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Days 5: REDD– NO! Cochabamba– SI!

December 14, 2010

Sorry this post is delayed. We didn’t have access to internet during the last couple days of our trip! But we’d love to fill you in on the excitement of Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia, coming to speaking and packing up from the camp.

Thursday afternoon the camp was a-buzz with excitement and anticipation as everyone got ready for Evo Morales to come speak. President Morales is viewed by many people as a bit of a super-hero around here as he is one of the only heads of state that is challenging the power and influence of the United States in climate negotiations and pursuing alternatives that recognize the rights of indigenous people and the problems of capitalism and climate markets. There has been a continuous air of celebration for Bolivia and their president among the camp here, especially since there are many Bolivians here, whose travel to Cancun, from my understanding, was paid for by their government.

The auditorium set up for Evo Morales, president of Bolivia, to come speak

One of the bands from Bolivia playing up in the stands amidst waving Bolivian flags

The Via Campesina organizers closed off the camping area so everyone was in the auditorium finding their seats well before Evo Morales arrived. The Bolivian bands practiced their music in preparation and we joined hundreds of people filing into their seats. Evo Morales arrived around 3:30 and walked on stage as Bolivian music blared, crowds, cheered and delegates from countries all around the world waved flags from the front rows.

Everyone standing in anticipation of President Morales' arrival

The evening of speaking began with presentations from the delegates from each country introducing themselves and saying what they believe are real climate solutions: food sovereignty, campesino agriculture, climate justice, the People’s Climate Agreement, and more. Following, a companera of the La Via Campesina movement presented the declaration written during the week here at the Alternative Forum and drew mostly from the People’s Climate Agreement.

Delegates from all different countries waving their flags in the front row as a Bolivian band plays onstage

The declarations read:

  • The current modes of consumption and production have caused enormous environmental degredation
  • We must transcend anthropocentric thinking; we need holistic thinking and relation to the cosmos
  • Humans do not own nature but are part of everything alive
  • We denounce governments that, instead of debating ways to cool the planet, are debating financing mechanisms to capitalize natural resources
  • We denounce the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and World Trade Organization which are facilitating intervention of big transnationals in our  countries
  • We denounce the exclusion and expulsion of indigenous people and peasants from climate negotiations and international decision-making
  • We need social, economic, and climate justice
  • We demand:
  1. To reach the principles of Cochabamba and the People’s Agreement on Climate Change
  2. Food sovereignty and sustainable peasant agriculture
  3. Assumption of collective responsibility for Mother Earth (recognizing Bolivia’s courage to oppose governments of the north)
  4. Obligatory accords: all who are responsible must take responsibility and reduce greenhouse gases where they are
  5. Full participation of people in making decisions on resource/water management, agriculture, energy, etc etc

We heard from a couple different speakers from Nigeria, Cuba, and Mexico, and then Evo Morales spoke. He spoke in bold words about how what we are experiencing right now is a crisis caused by capitalism, and climate change is only part of the crisis. We are also experiencing a financial crisis, a food crisis, a war crisis, etc. I felt a weight in my stomach as he talked (and reminded me again) about how the “North American Empire” (the US) has not respected democracy in Latin America and has been behind many of the attempted and successful coups in Latin America through the past few decades. President Morales called for the countries of the global South to unite together to create a new doctrine for life that moves away from capitalism and towards a new socialism based on complementarity, living with equality, and saving the planet. He called for this new milenium to be defined by moving away from oligarchy and hierarchy towards equality. He also called for the creation of a Solidarity Bank of the South so that countries of the global south can help and support each other through crises and sever ties with the World Bank.

Evo Morales on stage with other speakers from Nigeria, Cuba, and Mexico

His speech was powerful, but I think what felt more powerful to me was the number of the people in the room that were ready to pursue a new avenue forward into a new world that can adequately address climate change and recognize capitalism as a root cause of the climate crisis. After the speech was over the bands roared, people danced, and everyone seemed to move in a flurry of excitement. I personally felt excited by the words President Morales shared and the hope and possibility of creating a new world and pursuing cooperation, equality, justice, indigenous rights, and democracy that I could sense in the room. But simultaneously I felt a weight and a sense of sadness knowing that I come from a country that will never (or at least not in the forseeable future) be able to create this sort of world and that I have a lot of work ahead of me as far as ending US imperialism of the global south and creating alternatives to capitalism that do not steal people’s land, deny people of water and healthy food, and endanger future generations’ survival.

