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Communities in Movement: From local territorial defensive action to national and hemispheric political articulation

February 24, 2022 @ 9:00 am 1:30 pm

The Extractivism and Society Research Cluster is organizing a four-part series entitled “Conversations on Extractivism in a Post-Pandemic World.” This is the third conversation in the series.

Convening Questions

1. How have territorially-based community-rooted resistance to extractivist projects evolved from merely the local realm to being able to exercise influence at broader national political scene?

2. What are the lessons gleaned from territorially-based community-anchored resistance to disaster extractivism during the pandemic?

3. What are the obstacles faced for moving forward and how are they being addressed? 

4. How could the work of engaged/activist scholars accompany and support territorially-based community-connected actors in this new conjuncture as they create new paths from articulating the local with national and hemispheric scales?  


After the ebb of Pink Tide governments, a new cycle of massive popular uprisings unfolded during 2019 and 2020 in Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, Haiti, Colombia, Puerto Rico, and elsewhere. These events and their legacies mediated by the Covid-19 global pandemic, are creating a new moment, a sort of “rupture” or “turning point” that needs careful attention at this critical moment. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown even more starkly the limitations of global neoliberalism as well as its inability to put the lives of communities and ecosystems above the needs of private capital and the profit rate. As communities fashion strategies to ensure their survival and defend livelihoods in the context of global neoliberalism’s deepening hegemonic crisis, we observe the emergence of two parallel trends shaping political struggles in the region.

The first of these, unfolding indifferent degrees across the Americas, is the dramatic loss of legitimacy of existing political institutions including major  political parties and levels of participation in electoral politics. In many countries (i.e. Chile, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Haiti), the crisis of political representation deepens as mobilized popular sectors eschew traditional forms of political mediation to make their voices and demands heard, creating emerging forms of political and social involvement that challenge traditional political structures. 

A second trend is the “socio-territorial turn” as the preferred locus of action for popular sector mobilizations. The multi-dimensional crises faced by communities, their perceived abandonment by state agencies and sense of betrayal by the political establishment, precisely when facing increased threats of dispossession (theft of water, expansion gold and copper mining, mega infrastructure projects in indigenous lands, etc.) has enhanced the role of community-based resistance, fostered the emergence of new leaders and community-anchored imaginaries for transformative politics.

As community-based leaders and territorially-based organizing strategies fill the vacuum left by the crisis of traditional forms of political representation and strive to prove their effectiveness, we can also observe glimmers of a new “jump in scale” of this socio-territorial turn. Novel territorial arrangements, where territoriality has evolved towards more diffuse and horizontal forms seem to proliferate (Ortega, 2021). 

In many countries, territorial and community-based organizations are forging multiple and creative paths that connect the local to the national and even hemispheric scales of political action (viz. Asamblea Constituyente Atacama and Lista del Pueblo in Chile, and the recent Pacto Eco-Social del Sur launched at a transnational level). 

Local-territorial organizations are crafting new political opportunities and possibilities for change as they attempt to move from the local socio-territorial defense of resources and livelihoods, to new forms of national and  hemispheric political action. Are these just temporary and short-lived phenomena? Or do such trends conform the beginnings of more systemic realignments which will continue reshaping the terrain upon which  resolution to current crises of neoliberalism will be decided?