The Latin American Connection: From Brazil’s MST to Occupy

Dancing with Dynamite at the Occupy Wall St Library (October, 2011)

Dancing with Dynamite at the Occupy Wall St Library (October, 2011)

In the final chapter of Dancing with Dynamite the book ends on a note regarding possible lessons and tactics from Latin American social movements that could be applied in the fight for social change in the US.

For example, the 2008 occupation of the Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago reflected the strategies of unemployed workers taking over factories in Argentina in 2001, and movements for access to water in Detroit and Atlanta mirrored struggles in Cochabamba, Bolivia, where in 2000, popular protests rejected the multinational company Bechtel’s water privatization plan and put the water back into public hands. The Take Back the Land movement in Florida, which organized homeless people to occupy a vacant lot and pairs homeless families with foreclosed homes, shares the tactics and philosophy of the landless movement in Brazil. Participatory budgeting in Brazil, which provides citizens with direct input on how city budgets are distributed, is now being implemented by communities across the US.

These are just a handful of movements and grassroots initiatives that provide helpful models (in both their victories and failures) for decentralizing political and economic power, and putting decision making into the hands of the people. By 2011, just a few months after the book came out, the type of international connections between social movements mentioned in Dancing with Dynamite were multiplying at unprecedented speed due in part to the Arab Spring, Los Indignados, Occupy Wall Street, and major student uprisings from Chile to Montreal and more.

In one article last fall, I wrote of the connections between the social movements surrounding Argentina’s 2001 economic crisis and that of Occupy Wall Street, and mentioned tactical and philosophical connections between Occupy and Landless Movements in Latin America. And at this year’s Left Forum in NYC, I helped organize a panel charting some ties between Latin American social movements and current movements in the US.

At The Farm. Photo: Dave Id, IndyBay.org

At The Farm. Photo: Dave Id, IndyBay.org

And the connections kept on popping up all over the place, most recently in the form of an occupation of land in Albany, CA: on Sunday, April 22, hundreds of people involved in Occupy the Farm to Take Back the Gill Tract took over land owned by UC Berkeley, land which the university had planned to use for housing and commercial development. Activists entered the land, and began weeding, turning up the soil and planting seeds in an effort to transform the space into a working farm. One activist told a reporter that the action was done in solidarity with Brazil’s Landless Movement.

“A week later, the Farm, as it is being called by Occupiers, has taken on a vibrant life,” reported fellow AK Press author Jeff Conant in a wonderful article and photo essay on the Farm. “Eye-witness reports of police harassment reveal the high-stakes and the looming potential for conflict; within the farm grounds, however, the scene is tranquil following a weekend of planned activities including music, childrens’ activities, hands-on farming classes, and a ceremony to welcome home seeds saved from the site by Berkeley community residents twelve years ago.”

“Many neighbors say they have walked by the property for years and been unable to enter; now they are elated to have the chance to take part in farming it,” Conant continued. (Click here to check out his full report and photo essay)

Such connections and actions are increasingly appearing around the world. Happy May Day!

Stay tuned for upcoming reports from Bolivia.

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Motorcycles and Mississippi: Lost in Argentina, Stolen in the USA

Review of Dancing with Dynamite by John Maclean in Industrial Worker, newspaper of the IWW

Review of Dancing with Dynamite by John Maclean in Industrial Worker, newspaper of the IWW

Dancing with Dynamite has been moving around the world in unexpected ways. Someone in Mexico is writing a comic book based in Bolivia, and is using Dancing with Dynamite as a part of his research. A friend was motorcycling across northern Argentina recently and while he was riding, one of the bags fell off the bike – it was the bag carrying Dancing with Dynamite! So now the book is somewhere in the Argentine countryside…

I continue selling copies of the book to people out of my backpack. The other day I sold a copy right inside of a Borders bookstore, and later that same day exchanged the book with someone else for some delicious wild mushrooms he had foraged.

The book is also being used in a lot of college classrooms across the US. (One university library even lists it as “missing.” I wonder where that stolen copy is.)  I recently received a phone call from a classroom of students at the University of Southern Mississippi. The students in the class had read Dancing with Dynamite very closely, and had a bunch of great questions and comments regarding what activists in the US might learn from South American social movements.

Dancing with Dynamite is also traveling around the internets. There’s bunch of people who have reviewed the book, or plan to read it, on GoodReads.com. One reviewer there says he “dug it.”

A few new reviews have recently come out. Reviewer Michael Fox writes in Truthout that the book is “a roadmap, a call to action to break the simplistic dualities imposed by society and place our destinies into our own hands.” Other new reviews have appeared in The International Socialist Review and the IWW’s Industrial Worker.

Ad for Dancing with Dynamite in the back cover of Z Magazine

Ad for Dancing with Dynamite in the back cover of Z Magazine

Dancing with Dynamite has even been mentioned in languages I don’t recognize, like this: “mengenai perdagangan internasional yang tidak melulu mengikuti resep-resep neoliberal. Benjamin Dangl menyebutnya Dancing with Dynamite, untuk menggambarkan bagaimana kelompok…”

The Chabot Spectator, of Chabot College in California, published an article reporting on my visit and presentation at the school. The author writes of the event, “Just a few days before students and faculty headed up to Sacramento to protest the cuts to education, Chabot’s population was shown the potential social movements could achieve.”

Thanks so much to everyone who has read the book, discussed it, disagreed with it, passed it on, lost or stolen it. You give Dancing with Dynamite a life beyond the words on its pages.

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The Streets that Lead Home

Hilltop View of San Francisco

Hilltop View of San Francisco

Touring so far with Dancing with Dynamite has brought me to nearly twenty different towns, cities, classrooms, basements and living rooms across the US. After meeting so many people and having discussions around the themes in the book of revolution, power and social change, I’m convinced that the following passage taken from toward the end of Dancing with Dynamite is truer now than ever:

“The similarities between people of different nations and societies are often stronger than the differences. The structures of power that centralize wealth and exploit people and the environment all benefit from a division and disconnect between people across the world. When connections are made across borders to identify both the systems of oppression and the strategies to overcome them, a better world will indeed be possible.”

This is about globalizing revolution and learning from each other. As Tarak Barkawi writes in a recent op-ed in Al Jazeera, discussing the recent revolts in North Africa and the Middle East, “Defeats provide lessons, and victories give hope. These revolutions need not be on satellite TV to effect their instruction. Revolutionaries in France and Haiti in the 1790s received news of one another’s activities by the regular packet ship that plied between Jamaica and London.”

Perhaps this book operates as a kind of modern day version of such a ship – or at least a rowboat… But for now, I’m happy that the ship, train, bus, subway and plane have stopped, and I can just walk home.

As the late poet Robert Creeley wrote in the poem “Return” upon returning home from India in 1945:

“Enough for now to be here, and
To know my door is one of these.”

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California by Train

The Mission Neighborhood in San Francisco

The Mission Neighborhood in San Francisco

I’ve just returned from the Dancing with Dynamite book tour in California and am only now beginning to process all of the things that happened during this whirlwind of a ten day trip. I would have liked to blog more during the tour more, but didn’t have the time. So here’s an attempt to make up for that lack of blogging!

In Davis, the National Pig Day is celebrated enthusiastically. Though I had never heard of it, many people at the weekly Davis farmers’ market embraced this day by wearing pig noses, energetically jumping into a dance about pigs, and giving speeches over loudspeakers about this “intellectual” and “delicious” creature. Meanwhile, members of some local organization handed out free breakfast, which included free bacon, which most people bit into  – without apparent irony – while listening to the pig speeches.

Orange tree in Sacramento

Orange tree in Sacramento

I took a train from Davis to Sacramento just as the evening was rolling in with the mist across the flat farmlands. The following day in the sunny capital, there were just barely more people walking around in suits than there were squirrels in the park. (When the Gobernator was in power, he apparently just flew into the capital for meetings.) While I heard news of a historically-huge snowstorm back home in Vermont, the branches on the orange trees in sunny Sacramento were heavy with fruit.

