Pressure from Beside

The main protagonists in phase 2 of grassroots global governance are grassroots bilateral activists like Miguel Tisalema and Washington Chapalbay (from Tungurahua), Esteban Zarria (from El Chaco), Paulo Bustamante (from Celica), and Trotsky Riera (in Zamora). They and others like them led IWM reform efforts on the ground. They were at the center of local IWM coalitions. While many worked for international organizations, their influence did not come from organizational prestige or an ability to attract outside resources. Rather, their power came from their ability to influence local stakeholders whose behaviors IWM advocates sought to change.

Grassroots bilateral activists influenced local stakeholders in part by changing peoples’ perceptions of their interests. They did so by sharing information, strategically framing IWM reform to resonate with local values, providing training, and leading by example. Local stakeholders-turned-IWM activists were the first to experiment with IWM reforms, as El Chaco’s Milton Hugo did with his integrated farm (see chapter 6). Successful experiments granted legitimacy to reform efforts, and local activists used this to attract additional support.

Grassroots bilateral activists were also uniquely positioned to exert stronger forms of pressure. They used their influence with landowners and water users to organize public demonstrations, marches, and petitions to pressure local politicians. They used similar methods to pressure landowners and water users. In extreme cases, pressure was quite coercive, as when Tungurahuan indigenous landowners sabotaged water canals to pressure downstream water users. IWM advocates also used the coercive power of municipal governments to pressure resistant water users and landowners. When negotiations with landowners were hampered by disagreements over land values, municipal IWM advocates threatened to expropriate land if they could not negotiate an alternative arrangement. Thus, grassroots bilateral activists pushed the IWM reform process forward by wielding both “soft” and “hard” pressure from beside.

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