Overcoming crises of representation? Arts in anti-coal struggles in Colombia and California

by Beatriz Rodríguez Labajos

Raw material extraction, transportation and waste disposal are triggering environmental conflicts worldwide. All types of material throughput in the global economy bear consequences for social justice and sustainability. Yet very few materials better represent the economic, social and moral tensions intertwined in societal metabolism, i.e. material and energy use of human societies, than coal.

Data collection on environmental conflicts – including coal conflicts (Roy 2018) – has emphasised the role of communities in environmental defence and in promoting sustainable, just transformations. The ubiquitous use of artworks (e.g. paintings, music, films) in environmental conflicts plays a role, triggering cognitive processes as well as value and behavioural changes (Steyerl 2010). Existing literature about artistic activism ranges from topics dealing with ideological controversies, with artists defying neoliberalism and/or authoritarian powers, to embodied representations of unfairness, emphasising victims’ perspective. However, the literature on environmental conflicts, which has not systematically mapped and analysed these materials, neither attempts to theorise conflicts in which media and politics interact (Hutchins/Lester 2015, Veneti 2017), nor critically examines popular culture (Cultural Politics 2018).

Our case studies show how socio-environmental claims and/or transformative or restorative initiatives in anti-coal struggles are voiced and promoted through arts and cultural expressions. We emphasise the democratic aspect of collective self-determination and representation in two emblematic cases of coal-related conflicts, in Colombia and the United States.

Voicing discontent in Macondo – arts vs coal in Caribbean Colombia

Large-scale extraction of coal through open-pit mines in the Caribbean region of Colombia started in around 1975. Since then, coal mining has led to land grabbing, hydro-morphological alterations, air and water pollution and has transformed regional economic practices and livelihoods. Coal mining has threatened the food sovereignty of peasants and fisherfolk, and also impacted health to the extent of necessitating the relocation of several indigenous and Afro-descendent communities. The coal extracted in Colombia (around 80 million tons per year) is exported to North American and European markets, resulting in major impacts of coal transportation as well, both by train from extraction sites to seaports and by ship for deliveries overseas. The private companies in charge of these coal-mining operations, which are backed by the Colombian government, include large corporations such as Anglo American, Glencore International, and BHP Billiton and Drummond (Cardoso 2015).

In a geographical context largely shaped by the violent repression of civilians, and attacks on human rights, especially against activists and community leaders (The Guardian/Global Witness 2018), open expressions of social and political discontent are uncommon in the Caribbean region of Colombia. “Yet here people do not complain” is a frequent way of ending conversations about examples of injustice or impunity in the area. However, a closer look reveals that the vibrant cultural and artistic repertoire of that highly creative land makes plenty of references to such injustices. First and foremost, actors opposed to the impact of coal mining have harnessed films, paintings and music to bolster their attempts to bring about change.

For instance, the photo reportage Forgotten in the dust of northern Colombia highlights the malnutrition and deaths of women and children in particular among the indigenous Wayuu people in la Guajira, Colombia. The photographer sees coal mining as the cause of their extreme marginalisation and creates a visual narrative that denounces issues of corruption and neglect that would otherwise be spoken about, but rarely seen (Filippo Rosso, N. et al. 2017).

Similarly, the documentary film El carbón de Colombia, quien gana y quien pierde (Colombia’s coal: who wins and who loses?) links the processes associated with international coal mining and use to local impacts suffered by communities where coal is extracted and transported. Social justice organisation Tierra Digna produced this documentary by involving affected communities in the various stages of the film’s production and distribution, giving them a chance to directly voice their concerns and demands for a better environment (Tierra Digna et al. 2015). Another outstanding case of community engagement in artistic production is the painting of a mural summarising the forced resettlement of the inhabitants of a small village called El Hatillo, owing to a health emergency caused by coal dust. The mural covers the walls of the local school. By contributing to its creation, children from the village were able to participate in a critical community discussion from which they otherwise felt excluded. This avenue of empowerment subsequently continued through music, theatre and painting activities that the children used to depict their own concerns about the resettlement plan. The creation of this piece is also the topic of another documentary film called El mural en el Hatillo (The mural and El Hatillo) produced by Fundación Chasquis, a media collective that focuses on social projects and helped to boost awareness about the resettlement.

A final example of a sophisticated use of cultural restoration is the construction of a collective memory for La Guijara in a document entitled Memoria y transformaciones territoriales en la comunidad de Las Casitas (Memory and territorial transformations in the community of Las Casitas), which covers the history and ethnoecology of the place and the sociocultural traditions of the Afro-descendent communities damaged by coal-mining activities and that were also forced to resettle. The social cartography embedded in the document created a vision of rurality that served as a counter-narrative to the technical document on how the resettlement should be carried out according to the mining company (Cuenca Casteblanco et al. 2017) .

The arts as a space of encounter – No Coal in Oakland

Oakland is a major West Coast port city in California, and the fifth largest container port in the United States in terms of cargo volume. In June 2016, after a massive campaign entitled No Coal in Oakland, the Oakland City Council voted to ban the handling and storage of coal and coke at the city’s terminals, effectively blocking shipments of coal from the Port of Oakland(Rossof 2016). This ban was imposed in response to plans initiated in 2013 to expand the port infrastructure to facilitate exports from coal-mining operations based in the USA, especially in Utah. Activists, council members and residents opposed the project based on arguments invoking environmental justice, public health, labour and religious principles, centred around the harmful consequences of coal dust in an already over-polluted city. Later, the developer sued the City of Oakland in an attempt to overturn the ordinance banning the handling and storage of coal. The legal case is still ongoing (Veklerov 2018).

Oakland, CA in the San Francisco Bay Area 

Artistic activism was a key component of the anti-coal campaign in Oakland. A design by Jon Paul Bail united supporters of the No Coal in Oakland campaign, being printed on t-shirts, posters and banners displayed on houses around the city and projected onto emblematic buildings. That image bolstered a collective identity in a movement characterised by a wide range of demographics and political leanings. Cultural workers from a supporting group called Occupella rewrote popular songs, such as the Everly Brothers’ single Bye Bye Love, turned into Bye Bye Coal, which everyone could learn and sing at public events and demonstrations.