I spent part of my first day in Sacramento finding the National Public Radio station, and then being interviewed on the Insight program there. Luckily, the final person lined up to be interviewed didn’t show up, so halfway through my interview they asked me if I’d like to stick around for whole other segment. You can listen to the full interview (I’m the third one in the lineup) here. In this interview I ended up discussing the landless movement in Brazil, defending the Hugo Chavez government, describing Bolivian miners’ political uses of dynamite, and explaining why the GDP isn’t the best measure of progress in Chile.

After Sacramento, I spent the rest of the tour zipping around the San Francisco Bay Area on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART train). I think I either went past or stopped at nearly every station during the travel-filled week. I went from interviews, to speaking events, to meals, meetings, then more speaking events. At one point I was on the Living Room Show at the KPFA Pacifica Station, and was interviewed on video by Hans Bennett at Angola 3 News. I stopped by AK Press’s world famous warehouse, where I picked up more copies of my books and a very strong cup of coffee.

Posters on wall in Mission District, San Francisco

Posters on wall in Mission District, San Francisco

The reception and turnout at most of the events was wonderful. Usually about 40 people showed up, but one particularly large crown at the Berkeley City College numbered over 150 people. While people were mostly interested in the major themes in Dancing with Dynamite, other issues came up regarding impending budget cuts at CA colleges, the situation in Libya, drug-trafficking related violence in Mexico, current events in Wisconsin, and much more.

And of course, one morning I woke up to the horrible news of the tragic earthquake and tsunami in Japan. There were also concerns that the tsunami would hit the Bay Area. A few people headed for the hills, others went surfing, and some actually crowded around the beaches to take pictures. Though some people were injured, and some boats and docks destroyed, luckily, the wave did not end up being that big. Here’s a picture and video of the ominous but ultimately unthreatening wave arriving the Bay Area.

While I’ll be doing other speaking events and tours with Dancing with Dynamite, I am grateful to everyone in California who opened their homes to me, helped me with transportation costs, and shared delicious Mexican meals and California beer in the Mission neighborhood.

Ships in the distance, view from train to Bay Area

Ships in the distance, view from train to Bay Area

Most importantly, the conversations I had, stories I heard, new friendships made, places I visited, have been inspiring and thought-provoking, leaving me with a lot of questions, answers, ideas and plans for the future – which I’ll be blogging about here.

And for those of you in New York City, I’ll be participating in a panel on Latin American social movements at the Left Forum at Pace University on Sunday, March 20.

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San Francisco at Night

San Francisco Bay at Night

San Francisco Bay at Night

At night, looking down on San Francisco from a descending plane, the cars look like little ants going up and down the highways. I got off the plane, took an escalator, elevator, train, car, then another train, then a bike, until finally arriving at some friends’ house in Davis, California, as part of a book tour with Dancing with Dynamite.  (I’ll be in Sacramento and all over the Bay Area this coming week. Check out the tour dates and details here.)

Article on my book talks, below "Pets of the Week" in Davis newspaper

On Friday, March 4, I spoke with a crowd of students, teachers and activists at UC Davis, where the flowers are in blossom and there are bike paths snaking throughout the city. People there were particularly interested in discussing the lessons that can be learned from Latin American social movement victories. That same day I went to the Avid Reader in Davis, where some people asked questions about Cuba’s influence in the region, and were impressed with the story of Take Back the Land in Miami, which has been pairing homeless people with foreclosed homes.

Following the bookstore event, I wandered over to a bar with new and old friends from around the hemisphere, where we sat around a fire outside talking about Argentinean rock and bad presidents.

Days earlier on a visit to New Orleans, a guitarist howled the blues in one bar where graffiti in the bathroom lamented the BP oil spill. Another graffiti artist had responded on the ancient walls: “Don’t blame me, I voted for anarchy.”

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Travels in Chiapas, Mexico

In San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas

In San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas

This winter I headed to Mexico for awhile. During these travels in the Yucatan and Chiapas, I spoke with a number of people about current events in Mexico, tourism, indigenous issues, and the political and social environment in the country. It was an educational experience about a complicated place. I also heard of some parallels between social movements’ relationship with the Mexican government, and that same dance examined in other Latin American countries in Dancing with Dynamite.

