Banco Palmas, Brazil - What Role can Community Organizing Play against Structural Violence?
Banco Palmas and Instituto Palmas are known for the community banks that they created with social currencies that transformed local economies and reversed spending to focus on local businesses. They've been leaders in the move in Brazil and globally toward a solidarity economy- one focused on relationships, local, and community accountability. As such, it has potential to link economic and political citizenship both practically and conceptually. However, current realities, crises really, in Brazil have called into question the notion that small and localized is beautiful. BP played a tremendous role historically and continues to play an important role in the community and national dialogue. However, it is important not to let romantic ideals about community organizing cloud us to its limitations in a globalized world.
Community organizing was effective when poverty was visible and tangible. It was possible to lobby levels of government to achieve basic infrastructure and urbanization in combination with tremendous volunteer energy. However, participation in associational life is down and there are concerns about the lack of new and young leaders in the community. The notable exceptions are the women’s association (Emancipadas), cultural groups (reinforcing belonging and identify) and informal dialogue spaces around human rights including social media. In today’s climate of a political and economic crisis nationally, and serious violence and insecurity locally, poverty is not tangible, visible nor locally confined to the outskirt communities, even to the borders of Brazil.
The urgent questions today relate to how far community mobilization and building civic capacities can go in the face of hidden powers such as organized crime and trafficking or rooted problems of gender-based violence? There is even question as to what constitutes poverty today and what that means for collective analysis and action by the community. Clearly, BP methodology of building community capacity for analysis and action is key. BP also continues to be a key player and convenor of dialogue around key issues in the community such as human rights. Is BP focused on the most pressing set of literacies and capacities for the community? Is it the right mix of individual vs. collective capacity? Does it go far enough beyond the narrowly “technical” or “economic” to affect greater economic and political citizenship?
The experience of BP and CP raises interesting questions for existing theory and practice of economic and political citizenship. Conceptually, a frame adapted from Gaventa and Barrett (2012) is helpful to group the elements of citizenship, economic or political:
• Building civic capacities (individual and collective)
• Creating and strengthening associations and networks, informal networks of dialogue
• Holding states and other forms of “visible and hidden” powers accountable
Civic capacities may be built in any type of association or informal convening including, in this context, cultural groups and social media. These capacities are critical for associational life and informal dialogue but even these mechanisms may not go far enough to hold new, hidden, complex and globalized powers accountable such as organized crime. We need to match these challenges with equally complex and savvy forms of citizen galvanizing grounded in today’s contexts with all the leadership, tools of analysis and practice at our disposal.
In terms of practice, Conjunto Palmeiras and Banco Palmas’ success stemmed from organizing around their own questioning about why they were poor and what could be done to address the situation. They are pursuing the same kind of inquiry today. What would the central question be today related to poverty in Conjunto Palmeiras? Some responses included: Why are we still poor? How are we poor? What is poverty, anyway?
Does Poetry Play a Role in Social Change?
Adrienne Rich once answered:
Yes, where poetry is liberative language, connecting the fragments within us, connecting us to others like and unlike ourselves, replenishing our desire. . . . In poetry words can say more than they mean and mean more than they say. In a time of frontal assaults both on language and on human solidarity, poetry can remind us of all we are in danger of losing—disturb us, embolden us out of resignation.
Waters shedding shifting
stretching from Five Island Lake
to Seabright offering emptying
into the Bay
bogs below barrens
thick and wet with life
as a child I remember
the roar of the Woodens
the stumps, blackest
signs of eyes
small followed by
bigger followed by
tracks of fishers,
of forests past
two old friends
two first roads
bursting into their own
Granite & root, root & rock
rock & river
Trails inspiring silence
I hear the year’s first insect buzz
the Kinglets & Juncos
I see a Broad-winged Hawk
its slow circled trance
In the wild
we hear with our eyes,
green and rust,
a still lake.
we hear with our feet,
swoosh and glop
What's a little mud?