These and other artistic practices reinforced a sense of collective achievement that ended up in a historical ban on coal exports from the Port of Oakland. Young people and children of colour played a critical role in keeping the movement alive, particularly after the case went to court. Incidentally, actions by youngsters were always accompanied by or consisted of the artistic expression of their views and ideas, either in street performances, chants or various forms of painting. Demographic inclusiveness was a direct outcome of the use of artistic expression in this case (Sanz/Rodriguez-Labajos 2019).

Unleashing art against the coal commodity chain

Clashes over coal go through a number of different stages, including the pre- and post-conflict situations. The identities, landscapes and politics associated with such conflicts are represented in artistic and audiovisual creations in many different ways, to educate people, seek out and present the truth, bring critical attention to the reasons underlying a conflict, promote a physical transformation, politicise local community spaces by engaging people and organising events, preserve memories, foster remembrance and heal.

The port of Oakland is the main port of container ships in the West Coast of the United States

In the cases presented here, artistic creation turns out to be critical in situations of extreme power imbalance. From the democratic standpoint, artworks twice played a major role in rethinking democracy.

The first, more ethical case, questioned the democracy of material transformations pushed through by corporate interests, a point emphasised by Lee and Han (2019) and Malone (2018) in an urban gentrification context. Even when the operations involved are within the law, material transformations entail structural changes to people’s livelihoods (affecting health, infrastructure and productive capacities) that communities can end up perceiving and highlighting when it is already too late. Community action groups in both Colombia and Oakland felt marginalised by mainstream discourse concerning the coal commodity chain, due to fears, economic circumstances or demographics. Yet via the arts these groups found a way to express their ideas effectively to the affected communities, lifting a veil on their exclusion and suffering.

The second case also involved the use of arts to expand democratic possibilities in the face of dominant structures (Fusco 2018), revealing three crucial contributions by the arts in anti-coal struggles: educating people about democracy, organising the community and portraying underrepresented groups’ experience of power. For instance, an early use of creative activism in Oakland involved educating residents about the risks of the planned coal terminal as well as the opportunities for officially opposing the project. Artworks and performances in public settings engaged the community engagement and organisation, mustering support from diverse demographic groups and communities of justice. The arts play a particularly important role in politicising subjects that are often neglected in such conflicts, e.g. the impact on children. This point was also apparent in the Colombian case study. For the youngest participants, expressing their views though art gave them their first ever experience of power relating to a matter of public interest. But not only children were initiated into the languages of action and empowerment. The Colombian case study clearly showed how voices silenced by fear of direct violence or an extreme power imbalance when using other forms of advocacy, such as public demonstrations, can be heard via artistic or cultural expressions.

Block party in Oakland, CA, organised by young climate justice activists

Of course, these are just some of many more examples of artistic expression and case studies that could help us understand the role by cultural practices, the arts and multimedia in transforming environmental conflicts. Further research is definitely required. Currently, the CLAMOR project (Environmental conflicts through the lens of artwork and multimedia in waterscape transformations, MSCA-GF-797444) is helping to review these types of material in water-related conflicts around the world.


Cardoso, A. (2015). Behind the life cycle of coal: Socio-environmental liabilities of coal mining, in: Cesar, Colombia. Ecol. Econ. 120, 71–82.

Centro de Estudios para la Justicia Social Tierra Digna/Torres, A./Rocha, J./Melo, D./Peña, R. (2015). El Carbón de Colombia: ¿Quién gana? ¿Quién pierde? Minería, comercio global y cambio climático. Bogotá, Colombia.

Cuenca Casteblanco/T., Giraldo Salazar, F./Vargas Ramírez, N. (2017). Memoria y transformaciones territoriales en la comunidad de Las Casitas : un recorrido por los impactos de la minería de carbón en el sur de La Guajira. Centro de Investigación y Educación Popular/Programa por la Paz, Bogotá.

Cultural Politics (2018). Resources for critical analysis. Available at: http://culturalpolitics.net (29 October  2018).

Fusco, C. (2018). On being sick of humans in a post-human world: Toward a queer vegan methodology, in: Gallagher, K. (ed.), The Methodological Dilemma Revisited. Creative, Critical and Collaborative Approaches to Qualitative Research for a New Era. Routledge, 129–152.

Hutchins, B./Lester, L. (2015). Theorizing the enactment of mediatized environmental conflict, in: Int. Commun. Gaz. 77, 337–358.

Lee, S. Y./Han, Y. (2019). When art meets monsters: Mapping art activism and anti-gentrification movements in Seoul, in: City, Cult. Soc. 100292: doi:10.1016/J.CCS.2019.100292.

Malone, N. (2018). Culture as contradiction in urban regeneration. Sanitization, commodification and critical resistance in Liverpool One, in: Krit. Kult. 30/31, 228–245.

Filippo Rosso, N./Miroff, N./Kirkpatrick, N. (2017). Forgotten in the dust of northern Colombia, in: Washington Post (7 August 2017).

Rossof, M. (2016). No coal in Oakland. A report on the campaign. Available at https://nocoalinoakland.info/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/NCIO-coal-campaign-report_v2016-08-30.pdf.

Roy, B. (2018). An overview of the anti-coal movement in India, in: 12th Conference of the European Society for Ecological Economics (ESEE 2017): doi:10.13140/RG.2.2.28526.25925

Sanz, T./Rodriguez-Labajos, B. (2019). Does artistic activism change everything? Strategic and transformative effects of arts in anti-coal struggles in Oakland, CA. Manuscript.

Steyerl, H. (2010). Politics of art: Contemporary art and the transition to post-democracy, in: E-Flux J. 01–06.

The Guardian/Global Witness (2018). 197 environmental defenders have been killed in 2017 while protecting their community’s land or natural resources, in: The Defenders, available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/series/the-defenders (27 March 2018).

Veklerov, K. (2018). Federal judge strikes down Oakland’s ban of coal facility operations. San Fr. Chron., available at https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Federal-judge-overturns-Port-of-Oakland-coal-ban-12916650.php (15 May 2018).

Veneti, A. (2017). Aesthetics of protest: an examination of the photojournalistic approach to protest imagery, in: Vis. Commun. 16, 279–298.

