Meet a Progressive: Think Globally, Act Locally with Hanna Dahlström

Hanna Dahlström is a political scientist and activist who has worked with social movements in Bolivia and Ecuador. She has also written for Upside Down World, ETC, the Talon, and a book on oil, environmental and indigenous rights

What inspired you to start working for progressive social change?

I think I was lucky to lead nine lives like a cat. As a teenager I was a high school exchange student in West Virginia where I saw inequalities and things I never imagined the U.S. to be. Although my year was filled with friendly people in a small town and international students, which opened my eyes to different worlds, plus, of course, lots of sports, I will never forget how my homeroom had teenage moms. I also later went to university in Arizona - during the Iraq invasion and war, and later on and after September 11, we organized for the rights of international students as anti-muslim sentiments rose. I studied on native lands close to the now border with Mexico where my progressive professors supported my thirst for knowledge and change and I got involved in many organizations there. I am forever inspired by my former teachers at a public university who mixed arts, history and activism in Spanish class or who shared from their lives with an enthusiasm I never encountered in my home country. Then I moved to Ecuador via a popular education school from Sweden and lived on a road by an oil pipeline. I began to write and reflect more. By meeting people from so many places in corners of the world I cannot forget those people, places or teachings. I miss those people and places too, like in Bolivia. 

What do you identify as the top issue progressives must confront a) locally, b) statewide in PA, c) across the nation, and d) around the globe? 

a) Locally: just connecting with our neighbors and if possible buy things locally and support local initiatives. So much of individualism makes us more depressed and isolated. 

b) Statewide in PA: listen to Cyril on PA issues! :) 

c) Across the nation (in Sweden): to counter rising racism and neo-Nazis’ influence on politics. How to stop privatization and rising inequality and dismantling of workers’ rights. The backlash against women’s rights - often goes hand in hand with the Neo-Nazis. 

d) Across the globe - rising fascism and racism! 

I think information and changing the narrative is key - whether from the global South or from below in general. Education to raise awareness, not just to have a career and “get ahead.” 

What types of organizing and projects are you working on right now?

Right now I am the head of secretariat of FIAN Sweden. FIAN is the world’s first human rights organization for the right to food and an ally of the world’s largest peasant network La Via Campesina. We advocate for peasant rights and indigenous rights among many other topics, like the right to clean water, we have a campaign with U.S. universities and farmers against land grabs in the U.S. and Brazil, and advocates for rights  in times of rising inequalities and hunger globally. 

I am growing tomatoes on my balcony. I am also growing a human lol! Getting sappy, I want to make the world a better place for this future being, but even though I’m in Sweden I’m acutely aware of how society’s patriarchal structures counts on women’s mainly unpaid caring work (raised by Latin American feminists but often seen as something already “resolved” by Swedish feminists). During the pandemic I have also been in touch with many of my female friends around the world and women’s rights have definitely regressed. 

How can folks get engaged and involved? 

I think the point is always to try to work from the space where one is located - i.e. if you’re not indigenous, then you cannot start from that space but you can self-educate and become an ally. And do what you like - dance, art - why be involved with people or in spaces that bring you down? Find a space where people support each other. I worked for a political party, but I never wanted to become a politician, though I respect some of those who are such as Ilhan Omar or Alejandra Ocasio-Cortez in the U.S. context, or my curiosity about Sweden’s feminist party

I believe in social movements that bring about change. 

Which journalists, writers, podcasts, and publications do you turn to for information and inspiration?

I was a student for many years - it was a privilege to read and learn, but I never became a good academic who was able to self-promote and never stop working. I had a college professor of economics who authored a book titled Insatiable is not Sustainable, which had a profound impact on me back then. Feminist theories and learning of indigenous histories and contemporary struggles further inspire me and give me strength.

I am reading Veronica Gago’s Feminist International: How to Change Everything. I love Silvia Federici - she has a new book out titled Re-enchanting the World

For philosophy I keep learning from Enrique Dussel whose classes are also uploaded on youtube. I also read tweets by some folks like Naomi Klein or texts by Rebecca Solnit. For news I read some Aljazeera or the Guardian, news from Latin America and local news. I listen to some podcasts from The Transnational Institute (TNI). Oh, and memes with cats, like cats against capitalism

I wish I could read and write more.  

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Thanks for reading! I look forward to your feedback and suggestions. And most importantly, keep organizing!