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“This innocent country set you down in a ghetto in which, in fact, it intended that you should perish… You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity, and in as many ways as possible, that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence: you were expected to make peace with mediocrity.” – James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time
I’ve been thinking about this post for some time now. I started writing it a while ago and have been adding to it little by little. I wanted to make sure it’s just right, but then realized that I don’t have to be perfect in my personal feelings about what’s going on. But, if I’m going to publish it publicly, then I have the responsibility to make sure I don’t say anything reckless, to be thoughtful, truthful and sincere, but it doesn’t have to be perfect. And I’m also not attempting to address the issues in Ferguson and elsewhere comprehensively – I’m just addressing one issue I find particularly frustrating.
So, here’s what I’ve been thinking about a lot since the deeply disheartening rulings from both grand juries in the Mike Brown and Eric Garner cases. First, the injustice breaks my heart and I wish I could be at every single protest across the country, standing in solidarity with the mothers, fathers, grandmas, brothers and sisters demanding justice for their community. Have you been involved in a street protest? It is one of the most exhilarating, uplifting and scary experiences (the cops are the scary part – I’ve been chased for miles by cops in riot gear – it’s not fun). But in a mass protest you feel the intense solidarity in that moment, on the street with others who feel similarly to you – it’s energizing and beautiful and powerful and nourishing to the soul that rails against injustice of any kind.
But what I’ve really been spending the most time thinking about is how frustrated I am by the outrage coming from mainstream media and predominantly white Americans over the rioting following the Mike Brown case. Don’t get me wrong, destruction of property is rough and hard to forgive if you own a business that is targeted. And I’m not suggesting that randomly attacking businesses is the answer to a tragic situation. But what I am saying is that I understand. Or, more simply put, I get it. I get why the rioting happened and I wish other people did too. The seemingly indifferent response the rioting is triggering is disgusting and frustrating and just makes me want to scream and shake some sense into people.
(I’ll stop here and add this: I’ve been part of protests that have involved property destruction, not by own hand or the hands of protestors. Protestors have witnessed members of the Black Bloc and/or undercover cops lead the property destruction and then blame it on the protestors as a way to discredit direct action by the citizenry. There seems to be some evidence that some of the violent protest in Ferguson was perpetrated by the cops, although that remains to be fully proven: https://www.popularresistance.org/did-police-set-autos-on-fire-during-ferguson-protests/)
I have spent the last 20 years educating myself about social movements both in this country and abroad, educating myself to be an informed and steadfast ally to many marginalized groups (with lots of learning still to do). I’m also generally wired for intense empathy and compassion, so I am frustrated by some of the responses to what’s happening in Ferguson and around the country. Mainly because I think a lot of the people who don’t understand what’s going on don’t understand because they can’t see the events within the larger context of our history in this country and the lived experiences of many folks of color. (To be frank, I think many are just too lazy to deal with the larger context, it would require too much of them and cause them to have to explain themselves or be challenged and proven inept.)
In particular, as I personally reflect on what’s happening and try to make sense of it, I can’t help but return to my days as a student of African American Studies at UNM under the instruction of Dr. Shiame Okunor. I remember reading The Confessions of Nat Turner and as I struggled to understand what I was reading, along with my fellow students, I realize now that reading that book was a turning point in my life as an activist and as an ally to those struggling for their most basic human rights.
What stands out in my mind about Nat Turner’s revolt, and keeps drawing me back given what’s going on today in Ferguson and across the country is this – peaceful protest is a privilege that not everyone can afford. It’s almost always people in power or those who benefit greatly from privilege (mostly the privilege of not experiencing a great amount of state or civil violence) who are the loudest proponents of peaceful protest, of non-violence as means of resistance, with the main presumption being “don’t use violence, use the system to address your issues.” Well, what if the system has failed you time and time again? What if the system you are lectured to utilize as a means of change is the very thing perpetuating the violence in your community, against your family, against your children?
As a Buddhist and as a white person, I was confounded by the idea of violent resistance when I first read about Nat Turner’s rebellion. How could I empathize with someone who went on a rampage, killing dozens of “innocent” whites who hadn’t enslaved him (but were living off the fruits of his bondage)? How could I possibly understand his perspective and his ultimate choice to use violence to gain his freedom from his situation?
