‘Be Realistic…Demand the Impossible!”

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”It is not that our problems are that big… It’s just that we are
looking at them on our knees.”
—Grafitti in the Buenos Aires subte, 2003
housing foreclosures, growing unemployment, increasing
service industry ‘underemployment,’ a shrinking middleclass,
overall full-time job losses, downsizing, more homeless,
rising oil and gas prices, skyrocketing food prices, ever
more expensive health care [if you have even got it], the
international devaluation of the currency, the increasing
gap between the rich and the poor, a massive international
debt, the rich hide their assets safely offshore, $200 billion
in corporate bailouts, another $100 billion dollars here and
there for the fucking war, nothing for us… and the band
plays on… “Don’t worry, just have faith,” we are told, “the
market will magically correct itself.” Right? For who?
Let’s be honest, the news is bad all around, and the working
class is suffering the most. Simply, everyday life is difficult
for most of us, and we’re not making it. If a family is
barely making it on $40,000 a year—how can those making
$20,000 or less have a chance? Families and individuals are
living a precarious existence on a razor’s edge. Choices must
be made every month between paying the bills, or rent, and
buying food. “Feed my children first, and then I’ll eat what
is left over,” becomes the mantra. One illness or job loss,
and the whole ship can quickly go under completely. For
many of us, this is reality NOW and it is only getting worse,
not better.
A very similar situation existed in Argentina prior to their
economic crash of December 2001 when the bottom finally
fell out, and the populace had no choice but to get “off
their knees.” Neighbors met in parks and street corners to
talk about what was happening to them, and the conditions
they had to endure. Many found for the first time
that they were not alone, and for many, it was the first time
they ever met and really got to know each other. Relationships
and friendships were built. They formed their own
democratic neighborhood organizations, called MTDs, to
discuss their problems and find their own solutions. It was
a simple fact, since the government and private enterprise
would not, or could not, meet their everyday needs, then
they had to make their own decisions and do it themselves.
There was no other choice, and they took action.
Vacant lots were dug up to grow food for the community.
Empty buildings were occupied for housing, to hold
meetings, and build neighborhood kitchens to feed their
children and the hungry. Later some of these squatted
buildings also became schools, health clinics, cultural centers,
barter markets (truques), and even workplaces. Some
built blockades on the roads, piquetes, as a form of protest,
or to stop trucks and appropriate basic necessities of life for
themselves and their neighbors. Utility companies were
occupied or boycotted to force them to turn the electricity,
gas, and water back on. When businesses closed, the
unemployed returned to the workplace, organized themselves
democratically, restarted production of their goods
and services under their own control which they then sold
directly to former customers. All without their former corporate
owners and managers! And, when the police came
to evict them from these ‘new spaces’ that they created,
they resisted. Of course some confrontations were lost but
many were won, mistakes were made but lessons were
learned… most importantly, hope survived.
True, it would be completely unrealistic to think that such a
rebellious situation could erupt overnight here in Champaign-
Urbana, or anywhere else in the United States for that
matter. We are not yet to the point of desperation that the
Argentinian people were in 2001. Nevertheless, things are
bad now and getting worse. Our biggest obstacle at this
point is alienation. We are so alienated from ourselves, and
each other, that the powers that be are able to control us,
and this is no accident. This is how power enforces its will
over us. Essentially, the working class is trapped in a very
dysfunctional and abusive relationship with power. It is violence,
and coercion. We rarely, if ever, talk to our neighbors
and co-workers about what is happening to us. We live in
denial and make excuses for what is happening to us—and
‘blame the victim.’ We keep silent because we feel alone…
helpless, hopeless, powerless, and submit to a reality that is
fundamentally wrong—that we did not create. As a result,
we are more afraid of changing this reality and heading into
the unknown, than we are of trying to cope with an intolerable
reality that we do know. It’s truly fucked up!
Like the Argentines, and others throughout the world,
we can find creative solutions to our problems. They are
not that big, and we are not that powerless—but we can’t
do it alone. But, before we can do that, we need to talk
about them without shame, and face what is happening to
us. We need to see our everyday life clearly, without the
distortions of the marketplace, the media, and those in
power. In short, we need to ‘break the spell’ that we are
under, so that we can see that we are not alone after all.
That we have many common experiences that we share
with our friends, neighbors, acquaintances, and co-workers—
even strangers. We can get to know each other again,
face to face, and build new relationships based on love,
trust, and mutual support. Then we can begin to organize
ourselves, build community, discuss solutions to our problems,
and make decisions together. That is what solidarity
is. We can build hope. Like the Argentines we need to ‘get
off our knees,’ stand up for ourselves, and say—”¡Ya
Basta!”—”Enough!” Until then, we are powerless and
helpless only because we believe it to be so.

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