Category Archives: New Voices in the News

KPFK Sojourner Truth Earth Segment: Dr. Lisa Martino-Taylor on secret Cold War chemical tests in St. Louis

Dr. Lisa Martino-Taylor, Sociology Professor at St. Louis Community College in St. Louis, Missouri, discusses recently obtained documents exposing secret Cold War-era chemical studies conducted on poor, minority neighborhoods in St. Louis and their connections with the Manhattan Atomic Bomb Project.
Global Justice Ecology Project teams up with KPFK’s Sojourner Truth show for weekly Earth Minutes every Tuesday and Earth Segment interviews every Thursday.


Filed under Independent Media, New Voices in the News, Pollution

Action Alert: Guatemala: new bill would criminalize community radio

August 22, 2012. Source: Cultural Survival

Inside the radio booth at La Voz de Palestina. © Danielle DeLuca

(Version en Español aqui)

A new bill proposed by the right-wing political party in Guatemala would criminalize the use of the radio spectrum for any actors not authorized to do so. The bill aims to take community radio stations that are fighting for legal recognition off the air.

The bill 4479, entered by the LIDER party onto the congress floor on July 10th, proposes a reform to the criminal code that would sanction the imprisonment of individual actors and representatives of radio stations that do not have legal authority to broadcast. As the law currently stands, community radio stations exist in limbo where they are not protected under the law nor penalized. In practice, stations are frequently raided by police and members charged for incidental or extraneous crimes.  In 2007, Radio Ixchel in Sumpango, Sacatepequez was sucessfully able to fight charges against their station under the argument that broadcasting without a legally authorized frequency was not a crime.

The passage of this law would move community radio stations in Guatemala from a position of relative safety as alegal entities to illegal entities.

In a decision released in 2011, the Consitutional Court of Guatemala urged legislators to reform the current laws to allow Indigenous Peoples to legally access to radio frequencies, “To promote the defense, development, and reach of their languages, traditions, spirituality, and any other cultural expressions.”

The Community Radio Movement of Guatemala has issued a public statement on the issue, available below, and in it’s original Spanish, here.
They ask the international community to Take Action.

Click here to send an email to congressmen to vote down Bill 4479 and keep community radio on the air. Continue reading

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Filed under Climate Change, Commons, Independent Media, Indigenous Peoples, Media, New Voices in the News, Political Repression, Rights, Resilience, and Restoration

GJEP shutting west coast office but continuing our commitment to our work

August 2, 2012

Below please find an important update from Global Justice Ecology Project’s Executive Director and Board Chair, and below that a message from our Communications Director, Jeff Conant, on his time with the organization.

Dear Friends, Supporters and Allies of Global Justice Ecology Project,

As you know, Global Justice Ecology Project is a lean organization that has always achieved a lot with a little.

We are writing today to let you know that GJEP’s Board of Directors recently made the difficult decision to close our west coast office. While this change was necessitated by the same financial realities facing many non-profits, it is not an ending, it is an evolution.

We look forward to continuing our work with the allies and networks we have established on the west coast and in other regions.

In addition to this, earlier this summer, our main Vermont office moved to Buffalo, NY- a move that will benefit the organization’s goals and save us money as well. We will continue our Vermont presence, however, with representation in Burlington by our colleagues at Gears of Change.

As times change, so must we. And that change includes  re-orienting GJEP’s work to emphasize our strengths – specifically our effective campaign strategies, our activist research and analysis, and our support for grassroots efforts in the US – in conjunction with and in parallel to our ongoing work as part of a global network of activists.

GJEP’s evolution comes at a time when the issue of genetically engineered (GE) trees is reaching a crescendo, and as you know, GJEP was one of the first groups to make the clarion call on GE trees. We are now strategically focusing our organizational energies to advance our work to permanently stop the large-scale commercial development of GE tree plantations.

We are taking on some of the largest timber corporations on the planet, but we have a vast national and international network behind us, including hundreds of groups who signed our call for a global ban on GE trees.

We assure you that Global Justice Ecology Project, while changing and evolving, will continue to do what we do best: exposing the intertwined root causes of social injustice, ecological destruction and economic domination, while building bridges between social, environmental and ecological justice groups to strengthen our collective efforts to achieve systemic change.

Thank you for supporting Global Justice Ecology Project as we continue our evolution.

In solidarity,

Anne Petermann                                    Orin Langelle

Executive Director                                                   Board Chair


From (former) GJEP Communications Director Jeff Conant:

Hello GJEP supporters, allies, and friends,

Given the changes afoot in GJEP – the closing of the West Coast office and the end of my formal association with the organization – I want to share a few words.

My relatively brief tenure with GJEP spanned the period between the Cochabamba Peoples Summit of April 2010 and the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit of June 2012. During this time, I had the great thrill of working at the heart of the climate justice movement.

By providing analysis, communications strategy, and media support at international events such as the UN Climate COPs, and by doing so from deep in the trenches of grassroots mobilization, we sent a clear and consistent message that those who determine climate policy should be those who bear the brunt of both climate chaos and the policies it engenders.

Many of our friends have told us – and it seems clear to me – that if the GJEP team had not been at these forums, this message would not gotten out as clearly, as strongly, or as effectively.

Working in the climate justice field during my two years with GJEP, we bridged issues, networks, and movements: drawing the links between forest-carbon offset policies and food sovereignty; between Indigenous Peoples Rights and urban struggles for environmental justice; between genetically engineered trees and synthetic biology; between the false solutions promoted under the rubric of a ‘green economy’ and the corporate concentration of wealth and power that is the primary root cause of the ecological crisis we are facing.

During this period, one of many phases in the evolution of this small but effective organization, GJEP’s work was to make the connections between the broad range of radical movements that essentially define the field of climate justice – without which, I believe, the field would be less articulate, less focused, and less effective.

Much of this work was behind-the-scenes, to facilitate the voices of our partners and allies, bring disparate issues together to help build a movement: and always in the mix – whether in the composition of the press conferences we organized, in the wording of the press releases we put out, or in the editorial vision guiding the Climate Connections blog – was GJEP’s sharp radical critique.

That vision will continue, and will continue to inform both my own work moving forward, and GJEP’s. While leaving the organization is a sad transition, I believe the work will continue as it must. I expect to continue working with Climate Connections, and supporting the organization through my own future initiatives.

In that same spirit, I humbly ask that those of you who have supported GJEP’s work will continue to do so through this transition. 

In the words of the eminent radical photojournalist Orin Langelle: Hasta la Victoria Siempre!

