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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