Beyond the Olympics/Paralympics: 5 World Class Brazilian Social Movements

Posted on September 13, 2016
By Al Etmanski



There is a lot to learn from Brazil’s social movements. Its citizens have been largely left to their own devices to deal with 500 years of pillaging and the resultant inequity and disparity.

Brazil is so much more than the stories that were circulating during the Paralympic/Olympic games. What was missing was any coverage of Brazil’s continuing contribution to social change. To whet your curiosity here are five world class social movements. Check them out:



1.Paulo Freire and Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Paulo Freire spawned a cultural movement that awakened among adult educators, community organizers and grassroots campaigners an appreciation for the learner as an active and creative subject. His book Pedagogy of the Oppressed contends that there is no such thing as a neutral education process. Education either serves as an instrument to bring about conformity to the logic of the present system or it enables people to examine their reality critically and to become agents of their own transformation. Here’s a quote from Freire:

No pedagogy which is truly liberating can remain distant from the oppressed by treating them as unfortunates and by presenting for their emulation models from among the oppressors. The oppressed must be their own example in the struggle for their redemption.

Phrases like ‘self-advocacy,’ ‘self-determination’ and ‘Nothing about us without us,’ stem from such analysis.


2. Acao Da Cidadania (Citizenship Action) (Note:Be sure to click the translation button on this link.)

Action Citizenship is the largest mass movement in recent Brazilian history. It is designed to tackle poverty, homelessness, unemployment and hunger for 32 million Brazilians living below the poverty line. This is citizen action at its most magnificent. This movement has mobilized trade unions, professional and entrepreneurs’ associations, private and state companies, grassroots groups, municipalities, universities, churches and NGOs. Local committees exist everywhere organized by area, workplace, professional affiliation, schools,etc. This is one of the reasons why Brazil has the oldest and most successful school feeding program in the world providing daily nutrition to 43 million children. Check out the inspirational work of Herbert “Betinho” de Souza, Action Citizenship’s founder who coined their motto: The hungry, in a hurry.


3. Brazil’s Rural Landless Worker’s Movement (MST)

There are nearly 5 million landless rural workers in Brazil. 1% of property owners control 44% of the land. The MST believes that without agrarian land reform there is no democracy. It identifies underutilized, unproductive rural land that is not meeting its social function, occupies it and then ascertains legal title. Over the last two decades, more than 370,000 families have been settled and tens of thousands more are living in encampments, awaiting title to their land. MST has an estimated membership of a million and a half people.



In 1990 Brazil was experiencing an HIV/AIDS epidemic comparable to South Africa. Ten years later 25% of South Africans were infected. In Brazil the infection rate had plummeted to 0.6%. There are many reasons, but the late Brenda Zimmerman suggested one reason is because Brazilians rallied around this guiding principle: No person, no matter how poor, insignificant or illiterate should be written off as beyond cure. You can read more about Brazil’s practical strategies here or in Getting to Maybe by Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman and Michael Quinn Patton.


5. Theatre of the Oppressed

Theatre of the Oppressed is a theoretical framework and set of techniques developed by the Brazilian director, artist and activist Augusto Boal to use theatre as a tool for personal and social transformation. In effect, theatre becomes a dialogue breaking down the division between spectators and actors. Participatory or ‘Forum Theatre’ is useful for people who want to learn ways of addressing oppression in their daily lives.

You can see Boal’s influence in street theatre and in the integration of art into today’s social movements. The inheritor of this tradition and certainly its foremost practitioner is Vancouver’s David Diamond and his Theatre for Living.



For a feast of ingenuity and caring check out Ashoka Brazil’s amazing social entrepreneurs. There are 370 of them. Choose just one and you’ll be drawn in. Feel free to emerse yourself now that the games are over!



"The person who has ceased to learn ought not to be allowed to wander around loose in these dangerous days."– Moses Coady founder of the Antigonish Movement and an adult educator who influenced Paulo Freire

Musical accompaniment this post Capoeira Aché Brasil by Aché Brasil 


Modified from original blog first posted to Al Etmanski's site on August 4, 2016

Social Movements, Al Etmanski, Cities Deepening Community

Al Etmanski

By Al Etmanski

Al Etmanski is the President of PLAN (Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network) and has been a leading advocate for people with disabilities and their families in Canada for more than two decades. He is widely recognized as a visionary thinker in areas of social policy, community development and individualizing services for people with disabilities. Al is an author, advocacy consultant and social inventor who specializes in finding innovative, non-governmental solutions to social problems.

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