- Jeff Conant, Oakland California, August 1, 2012

P.S. Please note GJEP’s new contact information in Buffalo, NY:

Global Justice Ecology Project
266 Elmwood Avenue, Suite 307
Buffalo, NY 14222   USA

GJEP Board of Directors:

Soren Ambrose, International Policy Manager, ActionAid International

Hallie Boas, Media and Climate Justice Activist

Dr. Aziz Choudry,Professor, McGill University, GATT Watchdog, Asia-Pacific Research Network

Hiroshi Kanno, Water Privatization Activist, Concerned Citizens of Newport

Orin Langelle, Board Chair

Ann Lipsitt, Reading Specialist, Disability Rights Advocate

Dr. Will Miller (in memoriam)

Clayton Thomas-Muller, Mathais Colomb Cree Nation, Tarsands Campaign Organizer, Indigenous Environmental Network

Anne Petermann, Executive Director, STOP GE Trees Campaign Coordinator

Karen Pickett, Bay Area Coalition for Headwaters, Alliance for Sustainable Jobs & the Environment

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Filed under BREAKING NEWS, Climate Change, Climate Justice, Cochabamba, Commodification of Life, Durban/COP-17, False Solutions to Climate Change, GE Trees, Green Economy, Indigenous Peoples, Media, New Voices in the News, Posts from Jeff Conant

Earth Day Nativism

Cross-posted from The Center for New Community.

By Rebecca Poswolsky

April 27th, 2012 – While many Earth Day events this past week focused on climate justice, sustainability and protecting the environment, some continue to take this week as an opportunity to bash immigrants. Earth Day for the anti-immigrant movement and groups like NumbersUSA, Californians For Population Stabilization (CAPS), and the Colorado Alliance for Immigration Reform (CAIR) to mention a few, is just another opportunity to scapegoat immigrants.Anti-immigrant groups use this time to hone in on who they perceive as the culprits of environmental degradation: immigrants. Below is a week’s review of the activities of nativist organizations.

On Saturday, April 21, 2012, Roy Beck wrote a blog called, “Population Growth — the surprising topic at Earth Day.” The blog is about how NumbersUSA participated in one of the nation’s three largest Earth Day Festivals at the Texas State Fairgrounds. According to NumbersUSA, the anti-immigrant group displayed a “giant red and green U.S. population chart, as usual.”  Beck commented in the blog about the Earth Day Festival:

We are experimenting this year to see what happens if we don’t put the word “immigration” in public and start only with U.S. population issues.  We introduce immigration only when people read it in the survey they are taking or in the handouts — or, as often happens, they say, “so how do you exactly propose that we keep that (meaning the red on the chart) from happening.

Californians For Population Stabilization (CAPS) put out a blog titled 10 Ideas for Earth Day and blogs with titles like, “On Earth Day: Family Planning Is the Key to a Green Society.”  CAPS had a table at the Santa Barbara Earth Day Festival and also ran an advertisement blaming immigrants for global warming.Fred Elbel, who is listed as a spokesperson for the Colorado Alliance for Immigration Reform (CAIR), an anti-immigrant group listed on the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) website, sent out the following message for Earth Day:

Sadly, so-called “environmental” organizations have abandoned domestic population as an issue. For example, the Sierra Club received a $100 million donation on the condition that it not discuss the immigration – population connection – see . Thus exponential immigration-driven population growth remains the elephant in the living room.

The sad reality is that these are just a few of many activities the anti-immigrant movement has used to co-opt Earth Day for its racist agenda.Environmentalists committed to real sustainability must stand strong on Earth Day, not only to fight for what we believe is a viable path toward a healthier planet, but to fight against the racist ideologies that try to gain legitimacy.

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Filed under New Voices in the News, Political Repression, Politics

BREAKING NEWS: Native Americans Protest Keystone XL From A Cage

Activists compelled to stay in enclosure miles from President’s pro-oil event 

This comes to Climate Connections straight from the source:

Native Americans gathering in Cushing, Oklahoma for a Thursday protest of President Obama’s anticipated words of praise for the Keystone XL pipeline are being forced by local authorities to hold their planned event in a cage erected in Memorial Park.

For details on this breaking news story, contact:

Fannie Bates: 405.642.3527

Rosemary Crawford: 405.206.3979

Marty Cobenais: (218) 760-0284

MARCH 22, 2012 – Native American’s gathering in Cushing, OK for a planned Thursday protest of President Obama’s anticipated words of praise for the Keystone XL pipeline will be forced by local authorities to hold their event in a cage erected in Memorial Park. The protestors were stunned that their community, so long mistreated, would be insulted in such an open manner instead of being given the same freedom of speech expected by all Americans simply for taking a stance consistent with their values.

“A lot of tribal councils and Indian businesses struggle to find a balance between economic resources and our inherited responsibilities for the earth,” said Indian actor and activist Richard Ray Whitman in a statement. “How will the decisions we make now effect coming generations?”

Marty Cobenais, Red Lake Ojibwe, arrested at Keystone White House protest in Sept. 2011 (from Censored News) Photo Shadia Fayne Wood

“President Obama is an adopted member of the Crow Tribe, so his fast-tracking a project that will desecrate known sacred sites and artifacts is a real betrayal and disappointment for his Native relatives everywhere,” said Marty Cobenais of the Indigenous Environmental Network. “Tar sands is devastating First Nations communities in Canada already and now they want to bring that environmental, health, and social devastation to US tribes.”

The President visited Cushing to stand with executives from TransCanada and throw his support behind a plan to build the southern half of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline to move tar sands bitumen and crude oil from Cushing to the Gulf Coast refineries in Texas.

A major concern for Native Americans in Oklahoma, according to spokespeople at the event, is that Keystone XL and the Canadian tar sands mines that would supply it ignore impacts to indigenous communities and their sacred spaces.

“Natives in Canada live downstream from toxic tar sands mines,” said Earl Hatley, “and they are experiencing spikes in colon, liver, blood and rare bile-duct cancers which the Canadian government and oil companies simply ignore. And now they want to pipe these tar sands through the heart of Indian country, bulldozing grave sites and ripping out our heritage.”

The group points to a survey done by the Oklahoma Archeological Survey which found 88 archaeological sites and 34 historic structures that were threatened by Keystone XL. TransCanada was asked to reroute around only a small portion of these, leaving 71 archaeological sites and 22 historic structures at risk. The group says they have asked for a list of these sites and to oversee operations that might threaten sacred burial grounds, but neither request has been honored.

Beyond the threat to their own cultural heritage, the group voiced opposition to the pipeline’s environmental impacts.

“The Ogallala Aquifer is not the only source of water in the plains,” said RoseMary Crawford, Project Manager of the Center for Energy Matters. “Tar sands pipelines have a terrible safety record and leaks are inevitable.”

“We can’t stop global warming with more fossil fuel pipelines,” added Crawford. “The people who voted for this President did so believing he would help us address the global environmental catastrophe that our pollution is creating. He said he would free us from ‘the tyranny of oil.’ Today that campaign promise is being trampled to boost the President’s poll numbers.”


