On the night of October 29, 1985, more than 200 trucks, buses and cars converged from 32 different municipal districts in Brazil’s southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul to occupy a mostly idle, 9,200-hectare cattle ranch known as the Annoni estate. Over than 6,000 people participated in what was then the largest and most thoroughly planned land occupation in Brazilian history. By morning they had erected a sprawling village of black-tarp tents and organized a security team to prevent police eviction. In a matter of days, the peasants established an elaborate internal organization: a network of family groups, a variety of task teams, a coordination council and a leadership committee. Everyday life at the encampment was a busy hive of activities and meetings. Next to a patch of dense forest, the landless gathered daily by a large cross for prayers, religious and protest songs, announcements and hearty words of encouragement from an array of supporters. A vast solidarity network was established to further the cause of the peasants at the Annoni estate. Shortly after the occupation, the local Catholic bishop and 80 priests showed up at the camp to bless the landless struggle.
Approximately 1,250 families obtained a landholding from the concerted pressure and long-sustained mobilization which followed the Annoni occupation. This involved a broad range of essentially non-violent collective action measures, varying from countless lobbying efforts with government officials, including three trips to meet with national authorities in Brasilia, and an array of high-profile protest tactics. The statistics of the struggle undertaken by the Annoni occupants are quite revealing. In the eight years it took to settle all these families, landless people from the Annoni estate were engaged in 36 land occupations; at least 30 major protest rallies; nine hunger strikes; two lengthy marches, including a 450 km, 27-day march to Porto Alegre, the state capital; three road blockades; and nine building takeovers, six of these at National Land Reform Institute (INCRA) and three at the State Assembly. Ten human lives were lost in these struggles, including seven children who died from precarious health conditions at the landless camp.