Community Organizing Ideas and Issues International Personal Writings

Buenos Aires        Talking last night, we started discussing perhaps the largest effort of ACORN Argentina in Buenos Aires involving community representation on the communas.  This is a little complicated, but essentially the communas are something on the order of large, neighborhood governing councils to allow direct citizen participation.  

    There used to be lots of them or at least more of them, but as the city revenues have become more strained the number of communas has narrowed as well.  Of the 43 defined neighborhoods in the City of Buenos Aires there are now only 17 communas.  If all of them were divided equally then each one would have 450-500,000 people living in each communas, so these are big.  The interest of our members and organizers specifically focused on our two original organizing areas, La Boca and Barracas, both of which together now equal one communas.  Members are talking about running for some of the seats and finally stepping up the table.

    This is a concession to participation and decentralization of city government, so the communas have some power and some money, though of course not all of either.  They get some checkoff and are part of the process of city planning, budgeting, and development in the communas and they have outright control of 5% of the money spent in the communas that follows their discretion.  

    Some of this is reminiscent of the old elected Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) committees in the neighborhoods of the states, but the real driving inspiration for much of this kind of activity in this part of the world come from all of the civic participation experiments in Brazil, particularly in Puerto Allegre and other bastions of Partido Trabadajores (PT) support which have been elaborately studied and much praised and with the PT in power through Lula Silva now have had more currency among their neighbors.  

    These are big campaigns that take a lot of planning, resources, good candidates, and luck, but it was exciting to hear the discussion because clearly the members are taking power more and more seriously as the organization nears its 3rd year of organizing.

PS.  The leaders voted to postpone the march and see what happens on Monday with the agreement, believing that they can always reorganize the march if necessary, but have to at least see if they have the bird in the hand.  A wise call which they made quickly because the Boca Juniors were playing for the cup at 8 PM so there needed to be quick thinking and a decision made without hesitation.