Marchers hold up a sign that reads "Which side are you on? Yo estoy con Union!"

FUJ Tour Report-back: Fighting for Farmworkers in the US and Beyond

This fall CAGJ worked with farmworker union Familias Unidas por la Justicia and other community organizations based out of Seattle to organize the FUJ Farmworker Solidarity Tour. Over two days in October, we convened a rally, march, dinner, teach-in and AGRA-Watch action in Seattle that highlighted how issues faced by farmworkers are connected to the struggles of other marginalized communities. The tour continued to several other cities in WA. The events brought attention to the role corporations and foundations play in upholding unjust and harmful practices in our food system. 

The tour, called Creating the World We Want/Creando el Mundo Que Queremos, was originally convened to raise awareness about the harms of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act (FWMA). During the planning, other demands were identified by FUJ: We are calling on WA Gov. Jay Inslee to declare a climate emergency, and demand that WA Labor and Industry opt into the HEAL Act to adopt an environmental justice lens in their rule-making. Other calls to action were uplifted by the tour’s organizing partners, which included BAYAN Seattle, ILPS, EggRolls Mutual Aid, International Migrants Alliance USA, Community to Community Development, and Community Alliance for Global Justice. 

During the actions in Seattle we heard from Black Star Farmers and Danny Woo Community Garden organizers, who talked about the importance of land stewardship and community care. Community groups from the Chinatown International District spoke about the houselessness crisis and the increasing number of sweeps and state violence committed against unhoused folks. Speakers connected the struggles of migrant farmworkers to the struggles of other migrant communities who make their way to the city in hopes of better opportunities. Throughout all the gatherings, there was a deep sense of solidarity and an awareness that success would come only from linking issues and working together towards collective liberation. 

CAGJ’s AGRA Watch campaign closed the Seattle leg of the tour with a teach-in in front of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation headquarters. The Foundation has funneled millions of dollars into the research and development of agricultural technologies and initiatives they claim are “Climate-Smart,” but which ultimately contribute to the unchecked progression of industrial agriculture. The most visible of these initiatives, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, recently disassociated itself from the green revolution by choosing a new identity and name – just ‘AGRA’. Nevertheless, they have established a network of governmental and scientific support for the development of resource intensive agriculture on the continent that primarily benefits corporations. In convening this action as part of the tour, organizers aim to illustrate the ways in which powerful individuals, corporations, and governments are able to exercise control of our food system to the detriment of consumers, producers and community members. The plight of farmworkers in the US is tied to the plight of farmworkers in Africa and the rest of the world, and we must work together to call out injustices and shift the power back into the hands of the people. 

The Gates action was led by AGRA Watch Co-Chair Webster Walker, who delivered an inspiring speech to the audience gathered, wrapping up with this wish: “Systems and ideologies in place for centuries are bound to fall, and what comes after is by no means certain.  It is up to us to believe in and work for each other and this beautiful living world, to create together the deep transformation and decolonization of society and consciousness that is coming.”

Watch the speech here, and/or read the transcript below! You can also watch the video on Facebook.

Webster Walker’s Speech, given on October 10, 2022 outside The Gates Foundation, Seattle, WA.

 

Hi.  Thank you and blessings to Familias Unidas por la Justicia, for all your work, and for joining us here this morning.

Welcome to the Gates Foundation!  We, and the Foundation, are on unceded land of the Duwamish and Coast Salish peoples. Let us live in solidarity with all dispossessed peoples, and work individually and organizationally to literally decolonize and end the illegitimate claims to ownership of this and all colonized lands, in processes that are led locally and globally by indigenous and dispossessed peoples.

My name is webster walker, and i am a member of AGRA Watch, a campaign of the Community Alliance for Global Justice.  We started AGRA Watch in 2006, when we learned that the Gates Foundation was trying to launch a quote unquote “new Green Revolution.”  The organization they founded for this purpose they named AGRA — the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.

