2nd Blog Post from US Social Forum

Here are a couple more posts from the US Social Forum – more to come!

Strategies for Building Food Sovereignty
-Notes by Heather Day, CAGJ Director

Ben Burkett – National Family Farm Coalition
Strategies employed by African American farmers.  Farm started as homestead in central 1800’s. Main strategy we use is cooperatives.  Farmers are organized into 75 cooperatives from N Carolina to Texas. Started off as cotton farmer in 1972. As cotton prices became depressed, black farmers got out of cotton. Mississippi has largest number of cotton farmers today. Old growth pine on Ben’s farm, majority of it destroyed by Katrina…in fight with government to plant long-growing pine trees – government wants me him to grow GE quick-growing and quick-harvesting trees.

Fourth generation of family farmers marketing to New Orleans market.  We are trying to change agriculture, but there has to be alot of us in the movement to change things.  Hard to find seeds in varieties we want to grow.  People in the North want seedless watermelon, in South watermelon with seeds is preferred.  Market-place dictated seedless watermelon, which costs $2000 per pound of seeds – too expensive.  Three or four companies control agriculture in the US.  Wall-mart number 1 buyer, Kroger and 3 others – they dictate the market. To change that, we have to challenge corporations. We have to channel our dollars into protest. When Wallmart comes to town, main street dies.  Major supermarkets have signs saying “buy local”. That is good to a certain point, but farmers have many obstacles to selling locally. Small farmers learn to adapt to regulations.  In Mississippi Africa-American farmers have to deal with racism that is still alive and well.

Luca Benitez, Coalition of Imokalee Workers
I am a farmworker.  Ben is right, a few select grocery stories control the market in the US. Years ago there were many thousands of family farmers and many more local markets.  Just learned about a family farm stand that had been selling for 3 generations, but had to close it recently bc Wallmart had opened in their town.  A company like Wallmart does not want 100 farmers to grow in the community, they just want a few that will grow year-round to supply them.  Downward pressure of Wallmart.  In Imokalee Florida, thirty or forty years ago, there were hundreds farmers, but now there are only 50 or 60. But only 8 – 10 control the entire production of tomatoes.  About 90% of tomatoes consumed in US May – October come from that region.  Many small farmers have gone out of business with consolidation.  Wallmart comes and buys from farms with 5000 acres and they have certain demands: they dictate the price and farmers working with agribusinesses don’t have power to negotaite with massive buyers like Wallmart.  On other side, for inputs, tomato companies have to buy inputs from Monsanto, tractor from John Deer. With pressure from above and below, the tomato industry is in the middle of a hamburger. But expensive prices of Monsanto and John Deer, and low prices of buyers, someone has to pay.  The price has been the loss of small farmers and exploitation of farmworkers. That is why we launched our campaign for Fair Food.

We have 3 demands: 1)Buyers pay 1 cent more per pound for tomatoes, and that these funds go directly to farmworkers, 2)Enforceable human rights conduct, zero tolerance of enslavement of workers, no sexual harassment and other matters, 3)There be a voice for farmworkers in developing and enforcing this code .  Today there are 8 major food purchasers that have accepted our demands. But in doing this we have had resistance from tomato agribusinesses. This year was the first time we were able to break the resistance of tomato industry. Two smaller farms agreed to implement code of conduct, so large purchasers are obligated to buy from them, so they are getting more business. Even though it sounds good, it is a process to work it out. One of them is a major organic farmer, he is still very paternalistic, for example he claims that “my farm-workers like to work in the sun – Americans don’t understand it, but my workers like to work in the sun”.  But the new code of conduct has a provision that farmworkers have the right to shade, and a right to a break. So the farmer has had to accept this.  Another larger farm, the largest in Florida, just bought 40 tables with sun umbrellas so the workers have somewhere to take a break, with shade. All of these changes were possible not because of laws, but because of the market demand, so two smaller farmers especially were willing to implement this because they benefit as well.

A lot of consumers feel good about themselves when they go to Whole Foods to buy organic, organic does not mean it is just food, that it is produced by small farmer or that it is fair trade.  As a closing reflection, the connections between food justice and food sovereignty, there is a kind of race track of sustainable food in three areas, but most consumer think of two: 1)good for the environment, organic; 2) animal rights gets a lot of attention especially having to do with meat; 3)where are human rights for small farmers and farmworkers – we are just getting our shoes on to enter the racetrack. We have to get our laces laced up and start running.