In part, I was totally conflicted because of the stories we were told in school about Gandhi and MLK, that peaceful protest was paramount in the SUCCESSFUL struggle for human rights. But, no one talked about the Nat Turner revolt in high school. Violent protest wasn’t covered in history books, not in a way that presented them as the complex situations they in fact are. They were glossed over and instead we’ve been preached at in school about the absolute truth of peaceful protest as THE ONLY ACCEPTABLE solution to injustice. I went to high school in Virginia, they didn’t teach us about the Nat Turner revolt despite the fact that it happened in our state and is thought by many to be the event that ignited the Civil War in this country. Also, a recent article points out that the violent Stonewall protests were the linchpin for the modern LGBTQ movement in this country. Violent protest has no value? Why do we gloss over this in school?
(This last bit is a rhetorical question – it doesn’t serve the state to teach people about violent insurrection as a means of change… but that’s a whole other blog entry…)
As we read through Nat Turner’s confessions, our professor told us to really and truly think about the experience Nat Turner and other slaves at that time were living, to try to put ourselves in their shoes – and most importantly, understand the larger context in which Nat Turner and millions of Africans enslaved in the United States at that time were living. He encouraged us to not just see Nat Turner’s insurrection as an isolated incident (which far too many white Americans and mainstream media are doing to the Mike Brown and Eric Garner cases – “but he stole cigarettes, but he resisted arrest, but he was disrespectful to a cop”). Dr. Okunor pushed us to understand Turner’s rebellion as a response to the bigger picture. At that time, what was the alternative to being beaten, raped, tortured through enslavement, your children ripped away from you and indiscriminately killed at the whim of another human being – all without recourse or sympathy? The system at that time surely wasn’t a help to enslaved human beings in America. It officially defined slaves as chattle, a belonging to do with what you will, to be used as you see fit. Given this situation, what is your next best option? The answer is, in this particular case, Nat Turner felt there wasn’t a next best option, BECAUSE THERE WASN’T A NEXT BEST OPTION. Violence to achieve his freedom was his only option given the situation he was put in. Whether you agree with that or not, his lived experience at that time told him he had no other option.
At the time though, I thought the answer was simple – just run away, don’t kill anyone and live in the swamps. But thankfully in college you have your beliefs and thoughts challenged by others who are struggling to understand complex issues right alongside you – people who come from different backgrounds than you, who can share a new perspective you might not have ever entertained. I finally realized that my simplistic option wasn’t an option – runaway slaves were routinely and mercilessly hunted as animals. Their escape meant a crucial blow to the economic and moral standing in the community of the slave owner. No, runaway slaves were hunted until they were found, and often killed for their rebellion. Nat Turner had no choice.
I will never know what that must have been like. Not even close. I can imagine it. Just like I can never know what it must be like to be a person of color in America in the 21st century and still be suffering under a clearly racist system that refuses to acknowledge it has a problem, let alone try to fix the problem. I can imagine it. I can witness it. But I can’t know what that experience is really like. I can’t truly judge what is the right response to such a system, to such injustice, to such intolerable grief at the murder of yet another young person of color. I can imagine what I would do, but I am not faced with a struggle that feels insurmountable and leaves me and my family and community no choice.
Do you see what I’m getting at here? Do see why my mind is making the connection between the two – the Nat Turner revolt and protests in Ferguson and other places? If you are white or otherwise benefit from privilege that keeps your family relatively safe from police violence, do you have it in you to try to put yourself in the shoes of black folks in communities across this country who are faced with an epidemic of poverty and violence, often through no fault of their own? Can you just for one minute imagine living their experience and the RIGHTEOUS indignation you would feel? How you just might be compelled to throw a brick at a glass window?* Can you imagine that you might resort to violence because of the absolute desolation and grief and anger you feel at the non-stop violence perpetrated against children who look just like your babies? Perpetrated against your community ad nauseum? I can. I can totally imagine it, even if it’s not my lived experience. I can deeply empathize with that feeling of anger and frustration and hand-wrenching and eventual outburst of violence. I can imagine that being an option, what I might feel is my only option.
MLK said it best in his Letters from a Birmingham Jail. While the exact circumstances of life lived in America in 2014 aren’t the same, if you listen sincerely and with an open heart to folks of color in this country about their lived experiences today, there is still a constant struggle against “nobodiness”: ““Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.”
