by Sara Mersha
Caravans of peasant leaders and activists converged in Mexico City yesterday, after separate journeys from different parts of Mexico. The international caravans are organized by the Via Campesina and will end on December 7 at the Alternative Forum taking place in Cancun – with simultaneous demonstrations at “thousands of Cancuns worldwide all calling for “life and environmental and social justice.” These demonstrations propose real solutions to climate change and are in stark contrast the Conference of Parties (COP-16) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
I just arrived in Mexico City last night, and in just a few hours, I’ll be meeting up with the Via Campesina’s caravans, including many members of Grassroots Global Justice Alliance (GGJ) organizations. I am here as a representative of Grassroots International which I just joined as Director of Grantmaking & Advocacy, and a member of the GGJ (an ally of Grassroots International) delegation.
I first met members and leaders of the Via Campesina in Cochabamba, Bolivia, at the People’s World Conference on Climate Change and Mother Earth Rights this past April. Grassroots International has a strong partnership with the Via at local, regional, and international levels. The Via is an organization of over 150 million peasants and small farmers from across the globe that have been fighting for agrarian reform and the rights to land, water, seeds since they first came together in May 1993, in collective resistance to the way that the World Trade Organization and other international financial institutions and trade policies were literally killing their way of life. Now, nearly 20 years later, they are faced with the additional pressures of climate disruption and the extremely damaging false solutions that governments and corporations are pushing in its wake.
One of the things that makes the Via so inspiring is that in addition to their strong resistance against the forces of neoliberal capitalism, they also carry a message of positive alternatives. From their clear articulation of food sovereignty (which includes people’s democratic control of their food systems) to their offering of people’s real solutions to climate disruption (“Small farmers cool the planet!”), they provide real leadership in envisioning and creating the other world that we know is possible and necessary.
Since April, GGJ has had several other opportunities to build our relationship with the Via. At the US Social Forum, several of us had the chance to talk with members from Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Mexico, El Paso, Montana, and Ohio. We learned about their struggles, shared information about struggles that GGJ organizations have been taking up, and talked about ways that we could build in solidarity with each other. In September, the Via Campesina invited GGJ to participate in a meeting with them in El Paso, Texas, in order to develop collective strategy towards Cancun. We had a chance to broaden and deepen our work together during a planning retreat in New York, along with several other national networks working toward ecological justice (including the Indigenous Environmental Network, Movement Generation, Right to the City, EJ Leadership Forum, Youth for Climate Justice, and more). Through these gatherings and beyond, we have been in regular contact with the Via leaders – planning local actions on December 7th in many of our cities as part of the Via Campesina’s call for “1000s of Cancuns,” and now, participating in their caravans, alternative forums, and mobilizations in Mexico.
Today, we’ll be gathering at the World Forum against Environmental Destruction at the Mexican Electrical Workers’ Union, where Tom Goldtooth (IEN Director) will be speaking, along with many other important movement leaders from the Global South. From there, we’ll kick off the first mobilization towards Cancun – an International March “For Life and Social and Environmental Justice,” right here in Mexico City. Tomorrow morning, the caravans will be on the road again, and will arrive in Cancun on December 3.
Through the caravans, we have a chance to see firsthand how different communities across Mexico are affected by ecological injustices, and how they are fighting back. Through our participation in the alternative fora, we have a chance to educate each other about the connections between our struggles. Through joint mobilizations, we have a chance to demonstrate our collective strength. And through all of these collaborations, we are building connections between people’s of the Global North and South, between indigenous and campesino communities, between urban and rural social movements. Cancun may have been the original reason for us to connect, but just imagine the longer-term power these movements could build together.
More to come soon…