A major focus of 2020 — for all of us, worldwide — has been the COVID-19 pandemic that has shaken life as we knew it to its very core. This has been particularly true for Grassroots International’s social movement partners, who live and work on the frontlines of climate chaos, land grabbing and other assaults on human rights by authoritarian and corporate power. Our partners have served their communities as first responders, rapidly mobilizing to provide life-sustaining support to populations largely overlooked by governments, including peasants, Black and Indigenous peoples, and women.
Through these immeasurable challenges, our partners persisted. Not only did they persist, but they continued to advance long-term transformative solutions while meeting the immediate needs of the present. With your help, Grassroots International increased our support to unprecedented levels required to meet the challenges of these extraordinary times.
As we look ahead to the coming year with a renewed sense of possibility, we take stock of all that was accomplished in the face of the unforeseen obstacles that have come to define 2020. The following are some highlights of this year’s work.
Responding to Pandemic
In many countries, government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic have advanced militarism, repression and land grabs, while social movements have provided essential emergency response. Through our Solidarity Amid Pandemic campaign, Grassroots International raised and distributed $615,000 in emergency funding to 63 partners worldwide for activities including:
- Conducting virus prevention education via community radio and mobile sound systems and disseminating essential supplies in Haiti;
- Purchasing medication, masks and other products for Afro-Brazilian Quilombola communities;
- Supporting quarantine efforts in Indigenous autonomous communities in Mexico;
- Providing preventative health education materials and outreach to Garífuna communities in Honduras;
- Funding COVID-19 mobile emergency clinics for Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank; and
- Launching a global campaign to “Stay Home but Not Silent” to counter human rights violations amidst lockdowns.
Additionally, already ongoing support from Grassroots International enabled many of our partners to rapidly reorient their regular activities toward pandemic relief, such as the Landless Workers Movement (MST) converting its training center into a field hospital for COVID patients in Pernambuco, Brazil.
Advancing Transformative Feminist Solutions
As the pandemic shed light on the essential yet largely invisible role of women in care work and other life-sustaining activities, Grassroots International supported education and action around transformative feminist solutions.
Through the Radical Hope collaborative, together with Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, Indigenous Environmental Network and the World March of Women, we provided vital support to feminist movements in countries experiencing right-wing backlashes against women, gender-oppressed peoples and communities of color.
An outgrowth of these efforts is the Berta Cáceres International Feminist Organizing School developed to strengthen collective knowledge, share experiences and expand grassroots feminist movements worldwide. Following a successful online pilot attended by 75 leaders from 25 countries and 45 organizations, the School is set to launch more formally in March 2021.
Grassroots International has also been active in educating the broader philanthropic community on the importance of supporting grassroots feminist organizing in the face of the pandemic.
Standing Up for Black Lives across the Globe
As mobilizations in defense of Black lives spread across the US this year, Grassroots International supported those actions while calling attention to the global nature of Black struggles. Indeed, the same white supremacy manifested in police brutality against Black communities in the US is seen in US military, economic and political interventions in the Global South. This includes the targeting of Afro-descendent peoples and communities to expand the extractive economy, as well as other forms of corporate and authoritarian power.
We matched our words with action, bringing our support for Black and Afro-descendent movements around the world to the next level with a major increase in grants, for a total of $1,049,350.
Countering Destructive Hydropower in Honduras
Thanks to the tireless mobilization of our Honduran partner COPINH (Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras), together with other movements, the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI) formally withdrew from the notorious Agua Zarca Hydroelectric Project this year. This project has been vigorously fought by Indigenous Lenca communities because of the dam’s threat to their lands, lives and livelihoods.
COPINH links the activities of the project’s owners, the Atala Zablah family, to the murder of beloved Indigenous activist Berta Caceres four years ago, as well as those of other local activists in the area. By following the money to pinpoint a number of investors along a complex chain, COPINH and its allies have successfully called for the withdrawal of powerful funders of extractive dam projects in Honduras. These are David vs. Goliath struggles, and COPINH is remaining vigilant as it continues to oppose the construction of what it views as “projects for death.”