Listening to the grand jury decision by Robert McCulloch on the radio that night made me sick. Even sicker was Obama’s lecturing of the nation, the protesters in Ferguson, that violence would not be tolerated. Obama has a history of community organizing, I would bet he gets this more than he lets on and I know he’s the leader of a country that isn’t equally educated on human rights struggles in this country and so has to temper his response somewhat, but his complete denial of the violence that instigated the ensuing fierce response unleashed by an exhausted, aggrieved community disgusted me. It made me sick to listen to McCulloch discount all witnesses to the crime, to indirectly blame Mike Brown for his own murder and to try desperately to cast a negligent police officer as an innocent bystander in this terrible injustice. Just sick to my stomach.
“Now I wanted to say something about the fact that we have lived over these last two or three summers with agony and we have seen our cities going up in flames. And I would be the first to say that I am still committed to militant, powerful, massive, non-violence as the most potent weapon in grappling with the problem from a direct action point of view. I’m absolutely convinced that a riot merely intensifies the fears of the white community while relieving the guilt. And I feel that we must always work with an effective, powerful weapon and method that brings about tangible results.
But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.” –Martin Luther King, Jr., just weeks before he was assassinated
This is what we should have heard pass the lips of Obama in response to Ferguson.
Just to be clear, and to tie all of this together (in case you missed it in my rambling), I’m not condoning violence or looting. I’m saying it’s not a simple argument of “do this, not that,” that you can’t judge a single event without taking into account the larger context of history and current lived experiences of the people involved. I’m saying that YOU CAN’T SPEAK FOR PEOPLE WHOSE LIVED EXPERIENCE IS DIFFERENT THAN YOUR OWN AND TELL THEM WHAT RESPONSE IS THE RIGHT RESPONSE. I’m saying that peaceful protest isn’t always the only answer to a human rights struggle. I’m challenging peaceful protest as THE ONLY answer as a privileged stance. What I’m ultimately getting at is that until we acknowledge the complexity of all the players involved, the systems involved, the history that got us to where we are today, that the answer to what happened to Mike Brown and countless other folks of color in this country isn’t as simple as “peaceful protest.” So, please check your privilege before you lecture people about what the appropriate answer is to a profoundly distressing struggle for a basic human right.
And because I am not a prolific writer of any kind, I often look to the brilliant writing of others to help educate me about what’s going on in the world, to expand my perspective. Here are some links I have really appreciated reading about this situation:
“Things to Stop Being Distracted By When a Black Person Gets Murdered by Police”: http://www.blackgirldangerous.org/2014/08/things-stop-distracted-black-person-gets-murdered-police/
“They’re murdering our kids and getting away with it”: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/26/police-brutality-victims_n_6225776.html
‘We Don’t Need Nice, We Need Justice: Racism and the Moral Blindness of White America,”: http://www.timwise.org/2014/12/we-dont-need-nice-we-need-justice-racism-and-the-moral-blindness-of-white-america/
Colorlines’ “Killed by the Cops” infographic: http://m.colorlines.com/archives/2014/11/infographic_killed_by_the_cops.html
“5 James Baldwin Quotes that Foreshadowed Ferguson”: http://www.advocate.com/politics/2014/11/25/5-james-baldwin-quotes-foreshadowed-ferguson
“On Ferguson Protests, the Destruction of Things, and What Violence Really Is (And Isn’t)”: http://www.blackgirldangerous.org/2014/11/ferguson-destruction-violence-really-isnt/
“10 of the Most Striking Eric Garner [Political] Cartoons”: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/comic-riffs/wp/2014/12/06/see-10-of-the-most-striking-ericgarner-cartoons-so-far/?tid=sm_fb
Finally, I’ll end with the profoundly wise and beautiful human being, Howard Zinn. I love his thoughts on optimism in times of struggle. There are a lot of people who are weighed down by the enormity of the crises and injustices of our times, but I remain optimistic and will again say, which I say all of the time, there are a million small, unpublished, didn’t-make-the-news moments in life when people are kind and generous and care for each other. We have to remember those moments to enliven us to be part of the solution to the bigger struggles.
“Consider the remarkable transformation, in just a few decades, in people’s consciousness of racism, in the bold presence of women demanding their rightful place, in a growing public awareness that gays are not curiosities but sensate human beings, in the long-term growing skepticism about military intervention despite brief surges of military madness.
“It is that long-term change that I think we must see if we are not to lose hope. Pessimism becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; it reproduces itself by crippling our willingness to act. Revolutionary change does not come as one cataclysmic moment (beware of such moments!) but as an endless succession of surprises, moving zigzag toward a more decent society.
