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.

Daniel Burridge, University of Pittsburgh (essay)
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)
Marcos Perez, Colby College (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

A Turning Tide? Grassroots Movements and a New Political Context in South America

By Marcos Perez

For the last decade and a half, the influence of grassroots movements in South America has expanded substantially. Organizations that emerged as localized reactions to neoliberal policies in the 1980s and 90s managed to force changes of government, accumulate resources, and access strategic positions within the state bureaucracy at the local, provincial, and national level. Continue reading

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

By Angela Lederach

For the Spanish text of this article see here.

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 the Peaceful Process of Reconciliation and Integration of the Alta Montaña, 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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El Camino Largo: Movimientos Sociales y Posibilidades de Paz en Colombia

Por Angela Lederach

Este miércoles, 24 de agosto 2016, el gobierno colombiano y las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) anunciaron conjuntamente que habían alcanzado un acuerdo final, dando un paso significativo hacia un fin negociado de 52 años de guerra. Mientras Colombia y la comunidad internacional empiezan a enfocarse en la implementación de los acuerdos y el proceso de construir la paz, es particularmente importante prestar atención al discurso y las acciones de la base rural que han experimentado la mayor parte del impacto del conflicto armado. Si bien casi la mitad de los acuerdos negociados de paz vuelven a la violencia dentro de 5 anos, la evidencia empírica demuestra que los acuerdos de paz que incluyen los actores locales son más duraderos (Paffenholz 2010; Richmond 2011). En este ensayo, uso la investigación etnográfica que he realizado con el Proceso Pacifico de Reconciliación e Integración de la Alta Montana, un movimiento social no violento que está conformado por campesinos, para dar un esquema de los desafíos y las posibilidades de paz en Colombia. Continue reading

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The Rashomon Effect in Three Headlines/Stories

We are familiar with framing effects, and aware that different news media use headlines and content to frame stories differently.  Christian Davenport recently explored the issue in some depth in his 2010 book.  Over the weekend a very nice illustration of this problem unfolded with respect to the Standing Rock (Sioux) Tribe’s #NoDAPL protests against the North Dakota Access Pipe Line being built by Energy Transfer Partners with the support of the US Army Corps of Engineers North Dakota.

Writing for the Associated Press, James MacPherson (@MacPhersonJA) used the “balanced and objective” passive voice construction so prized by the Western news outlets that grew dominant during the mid 20th Century.  Here is an image of his story published by ABC News.


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Critical Collaboration and Silent Movements: Reinventing the Left in El Salvador and Nicaragua

By Daniel Burridge

W.B. Gallie and John Markoff remind us that many of humanity’s most important and transcendental concepts are essentially contested across space and time. In my recent life and research in El Salvador and Nicaragua, terms like the left, revolution, and democracy have become deeply contested in discourse and practice. This is the case in no small measure because the left has actually attained state power, throwing into sharp relief the tensions between revolutionary ideals and political, economic, and social realities. But these tensions are also impelling some social movement activists to reinvent democracy, the left, and their revolutionary dreams. Continue reading

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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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