Two thirds of the more than $1 billion dollars in funding that AGRA has received has come from the Gates Foundation.  Funding for AGRA has also come from the Rockefeller Foundation, and from the United States government and other donor governments.  AGRA has disbursed more than $500 million dollars in grants in 13 African countries.

By its own standards, AGRA has failed to meet its own stated goals related to helping farmers.  A recent donor-commissioned evaluation found that the main area of “success” for AGRA has been to influence African governments’ seed and fertilizer policies.  But promotion of corporate-licensed seeds and costly chemical inputs has actually harmed small-scale farmers, leading to indebtedness, for example when there is crop failure or drought, which is happening more frequently with climate change.  A number of studies have found that in various countries, AGRA programs have really only benefitted larger-scale and male farmers who have existing commercial capacity — not the smallholder women farmers who are often featured in AGRA promotional materials.

Their marketing also trumpets claims to being African-led, but AGRA was created by the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations, and reflects the interests of big business, banks, and foreign agribusiness corporations.  Throughout its existence until very recently, their leadership was not majority African, and still today not a single member of the Board represents farmers.

We are here today because, in the words of Celestine Otieno, a Kenyan farmer and activist recently quoted in the Seattle Times about the Green Revolution:  “I think it’s the second wave of colonialism.”  We are here because the Gates Foundation undermines food sovereignty for everyone, especially for African farmers, pastoralists and fishers with whom AGRA Watch works in solidarity.  And we are here to send a message of your solidarity with their struggle: We are all fighting for food sovereignty, agroecology, and a just food system for everyone.

This is why we organize, and we are making an impact.  The campaign to de-fund AGRA is building momentum.  AFSA — the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa — and other African groups have been calling for AGRA to be de-funded for the past year, and have asked to meet with the Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the US government.  All have responded, and significantly African leaders recently did a briefing for the US Congress.  Unprecedented critical press dominated the news during the recent Africa Green Revolution Forum hosted by AGRA.  The Seattle Times ran a very critical article on the last day of the Forum, September 9, including quotes from the CAGJ Executive Director and from several African leaders.  We know AGRA and the Gates Foundation are feeling the pressure.  They recently announced that they are officially dropping the words “green revolution” from their organizational name, now to be called just by the orphaned acronym AGRA.

But we know that Bill Gates, the Gates Foundation, and AGRA, will not significantly change the course they are on without a sustained, growing, powerful movement pushing them to do so.  Bill Gates did not set up his Foundation and dedicate his billions of dollars in order to challenge systems that granted Gates his extreme wealth and put him in this absurd position to personally influence the direction of global development.  In fields he pours grants into — agriculture, education, public health, technology, climate change, etc. — his vision, and that of his Foundation and its programs, remain neoliberal, technocratic, and entitled, promoting technical and industrial fixes to real crises that are largely social, political and ecological problems rooted in colonization, capitalism, and the industrial destruction of nature.

And we know that for all his outsized influence on the direction of global development, Bill Gates does not single-handedly run the world.  Agribusiness operations, industrial food commodity brokers, pesticide and fertilizer corporations, seed corporations with patents on life, other established businesses that dominate other economic sectors, a whole panoply of powerful and profit-seeking extractive enterprises are aligned with Gates’ and his organizations’ goals and programs.  This is one reason for the term philanthrocapitalism: philanthropy that can only reproduce the economic conditions and social relations that give rise to massively concentrated wealth in the first place; philanthropy that can never recognize that it is reproducing conditions that give rise to the very crises it purports to solve.