Beatriz Rodríguez-Labajos is an ecological economist and researcher at the Institute for Environmental Science and Technology of the Autonomous University of Barcelona (ICTA-UAB). She is also a Marie Sklodowska Curie Researcher at the Energy and Resources group of the University of California Berkeley (ERG-UC Berkeley) and member of the GWG Beyond Development.

Guendalizaá: The reconstruction of the “We”

by Arturo Guerrero Osorio

The Zapotec word Guendalizá or Guelaguetza means “familiarity”, “friendship” or “neighborhood”; It is mutual help and is expressed when an person is with the others in the crucial moments of life, the happy and the sad. It is a cultural pattern that comes from the deepest roots from the towns of Oaxaca, Mexico (let’s think about 11 thousand years ago). Today, in the Oaxaca Isthmus and other places of the region (under other names, such as “communality” or “kazuuaro luu yetzi keriu”) it is the daily flag – not ideological but concrete– of reasoning and acting collectively to wake up from the democratic, economic and patriarchal nightmare that the West imposed on us and also to build a path of our own. Guendalizá is the aesthetic principle – if we understand this term in its etymology: to have a common experience, as Michel Maffesoli pointed out– of communal life, implies an reciprocity ethic and shared joy. Guendalizá is the Oaxacan way of creating a “We”.

Liberal thought contaminated us and stripped us in the most vulgar and brazen way. We have become “individuals” for more than 500 years, atoms that dream themeselves as equals, free and in competition. But now we claim our quality of “binni”, that is, of “people”, in the strict sense of the term. Here democracy has no reason to be, for us this illusion means the imposition of a minority on the majority, as long as it has a slave base (and this is proven from ancient Greece to the current United States of America). Autonomy is neither a conceptual nor a political option because it is equally phantasmagoric (who is autonomous from oxygen or the other?).

This video speaks of the communal-determination that is reborn at a limit time, when the earth shakes and leaves thousands of families in the most horrible misery in the rain and the burning sun. From people who saw their house collapse while running to save their lives and their loved ones, during one of the largest earthquakes that have occurred in Mexico. And their decision was to come together and appeal to his tradition: the assembly and the joint work, the loving listening, the disappearance of the “I” for the “we” emerged. The communal-determination that occurs when the bet is the guendalizá. From a town that knows that the guendalizá is not perfect or total, but that it is true that it found a path that is its path in itself.”

Arturo Guerrero Osorio (México City, 1971). Since 1995 he collaborates with grassroots organizations, intellectuals and activists from Oaxaca, Mexico, in the reflection and action from the communal life. Coordinator of the Academy of Comunalidad. He has accompanied community radio processes in southeastern Mexico and in Colombia. He collaborated with the University of the Earth of Oaxaca. Teacher in communication and pedagogy. Candidate for a PhD in Rural Development by the Autonomous Metropolitan University-Xochimilco (México City).

Challenges to intercultural democracy in the Plurinational State of Bolivia: case study of the Monkoxɨ peoples of Lomerío

by Iokiñe Rodriguez and Mirna Inturias


The adoption of Bolivia’s new political Constitution in 2009 marked the birth of a new plurinational state. One of the most important constitutional changes was a new state system of territorial division that recognises departmental, municipal, regional and indigenous autonomies as new plural forms of political organisation seeking to decentralise decision-making power and the management of public funds, wresting them away from central government. Whereas departmental, municipal and regional autonomy can apply within the pre-2009 territorial division of the state, simply being juxtaposed over former departments, municipalities or regions, indigenous autonomies pose a greater challenge, as they often overlap with more than one municipality or department and therefore necessitate greater institutional and legal changes.

The indigenous autonomy model acknowledges the rights of indigenous peoples to self-determination, self-government, the perpetuation of their culture and the consolidation of their lands within the framework of the unified state. It also opens the way for the recognition of Original Indigenous Peasant Autonomies (AIOCs). To date, only three out of more than 30 claims that have initiated proceedings to establish new AIOCs have been granted rights from the state to form Autonomous Indigenous Peasant Governments (GAIOCs). These new forms of government require further institutional and legal changes to ensure a genuine transition from a modern, liberal state model to a plural, diverse one.

Among other things, this process involves expanding the liberal conception of democracy to an intercultural one, which under the new electoral law entails interaction between three forms of democracy: representative, direct/participatory and ‘communal’. The latter referres to democratic processes taking place at the local community level through consensual, deliberative decision-making and respecting traditional decision-making structures such as community assemblies, councils of elders and the customary rules and regulations of indigenous justice systems. This new democratic concept creates leeway for the emergence of new forms of knowledge, epistemologies and indigenous practices, hitherto absent from Bolivia’s democratic model and the construction of new intercultural forms and structures of governance. However, the way forward to true ‘demo-diversity’ (Santos/Exeni 2012), i.e. an environment in which different concepts, knowledge and democratic practices can come together, is still far from clear.

We will discuss the current challenges in constructing an intercultural democracy in Bolivia in the light of the struggle of the Monkoxɨ, an indigenous people from Lomerío, to gain political autonomy. The Monkoxɨ formally petitioned the state for political autonomy in 2009, and major recent headway in their claim suggests that the national authorities could soon recognise their autonomous government.

If their claim proves successful, the Monkoxɨ will face the serious challenge of progressing in their construction of a model of intercultural democracy that is at odds with a range of political, economic and cultural factors. This case study examines these tensions and the ways in which the Monkoxɨ are deploying various cultural and political strategies in an attempt to consolidate a truly community-based, plural model of democracy in Lomerío. The information we present summarises the results of a participatory assessment we carried out with the Monkoxɨ in 2018 to evaluate the strategies they had employed over the past four decades to consolidate their territorial control and political autonomy in Lomerío (see Inturias et al. 2019 for more details). For this purpose, we used a Conflict Transformation Framework developed by Grupo Confluencias to map the changes brought about by the Monkoxɨ over time, focusing on the parameters of cultural revitalisation, political agency, local governance, control of the means of production and environmental integrity (Rodriguez et al. 2019, Rodriguez/Inturias 2018). This assessment was part of an international project called ACKnowl-EJ (Academic and Activist Co-Produced Knowledge for Environmental Justice), which examined how resistance movements across the world are helping to bring about just transformations to sustainability from the bottom up (http://acknowlej.org).

