Grassroots Global Justice Alliance

Many struggles, one movement

Category Archives: Our Power Campaign

Reflections on the People’s Summit on Climate Change and our Climate Justice Movement

by Sacajawea (Saki) Hall, Cooperation Jackson and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement

While attending the People’s Summit on Climate Change in Lima, Peru as a member of the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance delegation, my mind was focused on the relationship between the intensifying struggles at home with the deepening struggles throughout the world. I couldn’t help but think about how the intense protests against police violence and for greater living wages and worker protections, amongst others, could strengthen the struggle for system change being demanded throughout the global south to halt climate change and its escalating dangers. Lima affirmed that my work through Cooperation Jackson to create alternatives to the extractive economy in the heart of the United States by building economic democracy rooted in cooperative economics and social solidarity as a model, can be and is a significant contribution to the global struggle for a just transition.

In an article, “Notes for Understanding the Lima Outcome” Pablo Solon provides an analysis of the document coming out of the United Nation’s climate talks. Lima marked the 20th year of the Framework Convention on Climate Change, or Conference of Parties (COP) and the draft document coming out of the negotiations will be finalized in Paris this year as the governing international treaty on climate change. Solon states, “In synthesis, an “agreement” that does not close the emissions gap for this decade, that continues with voluntary contributions with no clear targets for the next decade, has no strong compliance mechanisms and more cheating carbon market mechanisms, puts the future of humanity and life as we know it on our planet Earth in serious jeopardy.” [Emphasis mine.] I arrived in Lima knowing a lot was at stake, and left clear that we are in a state of emergency. We have to step up our game and engage in more radical thought and action to address the gravity of our current situation.

Systemic Violence from the State and Capitalist System

I consider myself knowledgeable about the various forms that state violence manifests. I relate the struggle against poverty, for reproductive justice, racial justice, as fights against state violence, but this trip translated terms I hear all the time like environmental racism and genocide specifically into environmental and ecological violence. While this seems obvious, and I laughed at myself realizing surely its been said and quickly did a google search, it was my first time thinking of it that way and I couldn’t remember hearing the term. Violence is not only a physical and immediate brutal act of aggression, but a deliberate act that threatens life and shows no regard for it. Displacement, natural disasters, the human response to natural disasters, exposure to chemical toxins, loss of biodiversity, access to clean water and other impacts perpetrated by governments and corporations have to constantly be framed as environmental and ecological violence to define the severity and the urgency of our response.

Putting climate change and its effects in the context of violence not only broadens the definition, but broadens the need for radical action and see it as self-defense.

Climate Justice and Human Rights

A major highlight of the gathering in Lima was the Global People’s March in Defense of Mother Earth on December 10th, International Human Rights Day. Although this mass mobilization took place on Human Rights Day, it was not apart of the messaging of the march. This made me realize that the human rights language and framework I’ve grown accustomed to at other gatherings that are parallel or outside alternatives to the United Nations was not present in Lima. Climate Justice as human rights were talked about in some spaces, but it was not central to the gathering as if it could not be used in the face of such blatant human rights violations and posturing. The irony was glaring as the United Nations process continued to be hijacked by corporations and watered down by states like the U.S with false solutions that contradict human rights principles and standards and even worse, further the human rights violations echoed by everyone at the People’s Summit and march. In fact there are no references to human rights in the final draft document, only in the preamble, which is not legally binding.

Although the tension between embracing human rights and rejecting the United Nations made sense, it didn’t sit right with me. Heavily recognizing the conditions imposed on our communities as human rights violations and asserting our rights as human rights seemed critical to me. Reading a reflection on Human Rights Day by Ajamu Baraka, a long-term US based human rights organizer, helped to contextualize the utter abuse and disregard for human rights in the COP 20. This quote from Baraka is instructive, “As a result of the cynical use of human rights by Western states, particularly the last two administrations in the U.S., there is deep dissatisfaction with the human rights idea. This is occurring right at the historical moment when the idea of human rights could provide an alternative ethical and policy guide for countering the global economic, political and social crises that governments and tens of millions of people are experiencing. Without a radical “de-colonization” of its basic tenets, methodologies and institutions, the orthodox human rights framework is unable to offer anything more than bland reforms and a “de-politicized” politics.”

