Friday, August 10, 2007

Turning dreams into reality

There is certainly enough bleakness to go around, what with wars that are currently costing far too many precious lives, and many millions of others being starved out and enslaved as a consequence of neoliberal economic policies and short-sighted endeavors to maintain unsustainably lavish lifestyles in the Global North (e.g., US, EU). I've occasionally highlighted the nightmare that the push toward replacing oil with so-called biofuel or ethanol is creating - for the time being a nightmare suffered primarily by those most residing in the Global South (aka the Third and Fourth Worlds). In Bio-Fooled? I highlighted an article that made it clear that the ethanol boom was already having devastating environmental effects - including rapid deforestation and increased carbon emissions - as well as putting the well-off in the Global North with the choice between feeding human beings with harvested grain and feeding SUV fuel tanks. In Don't Be Biofooled, I made largely the same point - this time by presenting a graphic I found via the internet and summarizing what I'd read thus far.

Once more I feel the need to highlight the dire effects that the ethanol boom are having. This time, I am recommending one read Raul Zibechi's article, The Dark Side of Agrofuels. The setting this time is in the sugar cane fields in Brazil, which are both leading to further damage to the Amazon rain forest and are fostering slave-labor conditions for those unlucky enough to work in those sugar cane fields. The expansion of this industry is also threatening indigenous agriculture. Zibechi offers no words of hope. Those encouraging the biofuel boom are quite wealthy and politically well-connected, whereas those most immediately victimized are not, and are largely voiceless outside of alternative media sources. As Zibechi notes, the effects on the environment and workers' lives are furthest from these elites' minds (I'll add also the furthest from the minds of an American public more concerned with Britney Spears' latest meltdowns than with the nightmarish world being left in the wake of a neoliberal typhoon). Even among those who try to tune out the bombardment of "reality" shows and entertainment "news" are going to be fed a very sanitized version of the impact of biofuels in the coming decades - I'm sure that we've already been treated multiple times to Anderson Cooper covering the Brazil "miracle" and driving past pristine sugar cane plantations, making the whole thing seem like a wonderful alternative for those desiring a supposedly "greener" form of happy motoring.

But I digress.

What about dreams and turning them into reality? As Murielle Coppin informs us in her coverage of the latest Via Campesina held in autonomous Zapatista territory in Chiapas, there are efforts to do precisely that. Of course Coppin relays the many terrible things that are happening in Brazil and elsewhere. But even in the darkness, there are small fires providing warmth and light. To give you an idea, here's some of the fruits of campesino resistance in Brazil:
In Brazil the MST with 2 million members managed to recover land (the size of Italy) for 350 families. “But,” said Soraia Soriano, “after that, we realised it wasn’t enough and we have to organise other aspects of campesino life, such as production, school, goods and health.” That’s why, in 2003, a national school was inaugurated where they teach the true history and national social struggles including other countries. They also organise cultural projects to preserve cultural heritage. In the field of health, they prepare medicine from medicinal plants. Lastly, they started art cooperatives and give special attention to the active incorporation of women in their organisation.
In India:
United we stand, goes the refrain. Yudhvir Singh gave some examples of how the massive campesino movement in India – using Gandhi’s disobedience principal as a main weapon – couldn’t be ignored by the government. And so he told of 71,000 campesinos in his organisation who were arrested during of the WTO that took place in 2002 in Doha (Qatar). Wanting to free them, the prisoners said they wouldn’t go unless the police went to work on their farm plots. Of course the police didn’t agree. “Then,” he continued, “we refused to leave the prison and we managed to occupy the entire police space. We had to bring food for 71,000 prisoners and then pay for the return to our farms.” Thanks to the daily struggles in their vast country they managed to get two autonomous indigenous states.
These are not the sorts of items that get much play on what passes for news media these days, but they are examples of collective dreams for a different and better world being made (albeit slowly) into reality. Again to quote Ms. Coppin:
Be that as it may, the Encuentro between the Zapatistas and the People of the World showed today once again that capitalist forces aren’t everywhere and that resistance and heroic protest against neoliberalism and for humanity is expanding daily across the whole of planet Earth.
Food for thought.

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