The Monkoxɨ dream of Nuxiaká Uxia Nosibóriki (their own form of government)

The communal indigenous territory (TCO) of Lomerío covers 256,000 hectares of land dominated by Chiquitano dry forests in the administrative department of Santa Cruz in lowland Bolivia. Lomerío is home to around 7,000 indigenous Monkoxɨ living in 29 communities ranging in size from 100 to 1,500 inhabitants.

The Monkoxɨ define Lomerío as a refuge, an area to which their ancestors escaped in colonial times to flee from Jesuit missions. Yet, much to their detriment, shortly after the missionaries were expelled in 1776, Bolivian mixed-race mestizo and white landowners took their land for agriculture and animal husbandry, forcing the Monkoxɨ to work as slaves on rubber plantations. They were cruelly exploited well into the late 20th century, so their refuge became their prison for more than a century.

Despite this oppressive past, or perhaps because of it, the Monkoxɨ are one of the most emblematic indigenous peoples in Bolivia’s lowlands in terms of their political strength and organisation. They have a long history of resistance to the colonial state and land tenure system. Their organised resistance started in 1964 when they formed the Agrarian Peasant Union, before going on to play an instrumental role in establishing the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Bolivia (CIDOB) in 1982 and then the Indigenous Organisation of Native Communities of Lomerío (CICOL) in 1983. In the late 1980s, the Monkoxɨ were the first indigenous nation in Bolivia to develop community forestry as a form of territorial control, and in 2006, after a long struggle, they successfully won the legal rights over their communal indigenous territory, which CICOL is legally mandated to safeguard.

As is clear from the statement below, the final component to free themselves from oppression would be the right to self-govern their territory:

“Our grandmothers and grandfathers gave their lives to give us a territory where we can be free, where we can make the dream of having our own form of government real, and thus turn our refuge into our road to freedom and our desire to live well. This is what we call: Nuxiaká Uxia Nosibóriki” (Masay, Elmar/Chore, Maria, 2018:14).

Thus, in 2008, the Monkoxɨ were the first indigenous nation in Bolivia to use the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to legally underpin their public proclamation of the first autonomous indigenous territory in Bolivia. In 2009, at a General Assembly attended by their 29 communities, they drafted and approved their autonomy statutes and launched their legal claim to rights to autonomy. In parallel, Monkoxɨ leaders actively participated in the 2008 constitutional reforms to ensure that indigenous rights to autonomy were adequately accounted for in the new framework of the Plurinational State of Bolivia.

The key elements of the Monkoxɨ nation’s autonomy statutes are as follows: 

  • Definition of the ancestral territory of Lomerío as the geographical limit of their government.
  • Defence of communal democracy as the main form of collective decision-making.
  • Emphasis on the principles, values and norms of communal and territorial life, such as freedom, sharing (minga or bobikix), equity, reciprocity, redistribution, and solidarity.
  • Establishment of besiro as the official language and Spanish as the second language.
  • Designation of a General Assembly including representatives of the 29 communities, as the top decision-making authority.
  • Importance attributed to customs, rules, norms and indigenous justice when regulating day-to-day communal life. 
  • The definition of communal economy as the desired form of development, aimed at enabling the Monkoxɨ nation to live well, i.e. achieve what they call Uxia Nosiboriki/Buen Vivir), respecting Mother Earth, the spirits of the forest (Jichis) and living in harmony with nature (CICOL 2015).

In May 2018, the Plurinational Constitutional Tribunal (TCP) ruled in favour of the Monkoxɨ statutes, yet the Monkoxɨ model of self-government still faces a number of internal and external challenges before it can effectively be applied.

Challenges to self-government in Lomerío

External factors

The external tensions concern the fact that despite the transition to a new plurinational state, state structures and institutions, economic frameworks and dominant cultural values are still essentially modernist and colonial.

This is certainly the case regarding the national developmental model, which continues to impose a narrowly defined economic rationality on the use of natural resources. The state is a long way off from turning the Living Well (Buen Vivir) narrative into a reality (despite such an approach being enshrined in the new Constitution). One way this is reflected in Lomerío is in the strong hold retained by market forces and Forestry Department bureaucrats, which dictate the rules governing community forestry, limiting the Monkoxɨ nation’s effective control over this activity. On top of this, although the Monkoxɨ have legal ownership of their territory, the subsoil remains the property of the state, and all the mineral resources in Lomerío have been designated for mining concessions, without heeding prior informed consent procedures.

In addition, the national executive has given indigenous nations very little help in advancing their autonomy claims. Far from it, in fact, so progress has been very slow. To keep their autonomy claims on track, indigenous nations have had to adapt their autonomy statutes and structures to new regulatory frameworks, such as the 2010 Autonomy and Decentralisation Law (No. 031/10), which makes the whole procedure very complex and cumbersome. The National Executive, the Plurinational Constitutional Tribunal (TCP), the Legislative Assembly and the Supreme Electoral Tribunal each impose a different set of requirements. In addition, many of the public servants involved in granting autonomy rights continue to think and act in accordance with monocultural regulatory frameworks, which in practice has meant placing obstacles in the way of indigenous forms of autonomy by pressuring them to opt for the short route to self-government, namely conversion to municipal or departmental autonomy (Avila 2018).  All these factors explain why it took the TCP 10 years to grant the Monkoxɨ nation its autonomous status. So, although that is a great accomplishment for the Monkoxɨ people, the process is far from over.  

Internal factors:

Internally, the biggest challenge for the Monkoxɨ nation’s bid for autonomy will be to ensure that its communal democracy system succeeds in directing its indigenous government, avoiding divisive party politics and giving precedence to customary norms and regulations. Currently, there is strong internal resistance to the model of indigenous autonomy on the part of the hegemonic Monkoxɨ families currently running the municipal government, which question a communal democracy model. This group favours maintaining a representative democracy model and regards indigenous custom-based decision-making procedures and justice systems as backward and primitive. Consequently, it has been pushing for municipal autonomy as an alternative form of local government. Underlying this tension between different models of democracy are conflicting values and world views about what it means to be indigenous, this being yet another expression of coloniality and modernity in Lomerío.

