Friday, April 30, 2010

Quote of the Week - Positive & Negative

"Promoe the number one public enemy with split personalities/
and both rap for anarchy./
Keeping my beard long like pops in the seventies/
burning flags screaming fuck the Kennedies./
many see me as a hoodlum at best a good bum/
letting out anger over bass and snare drums./
Fucking up eardrums of those with high income/
holding king Carl Gustav for ransom./
Leaving Madeleine in labour pains while I'm bombin' trains/
tryin' to bring back the days of '36 in Spain/
and y'all claim I'm too negative/
talkin' bout Sweden's really a nice place to live./
Oh I'm supposed to be satisfied cause I got a fatter life/
than my brothers and sisters who die on the other side of the planet/
It's all connected god damn it/
if you leave the third world stranded./
The first and the second will soon be drowned/
in the blood sweat and tears of the people we hold down./
Hold up! That's something you will never understand/
fuck that man, I'm tryin' to take a stand./
You might just laugh but I'm tryin' to walk a righteous path/
stumblin' though, drunk off of wine made from grapes of wrath/
Me I'm tired of doing the math when nothing adds up/
the good's always down the bad's up that sucks/
Life's a bitch and then you die/
wrong life's a biiatch and then you decide/
To do something about it/
shit'll only drive you crazy if you allow it/"

- Promoe.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Rights of Mother Earth Conference and Bien Vivir in Cochabamba

They say that Cochabamba is the 'corazon', heart of Bolivia, and that Bolivia is the heart of South America, so it was very appropriate and only fitting that the heart of the world's epicenter of social change became the focal point of solidarity in hosting from April 19th to 22nd, 2010, the first ever World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth. International presence and exchange was remarkable, with people and delegations from the U.S., France, Italy, Zambia, Colombia, England, Brazil, Tanzania, Venezuela, Cuba, Chile, Argentina, and even great companeros from Paraguay, and Greece, to name only a few, and a significant presence from Canadian activists.

The conference featured international organizations of all sorts with about five or six different venues with panels and presentations going on around the clock, so information was accessible and plentiful, the possibilities and options of what you could take in and what you could participate in were boundless. There was a lot of activity condensed into four days and letting it all permeate was a task and a beautiful privilege. The conference was structured for 17 different working groups; action strategies, structural causes, climate debt, agriculture and food sovereignty, the Right of Mother Earth, and harmony with nature and Vivir Bien amongst others. The goal was to draft a declaration for each theme as an official position statement document for the conference, which will also be sent as a set of demands in the name of Humanity and Mother Earth to the
U.N. Climate Summit in Cancun in November/December of this year.

For all its academic content, its theory, and its endless panels, one of the most positive and effective aspects of the summit is that it created new spaces, new connections, and new hope. The experience was networking, exchanging contacts, meeting new people and gaining new perspectives. To have countless brothers and sisters from all around the world at your disposal to exchange stories, ideas, smiles, handshakes, and hugs, is an empowering experience. Its our duty to take these messages back home, to draw the best ideas from the best places from the most inspiring people and to mesh everything together. Strength lies in the complexity of our mosaic, in the confidence of our collective threads, and the summit illustrated this very successfully.

Early on the summit took on a unique complexion as a dynamic evolved between the conventional anti-capitalist and
anti-imperialist discourse, and the new call for the ideas of sustainability, permaculture, Bien Vivir or living well instead of living better, and an embrace of traditional indigenous values and practices to get back to a communitarian way of life in harmony, reciprocity, and respect with Mother Earth. This centrifugal creative energy was manifest in the working groups at every turn, the action of collective creation, of two correlative schools interacting with each other, which made for a very interesting and fiery exchange of ideas.

Evo Morales in his opening ceremony speech chose to speak, very wisely, not about the ravages and inequalities of capitalism, and the destruction of our planet, but about rejecting foreign, artificial consumption habits, and about making small daily changes, telling anecdotes about changes that we need to make in our personal lives. He talked about not drinking Coca-Cola and that we need to check our indifference with plastic waste. The message was about the fact that the answers already exist, that sustainable solutions are at our fingertips, and that our model way of life is there for the taking. Politically, your mentality can be changed and advanced tenfold, but if you keep consuming like the system compels you to consume, if you don't change your way of life, your energy, if personal commitments are not made, then we are running on treadmills. The indigenous culture, their values and their practices, of living a life only in affinity with Mother Earth, and of severing the artificial, the chemical, the unnatural, is where we will seek, and find our answers. We need to be living as we should be living; of the earth.