As I reflected on the minimal presence of a human rights framework at the People’s Summit as dissatisfaction and even a rejection of it, I realized the value I placed on it is based on different type of human rights framework. My human rights training is rooted in the idea of a people’s centered human rights framework. I see the power and necessity in a people’s centered human rights framework that is able to do what Baraka speaks of “provide an alternative ethical and policy guide for countering the global economic, political and social crises…” At the same time I negotiate the contradictions with the existing legal and institutional frame based on understanding the values and limits of it.

A people’s centered human rights framework grows out of what oppressed people define for ourselves based on our struggles and goes beyond the limits of international legal text, it confronts white supremacy, settler-colonial capitalism, patriarchy and other systems of oppression that deny us our human agency and dignity. This framework is grounded in the understanding that we can only realize our full human rights when we change social relationships, structures and institutions.

In order to reclaim the mantle and strategic importance of the human rights framework, we have to get at the sources of the problem. One of the critical sources currently limiting the human rights framework is the doctrine and politics of “American Exceptionalism”. This doctrine maintains that the United States is simultaneously “a beacon on a hill” and the worlds rightful police force. And as a result, it can and must dictate the world’s agenda, and the rules and regulations that it imposes to implement this agenda, while it itself is immune to these rules and regulations.  We have to challenge this exceptionalism and the image that prevails of the U.S. exemplifying human rights and therefore the rightful international defender of it. We have to put forth our people-centered human rights framework, link it with the emerging Rights of Mother Earth Framework and the concept of “buen vivir” (roughly translated as “living well together”) and reclaim our agency, social space, and the right to live in harmony with each other and our provider and sustainer, Mother Earth.

Critical Questions

For me, critical questions going into Lima and coming out are, how do we challenge and confront the discourse as well as the policies, practices and implications? How do we make our solutions real with concrete, successful, examples? What do we need to do between now and COP 21 in Paris and beyond? What shifts will we need to make to confront the aftermath and consequences of the international protocols set to come out of Paris?

Answers to this question in theory and practice are developing all over the world, including here in the U.S. Cooperation Jackson is putting forth our ideas that we hope can be a model for other parts of the country. For us, answers to these questions are deepening through our alliances and networks like the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, Climate Justice Alliance and the Our Power Campaign. As a pilot site of the Our Power Campaign we are deepening our praxis to support our development of concrete solutions for a just transition.

Reflecting on Lima and events at the end of 2014, I think we need to strengthen our work around shifting the narrative, step up our collective action here in the U.S. and strategically come up with sustained coordinated global action to bring about the systems change we call for. At the same time, deepen our relationships and exchanges here in the U.S. and with international allies to continue developing alternatives to the extractive economy and examples of our solutions. We need to leverage international gatherings this year, like Paris and the World Social Forum in Tunisia to plan targeted coordinated actions and exchanges.

I see placing our struggles in the context of systemic violence and human rights as challenging the discourse that validates the false solutions presented as so called “climate action” coming out of the UN COP process. Being clear about what we are up against, the violent nature of oppression and who perpetrates it is critical to putting forth our own narrative. Not only climate change is life threatening, but the “climate action” in the form of REDD, Climate Smart Agriculture, Carbon Markets and the like are acts of violence against Mother Earth and our communities. We must intensify our resistance by finding every way to confront and disrupt the destructive, extractive economy. This includes incorporating the lessons from the mass non-compliant movements of the 20th century that we see potentially re-emerging through the current fight against police violence and campaigns for better wages and employee protections.

The human rights framework not only directly confronts systems of oppression and the actors that perpetrate it, but also offers an alternative policy. A crucial component of Cooperation Jackson’s work to build economic democracy and sustainable communities includes our effort to make Jackson, Mississippi a human rights city with a human rights commission and charter developed through a people’s centered process. In creating a human rights city, a system can be set up to protect the advances we make in economic democracy and structuring sustainable communities. If we are truly talking about changing the system and a just transition, it has to include developing an alternative set of principles, values, morals and policies. The people’s centered human rights framework demands that all rights are universal, interdependent, indivisible, and inalienable. It demands a system that ensures the rights of people and the rights of nature are equally respected, policies that protect these rights, and a system that is obligated to fulfill these rights by creating the conditions and providing the resources necessary.