Supporting community self-determination in Puerto Rico
Two projects supported by Grassroots International through our new Puerto Rico program received special recognition this year. One is Casa Pueblo’s Community Solar Energy Association of Adjuntas (ACESA), which is supplying the town of Adjuntas with community-controlled energy. This project was chosen as a model community solar energy project by the US Department of Energy for its role in increasing local energy self-sufficiency.
The other is Comedores Sociales, a movement of Puerto Rican community kitchens that is boldly augmenting its current self-managed food distribution program by planning a flagship Solidarity Warehouse, to be constructed in Caguas, Puerto Rico. Incorporating political education, organizing and training, the project encourages community participation through donations and work opportunities. Comedores Sociales’ Caravan for Life protest action in San Juan was featured in the May 1, 2020 edition of Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman, broadcast worldwide.
Bringing Crimes against Palestine to the International Criminal Court
Human rights groups welcomed a landmark statement by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to probe possible “war crimes” across occupied Palestinian territory. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Maliki said in a press statement that this position means the court has territorial jurisdiction in Palestine. Palestine joined the ICC in January 2015, and under the Rome Statute, it should enjoy sovereignty over its territories, including East Jerusalem along the 1967 borders.
This major legal success is owed to efforts led by our partner, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR). PCHR stresses, however, that the struggle is far from over. It is calling for international solidarity to pressure the ICC to move forward in its Palestine investigation, which has been stalled by interference from the US and Israeli governments, including an executive order against the ICC issued by Trump.
Scaling Women-Led Agroecology in West Africa
Grassroots International supports the We Are the Solution campaign, a women-led effort to scale agroecological farming upward and outward among poor rural communities in West Africa, and to stop the imposition of harmful industrial agriculture practices. The campaign has now expanded to a total of seven countries – Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Senegal, The Gambia and Guinea Bissau – as they have intensified their efforts on deepening the capacity of the growing movement. A key means of doing so is through community media targeting young people, especially girls.
Pushing Back against Land Grabs in Brazil
Following persistent advocacy by Grassroots International’s Brazilian human rights partner Rede Social, together with others, two important rulings by Brazil’s top public authorities on land in the ecologically delicate Cerrado region represent important momentum in the fight against land grabs. In one of these rulings, INCRA, the Brazilian agency that demarcates farming land, concluded in a preliminary report that the indirect involvement of Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America (TIAA) in property acquisitions represents an infringement of foreign ownership restrictions.
Such rulings against TIAA, a top US retirement fund, and other entities, including Harvard University, have dealt a major blow to the efforts of foreign companies to take over the region’s farmlands, as documented in a recent report by Rede Social, the Association of Lawyers and Rural Workers (AATR) and GRAIN.
Forging New Models of Solidarity Philanthropy
Grassroots International, along with Jewish Voice for Peace and 1for3.org, gathered a cohort of donors and activists to participate in an innovative project in solidarity with Palestinian human rights organizations. The Donor-Activist Engagement Group (DEG) followed our model of donor engagement as an intentionally multi-ethnic, cross-class, multigenerational project aimed at deepening the connection between individuals and social movements around the world through political education and grassroots fundraising. The DEG raised $75,000 for inspiring Palestinian-led organizations both in Palestine and the US.
Bolstering Frontline Struggles for Environmental Justice
In 2020 alone, Grassroots International disbursed $1,960,000 in general grants and $300,000 in COVID-19 response grants through the BEAI Fund to a total of 93 powerful organizations fighting for environmental justice in the US and Puerto Rico. Highlights of accomplishments include:
- Environmental rights grantee Aina Momona in Hawai’i successfully stopped the diversion of waterways for the benefit of a ranch operation, preserving ecological protection of the waters and critical community access to them.
- Alternatives for Community and Environment in Boston, Massachusetts, succeeded in making the Boston Planning & Development Agency put environmental justice regulations and anti-displacement language in the city’s Request for Proposals.
- Community to Community Development in Bellingham, Washington, played a key role in the passage of the “Keep Washington Families Working Act” to protect immigrant families from separation, intimidation and harassment by immigration and border control agencies. The Act also secured 60 acres of farmland for the farmworker-owned farming coop, Tierra y Libertad, in a major advance toward food sovereignty.