Campaign for Fair Food: right now it is focused on ?, one of top 10 grocery chain in Southeast, Apple and Krogers, 2nd largest after Wallmart: all 3 of companies buy from one or both of farms where we won…

Agricultural Missions met with Kroger recently, a PR guy – brought a bag full of tshirts from successful Coalition of Imokalee Worker campaigns, started with Taco Bell: Did show-and-tell of all of our successful campaigns.  By the end the guy was feeling pressure, worried he was in the cross-hairs!

Scarlet from Dominican Repbulic: Federation of rural women in DR.
Formed in 1986, work with women producers in country-side, one of biggest struggles has been land tenancy.  We have won great battles and have gained access for many women farmers.  We have a campaign now in the form of a Bill to stop selling and privatization of land, for integrated agrarian reform. Projects with women producers in South of country, where women producing onions, grains, rice, roots. In East work with cattles and pig farmers. We have barter system with our products, for example people producing meat trade it with a special oregano seasoning. We buy together collectively. We create local markets. We undertake campaigns for human rights for gender equity, against domestic violence and campaign against forced internal and external migration. Also working with youth to get them more engaged in agriculture, including a leadership school for young women.  Involved in Via Campesina.

We believe in food sovereignty as the right of the peoples to cultivate and prepare their native seeds according to how they want to do it. We have rights and cultures that no one can invade. We have to protect our autonomy and our spaces.

Daisy Castillo, a mixed men and women federation – we fight for gender equity within the organization.  Some people talk a good talk [about gender equity] but we have to struggle to make it real. Also part of National Peasant Articulation for Unity, a coalition.  We are a coalition with same vision and same goals. We are like an eco-system with many different groups producing many different products. We are also unified to achieve wider goals. We have similar problems in terms of access to land, water, healthcare. We were once invited by official agrian institue of gvt.  Our participation in the various workshops, we understood that our gvt was willing to take away land to sell to large land-holders, so we decided we had to convene our own Congress to create a bill to create a just and equitable land reform. On April 17, the day of International Peasant Struggle, they took that bill to Congress in mass rally.  They have not responded but they have not been able to put their law into place either.  We also participate in Caribbean Food Sovereignty Via Campesina group.

Doudou Pierre _?__, from Haiti
Organization is 37 years old, organization of struggle that came as result of crisis in Haiti. I am involved in National network working on Food Sovereignty and part of national Papay Congress and Via Campesina Food Sovereignty Commission.  Our struggle requires global solidarity and struggle. We are here in many locations around world, but our struggles are so similar and our adversaries are the same.  Situation now is that we be able to export our food to US – now we are invaded by food produced in US..  In Haiti we have big battle going on, fighting occupation of our country by international forces, and invasion of Monsanto with their seeds trying to do away with small farmers. 95% of our production is organic, does not use chemicals.  Monsanto’s invasion threatens to take away that healthy agriculture.  No one in the world can live without eating, so this battle is against corporations who want to take away our right to healthy food.  Our coalition begin fighting bi-fuel plantation. We had to re-direct our struggle against much bigger threat of Monsanto. On June 4 we had large mobilization to protest seed “donation” of Monsanto, alot of international solidarity at that march. That battles is not finished – Monsanto has a lot of money, and they can do whatever they want with our complacent government. We are asking for international solidarity to support our struggle.  The greatest threat are the multinational companies, so we really need everyone to join this battle. I have seen being here that all Americans don’t fit into sterotype that everyone is US is very happy with the economic system. So we say globalize the struggle and that will help us globalize the hope.

January 12th earthquake caused a state of vulnerability in Haiti, lots of international solidarity, but alot of people have come to exploit situation. We bless all who came in good faith, but we curse those who came to exploit us.  We curse Monsanto for thinking that this earthquake was an opportunity to exploit Haiti, with a poison gift.  The “gift” of hybrid seed is enough to plant the whole country. Even though it is a donation, it creates dependency in future. In 1986 we were invaded by the dumping of rice on Haiti by the US, so people had to abandon their fields, it destroyed production of rice in Haiti. They said ‘down with Monsanto!’

What can we do to  buy fair tomatoes?
-CIW focussed on Whole Foods…
-Whole Foods is only grocery store that has reached agreement with us, but what we always encourage you to do is buy your tomatoes from local stand.
-Pushing for local farmers being able to put their brand on their food.

