Solidarity in Protest: Highlighting Positive Social Change in Urban Costa Rica

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  • posted byCarli Hansen
  • dateDecember 16, 2021
  • commentsNo comments

Recently published in the Teaching Culture series, Millennial Movements: Positive Social Change in Urban Costa Rica presents case studies of Costa Rican millennial leaders and shows how youth activists in San José draw from global solutions to address the local problems in their city. In this post, author Karen Stocker delves into her new book and how it can be used in the classroom.

Millennial Movements is about forms of protest adapted to a pacifist nation state that offers ample security nets and access to education and healthcare for its residents and citizens. These social guarantees allow for forms of protest that are unexpectedly upbeat, even as they take on weighty issues. Meanwhile, in my home country, the abject denial of human rights for BIPOC and increasing militarization understandably leads to a different set of responses.

These, too, are examples of positive protest.

Protests and other responses to the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many people before them, show many of the forms that activism can take. Placards declaring “Tu lucha es mi lucha” show the solidary, intersectional character of the protests in my community. Individuals who are not able to join the crowd in protests participate on the outskirts or from a distance. Donations to well-established grassroots organizations in Minneapolis (like Black Visions Collective and Reclaim the Block) and elsewhere (The Movement for Black Lives and Black Lives Matter), and mutual aid organizations seek to mitigate the underlying cause, while donations to bail funds (Autostraddle and The Bail Project) and other ways to support protesters address the symptoms of profound, longstanding inequity and systemic racism. Calls to support Black-owned businesses (Support Black Owned and Refinery 29) constitute another form of support, as do efforts of people as yet ignorant of the depth of inequity, or the ways it marks everyday experience, in order to educate self and others on anti-racism (NMAAHC and Calls to defund the police mark a way to act on this knowledge.

While these forms of activism, themselves, are distinct from the strategies employed in Costa Rica, they share the characteristic of being culturally relevant responses to context-specific sets of circumstances. They have in common some underlying tenets, such as a commitment to cultivating intersectional participation and solutions. Mutual aid efforts in North America hinge on an understanding that runs throughout the Central American case studies in this book: that it is imperative that everyone broaden their conception of what constitutes their community, extending beyond those who share an experiential history, ethnic or gender identity, social class background, immigration status, and other lines so often drawn as distinctions. A further shared quality of current movements in North America and those described in this book are that young people are active in these efforts. These commonalities among contemporary Costa Rican social movements and those playing out in North America right now will allow readers to consider the case studies of endeavors geared toward social change in Costa Rica, and consider which of the strategies used there might work well to augment their own activist techniques or to intersperse with them. The more avenues for generating change that people have at the ready, the more likely people are to get involved.

The case studies presented attend to human rights, gentrification, climate crisis, gendered violence, and food insecurity. In short and in broad strokes, the issues faced are similar. The strategies young leaders are using to address these concerns may prove useful for adding to a repertoire of techniques to adapt to the unique circumstances in places readers call home. Discussion questions at the end of each short chapter walk readers through ways to think about the concerns facing their respective communities, and to identify and support groups already working on these issues, or, in the absence thereof, to start a new project.

Front of a decades-old landmark of LGBTQ+ presence in the heart of San José (page 92)

These questions are well suited for discussion, either in-class or in online break-out rooms or discussion forums. The book will work well for students in anthropology interested in an example of urban anthropology and who wish to see how to enact ethnographic methods to study their own communities and others, and to inform culturally relevant strategies for activism. The book will be of interest to students of environmental studies who want to learn how a country on the forefront of institutional change in environmental policy has enacted its goals. Students of Latin American studies will get to consider Central American examples of the implementation of social movements that both build upon Latin America’s history and offer innovative methods for enacting social change.

This book is especially geared toward young people who may see their own goals and circumstances reflected in those of the young leaders interviewed for this book. When the leaders showcased in this book began their efforts, they were millennials in their twenties. Across North America over the past year, we have seen that Gen Z is now following in their footsteps.

I hope Millennial Movements augments the repertoire student activists have at their disposal to address the most pressing concerns in their own communities.

Karen Stocker is a Professor in the Department of Anthropology at California State University, Fullerton.

This piece has been re-posted from the main UTP Blog.

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