Activism in Latin America

Political protesters in Rio de Janiero have used the global spotlight of the Olympics to highlight social issues in their cities and countries, notably extinguishing the Olympic torch at one point in time to bring attention to the high cost of hosting the games while other problems are ignored. Mobilizing Ideas would like to take this time to focus on activism in the broader region of Latin America. We invite contributors to consider particular topics that may include the relationship of activists to organized crime, state impunity and societal accountability, legacies of authoritarian governments, land rights and indigenous movements, and more.

Many thanks to our contributors.

Nicholas Barnes, University of Wisconsin-Madison (essay)
Lucas ChristelDaniel Torunczyk, National University of San Martín & CONICET (essay)
Stefanie Israel, University of Notre Dame  (essay)
Angela Lederach, University of Notre Dame  (essay)
Adam Talbot, University of Brighton (essay)

Editors in Chief,
Grace Yukich, David Ortiz, Rory McVeigh, Guillermo Trejo

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Informing Activists

Mobilizing Ideas is excited to announce the publication of a special series this month called “Informing Activists.” Coordinated by Jennifer Earl and Thomas Elliott (both at the University of Arizona), and in in partnership with the Youth Activism Project, this series includes videos from some of the top scholars in social movements, recommended readings, and other resources on topics ranging from framing to social movement consequences, all tailored to young activists, potential organizers, and/or potential protest participants. We hope you will share this series widely, especially with young people in your communities interested in working for social change.

Editors in Chief,
Grace Yukich, David Ortiz, Rory McVeigh, Dan Myers

The Youth Activism Project, which is sponsored by the MacArthur Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics, has joined with Mobilizing Ideas to produce a video series designed to translate academic research on social movements into actionable information and questions that can be of use to young activists, potential organizers, and/or potential protest participants.

The MacArthur Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics (YPP) is a network of ten scholars from various disciplines that have come together to understand how youth are getting involved civically and politically, including through sharing and producing civic and political content online. We are also interested in understanding the risks and opportunities that the use of digital media may play in these engagements. While the network invests in, and members conduct, basic research on these topics, YPP is also dedicated to translating relevant research findings into actionable information for young people, activists, educators, and/or policy-makers.

This video series comes out of that desire to connect young people with critical research on activism. We’ve invited some of the top scholars in the field of social movements to talk about what their research has to say about how to be effective activists. For example, David Snow discusses what advice his pioneering work in framing has for activists looking to improve their messaging. Holly McCammon discusses how her work in strategic adaptation helps guide activists in modifying their strategies to changing contexts. Our goal is that these videos can help current and future activists better plan their campaigns to achieve success.

Each page contains at least one video that we hope will help young activists make informed decisions about their engagements, a bio about the presented, and some suggested readings if someone is interested in a deeper dive into the topic area.

We hope you find these to be helpful, and welcome suggestions about new videos. You can email us at Good luck on making the change you envision!

Table of Contents

In what ways do social movements make a difference? – Thomas Elliott

How/When do movements make a political difference? – Katrin Uba

How/When do movements affect culture? – Jenn Earl

When do movements shape public opinion? – Neal Caren

How does movement participation affect people’s lives? – Marco Giugni

Who Participates in Movements and Why? – Bert Klandermans and Ziad Munson

What can be done about activist burnout? – Sharon Nepstad

How do I build identity and solidarity in a movement? – Rachel Einwohner

How much does the political environment affect my cause? – David Meyer

What are the best tactics for my cause? – Catherine Corrigall-Brown

How do I use online tools to help my cause? – Lissa Soep

What are the best targets for my cause? – Tom Maher

How do I adapt my tactics to the political environment? – Holly McCammon

When do I need an organization? – Jenn Earl

How do I work with existing organizations? – Grace Yukich

How can I build coalitions and increase diversity? – Rich Wood

What are some considerations for youth in organizations? – Sarah Gaby

How do I talk about my cause? – David Snow

What do I need to know about the media environment? – Deana Rohlinger

What are the risks of activism and can I reduce those risks? – Heidi Reynolds-Stenson

How Might These Topics Apply to a Specific Campaign? – Elizabeth Armstrong


Filed under Essay Dialogues, Informing Activists

Between Fora Temer and Fora UPP: On the White Middle-Class Left and its Attempts to “Include” Favela Militants

By Stefanie Israel

Three years after the June protests, Brazil finds itself in a political and economic crisis that no one would have imagined. Since the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate voted in favor of impeachment, suspending Dilma Rousseff’s presidency pending up to 180 days of investigation and trial, and Vice-President Michel Temer (PMDB) acts as interim president, the Left has proclaimed a “golpe” or coup and united behind the slogan, “Primeiramente, Fora Temer” (“First, Out with Temer.”) Meanwhile, as Rio de Janeiro prepared to host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, state budget shortfalls left many public employees without receiving salaries in the midst of across-the-board cuts in education, healthcare, and security. When the state received federal bailout funds, which were dedicated to security for the Games, rather than to education or healthcare, many who were already critical of investment “pra gringo / inglês ver” (for the gringo / English to see) were further outraged at the money spent to put on a spectacle for foreigners. They see this as a mere “maquiagem” (cosmetic make-up) over dire social problems that they will continue to live with once the international gaze turns away. This frustration with the prioritization of putting on a show over meeting basic needs (nothing new to Rio) led some to join a movement to put out the Olympic torch, a powerful symbolic action of protest against the dirty side of spectacle. Continue reading

