Human Rights, Latin America, Social Movements, DuBois


The literature on social movements centers demands made on the state and theorizes collective action as rooted in specific times and the nation-state. I ague that this literature is analogous to “the veil,” a concept developed by W.E.B. Du Bois. Indigenous theorizations of a “politics of refusal” provides us with a foundation see beyond the veil. This paper brings together “Du Boisian Sociology,” Latina Feminisms, and indigenous theories of collective action to develop a robust theorization of human rights activism, and social movements more broadly. This paper asks: What can we gain from analyzing movements from beyond the veil by world-traveling? I draw upon 15 years of engagement with human rights work in El Salvador and an analysis of key documents that established official accounts of the war, peace, and reconciliation. By focusing of the human rights activism of two organizations, Presente and Cipotes, I show how refusal allows us to see the politics of a movement beyond the state. Each organization refused the idea that human rights abuses were bound to a particular time and space. In doing this, they assert a truth that precedes and has a deeper embodied and territorial reach than the nation-state. This refusal challenges temporal and geographic histories of war, peace, and reconciliation established by state structures. Through alters, exhibits, forums, testimonies, these movements seek to build community, to love, and to heal. Thus, social movement activism exceeds the state. This reveals the dual political and social impact of collective action and develops a robust theorization of human rights activism.