The changes ahead, the changes that we need to establish, are not simply a distant vision. We have to see the path of change for the tangible entity that it is, and no longer think of sustainability, equality, peace and justice, a world free of exploitation, and a communitarian way of life in harmony with nature only as possibilities. Humanity has to rediscover humanity, and we have to understand that the practices needed for a natural and sustainable world already exist, and that the consciousness and values required to effect that change are already inside of us. And, perhaps most importantly, as a great friend of the earth has said, we have to understand that "the answers to the future lie in the traditions of the past." (Galeano)

There is much to discuss, and much to build on moving forward. Now, internationally, the local chapters of this gigantic endeavor of the human family must begin with enthusiasm and adherence.

Jajaja Suma Qamana y Nandereko!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Random Thoughts

Guardar sus ojos en el punto de la vida, acercandonos a nuestra vision por el futuro. "La utopia sirve para caminar."

Part of this thought is an idea and a Galeano quote taken from the Blog El extrano Mundo de Majo.

«La utopía está en el horizonte. Me acerco dos pasos, ella se aleja dos pasos. Camino diez pasos y el horizonte se desplaza diez pasos más allá. Por mucho que camine, nunca la alcanzaré. Entonces, ¿para qué sirve la utopía? Para eso: sirve para caminar.»
- Galeano.

Thank You Majo.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Induced Justification of Over-Consumption

Capitalism, especially in the last three or four decades, has endeavored to ingrain a relentless, and ever expanding desire for consumption as part of human nature. It has become instinct, at least in the opulent consumer societies of the global north and increasingly in large cities worldwide, to consume without thought, without analysis, without awareness. Almost no thought is given to what happens to product waste after consumption, beyond the general misconception that everything is alright if we recycle, and zero thought is given to what has to happen before those products are purchased off the shelves and into our homes. A staggering statistic is that we keep only 1 % of the stuff we buy for longer than six months, which means that 99 % of what we buy is discarded within six months of purchase. Is that not an incredibly revealing fact about what our society has become? Without wanting to oversimplify, today's culture in the global north is nothing more than a culture of consumption, a culture of sterility, decadence, and consumption.

A while back I was talking to a friend at work, a friend named Diana. Diana has a great love for birds and weekly she goes out with a net and catches pigeons to remove the wire and filaments that get caught around their talons and can cause them pain and even losing fingers or an entire foot over time. She also collects small donations at work to buy bird food in order to feed the smaller birds that get outmuscled by the pigeons. I have to say honestly that she is someone who genuinely loves nature. But like the majority of people, Diana is largely unaware of the bigger picture and of the effects of our over-consumption and massive waste.

We were talking a couple of months ago about the incredible waste that our restaurant, Red Lobster, generates on a daily basis, even as an individual unit, without recycling any of it, because it is too expensive to do so. We mentioned how it was completely unnecessary for the printers to be programmed to print extra copies of each bill, even when a print copy is not requested, and an extra one even after the bill gets paid. On a daily basis, even just from our restaurant, this adds up to a lot of wasted, unrecycled paper quickly. I keep the waste paper bills to either bring home for recycling, or to reuse them as notepads for my orders at work. Diana saw me doing this one day and she mentioned how she did it as well, and that became a nice thing in common, a small point of solidarity between us. My initial impression was that Diana was, at least to a small degree, an environmentally conscious person.

So when the idea came to me and some of my friends this spring to start a small community collective, for healthy local mainly vegetarian eating, and anti-corporate, anti-agribusiness, anti-packaging, and sustainable living, I immediately thought of Diana as someone who might be seriously interested in joining our endeavor. At first she seemed slightly interested, but the day after I had originally talked to her about it, she showed up to work with three plastic bottled water. I told her she really shouldn't do that, that she should equip herself with a long-term re-useable stainless steal water bottle, that she should not burn plastic away and feed the petroleum dependency. And I told her that when she went home tonight she should take 20 minutes to watch a small documentary entitled The Story of Bottled Water.

