Friday, January 28, 2005

Anti-US Sentiment Prevalent as 5th World Social Forum Begins

Porto Alegre Brazil, 1/28/05-- Slogans and images opposing US economic and military policy clearly dominated the 50,000 person opening march of the World Social Forum (WSF) on Wednesday. Banners opposing Bush and the Iraq War were the most prevalent, although many addressed corporate domination and globalization. One gigantic banner summed up all the messages; a red X through the letters “USA”.
An anonymous protester explained, “I'm not opposed to the people of the USA, just the policies.”

While many protested the US policy others were happy to see many participants from the USA at the WSF. Felipe, a WSF volunteer, commented “I'm glad to see so many people from the US, especially the media. I didn't know people from the US supported this kind of social movement.”

However, the WSF covers hundreds of issues beyond action against US domination. Over 100,000 people will participate in over 2000 planned activities. The activities are proposed and managed independently by organizations around the world. Any organization can plan an activity.

The forum is laid out in 11 thematic villages along the riverbank of Rio Guaibe. The themes are:

1.Autonomous thought, reappropriation and socialization of knowledge and technologies.
2.Defending diversity, plurality and identities.
3.Arts and creation: weaving and building people's resistance culture.
4.Communication: counter-hegemonic practices, rights and alternatives.
5.Assuring and defending Earth and people's common goods- as alternative to commodification and transnational control.
6.Social struggles and democratic alternatives – against neoliberal domination.
7.Peace, demilitarisation and struggle against war, free trade and debt.
8.Towards construction of international democratic order and people's integration.
9.Sovereign economies for and of people- against neoliberal capitalism.
10.Human rights and dignity for a just and egalitarian world.
11.Ethics, cosmovisions and spiritualities- resistances and challenges for a new world.

At the center of the WSF is the gigantic Youth Camp, a festival within the festival. The campers partied until day break after Manu Chau played the final set of the opening ceremony of the WSF.

For more on the WSF visit:www.forumsocialmundial.org.br

Friday, January 21, 2005

Gaia Ecovillage

Navarro, Argentina, 1/21/2005-- A bumpy three hour, stop and go bus ride out of the metropolis of Buenos Aires lays the small agricultural town of Navarro. Just outside town Gaia Ecovillage sits on 20 hectares, nestled amongst thousands of hectares of estancias, large land holdings. Most of the estancias are for dairy production but the latest agricultural rave is transgenic soybeans. Argentina is one of the largest exporters of soybeans in the world.
Gaia is a tiny David amongst an army of Goliaths. However, their pioneering work to establish a sustainability movement in Argentina is starting to capture the attention of the country. A few months ago Gaia was featured on national television and last week they were interviewed by a reporter from La Nacion, the largest newspaper in the country.

Since 1996 their small group of 8-12 people has established an important model of sustainable living. The goal of the project is to live spiritually satisfying lives in community and in harmony with the natural ecology. The land has been designed using the concepts of permaculture, a methodology for developing sustainable human settlements. One-hundred percent of their electricity comes from three wind turbines. All of their cooking is done on parabolic solar cookers and an efficient wood fired, earth and metal oven. The showers are solar heated. They have completed two hand sculpted earth houses that look more like works of art than habitations. The smooth, poured-earth floors and thick earth walls stay cool under the blazing sun. A huge thatched roof earth common house is under construction.

Gaia Ecovillage is also one of the few places in Argentina where you can get an almost entirely organic and homegrown meal. Although they don’t yet produce many staple crops and their fruit trees are still immature, their vegetable garden is abundant. They even save their own seed.

In addition to practicing sustainable living the residents at Gaia also teach others to do the same. They regularly teach courses in permaculture, natural building and community living. Some of the courses are geared towards foreigners but the most are taught completely in Spanish for the local population.

Life certainly isn’t perfect at Gaia. Community dynamics can be tumultuous and economic resources scarce. However, in comparison to the poor neighborhoods outside Buenos Aires life is comfortable and healthy. The simple and natural approach to living practiced at Gaia has great potential to improve the lives of many Argentineans.

For more information, workshop schedules and internship opportunities visit,
www.gaia.org.ar

Report from Enero Autonomo

La Matanza, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Crouched on the factory’s cement floor, amidst dust and cigarette butts, I watch Enero Autonomo (Autonomous January) participants mingle and interact. Barefoot kids of every size and color dart between the adults and practice murga (a resistance dance created by African slaves) in the open spaces. People from each collective stand beneath their respective banner, selling homemade sandals, leather pouches, pastries, picture frames, wild-crafted herbs, and self-published literature. Of all the participants, those from the Movement of Unemployed Workers (MTD) have the greatest presence here. They are the most numerous, the most vocal, and the most at ease in this environment. Their ease makes sense: Tucuypaj is an abandoned factory, the MTD abandoned people.

Enero Autonomo is a four day “gathering of autonomous thought” that takes place in the outskirts of Buenos Aires. Unemployed people, neighborhood assemblies, indigenous groups, and national and international activists come here to reflect upon their actions, share experiences, and brainstorm new strategies for social change. Participants host and attend workshops, discussions, performances, and video screenings. They share meals and sleep beside one another in tents or on the factory floor. Like the World Social Forum, Enero Autonomo is intended to transcend the event itself, as participants incorporate the lessons they learn and the relationships they form here into their daily lives.

