Interviews with social movements and the Constitutional Assembly

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by Paul and Nicole, 8/1/08 • It’s hard to believe it’s already August and we only have one week of fieldwork left! In 10 days, we’ll be flying away from the Andes, getting ready for Fall semester at Macalester (and the Republican National Convention!) and squeezing the last drops out of summer. But before then–there’s still so much work left to be done! I’m confident about getting all our fieldwork done. The challenge for me is all the other professional work I need done before we return.

This blog is written as its authors work on a new research project titled “Women on the Frontlines: Resource Battles, Popular Movements, and Gender Dynamics in Bolivia and Ecuador.” An Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM) grant for innovative faculty-student collaboration supports Paul Dosh and Nicole Kligerman in an effort to craft a new model of faculty-student “complementary collaboration.” One way that they share their efforts is through a blog titled “Equal Footing: Collaboration at 13,000 Feet” (equalfooting.blogspot.com). This post is taken from their Equal Footing blog, with Paul’s writing in italics and Nicole’s in regular typeface.

For the past week and a half, we’ve been hard at work on our case studies, learning about (attempted and sometimes de facto) privatization of natural resources in Ecuador, and running around the city during interviews with some really incredible people. We are pretty sure our case studies will be two different organizations that were both active in the Coalición por la Defensa del Agua (the Coalition in the Defense of Water), which was a coalition of organizations from 2004 to 2007 successfully fought against the attempted privatization of water in Quito. One organization, the Foro Urbano (Urban Forum), connects different networks of social movements (particularly focusing on womens’ movements, land invasions, poor neighborhoods, and student groups) in order to shape public policy. The other organization is Ecuarunari, the sierra branch of the CONAIE, a highly political indigenous organization that is probably has been the most powerful social movement in Ecuador for the past three decades. We finalized the decision to focus our Quito fieldwork on these three organizations some time ago; the remaining uncertainty is over which two of these three groups will best fit into the comparative framework of our project.

We’ve also been interviewing some people who were members of the Constitutional Assembly that spent the past 8 months writing a new constitution for Ecuador. It’s extremely progressive, outlawing the privatization of natural resources, giving fathers the right to paternity leave, recognizing that housework is a job that deserves rights such as social security and retirement, and declaring Ecuador to be a peaceful territory and kicking “all” foreign military bases (i.e. the U.S. military base in Manta, which is the only one) out of the country (U.S. military forces will likely relocate to Colombia). There were 130 assembly members, and we’ve interviewed several very, very powerful ones and have interviews lined up with more. And, in one of the most exciting moments of my technological life, I sent a text message to the president of the Constitutional assembly! It would be hard to overstate Nicole’s excitement over this text message…

It hasn’t been all fun and games, however. In order to be able to interview leaders of Ecuarunari, we needed to get the authorization of the president of the organization, who was out of Quito’s province until Wednesday. I was very nervous for our meeting with him, because just two weeks ago he went on CNN to say “enough with the foreign academics who come and steal our information to use against us.” It’s a very valid critique of academia and Western involvement in Latin America– and made me terrified to talk to him! I agree with Nicole that this critique is incredibly valid and important, but I was always confident we’d win him/them over. It’s a similar story everywhere, but once we get to talk to leaders face to face, we have a fairly endless stream of references (movement organizations in Ecuador and neighboring countries) and examples of our social justice projects that show that we are “not just academics.”