[permaculture] Finding Common Ground in Crisis: Social Movements in South America and the US by Ben Dangl

Nicholas Roberts nicholas at themediasociety.org
Sat Dec 20 17:21:30 EST 2008


perhaps contact this journalist for some journalistic activism ?


Benjamin Dangl has worked as a journalist throughout Latin America and is
the author of "*The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in
Bolivia* <http://www.akpress.org/2007/items/priceoffireakpress>" (AK Press).
He is also the editor of TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on
world events, and UpsideDownWorld.org, an online publication on activism and
politics in Latin America. Email BenDangl(at)gmail(dot)com

-- 
Nicholas Roberts
[im] skype:niccolor



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Subject: ZNet Daily Commentary: Finding Common Ground in Crisis: Social
Movements in South America and the US by Ben Dangl
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Common Ground in Crisis: Social Movements in South America and the US

Dec 19, 2008 By *Ben Dangl*

Ben Dangl's ZSpace Page <http://www.zcommunications.org/zspace/bendangl> /
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People in the US seeking ways to confront the economic crisis could follow
the lead of South American social movements. From Argentina to Venezuela,
many movements have won victories against the same systems of corporate
greed and political corruption that produce economic strife across the
hemisphere. These movements also have experience holding politicians' feet
to the flames once they are elected, a tactic that will be essential once
Barack Obama takes office.



A recent connection between activist strategies in the north and south
emerged earlier this month when over 200 laid-off workers from Chicago's
Republic Windows and Doors factory occupied their
plant<http://towardfreedom.com/home/content/view/1477/1/>,
demanding the severance and vacation pay owed to them.



The occupation in Chicago echoed the worker occupations of factories and
businesses in Argentina during that country's 2001 economic crisis, and is
now looking even more like the movement in Argentina: the Republic workers
are currently seeking ways to re-open their factory and potentially operate
it as a worker-run cooperative.



"This is a place that should've stayed open," Republic union organizer Leah
Fried told reporter Meg White<http://www.buzzflash.com/articles/analysis/556>.
The factory could be very successful in the long run as it produces
heating-efficient windows and doors. "The goal is to reopen the plant and
create employment," Fried said.



In Argentina, hundreds of worker coops were formed after the occupations
under the slogan, "Occupy, Resist, Produce." During the occupation of the
factory in Chicago, workers and supporters chanted, "You got bailed out, we
got sold out," referring to the fact that Bank of America - a lender to
Republic - received $25 billion of the $700 billion government bailout, only
to cut off credit to Republic, leading to the closure of the factory. But
after six days of the occupation, Bank of America and other lenders
relented, agreeing to pay the workers approximately $2 million in severance
and vacation pay plus health insurance.



A foundation created by the Republic workers called the "Window of
Opportunity Fund <http://www.ueunion.org/index.html>," made up in part from
the donations received from around the US and the world to support the
workers during the occupation, will be utilized to seek ways to restart the
factory.



The similarities between the workers' actions in Chicago and Argentina show
that labor strategies to fight economic crises can be applied as
internationally as the free market policies that contributed to these
problems in the first place.



One international gathering that embodies the philosophy of cross-border
organizing and solidarity is the annual World Social Forum which began in
Brazil in 2001 to encourage collaboration and education between social
movements from across the world. In 2004 I interviewed Michael
Hardt<http://upsidedownworld.org/Hardt.htm>,
the co-author, with Antonio Negri, of *Multitude: War and Democracy in the
Age of Empire*, about the role the World Social Forums and similar
encounters can have in globalizing social justice.



"I was at two of the World Social Forums in Porto Alegre, Brazil," Hardt
explained. "At one of them, there was this sort of counter forum going on at
the youth camp where there were groups from various places. I was at one
meeting where we had Italians, piqueteros from Argentina and a group from a
movement in South Africa that is against these electricity and water cut
offs in Durban and Johannesburg. It was great having three of them talk to
each other, because even in a straight forward, tactical way they are
experiencing the same thing, the same kinds of police repression and the
same kinds of struggles. And it was not really learning from each other, but
recognizing a kind of commonality that then creates new relationships... It
is that kind of thing that has to happen on a much larger scale."



As the economic crisis in the US worsens, and the need to pressure the Obama
administration looms, movements in the US could seek such commonality with
movements in South America. Of the countless examples of recent social
movement victories in South America, here are a few that could suggest
potential blueprints for social change in the US.



In the early 1990s, participatory budgeting was implemented by the Workers'
Party in Porto Alegre, Brazil. This process, still in operation, involves
thousands of residents gathering to decide how government funding should be
used for city projects and development. Popular participation in this
process prevents corruption, and expands the conception of democracy beyond
simply voting every few years for a different political representative.



During the Cochabamba Water War in Bolivia in 2000, residents of that city
expanded the meaning of democracy even further when they united against the
Bechtel Corporation's privatization of their water. The privatization put
everything from communally-built wells and rain cisterns under the
corporation's thumb, and led to exorbitant rates few could afford. In
response, people from across economic lines joined together in protests and
road blockades and were successful in kicking the company out of town and
putting the water back into public hands.



In 2003, when former president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada tried to export
Bolivian gas to the US for a low price, working class residents of the city
of El Alto rose up against the president and his plan. Citizens took shifts
at street barricades, distributing food, spreading messages via bicycle and
working together with meager resources to fight the police and military,
eventually toppling the repressive Sanchez de Lozada government. That revolt
paved the way to the election of indigenous president Evo Morales, and the
partial nationalization of the gas industry. In his office in El Alto,
Bolivian sociologist Pablo Mamani spoke of this rebellion, "During the
uprising, the state was broken, it stopped existing, it died in El Alto."



Other Bolivian social movements point to potential strategies for social
change as well. Much of South America's fertile land is in the hands of a
few rich land owners. Landless Farmer Movements (MSTs) across region
regularly occupy unused land to work it for their survival. The Bolivian
Landless Movement <http://upsidedownworld.org/main/content/view/538/31/> has
been instrumental in pressuring the Morales government to implement
much-needed land reform. Silvestre Saisari, a bearded leader in Bolivia's
MST, explained his organization's relationship to the government in this
way: "Our democracy depends on us as social movements."



One story from the neighborhood of El 23 de Enero in Caracas, Venezuela is
emblematic of the progressive changes taking place in that country. Juan
Contreras, a radio producer and resident of the neighborhood, talked about
how he and his *compa?s* took
over<http://upsidedownworld.org/main/content/view/449/35/>the local
police station - for decades an outpost for crackdowns on leftist
organizing - and transformed it into a community radio station and cultural
center.



"This place was a symbol of repression," Contreras explained to me in the
studio, which still smelled like fresh paint from the recent conversion. "So
we took that symbol and made it into a new one." In words that reflect the
spirit of the worker occupations in Chicago and Argentina, and the need for
a broad grassroots response to the US crisis, he continued, "It is evidence
of the revolution made by us, the citizens. We can't hang around waiting for
the revolution to be made for us; we have to make the changes."



***



Benjamin Dangl has worked as a journalist throughout Latin America and is
the author of "*The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in
Bolivia* <http://www.akpress.org/2007/items/priceoffireakpress>" (AK Press).
He is also the editor of TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on
world events, and UpsideDownWorld.org, an online publication on activism and
politics in Latin America. Email BenDangl(at)gmail(dot)com

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