This tension between modern and more traditional indigenous values poses challenges for the indigenous autonomy process at other levels. Firstly, the Monkoxɨ principles, values and norms of communal and territorial life, such as sharing, equity, reciprocity, redistribution and solidarity, are not necessarily the principles that guide community life. On the contrary, in many communities individual interests and benefits connected to the use of many resources in their territory, such as forests, prevail, which not only creates strong inter and intracommunity conflicts, but is also threatening the integral use of the environment and territory. Secondly, in terms of cultural vitality, central aspects of Monkoxɨ identity, like its besiro language, are struggling to survive.  Thirdly, and linked to the above, the younger Monkoxɨ generations are growing up with little awareness of their own history and cultural ties to the land, lack the leadership qualities to manage and safeguard their territory in the future and are attracted to ‘modern’, urban lifestyles.

Moving forward

Despite these challenges, this complex economic, political and cultural context has not deterred CICOL, as the legal custodian of Lomerío, from taking forward the mandate from the 2009 General Assembly to consolidate an autonomous Monkoxɨ government. However, it has taken perseverance and inventiveness to develop a variety of strategies aimed at addressing as many of these challenges as possible. Some of these strategies have aimed to make progress in securing autonomy, others have been set out to tackle the internal factors that might threaten the viability of the autonomy process in the long run.

One key element in advancing the autonomy claim has been the formation of sustained partnerships with various support organisations that can help to strengthen the technical and financial aspects of the demand. The recent creation of strategic links with key players in the central government, such as the minister and vice-minister of autonomy, to jointly evaluate the challenges and opportunities associated with Monkoxɨ indigenous autonomy has boosted the profile of their claim both nationally and internationally and accelerated some of the procedures involved (Inturias et al. 2016). Likewise, creating opportunities to share experiences with other indigenous nations also in the process of claiming autonomy has been instrumental in devising joint strategies that can put pressure on the government to overcome the administrative hurdles standing in the way of the final approval of their demands (Inturias et al., 2019). One example of this is a recent change to the autonomy application procedure that eliminates the need to hold a second local referendum in territories with a majority indigenous population to validate the autonomy statutes after the National Executive has approved them. This change is crucial in cases like that of Lomerío, where a group opposing the indigenous autonomy model could use a second referendum to sabotage and invalidate the Monkoxɨ nation’s claim.

With regard to dealing with internal threats to the autonomy process, CICOL has been particularly concerned about the processes of cultural change and shifting identities among the younger generation. Activities carried out to tackle this problem have involved developing participatory processes to reconstruct local history (Pena et al. 2016) and capacity building based on indigenous leadership values and new projects, in a bid to revitalise the besiro language. That said, CICOL and the Monkoxɨ still need to address a number of pending issues to ensure an effective transition to an intercultural democracy in their territory. These issues include:

a) deciding the type of public communal administration that the indigenous government will implement to avoid replicating the municipal approach or colonial-style public policy framing;

b) considering the future model of development for Lomerío and how to effectively create a just, environmentally sustainable communal economy; and 

c) working out, once an indigenous government has been established, how to ensure a mode of effective coordination with other regional and national government authorities that is sensitive to cultural differences and diverse forms of knowledge.


Avila, H. (2018), Foreword in Flores, E. (2018). Sueños de Libertad. Proceso autonómico de la Nacional Monkoxɨ de Lomerío. CICOL-CEJIS, Santa Cruz de la Sierra.

CICOL (2015). Estatuto Autonómico de la Nación Monkixi de Lomerío. CICOL/CEJIS, May 2015. 

De Sousa Santos, B./Exeni, J. L. (eds) (2012). Justicia indígena, plurinacionalidad e interculturalidad en Bolivia. Ecuador: Rosa Luxemburg Foundation.

Inturias, M./Rodriguez, I./Valderomar, H./Peña, A. (eds) (2016). Justicia Ambiental y Autonomía Indígena de Base Territorial en Bolivia. Un dialogo político desde el Pueblo Monkox de Lomerío. University of East Anglia, Nur University, Grupo Confluencias and the Ministry of Autonomy, Bolivia.

Inturias, M./Rodriguez, I./Aragon, M./Masay, E./Peña, A. (2019). Lomerío: autonomía indígena de base territorial como fuerza de transformación de conflictos socioambientales, in Inturias, M./von Stosch, K./  Balderomar, H./Rodriguez, I. (eds) (2019). Bolivia. Desafios socioambientales en las tierras bajas. Department of Investigative Social Science at Nur University, Bolivia. Available at: http://www.iics.nur.edu/publicaciones/editorial-nur/287-bolivia-desafios-socioambientales-en-las-tierras-bajas.

Inturias, M./Vargas, G./Rodríguez, I./García, A./von Stosch, K./Masay, E. (eds) (2019). Territorios, Autonomías, Justicias. Un dialogo desde los gobiernos autónomos de Bolivia. Department of Investigative Social Science at Nur University, the Vice Ministry of Autonomy, University of East Anglia, Santa Cruz de la Sierra.

Masay. E./Chore, M. (2018). Presentation in: Flores E. (2018. Sueños de Libertad. Proceso autonómico de la Nacional Monkoxɨ de Lomerío. CICOL-CEJIS, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, 2018.

Peña, A./Tubari, P./Chuve, L./Chore, M./Ipi, C. (2016). Historia de Lomerío. El camino hacia la libertad, in Inturias, M., Rodriguez, I./Valderomar, H./Peña, A. (eds) (2016). Justicia Ambiental y Autonomía Indígena de Base Territorial en Bolivia. Un dialogo político desde el Pueblo Monkox de Lomerío.  University of East Anglia, Nur University, Grupo Confluencias and the Ministry of Autonomy, Bolivia.

Rodriguez, I./Inturias, M./Robledo, J./Sarti, C./Borel, R. (2019) La transformación de conflictos socio-ambientales. Un marco conceptual para la acción, in: Inturias, M./von Stosch, K./Balderomar, H./Rodriguez, I. (eds) (2019). Bolivia. Desafios socioambientales en las tierras bajas. Department of Investigative Social Science at Nur University, Bolivia. Available at: http://www.iics.nur.edu/publicaciones/editorial-nur/287-bolivia-desafios-socioambientales-en-las-tierras-bajas.

