The Mystique of Las Misticas
Ingredients: 183 member organizations. 88 countries. 5 continents. 500 representatives of 200-plus million women and men. Numerous allies from movements of women, indigenous peoples, fishers, pastoralists, environmental/climate justice activists and more. One global peasant movement. All with fearless commitment to social, economic and gender justice.
Result: A magical expression of creativity. Misticas that were as magnificent as they were moving. As spectacular as they were simple. The Via Campesina and its members from around the world have incorporated the Latin American tradition of the mistica as an integral part of their movement building work. Every Via meeting begins with a mistica that speaks to their struggles as peasants and equally to the hope they harbor for a just and dignified future for themselves and for us all. The sixth International Congress of the Via in Jakarta, Indonesia was replete with misticas – at the beginning, in the middle and at the end. Every day, different regions were responsible for designing the mistica. Some were deeply grounded in a particular experience, like the one performed by the Indonesian Peasants Union (SPI) that showed the monstrous violence against tenant farmers by landlords. Yet, that local manifestation was in many ways translocal – resonating as much for the Landless Workers Movement (MST) members from Brazil as it did for the members of the National Union of Peasants (UNAC) in Mozambique. Other misticas transcended regions in their design, execution, and participation. Each was more beautiful and moving than the other. And perhaps none more so than the one commemorating Maria do Fetal de Almeida. The 4th International Women’s Assembly was named for Maria, like the 6th International Congress was for Egidio Brunetto. This is also a beautiful Via tradition, honoring one of their own lost in the struggle for justice and rights. Both Egidio and Maria were MST activists. Egidio died in a tragic car accident in 2011. Maria, originally from Portugal, had moved to Brazil and was working with the MST when she became a victim of domestic violence in 2013. The mistica honoring Maria and demanding an end to violence against women involved participants from all Via regions. On the plenary stage, Via women leaders silently held up signs with alphabets spelling Maria’s name. In the plenary hall women and men holding signs in Portuguese, Spanish, French, and English that read “Psychological Violence,” “Sexual Violence,” “Physical Violence,” and “Institutional Violence” walked slowly around the room reading their signs out aloud. They then laid all the signs on a long cloth banner, which they lifted and held over their heads and shook until the signs fell to the ground. And then they stomped over them before tearing them to shreds. The mistica ended with calls of “Maria Fetal ¡Presente!” invoking Maria’s presence in the assembly. There was hardly a dry eye in the hall, including my own. The Via’s demand to end violence against women is more than symbolic however. Back in 2008 at the 5th International Congress in Maputo, Mozambique, which I also had the honor of attending – where Maria do Fetal was one of the interpreters – the Via launched its Global Campaign to End Violence against Women, which it had spent considerable time developing in close collaboration with its ally the World March of Women. The campaign and the Via’s position are wide ranging in scope, addressing not only physical and psychological violence against women but institutional violence as well. For example, the violence embedded in practices and policies that deny women full equality including, in the context of peasant agriculture, women’s rights to own land. It was a commitment that the Via reaffirmed in their “Call from Jakarta,” which while rejecting patriarchy, xenophobia, homophobia and racial/ethnic discrimination called for the total equality of women and men.
Photo courtesy of La Via Campesina