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The Long Road Ahead: Social Movement Activism and Prospects for Peace in Colombia

By Angela Lederach

On Wednesday, August 24, 2016, the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) announced that they had reached a final peace agreement, marking a significant step towards a political end to 52 years of war. As Colombia and the international community turn towards the implementation of postaccord peacebuilding processes, close attention to the discourse and actions of rural, grassroots communities that have experienced the greatest impact of the internal armed conflict is particularly important. Although nearly half of all negotiated peace accords revert to armed conflict within five years, empirical evidence demonstrates that peace accords inclusive of local actors are more durable (Paffenholz 2010; Richmond 2011). In this essay, I draw on ethnographic research with a nonviolent social movement comprised of campesinos (peasant farmers) to outline the challenges and possibilities of peace in Colombia. Continue reading

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Mobilization in the Wake of Rio’s Olympics

By Nicholas Barnes

Over the last few months, we have been inundated with news articles and reports on the disastrous impacts that the Olympics have had on Rio de Janeiro. In particular, Rio’s working class poor, many of whom live in the city’s 1,100 favelas, representing nearly 25% of the population, have shouldered the biggest burden. The current situation in many of the city’s favelas is bleak. Many low-wage public employees’ salaries have gone unpaid and had their benefits cut. More than 4,000 residents have been evicted from their homes to make room for Olympic infrastructure. Even the once heralded Police Pacification Units (UPPs), a program intended to take back territorial control of favelas from powerful drug trafficking gangs and reduce violent crime in Rio in preparation for the World Cup and Olympics, are faltering. The news is not all bad, however, as the Olympics and other mega-events have also created opportunities for activists and social movements to call attention to misguided and irresponsible public policies. Much of Brazilian society has mobilized as a result. And yet, favela communities have largely been unable to capitalize on these opportunities due to continuing problems related to public security. Continue reading

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The Cycle of Socio-Environmental Mobilization Against Transnational Mining in Argentina: Assessment and Challenges (2003-2016)

By Lucas Christel and Daniel Torunczyk

In April 2003, a story ran in the New York Times Newspaper entitled “A Town’s Protests Threaten Argentina’s Mining Future”[1]. Though they couldn’t have known it at the time, the title was essentially premonitory of the advance of mining development activities in Esquel, Chubut province, as well as other provinces in Argentina. The Asamblea de Vecinos Autoconvocados de Esquel por el No a la mina (AVAE: in English, the Self-Appointed Neighbors’ Assembly Saying No to Mining against Looting and Pollution) burst into the conflict in the middle of 2002. Using a variety of repertoire of contention that combined direct action with institutional elements, such as judicial relief and a successful local referendum, AVAE successfully stopped a gold and silver mining project by Canadian-based company Meridian Gold (Svampa & Antonellli 2009; Walter y Alier 2010; Torunczyk 2015). More than a decade later, this essay seeks to assess the cycle of socio-environmental mobilization against transnational mining in Argentina, and to bring to light the actual challenges to environmental mobilization. Continue reading

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Activism in Rio’s Olympic Spotlight

By Adam Talbot

talb 1.pngActivists protest outside the Olympic Park. Photo Credit: Rio 2016 – Os Jogos da Exclusão

This summer, a whopping 30,000 journalists have descended on the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro. While many have come to cover the world’s largest sporting event, thousands more are combing the city for stories about what life is really like for Cariocas, as Rio’s residents are known. These residents know they are living under the glare of the world’s media, and political activists have tried to direct global attention towards their causes. This isn’t new for the Olympics – it would have been hard to watch the last Games in Sochi without hearing anything about Russia’s controversial ‘anti-gay’ laws, or watch Beijing 2008 and not learn something of the Chinese government’s poor human rights record. Continue reading

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“Hillary Clinton sees me:” The primaries, “identity politics,” and disability

anastasia_somozaAt the Democratic National Convention, disability activist Anastasia Somoza told enthusiastic audience members that “in a country where 56 million people so often feel invisible, Hillary Clinton sees me. She sees me as a strong woman, a young professional, a hard worker, and the proud daughter of immigrants.”

Media personalities, political insiders, and the candidates themselves have talked about the 2016 presidential primaries as a departure from what we normally expect from presidential primaries. The difference is often attributed to how Donald Trump “doesn’t play by the rules” – something we are frequently reminded of by pundits on both the left and right. Continue reading

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