I’m looking forward to the road to Paris, but even more so to the road beyond. I’m exciting about the possibilities. We have our work cut out for us in such challenging times, but it is our duty to win!

Advertisements

Report from Rights of Nature International Tribunal, Lima, Peru

Part 1 of a series by Dania Flores – Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island

Dania Flores is one of 12 members on the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance delegation to Lima, Peru for the People’s Summit on Climate Change. 

Monday December 8, Day 1: After preparing with each other by conference calls for the past month, we finally were all together for our first morning meeting at 7AM in our great Hostal Las Camelias. We started the day by hearing some context on what had happened in the last 3 days, including the Rights of Nature International Tribunal and the work of people inside and outside the UN negotiations, the difference in the dynamics. Tom Goldtooth described it as “Schizophrenic” – like night and day: the agenda of the UN is about extraction, market and remediation/mitigation, a capitalist one. Here at the peoples summit we have a conversation about sustainability and life one of respect, human rights and nature rights, that painted a frame work for us of what it was to come. Last night we had dinner and bonded, we all had been very excited of the different things we are about to witness and also be part of, I am loving this… We are loving this.

Report on the Rights of Mother Nature Tribunal.

TribunalTo see the list of judges on the diverse international panel, and the cases and lead presenters, visit this website: http://therightsofnature.org/lima-2014-tribunal/

As the world looks to Lima, Peru for the 20th UN COP on Climate Change, the International Rights of Nature Tribunal convened in Lima. The Tribunal heard twelve international cases that were aligned with UNFCCC COP 20 priorities. What was unique to this hearing is that each case was reviewed within a framework based on Rights of Nature and the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth.

“We the people assume the authority to conduct an International Tribunal for the Rights of Nature. We will investigate cases of environmental destruction which violate the Rights of Nature,” declared Prosecutor for the Earth, Ramiro Avila during the opening of the world’s first Tribunal on the Rights of Nature on Friday January 17, 2014 in Quito, Ecuador.

Indigenous rights activist Casey Camp-Horinek (Ponca from Oklahoma, USA) and Patricia Gualinga, an indigenous of the Amazon and director of Sarayaku, provided expert witness testimony on the critical importance of Rights of Nature.

TribunalThe Global Alliance for Rights of Nature was founded at a gathering in Ecuador in 2010, two years after Ecuador became the first nation in the world to adopt Rights of Nature in its Constitution and Bolivia passed its Law of the Rights of Mother Earth. Across the United States dozens of communities have adopted local rights of nature laws within the framework of a Community Bill of Rights in recent years. Click here for more on the declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth.

The Rights of Nature movement draws on the wisdom and cosmovision of indigenous peoples in positing a new jurisprudence that recognizes the right of nature in all its forms to exist, persist, evolve and regenerate.

One of the most impacting stories was the Yasuní National Park Oil drilling struggle. Anyone would think that if you have a national park that is conserved and preserved as a nature preserve, this would mean to keep and safeguard the natural state. But this case has been a perfect example of governmental land grabbing with a legal instrument, and instead of saving it for the preservation of the planet, it has been sold to the powers of the capitalist elite who have criminalized community organizers. By labeling organizers as “terrorist” the elite have twisted the stories of social fights to stop a public referendum that is guaranteed by the constitution and by standards of the law of Ecuador. Click here to learn more about the Yasuni struggle to defend their land

Read more of this post

COP 20: Conference Of Phony climate “solutions”

by Matt Feinstein, Worcester Roots Project

COP 20, the Conference Of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), is meeting in Lima, Peru to advance false solutions to climate change. These solutions are market-based and flawed by the same economic system that has created this climate crisis. Or they are technological fixes such as “climate-smart agriculture” that will strengthen agribusiness and other large corporations at the expense of indigenous peoples, farming communities and poor folks. As an activist with No REDD+ Africa in Kenya, Ruth Nyambura, states, “market mechanisms are not solutions to the climate crisis. A primary mechanism thatDelegation_Group_Cumbre the UN proposes, REDD+ (Reducing of Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), is not a solution, in fact it violates the rights of indigenous people and mother nature. The market is made for profit, not to safeguard nature.”