Rodríguez, I./Inturias, M. (2018). Conflict transformation in indigenous peoples’ territories: doing environmental justice with a ‘decolonial turn’, in: Development Studies Research, 5:1, 90-105, doi: 10.1080/21665095.2018.1486220.

Iokiñe and Mirna are activist-researchers, working since 2005 on transformative approaches for just and sustainable futures in indigenous peoples’ territories in Latina America. They  have been working together since 2013 in Lomerio, Bolivia, helping to strengthen indigenous autonomy and the self-government of the Monkoxi indigenous peoples. Iokiñe works as a researchers and lecturer at the School of International Development (DEV) in the University of East Anglia, UK and Mirna as a researcher at Universidad NUR, Bolivia.

Community resistance to a Power Plant in Senegal

by Ibrahima Thiam

A fisher community leaving in Bargny at 15km from the city of Dakar is facing the consequences of an industrialization program of the Senegalese state praised to be the way for economic emergence. The socioeconomic change and mutations resulting from the series of projects have deep impacts on the community’s livelihoods.

The economy of Bargny employing more than thousand
fishermen and at least one thousand women drying, and packaging fish products is
threatened. The SOCOCIM Cement industry was granted of 241 ha land, the
creation of the Bargny-Sendou mineral and bulk port occupies 650 ha and the
urban Pole of Diamniadio stands on a1,644 ha. The installation of the future
mining port stands as a real threat for the fishermen. Bargny is also hit by
the global warming and its coasts belong to the most impacted in Senegal with a sea rise level of 2 Meters. Families are affected while some of them are
displaced and their family structures are destroyed.

Today a main part of the youth sees the illegal migration as the alternative. The skepticism of the communities is based on the contradiction between economic growth praised by the State and the threatening of their livelihoods. When land grab and Meer grab meet the no involvement of the communities to the decision-making processes, there is no democratization’s process.

A resistance movement is organized to defend the rights of the communities through campaigning and denouncing the industrial aggression and the luck of respect of their economic, social and cultural rights. Their complain to the African Development Bank (ADB), the West African Development Bank and BOAD and the Dutch Development Bank (FMO) have been approved and todays in spite of the construction of Sendou power plant, the Senegalese government has decided to stop the coal project.

Ibrahima Thiam is with Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung in Dakar and works on natural resources, vulnerabilities and alternatives, and Climate change.

Resistance and devotedness: learning democracy under pressure

by Kitti Baracsi

we imagine democratic education as entire school communities practising
participation, to what extent can schools escape the current approach taken in
the public education system? What if they encounter hostility and restrictions?
Can we learn democracy through transgressions and resistance? This article
tells the story of three school communities where participation and solidarity
are growing under pressure.[1]
Examining democratic practices on the ground and the conflicts that arise gives
us insights into what is at stake in state schools.

a say, feeling part of a community

your kids attend a state school, you usually just take them there and pick them
up. Nobody ever asks you how
to do things, so in return, you do
[1] .
That’s it; somehow you become too unconcerned. But this school was different.
We had to think about what was important to us”, says Katalin Walter, whose daughter attended Vadgesztenye school in Pécs-Somogy,
on the outskirts of Pécs, Hungary.[2]
This small, previously pretty much unknown state elementary school made
national news following the rise and fall of a community-based project launched
in 2017.[3]
It all began with an idea by Erika Csovcsics, who at the time ran the group of
institutions to which this small school belonged.[4]
Radical methodological changes had been introduced, e.g. working in
mixed-age groups, with some teaching done outdoors, in nature for instance.
Many of the introduced practices emphasised the
importance of the community. Accordingly, a number of middle-class families
decided to enrol their children at this school, which was already caught up in
the segregation process.[5]
They could have chosen to send their children to another school, but felt they
would get an exceptional education there. The
initiative counted on the participation of families, with working groups formed
to reach decisions about educational issues and to closely monitor what went
on at the school.

Protest, Granada, 2018 (Photo by Kathryn Palmateer)

know, the principal reason for enrolling my children at this school was the organic canteen”, was something that parents of kids
attending the Gómez Moreno elementary school in Albayzín, a district of Granada
in Spain, would often say.[6]
The issues here are not simply the importance they attach to their children’s
eating habits and health, or teaching food sovereignty. Since the school
canteen has been managed by the families’ association for 17 years now, parents’ direct involvement and collective
decision-making in assemblies, like the organisation of a wide range of
programmes in addition to the canteen, give the families involved a sense of
community and agency.[7] This provided a perfect ground[2]  for initiating the
learning communities (comunidades de
)  project[8]
back in 2015.[9]
This project focuses on joint educational actions designed to foster social and
educational transformation based on two key factors: interaction and community participation.  Among other things, it entails direct involvement in so-called ‘interactive groups’, lessons
where families and other volunteers play curriculum-related games with the children in small groups. According to María Dolores López López[10], the
school’s chief of studies and volunteer
coordinator over the last 4 years, this project enabled better
collaboration between the families’ association
and the school and also contributed towards the school’s significant
improvement, as reflected in the rising number of enrolled students and greater
public recognition. The families warmly welcomed the project. As she put it:
The best moment was the so-called dreaming when families talked
about the school they’d aspired for their children. It was a[3] [4] 
moment of faithfulness”.

