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Interchange – Populism Against the “Center”


Today our guest, Thea Riofrancos, suggests populism is the not the problem, as so many in the “center” (left and right) fear, but the answer to the decades-long program of neoliberal policies that have created a politically disengaged citizenry. But what flavor of populism?

On the left, populism lays bare the class antagonisms that already structure social, economic, and political life; on the right, populism obscures them, replacing them with cultural chauvinism, xenophobia, and racism, reproducing rather than contesting inequality.

We’ll discuss democracy and populism in the United States and the populist lessons to be learned from “pink tide” governments in Latin America.

Political analysts and strategists are undermined by their faith in the limited democracy they prize. The “center” they cling to has orchestrated, or been abetted by, abysmal voter turnout, mass disenfranchisement, feckless politicians and strategists, and the overwhelming influence of financial elites, amid staggering levels of inequality that rival the Gilded Age. A left populism holds the potential to revitalize democracy, while defending it from the dual threats of technocracy and revanchism.

Thea Riofrancos is Assistant Professor in the Political Science Department at Providence College. Her research asks under what conditions ― and with what consequences ― resource extraction becomes the site of political conflict. Resources such as minerals or oil are implicated in the construction of political-economic orders ― states, democracies, and nations ― and serve as focal points for social resistance. In the context of Latin America, resource politics are particularly charged. They are inflected with the incomplete construction of national and regional sovereignty, legacies of popular mobilizations, and persistent aspirations to transform the relationship between economy, society, and nature.

Democracy Without the People: What if populism is not the problem, but the solution?” by Thea Riofrancos
Populism and the People” by Thea Riofrancos

“Coffin for Head of State” by Fela Kuti
“¡El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido!” by Quilapayún
“Where There’s a Will There’s a Way” by The Crusaders

NEXT UP: The People’s Party and Black Populism in the United States
Guest: Omar H. Ali
Following the collapse of Reconstruction in 1877, African Americans organized a movement in the South for economic and political reform: Black Populism. Between 1886 and 1900, tens of thousands of black farmers, sharecroppers, and agrarian workers created their own organizations and tactics primarily under black leadership. By the turn of the century, Black Populism was crushed by relentless attack, hostile propaganda, and targeted assassinations of leaders and foot soldiers of the movement. The movement’s legacy remains, though, as the largest independent black political movement until the rise of the modern civil rights movement.

Producer & Host: Doug Storm
Assistant Producer & Editor: Rob Schoon
Board Engineer: Jen Brooks
Executive Producer: Joe Crawford

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