Rio+20: Impressions from the Peoples’ Summit: forging a global social movement

By Avery Pittman, for Climate Connections

Henry Saragih, General Coordinator for La Via Campesina, and Alberto Gomez, from La Via Campesina Mexico listen as former Bolivian Ambassador to the United Nations and director of Focus on the Global South talks about the need for a unified social movement strategy to challenge the green economy. Photo: Will Bennington for GJEP

June 21, 2012 – Rio de Janeiro – On the second day of UN Rio+20 “Earth Summit” negotiations, an hour away at the People’s Summit in downtown Rio, a crowd gathered to discuss moving forward as a global movement against the forces of the green economy. A mic was passed around the listening crowd, sitting in a ring of chairs three rows deep. There were bleachers and a stage at the venue, but the organizers of the event insisted that everyone be able to see each other and sit as equals. To the audience, Pablo Solon of Focus on the Global South posed the question “what can we do together, as social movements, after the Peoples Summit?”

Leaders and members from various social movements sat among the inner ring of chairs. The gathering was intimate and diverse, but the message was clear: together, social movements must deepen an analysis of the interconnections of oppression and create a road map to effectively and intentionally counter the logic of capitalism that commercializes nature.

Cindy Weisner, from Grassroots Global Justice, addresses social movement leaders and People’s Summit participants. Photo: Will Bennington for GJEP

According to Cindy Weisner, the national coordinator with Grassroots Global Justice, “The anti-capitalist perspective has to be integrated. We have to push ourselves as a movement to have a much more comprehensive analysis.”

From this gathering, and from the Peoples’ Summit as a whole, it is clear that the real solution is not another document. Rather, the gathered speakers and audience discussed social movements as the real solution to the various ecological and social crises. At the conclusion of the discussion, Solón noted, “We have to build a different kind of campaign. Not the traditional campaign that lobbies the UN – we have to create a grassroots campaign…”

Thousands listen while speakers read declarations on from the five plenaries of the People’s Summit. Photo: Will Bennington for GJEP

Later, an Assembly gathered to discuss the various solutions that emerged from the five plenaries converged at the Peoples’ Summit. Each list of recommendations was delivered to the assembly by a male-female pairing. Interspersed between plenaries were celebratory cultural performances and videos of the mobilizations throughout the past week.

The plenaries focused on different issues being addressed by social movements, but each presented a unified voice against the forces of capitalism and the mercantilization of nature. “It’s not possible to have food sovereignty and capitalism,” said one of the presenters for the Plenary on Food Sovereignty.

An indigenous group from Manaus, in the state of Amazonas, Brazil, playing for the crowd at the People’s Summit. Members of the group are involved in the struggle to stop the Belo Monte dam project. Photo: Will Bennington for GJEP

Additionally, the plenaries advocated democratic participation in decision-making; land reform; the protection of traditional knowledge, and the creation of a feminist economy focused on reproducing life instead of producing commodities. “We want solutions managed by people – we cannot confuse people with states, because states can be predators too,” noted the speaker for the Plenary on Energy and Extractive Industries.

The presentations ended with the chant “the people, united, will never be divided,” and members from the audience were invited to the stage to offer their impressions of the Peoples’ Summit. Alongside the explicitly anti-capitalist analysis, the emphasis on participation has been one of the most impressive and divergent aspects of the Peoples’ Summit. Whereas Rio+20 negotiations continued in contempt of workers, peasants, indigenous communities and future generations, the People’s Summit strove to include each perspective actively in each event – unscripted and messy as this process can be.

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