slower tactic, and that the attempt is definitely to do this boiling, but at the same time, the movements in the United States are so large and so powerful, and are calling out every moment of this happening that I'm really pretty confident that we're not going to get boiled. I think we're going to topple the pot and actually go out to yard.

Rob:  Do you think so?

Marina:   Yeah, I definitely do. I think we're at a whole new historical moment that is potentially a revolutionary moment. Not revolutionary in the sense that we're taking over the state revolutionary, I think it's a different kind of revolution that people are creating now, and it's an everyday transformative, taking- control-of-our-lives, revolutionary moment. No, I don't think there's anymore of the frogs. I think that's what the state will continue to try to do, but I think that resistance, organization, and creativity is so much bigger. The teeny towns and villages and people everywhere are organizing and supporting each other, and neighbors are going out in front of their neighbor's houses and refusing to allow marshals to come in and evict them. It's taking action in very direct ways with one another to survive and create something different. So, I think we're going to see that increase. And I'm very, very confident and in my confidence I actually need to go a May Day planning gathering that's happening very soon here in lower Manhattan.

Rob:  Alright. What's your website?

Marina:   It's marinasitrin.com .

Rob:  Alright.

Marina:   If you want information on the Argentine movements and you read Spanish, I would go to, Lavaca.org .

Rob:  How do you spell that?

Marina:   L-a-v-a-c-a.o-r-g, and it's a cooperative and self-managed autogestion, autonomist media group that has this website that has up-to-date information about the autonomist movements in Argentina.

Rob:  This has been great. Thank you so much.

Marina:   Okay. Thank you! Have a great afternoon.

Rob:  Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show, WNJC 1360 AM, sponsored by OpEdnews.

Marina:   Great. Take care.


Submitters Bio:

Rob Kall has spent his adult life as an awakener and empowerer-- first in the field of biofeedback, inventing products, developing software and a music recording label, MuPsych, within the company he founded in 1978-- Futurehealth, and founding, organizing and running 3 conferences: Winter Brain, on Neurofeedback and consciousness, Optimal Functioning and Positive Psychology (a pioneer in the field of Positive Psychology, first presenting workshops on it in 1985) and Storycon Summit Meeting on the Art Science and Application of Story-- each the first of their kind.  Then, when he found the process of raising people's consciousness and empowering them to take more control of their lives  one person at a time was too slow, he founded Opednews.com-- which has been the top search result on Google for the terms liberal news and progressive opinion for several years. Rob began his Bottom-up Radio show, broadcast on WNJC 1360 AM to Metro Philly, also available on iTunes, covering the transition of our culture, business and world from predominantly Top-down (hierarchical, centralized, authoritarian, patriarchal, big)  to bottom-up (egalitarian, local, interdependent, grassroots, archetypal feminine and small.) Recent long-term projects include a book, Bottom-up-- The Connection Revolution, debillionairizing the planet and the Psychopathy Defense and Optimization Project. 

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