What are strategies for confronting corporate control?
-Ben: US companies only understand the dollar.  The movement is getting to the point that withholding our dollars could make a difference – boycott.
-Youth organizing – Youth in Today’s Agricutlure – Without Us, Who Eats?
-Worked on last Farm Bill: got 30 sections in Farm Bill to help local agriculture.  A strategy to decide on in Farm Bill is whether we have big campaign to change the whole thing at once – difficult to take on big issues in big long campaign…
-Create network of orgs internationally

How can we strengthen political education?
-Highlander Center of Tennesse was the epicenter to political education during Civil Rights.  We could
-We need political education – Via Campesina has training centers in Latin America, why not in US?
-We should cross-list trainings that already exist

How do we connect local food organizing with global justice organizing?
-Use local food organizing as springboard for education and ultimately action.

6/23/10, by Reid Mukai, CAGJ Co-Chair


Fighting for Fair Food

Organizing on a Shoestring Budget: Getting the Word Out Cheap

Why Get in the Game?: Civic Engagement From a Grassroots Community Perspective

PMA: Food Sovereignty

The first workshop of the day that I dropped in on was Fighting for Fair Food, moderated by Luca Benitez, an organizer for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. He described the origin of his group as they mobilized Latino, Mayan and Haitian immigrant workers starting from the town of Immokalee, Florida’s largest farmworker community in 1993. He outlined their intense struggles through the 90s, organizing work stoppages, hunger strikes and marches, leading up to the group’s Anti-Slavery and Fair Food campaigns. Through 2007 and 2008, CIW made headlines by winning struggles against McDonalds and Burger King, pressuring them to commit to better oversight on workplace safety and abuse cases and fairer wages. I knew Benitez would also be in a workshop I was planning on attending later in the week so I left halfway through to catch a workshop located nearby called Organizing on a Shoestring Budget: Getting the Word Out Cheap, moderated by Progressive Omaha. I joined the group while they were discussing a recent flashmob action against British Petroleum on BP Bridge in Chicago using black umbrellas and Twitter. This led to the topic of culture jamming and pranks, with examples ranging from Abbie Hoffman’s dumping dollar bills onto the floor of the New York stock exchange to more recent actions by the Yes Men and Billionaires for Bush. Since that workshop ended a bit early I dropped in on a workshop in progress across the hall called Why Get in the Game?: Civic Engagement From a Grassroots Community Perspective. In their workshop they were also discussing the usage of the full spectrum of technology as potential organizing tools. An example was a protest in response to a BART police officer who shot an unarmed man that was organized largely by text messaging. In the closing remarks, they emphasized the fundamental importance of relationships and that social media should be treated as an extension of real relationships.

After the workshop, I met with Shankara (a friend from the Solidarity house/office and anti-Monsanto activist from New Delhi) for lunch at a nearby restaurant, then we walked over to the tent village area of the USSF for a People’s Movement Assembly (PMA) on Food Sovereignty organized by Agricultural Missions, which Heather and Travis were already attending. At the assemblies, different organizations and individuals converge to connect issues, create a shared vision and strategize for collective action. At our particular assembly we formed break-out groups that focused on different aspects of the food sovereignty issue. The different topics included “Labor Rights Struggles”, “Urban Agriculture and Rural Agriculture”, “Smashing Corporate Control“, “Agriculture and Class/Race Struggles”, “Land Liberation and Natural Resource Protection”, “Health Effects of Food”, and “Food, Energy and Climate Change”. The group I participated in was “Smashing Corporate Control” which was facilitated by Shankara. Among the many ideas that came from the session were:

  • challenge corporate personhood law
  • target laws allowing ownership of seed strains
  • international collected action against specific corporate target
  • mobilize against biofuel ag
  • statement of solidarity with indigenous agricultural communities
  • form treaties between indigenous groups domestically and internationally

After the PMA session, Heather, Travis, Shankara and I returned to the Cobo building. Shankara went home from there while the rest of us made use of the internet access in the building and later met with Maria. At 7pm our group returned to the site of the PMA for a post-assembly pizza and beer party, where we met Dena Hoff and other friends. They suggested a good place for dinner and though we already ate we joined them for more beer. Later that evening a dramatic monsoon-type lighting storm occurred, making a long and eventful day even more memorable.

