Grassroots International’s global partners like the Via Campesina have frequently told us: “You have to work hard to change things in the U.S. for our hard work to bear real fruit.” In other words, for another world to be possible, another U.S. is necessary.
Heeding their advice, since 2007 we’ve been working at the nexus of U.S. food, agriculture, trade, energy, and climate policies – using “food sovereignty” as our entry point. Leading up to the first US Social Forum (USSF) in Atlanta in 2007, we worked with an initially small group of advocacy allies – a dozen or so organizations like the National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC), Food First, WHY Hunger, Agricultural Missions and others – to design a whole track on food sovereignty with four workshops on various related issues, such as the 2008 U.S. Farm Bill. That success and the obvious hunger to learn and do more attracted more groups to the effort. The 2008 U.S. Farm Bill was certainly on all our minds and took up a lot of our energy. The incremental gains – crumbs really – made in that fight and the looming global food crisis led us to focus our energies on the dire threat faced by huge numbers of rural and urban poor in places as far flung as Haiti, Niger, Bangladesh, and Michigan; and to address the systemic roots of the crises and work towards real solutions. To do this we’ve been working to grow our coalition through sustained outreach to food justice organizations and labor groups working through the length and breadth of the food chain system. Our efforts included advocacy and grantmaking focused on changing U.S. policies and building a movement for food sovereignty in the U.S. within the global context of our work. And those efforts paid off, with our work taking a huge leap forward in Detroit at the second USSF in June 2010. The progress has been steady, building from the main groups working on food/agriculture policy through the food sovereignty track at the Atlanta USSF in 2007, leading to the formation of the U.S. Working Group on the Global Food Crisis (USWGGFC), and now the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance. Grassroots International participated actively to ensure that the USWGGFC’s outreach included grassroots and people of color-led groups within the U.S. food justice movement. Along the way, we worked with allies to publish a food sovereignty curriculum, a revamped food sovereignty booklet and funded a number of related reports and books. We also participated in and led the process of designing the food sovereignty/justice track at the USSF in Detroit, including helping shape the people’s movement assembly (PMA) on food sovereignty. At the same time we worked closely with allies in related sectors such as climate and environmental justice to ensure that we were addressing issues cross-sectorally. After all, agriculture and the food system has one of the biggest impacts on climate through contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and conversely, climate change has enormous impacts and implications for agriculture and the food system – and the very ability to grow food and feed ourselves. This collaboration has now led to the forming of a broad-based cross-sectoral U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance, officially launched at the Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC) conference in October 2010 in New Orleans – Food, Culture and Justice: The Gumbo that Unites Us All. At that conference CFSC awarded its second Food Sovereignty Prize this year, to our ally and grantee Family Farm Defenders (a member of the NFFC and the Via Campesina). The launch of the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance and the work leadig up to and coming out of Detroit is huge! The cross-sectoral efforts stretch beyond the food/agriculture arena and bring together policy, grassroots, national and regional and local, faith-based, labor, student, and trade-justice groups, as well as highlighting the intersection of food/agriculture and environmental/climate justice organizations. This collaborative work is pressing forward towards strategizing for a climate change meeting occurring in Cancún, Mexico, where the world’s governments are meeting in November at the COP-16 Conference. Grassroots International has been one of the few funders of global efforts such as the Alternative Global Forum for Life and Environmental and Social Justice, a people’s forum parallel to the UN climate discussions. In coordination with our partners, grantees and allies, we support local initiatives to create “thousands of Cancuns” that will include the voices of rural and urban communities in North America and around the world.