Fannie Bates: 405.642.3527

Rosemary Crawford: 405.206.3979

Marty Cobenais, IEN Pipeline Organizer

         Cell: (218) 760-0284; Email:


Filed under Energy, Indigenous Peoples, New Voices in the News, Tar Sands

The War Against Peasant Farmers Heats Up in Honduras

A Climate Connections Exclusive Report

The Bajo Aguán Region of Honduras competes with the Caribbean and Pacific coasts of Colombia for the site with the most egregious violations of human rights, land rights, and ecological justice that often accompany biofuel plantations in the tropics. This article I wrote for Alternet last year documents the relation of these abuses to the UN-backed Clean Development Mechanism. Since that time, the rate of assassinations, disappearances, and outright attacks on peasant farmers has increased dramatically. Climate Connections is pleased to offer the following original article reporting from the ground on the current state of affairs in the Bajo Aguan.

– Jeff Conant, for Global Justice Ecology Project.

Solidarity in the Heart of the Aguán: The War Against Peasant Farmers Heats Up in Honduras

Young girl in Bajo Aguan; Photo credit: Greg McCain

By Aryeh Shell

“There is a war here in the Aguán,” says Juan, surveying the distant fields of African palm from the vantage point of his recently planted field of beans and corn. A young Honduran farmer, wearing a beaten cowboy hat and a bandana bearing the name “National Front for Popular Resistance,” Juan lives in an encampment of 60 families, dedicated to growing basic grains and reclaiming their food sovereignty. “But the war is not against the drug traffickers, other countries or even organized crime,” he says. “It is a war against the campesinos.”

In the Lower Aguán River Valley in northern Honduras, more than 3,000 families have claimed their right to the basic necessities of a dignified life: land, food, health, education. Living in make-shift tarps and temporary thatch-roofed huts, with nothing but machetes to clear the land, they daily face off against the goliath forces of the Honduran oligarchy, their private guards, and 1,000 Honduran military and police forces deployed by the coup regime to militarize the region – the local security apparatus of big business and the State.

The second major military here, “Operation Xatruch II,” was launched in August, 2011 with financing and training by the United States government. Honduran Security Minister, Oscar Alvarez justified the militarization of the region by describing the campesinos as “so-called farmers and possibly drug dealers who are wanting to settle in that area”.

But these “so-called farmers” are not just arriving. They were recruited by the State into this backwater rainforest region in the 60s and 70s through agrarian land reforms that granted collective titles to peasant cooperatives. The reformist program used campesino labor to cultivate the land and grow African Palm for export. The land was inalienable,  designated solely for small-holder production.

The aggressive neoliberal policies of the 90s and the country’s Agriculture Modernization Act of 1992 definitively ended land reform in Honduras and opened up collectively-held land to the market. Vulnerable to global economic forces, cheap imports from the North, massive debt, and a campaign of intimidation, many farmers were forced to sell their land for a mere 1,000 lempiras per manzana (about $52 US dollars for 1.7 acres). Forty peasant cooperatives disappeared. The land was rapidly concentrated into the hands of three powerful landowners, Miguel Facussé, Rene Morales and Reynaldo Carnales.

Realizing they had been swindled, the movement began to occupy and reclaim their lands. Before the coup took place on June 28,2009, President Zelaya, affectionately known as Mel by his campesino supporters, sat down with the Aguán farmers to redistribute disputed land and resolve the conflicts. Decree 18-2008 would grant titles for land that had been peacefully occupied for 10 years. The farmers were within days of receiving their titles when the coup took place. But the decree was abolished as one of the first acts undertaken by de facto President Roberto Micheletti and the coup regime. In December 2009, the United Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA), decided to reestablish its nonviolent land occupations.

Welcome to Liberated Territory; Photo Credit: Greg McCain

While public officials and the Honduran press have used allegations of armed guerrilla activity or drug trafficking to criminalize the peasant farmers, they have failed to report on the 55 campesino leaders selectively assassinated, or the countless others who have been disappeared, captured, tortured and intimidated since January 2010.

They also have neglected to expose the narco-trafficking activities of the region’s largest landowner, Miguel Facussé, whose cocaine import business is well-known by the US Embassy, as revealed by Wikileaks cables last year.

Facussé and his company, Grupo Dinant, have received millions of dollars in loans by international financial institutions to promote African palm oil biofuel production. While being promoted as a green energy solution, the profits of Grupo Dinant are being used to pay armed paramilitaries and private guards to terrorize peasant farmers in order to drive them from their land, resulting in grave human rights violations – not to mention the severe ecological damage through mono-cultivation, water depletion and contamination from heavy toxic chemical inputs.

According to Dana Frank, a history professor at UC Santa Cruz and a regular contributor to The Nation, “The U.S. is funding and training Honduran military and police that are conducting joint operations with the security guards of a known drug trafficker to violently repress a campesino movement on behalf of Miguel Facussé’s dubious claims to vast swaths of the Aguán Valley, in order to support his African palm biofuels empire.”

Human Rights Delegation

On January 6-15, I joined a dozen other  US and Canadian citizens on a delegation to the Aguán organized by Rights Action, Alliance for Global Justice, and Food First, to accompany campesino communities defending their rights to land, and to hear their testimonies.

Our hotel was filled with camouflaged soldiers carrying military rifles, ignoring signs on the restaurant doors prohibiting weapons. Day and night, the streets were patrolled by large green pickup trucks with tinted windows and without license plates – known locally as the kind used by paramilitaries in drive-by shootings and political kidnappings. I did not feel more secure by their presence.

After driving down long dirt roads, through oceans of dust-covered palm trees, and passing several military checkpoints along the way, we arrived in the small village of Rigores, a farming community of 135 families who were violently forced off their land by security forces last June. The police destroyed their crops and set fire to their homes, schools, and church. They are slowly rebuilding their community under the constant threat that the police will evict them again.

Norma, a shy woman cradling a newborn baby in her arms, showed us her newly rebuilt home of dry cracked mud. Norma doesn’t sleep much, she told us, because she is fearful for the day the police will return.

Norma and her rebuilt home, Bajo Aguan, January 2012; Photo credit: Aryeh Shell

She described the day when they attacked the community and burned their homes to the ground: “When they came to capture the men, I begged them to leave us alone. I told them, we are not guerrillas, we don’t have any weapons. We are women. We are farmers. They pointed their guns at me and told me to shut up or they would kill me. My baby was only 40 days old. She was screaming. I ran into the palm trees to escape.”

In a cramped room we gathered to hear other testimonies. Children lined up along the windows, peering in at the strange group of gringos in bright blue International Human Rights Observer T-shirts. At first, people were shy to share the trauma of the police attack. But before long, the stories poured out.

Rodolfo, a leader in the Campesino Movement of the Aguán, began, “Our community has been heavily persecuted. Many people have been kidnapped. Some have been beaten, and injured, including my 16-year-old son who was captured. They doused him with gasoline and threatened to set him on fire.”

A boisterous woman named Maria stood up. “It was a terrifying experience. Everyone had to leave their homes running. They burned our houses and killed our animals. It left us with a psychological trauma. My son is still really scared. Whenever he hears a noise, he says, ‘the police are coming, the police are coming’.

