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Brazil’s Landless Workers’ Movement in New York: From the UN to Zuccotti Park

“Occupy, Resist, and Grow!” I found myself shouting into the human microphone at Occupy Wall Street just the other Sunday. I was translating for Janaina Stronzake, a member of Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement–one of the most prominent peasant agriculture movements in the fight for food sovereignty. The crowd repeated, looking to Janaina and then to the depiction of Brazil on her organization’s flag, connecting the dots from there to Wall Street.

The Landless Workers Movement, or Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST), is a social movement based on the right to land and human dignity. Founded in 1985, the movement seeks to connect landless rural families with land not in production. The ultimate goal is agrarian reform: Brazil has alarmingly high levels of land concentration, and a simultaneous abundance of latifúndios–large land holdings–sitting unused, almost forgotten. On paper, the Brazilian government is opposed to the hoarding of potentially productive land, and reserves the right to expropriate land deemed not to be fulfilling its “social function”: creating food and livelihoods for the country’s people. But in practice, the status quo is strong. The MST was founded as a call to action. Read more