Marina Sitrin talks about horizontalism and the horizontalidad movement in Argentina
This is the second half of the transcript of my interview with
Marina Sitrin, recorded April 25, 2012.
Rob: Now, let's talk about those
banging pots and pans. What's the word that is used for that
Marina: Cacerola, a Cacerola is
like a big pot. Yeah, so the Cacerolazo is the banging of pots and
Rob: C-a-c-e-r-o-l-a, cacerola,
Rob: And this is something that
hundreds of thousands of people went out into the streets and did,
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
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?
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
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
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
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)
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.
Marina: It can get tricky, but
no I would simply verticalism--saying that its top down is
Rob: And I've gone through these
Marina: In the working
together, coming together sense of collective?
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
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."
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Rob: So, the next word is
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
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
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
Marina: It's marinasitrin.com .
Marina: If you want information
on the Argentine movements and you read Spanish, I would go to,
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
Marina: Okay. Thank you! Have a
Rob: Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio
Show, WNJC 1360 AM, sponsored by OpEdnews.
Marina: Great. Take care.
END OF TRANSCRIPT