Despite the trauma of the eviction and ongoing repression, most of the families have returned, even more determined to claim their right to plant corn, beans, and yucca.

Rodolfo concluded, “They haven’t succeeded in breaking us. We continue to resist.”

As we walked through the rubble of the village that once was Rigores, small green cornstalks were poking through patches of earth.

Hut, Bajo Aguan, January 2102; Photo credit: Aryeh Shell

True Security

The campesino cooperatives are working to redefine the very notion of security – not through increased militarization, but through integral agrarian reform and food sovereignty. This includes not only land titles, but also technical support, native seeds, favorable credit, dignified permanent housing, schools, healthcare and the autonomy to decide what they will produce. It includes securing the rights and participation of women and youth. The first point on their security agenda, however, is to unite.

When asked what it would take to create true security in the region, Wilfredo Paz, the coordinator of the new Permanent Human Rights Observatory in the Aguán, responded, “There is one fundamental requirement, and that is the solidarity and love that we have for our brothers and sisters. Here in the Aguán, there is no guarantee of life. There is no respect for human rights. Here the only law that is respected is that of the military, of the powerful landowners and their hired assassins. Neoliberalism and the oligarchy want us to be divided. If we don’t create a collective strategy, we won’t survive.”

We attended a Campesino Congress that brought together nearly seventy leaders to discuss their strategy. The meeting started with a full minute of applause – a collective ritual to recognize the martyrs of the movement. During the long minute, my hands burned and my eyes filled with tears for all the blood that has been spilt in the struggle, in defense of our mother earth.

Odelfo, Bajo Aguan, January 2012; Photo credit: Greg McCain

The first agreement of the meeting was to unify the campesino organizations. The peasant farmer movement in the Aguán is striking at the core of capitalism, and solidarity is at the heart of their movement. As Odelfo, a 79-year-old campesino, puts it, “Todos para uno y uno para todos. Para que todos de una tortilla la compartamos, y que comamos de una misma tortilla todos” – All for one and one for all, because we all share the same tortilla.

Aryeh Shell is a cultural activist and a Rotary World Peace Fellow, currently studying International Relations in Argentina.  She is researching the vibrant Honduran movement of resistance to neoliberal development projects. 

If you are interested in joining an International Gathering for Human Rights in Solidarity with Honduras, February 17-20th, 2012, supportong the Human Rights Observatory with urgently needed resources, or would like to participate in a Solidarity Brigade, please contact: or

For further information:


Filed under Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Climate Justice, False Solutions to Climate Change, Independent Media, Land Grabs, Latin America-Caribbean, New Voices in the News, Political Repression

BREAKING NEWS: Protesters Pack Wisconsin State Capitol to Oppose Mining Bill

Protesters, led by a Native American flash mob, are packing the Wisconsin State Capitol right now to oppose a strip mining bill that woul ddestroy pristine watersheds. Watch live here: Live-stream from Indian Country TV. — GJEP

Cross-posted from The Daily Isthmus:

Protesters converge at Wisconsin Capitol over mining bill and State of the State address
by Austin Duerst

Thursday 01/26/2012 12:21 pm – Protesters gathered at the Wisconsin Capitol on Wednesday to voice their opposition the state’s controversial mining bill and the State of the State address by Gov. Scott Walker.

The Assembly is set to take up AB 426, which would streamline Wisconsin’s mining permit process and clear the way for Gogebic Taconite to open an iron mine in north-central Wisconsin.

An evening rally held outside the State Street entrance to the Capitol featured Secretary of State Doug La Follette, former Department of Natural Resources secretary George Meyer, and Ojibwe elder Joe Rose, who explained his people’s spiritual connection to the land where the mining would be conducted. Contamination of the region’s water, he said, would have drastic effects on residents and crops. As he spoke, murmurs of disgust rose from the crowd.

“On this day, we can’t put a price on the wild rice or any of the other resources that a hunter-gathering society would use,” Rose said, “and that’s why this mine is not going to happen.”

Protesters waved signs bearing slogans such as “Leave Mother Earth Alone” and “Bury the Bill: Lake Superior holds 10% of the world’s fresh water.” Drums and chanting followed like the preamble to an epic charge.

Later in the evening, more protesters assembled inside the Capitol for the State of the State by Gov. Walker, clearly hoping it would be his last annual address from that office. Whistles, jeers and cries bounced around the walls in the Rotunda. No doubt used to the protests by now, the police officers seemed eerily calm.

In the minutes before Walker’s speech, which started shortly after 7 p.m. in the packed Assembly chambers, the crowd sang and raised their signs. One showed Earth sitting uncomfortably close to a ball of flames; hovering in a black abyss next to the planet stood a smiley-faced creature with an extended hand bearing a peace sign, with the words “Have Some Respect!” written above it.

The poster’s creator, Girard Gorelick, is an Environmental Studies major at UW-Madison. “The issue of the environment is one that rings deeply within me, because I think it extends beyond politics,” he said. “It’s an issue of being a living part of the community, and I believe what is at stake is something that all people face and need to face together.”

Walking amidst the crowd in neon-colored vests, volunteers with the American Civil Liberties Union served as legal observers and keepers of the peace, seeking to ensure that authorities treated protesters legally. Earlier in the evening, there was a brief altercation outside the Capitol when a protester got into a tussle with a man trying to take a “Recall Walker” sign. No arrests were made, the ACLU members said, and the potentially violent episode was dealt with swiftly.

Stacy Harbaugh, communications director for the ACLU of Wisconsin, noted that police weren’t enforcing many of the rules regarding protests. For example, forbidden balloons and musical instruments abounded. Several people sounded off on retractable plastic horns they’d snuck into the building. One man walked right past a police officer shaking cowbells. Another blew loudly into a kazoo.

Harbaugh pointed to the stadium-sized banners hanging over the second-floor railings. “According to the rules, signs are supposed to be held by people’s hands,” she said, “but those are being held by strings attached to weights.”

As Walker’s speech began, the clamor from the crowd was deafening. It was as if the governor was seeking to impose his own view of Wisconsin’s recent history, and the people in the Rotunda would not bear to hear it.


Filed under Climate Change, Indigenous Peoples, New Voices in the News, Videos, Water

“This is not the democracy that we fought for:” An Interview with Ricado Jacobs, South African member of La Via Campesina

This is the second of three interviews I conducted with members of the Via Campesina delegation during United Nations COP17 in Durban, South Africa recently. The first interview, with Alberto Gomez of UNORCA, Mexico, is here.

– Jeff Conant, for GJEP

Ricado Jacobs is with the Food Sovereignty Campaign of La Via Campesina in South Africa. Ricado was in Durban for the UN Conference of Parties, and for the activities that La Via Campesina organized in and around the COP. I had the chance to speak with him about La Via Campesina and its views on the UN Climate Summit, and the issues of food sovereignty and climate justice more broadly.

