One of the best things about working at Grassroots International is the incredible circle of people we are able to connect with. I am constantly reinvigorated with hope from seeing the incredible generosity and commitment of our donors and the inspiring vision and work of our partners. These are people who are not just talking about social justice, but taking concrete steps to improve communities’ access to clean water and arable land, to protect human rights and to carry out key economic development projects.
To bring these amazing people even closer together we recently launched the Global Justice Circle. The Circle gives donors who contribute more than $500 per year a chance to meet with staff and board members over a meal (or to participate in intimate conference calls) for updates and deeper insights into our work. These gatherings also bring together like-minded social change philanthropists and activists who may come from all different backgrounds, but who have all reached the same conclusion: social movements – to improve the world – need their help.
We had our first Global Justice Circle gathering last month to talk about the situation in Palestine and about how a progressive grantmaker like Grassroots can most effectively focus its work. Around the table were long time Jewish activists involved in a Jewish American Medical Project providing medical care in the West Bank, a biochemist turned playwright reflecting on his time spent in the Occupied Territories at the beginning of the first intifada, a woman who founded Folk Art Mavens, a retailer working with Palestinian artisans, and those just wanting to learn more about the grassroots hope that lives in the shadows of the tragedies filling the news.
Given the recent elections, the continuing violence, and economic desolation in Palestine, we sought to overcome the weight of despair. Where does one find hope when aid from Western governments and official agencies and Israeli transfer of customs revenue to the Palestinian Authority has been cut-off, when this denial of a lifeline of aid sends an already devastated economy into deeper depression?
We discussed how the strong showing of Hamas in the recent elections cannot be interpreted as a mandate for Hamas’ policies or vision as much as a protest vote against the corruption, authoritarianism, and inefficiency of the Palestinian National Authority and Fatah, and, equally important, the continuing Israeli occupation and its effects.
We all affirmed that the common struggle of communities around the world is to gain access to basic land and water resources. Nikhil Aziz, Grassroots International’s Executive Director, described our program strategy and talked about how we focus our limited resources on strengthening social movements around the globe for resource rights, including their struggle for “food sovereignty — the right of communities to decide what food to produce and what food to consume.
In Palestine, this focus will allow us to work more in-depth with a targeted sector of Palestinian civil society. For example, our partner, the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committee (PARC), has been helping women in the Gaza Strip utilize small scraps of space to set up rooftop gardens and backyard rabbit cages as a way of increasing the food available to their families. These urban gardens are helping provide a crucial food source as families lose the ability to purchase food — both because of the economic crisis and the inability to get food deliveries through ports controlled by the Israeli Defense Forces.
Grassroots not only supports this vital work, but also works to connect PARC with other sustainable agriculture and human rights groups around the world. In this long-term social change work, the importance of friends and allies can not be under-estimated.
Looking around the table at our donors, it was good to be reminded that we are not alone in this work for a better world.