“We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world. Even when we don’t ‘win,’ there is fun and fulfillment in the fact that we have been involved, with other good people, in something worthwhile.
“We need hope. An optimist isn’t necessarily a blithe, slightly sappy whistler in the dark of our time. To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.
“What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places-and there are so many-where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future.
“The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”
*There’s a trend of retail stores popping up all over the country that sanction violence – you pay to break a room full of dishes. I’d be really curious to know the racial demographics of customers to these stores – I’m gonna make a wild guess and assume predominantly white folks are the proprietors and customers. And I’m also gonna guess these stores are lauded by the community at large as being a great way to “blow off some steam.” But god forbid a group of terrified and angry folks of color break a couple of windows in legitimate response to the unjust murder of youth in their communities.
(C) 2010 By Shannon Laliberte Parks. All Rights Reserved. Please Obtain Permission to Copy.
NATIVE LANDS CONSIDERED NATIONAL SACRIFICE AREAS: “A closer look at the western religious origins of the term [sacrifice] is even more disturbing. The ‘sacrificial lamb’ or ‘scapegoat’ is symbolically understood to take on the weight of the community’s sins, and is then either exiled from the community or killed as an act of atonement.
In that sense, the designation of many Indian lands as National Sacrifice Areas is a disturbingly accurate recognition of present reality. Native communities are the scapegoats for Western consumer culture, bearing the burdens of the sins of the community. Indian communities have hosted toxic waste, a by-product of white middle class consumer lifestyles, without ever having benefited from those lifestyles.” – Jonna Higgins-Freese and Jeff Tomhave, in their article Race, Sacrifice, and Native Lands
As an ally to Native women environmental leaders throughout the Southwest, I have witnessed, first hand, that Native American grassroots and community groups are facing a multi-faceted fight when it comes to protecting their lands from continued environmental destruction and cultural genocide.
- Increasingly the federal government and private industry is looking toward Tribal lands for new and existing sources of domestic energy, as well as ground zero for launching domestic “green” alternative energy initiatives. For centuries, corporations and the federal government have exploited Native communities for their own gain, therefore those entities pushing for this renewed effort to source alternatives in Indian Country must be held accountable to those communities who will ultimately bear the brunt of the expansion and development.
- This effort to keep parties accountable is much harder than one might think. Tribal power over its own lands is a complicated matter, involving a “checkerboard” of intersecting, interwoven, complex relationships between federal, state and tribal policies.
- Overall, it should be noted that more often than not, tribal governments answer to federal and state regulations, as opposed to the other way around.
- Historically, the federal government has perceived Indigenous people of this land, first, as uncivilized “savages,” then when human rights were called into question, the perception shifted to recognizing their humanity, but deeming them infantile, so as to continue to exert power over them and their lands.
- Unfortunately, the department of the federal government that most directly affects tribal sovereignty when it comes to environmental considerations is the EPA. The reason this is unfortunate is because research shows that the EPA “ …more often than not, opposes congressional attempts to pass tough environmental laws… spends more time and money figuring out how to exempt corporations from regulations than it does enforcing them and …. the EPA’s will to regulate is so weak that a proposed regulation must be under a court-ordered deadline (brought by an environmental group) before it will even be considered for the EPA administrator’s signature.”[1
- Investigation into the relationships between decision makers and industry has cast a negative light on many projects brought to Indian Country. For its part, the EPA has a long record of administrators leaving the department and entering into highly lucrative positions with hazardous waste management corporations and other industry players. Therefore, it is critical to provide support, when called for, to Native American partners in seeking to untangle the web of intricate policies so that the voice of the grassroots is heard as new decisions are made regarding Native land use.
- With the onslaught of the recent economic downturn, both global and domestic, budget cuts to critical services that provide for some of the most impacted communities in this country are being enacted. The result is that impoverished communities are left disproportionately under-served by both governmental services and pro bono advocacy.
- And lastly, as our government seeks to assuage Americans’ economic and national security fears, solutions are being sought in the heart of Native country – federal and private interests are looking to the vast amounts of untapped petroleum-based resources that lie beneath the lands of this country’s Indigenous peoples, as well as those purported to be sustainable, “green” alternatives.
