Lessons from Decolonize Oakland and the “Water Wars” in Cochabamba, Bolivia

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On October 20 at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, a founding member of Decolonize Oakland delivered the keynote talk at the first annual Association for Jotería Arts, Activism, and Scholarship (AJAAS) conference. The inaugural conference theme was “We Speak For Ourselves: Decolonizing Nuestr@s Conciencias, Cuerpos, La Tierra y El Alma.” This presentation discusses several key moments in the evolution of Occupy Oakland, including the proposal to change the name of the movement to Decolonize Oakland, and presents a vision for a militant, revolutionary, anti-racist and queer-inclusive politics of direct action.

In addition, on October 12 at Northern New Mexico College, indigenous activist Oscar Olivera of Cochabamba, Bolivia was one of the keynote speakers at the 7th Annual Traditional Agriculture & Sustainable Living Conference. Olivera was one of the main leaders of the protests against the planned neo-liberal privatization of water in Bolivia, and he is spokesperson for the Coalition in Defense of Water and Life, known as La Coordinadora. In 2000, thousands of Bolivian citizens protested for weeks to stop the water privatization, an event known as the Cochabamba “Water Wars”. The Bolivian army killed one, injured hundreds and arrested several Coalition leaders. Olivera, who had been forced into hiding, emerged to negotiate with the government. In April 2000, La Coordinadora won its demands when the government turned over control of the city’s water system, including its $35 million debt, to the organization and cancelled the privatization contract. La Coordinadora achieved the first major victory against the global trend of privatizing water resources. Olivera continues to head La Coordinadora’s work to develop a water system that relies neither on corrupt government management nor on transnational corporations.

In this video, Oscar’s talk is translated by Alejandro Lopez of Santa Cruz, NM:

Both of these talks provide insights into the unique power and potential of grassroots movements against corporate domination that are led by people of color, women, and indigenous people. As Decolonize Oakland states in their Points of Unity:

  • We decolonize because communities of color, women of color, and queers of color have been on the front lines of the struggle against male supremacy, heterosexism, capitalism, and colonial exploitation.
  • We decolonize because our current system was founded on settler colonialism, genocide, and slavery.
  • We decolonize because any movement that doesn’t confront the continuing force of colonization, patriarchy, hetero-normativity, and white supremacy replicates these oppressions.

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