After the night’s events, I went up to the front of the auditorium to the table that was set up with a sacred offering. There were seeds scattered all over the table: corn, red beans, black beans, white beans, rice. They made an announcement that everyone was welcome to take the seeds. Amidst the hustle and bustle, I made my way to the table and held a few seeds in my hands, mostly because it felt satisfying and comforting  to have something tangible to put in my pockets to carry home from all of this, as a symbolic representation of all the intangible ideas, thoughts, and feelings I will be bringing back with me. They are the seeds of a new way that I can cultivate back in the United States. (Just don’t tell customs).



Day 4: Klimaforum and COP16 disappointments

December 9, 2010

Yesterday (Wed) they started the day here at the Alternative Global Forum for Life and Environmental and Social Justice with updates from the COP16 negotiations at Moon Palace. As we received the news I felt a wave of disappointment and even shame with the United States as they told us that the Cancun negotiations are turning out just as Copenhagen did. The richer countries of the world are getting together around the Copenhagen Accord, which is an agreement proposed by the US and co-written with only a small group of the richest countries around the world which propose  voluntary GHG/carbon reductions instead of legally binding reductions. This is a horrible idea that creates no accountability for the countries most responsible for climate change. The US and other industrialized nations are pushing developing countries (particularly in Africa) to agree to voluntary reductions by way of promising aid. Also, industrialized nations are working hard to make sure Cochabamba is left out of discussion and seen as outside of the parameters of discussion. The process here is now being called “Cancun-hagen” in frustrated surrender of hope that anything effective in addressing climate change will happen here.


Yesterday we headed over to Klimaforum, another alternative climate forum here in Cancun. On the way, we ran into another young US climate activist, Brady, who was with the Greenpeace group from the US.  He and his group are “accredited” to be inside the Moon Palace where the official COP 16 negotiations are taking place.  It sounds like the accredation system is a way for the organizers of the COP 16 to keep track of/control over who and how many activists are actually inside the Moon Palace, and effectively ensure those activists are rendered more or less ineffective because of their low numbers.  Individuals are accredited for one or two weeks, and after a certain date, their accredation expires and they are no longer allowed inside.  It seems like activists are allowed to do actions inside the Moon Palace, but only within a specific physical space (think “Free Speech Zone”) and nothing too “radical”/confrontational or they will lose their accredation.  This allows the activists one shot at a more confrontational action inside the Moon Palace before they are kicked out.  It sounds like the Greenpeace actions have been creative and aimed at satire – Brady described a marketplace they had set up, with balloons of “clean air” and plots of ocean for sale, as well as “Tree-bay” where the world´s forests (as carbon sinks) are auctioned off – but the protest just seemed way too close to reality to retain any humor.

We also observed more evidence of an increased police presence in the area during the bus ride to Klimaforum.  We passed through several checkpoints, which may function more as intimidation tactics than functional checkpoints, since we didn´t see any cars being pulled over (although it seems likely that vehicles such as the Soul Fire bus, which is decked out in murals and banners and is home to a bevy of dreadlocked riders who are staying at la Via Campesina camp with us, would be pulled over at such a checkpoint.)  We also passed several points along the route where police were stationed and seemed prepared for some sort of offense of protestors – at the point closest to the Via Campesina camp, the police were stationed with rows of riot shields and equipment lined up and seeming ready to go; the same was true at the point closest to Klimaforum.  However, talking with a man from England this morning over breakfast, the police behavior here seems relaxed in comparison with his experiences of police behavior in the UK, especially surrounding the COP 15 in Copenhagen.  Although there is definitely an increased presence of police people in the area, we are speculating that they may have orders not to repress protestors up to a point, since even during the march on Tuesday, although we were clearly being watched and followed by police vehicles, the number was relatively small.  Police set up barricades preventing our march from passing and progressing on towards the Moon Palace (which was the goal of the march), but during the course of our march, we did not really encounter many police.