No REDD+

This movement to stop REDD+ is one of the strongest campaigns represented here in Lima at the People’s Summit on Climate Change – a four-day conference convening hundreds of organizations from around the world, including Grassroots Global Justice Alliance. As Indigenous Environmental Network coordinator, Tom Goldtooth explains, “REDD+ means the privatization of nature on a scale so massive that it boggles our minds.” He goes on to say “REDD+ is like carbon stocks,” allowing corporations and governments to continue to pollute by IMG_7475purchasing credits that are then often used to fund the false solutions such as large unsustainable agrofuels.

When asked what one can do about stopping REDD+, Ruth brings a systemic critique. “Divestment can have an impact, but let’s be careful about focusing on the individual. Real system change comes from strong grassroots organizations.” Tom Goldtooth adds to this, “We have to organize. We have to mobilize our resistance. We have to be strategic.”

Energy Sovereignty

Similar to food sovereignty – where people have local control and can ensure sustainability of resources – energy sovereignty is a central theme here at the People’s Summit on Climate Change. Read more of this post

People’s Climate Activities were Historic… UN Climate Summit, Not So Much.

by Sha Grogan-Brown, Grassroots Global Justice

Ebulletin-banner-PCMYou probably heard this many times last week, but it’s worth saying again—the People’s Climate March on Sunday September 21, 2014 was a major historic event. It was historic because of the sheer numbers who came out to march (it’s being called the largest climate march in history, with estimates around 400,000 people in the streets of New York City). It was historic because the participants and leaders of the march reflected the voices and bodies of the people on the frontlines of the crisis, who are most impacted by climate change and the economic crisis. It was historic because of the way that the grassroots organizing sector and climate policy organizations came together to collaborate in the planning of the march, and laid the groundwork for strengthened relationships and a broader united movement for climate justice.

In the days following the march, people took action to continue pressuring the United Nations and global leaders to take real community-led action on Climate Change. Read more of this post

What does environmental justice have to do with tenant organizing?

by John Tieu: CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities

Jeff Lau of CAAAV takes in the view of the Chevron refinery in Richmond CA. Photo by Ryan Sin

Jeff Lau of CAAAV takes in the view of the Chevron refinery in Richmond CA. Photo by Ryan Sin

The Our Power National Convening kicked off on August 6th, 2014 in Richmond CA, a diverse city that houses the Chevron Richmond refinery. This refinery is also one of the larger greenhouse gas emitting factories in the nation. The city itself is an example of what happens when capitalism’s method of exploiting the working class, extracting their profit, and commodifying our environment reaches a peak. An alarming number of people in Richmond have suffered, and are currently suffering from breathing issues such as asthma due to the city’s harmful air. Crime has been consistently high, and disinvestment in the city is affecting urban space. The refinery itself, which provides jobs to a sizeable amount of the population in Richmond, is also a highly unstable and dangerous work environment.

Our Power participants hold a vigil for Richmond residents impacted by the 2012 Chevron explosions. Photo by Shadia Fayne Wood

Our Power participants hold a vigil for Richmond residents impacted by the 2012 Chevron explosions. Photo by Shadia Fayne Wood

At a community vigil on August 6th, participants of the convening learned about and paid tribute to the victims of an explosion that happened at the refinery two years ago in 2012, sending 15,000 to seek treatment.

The city’s population itself is constantly being reminded of their struggles with bombardments of smoke plumes and advertisements from Chevron citing modernization and expansion as positive changes. I’ve never seen or experienced any neighborhood like it on the east coast. A resident in the city of Richmond seems to have almost every aspect of their life permeated by the Chevron corporation, as it seems to always and constantly be in the collective conscience of the neighborhood. As an intern who did not have any background in environmental studies, did not focus on issues in my own neighborhood that dealt with clean air and energy issues, and did not ever have to live in the shadow of a massive refinery, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I became involved with CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities this past summer, and had dealt with multiple issues ranging from organizing tenants in Chinatown, to doorknocking in NYCHA owned complexes, to putting on a screening of Delano Manongs, a film about the Filipino Farm Workers movement. While all somewhat varied in its subject, the projects had no readily apparent connections to the themes of the convening, which were mostly based on environmental and climate justice. Throughout the event I struggled to understand my place, as well as CAAAV’s place in the fight for a just transition into a new economic system, when there hasn’t been a direct connection of organization’s work focused on these issues. It had taken the majority of the conference to understand why Grassroots Global Justice would want to send Jeff (a fellow member) and I here to Richmond… Read more of this post