“Each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet… we will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.” – President Barack Obama
“Nuclear power is going to be an important part of our energy mix.. We will be building some [clean] coal plants… while we search for alternatives.” – Steven Chu, Nobel Prize winning physicist and Secretary of Energy. Read the rest of this entry »
The massive efforts to develop the Third World in the years since World War II were not motivated by purely philanthropic considerations but by the need to bring the Third World into the orbit of the Western trading system in order to create an ever-expanding market for our goods and services and a source of cheap labor and raw materials for our industries. This has also been the goal of colonialism especially during its last phase, which started in the 1870’s. For that reason, there is a striking continuity between the colonial era and the era of development, both in the methods used to achieve their common goal and in the social and ecological consequences of applying them.
Following the Second World War in 1944, President Roosevelt convened a United Nations-sponsored (the UN at this time not officially formed yet) monetary and financial conference at Bretton Woods to discuss redevelopment of devastated areas due to the destruction of the wars. Ultimately it was in the conferences’ plans to create a Bank of Reconstruction and Development. This “bank” is today known as the World Bank and the addition of the word “development” was a controversial move according to some of the conference members, specifically those from Latin American countries; for the concept of “development” was to indicate assistance given to economically disadvantaged countries that had long suffered under colonial occupation. The overall result of the end of World War II and the Bretton Woods conference was a general split of the world into two camps: the US-led capitalist ideological, political and economic bloc and the Soviet-led socialist ideological, political and economic bloc- and the two camps proceeded to battle for world allegiance through development aid and military programs.
Starting in Europe, the United States made an agreement, the Marshall Plan, which instituted a new aid design, ultimately benefiting the supplier of aid, not the receiver. Marianne Gronemeyer says of the new deal, “In reality, the package of measures was the prototype of all future self-help, though it nevertheless remained a public gesture of giving. World politics had never before been so elegant. The boundaries between giving and taking were blurred to the point of unrecognizability.”
In 1948, UN Resolution 200 aimed to recognize the “technical backwardness” of the “underdeveloped” nations of the world and the commitment of “developed” nations to assist them in modernizing. President Truman said of this new effort,
“More than half the people of the world are living in conditions approaching misery. Their food is inadequate. They are victims of disease. Their economic life is primitive and stagnant. Their poverty is a handicap and a threat both to them and to more prosperous areas… We invite other countries to pool their technological resources in this undertaking. Their contributions will be warmly welcomed. This should be a cooperative enterprise in which all nations work together through the United Nations and its specialized agencies whenever practicable… The old imperialism – exploitation for foreign profit – has no place in our plans. What we envisage is a program of development based on the concepts of democratic fair dealing.”
This became the basis for the hegemonic assault of the industrialized nations upon the rest of the world, not to mention the absolute refusal of these nations to recognize their part in creating the abject poverty experienced throughout the Global South.
The shift in focus from promoting individual and community subsistence that values diversity and local control, to a global-led marketplace that devalues such ideas and has allowed for the promotion and prioritization of development / aid projects that displace millions in the name of modernization; promote profits for corporations not people; undermine the autonomy of countries, subjecting them to the influence of richer and more politically and militarily powerful countries; culturally appropriate family planning and control by women over their own bodies and reproductive choices; an increased number of people unable to provide for their most basic needs with their own land and labor; destruction of environments that for centuries have provided communities with all of their needs—these realities are the real foundation of modern aid programs. Enclosure of the commons throughout the world has also included the sale of communal lands to pay off national debt and the privatization of public services, all of which take communal control away from citizens and give it over to governments and corporations. Read the rest of this entry »
Did you know that billions in public tax dollars now perpetuate and subsidize sweatshops and child labor abuses? Incredibly, public school district, city, state and other government agencies across the country routinely purchase goods such as law enforcement uniforms, computers, office supplies and sporting goods that were made by sweatshop labor.
Global competition requires that countries vying for foreign investment keep their production costs low and so many of these countries have fallen into the habit of reducing worker protections in order to entice multinational corporations to set up factories in their countries. The penny-pinching corporate habit of seeking “discount bargains” has now spread to the consumer market and it is creating a fatal squeeze on factory owners and their employees. The result is forced overtime, low wages, punishments and fines for slow work and mistakes, worker intimidation, child labor, and other abuses—otherwise known as sweatshop conditions.
According to the United Nations Human Development Reports for 2002 and 2003, extreme poverty and hunger, after decreasing in the 1970s and 1980s, have both been increasing in the 1990s, particularly in countries that have adopted the one-size-fits-all World Trade Organization rules for trade and economic development. (The United Nations argues that policy changes, not charity, are necessary to overcome poverty).