The next day she did the exact same thing, her water again in three disposable plastic bottles. I said it nicely but I was upset, and I asked her why, and she started counseling about how tap water wasn't healthy. I told her that she was wrong, that tap water is in fact perfectly fine and healthy in most cases, especially here in Canada, and that if she is skeptical she should simply buy herself a Brita water filter to fill her newly purchased planet friendly stainless steal water bottle everyday. She responded by saying that she used to have a Brita filter, but that the charcoal filter left black sediment in her water, and that because of that and because of the fact that she wasn't comfortable with tap water, that she needed to find a solution that she was happy with. I told her she needed to find a solution instead that made the planet happy. This is a prime example of the general public's typical attitude of indifference and egotism, and the ignorance and unwillingness to compromise, make sacrifices, or disrupt their personal comfort. As the Diana situation shows, she found herself with various 'inconvenient' options and was faced with a dilemma, so I'll just keep drinking bottled water for now until I find a solution that makes ME happy, ME, never mind ecosystems and sustainability.

Then about a week ago, I stopped by for a poutine on Queen street, and my girlfriend and I noticed the girl at the front counter preparing dozens of cheese curd portions into small plastic cups, covering them with plastic warp of course. Noticing that this process was just blatant petroleum waste, I asked if they reused the plastic cups afterwards, and she responded "yes we do, but they're biodegradable anyway." Oh! well, case closed then, no cause for concern here. People only consider what is in front of them, what they can see. No consideration is given to how the plastic cup was made; that petroleum had to be extracted, an extractive resource which is very energy intensive, that animals and ecosystems may have been damaged in the process, that indigenous or rural farming communities may have been driven away, displaced from their traditional lands, that additional petroleum was burnt probably transporting the resources halfway across the world to be manufactured, and that more energy was burnt during production creating even more waste from a factory where workers are probably exploited and underpaid. The biodegradable plastic cup scenario is just another typical example of indifference and lack of awareness, and a lack of desire to even become aware in many cases.

The message in short would be that the green 'revolution' is bullshit, that green technologies produce only sugar-coated offsets and together with biodegradable products, recycling, and 'fuel-efficient' vehicles serve as justification for our continued over-consumption, and that the public uses all this as an apology to congratulate themselves on how well they've done.

Ideas that only appear to do good things on the surface are counter productive, and dangerous. We have to apply the real solutions which are not difficult to establish and already at our disposal. We have to establish a universal culture of awareness and accountability.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Summer Resolution: Fair Trade, Sustainability, and Communitarian Living

As a young activist one of the first things I notice in social justice circles is the significant absence of an understanding of the necessity to link the struggle for social justice with that of environmental justice. There is also an overinsistence on political change with insufficient weight granted to the subsequent need for economic change. It is unrealistic to expect political progress without first targeting capitalism for what it is; a system based on capital, money, and profits. And, it is equally as impossible to weaken that foundation of capital and profits, without first seriously questioning and altering our consumption habits in western society. How can we claim to be activists without first changing the most basic and fundamental elements of our lives? These fundamental aspects of our lives, such as the products we buy, the clothes we wear, and the food we eat must necesarily be the starting point. Before we change the world, we must first change ourselves, change our lives, and change the habits that define us as uninformed and unconcerned consumers.

These two factors, the environmental emphasis, and the necessary focus on our consumption habits, bring the question of fair trade into context. Fair Trade is a form of commercial exchange where the buyer goes directly to the producer, offers a fair and much higher price for the product than traditional corporate buyers, in a context where both sides seek to build a relationship based on equality instead of exploitation. But Fair Trade doesn't stop there. It encourages social exchange and solidarity between the producer and consumer communities, most often an international connection, including ongoing contributions for the building of strong production and manufacturing capability for the southern producers and/or farmers, self-sufficiency and food sovereignty on both sides, and all around community building. In many cases, fair trade entrepreneurs even go as far as helping southern communities set up their own schools and hospitals. And, perhaps most important of all, fair trade demands a necessity to create awareness and to provide education to northern consumers of the what, where, why, when, and how of what they are consuming.

