Talking about networks is as fashionable as talking about reality shows, feng shui or Iranian films. To the extent that you could be forgiven for thinking networks were a kind of royal sushi as there is not an article around that doesn’t contain, at least once, the word network-a nod to those in the know.
Informed people want to be ‘on top of everything’ and if it isn’t trendy they take the trendy language twisting it like the neck of a chicken until lifeless. You have to be aware, with your back up and claws ready because the ingesting machine has swallowed and already started to vomit up in publishing spaces all kinds of modern ideas about networks, above all the lucrative networks of business, finance and trade filling the air and ether so that the idea of networks stays flattened like a roadrunner on the highway of original thought.
What is clear is that networks are here to stay. Not that they ever ‘arrived’, they were always there, underneath like the sustenance of the structured world that we know and that needless to say, has fallen into a chronic coma. Our hairy old neurons communicate in networks, their neuro transmitters make synapses where they can, like the Vietnamese, they survive almost anything.
As intelligence is organized in a way that makes it hard to destroy and the internet is organized in a way that it is difficult to control, so, with much cunning have social movements adopted a network style of organization to avoid being destroyed or controlled in these times of institutional terrorism, preventable wars and fundamentalists. In the 21st century to which we come as we come, the only way to survive as people is to organize ourselves into networks. Which means to say in a horizontal and extensive manner, the only identified way to avoid the steam roller. To resist together united in the madness, attached to the breast of the rebellion.
The key, the mother idea of networks is autonomy. Every little knot of a network is independent of the other knots, many and various knots of sisal thread, of silk, of macramÃ©, many and multifarious knots with all colours and textures between each knot. No ((zuzero)) hierarchy. No representative placed on top of anyone at any point in the network, because we already know what happens with representatives ( we have on show ‘al arbusto’ (the bush-trans.) chosen by God) And with this idea of the lateral, the horizontal, and of networks are we born here, in this arse of the world and like mushrooms after a deluge, the popular assemblies; within this same impulse was born The Asamblearia, our cooperative.
After that long introduction, it’s time to say that our cooperative was born from two popular assemblies. I’ll start at the beginning: in early 2002, when there was not a peso in the street, we started to get together to do communal shopping. Like this we were getting closer to the recovered businesses.
We rediscovered the workers and found ourselves doting on them as some of us had doted in the seventies, before these sentient men and women, simple and willing, direct. They moved us. It filled us with pride for them to see them resist the cold, drizzle, rain and hunger standing in the factory. To see them survive, produce. And produce all they could, a couple of times a week, half a day. Taking home some meager pesos each weekend. In autonomous production everything was and is precarious, however we, the assamblearios, also realized that the workers had no idea of how to sell what they were making. The light went on for one of us- why not set up a shop for the products of the recovered factories? Well, for one because we had nothing. So our friends from outside, moved to tears by the crisis, got together some euros and sent them over. We called the kick off, warmed the motors and charged with the cooperative.
To say ‘charge’ is a manner of speaking, because we didn’t know anything about sales or about social economics and on top of that only recently had we noticed that there was anything called fair trade. Moreover, the first time that I had heard talk of fair trade, a few months earlier, I said “oh right, fair trade” because I had read the expression somewhere, and the whole package sounded like a gringo thing. But it’s not a gringo thing it’s about good people, that’s to say, of people without borders. The idea is to link the producers with the consumers so that the intermediaries don’t end up with the lions share. The idea is to see that the producers aren’t exploited or exploit themselves and that consumers can play an active role, a responsible role that’s to say they can think about and decide what it is they are to consume. How and why.
While the cooperative project progressed we were meeting other knots in the economic solidarity network. Self managing. People that were out of work joined with others and started to produce : honey, jams, toys, tomato sauce, handkerchiefs, cleaning products. We also met agro-ecological cooperatives, with small scale producers from the interior of the country like the ‘yerbaterios’ of Titryju.
We connected ourselves in to the network making synapses between this group and that. In a network there isn’t anyone to impose rules, neither is there rent to pay. You enter and feel at home at once because the party starts when you arrive-like a continuous progamme at the cinema. We entered but it took us almost a year as progressed with a typically Argentine step- two steps forward and one back. After much effort we achieved the acceptance of the cooperative. Then we hired a small shop and we went out to sell, to mingle, to promote to consumer groups, we participated in fairs to get to know more producers in a fascinating process. What was fascinating about all this? We saw. 60 percent of the country live in poverty. A figure whose meaning becomes clear as soon as you enter the furrow of the social economy.
Over half of the country lives in this world of economic solidarity. , they live precariously through great effort, but paradoxically this impoverished reality tickles you in the stomach with an almost forgotten human warmth, of the closeness of a brotherly gathering. The threads that are woven have flesh. For example the consumers of the Asamblearia have stopped consuming like idiots, thoughtlessly, now they aren’t people that rip open interchangeably branded packages to get at the merchandise. When they buy a product they look at the packet they read ‘Cooperative Nueva Esperanza’ , Cooperative El Aguante, Cooperative Montecristo, they know about the producers, of their history and if they don’t then they ask, they get interested, they get involved in who made this jam , that honey this detergent, those wooden toys. The world returns to a human scale and life begins to have reason.
I’ll give a good example of a solidarity network, an example that will make you think about what they are reinstating, what they are initiating and what they are repairing. In April of 2002 the book ‘What are popular assemblies?’ was launched. It’s a book that compiles articles from various writers on this theme, amongst them one by me and one by my husband. The book launch was held in the corner of the assembly of Palermo. The 19th and20th of December we had won the street and we realized how much we enjoyed being there, acting there. Together in the streets were the writers the editors- Jorge Curbanor and the legendary Pena Lillo; the workers of the recovered print works ‘Chilavert’, who had made the covers of the books, and the books themselves, that also had their own epic story.
The day before eight squad cars had arrived at the print works with the intention of breaking in and taking the machinery . The workers gave the alarm, and the network started to act. Assemblies arrived, the truck of the old cooperative IMPA not only arrived but crossed the line between the factory and the squad cars. Whilst the action was stopped outside inside the workers continued printing covers of the book ‘ Who are the popular assemblies? They finished at midnight and had to get them out via the house of a neighbour as they were still surrounded.
It was the most emotional and symbolic launch that I have been to. In that corner was everyone that forms this network. Writers, editors, graphic designers, journalists, future readers. We saw the faces, we got to know each other, for none of us was this just another book. The launch constituted a metaphor for the type of things that characterize economic solidarity. If I had to define it better I would say that what happened in this sphere dis-alienates because it reinstates the routes between people and of people with things. In this world people come before things. That is one of the bases of economic solidarity.