People from community organizations, immigrant groups, longtime Grassroots supporters and folks wanting to connect local social justice work with international movements filled the room on Monday night. On the floor at the center of a big circle of filled chairs was an arrangement of candles, flowers, seeds, soil and flags representing the vibrant social movements present in the room, both from the local Boston area and from as far as Mozambique and Nicaragua. We were all together to celebrate the upcoming International Day of Peasants Struggle (April 17), to hear two powerful women speak about international movements for peasants’ and women’s rights, and to make local-global links.
Maria José Urbina (of Nicaragua) is a member of the Association of Rural Workers (ATC), which is a member of La Via Campesina and a Grassroots International partner.
Maria da Graça Samo (of Mozambique) is the international coordinator of the World March of Women, an international grassroots feminist movement that works to address the root causes of poverty and violence against women.
Graça, as she is known, started playing a drum to gather people. When everyone was settled, Maria José led the group in a mistica – a grounding activity to acknowledge our connection and debt to the elements of earth, water, air and fire. During the mistica Maria José spoke about the connection between land and women, that all life originates from the earth and all life originates from women. The struggle for the rights of the earth and the rights of women are one in the same.
After the mistica Graça, Maria José and Olmis Sanchez, from the Boston environmental justice organization Alternatives for Community and Environment (ACE), took seats at the center of the circle. Each shared briefly about her own work, and each got to ask one of the other women sitting with them one question (this activity is called a “fishbowl” discussion).
Maria José asked Olmis what it was like to do organizing work within the political context of the United States. Olmis talked about how ACE youth participated in the 2010 US Social Forum in Detroit and visited community groups that were taking over vacant land to build community gardens and urban farms. During the same trip, an ACE member had a heart attack. This combination of events led ACE youth members to create a project called « Grow or Die, » taking over vacant land to grow healthy food for themselves and their communities.
Graça asked Maria José what she thinks about claiming a feminist identity given that in places all over the world “feminist” is often a label that people shun. Maria José responded saying that a feminist identity can look very different to different women, and that it’s important to recognize this. She said that first and foremost women have to start with healing themselves from the ways they’ve been hurt by oppression and that change starts on the individual level.
Olmis asked Graça how working on US policy intersects with global resilience around the world. In response Graça said that policy justice starts from building resilience locally and recognizing the intersection between issues.
After the fishbowl discussion, people met in smaller break-out groups with the international leaders and community activists to discuss the topics that had been raised. One group focused on the World March of Women and the launching of the US chapter, with Graça and Helena Wong of Grassroots Global Justice Alliance (Grassroots International is a member of Grassroots Global Justice Alliance and is on their World March of Women committee). In that group Graça spoke about how important it is to recognize all different kinds of feminism where ever it might appear, and that a feminist act – the act of a woman standing up for herself – can look different for different women in different circumstances, but it’s significant no matter what. Helena spoke about the need to create a feminist movement here in the US that recognizes different kinds of feminisms, particularly feminisms of women of color and queer and gender non-conforming women, and the importance of having a movement with an internationalist perspective.
Another group focused on peasant rights and food rights, with Maria José and Kohei Ishihara of Movement Ground Farm. Through sharing experiences, it was apparent that there are many similarities between Nicaragua and the US in the struggle for food rights. Having access to good, healthy food and land to grow it on is a privilege that is not available for many communities.
Local community organization City Life/Vida Urbana led a discussion with the Black Economic Justice Institute and the People’s Academy talking about the intersection of #BlackLivesMatter, economic justice, and land rights for communities of color in the greater Boston area.
ACE, Grassroots Global Justice, Movement Ground Farm and City Life/Vida Urbana were among other co-sponsors of this event.
When we came back together in a big group Graça closed the evening by sharing a dance and showing everyone the many uses of a Mozambican cloth called a capulana – how it can be worn as a skirt, a dress, carry children, serve as a backpack or sleeping cloth. She then donated the cloth, inspiring a significant contribution to support Grassroots International’s work. The room was full of feelings of celebration, appreciation and respect.
We at Grassroots were honored to have the chance to create a space where local organizers could connect the work they are doing with international social movements, and where community members, activists and supporters could meet and learn from these inspiring movement leaders.