Klimaforum itself felt like a very different kind of alternative forum than the one we are staying at with la Via Campesina.  It is far away from everything going on for the COP 16, and is located at an eco-tourist style polo club.  (We actually witnessed a genuine polo-playing person actually playing polo while we were there.)  There was a pool, a tiki-hut style lobby, and scented oils and such things for sale.  Unlike at la Via Campesina’s camp, the food was all for sale (instead of provided free of charge), was all vegetarian and organic (we bought some soy-“meat” tacos), and it seemed like most people spoke English (or, at least, it seemed like there was not an overarching assumption that everyone spoke Spanish.)  There seemed to be many fewer people staying there than at la Via Campesina camp; the place was pretty deserted the entire time we were there, and several workshops that we wanted to go to were canceled because of nonexistent attendence.  It seemed like Klimaforum was a space for youth delagates from Europe and the US who were accredited to go and hang out; most of the people we spoke to were just there for the day and were actually staying elsewhere.  Klimaforum was located in a very beautiful space – lots of forest and gorgeous vegetation and beautiful blue butterflies flying around – but it seemed very inaccessible to a lot of people because of its isolated location and expensive hippie vibe.  It was difficult to imagine campesinos y campesinas (peasant farmers) from la Via Campesina camp coming to Klimaforum and spending time there or feeling welcome there.  During our time there, the man who lead the workshop we ended up going to gave us the impression that Klimaforum had not always been like this.  It sounded like he had been a part of organizing Klimaforum for years, and that recently the original Klimaforum organizers had joined forces with some other hippie-type people (he referred to them as Rainbow) who were, as he put it, uninterested in having discussions or doing actions and only wanted to dance, and that Klimaforum was taking a different direction as a result of this merger with the “Rainbow” people.  It sounded like there was some interesting history there, but we did not get a chance to talk about it more.   Overall, our trip to Klimaforum made us feel proud and privileged to be staying with la Via Campensina at their camp, where so much is going on and where the campesinos y campesinas who are on the front lines of the struggle for climate justice are staying.

The one workshop we attended at Klimaforum was called “Decolonization of the Imaginary” and was facilitated by an antropologist and activist, Miguel Valencia, from Mexico. It was a small, intimate workshop of only 4 or 5 people so we got to hear a lot. He and his co-facilitator basically talked about the idea that our minds are “colonized” and we have been programmed by our culture to think in certain pragmatic ways based on our economy. So through schooling, media, and social interactions we have been conditioned to think in numbers, quantities, capitalism, consumerism, and to hold certain values for what is seen as legitimate, useful, or viable. And this affects our ability to think about new worlds, new solutions, and new ways of being. It was a very thought-provoking workshop that got us thinking about how to decolonize our minds and find our creative imagination inside that has the ability to envision new worlds and new ways of being. This seems especially relevant here among all this talk of climate solutions. It seems that the hegemonic force of US “mind-colonization” has set the parameters for what is possible, viable, and effective for addressing climate change. The agreements and ideas that have come out of the Cochabamba process are outside of those parameters and so have been deemed as impossible or outside of our ability to imagine that it is possible. This all seems very philosophical, but it is interesting to think about for sure.

Well, we must be heading off because today Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia, leader in the Cochabamba process, and really the only head of state really holding strong for climate justice and the rights of indigenous people, is coming to speak here today at La Via Campesina camp! It´s going to be incredibly exciting and a HUGE deal for everyone here!

PS– If you haven´t yet, be sure to check out Democracy Now´s coverage of the march on Tuesday:

Day 3: Marching in the streets of Cancun

December 8, 2010
Day 3 (if you only count full days) here with la Via Campesina is complete!  After a long march in the sun all day, we are all feeling pretty tired.  More on the march later.
In the camp, every day that we´ve been here (with the exception of today, since pretty much the entire camp went on the march), there have been panels of speakers throughout the day on topics such as false solutions, the People´s Agreement on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, and more.  Yesterday we attended a panel called “Weaving the struggle for environmental and social justice on an international scale,” which was especially interesting.  The speakers talked about the effects of climate change and corporate land grabs on peasants, indigenous people, and fisher folk and the shared experiences that are common to these groups of people throughout the world: essentially, these groups of people are forced to leave their land and go to urban areas, creating an army of cheap labor that is easy to exploit.  The stories of struggle shared by the panelists were extremely saddening, but the ideas  they expressed were radical, inspiring and exciting.  One spoke about the need to analyze and break down the man/woman, human/nature, individual/nation paradigms, that any solutions we come to have to include this kind of analysis.  They talked about the global challenge of combining the social and environmental struggle; many of the speakers talked about labor, agricultural, immigrant and other struggles in the context of and in connection with climate change – not as separate struggles, but as the same struggle.  The environmental crisis is a reflection of the social crisis created by capitalist policies (and visa versa), as well as the separation of women and men in production, and the separation of the countryside from the city. (This made me, Callista, wish that there was more of this kind of conciousness in the States where we are organizing.)  One especially powerful idea that the speakers talked about was the idea that the governments that are not committed to actually addressing climate change (such as ours) are terrorist governments since they are threatening life itself; the speakers talked about the need to overturn the verticality of power (right now, power looks like a pyramid) by reconstructing our environmental/social struggle in a horizontal power structure.  Right now, they said, new paradigms of economy and life are needed; the crisis we are experiencing is a systemic one of/by the system, but is also a crisis of the Left – we are entering a new kind of struggle where new alliances and new ways of doing things are needed.  These kinds of ideas were really exciting to hear about, and made me feel like the Via Campesina space is a feminist and very radical space in which people are thinking creatively about new ways to transform the world we live in and build new ways to live.  (Specifically, one of the speakers said “We of la Via Campesina are so happy that the majority of the people here are women.”) (!!!!)
One challenge that we have been thinking and talking about lately is how we can bring these ideas and this experience home with us when we leave here.  How can we organize in solidarity with la Via Campesina and other grassroots climate justice activists and farmers around the world from within the borders of the United States (los otros Estados Unidos), inside the belly of the beast?  One of the speakers from the “Weaving the struggle” panel is an organizer in LA and spoke about how we in the US have a greater responsibility as organizers because of the US´s destructive behavior in the climate negotiations and elsewhere that threatens the lives of people and societies all over the world.  She spoke about how activists in the US need to work on building a strong base (through connections with other organizations, both from the US and internationally) as popular movements on the Right such as the Tea party are gaining momentum.