There is much more to be said about the illegitimacy of Gates’ wealth in the first place; or his “donating” his billions to his own foundation; or how analyses demonstrate that while they brag about their support for African farmers, the majority of Foundation grants ultimately go to groups based in North America and Europe.  But i only have a few minutes!  I will note that Bill Gates and his allies do not want to decolonize anything, because a decolonized world and a decolonized economy would never produce anything like a Bill Gates or his “concentrated wealth.”  His Foundation and AGRA invest in marketing, public relations and media to give the impression that their interests are pragmatic, scientific, democratic, ecological, humanitarian, but they will never dismantle the profiteering ideology that produces billionaires and corporate rule.  It will be up to popular movements to gently remove Gates’ patronizing, technocratic hands from the global development steering wheel.

We developed this campaign in solidarity and close collaboration with the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa and other African partners who have been raising concerns about AGRA for years.  AGRA’s major donors like the Gates Foundation are extremely unaccountable, with no democratic mechanism for the public to have any say over what they do, even though their oceans of dollars and their technocratic and neoliberal ideology drive the global food system in ways that prioritize private profit over human rights or ecosystem integrity.

We focus on USAID, the United States Agency for International Development, as an AGRA donor because they are taxpayer funded, and so at least in theory they are more accountable to the US Congress and to the public.  USAID has continued to support AGRA, both ideologically and financially with tens of millions of dollars, even after evaluations have found that the initiative has failed to meet its own goals despite 15 years and $1 billion dollars of support, and in the face of numerous farmers’ associations that have spoken out against it.

We want USAID to pull support from AGRA immediately, and begin a process of deeper consultation with African small-scale farmers and farmer associations, to determine a model for agricultural development that respects farmers’ human rights and builds food sovereignty — the right of people to collectively determine their own food systems and access to healthy and culturally appropriate food.

In keeping with AFSA’s demands, we are also pushing USAID to fund more projects focused on agroecology, which is a holistic and farmer-led approach to agriculture that mirrors and learns from ecosystem processes, and which centers social justice values.

We are asking you to support this campaign.  There are a few things you can do:

–  Add your name to the letter to USAID containing our demands.  The flyer shows you how to do so.  Share it with others and ask them to sign on as well.

–  Watch and promote our short film series Rich Appetites, at richappetitesfilm.com or linked from the CAGJ web site, co-produced by AGRA Watch and AFSA, which shows how big philanthropy is shaping the future of food systems in Africa.

–  And follow us on social media.

Perhaps most importantly we, can believe in the possibility of the future.  Aside from Bill Gates and his philanthrocapitalist allies, there are other interests who very much want us to feel cynicism, hopelessness and despair, to be divided against each other and to blame “the other” for massive crises that we all face.  They produce content for media and social media, and invest in politics that promotes helplessness, rage, and divide-and-conquer separateness among peoples, and in our own minds.

We can turn toward each other, see ourselves in each other, see ourselves in nature, and live as if we and this world matter enough to stand together in solidarity, no matter what we are up against.

Please forgive this analogy, but I work as a Union janitor at the baseball stadium.  There was a moment this week when by rational assessment of actual possibilities, the Seattle Mariners were behind by so many runs so late in the game that they had a less than one percent chance of winning.  But if you looked at the team in the dugout, you did not see despair.  Against all odds, the team was upbeat, supporting each other, urging each other on, in fact it was the other team’s dugout that looked nervous, as if they could feel this energy.  As they played the last few innings, the Mariners scored nine runs and came all the way back to win.  The team slogan is “Believe.”

I know, we are not playing baseball. We live amidst synergistic political, economic, social, and ecological crises that, by rational assessment, have a high likelihood to bring about the end of what we call civilization.  Real lives and real communities are being lost on the front lines every day.  But these are also times when EVERYTHING is in play, EVERYTHING is shifting, and we have friends and allies EVERYWHERE.  And the other team’s dugout looks nervous, despite all their supposed riches.  Systems and ideologies in place for centuries are bound to fall, and what comes after is by no means certain.  It is up to us to believe in and work for each other and this beautiful living world, to create together the deep transformation and decolonization of society and consciousness that is coming.  And not just to the Gates Foundation!

 

Thank you.

 

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