Supporting and understanding fair trade here in North America can generate a lot of personal happiness and satisfaction in living a non-corporate, and sustainability oriented lifestyle. It is not just a matter of figthing against the system, but of rejecting the most basic elements that bind us to it. On a daily basis, if we are drinking Tim Horton's or Starbucks coffee, or handing out plastic bottled water at solidarity events, then we are simply not identifying the problem at its roots. By keeping our corporate life habits unchecked and unchanged we are supporting NAFTA, we are supporting free trade, we are behaving hypocritically as our indifference and disregard continues to feed the system of consumption that perpetuates the very injustices we are fighting against in the first place.

Part of our political position must be a staunch opposition to free trade, and fair trade is the exact opposite, the direct alternative to free trade. Fair trade, however, more than a poltical philosophy, is a lifestyle choice, almost a spiritual choice. And so because our alternative lifestyle choices are relevant at such a personal level, whether that be buying fairtrade, living green and sustainable, boycotting corporate products, or even making the move to being vegan or vegetarian, they allow us an opportunity to be proud about the way we live, and to be happy in the struggle. Being an activist, fighting for social justice of any kind, or simply living a progressive lifestyle often requires a lot of discipline and sacrifice, and sometimes that level of committment can be very difficult. But our dedication to social justice should not be a committment beyond recognition of our happiness, and it is not selfish to want things for ourselves, as long as they are not ignorant or detriment to the greater good. Being happy is the first step, first and foremost because it is human nature to desire it, and because happiness is humanity's most valuable gift, but also because we can never be fully effective in the struggle without it. We have to fight for what we believe in with dedication, but we have to attain fulfillment while doing it.

A very important characteristic of the sustainable movement is its strength in existing through a collective identity and orientation. People love to, and want to feel like they belong to a greater common entity. That is why we must talk to neighbours, we must discuss with our co-workers, friends, and family on a daily basis, we must exchange ideas, stories, and solutions to help broaden the fabric of our social project. All of our social justice, environmental, sustainable living, anti-corporate initiatives, etc., must be based on complete and uncompromised inclusion. Fair trade is about creating a link between northern consumers and marginalized southern producers, but we also need to emphasize the more simple connection from people to people, the action of an equal, reciprocal exchange. We must be a people of community and togetherness who complement the growth of each other's livelihoods in tangible and positive ways. These actions for a communitarian way of life, are proof that a smaller-scale, grassroots, and symbiotic economy can not only sustain, but enhance the collective threads of our human community. The sustainable movement, while creating a very profound and deep-rooted sense of belonging, participation, and community, allows us to become the living agents of what we believe in.

By and large, the only people within capitalism, within right-wing ideology who are political, are politicians, the rest are just consumers. The industrialization of the food system and of nearly everything we consume dictates, for example, our easy and convenient consumption of Tim Hortons's, our drinking bottled water and burning away plastic daily, feeding the petroleum dependency in the process. When we buy our groceries from supermarkets and megastores and continue to bolster the control of agribusiness and corporate food giants, we are propeling mass manufacturing, environmentally destructive packaging, and processed foods, consequently fueling the needless and irresponsible depletion of our natural resources, and spurring the ever flowing and ever growing government subsidies for corn and soy monoculture which continues to exacerbate the international food crisis to dangerous limits. Therefore, when we are unionists, or grassroots activists, environmentalists, or simply concerned citizens or families, even if we have altered our political consciousness, and we continue to allow our consumption habits to go unchanged, greedy, heedless, and completely unsustainable consumption habits, then we are only going halfway, only considering 50 % of the equation, and we fail to identify the crux of the problem, we fail to identify it as the affliction that it is.

You can make a difference by not buying corporate and processed foods as much as possible, by rejecting genetically modified vegetables, by reducing on plastic and packaging of all kinds. You can make a difference by reusing, by bringing your own bags and containers to do groceries, by eating only foods that grow from the earth, as much as possible if not entirely, and by buying local products, and supporting local organic farmers and sustainable community initiatives. We are not advocating drastic sacrifices or commitments, simply small and gradual changes in our daily habits.

You cannot force people to be right-wing free-market ideologists, but everyone has to eat, everyone has to wear clothing, everyone has to consume in some capacity. Good humans have their political and moral values, but capitalists own the system. That is what they have over us, that is how they hold us by the tail, but our consumption is our choice, and we absolutely have to take back that tactical advantage.