Last night there was also a really interesting panel about Migration in which panelists talked about how migration is affecting their countries today and how it could be affected by policies and climate change in the near future. A speaker for the US talked about how the US has been tightening its laws on immigration recently and how its policy is shaped by three main components: neo-liberal economics (which are impoverishing people in other countries and often forcing migration to the US), labor exploitation/”managed migration” (allowing immigration as it is useful to US economic interests, and deporting people when it is not), and repression of immigrants (criminalizing immigrants and violence at the border). This is really interesting to think about as climate change is changing living conditions and forcing many to have to migrate, and this is a major issue in Mexico. So, is it really a coincidence that the US is tightening the border? One of the proposals on the table for the alternative People´s Climate Agreement (Cochabamba) is for countries that are largely responsible for climate change (ahem…US) to play a role in providing asylum/land/space for climate refugees that are forced from their homes due to climate change. This is clearly not on the minds of US delegates who are still dragging their feet through the climate negotiations and like nearly all of the delegates are ignoring voices from indigenous people, the global south, and international social movements.

Today we woke up early to join hundreds from the camp in a march for climate justice. We all gathered in the main forum of our camp, everyone wearing green Via Campesina shirts and green bandanas. When the critical mass had been reached at about 8:30, we all headed out to the streets in an organized, unified march. It was exciting to be surrounded by ‘people from so many different countries, all walking together with the same message: food soverignty, campesina agriculture, and climate justice. During the march we got to meet and talk to many interesting people all around the world from Austria, Japan, Haiti, India, Spain, Bolivia, and the US! Throughout the march everyone was sharing their stories, ideas, what kind of work they´re doing and just all moving together with an air of celebration. We were lucky to be right near the Haitian and Bolivian groups who kept the energy high all day with their music, instruments, and singing!

The march consisted of a wide variety of people all united as part of La Via Campesina or in support of LVC, including UNORC (a network of campesinos in Mexico), an international coalition of indigenous people, the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, Movimiento de Liberacion Nacional, a large delegation from Bolivia, Anti-Cap/Anti-COP, Friends of the Earth, and more! It was a great showing of about 2,000 (rough estimate) people who took over a section of one of the highways in Cancun to march towards the Moon Palace where the COP16 negotiations are taking place.


Grassroots Global Justice Alliance

Movimiento de Liberacion Nacional

Graffiti that protesters in the march from the Anti-Cap Anti-COP group (a young radical/anarchist bloc in Mexico) spray painted outside of a HUGE power station along the march route.

The march ended with a People´s Assembly with speakers from all of the groups present and a good amount of press present. It was incredible to hear people speaking with such passion and fury about the COP16 negotiations and the attempt of world leaders to commodify nature and turn the lands and livelihoods of indigenous people around the world into capitalist markets and profit. There were bold calls to an end to pollution of people´s lands, colonialism imposed by rich countries onto poorer countries, and capitalism. It was truly incredible, and I only wish all of the negotiators over at the Moon Palace could hear and feel the words of the people in the Assembly.

