Benjamin Dangl and I had only been out of college for four years when Dangl’s first book The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia (AK Press, 2007) was published. At our 20-year reunion this past May, Dangl handed me a copy of his hot-off-the-press new book of poems and photographs exploring the pulse of everyday life from his travels as a journalist across Latin America and beyond, A World Where Many Worlds Fit (Fomite Press, 2023).
Silvia Federici, author of a book about the role witch hunts played in the creation of capitalism entitled, Caliban and the Witch, has described Dangl’s book as, “a powerful journey through scenes of urban clamor and resistance” that “shows the power of imagery and poetry to bridge different worlds.”
After reading his new book over the summer, I reunited with Dangl once again to discuss the past 20 years of social movements across Latin America, journalism, the lasting political vision of the Zapatistas, and much more. The following transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Matt Dineen: How did A World Where Many Worlds Fit come about?
Benjamin Dangl: I’ve worked as a journalist covering social justice issues in the United States and Global South for over 20 years. During that time, I have been writing these deep descriptions of the places I’ve traveled as a journalist. I always brought a notebook with me wherever I went and filled it with description of things I saw: snippets of details on the side of the road, the fireworks at political rallies, the labyrinths of endless street markets.
These kinds of things fascinated me no matter what I was researching and writing about journalistically. So this book is a result of those years of filling hundreds of notebooks on the sidelines of my reporting. Some of it made it into my books and articles, but a lot of it didn’t quite fit. For this book, I picked out and revised what I thought was the best writing and put it all together. The photographs were part of the same process of bearing witness to what I was seeing.
Do you think readers familiar with your work as a journalist covering Latin American politics and social movements were surprised to hear about this new collection of poems and photographs?
Maybe! It’s all part of the same process. Being a journalist often involves paying really close attention to what’s happening around you, taking careful notes, keeping your eyes open for good stories, quotes, scenes, color, and putting that into writing. And that’s what taking those photos and writing those descriptions involved when putting this book together.
It all comes from the same place. It’s about putting words together in ways that make sense, that will move people, that evoke a place in a powerful way, and that communicate the fascinating, tragic, and endless beauty of the world.
You studied literature in college and spent a semester abroad in Argentina. How did that experience affect your political worldview and related interests in Latin America and journalism?
That was a really influential time for me. I arrived in Argentina just when the economy was crashing in 2001. The causes of the crisis were neoliberal economic policies, which enriched the ruling class at the expense of the working class. During this time, people took to the streets en masse under the slogan, “Que Se Vayan Todos,” which translates as “Throw Them All Out!” They were demanding that the political class, which was guilty of orchestrating the crisis, be thrown out of power.
Massive protests and rallies took place. People organized neighborhood assemblies and mutual aid groups to support each other through the economic downturn. Workers whose businesses went bankrupt occupied factories and buildings, running them as worker cooperatives to survive and thrive. This included book publishers, hotels, tile-making companies and hundreds of other businesses that were put under worker control.
I witnessed this incredible social transformation firsthand, and it entirely changed my understanding of what was politically possible. It forced me to think outside the box of U.S. concepts of representative democracy, and believe in more direct, participatory governance by communities from below. From that point on, I deepened my commitment to focusing my journalistic work on writing about and supporting such grassroots movements in Latin America.
It is interesting to think back on that historical moment — the cusp of what would eventually be dubbed Latin America’s “Pink Tide” — two decades later. Argentina’s economic collapse and the subsequent horizontalidad uprising was the halfway point between Hugo Chavez’s victory in Venezuela and Evo Morales’s rise to power in Bolivia. Your time in Argentina was only seven years after the Zapatistas emerged in Chiapas with their declaration against the North American Free Trade Agreement and neoliberalism.
The title of this book is taken from a Zapatista saying. Can you talk more about their influence on your writing and how the six parts of A World Where Many Worlds Fit are organized?
The title of the book speaks to the spirit of many movements that were, and still are, operating under a kind of horizontal and grassroots spirit. The Zapatistas have been an inspiration across the world. One of the reasons this quote resonated with me for the book is the Zapatista message that the revolution can happen anywhere, that anyone can be a revolutionary. It speaks to everyday life and how organizing doesn’t have to be something that only happens at the barricades, but is a way of being, a way of living differently against and apart from the capitalist system. Ultimately, the Zapatista quote celebrates the diversity of our many worlds which defy a world which is homogenized through corporate globalization and imperialism. It embraces other ways of doing politics and organizing communities and society.
The book title also speaks to both the portrayal and celebration of everyday life and its many worlds — largely in the streets. With the book itself, there were all of these different pieces that I assembled together. The title speaks to the organization of the book in the sense that there are many worlds contained in the pages — and they all fit!
The book is organized to reflect a journey which the reader can go through in each chapter, starting with departures, and then moving on through each subsequent chapter on streets, then cities, wildernesses, waterways and finally, the theme of homecoming. The idea is that the streets, cities, jungles, rivers — all of these are worlds within the larger world.
Your previous books were published by AK Press. How did you end up connecting with Vermont-based Fomite Press for this one?
It worked out really well because Fomite is a publisher that focuses on more literary and artistic work, and they were really warm to the idea of this combination of photographs and travel writing. It was also helpful for me to work with Fomite because I could meet them regularly for meetings in person in Burlington, Vermont. Their feedback on everything from the conceptualization and organization of the book to the purpose and title of it was very helpful.
The wonderful people at AK Press are distributing A World Where Many Worlds Fit, so folks can get it directly from them.
Do you have any new books or other projects in the works?
I am working on a new book about the communication strategies of social movements and how journalists can produce work in support of social justice causes and movements. This is an area I teach in at the University of Vermont, and I have really enjoyed digging into these topics in my classes. I’ve worked in this world of media and movements for years as an editor, journalist and researcher, so putting these different pieces together in the classroom has been great.
I am working on the book to address the questions of how movements develop narratives and communication strategies to win victories, build numbers, and shift public opinion and action. With the journalism thread of the book, I’m focusing on how to produce media that stands in solidarity with the movements in the streets fighting for positive social change, and how movement media can support and amplify those struggles.
In the end, it’s all about working for a world where many worlds fit!
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