The forest is full of compensations
and death nestles
an elderly oak
or knobby-kneed beech
Specks of green
nub along branches of
The air so clear
you can see right through the rocks
breathe the granite in
Woods, you’re a
beguiling old man.
There are small creatures
clamouring at your ankles.
still some fern-flirting left in you.
Sunlight danced on the Bluff &
I felt the heartbeat of a birch
Roots, rocks carry me
Back to my sleeping self
Take me to the erratics
Remind me that this is life
We are residuals of history
and forces wild and errant
here in our bodies.
how I love the frog songs
the larch buds breaking
autumn blush of crowberry
spring velvet of the lady-slipper
dragonflies mating tale to neck
Black Felt Lichen sticks to granite
like bits of burned maps
tree roots muscle over muddy paths
Everything in proportion
and a space for us
On behalf of all the wild things that make this
land their home and with reverence for the First Peoples
who preserved this land before us, we dedicate
The Bluff Wilderness Hiking Trail to preservation.
We can do this
we will work together to
protect this sacred heritage
we trail runners who come weekly
we old friends making the four loop pilgrimage
we family of four plus two dogs
we Crew from England who will definitely be back
we friends from Quebec and BC and Spain and Minnesota
We 10 hiking babes
Troops of scouts and girl guides
We 2 fat guys doing our best
We couple reminding ourselves
what love looks like
outside of the city
we can camp, fish, hike
run, mess around,
collect wild edibles
we can do this
skinny dip in a lake
run the river
paddle full moons
we can take the kids
from screen to green
occupy the forest
keep her secrets
We can do this in trust
we can learn her deep beauty
delight in the wildness
that we share
with the earth and the water,
the spirits that inhabit us
We do this for all
that is teeming and wild
We do this forever
We do this in trust
This found poem was generated from
the monitoring books on the Bluff
Wilderness Trail and two poetry workshops
held on the trail. It is dedicated to Rich Campbell
whose vision and passion led the way.
Feminist Arts Conference, Toronto
Had a lot of fun facilitating at the Feminist Arts Conference in Toronto. Inspiring and provocative discussions, art work, initiatives. Queer dance collective that has revived and subverted burlesque, what they call Unapologetic Burlesque. A print collective that used street signs to campaign and raise awareness around street harassment, the Street Talk Project.
Fran Rawlings and I facilitated a session on Claiming space: navigating gender and power. We adapted the flower power exercise (inter-sectionality) and did some human sculptures and dialogue around power analysis and strategies for change. Some great discussions about how we have agency in some areas and not in others, our negotiability. How we open spaces of power in these small ways as well as the ways that we challenge, hold accountable and organize. The general use of the flower power I find much too binary a treatment of oppression.
I was really moved by the work of Karen Miranda Augustine- Painted Love: Requiems for Salacious Sex Queens. Funeral wreaths for women involved in the sex industry with re-used or discarded tires, hair, nail polish. She led a fascinating discussion on eulogy. Click on the link below to go to her site.
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Strengthening Local Economies
Facilitated Strengthening Local Economies with Yogesh Ghore these past two weeks at the Coady Institute. We start with a critical look at globalization and its effects on local communities- economic, ecological, rights. We explore local responses. A local oyster fisherman, Philipp of Shan Daph Oysters captured it well. "Ecological sustainability, social sustainability. Only then can you sustain the economic." His business is completely off the grid and he keeps it small intentionally. He talked about sitting at lots of kitchen tables.
Local craft production. Processing and purchasing locally. Social bartering systems. Fair and organic trade. These are all part of the solution but Philip captures the most important element. Relationships.
This is really the only way economic models have ever been part of real and lasting change. They are embedded in and built on relationships. Networks and alliances that have the power of both organizing locally and holding policies and processes accountable. We review over 30 case studies from around the world from Aravind Eye Care that offers 2/3 of their eye services in India free to food systems in Vermont. Through their organizing they managed not only to strengthen the local and state economies and impact health, agriculture, transportation. They were also the first State to win in the federal courts against Monsanto and others demanding that GMO foods be labelled.