IPTK Regional Headquarters, Ocuri

After my experience yesterday, May Day for me will never quite feel like just any other day, as it generally does in Canada. My experience began with a tour of the cenprur operations that included a short visit to the small library. In keeping with IPTK’s very modest infrastructure, the room was simple. A large wooden table with chairs sat in the middle and the whitewashed walls were lined with bookshelves filled with books. I scanned the shelves and in no time caught sight of the library’s most impressive collection.

It was a full set of Lenin’s writings. They were bound in at least twenty volumes, resembling an encyclopaedia set or a series of dissertations. We needed to leave for the May Day – well May Day night – parade so I only managed to leaf through one volume quickly. Wow, I thought, these guys really do have socialist roots. I wonder if I’ll have a chance for a more thorough review at some time. I certainly hope so.

The central square where we were to start the parade was hilly, not your typical town plaza. Nor was there much flatland to walk around. Ocuri is on a mountainside with the flatter bits above housing the training centre. Our march was thus a constant up and down and around. Thanks to the kerosene torches we held high over our heads, the village fast became a mass of flickering light in the pitch-black sky. Our feet kept rhythm with the local band. The entire community seemed to be in the march.

After the speeches, rather fiery in their own right, we headed to the cenprur residence for a drink. A rather reflective discussion took place among my friends. They told me about how this event made them deeply nostalgic. It brought back memories of the early days when there had been such a strong community spirit. They lamented its loss. Everyone felt equal in those days and everyone always pitched in. From manager down to staff on the first rung, from washing dishes to cleaning toilets, they all shared in the chores and in the joys of working communally.

The pay was bad. That was a fact. But the camaraderie and sense of family was incredibly strong. They also reminisced about long debates about the path to a more just world, well into the morning hours. The expansion and professionalization of the organization and the need for specialized staff to manage donor requirements had changed their character. That happens all the time, they knew. They remained politically ambitious, they added. But there was a sense that when it came to iptk’s deep social justice values, they had lost their way.

This sense of loss was certainly not present in the iptk lawyer I met this morning at breakfast. His passion was fierce, as was his candour. In response to a comment I made about the valuing of Indigenous knowledge systems, he shouted, “Bolivia’s inability to move beyond its status as a living museum of exotic peoples was keeping the country and its people from the unity needed to challenge the injustice of capital.” 8

I have subsequently discovered that he is the lawyer staffing an iptk program in a neighbouring municipality heavily conflicted over the ayllu versus union governance model. There has been some nasty interaction that has no doubt complicated his work life.

My lawyer acquaintance’s very open suggestion that Indigenous peoples’ systems and movements were dividing the socialist movement is not echoed by any of the other staff I have met to date. Perhaps they are more discreet. More conflicted would be my guess. Still, this lawyer inspired a deeper level of reflection about IPTK’s institutional quandary – how does an organization committed to a unified class struggle incorporate diverse ethnic groups and world views?

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