Jeff Conant: What is the significance of La Via Campesina as a global movement?

Ricado Jacobs: If you look at the impact of the transnational corporations, they are on a global scale, they cross borders. So, we need to respond on a global scale. La Via Campesina is an important vehicle for organizing on a world scale.

But it’s not just that the impacts we’re facing happen at a world scale, it’s that they transcend the power of the nation state to control. For example: Water-Efficient Maize for Africa is an effort by Monsanto, together with the Gates Foundation and others, that uses state research councils. Monsanto provides the resources and produces the outputs, but uses state research councils, in South Africa and Mozambique, to implement the program. Farmers didn’t know what this was all about, but through support organizations and La Via, we engaged in a process of learning, and the farmers raised an objection to the project. This was the first time that farmers, themselves – not NGOs – had raised an objection to a program like this.

Well, after our objection, we got a response directly from Monsanto; not from the state, but from the corporation. So you can see who has the power. This is why we cannot restrict our struggle to the state.

We see food sovereignty as a means through which to unite diverse issues and to define a field of struggle. In this sense, La Via Campesina is one of the few movements in the world that can unite on a common platform, that resonates in a very similar way across national borders.

JC: What is the importance of La Via specifically here in Africa?

RJ: Historically in Africa, the NGOs have taken a lot of political space. Where you have these big NGOs taking space, this actually inhibits movements from organizing in their own way. So, this is one thing: La Via Campesina, as a movement, is showing how social movements can take back this space, and is showing farmers how to organize, without the intermediaries of NGOs.

Also, now the question of food sovereignty is becoming more important – it’s not just about agrarian reform, or about taking land, but about transforming the whole food system. So, it’s an exciting period of growth for us.

In Zimbabwe, we analyze the situation in two ways. When the so-called land reform happened in Zimbabwe, the poor and landless saw Mugabe as a hero, while the middle class saw him as a villain. We have to ask why that is. We don’t want to make the same mistakes here that have been made in Zimbabwe. There’s no way we can condone the eviction of people from their land in urban areas, for example. But as far as rural land takeovers go, we support it – so our support is limited to that element. The land occupations are a spontaneous movement, but in Zimbabwe, the state used the movement for its own ends. In a sense, this was good, because it prevented bloodshed. By the same token, Mugabe was one of the few national leaders who rejected GMOs. That’s good, and we need to support that. Recent research is emerging about the benefits of land occupations, particularly related to food sovereignty. But it shows, again, that the contradictions are huge.

Peasant movements have taken up the torch of land sovereignty. You cannot talk about climate justice without addressing this kind of redistributive justice. Where are we going to practice agro-ecology if we don’t take land? But we have to do this without making a hero out of the state. Participatory democracy and self-management should be central in our struggle.

Now, the nature of imperialism and land grabbing has taken a different form – it’s no longer one colonial power coming over on ships. Now it’s China, it’s the Arab states, it’s Goldman Sachs. So we need to take a different approach, and a more nuanced approach, to how we address the challenge. So, again, this is the importance of La Via Campesina in Africa – it gives us a basis to struggle against the state, but not only against the state. The struggle is against many things, and we need to articulate these things.

What makes La Via Campesina unique in Africa is that it is completely horizontal in its politics and in its structure – there’s no messiah, no one doing the thinking for you. It’s important for us to learn from this, to break from the past where we always have some big leader. Always, in South Africa, in all of Africa, historically, you have one figure; when the Leader speaks, everyone goes crazy, and when the Leader sells out or is killed, the movement is over. You look at someone like Gaddafi, who wanted to be King of Africa, and you say, this is crazy. But this is not an anomaly – this is how Africa works. This is what happened with Mandela – he orchestrated the neoliberal entry into South Africa, and this has left South Africa crippled.

With la Via, even the Secretariat rotates – every few years, it moves to a new place, with a new team, new leadership. Obviously, we have historic leaders, like Rafael Alegria – but that doesn’t mean that he always has to lead. In this sense the movement growing in Africa has been greatly influenced by other movements, like the Zapatistas.

This doesn’t mean we repeat what’s been done elsewhere – La Via Campesina in Africa has to confront African realities. I think, if there is any key difference between the African movements and the Latin Americans, it is that they are very rooted in their history. So we have to ground our movements in our history of resistance and lessons of other struggles.

JC: How does the United Nations COP process relate, or not, to the process of social movement organizing for climate justice?

RJ: If you look at this Conference of Polluters, none of them have a mandate. It’s a few hundred or a few thousand people who decide on the fate of humanity. Where does this power emanate from? Do we live under democracies, or is this democracy? Or is this something else? As the Egyptians said when their uprising was taken over by the military, no this is not the democracy that we fought for. So they went back to the streets to fight more and complete the task of the revolution.

I call it the North African Spring, not the Arab Spring, to not cut it off from the rest of the African continent. And even the Occupy Movement in the U.S., there’s hope there. We need to build strong movements, to convince large sectors of the population that we need to bring change – but not merely in democratic terms. It’s almost like you can use the language of climate change to talk about movement building – we need resilient movements in order to mitigate and adapt to the evils we are facing.

By resilient I mean, we have to have a clear vision about the different solutions that will respond to the crisis in different places. In Europe they have seventeen percent unemployment, and that’s a crisis. In South Africa, we have forty percent unemployment, but it’s completely normalized here – we don’t even have a discourse about it. Imagine, forty percent of your population is food insecure. You go to Cape Town, and you see this stark inequality – the super-rich and the super poor. How is this reflected in our discourse about food, about agriculture?

On a global scale, we’re talking about a crisis of civilization. Not in the apocalyptic sense, but that we need a new humanity. For this, we can turn to the Cochabamba Peoples Accord as a sound basis for what people, en masse, have decided.

JC: How does La Via Campesina propose to move beyond the confining logic of the COP?

RJ: On December 5, Food Sovereignty Day, we held a march and an Assembly of the Oppressed. It was a space where peasants and movements could organize their own program – no big names, just ordinary people, ordinary men and women. We had about three hundred people gathered under a big tent at the gate of the University [of Kazulu-Natal], and people came to the assembly with the energy of the march. It was a space for farmers and the landless, for people from the Rural Women’s Assembly.

One of the key messages that came from the Assembly was that the movements need to organize on an autonomous level, like this. There is a lot of exhibitionism in the COP, not just by state parties, but by the NGOs. La Via’s efforts to hold a march and an assembly, these are important because it was our own space. In these spaces there was a clear articulation that food sovereignty and agro-ecology is the solution we propose. This is powerful in part because no one could come with their big flag and appear to take over.

In the COP, even the civil society space was organized by NGOs, not movements. We could have had something more militant – we could have highlighted the US Embassy in relation to the COP, for example. If we pose the question in dramatic terms – the crisis of civilization, not in an apocalyptic sense, again, but in the sense that the crisis we are confronting runs through every aspect of our societies – than this compels us to move beyond ordinary tactics.

