A report on the opening demonstration of the Minga Social y Communitaria in Bogotá, Colombia by two activists from Brighton, UK.
We arrived at the Kennedy hospital thinking we might be late, but when we went up to the group of around 50 students hanging around wearing foam masks with their banners lying on the floor we were told that we had to wait for the indigenous contingent who were still having breakfast. This was our introduction to the Minga Social y Comunitaria, a series of demonstrations and “congresses” going on all around Colombia with the aim of linking the struggles of indigenous peoples in the countryside with those of workers and students in the cities. Minga is an indigenous word for “building together” and in this context signifies something like “constructing alternatives to capitalism”.
We had found out about this movement through people we had met in Bogotá from the Red Libertaria Popular Mateo Kramer, a network of “libertarian” groups named after a Swiss activist who was killed last year. This network includes anarchists, feminists, ecologists and animal rights activists and from hearing them talk, the MINGA is the most important thing going on in Colombia right now. In the midst of a 40 year old civil war with no end in sight, the Minga seems to break through the “Marxist vs. Imperialist” paradigm and allows space for real resistance to neoliberalism, as well as the war and the corruption of the government.
Milling around under a grey sky waiting for a demo to start with a distressingly low number of protesters and police waiting in the sidelines, we could have been back in England. People moved on to the road and started chanting and jumping up and down with their banners, but there were so few of us that it felt more like we were just pissing off motorists than challenging the state. But then some uniquely Colombian-looking buses arrived, crammed full of indigenous people from the south who’d come up to the capital for the mobilisation (and had apparently finished eating breakfast by now).
We set off down the road, but hadn’t gone more than a hundred metres when there was a panicked rush and people started clambering onto the buses. In a paranoid terror I thought perhaps the police were attacking, but it turned out that we were just late and needed to use the buses to cover some distance. The block we were on was just one of four making their way from different parts of the city to the Plaza de Bolivar, the centre of government of the country.
People began to chant in honour of protesters who had died at the hands of police. It began with a long statement, along the lines of, “not a minute’s silence, but constant struggle” and ended with someone shouting, “Comrade So-and-so” with other people shouting, “Presente!” (like a register at school). The most ubiquitous chant, “Luchar! Crear! Poder popular!” (Struggle! Create! People power!) was also spray-painted on the walls of many of the buildings we passed when we eventually got off and started walking.
As we made our way down the streets with the police half-heartedly strolling along on one side of us, one corporate building to the next was spraypainted and stencilled, to cries of, “Pinta! Pinta!” (Paint! Paint!). Though often they were spraying onto glass with bemused employees visible on the other side, only once did I see anyone react. This involved a security guard with a massive rifle starting on some of the graffiti artists as they tried to spray the car dealership he was guarding. Completely fearlessly, a guy in a fake Rasta hat rushed in, pushing the guard away with his (not inconsiderable) body weight. Surprisingly it was the guard, not the fake Rasta, who got a talking to by the police afterwards.
In fact the police did next-to-nothing all day, despite the antics of the crowd such as slowing right down and then running really quickly, which seemed more for entertainment than to evade getting surrounded kettling. As we approached the commercial and historical centre the streets were wider and the demo expanded to fill them. Marching through crowds of shoppers the chants became targeted at passers by, along the lines of “Friends! Listen! Your children are students and you are workers!” As we went down the final stretch of road towards the Plaza, all the businesses quickly put down their shutters in anticipation of the march, revealing most of them to be covered in anarchist graffiti from previous demos. According to people we spoke to afterwards, that street was where there were usually the most confrontations between teargas-wielding police and “violent punks who give us all a bad name” as they were (I suspect unfairly) described. But this time indigenous leaders had requested that there was to be as little violence as possible.
We got into the Plaza to see hundreds of people from the other blocks already there and a big stage set up. The speeches were passionate and angry, at one point involving about thirty people stripping naked on stage and chanting (for reasons I’m still unclear on). We left before it got boring, and then it started raining, so I guess it didn’t actually get a chance to.
As uplifting as the demo was, with young people running around writing slogans on walls and the police just sitting around taking pictures on their mobile phone, it was purely symbolic. But it symbolises the beginning of a process of building a nationwide consensus to construct an alternative world, from the bottom up. I have never come across a process that is as much in line with what I consider anarchism to be about anywhere in the world. It may take a long time but this is a movement that is definitely going places.
Viva la MINGA!