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When Citizens Are Merely Political Spectators They Get Rolled Over by the Political Class

Those left dazed and confused by the Democrats’ rapid fall from grace would do well to look to Latin America, where similar coalitions have risen to power over the last decade.

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MU: Can you talk about the recent coup attempt in Ecuador and how social movements there have responded?

BD: CONAIE and other indigenous groups in the country put out a statement saying they reject the right among the police that were attempting this coup. But they spent most of the statement condemning Correa and explaining that his governing style of marginalizing dissenting voices invited such destabilization. They criticized him for calling for the repression of indigenous activists who resisted mining operations, privatization of water in their territories, and the expansion of the oil industry without indigenous approval. Basically, it explained that he had it coming.

In 2002, there was an attempted coup against Chavez in Venezuela. He was brought back into power, both because he had the support of the military, but more because of the outpouring of support in the streets. They mobilized because he had appealed to a massive base of people in Caracas. In Bolivia in 2008, when the right tried to destabilize the country against President Morales, there was another huge outpouring of support from movements in the country. In Ecuador, on the other hand, a coup is attempted, and Correa can't count on the most important and dynamic social movement in the country, the CONAIE, because he had repressed and marginalized them. Even though he's considered a progressive president and a member of the Latin American new left, he doesn't have the support of the indigenous movement. The future of these presidents in their fight against the right largely depends on where the movements stand.

MU: What can people’s movements in the U.S. learn from the movements you profile in the book?

BD: For progressive changes to take place in the US, more people need to become participants in politics rather than spectators. And by this I mean making revolution a part of our everyday lives, not just something we watch on TV or a vote we cast for a politician. What this means is going to be different for each person in each community, and activists in the US can learn a lot by drawing lessons from their counterparts in the South and applying and translating those lessons to their own local realities.

One tactic that I think is very important to people in the US now is not letting the fear of empowering the right dictate our actions. We saw how CONAIE responded adeptly, courageously and in a principled way to the coup attempt in Ecuador. That kind of conviction has made the CONAIE successful over the years, as it engages in this dance with the state.

Movements across the region, from farmer unions to neighborhood councils, mirror the type of society they would like to see in their everyday actions; these kinds of bonds remain regardless of who occupies the presidential palace.

There is also the moral and ethical lesson of going beyond unjust laws to survive. The landless movement in Brazil takes over unused land and transforms it into communities and farms that their millions of members thrive on. Workers in Argentina and Venezuela occupied their bankrupt factories and started running them as cooperatives. Activists in Bolivia banded together to kick out a giant corporation that privatized their water and put it back under public control.

There are many recent examples in the U.S. of movements, activists and groups that have either drawn from or share tactics with Latin American movements. In the book, I look at the unemployed worker occupation of the bankrupt Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago in 2008, a community’s fight against high water rates in Detroit, and the Take Back the Land movement in Florida, which has been pairing homeless people with empty, foreclosed homes.

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