Transcript of the podcast interview:
Thanks to Tsara Shelton for helping with the transcript editing.
My guest tonight, a returning guest is Marina Sitrin. She's a leading thinker for Occupy, I shouldn't say was, she still is. She's been an author of multiple books on Horizontalism, and now, she is a co-author of the new book, They Can't Represent Us! Reinventing Democracy from Greece to Occupy.
Rob: Okay, communal council. You say in the book that tens of thousands of communal councils have been established in Venezuela and there's actually a communal council law, what's this about?
MS: Well there's, I mean there's thousands of communal councils and now the law -- so we use, there are two chapters, one on Venezuela and one on Argentina so two Latin America chapters that are separate countries. And we use them as kind of counterpoints, so Argentina's about the autonomous movements organizing in Venezuela. If the movements organizing from below, but because of the government -- especially under Chavez, but still now after Chavez -- that a government that's actually supporting these popular projects and so the communal councils are people who organize -- they organize in your -- it's a certain number of people that it's limited to in your region or neighborhood in your city, or part of your village or your town and then people who come together through assemblies decide certain things that they need and want. So, they make that happen and the way they make that happen financially is getting money from the government so they decide they needed school or they're going to make -- they needed a workplace, or they need roads, or parks or whatever it is and they collectively -- they make the decision to do it and then they get the money from the government and then they carry it out. And then that's been happening, so it's a kind of regional or territorial semi-autonomy and then from there, what exists now are also the communes, so you have these communal councils and when you have a certain number of them they become a commune. So it's like a network -- not exactly governance, but a lot of coordination so kind of like the idea of libertarian municipalism. Which is a Murray Bookchin, social ecology kind of idea.
Rob: And you talk in the book about how this is a manifestation of popular power but also how it's a challenge getting the cooperation between these communal councils and the government, is there risk of co-optation? And it doesn't end, there's a continual work at getting it to work.
MS: Right, right. I mean and that's definitely true in Venezuela, I think even more so now, and what -- and it's that tricky balance of then, that continuing to focus on the power being local and below that way even if there are stronger attempts by the government to co-opt or even at some point to try to end these projects if the popular power is strong enough, it's much, much, much harder to do that. So it's the kind of lessons are to keep our eyes on each other and with each other and what we're doing.
Rob: Alright, next concept: Encuentro.
MS: Yeah, that's a coming together. That's also the Zapatistas use the language of encuentro, but it's being used increasingly around the world because people don't want to say meeting because it's not a meeting, you know you think of a meeting and you think of a large conference table or a board meeting or some kind of hierarchical -- who's making decisions over who -- and Roberts Rules of order. Encuentros are coming together, they're gatherings where decisions are sometimes made, sometimes they're not. There's a lot of different kinds of comings together. One that we reference has to do with knowledge, so not just the physical coming together but the coming together people with different backgrounds and how our knowledge and what we know can come together. So not necessarily knowledge meaning what did you learn in university, but I learned this from my grandmother and I know this from raising my child and I learned this in a book. And bringing all of those different kinds of knowledges together in an encuentro, in a coming together in a horizontal space.
Rob: Okay, recuperating workplaces, Zapatista Subcomandante Marco talks about recuperating history.
MS: Recuperating I think, you know and thinking about the word Occupy, because people have problematized it, rightly so, but it's the word we've used and I think -- when I think of Occupy and what I think a lot of people mean by it is actually recuperate. It's to take and to take back and turn into something else but making a claim for sure on that thing. So the workplaces in Argentina are the taking back of workplaces that were generally abandoned by owners for not being profitable enough, and so workers formed these horizontal assemblies and had equitable wage distribution eventually, but first took over the workplaces and then put them back under production. So in Argentina, there's now 350 of these and they're workplaces. They're like restaurants and health clinics and a hotel, it's not just kind of factories, the way people sometimes think of recuperating work. But it's just the relationship to work and that's spread throughout Latin America and now with the newer movements, it's been taking place in Europe and there's a funny story, when I was in Greece in 2011 because a network of assemblies in Greece translated the book Horizontalism about Argentina and their experiences into Greek. And so people in these assemblies were traveling around and I went with them for a while, with someone from Argentina, and we were talking about, just sharing stories and sharing experiences. And in Thessaloniki, in the northern part of Greece, we're having a great conversation at a certain point someone said, yeah the idea of recuperating workplaces, it's a great idea but it would never work. That's something for people in Argentina or maybe for people in Latin America, but it's not for Greeks, you know our work places are too small anyway it couldn't have the power. And sure enough almost less than a year later, a workplace called Biomed is taken over by workers. This is right outside Thessaloniki in Greece and through assemblies, they decided they were going to recuperate and then they had a direct relationship with people in Argentina and that was what kind of helped push them over the edge to do it. And they're now running this workplace together in common and with a close relationship with people in the newer movements. And not only in Greece, now there's one in Marce in France, there are two in Italy, there's one in Tunisia, one in Turkey, you're seeing a pattern here, right? That they have to do with where there've been these massive new movements. And together people in the communities and workers in these different workplaces have decided that rather than save some employment, just take over the workplace and run it together, and it's been really successful on all different levels of the meanings of success. Both kind of how people feel about themselves in a sense of dignity and also that they still have jobs. The idea of recuperating, kind of taking back what we see as ours, I think it's a deep - can relate to workplaces as I'm talking about, but yeah it can do if we take back our own history, we take back our knowledge, kind of what I think all of these movements are about.
Rob: Okay, so a couple of little inaudible [00:37:21] it's even been done in the United States and that window factory in Chicago area that got so much attention whenever Obama was running for president and then let's talk a little bit more about recuperating history because that's really interesting.
MS: Well just, I mean what we're not told. I mean what you just referenced in Chicago is happening right now, but I'm sure a lot of people don't know about it. And our history, we use the language of we and we explain why we do that. Kind of seeing ourselves as part of a historical collective we and it's a we that -- it's a history that we're generally not taught and that's one that's filled with regular people taking back their work places, their lives, their homes with each other when people are evicted. They're these histories we have of such inspiring -- not just struggle in the sense of protest struggle -- but such inspiring self-organization. Different ways of being and relating that are not in the history books and we need to dig to find them and then recuperate them, take them back this is ours and our history. So we'll need to rewrite all of the history books for sure.
(Note: You can view every article as one long page if you sign up as an Advocate Member, or higher).