Horizontalidad and Territory in the Occupy Movements

Argentina's popular rebellion

The horizontal social relations of the Occupy movement are strikingly similar to the horizontalidad that emerged a decade ago during Argentina's popular rebellion. Here, workers protest outside the Supreme Court building in Buenos Aires in December 2001. AP Photo/Pablo Aneli.

Horizontal social relationships and the creation of new territory through the use of geographic space are the most generalized and innovative of the experiences of the Occupy movements. What we have been witnessing across the United States since September 2011 is new in a myriad of ways, yet also, as everything, has local and global antecedents. In this article I will describe these two innovations and ground them in the more recent past, looking back to Argentina’s popular rebellion of eleven years ago and its conception of horizontalidad. I do this so as to examine commonalities and differences, but also to remind us that these ways of organizing have multiple and diverse precedents from which we may learn.

Horizontalidad, horizontality, and horizontalism are words that encapsulate the ideas upon which many of the social relationships and political interactions in the new global movements are grounded—movements from Spain to Greece, and now most recently here in the U.S. Occupy movements.

Horizontalidad is a social relationship that implies, as its name suggests, a flat plane upon which to communicate. Horizontalidad necessarily implies the use of direct democracy and the striving for consensus—both processes in which attempts are made so that everyone is heard and new relationships are created. Horizontalidad is a new way of relating, based in affective politics and against all the implications of “isms.” It is a dynamic social relationship. It is not an ideology or political program that must be met so as to create a new society or new idea. It is a break with these sorts of vertical ways of organizing and relating, and a break that is an opening.

To participate in any of the assemblies taking place throughout the United States and in many places around the globe means to stand or sit in a circle, with a handful of facilitators, and speak and listen in turn. The point of these discussions, which are usually conducted with general guidelines and principles of unity, is to collectively attempt to reach consensus—a general agreement with which all can feel satisfied, even if it is not perfect—through the process of active listening. If one were to ask a participant about this process, which I have done countless times, they would most likely explain the need to listen to one another. Perhaps they would use the language of democracy, something like direct, real, or participatory democracy. Or maybe they would say that we do not have a society in which people can really participate, so that is what we are trying to do here, in this space and with this assembly. Often in these conversations, some version of horizontalism will arise. This current experience in the United States is strikingly similar to what took place in Argentina beginning in December 2001, where I then lived and compiled an oral history. This similarity requires reflection and historical grounding.

Argentina’s 2001 Rebellion and the Emergence of Horizontalidad

The word horizontalidad was first heard in the days after the popular rebellion in Argentina in 2001. No one recalls where it came from or who first might have said it. It was a new word and emerged from a new practice. The practice was people coming together, looking to one another, and—without anyone in charge or with power over the other—beginning to find ways to solve their problems together. ...

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Marina Sitrin was a part of the General Assembly that helped organize Occupy Wall Street. She is a postdoctoral fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center Committee on Globalization and Social Change, and the author of Horizontalism: Voices of Popular Power in Argentina. This article was first published by Possible Futures (www.possible-futures.org), a production of the Social Science Research Council.

Source Citation

Sitrin, Marina. "Horizontalidad and Territory in the Occupy Movements." Tikkun 27(2): 32.

tags: Activism, Politics & Society   
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