Another key message that came out is that we need to look at women’s oppression, and patriarchy. Women’s issues are central, because women, particularly African women, bear the brunt of the impacts from the food system. So, the Assembly of the Oppressed is against all forms of oppression. This is why, our most recent formulation of how we define food sovereignty, we say that food sovereignty is an end to violence against women. This is rarely brought out in its full dimension.

The other dimensions that came out in the themes of the Assembly were seed sovereignty and the crisis of capitalism. We begin from the standpoint of seed sovereignty, because, once they take away seed sovereignty, we’re all, I don’t know how else to say it, fucked. So far, they haven’t been able to successfully replace our seeds with some other technology, like they’ve done in other areas – you get super-weeds, you have no scientific evidence showing that their GMO seeds produce higher yields, you have nothing showing that corporate control of seeds has any advantages whatsoever, to anyone. So, peasant movements continue to hold this vital resource.

And then you have the crisis of capitalism. In Africa, this is expressing itself as a new wave of colonization and land grabbing. This isn’t the old “primitive accumulation” of Marx – this is what the geographer David Harvey calls “accumulation by dispossession.” The question is, how do we respond. We’re dealing with a different enemy now: not with an enemy that emerges from the center to the periphery, as they used to say, but with an enemy that comes at us from all sides.

One of capitalism’s key crises is the provision of food. Now you have commodity food prices skyrocketing, you have the finance industry central to the food system, you have landgrabs taking different forms, you have all of these threats. How do you respond to them?

The uprisings in Egypt and everywhere remind us that direct action is an important pillar for the poor and the oppressed all over the world. Direct action needs to be combined with a radical emancipatory politics to free humanity and mother earth. Otherwise, this whole thing becomes an exercise in impacting the media, and then we go away and the corporations and the state continue to run the show.



Filed under Climate Justice, Cochabamba, Durban/COP-17, Food Sovereignty, Green Economy, Land Grabs, New Voices in the News, Posts from Jeff Conant, UNFCCC

“Our Struggle is for the Permanence of Agriculture”: Interview with Alberto Gomez of La Via Campesina, Durban South Africa

At COP17 in Durban, as at COP16 in Cancún previously, Global Justice Ecology Project worked closely with La Via Campesina, the world’s largest movement of peasant farmers. As part of our collaboration, I was asked to help document the movement, by conducting interviews with coordinators and members of La Via Campesina. Over the next several weeks and months, I hope to publish this series of interviews, as well as a series of articles examining the relationship of this movement to the ongoing struggles for food sovereignty and against the corporate domination of agriculture, which is one of the leading causes of the climate crisis.  – Jeff Conant

 “Our Struggle is for the Permanence of Agriculture”: Interview with Alberto Gomez of La Via Campesina, Durban South Africa, December 2011

Made up of 150 organizations in seventy countries, and with more than 200 million members, La Via Campesina holds the claim to being the largest movement of peasant farmers and artisanal food producers in the world. La Via Campesina was born in 1993, but traces its roots much further back – indeed, as Alberto Gomez hints in this interview, the movement’s roots are entwined with the history of agriculture, land reform, and social movements throughout the ages.

Alberto Gomez is the national director of UNORCA (Unión Nacional de Organizaciones Regionales Campesinas Autónomas) in Mexico. UNORCA is one of thirteen organizations – twelve of family farmers in Canada, five in the U.S., including three migrant farmworkers’ organizations, and five campesino (peasant farmer) groups in Mexico – that make up the North American coordination of La Via Campesina.

La Via Campesina brought an international delegation to United Nations COP17 in Durban, South Africa, that included a caravan of some 200 African farmers, and regional representation from Mexico, Haiti, and elsewhere. As a grassroots movement, La Via does not participate directly in the United Nations climate summits. But, like a peasant army stationed outside the gates of a walled city, La Via tends to establish a presence nearby, to monitor the negotiations, to build alliances, and to make its presence known.

Jeff Conant: We last talked a year ago, in your own country, at COP16 in Cancún, Mexico. What was the experience of La Via Campesina at COP16, and what has come of that experience?

Alberto Gomez: In the COP in Mexico, the first question was, how to build power, given the extreme security and control there. This question led us to build alliances that weren’t, let’s say, the typical ones – principally with the Asemblea de Afectados Ambientales, which brings together a variety of struggles of people affected by mines, dams, toxic contamination, in rural areas, but also in the cities. We also built together with another network, made up largely of Indigenous Peoples’ groups, called la Rede en Defensa del Maiz, (The Network in Defense of Corn), and also with urban sectors through coordinating with the struggle of the electricity workers who had lost their jobs, and who due to the liquidation of their union earlier in 2010, were in a moment of open struggle.

We decided to arrive in Cancún in a way that would make visible the realities of Mexico. So we organized international caravans to raise awareness of the local struggles…to raise their visibility. This allowed us to come to Cancún with power and visibility. In Cancún the question was how to project these struggles – these kinds of struggles exist on all regions of La Via Campesina – and to draw clear lines between these local struggles.

In Cancún, we were faced with excessive vigilance, including Federal Security agents, who were told that La Via Campesina was a violent organization, an armed and dangerous organization. Due to this, we were provoked, and we were immediately displaced from our camp, by the army. But we didn’t want confrontation – that wasn’t our intention.

What helped was presswork, working the media, as well as two big marches and several actions. This allowed us to project our intentions, to project the understandings of La Via in the face of the government’s decisions, and the exclusion we were faced with.

All our work in the popular neighborhoods of Cancun also brought a lot of support; and it built toward an event that was important and extremely successful, which was the visit of President Evo Morales to our encampment. This also helped to give us visibility, and certainly that was a moment that remains strong in our memory.

I think that the work of getting daily information about the progress of the negotiations, the work of building alliances, the work of seeking out and finding other people and other organizations that share our positions, and the work of maintaining strong positions, all of these are important aspects of what La Via Campesina does at the COPs that makes these moments useful to us as expressions of our strength.

JC: La Via Campesina had a strong presence in Cochabamba in April, 2010, at the People’s Summit on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, and has continued to carry the banner of Cochabamba. What is the significance of that?

AG: We were in Cochabamba with the intention of building a common base, which was the Cochabamba People’s Accord. A good part of the Cochabamba Agreement are in our own demands – in this century, the temperature must not rise more than 1.5 degrees; the industrialized countries have to reduce emissions by fifty percent without conditions; the rich countries need to accept their historic debt, and also bring an end to the impunity of transnational corporations that has caused the global economic crisis and the climate crisis.

We continue demanding, in concordance with the Cochabamba Agreements, that there is an urgent need for a climate justice tribunal to try the polluters, and a declaration, an official United Nations Declaration, for the Rights of Mother Earth. All of this is to say that, if the Cochabamba Agreements appeared at one time, before COP16, in the UN negotiating text, and were then conveniently forgotten by the United Nations, these demands continue being valid today.