Throughout the first two days of Enero Autonomo, I’ve heard activists speak of autonomy the way we speak of sustainability in the United States: as a concept that is difficult to describe and even harder to embody. Since what is non-autonomous and unsustainable relies on hierarchy, oppression, and dependence, we speak of “horizontality”, “freedom”, and “self-reliance”. But we realize these are abstract notions, words that mean little until translated into food, shelter, and healthy relationships.

Friday, January 14, 2005

In Buenos Aires, the Crisis Fades from Sight but not from People’s Minds

Buenos Aires, Argentina

In the Plaza de Mayo, just opposite the Presidential Palace, vendors watch their Argentine flags, pins and mate cups from a distance, resting against the iron police barricades that have become permanent fixtures in the park. Tourists photograph from strange angles to avoid political graffiti. The clanging of pots and pans and the chorus of thousands chanting “Que se vayan todos” (They all [the government] must go), heard throughout the “the week of the five presidents”, have subsided. The banks have replaced their broken windows and ATMs, and the cover story of a major newspaper assures readers that a new strategy for repaying foreign debt will soon “restore normality”.

“You can´t see the crisis the way you could two years ago,” comments Paula, owner of Hostal Don Sancho, recalling what Buenos Aires was like in 2002. “There was no money. There were only vouchers- little pieces of paper printed by provincial governments that said ‘this bill is worth so many pesos’. The biggest denomination they came in was 20 pesos and they had expiration dates. In the absence of currency, people bartered for most goods and services- including people who until then had been members of the middle class, a class that has all but disappeared…Those who could afford to left the country. Lines of people, most of them younger than 40 years old, stretched for blocks from the Spanish and Italian embassies…supermarkets stocked their shelves with generic brands of everything, and restaurants reduced the size of all their portions – without reducing the price…Repairmen came out of the woodwork to fix T.V.´s, shoes, appliances – all the things that people had grown accustomed to throwing away and replacing with new ones…international travel (for all but the wealthiest) was unheard of…”

For those of us born long after the Great Depression, it is difficult, if not impossible to comprehend the loss that Argentines have experienced. My friend Hugo explained, “I had 10,000 pesos – an amount equal to US$10,000- in savings. When the peso was devalued, I had $3,000.” To give an idea what such a change might mean for a young person in the United States: imagine you live in Olympia, Washington, and pay around US$300 per month for rent. If what happened to the peso happened to the dollar, the $300 you’d put aside for rent would suddenly be worth less than $100. To put it another way, it would be equivalent to your landlord raising your rent from $300 to $900. Not only that, your landlord would probably do what many Argentine landlords did to cover their own losses – raise the rent.

Needless to say, a country needs more than three years to recooperate from a crisis of this magnitude. The relative calm I encountered this afternoon in the Plaza de Mayo signified neither recovery nor the end of resistance to “el modelo” – the neoliberal model based on “free trade” and privatization, but the beginning of a new phase of resistance. The Plaza was empty because the piqueteros (protesters, activists) are now busy working on long term projects, like starting schools and cooperative factories. The resistance is not dwindling; it is taking new form. Though the words “Sovereignty or IMF”, scrawled across one city wall, are fading, Argentines desire for a new economic system based on social justice and sustainability is not.

World Social Forum: an act of International Solidarity

Buenos Aires, Argentina-- From January 26th-30th, Sarita and I will represent Organic Volunteers at this year´s World Social Forum. We will be among hundreds of organizations and individuals from the US who are attending to show the world the social movement in the US is still strong. In a time when many have lost hope in the US this forum will be an important act of solidarity. We are especially excited to be representing the organic and sustainable agriculture movement in the US. The role of agriculture subsidies in globalization and postive solutions like organic farming will be central to the conference. This article from Common Dreams provides a good description of the forum: http://www.commondreams.org/headlines05/0112-08.htm

Monday, January 10, 2005

Networking Organic Argentina

On Monday, January 10th, Sarita and I fly to Buenos Aires. For the next five months we will travel through Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Peru for our non profit organization, Organic Volunteers. Our website, www.GrowFood.org, lists more than 750 internships, jobs, workshops and volunteer opportunities in organic farming and sustainability in the USA. This winter we will collaborate with Latin American organizations to create an intercontinental network.

In the age of eBay our little website doesn’t sound like much. However, we’re talking about more than online sales. We make real connections between real people. We use a decentralized network, rather than a hierarchical organization to revolutionize education. Over 9000 members use Organic Volunteers to get their hands dirty experiencing sustainability, instead of paying large sums of money to read about it at a university. The farmer is the professor; the farm, the classroom. We enroll as many students as my state university, The Evergreen State College.

During our trip we will report on current events and our adventures on this blog and in independant media. (Using a Linux based laptop supplied by FreeGeek Olympia!) Our itinerary is ever evolving but here are some exciting events we will cover:

• Enero Autonomo, an international meeting of autonomous organizations and human rights activists, to be held in an occupied factory in La Tablada, Gran Buenos Aires, Argentina. (www.autonomista.org)

• The World Social Forum, one of the largest meetings of international civic groups to set an alternative world agenda that puts peace, social justice and environmental sustainability before short-term profits. (www.forumsocialmundial.org.br)

• Permaculture in Patagonia, a twelve week practicum where participants learn to design sustainable human settlements that regenerate, rather than destroy, the Earth. (www.kleiwerks.com)