Sunday, 20th January 2002
The struggle in the defence of EMCALI E.I.C.E. is transforming peoples lives both inside and outside the occupation. Collectivity and solidarity, supposedly dead and buried in our materialist world have again been reborn, and as the imagination of the people begins to be set free, questions of power move beyond public services and into the domain of democracy, equality, and freedom.
Inside CAM tower the newly formed women’s group is formulating proposals to address male attitudes to their female comrades. To raise questions as to why no woman has ever been a member of the Executive Board of the union, and to challenge the sexism that exists in the union and beyond. “We are in the frontline of the struggle to defend EMCALI, and male attitudes inside the Tower are changing towards us. When we leave we want to change the attitudes of those outside as well,” said Aydee, one of the spokeswomen from the group. She had entered the occupation to join her comrades three days after it had begun, disguised as a nurse.
Inside the Tower they are organising a range of initiatives: educational, political, and social to keep both women and men busy and united. “Tomorrow we have computer classes, and English classes, and we are organising a cleaning party, jointly with the men, to keep the tower clean. We are also circulating the words of the Internationale and the anthem of SINTRAEMCALI to every floor, so that everyone can learn the songs by heart. Tomorrow we will have a competition with a prize for the floor that sings them the best.” Whilst I was there they were planning the exit parade, and discussing ideas. Every detail is considered as they decide on the image that they wish to present to the community and the wider world when they eventually leave the tower, heads held high in dignity and solidarity.
Outside the tower, people are gathered around the stage watching a dance group from Agua Blanca, the poorest district in Cali, and the crowd sways in time with the music. A local rap band from the same area, chant their tribute to social protest and their chorus of “SINTRAEMCALI, present…. SINTRAEMCALI present.” On the roof of the two-storey building attached to the tower, occupying workers clad in Balaclavas dance together in this carnival of the people. Workers and communities experiencing new things, forging new friendships, and debating new ideas as this new popular front of diversity begins to solidify into a solid block of popular resistance.
I think of what my friend Berenice, a popular leader and human rights activist, told me she had heard from a campesino in the South of Bolivar describing the popular movement. He had said that the social struggles in Colombia are like the Magdalena River; in the morning the level of the river is shallow, but by the evening the river can become uncontrollable. The river of resistance in Cali is indeed rising and tomorrow the Municipal Strike Command meet to raise that level even higher.