JC: What is La Via Campesina’s perspective on the UN COP process? What does the UN process have to do with the lives of peasant farmers?

AG: Our perspective on the negotiations is that it is better to have no agreement than a bad agreement. Agriculture shouldn’t be in the negotiations in any form. We see that, in the diplomatic language of the UN, there is a series of interests that signify the possibility that there won’t be any global agreement – that’s good. But the danger is that a series of small agreements will be made here that are fatal for humanity. This is why it’s more important than ever that we have popular consultas, consultations about what the world’s people actually think about the climate crisis.

Now it’s become so dramatic, each year more disasters… For example, right now we are experiencing terrible drought in Mexico – this year there won’t be enough corn, there won’t be enough wheat. We’re already importing fifty percent of our food, and with the climate crisis we can expect to become increasingly dependent on imports. Hurricanes, floods, all of this, is increasing the number of climate-related deaths, poverty, hunger.

This is a historic moment of profound gravity that demands that we let our governments know that they aren’t elected to ignore us – they are not elected to be administrators for the rich countries, or for the multinationals. They are supposed to serve the people, with dignity, because this is about the future of humanity. So we have to have great imagination to bring a halt to this process, to build popular consciousness toward becoming a force strong enough to put the brakes on the way these negotiations are turned into a business for the wealthiest part of humanity.

JC: From the standpoint of being here in Africa, how do you see the differences, or similarities, between La Via Campesina in Africa and in the Americas?

AG: Our African comrades have a great way of expressing their struggle. If they had had the economic capacity, the African delegation that has come to Durban, which is already quite large, would be twenty, thirty times bigger… Without claiming that I know much about the history of Africa, I believe that African movements are in a process of emerging from the control of the big NGOs that have historically managed their struggle. La Via Campesina in Africa shows that this process will be as powerful as it has been in Latin America, or even more powerful, because this is an awakening that allows them to say, maybe for the first time, ‘we can speak for ourselves, nobody can speak for us’. This is well-timed for la Via, because in 2013, we will hold our Sixth International Conference, and the Secretariat will move to Africa. This signals a moment when we can expect rapid growth and strengthening of the movement in Africa. We’re convinced of this.

JC: La Via Campesina will be twenty-years old in 2013. What are the movement’s most significant gains its almost twenty years of existence?

AG: One important victory is in simply being La Via Campesina, and existing for twenty years. To exist and to keep growing is itself a victory. Second, La Via Campesina has become a reference point – now our positions are taken up by other organizations. This is another important gain. The contribution of La Via Campesina to have frozen the World Trade Organization (WTO) is a gain, and this comes from La Via being organized in each of its regions, not only to oppose the WTO, but to propose alternatives.

In the rural areas, there has been a great learning process, that men and women are equal, that men’s participation and women’s go together. Thinking of the future, us old guys don’t see much possibility of big changes in our countries – but the decision to bring in the youth, to engage them in capacity building. The youth are now our hope for building food sovereignty, and for creating a permanent agriculture.

Another important victory is in recognizing who our enemies are – that is, that our enemies are the multinational corporations – and that they are not just the enemies of us, the peasant farmers, but of all of humanity. We have identified ourselves as anti-capitalist, and this has helped us to bring in some of the Northern organizations.

Not to be presumptuous, but La Via Campesina is the strongest international movement, and is expanding very quickly. For this reason, we understand well that we need many more movements with the same strength. We are a big movement, but we are humble, and we know that we can’t do it alone.

JC: Here in Durban they are talking about “Climate Smart Agriculture,” – a new way of putting soil and agriculture into the carbon market. It seems there are always new technologies, new threats. How is La Via Campesina confronting these threats?

AG: Geoengineering, nanotechnology, Synthetic biology – this all comes together in one package. We are in a moment of great threat toward peasant agriculture, as against nature itself. In this moment of multiple crises, economic, climatic, we realize that when we say there is a crisis of capitalism, this doesn’t mean capitalism is going to collapse. What it means is that capitalism is looking for new ways to sustain itself, to create new forms of accumulation. With all these forms of new technology, agriculture, nature, everything goes into this package. This is the threat facing us in the next global summit, at Rio+ 20. This is what they call the Green Economy.

The Green Economy signifies a global set of policies, a scheme that can adapt itself to any country, any region; in essence it implies a new form of governance. This is an aggression, on one hand, to the very existence of campesinos, peasant farmers, and on the other hand, to nature itself.

The biggest business in the world is the food business. Peasant farmers make up a little less than half the world’s population, and we produce more than seventy percent of the world’s food. Urban farmers, fisher people, they contribute another significant amount. This shows, on the one hand, that we have continued to exist, and on the other, that we continue to pose a threat.

All of nature has to be merchandized, given value, given a price, and it has to have an owner in order to be sold on the market – this is the Green Economy, green capitalism – that is the shell they’ve developed to get through their crisis. But it comes at the cost of the future, not just of peasant farmers, but of all of humanity.

JC: You used the phrase ‘permanent agriculture,’ as if it were possible that agriculture could come to an end. What does this mean?

AG: Our peasant agriculture is the accumulated knowledge of centuries. We are the accumulation of centuries of knowledge. This is the agriculture that exists and has always existed and continues to exist, and they want to wipe it off the map. Ours is a struggle for the permanence of our agriculture, versus the industrial, agrotoxic agriculture that turns the entire world into a supermarket. This supermarket itself is causing the greatest part of the emissions that have brought on the climate crisis – in this sense, industrial agriculture is a threat to the entire world. Our agriculture, on the other hand, is permanent. As long as humanity exists, peasant agriculture must exist. This is why we call it ‘permanent agriculture.’


Filed under Cancun/ COP-16, Climate Change, Climate Justice, Cochabamba, Durban/COP-17, Food Sovereignty, Green Economy, Latin America-Caribbean, New Voices in the News, Posts from Jeff Conant, Rio+20, UNFCCC

Communitive Organizing: Local is Global

Joaquin Quetzal Sanchez is an organizer based in the San Francisco Bay Area, and a friend, comrade and office-mate in GJEP’s Oakland office. On returning from Durban, South Africa just now, I discovered Joaquin’s note in my in-box. Among other powerful statements here, Joaquin mentions a moment in Durban when Tere Almaguer, of PODER! in San Francisco, had the chance to directly challenge Mary Nichols, Chair of the California Air Resources Board,  “by reminding Chairwoman Nichols that Nichols did not speak for the 1,000′s of low-income people of color in California who are opposed to California’s cap and trade program.”
Still exhausted after the long trip home from yet another Conference of Polluters, Joaquin’s article reminds me why we go to the trouble of attending these global power summits — because those in Power need to be kept on constant alert that they do not represent the 99% — and sooner or later they are going to have to get out of the way. – Jeff Conant, for GJEP

Communitive Organizing: Local is Global

By Joaquin Quetzal Sanchez, Cross-posted from Queer Resilience in the Climate CrisisDecember 9, 2011


The United Nations Climate Change Conference, dubbed the Conference of Pollutors by many in the global movement arena, or COP17, is concluding in Durban, South Africa. Last year, I made the journey to the 10-day conference, COP16, in Cancún, México, where I was ejected from the conference after participating in an act of civil disobedience in protest of the closed-door and high-stakes negotiations that excluded the participation of 1,000′s of campesinos y campesinas in Cancún, and the 99% of people who will be most devastated by climate change. The action I participated in caught the attention of media outlets around the world and most notable in the US was the coverage of the action by Democracy NOW!