in action

nine years, Marisa Esposito has been the head teacher at the Stefano Barbato
elementary school in the 69º teaching district in Barra, a neighbourhood of
Naples in Italy, where she has taken several initiatives aimed at enabling
families and the community as a whole to play an active role. Talking about the importance of community and the fight
against the territory’s disintegration, she mentioned a ‘time bank’, a
grandparents party, events with local artists
and a project on neighbourhood legends, in which mothers found a narrative
space to talk about their life, suffering and childhood. “We believe in
idea of the
[5]  educational community. Whatever we teach children, they
must find it at home, too”, she said in an
interview in 2018.[11]
According to Marisa Esposito, the neighbourhood where she was brought up has
changed over the years, turning into a place where fear and individualism
dominate due to the presence of organised crime. She therefore sees the main
purpose of the school as being to restore cohesion in the local community.
According to her, though, families do not see how education could offer their
children a better future. Still, the school is almost their only reference
point, since the neighbourhood has no other cultural spaces. Marisa’s mission
through the years has been to include Roma students. Thanks to her approach,
based on her experience as a social educator, [6] children felt free to go to her office and ask for advice or

the changes introduced at the Vadgesztenye school were drawn from extensive
experience and seemed to work, transforming it from an establishment with few,
mainly underprivileged pupils into a place where middle-class pupils and poor,
mostly Roma children met.[13]
“I guess there’s no need to explain how important it is to reduce social
inequalities and raise underprivileged children by educating them in Pécs.
Likewise, it’s unnecessary to say why it is important for well-fed middle-class
children to learn how to communicate with them and be sensitive to their needs.
Because as adults, they will live together”, writes Judit Szentendrei, a
mother whose children went to this school.[14] She
explains that her family, along with others, consciously decided to face this
challenge, taking tiny steps and facing many failures along the way. The families
treat the school and local environment as a place in which to act for
solidarity. Indeed, according to Judit Szentendrei, the biggest success story
has been that her children learned how to live alongside others.

Vadgesztenye, Pécs, 2018 (Photo Antal Szentendrei)

how to live together is also a central issue in the Gómez Moreno school, which
has children of approximately 25 different nationalities, some from foreign
middle-class families (referred to as guiris
by the locals), and others from local foster homes, with very diverse
backgrounds. The learning communities include participation in classroom
activities and decision-making, among other things. The work on participatory
processes and solidarity seems less deliberate than
it is in Vadgesztenye, but encountering different people and other realities is
part of everyday life for the children and their families. A transformation is
under way, but progress is slow. This project, as in Barra, crucially hinges on
the presence of teachers previously trained in specific methods as well as on the
dedication of the school’s management team.


The school canteen in Gómez Moreno is the only organic one run by an
association of families in
Andalusia. So
its struggle is also symbolic. Unlike some other
regions in Spain, in Andalusia there is no law giving priority to family-run
organisations, so they have to compete in the
same tenders with huge catering companies offering lower prices but also
inferior quality, since they do not operate a kitchen on site (e.g. use
local ingredients), but transport food over fairly
large distances. In 2018, this prompted families −
and not for the first time − to take to the streets, shouting ¡No me toques la olla! (Don’t touch my
cooking pot!) and then barricade themselves inside the school for a week in a
display of resistance. A major caterer won
the tender, which was published and closed earlier
than usual, without the association being informed or
invited to take part in it.[15]
But their protest was successful, and the catering company decided to hand over
its contract to the association. However, their victory was only partial,
because for two school years the association have t[7] o
run the canteen for the price set in the tender whilst at the same time trying to
adhere to their organic and environmentally friendly principles.[16] The association of families, along with other associations
and platforms[17],
is now calling for a change in the regulations,
Clara Bermúdez Tamayo explained.[18]
That said, the demonstrations seem to have helped to build a sense of
community, one mother, Raquel Hernández Benítez, describing them as
“exercising a collective struggle, teaching children through first-hand
experience that when something is not right, we organise ourselves to fight it.
This is fundamental to active, critical and intelligent citizenship”.

In the case of Barra, as explained above, it is the
overall context that makes change difficult to achieve, especially introducing
the idea of Roma inclusion. Even those who agreed that Roma children also need
an education did not defend the head teacher when other parents attacked her
As she went on to point out, people are more prejudiced against Roma than
against criminals, to whom they have become more accustomed. After many
years of collaboration between the school and the Association N:EA[20], families seem to be accepting the presence of Roma children,
admittedly with a degree of resignation, but as something increasingly commonplace[8] . Also, thanks to Roma inclusion projects[21] introduced in a few classes, Roma and non-Roma children have access to improved teaching methods [9] and are
involved in a wider range of activities. For instance, some teachers have been
trained in cooperative learning. In this regard,
notwithstanding their genuinely problematic aspects[22], these
projects benefit the entire school community, partly due to the head teacher’s commitment to use them to realise her vision.

is lentejas me las dejas! (Hands off my lentils!) Protest, Granada, 8 May 2018 (Photo Kathryn Palmateer)

In 2018, Erika Csovcsics’s application to become[10]  the head
teacher at the Vadgesztenye school was
unsuccessful, and the new head teacher’s arrival has
changed everything, returning to the ‘traditional’ approach despite the
families’ efforts to reach an agreement. When families started to protest, they
were accused of wanting a school where studying was unnecessary and told
that administrative failings were the reason for bringing in a new principal. In the end, the families
managed to find a semi-private solution: learning groups were formed with the
children enrolled in a school in a nearby village, based on a special
agreement. “For me, the main achievements were that we managed to find a way
out and succeeded in keeping the group together. You know, we were the very
families who could have looked for another school, but we resisted for a really
long time because we didn’t want to leave others behind who might have had no other option”, added Katalin Walter. However, this arrangement only ended up lasting a year.[23]

This was no isolated case. Many alternative schools and learning
group initiatives are not exactly welcomed by the
Hungarian government. The recent amendment of the public education law[24]
introduced changes in how home schooled status
can be obtained
[11]  and
to curriculum requirements affecting private alternative
The teachers and families see this as an attempt to
restrict projects that go beyond the centrally imposed agenda and have hitherto
been a refuge for families who did not want to comply with it.

and devotedness

examples described above feature different agents of resistance, but power
relations within communities are another important aspect to consider. In the
case of the Vadgesztenye school, reversing the spiral into segregation by
bringing in middle-class families seemed the only way of
saving the school. A similar situation began to take shape at the Gómez Moreno
school, which had also seen fewer pupils enrolling over a number of years.
However, in the Albayzín district, the presence of Spanish and foreign
middle-class families in the school must be seen within the overall local
context, characterised by gentrification and the conflicts deriving from it.[26]

Still, the stories in this article show how resistance by a school community, albeit fleeting in some cases, and devotedness, can change children’s education. The three examples depicted here show that transgressing the dominant bureaucratic, methodological or ideological approach can prove effective for a while, though repressive dynamics kick in again when conflicts emerge. Flexibility and initiative are key factors in enabling such projects. But hostility on the part of the public administration also seems to inspire families and activists to some extent to take control of their kids’ education and call for change in the state education system. These initiatives are often tolerated and sometimes even supported (co-financed or recognised) by the authorities, but when it comes to conflicts of interests, bureaucratic arguments take precedence. Still, resistance enables these communities to create, learn and relearn democratic processes, think about their local context and take action based on their conclusions. A situated pedagogy works with critical interventions that incorporate the particularity of a place: it understands and combats structures of oppression with reference to the immediate context.[12] [13]  (Gruenewald 2003, Kitchens 2009). After all, thinking in these terms, what better way could there be of learning democratic resistance through first-hand experiences than fighting for local initiatives and adopting a solidarity-based approach?


