Friday, February 26, 2016

Tangoes and Civil Disobedience

26 February 2016

The first two photos are of our tango studio - imagine dancing in this beautiful room with the chandeliers, ornamental plaster ceiling, and the carved wood molding around the edges.  These buildings are from another era, a more genteel time, when ladies tangoed in longer dresses and men wore hats everywhere but indoors.   

It really is a beautiful room!

I've attended four tango classes, and finally realized that we don't review our steps from day to day.  Each class, we learn new steps and new configurations of the dance, new ways to embellish or ornament our tango.  We also learn the milango, another dance, and new steps for that as well.  So while we aren't perfecting our dance, we're building a repertoire of tango steps.

At any rate, it's great fun and I'm having a really good time.  Plus getting lots of exercise, and dancing for a 90 minutes or more, three times a week.

The rest of the photos - well, this is the civil disobedience part of the blog.

On Wednesday, there was a MASSIVE demonstration of workers, marching from somewhere on Avenida 9 de Julio (two blocks west of our hotel) along Avenida de Mayo (one and a half blocks south of our hotel) to Plaza de Mayo (maybe six or eight blocks east of our hotel).  So yes, we were surrounded on three sides by this protest march of some 20,000 or so government workers.

Originally we didn't plan to see the demonstration, despite the fact that Richard and I certainly have participated in our share of protests and strikes and such.  We received advance notice from the US Embassy here in Argentina, because we register our travels as we move from country to country.  Just one of those back-up safety precautions, in case anything dire happens.  

The embassy, of course, advises not to get involved, that protests that begin peacefully can change at any moment and become violent, yada yada yada.  We thought this probably was reasonable advice, and thought we'd stay in the hotel.

But then the bangs and crashes started.  We weren't sure if what we were hearing was someone firing blanks, or tear gas into the crowd, or if rival factions were shooting each other, or what.  I went downstairs and asked at the desk, and the man assured me these were rockets, like big firecrackers.  That no one was shooting at each other (as happened in Thailand while we were there), no one was firing tear gas (as during the Civil Rights movement).  This was just protesters lighting firecrackers.  

So, well, we went out to see for ourselves what was happening.  

And it was HUGE!

Really, the newspaper reports of 20,000 workers might be on the conservative side.  People were in groups of unions, or maybe offices - the government workers in aeronautics, or a group of social workers, or university faculty and staff - all with flags and banners and coordinating tee shirts or bibs over their clothes.  Men, women, families, babies in strollers, marching down the streets and along the sidewalks, spilling over onto smaller side streets, chanting slogans and singing songs.

Of course, we couldn't read many of the slogans, or understand most of the songs, nor comprehend what the flyers we were handed said.  So our understanding of the events comes from the newspaper article the following day.

There were a number of issues being protested - low salaries, working conditions, high prices, taxes being raised.  Also, roughly 20,000 public sector workers have been laid off, due to austerity measures on the part of the government.

But the key issue, according to the English language newspaper, is a new protocol essentially banning public protests and demonstrations, making such activities criminal.  So the combined state workers unions decided to protest this new law criminalizing protests.

I know, I'm a bit confused as well.  It's rather circuitous.  But there were protests in areas around the country, all state workers.  Basically shutting down the government for a day.

All while the president of France was visiting.  (However, France has more than its share of strikes by government workers, so this probably wasn't much of an issue.)

It was pretty interesting, seeing all the slogans and flags and the masses of people.  With periodic firecrackers, cherry bombs, and bottle rockets going off.  Singing, marching, crash bang boom, and some more flags marching by.  Then repeat.

It seems as if protests and demonstrations are a way of life here.  For example, President Obama is scheduled to visit and meet with the president of Argentina in late March.  It turns out that the dates coincide with the 40th anniversary of the most recent military coup d'etat.  So human rights activists normally hold a march to Plaza de Mayo to commemorate, and in some ways protest, that event.  The march will continue, people have been told that the security for Obama will not interfere with the march.  And human rights activists are trying to meet with the US president to discuss that country's role in the coup, having backed whichever side and thus participating in the disappearances that followed.  As I said, protests and demonstrations seem to be the norm, and even visiting presidents don't interrupt the right to strike and protest.

What can I say, the right to free speech seems to be alive and well in Argentina!

I almost forgot!  I went for a haircut, always an interesting experience in a new country.  Fortunately, there was someone working there who speaks English, so I could explain what I wanted and how much to cut, all that stuff.

After the haircut and styling, he chatted with me while I paid and all.  I explained we're retired and just travelling, that we don't have a home, etc.  And I started saying that we're doing all the things we've always wanted to do, so while in Argentina I'm - and he interrupts and says, "Oh, going to tango shows?"  I laughed and said, "NO!  I'm taking tango classes!"  He thought that was wonderful, and even better than tango shows, learning to dance tango myself.  

I guess he's used to most people going to watch the shows, not bothering to learn the dances themselves.

I thought it was pretty funny!

No comments:

Post a Comment