Today at the march, we met a lot of other young activists from the US, including youth farmers who are part of the Via Campesina in the United States (which prompted Dianne to talk about how awesome it would be if Youth Grow could become a part of la Via Campesina!).  We are hoping to organize a discussion later in the week with other young US climate activists to talk about how we can bring what we are learning and the connections we are making here back with us to the States…

(PS– We tried to get some photos into this post but can´t seem to figure out how to download them in the internet cafe. Hopefully we can share them soon!)

At Foro Global para la Vida y la Justicia Ambiental y Social

December 6, 2010

Hello everyone!  We are writing from a little internet cafe around the corner from where we are staying, with la Via Campesina at one of the alternative forums that have been organized as a response to the international climate negotiations  in Cancun, Mexico at the COP (Conference of the Parties) 16 .  La Via Campesina is an international organization of peasant farmers (campesinos y campesinas) organized around food sovereignty and the campesino way of agriculture (organic, sustainable, small-scale peasant agriculture). 

The camp that we are staying at is a large, urban tent city (similar to the tent cities organized at the United States Social Forum in Detroit this past summer, but bigger and better!) set up within a sports complex here in Cancun.  We guesstimate that there are about 1,000-2,000 people staying here right now, with possibly more on the way since it is still early in the week.  Spanish is the “lingua franca” here, and for speeches that are presented, there are translators available for English and French speakers to understand what is being said.  Delicious food is provided for everyone, and there is a feeling of community in the camp.  Not everyone has tents, and those who don´t are sleeping on mats provided for them under a big top style tent.  Most of the people here are from Mexico and other countries in Latin America; we have encountered few other United States people outside of the group we came with.  We have met interesting people from different states in Mexico who are campesinos, activists, organizers, leaders, and youth. 

The sentiment here is largely anti-COP 16, anti-capitalist, and anti-carbon markets, specifically REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation), a program that is being pushed for strongly by the US and other developed countries in the negotiations at COP 16.  We´ve had personal conversations with people who have experienced the consequences of the REDD program already, and the stories they´ve shared with us demonstrate how destructive and harmful the program is to their cultures and farming practices, as well as to their local ecologies and biodiversity.  Through our conversations it has become clear that the REDD scheme is a very underhanded practice to protect the interests of developed countries who want to make a profit off of “protecting” forests in other countries with little regard for the lives and livelihoods of people who are living in harmony with the forests.  From what we´ve heard from everyone here, its apparent that the COP 16 official negotiations is not a space that will produce any real solutions to climate change.  It is obvious that the true motivations of the governments of the world who are present there is not to solve climate change but to figure out ways to extract greater profits from developing countries, and ways to continue to profit off of climate change even as people in developing countries are suffering the costs.  People here at the Via Campesina camp have rejected any hopè that something good will come from COP 16 and instead are working to build alternatives to whatever comes out of the COP 16 negotiations, as well as a global movement to support and develop those alternatives.

One of the strongest unifying forces here is support for the People´s Agreement of Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth which came out of the People´s Climate Conference held in Cochabamba, Bolivia in the spring.  It encompasses the values of the organizations and individuals that are present here including an acknowledgement of the rights of Mother Earth, creating the idea of “climate debt” (a debt owed by industrialized countries to non-industrialized countries), the creation of an international climate justice tribunal, respect for the voices of  indigenous peoples in the decision making process around climate change,  and a shift of the production model away from capitalism.  There was a huge sense of excitement, pride,  and celebration when a lare group of Bolivians arrived today.  One thing that we thought about was how amazing it must feel to be here today from Bolivia and to know that your country is standing behind you in these efforts, to feel proud of your homeland, and to know that so many people at this conference and around the world are looking to your country as a source of hope and leadership.  We feel a bit ashamed to say that we are from the United States when we are here, but we know that people are glad that we are here to listen and learn from them.

Since being here we have observed that there is an enormous and intimidating police presence on the ground and in this entire area.  People have told us that Cancun is essentially a police state right now.   This is especially concerning because there is a HUGE march planned for la Via Campesina and other alternative forum groups for tomorrow, in protest of the COP 16.  It´s unclear what will happen at the march tomorrow, and how the police will respond to the demonstration.  We have also heard that the government is spreading rumors that the march has been canceled in an effort to quell the tides of supporters who are planning to turn out for the day.  We strongly encourage everyone from the US to turn out for the “1000 Cancuns” solidarity events happening around the world tomorrow, since it means a lot to everyone here.

We are here! Really.

December 5, 2010

Ash and Callista have created this blog to report about our experiences and observations during our time in Cancun.  We are currently camping out with La Via Campesina at the Alternative Global Forum for Life and Environmental and Social Justice.  We will post here more in the future.  Stay tuned!