Gruenewald, D. (2003).
Foundations of Place: A Multidisciplinary Framework for Place-Conscious
Education, in: American Educational Research Journal, 40(3), 619–654.

Kitchens, J. (2009).
Situated Pedagogy and the Situationist International: Countering a Pedagogy of
Placelessness, in: Educational Studies. 45(3) Critical Geographies in/of
Education, 240–261.

INCLUD-ED Strategies for
inclusion and social cohesion in Europe from education. Final report, (2012)
Available at:    https://www.comunidaddeaprendizaje.com.es/uploads/materials/13/7a62b64132b4508ba1da8cbcc2043ac6.pdf  Final report. 2012.

J. (2018). Commuting to segregation. The role of pupil commuting in a Hungarian
city: between school segregation and inequality, in: Review of Sociology 28(4),
133–151. Available at: http://szociologia.hu/dynamic/szociologia_2018_04_133_151_oldal.pdf.

[1] The author carried out
research projects at each of the described schools. See for instance Fare rione, fare scuola, a project run by the Orangotango
Collective under the Schools of Tomorrow programme of the House of the World’s
Cultures (HKW) in Berlin. The author is also involved in
the learning communities at the Gómez Moreno

[2] The interview for this
article was conducted in September 2019.

[3] For instance: https://index.hu/belfold/2019/01/02/pecs-somogy_vadgesztenye_altalanos_iskola_csovcsics_erika_tankerulet_klik_pava_peter_hatranyos_helyzetu/

[4] Erika Csovcsics previously ran the Gandhi High School in
Pécs, the first Romani high school, founded in 1992.

[5] The segregation process referred to
here entailed non-Roma families starting to send their children to other
schools, other families doing the same and the number of new enrolments
dwindling. To learn more about the situation in Pécs, see a recent study on
commuting and segregation (Zolnay J., 2018).

[6] http://www.easp.es/blogmsp/2018/06/04/el-comedor-ecologico-gomez-moreno-un-espacio-de-promocion-de-la-salud-infantil/.

[7] AMPA Gómez Moreno Amigos de una Escuela Mejor

[8]  For more information about the learning
communities project in this particular school: https://www.observatoriodelainfancia.es/participanda/proyecto-comunidades-de-aprendizaje-del-ceip-gomez-moreno/

Information and methodological support in Spanish:  http://comunidadesdeaprendizaje.net/,  Actuaciones Educativas de Éxito https://www.comunidaddeaprendizaje.com.es, or the report of the
INCLUD-ED project https://www.comunidaddeaprendizaje.com.es/uploads/materials/13/7a62b64132b4508ba1da8cbcc2043ac6.pdf

[9] The project was devised by a group of
teachers in collaboration with the head teacher, Isabel López.

[10] The interview was
conducted in September 2019 for this article. María Dolores López López continued to work as a
volunteer coordinator under new leadership starting from the 2019/2020 school

[11] The interview was
conducted by Paola Piscitelli in 2018.

[12] She worked as a maestra di strada (social educator).

[13] The number of newly
enrolled pupils rose from five in 2014 to 25 in 2018.

[14] From the open letter to
Péter Páva (head of the Pécs school district), written by Judit Szentendrei,
one of the mothers. Date: 12 December 2019. Translated by the author.

[15] https://www.ideal.es/granada/ceip-gomez-moreno-20180605194140-nt.html

[16]  https://www.elsaltodiario.com/educacion/familias-gomez-moreno-recuperan-comedor-acuerdo-empresa

[17] Plataforma por una
Alimentación Responsable en la Escuela (Comedores responsables), Escuelas de
Calor AMPA de Sevilla, Confederación Andaluza de AMPAs, FAMPA Granada

[18] Interview conducted in
September 2019 for this article.

[19]An hepatitis A epidemic triggered a violent
conflict between some families and the head teacher. The families accused the
Roma pupils of being the source of infection, while the head teacher defended
her position on including Roma children. https://ponticelli.napolitoday.it/barra/epatite-scuola-genitori-accusano-rom.html

[20] Associazione N:EA (Napoli: Europa Africa)

[21] The school is one of a number taking part in the ministerial project Progetto per l’inclusione di bambini e
adolescenti rom, sinti e caminanti
(Project for the inclusion of Roma,
Sinti and Caminanti children and adolescents).

[22] Such projects have
been criticised by professionals and researchers,
among others, for the discontinuity of their funding and for focusing on intervening at
the level of education without offering real solutions for Roma people’s
exclusion from the labour market and housing, thereby sustaining their
long-term marginalisation.

[23] When another head teacher
was appointed to run the village school, there was no way of maintaining the
former agreement, so children had to start the current school year dispersed across various schools.

[24] 2019/LXX, amending national public
education law 2011/CXC.

[25] Until recently, this status had
offered a way of participating in small, hitherto non-institutionalised
learning groups, while staying within the state education system.

[26] To learn more about the
neighbourhood’s problems, as seen by the children and other habitants, see the information on the  Albayzín, Human
Heritage project, involving collaborative
ethnographic research carried out in the school since 2018 by Kitti Baracsi,
Gloria Calabresi, Dario Ranocchiari and many other volunteers committed to the
learning communities project. http://lefthandrotation.com/museodesplazados/ficha_ceipgomezmoreno.html https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCpZzLK42XzjdMaeXVzPi0Lw/videos

Kitti Baracsi is an educator, researcher and activist specializing in collaborative methodologies and critical pedagogy.