Maine faces an affordable housing crisis requiring bold, unconventional thinking to resolve. One inspiring example of such outside-the-box thinking comes from Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement. Since 1984, activists have organized more than 460,000 families from Brazil’s most impoverished areas to occupy and settle farmland neglected by absentee landowners. After identifying unused land, the group builds encampments, raises crops, and develops necessary social infrastructure, like schools and medical centers. In the process, they are reversing generations of inequality dating back to Brazil’s colonial history.

Because Brazilian law stipulates farmland must be productive, judges have ruled in favor of the squatters working the land in more than 60% of the legal challenges arriving in court. Besides lifting hundreds of thousands out of poverty, the movement is a major food producer across the region, selling hundreds of thousands of pounds of milk, beans, coffee, and other commodities annually. The movement is the largest supplier of organic rice anywhere in Latin America.

Far-right extremists bankrolling the MAGA party will predictably clutch their pearls and conjure the boogieman of communism at the first mention of anything even vaguely resembling “wealth redistribution.” But no proposal with the demonstrable track record of simultaneously improving the lives of the working poor and propelling economic development should be dismissed simply because of a label attached to it. The problems we face today will not be solved by the same free market fetishism that created them.

American history is rich with examples of poor and marginalized peoples dispossessed of their land for the benefit of wealthy individuals or business interests. Why not experiment with this strategy in reverse and just see what happens.


Jonathan Strieff

South China

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