Sweater: employer who underpays and overworks his employees, especially a contractor for piecework in the tailoring trade. ( Standard Dictionary of the English Language, 1895)
Sweatshop: A usually small manufacturing establishment employing workers under unfair and unsanitary conditions. (Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, 1993) Read the rest of this entry »
For centuries the success of a community has depended on their ability to navigate the delicate process of sustainable food gathering and production. The Mesopotamian culture learned this lesson when the once rich soils became over irrigated, water logged and salinated. Rome destroyed the fertility of its North African provinces’ land due to over cultivation of grain, which resulted in desertification, soil erosion, watershed depletion and food supply depletion. Egypt seemed to be one of the only regions to dodge unsustainable agricultural practices, that is until industrial agriculture and the Aswan dam destroyed that delicate balance that had been maintained. Egypt, once self-sufficient, now imports 40% of its grain stocks.
During Columbus’ second visit to the America’s he brought with him sugar cane – this was an extremely rare and valuable commodity on the European market (they were addicted to tea!) and their diet. It was cultivated on plantations throughout the West Indies and north-east Brazil and became one of the major staples of the gruesome triangular trade between Africa, the Caribbean, etc. and Europe. This success of this trade system and the resulting capital accumulation of European markets relied on the slave labor of stolen Africans and the ripe, fertile land of the Caribbean and the Americas. Agriculture was transformed from a subsistence method of food production and survival to a commodity production method for a capitalist cash economy. It was the beginning of communities forced to work the land. That same land today is some of the most destroyed in those regions and the native populations are some of the most impoverished in the world.
“The extraction of surplus from the land, its forests, its plant and mineral wealth, was crucial to capital accumulation on a world scale. And it was accompanied by the exploitation, both direct and indirect, of the women and men of peasant and forest dwelling communities throughout the world.” Read the rest of this entry »
Compiled by Shannon Laliberte with Ambika Chawla in 2005 for Oakland Institute*
Under current law, legislators can only vote yes or no on the pact — they cannot amend it… [CAFTA] has become a referendum on broader trade policy that many House Democrats, organized labor and some Republicans believe is fueling a growing trade deficit and harming U.S. workers. The opposition, so far, has been too much for the administration to overcome. ‘I can’t see the president taking it to Congress until he has the votes. If he had the votes, he would have sent it already,… 1
CAFTA-DR (Central America- Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement) grew out of the Bush administration’s failure to advance negotiations in the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), designed to extend North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras (all three have officially ratified CAFTA to date), Nicaragua and Costa Rica. On August 5, 2004, the Dominican Republic signed onto the agreement, thereby making it the Central America- Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR).
CAFTA-DR promises improved worker well-being, respect for workers’ rights, as well as abundance to farmers, consumers and corporate America; additionally, proponents promise that ratification of CAFTA-DR would result in “level[ing] the playing field for American workers, farmers and businesses and strengthens democracies in our neighborhood.”2 Unfortunately that has not been the case for CAFTA-DR’s predecessor, NAFTA, whose policies have resulted in hundreds of thousands of Mexicans, Americans and Canadians losing their jobs, thousands of family farms facing foreclosure and public interest laws taking a back seat to secret NAFTA court negotiations and rulings.
The FTAA was the initial effort to expand NAFTA throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean (excluding Cuba); negotiations started directly after NAFTA was ratified in 1994 and were supposed to be finished by January 2005.3 CAFTA-DR was designed to ease the rest of the Western hemisphere into the integrated market and the Bush administration is putting increasing pressure on the countries of Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina to either amend the agreements now or be left out all together. FTAA negotiations have not been successful due to strong resistance from social movements as well as opposition from national governments throughout the continent. CAFTA-DR faces the same opposition.
Corporate America, the real beneficiary of any of the free trade agreements with the Central American countries, is anxious for Congress to approve CAFTA-DR by May of 2005; additionally, numerous ambassadors from the CAFTA countries are courting U.S. corporate interests and Congress in support of the agreement. Labor rights, human rights and environmental rights groups are just some of the organizations at the forefront of the resistance movement against the ratification of CAFTA-DR. Additional groups fighting CAFTA-DR’s ratification are the textile and sugar industries, thereby ensuring some normally pro-trade Republicans will also not support CAFTA-DR. Read the rest of this entry »