Buenos Aires We had traveled almost an hour an a half when Yadira, the organizer for ACORN Argentina in La Matanza, waved us off the bus, and we began walking several kilometers until we came to a concrete walled drainage ditch that was once a river running along homes, farms, and industrial plants, but was now bordered by garbage, abandonment, and communities trying to get find a foothold and a future. The border here was a highway, even though it seemed nothing but unpaved dirt and some construction. The highway was supposed to have been completed in 1982, but the contractor had run off with the money and there was no more where that came from. On some maps the road existed and on some it did not, but when walking between mud puddles and dog runs, it was clear that this no highway, just another dirt track.
We had an appointment with a key member of the Isidor Casanova organizing committee for this newly forming group. Mariano had worked with Yadira going house-to-house visiting with the first 70 families and pulling together 15 of them to decide to begin the organizing process. Our rendezvous with him quickly turned into another impromptu organizing meeting, which I can absolutely say, an hour and a half later, was the high point of my visit to Buenos Aires.
The families in this section were all Uruguayan immigrants and they were trying to stake a claim to land around a now abandoned factory which was next door to a still very active concrete plant. Some were only recently there. Others had forged the way. The law in Argentina seems to be that after 15 years of abandonment, squatters can become owners of not only their own houses, which they are building as able, but also the land. We have a lot of work to do to research whether there might be triggers to move the land over more quickly for non-payment of taxes or whatever. Here families had electricity metered to the house, but otherwise conditions were rough and in flux.
After an animated report from one of the men about his visit to the municipality to see what it would take for their community to be “recognized” (the answer: the road being finished!), the discussion quickly turned to other major issues, the first that got the most excitement was the terrible stench and garbage fouling and polluting the river. After brief discussion there was recognition that it would take the whole community on both sides of the river to come together to organize and make the demand. I asked them how many people would it take for them to be “noticed” and taken seriously. After some back and forth they settled on the number of 100. The next half hour was spent in planning and volunteering to quickly make flyers, do the door knocking, and begin to build towards that larger number starting at the next meeting on Saturday afternoon.
La Matanza doesn’t know what is about to hit them, but folks were grabbing on the promise and methods of community organizing like they had seen the Holy Grail. I know this sounds too good to be true, but all I can say is that if you do the work every day, you are going to have some nice things happen.
The woman whose big room had become our meeting space told me at the end of the meeting she was going to teach me some of the language of her country. She said the works slowly, and I mouthed them along with the rest of the committee until there was greater laughter, and we realized that she had said in her Spanish: I love you! We’re going to build something great here!