6/24/10, by Reid Mukai, CAGJ Co-Chair


Converging Storms: The Crisis of Energy and Food, Climate and Environment, and Capitalism and War

The Global Justice Game

Organizing for Power and Collective Liberation

Today was the first day that the workshops I planned on attending were to be held at Wayne State University instead of the Cobo building. Though I thought it would make scheduling which workshops to go to easier, things did not always go as planned. The first workshop I attended was moved to another building on the opposite side of the campus so I had to walk a long way quickly to get there on time, but it was an interesting one called Converging Storms: The Crisis of Energy and Food, Climate and Environment, and Capitalism and War, facilitated by Jason Negron Gonzales of the Justice and Ecology Project. Through a brief powerpoint presentation he described civilization’s dependance on oil which, though a relatively short period in history, has made things temporarily more convenient for (some) humans but has had a disasterous effect on the planet and natural ecosystems. Jason then gave an overview of some of the main crisis civilization is confronting, including fresh water scarcity, chemical and waste pollution, climate change, food security, and threats to cultural/biological diversity. As part of a solution, he envisions a global framework for a just transition for all to a sustainable civilization. Steps towards a just transition include:

Resistance – movement building

Resiliance – surviving and thriving

Restoration – respect for nature and integration into web of nature.

Reimagining – transformative narrative for transition towards vision.

As part of these steps he suggested learning from nature (ie. mutually beneficial relationships, balance, limitations, zero waste), struggling for healthy food for all (healthy food systems are those rooted in cultural traditions, run by community, organic, and traded fairly), clean water for all, establishing healthy transit, green jobs, affordable green housing, clean energy, and a decentralized democracy.

The next workshop that I was supposed to go to sounded really promising and was called Linking Our Struggles: Exploring How Local Action Can Be a Pathway for Internationally Solidarity. Unfortunately when I got to the workshop location there was a sign posted indicating it had been cancelled. I looked through the schedule to find an alternate choice (that was somewhat nearby) and found that it too had been moved to a different building. Since I was running out of time I looked through the building I was in for a good workshop and saw a sign for The Global Justice Game organized by Lisa Albrecht for the group MRAP. It turned out the workshop actually was a game and a form of popular education in which participants roleplay various fractions of a political struggle. Lisa described many variations of the game but the one she prepared for us involved a clothing corporation, worker’s union, an anti-sweatshop student group and a college faculty board. To win the game, each faction had to reach their own goals. For the faculty board it was to retain positive image and attain foundation money, for the student group it was to pressure the board not to buy sweatshop products, for the union it was to unionize sweatshop labor and improve working conditions, and for the corporation it was of course to maximize profits. To achieve these goals each group had to form relationships with the other groups, sometimes honestly and sometimes by concealing information or lying. I happened to be in the group representing the union and enjoyed that role, though the people playing the corporation seemed to have the most fun, even using direct quotes from BP CEO Tony Hayward.

The final workshop I attended that day was Organizing for Power and Collective Liberation, facilitated by Lisa Fithian of Alliance of Community Trainers. She began by stating there is no one right way to organize because it’s a process determined by the people in the group. She highlighted the need for awareness and ability to anticipate situations through her experiences in direct action and through physical excersizes such as having us stand in a circle and then attempt to get to the opposite side as quickly as possible without bumping into anyone. We then went back in the classroom where she went over basic definitions such as power (the ability to act), strategy (overrall plan), and tactics (what you do to implement plan). We discussed power dynamics in society such as things that decrease power and why the establishment supports many such things (ie. fear, division, distraction, television, etc.). She saw the role of organizer as way to help people overcome fear of consequences by having them question if choices are oppressing or liberating, let them know risks, and to let them make their own decisions. In her experience, people are swayed by positives more than negatives, so focusing on solutions is more likely to move people than pointing out the problems, though some people will also be more willing to act in times of crisis. She ended her presention by suggesting actions should ideally have a strategy, be creative, fun, participatory and imaginative (imagination is the most powerful organizing tool).

After I was done with the workshops of the day, I caught a bus to the Cobo building to once again use the internet, check my email, as well as to check out more of the tables in the exhibition hall, where I met up with Heather and Travis. From there we took a “people mover” monorail train to the Greek Town section of the city where we joined Caitlin and Masha for dinner at a Greek restaurant. We all walked back to where Travis had parked and carpooled back to our respective solidarity houses.

Posted in Agra Watch Blog Posts, Food Justice Blog Posts, Trade Justice Blog Posts.

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