Yes, of course it felt cool to see my face and the beautiful brown faces of my peers televised to millions across the world. Yes it was neat to hear my name come out of Amy Goodman’s mouth in the affirmative, and not as a racialized, criminally profiled Latino we’re used to hearing about on the 10 o’clock news. Cooler than the 15 seconds of “fame”, though, is what was achieved during this encuentro of progressive media, grassroots organizing and global solidarity. Before we get to what was and continues to be achieved, I want to provide some more context about where we are.

Industrialization, in the United States especially, has done quite a job of instilling in our consciousness social order and consumer options, even in the minds of those of us who consider ourselves progressive or change-makers. Industrialization has positioned us as consumers with options. While my parents’ generation was a generation that was primarily positioned to consume actual products (i.e. sub-prime mortgages, credit, citizenship), the mutations of the global capitalist economy, from the US (land-based) to the speculative pockets of the “1%”, has left my generation with fewer material options and instead has presented us and subsequent generations with a full menu of identity politics to consume.

The backdrop to this menu of identity politics is a social order, or the way power is organized, also known as hierarchy, which in essence forms power-containers– the ranks or levels of an hierarchy that is navigated through the identities we embody and use to access a power-container, like “white, heterosexual, male”, or the identities we embody and use to critique a power-container, like “queer, woman of color”. As individuals from both sides of the spectrum, we’ve learned to use our identities to access and critique power. As individuals through our experiences navigating and negotiating power, we’ve gained a taste of a major transformation of power. As community, it is our opportunity to bring forth the transformation never before seen, the transformation to restore social and ecological harmony. Are we all on board?

I can only speak from my experience as an environmental justice rights activist and organizer, and as a joto xicano. Having worked within community-based organizations, I have observed some organizational practices that force a separation between “local, community work” and “movement work”. Understandably, many community-based organizations are funded to conduct “community-level” work, but we, as queer and trans folks, people of color, indigenous people, immigrants, women, young people, or any combination of these identities, must be brave and define community for ourselves. From this place, “community” can come to mean the housing complex and neighborhood we live in and our homelands and the homelands of our parents and the spiritual spaces we share with those closest to us who might live hundreds or thousands of miles away. We must not limit the terms of community, instead continue to figure out the conscious means to transform community and make community stronger. It is from this communitive consciousness that we can build the relationships with peoples’ struggles against capitalism around the world.

Over the years I have heard much criticism, from executive directors of non-profit organizations especially, about the choices made by community organizers to participate in “movement” work: national or international conferences, alliance-building gatherings, or convenings that require organizers and leaders to travel to another city.

From what I observe, the biggest reason for censoring organizers’ participation in movement-work is the perception that movement work compromises local work. Often, this patriarchal critique (the “either/or”, “all or nothing” kind of thinking) ventriloquizes itself through heterosexual males or females of color, or white lesbian women or white gay men at these “community-based” organizations. Fast-forward to the present and the most recent round of internal-negotiations at community-based organizations took place as it pertains to the UN Climate Negotiations taking place in Durban.

Acknowledging the real, material, financial, and resource needs of community-based organizations, I write this as an invitation to strengthen and example of how we might redefine “community” in powerful ways. Tere Almaguer is a veteran organizer working with PODER in San Francisco for over 10 years. Tere, along with other PODER staff, and the hundreds of PODER members, have successfully campaigned to convert public lands in San Francisco’s Mission District into public benefits for immigrant families, creating public spaces to for members to share costumbres and recreate the tradiciones that have sustained PODER families for hundreds of years in their homelands, traditions of caring for one another, trusting one another and relying on one another.

In California during 2011, PODER began organizing around climate justice issues affecting PODER members, particularly around cap-and-trade, a false solution to climate change and greenhouse gas emission reductions being put forward at the state-level by private research, private interest groups and a California government agency, the California Air Resources Board, that has ignored the thousands of calls made by low-income people of color in California. Cap-and-trade grants pollution permits to pollutors in exchange for finance ($) or carbon-offests (planting trees on the other side of the world). Thus, cap-and-trade does nothing to ensure the low-income communities of color, the communities MOST affected by pollution and carbon emissions, are alleviated of the environmental and climate burdens that already exist in their local communities.

After organizing political education trainings, preparing and taking direct action throughout the state, Tere and the youth at PODER, along with allied organizations throughout the state such as Communities for a Better Environment and Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, have not been able to bring down cap-and-trade, in spite of the cries from communities throughout the state.

Tere had the opportunity to travel to Durban, South Africa for COP17 with a delegation of grassroots leaders, indigenous climate activists and allies from the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, the Indigenous Environmental Network and the Global Justice and Ecology Project. While Tere was in Durban, PODER members were back home making the connections between their land reclamation work in the Mission District in San Francisco and the debate about REDD’s and carbon market schemes that forcefully displace indigenous peoples and allows polluting sources to continue polluting in low-income communities, indigenous communities, and communities of color in the US.

After more than a week of protesting and meeting people representing struggles for climate justice throughout the world, Tere found herself attending a session at COP17 where Mary Nichols, the chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, was delivering a new way of talking about the cap-and-trade scheme in California that promises GHG reductions for all Californians. Tere intervened in Mary Nichols’ otherwise seamless presentation by reminding Chairwoman Nichols that Nichols did not speak for the 1,000′s of low-income people of color in California who are opposed to the program.

The 1% and private interests groups operate at all levels of the social order we have inherited. Mary Nichols works for a California state agency, is paid with taxpaying dollars, has ignored the widely supported demands of state residents, yet had the resources and time to attend an international conference in Durban, South Africa to advertise a carbon market she is championing. As communitive, conscious organizers and community-based organizations, the hard work at home is compromised if we don’t meet our opponents in the key, strategic places where they arise. It is my hope that as COP17 concludes in Durban and as the countries most responsible for climate change withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol, that we begin to look to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, taking place June 2012, and other international and national convergences in the future; that as we engage in these transnational/translocal politics, we keep in mind- our opponents have become and maintain the “1%” through their exploitation of land, time and people. As the “99%”, our call is to reclaim land, time and the rights of people from the 1%, and, like the desert maguey following the water, that sometimes requires travel.

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Filed under Climate Justice, Durban/COP-17, False Solutions to Climate Change, New Voices in the News, Occupy Wall Street, Rio+20, UNFCCC