Throughout the trip, I lugged around a bunch of copies in Spanish of my first book, El Precio del Fuego, distributing them to activists and writers in the region. Please stay tuned for more on Mexico, and on the upcoming March book tour in California. And thanks to everyone who bought a copy of Dancing with Dynamite so far, making it one of AK Press’s bestselling books of 2010!

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Book Travels: A Cyberspace Journey

Ferrying Across Lake Champlain to New York State

Ferrying Across Lake Champlain to New York State

The book has received a lot of attention from reviewers and journalist around cyberspace and even the old fashioned print media world. Here is a roundup of some of the most recent news and reviews.

Conn Hallinan, writing in Foreign Policy in Focus, says that Dancing with Dynamite is “thoughtful and well-reported” and “succeeds in illuminating the gray zones between passion and power that must be negotiated on the road to building a humanist society everywhere.” Full review here.

Clifton Ross wrote a review for Counterpunch, saying Dancing with Dynamite “is a daring, you could say ‘explosive,’ little book, and it stands out in a big way from other volumes on the subject…” Read the full review here.

Fred Fuentes, in Australia’s Green Left Weekly, writes, “Dangl’s latest offering provides an opportunity for the subjects of the social changes underway in Latin America to speak for themselves and tell their own story.” Read the review.

The Indypendent published a review of Dancing with Dynamite by Matt Wasserman. The author calls the book “a fascinating account of the experiments happening” in South America. Read the review, and my response to it, here.

And finally, Jesse Freeston at the incredible Real News Network, did three different videos based on the focus of the book and interview he did with me in Washington, DC. The first video looks at the dance between social movements and states in Latin America, the second looks at the tyranny of soy agribusiness in Paraguay and the third looks at participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil and Chicago’s 49th ward.  Here is the first one, including amazing footage of social struggles throughout Latin America:

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Highway North From a Magical Capital

When driving during certain stretches of this book tour, I really wanted the book, Dancing with Dynamite, to take the wheel. This occurred to me when I took this shot in Vermont, looking over the dashboard onto Lake Champlain.

The book talk in Washington, DC  – where all the magic happens – was great: at the event, I was able to meet up with a lot of journalists, bloggers and solidarity activists I’ve been in touch with over the years. The Dream City Collective organized this exciting gathering at a church in the city, and the discussion and turnout was great. The next day I met up with Jesse Freeston from the Real News Network and took this picture (right) just before he interviewed me for these videos, which he produced on Latin America with great footage from social struggles around the region. (The ducks in the background during these interviews got particularly agitated when I mentioned the Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner.)

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The Train South from Baltimore

One other occasional mode of transportation on this book tour has been the train. Rolling out of Baltimore I thought of my great-grandfather who worked on these railroad lines nearly a century ago in this same city, long before Red Emma’s, the book store and cafe with incredible food for your soul and your stomach, was around. I had a great time discussing Dancing with Dynamite at Red Emma’s, meeting some old and new friends.

Dancing with Dynamite on the road

Dancing with Dynamite on the road

And here’s one more installment of the photo series looking at where in the world Dancing with Dynamite shows up. This time the already well-worn copy of the book I’ve been reading from at book events fit perfectly to this pleather train seat pocket, right along with some safety instructions.

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View from the Bus and the Neon Lights of Philadelphia

View from the bus

View from the bus

The grass has literally gotten greener the farther I’ve gone south. While riding in a bus from NYC to Philadelphia I had to stare for a long time out the window to make sure the grass was real – it was that green. I was riding in one of those buses with wifi and electrical outlets that I’d heard so much about. The view out the window was cooler than these amenities.

The Wooden Shoe Sign

The Wooden Shoe Sign

It was great to be back in Philadelphia, and speak at the new location of the spacious, well-stocked and friendly Wooden Shoe, now on South Street. (They do actually have wooden shoes in the store.) I was told by a friend who works there that their awesome neon light sign is the largest in America with the word on anarchist on it. So now when you visit Philly you can check out the Liberty Bell and this sign!

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