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August 8, 2006 by cosmoakacitizensmith

Pity the life of the poor UK activist.

You go to demos, get hassled, beaten up and nicked by the cops. You tie yourself to trees and trash offices in the name of eco-salvation. You set up newsletters that other activists read but no-one pays much attention to. You throw yourself headlong into campaigns that never achieve much in the way of victory.

And for what?

All your mates think your either nuts, naive or messianically egocentric. Others worry for you and your personal safety. They ask you why you do it and what you hope to achieve and tell you to stop being so stupid.

And still you go on….

I tend to like being on the winning side. Like when the roads programme got stopped for a while in the mid-nineties, or the Criminal justice Act campaign united the disparate youth subcultures around the same time, or Seattle 1999 put globalisation in its current form on the map.

But it aint always like that. Wars go on, people suffer and everyone seems to bury their heads in the sand most of the time.

I don’t know what point it was that I got fed up and actually thought, where the hell are we going with this? What do we want to achieve? What kind of world do we want to live in?

My experience of living real anarchism, for example, was confined to setting up squatted community centres, hanging around on protest camps or traveller sites and making a short film about the Exodus Collective in Luton.

There was always something inspiring to be found in those situations, but nothing permanent. Nothing to really give big, bad babylon a run for its money.

And that was why when I booked my ticket to Brazil, I knew I had to go and visit the MST.


Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement, or in Portuguese Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST), is the largest social movement in Latin America with an estimated 1.5 million landless members organized in 23 out 27 states. The MST carries out long-overdue land reform in a country mired by unjust land distribution. In Brazil, 1.6% of the landowners control roughly half (46.8%) of the land on which crops could be grown. Just 3% of the population owns two-thirds of all arable lands.

Since 1985, the MST has peacefully occupied unused land where they have established cooperative farms, constructed houses, schools for children and adults and clinics, promoted indigenous cultures and a healthy and sustainable environment and gender equality. The MST has won land titles for more than 350,000 families in 2,000 settlements as a result of MST actions, and 180,000 encamped families currently await government recognition. Land occupations are rooted in the Brazilian Constitution, which says land that remains unproductive should be used for a “larger social function.

The MST’s success lies in its ability to organize and educate. Members have not only managed to secure land, therefore food security for their families, but also continue to develop a sustainable socio-economic model that offers a concrete alternative to today’s globalization that puts profits before people and humanity.

From the MST website

It was the co-operative farms that intersted me the most. I wanted to see all this stuff in action. For real, man.

And that is why I found myself with Gibby at camp Olga Benário, about an hour’s drive from São Paulo.


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