January 24, 2007

Report from the World Social Forum-Nairobi [23 January, 2007]

[This is the second in what Fire on the Mountain hopes will be several reports from two folks from the agricultural US Midwest who are delegates at the 2007 World Social Forum in Nairobi, Kenya. The first report is here. The reports are done quickly and show it, but that gives a real flavor of things, so I am not editing or rewriting them even though the folks there requested it. Online communication with Nairobi is shaky, but we can try to get them questions if readers submit them in the comments section.]


Today was a good day, this morning we went to the La Via Compasina conference and heard farmers from all over the Global South speaking about the oppression that is happening to farmers everywhere. Person after person stood and spoke about the struggles that was happening in their communities, it sounded like the same struggles happening everywhere for women, small farmers and landless people. The agenda of the capitalist, coperations, some governmental agencies, the world bank, international monetary funds and the wto agenda is to smother the small farmers and instill the food system of the capitalist agenda, they will not leave any food security for any people the world except for the rich.

GGJ had a workshop where several speakers lifted up 5 types of work that is going on in the US, Project South, Southwest Workers Union, USAS, Malcom X, Southwest Organizing Project, I am sure their mission statements can be found on the web for details of their work. Then we broke up into small groups, I choose racism and S. went to Labor, I think. I immediately raised white skin privilege, even though the question was framed: Can we get rid of racism in a capitalism world system (or close to that)


We understand that maybe 46,000 people initially registered for the WSF in Nairobi, but not all paid, so there may be closer to 40,000 in attendance? Some Kenyans have been protesting the cost that keeps out some of the poor the WSF is supposed to be all about. On the second day, one group of them got hooked up with some South Africans, who huddled with them, and then came out as a group, singing liberation songs, and walked right on through the gates, catching the police by surprise.

The Kenyan police presence throughout the WSF has been very weird. There have also been people inside the WSF protesting the cost of the food from the vendors inside. Reports, not confirmed in the local press, are that some people even got arrested for crashing the gates, or disrupting the food courts. The organizers of the WSF say they have to charge something to pay all the expenses because they had no government support and little private support, compared with previous WSFs.

There is definitely a "market" atmosphere here, with many of the NGOs selling items, as well as providing information, at their booths. Makes good fundraising sense, but the whole structure is just not as conducive to political learning and conversation as I had hoped.

There are LOTS of Africans here, at least a majority, maybe 2/3 or 3/4 of those present. And there are LOTS of workshops and booths where most of the Africans present are participating in programs organized by relatively prosperous NGOs. The ones I have seen tend to feature various African communities making cultural and informational presentations demonstrating their plight due to the rulers, the climatic conditions, the poverty, etc, etc, etc. Combined with general appeals for support, and in some cases promotion of campaigns against this or that intrusion of capital or for this or that reform.

My hope is that the Africans are developing some horizontal relationships, and that there are more revolutionaries here than just the handful of South Africans (and some other La Via Campesina-affiliated peasants from Mozambique) that I have met so far. But that's not clear.

La Via Campesina (LVC) launched an African front here yesterday in its global campaign for agrarian reform. It had already been launched Latin America, and will be launched in Asia later this year. Over 100 African peasants participated in this launch, maybe 12 of them spoke from the platform throughout the day, regarding the struggles for land reform on this continent.

There is a MAJOR women's rights component to the struggle for land reform and the agrarian struggle in Africa. For the most part, despite constitutions that may declare otherwise, under customary laws and actual practices, the men own the land and control the product, while the women do most of the work. So many of the African farmer activists are women, organizing and demanding women's rights as well as land rights.

I was able to make a small contribution when the facilitator of one session posed the question: How do we tie together all this issues and struggles? Imperialism and corporate control of agriculture? Dumping? Land reform? Credit? Women's rights? I weighed in more or less as follows:

They do call it MOTHER Earth, after all. There is a big connection in human history between the rise of patriarchy, private property (many peasants believe the land should be a common good), and the whole concept of man's domination over nature - that's mother nature, women. If we are to build a movement that successfully challenges imperialism, authoritarianism, and efforts to dominate nature in a way that is going to end the planet if we don't change it, then feminism must be one of the hearts of that movement. I truly believe there is a feminist cultural component that is essential to our movement.

And most of La Via Campesina's practices really have that, especially the Misticas, which come from the women and the peasant movements of Latin America. Every meeting is opened and closed with some sort of Mistica, this time with indigenous maize seeds from Chiapas. With a lighted candle standing in the seeds, representing the first light of humanity emanating from the continent Africa, the motherland of humanity. An Asian woman was handed a candle, it was lit from the mother candle, and she walked to the east. A European woman lit her candle from the mother candle and walked to the north. A Latina woman lit her candle and walked to the west. And they came back together in solidarity.

On the other hand, too many of the men with La Via Campesina, and myself as well until I realized what was happening, left the session for too much of the time that some of the women were presenting. Don't get me wrong. There were women in leadership roles the whole session, but a portion of the session focused solely on women's rights issues, and that's when too many of the men did leave.

We have been able to hook up several more Kenyan farmers, both women just getting into farming at the basic community level, as well as Kenyan coffee growers, who are meeting with LVC this morning as I write. LVC, hopefully including the Kenyan farmers and some of our delegation, are joining with Kenyans organized by Oxfam in a protest march to the European Commission headquarters here in Nairobi. We will be protesting the EPAs, Economic Partnership Agreements, which are European free trade deals with African countries. We'll join them and send more later.

The Grassroots Global Justice workshop "Yes, There Is a Movement in the Belly of the Beast" was good. Only a handful of non-US folks participated, but they included a revolutionary from South Africa that I had a short conversation with. He had been part of the ANC more many years, in exile, in the underground, etc., and was very disillusioned with the government's direction. He is now part of "the social movements" that are challenging the government. He himself is clearly a revolutionary socialist. I had hoped to have a more in-depth conversation after the workshop but that did not happen. They are challenging the SACP to break more with ANC but are not yet successful in that regard.

Grassroots Global Justice presentations were made by Jobs with Justice on labor, LIFF (Miami Workers Center) and Tenants & Workers United on economic justice, Asians for Environmental Justice out of Oakland on environmental justice, Project South and a young woman from Malcolm X Grassroots on racial justice, and youth from Southwest Organizing Project and from USAS. There were small group discussions and report backs on what the WSF means to our struggles. During those discussions, there were some challenges raised around the need for more direct revolutionary involvement in the process to counter the domination of the NGOs.

It's not enough to talk about another world being possible unless we also talk about what the world must be like in order to be sure it is a better world. And also, strategies to get there. Hopefully, the US Social Forum in Atlanta this June can have a little more of that. Grassroots Global Justice is inviting organizations and grassroots movements to join in the planning of the USSF by constituency/theme and by region. Hopefully, we can help strengthen the presence of the movements against patriarchy, including LGBTQ, and the rural/farm and food movements, as well as labor and oppressed nationalities.


For more insight on the upcoming US Social Forum (Atlanta, June) check out Badili Jones article here.

No comments: