Letter From The Running and The Rising

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I’m just back from the Women Deliver conference in Copenhagen, a convening on the health, rights and well-being of girls and women that takes place every three years. The conference dynamically engaged some 5,500 people from 169 countries, with 20% under 30 years of age and all of whom came with their energy, ideas, strategies and solutions for change.

Yemurai Nyoni WDC2016One of the participants under 30 was Yemurai Nyone, Founder and Advisor, Dot Youth Organization and 2013 Women Deliver Young Leader, Zimbabwe who spoke at the opening plenary and who said “My strength [as a man] is not defined by the weakness of others. My partner can be the fullest expression of herself – not for me but for herself. I believe our countries will be better for it.”

Also at the opening plenary, singer Annie Lennox spoke about the need to do so much more to address HIV/AIDS which had become a forgotten issue at the very time it is increasing in many parts of the world. Lennox was a force. Authentic and true. Like Patti Smith. As I watched her, I imagined a new organization called Artists for Activists, with artists fueling funds and forums to support activists on the ground to speak and act with the resources to sustain this work.

(L-R) Annie Lennox, Margaret Chan and Gro Harlem Brundtland attend the Women Deliver conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, May 16, 2016.At the conference Melinda Gates announced an $80 million commitment from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help close gender data gaps to accelerate advancing women’s and girls’ human rights. It brought back memories of making the case to the Australian Government in 2009 to invest in women’s research hubs in Asia and the Pacific for the same reason.

It’s so important to have this data and, in the spirit of what Mohammed Yunus said to young people at the conference — to see themselves as job creators and innovators rather than job seekers — I hope women in communities across the globe can be co-researchers and co-creators of data capture in support of their knowledge, experience and networks.  And that they can help define what data is captured, and how it is recorded and used.

Melinda Gates is also involved in another new initiative introduced at the conference. Called the Maverick Collective, it’s described as a ‘groundbreaking philanthropic and advocacy initiative aimed at catalyzing the next wave of social investors to improve the health and rights of girls and women worldwide’. Co-founded by Kate Roberts Senior Vice President, Corporate Partnerships & Philanthropy at PSI and Her Royal Highness Crown Princess of Norway Mette-Marit and co-chaired by Melinda Gates, the collective is intended ‘to drive strategic investments that go beyond the checkbook by engaging the time and talents of philanthropists.’

This is what’s happening now, donors want to be more than just ‘walking ATMs to use a phrase coined by Jessica Houssian from Women Moving Millions. Donors want to be engaged as thought leaders and strategists advocating for and influencing, social change outcomes.

With $14 million committed to date from 14 women giving one million each, the Maverick Collective represents the new way of organizing for change. I hope the funds get to grassroots women’s groups at a time when they’re most needed. Especially when institutional donors are pulling out of some regions, such as Latin America and the Middle East.  In the Middle East, European governments are redirecting funds they were providing to UN agencies working with refugees in countries such as Lebanon to back to Europe to address the refugee situation there rather than funding work in both regions.

One of Global Fund for Women’s advisors told me that this is precisely the time where Islamist groups are ramping up their funding to support groups working in the refugee camps.  So, at the very time when there is a deep need to invest in civil society infrastructure and organizing inside and outside refugee settlements to deal with the safety, security, health, education, and livelihood needs of women and their families, western donors are failing them and Islamist groups are stepping in to fill the breach.

I think about what happened in Nigeria when women’s groups in Nigeria and neighboring countries were sounding the alarm more than a year before Boko Haram kidnapped the girls in Nigeria. Women’s movements were asking for funds to shore up a strong grass roots women’s movement across the region in order to create the infrastructure for security and protection, advocacy, and action to build systems of ground support and intelligence.

Donors weren’t much interested in providing funding to these countries until the kidnapping of the girls changed all that. Now we have a situation in the Middle East where women’s groups working in and around the refugee settlements in Lebanon and surrounding countries are seeking funds to support and sustain their activism to bring about change and remain connected to women’s movements. And yet funds are flowing away from these groups, away from these countries, at the very time that civil society needs strengthening.

freedom-muslimasIn Egypt the government is withholding funds to women’s groups for many months and they are finding it very difficult to continue to operate when they have to pay fixed costs such as rent in order to have a safe space to meet and organize. Without this ability to organize there will be a further erosion of the really important work being undertaken to engage religious and faith based leaders to influence their oratory and their actions. There will not be the opportunity to increase women’s civic and political leadership, to advocate for new policies and practices to address the violence, and to increase women’s access to health information and services and to livelihoods.

There is so much talk and energy around women’s and girls’ empowerment and yet the amount of funds going to grassroots women’s groups is decreasing. The funds being directed from governments to support women’s and girls’ empowerment are largely project based and they are mainly being channeled through for-profit companies and international NGOs rather than via women’s organizations that are directly connected to women’s groups on the ground.  And many international NGOs are shifting from situating themselves as grantmakers to focusing on being convenors of influence, which has the promise of mobilizing more resources and yet often means less funding getting into the hands of women’s groups even though the intent may be there.

It’s not just that funds aren’t getting to grassroots women’s groups to support them to sustain and extend their work. It’s also that being nice and expecting to get a fair slice of the funding pie isn’t working.  While UN Women was created to powerfully advance women’s human rights, it needs millions more to achieve its vision and charter and yet it receives much less funding than other UN agencies.

At the same time, governments are directing massive funds to for-profit companies to manage their funds for development programs rather than this funding being directed to women’s organizations that have deep experience in grantmaking, especially with hard to reach groups working with the most isolated and marginalized communities. The funds being disbursed by governments are at such a high level that its more expedient for these managing contractors to grant funds to large groups in-country that have the systems in place to absorb such funds. To be funded groups also need to and demonstrate a level of governance and risk management to acquit funds at this level and demonstrate impact in the way defined by government donors.  In such a landscape the casualties are the small, cutting edge grass roots groups that are seeding new ideas or seeding themselves as rising activists for change.

At Women Deliver the power of young people was like an electric current running throughout the conference – in the breakout spaces and breakout dancing as much as in the formal sessions and presentations. They were occupying space, defining issues and power on their own terms, turning up the volume on their views and voice. It was a transmission of energy and power and it was such a gift.

running and rising - bodySo, we must hope that this new generation will flip power on its head and create solutions that really do deliver gender justice in the way Yemurai Nyone articulated in the opening plenary session.

I’ve been thinking about power in all its forms and, in this respect, I’ve learnt a lot about personal power from one of my dearest friends, Kate.  Specifically the need to unlock blocks in order to lean into our power, step into our power and to be held to account for this power and, in so doing, to feel our heart sing… This idea kindles in me the vivid images from reading Clarissa Pinkola Estes book, Women Who Run with the Wolves, many moons ago.

women and wolvesIn her book, Dr. Estes invokes the qualities of the archetypal wild woman from stories and fairy tales; qualities that she says have been consistently tamed by a society that advocates the virtue of being “nice.” She found the comparison of woman and wolf while studying wildlife biology. “Wolves and women are relational by nature, inquiring, possessed of great endurance and strength,” she writes. “They are deeply intuitive, intensely concerned with their young, their mate and their pack.” She also writes: “Yet both have been hounded, harassed and falsely imputed to be devouring and devious, overly aggressive, and of less value than those who are their detractors.”

Clarissa Pinkola Estes defines wildness as a kind of savage creativity. “You must become an activist if you are going to live the natural life,” she added, referring to being closer to one’s true self… “Otherwise you fall to the song of the starved soul, the hambre del alma.”

This invitation to reclaim power as feminists is so important. Of connection and exploration, wildness, togetherness and community.  Of stepping up our organizing, being assertive, strategic, untamed and unstoppable.

That’s why the work of the new Centre for Women, Peace and Security at London School of Economics is so important, especially its new activist in residence program to provide a space for women’s human rights activists to engage with the centre. As a member of the Advisory Board, I was so happy to be able to catch up with Professor Christine Chinkin, Director of the Centre, and with Zoe Gillard, Centre Manager, where they had just announced the appointment of four visiting professors in practice to the centre: Jane Connors, Director of International Advocacy at Amnesty International Geneva, William Hague, former UK Foreign Secretary, Angelina Jolie Pitt, UNHCR Special Envoy, and Madeleine Rees, Secretary General of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.  It’s a hugely exciting time to be involved with the centre as it galvanizes support and involvement to drive and deliver a strong curriculum and engagement program.

Aminetou
Aminetou Mint El Moctar Ely

Later, I spend time with Negar Esfandiary, an oral historian who has been working for Women’s Learning Partnership to capture the stories of activist leaders in the women’s movement. Activists like Aminetou Mint El Moctar Ely who escaped the Mauritanian tradition (that is still happening at this very moment) of sending girls to feeding farms to force feed them and fatten them for forced marriage — like lambs to the slaughter. Instead, Aminetou became a highly vocal and active defender of women’s human rights in Mauritania and globally.

The stories are so compelling that the British Library has now bought the rights. As Negar says, the testimonies of these women are of cinematic quality and deserve to be films in their own right. I imagine a series of short films on these activist leaders created by some of the most renowned established and upcoming filmmakers in order for the whole world to get a grip on the power, courage and organizing ability of women organizing for gender justice globally.

People need to be exposed to the ideas and advocacy of these women to know the full power and potential for societal change that is possible when these views and visions are embraced. We all have a responsibility to seek out ways for the voices of those representing the most marginalized, radical and revelatory to be heard.

angela_blackwellIt reminds me of the phenomenal address given by Angela Glover Blackwell, President and CEO of Policy Link, where she said

“The problem isn’t those being left behind – the problem is those who are comfortable leaving people behind…you are not going to be who you claim to be if the thing that defines you is those who are left behind.”

The academic, Kimberlé Crenshaw, spoke to this too at the important London School of Economics International Inequalities Institute Annual Conference where she critiqued an exclusive focus by the Obama administration on lifting young boys out of poverty without any focus on girls because, the President said, girls were doing fine. However the research showed otherwise and it led to a Black Girls Matter movement rising with the slogan Our Girls Are Not “Just Fine” – Break the Silence.

sarianTwo women I met at the Women Deliver conference are also breaking the silence on female genital mutilation (FGM).  Sariam Karim Kamara, is an FGM Survivor from Senegal, now living in London in an area that has the highest number of FGM survivors in the country. She is also founder of an organization called ‘Keep the Drums, Lose the Knife’. In telling her story, Sariam says,

“I was 11 when I was cut. I was taken by my grandmother – together with 15 cousins during the dry season – since after you are cut you need time to heal and it’s harder during the raining season.  We had a sense of something about to happen but no real understanding. We were really excited as we’d prepared for this moment for the last year and we knew we were being inducted to Bondo society (female secret societies that exist across Sierra Leone, where almost 90% of women in the country are members).

FGM Sierra Leone‘In Sierra Leone the practice of FGM, the cutting that girls are subjected to, is only part of a long rite of passage, a long journey, much of which is valuable. We want to keep the rituals, the books, the drums, the dancing, the ceremony and the learning. We want to end the cutting. That’s why I called my group ‘Keep the drums, lose the knife.’ When we come together in this space, everyone is comfortable and there are no barriers and no difference. But with the cutting comes separation and searing pain.

‘If I had between $50,000 and $100,000 I would embark on a community engagement campaign in Sierra Leone to talk with the cutters and the religious leaders. It’s critical to involve the Paramount Chiefs as they are the ones that give the traditional licenses and so they are very powerful. Governments can’t touch them and yet these Chiefs touch every area.

‘What’s important with this issue is to get people talking, to tell their stories and to break the silence on the violence. This means sending women and men out into the community voluntarily to face the issue. Engaging the diaspora community and local communities is the key. It’s also important to give women a safe space and platform to tell their stories and to also learn how to heal and regain confidence and voice, and to rise up.”

What has also been critical has been supporting grass roots movements in the country to advocate for  Sierra Leone to ratify the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa that explicitly bans FGM.  This was finally achieved in July 2015 when Sierra Leone finally ratified the treaty. Now activists are working to get the government to implement the treaty and pass a national law explicitly banning FGM.

AlimatuI also spoke with Alimatu Dimonekene, another FGM survivor and founder of Project ACEi working to end FGM. Alimatu was also born in Sierra Leone and is now living in London.  She was asked by the Prime Minister of Britain and Baroness Lynne Featherstone to share her story at the Girl Summit that took place in London in 2014 to highlight key issues affecting girls. Reflecting on that time Alimeku said “I was quite nervous but I knew it was important.  I was also interviewed by BBC Radio One presenter, Vanessa Felts, who said “we really want the world to know what is happening” and that set the tone for the interview and her program.

“The publicity has been important however the media and celebrities from the Girl Summit have long gone and we’re still struggling to attract funds as grassroots women’s groups. The bigger organizations don’t always reach the communities we reach and that’s a big issue.  I’m paying for myself to do the work here and in Sierra Leone but so much needs to be done, especially in rural areas.”

“There are all the issues related to FGM including menstrual hygiene, access to education and safe access to water and sexual abuse and child marriage of very young girls. These girls are specifically targeted because they have undergone FGM.

For instance, in many communities in Sierra Leone, there is a severe water shortage and so girls are approached by men and boys to have sex in exchange for a bucket of safe drinking water. And so they engage in risky sexual relations, exposing themselves to HIV/AIDS, pregnancy and STIs (sexually transmitted infections) in return for fresh drinking water.

It is only grassroots groups’ who know these communities, much more than the big organizations who only come for a few days and leave. Our work can really bring these issues to the fore as we know what needs to be done to address these situations.”

I ask Alimatu what she would do if a donor gave her $100,000.

“I would create a center in Sierra Leone to help girls and women deal with these issues.  A center where we would share stories in person and via video to encourage girls and women to tell their experiences. A place where girls and women can get therapeutic support, learn new skills and build their self-esteem and confidence to help them break free of this cycle of abuse.

‘What I have here in the UK is access to skilled, trained health professionals. Every woman and girl should have this access. In Burkina Faso, women are not able to express that they are unhappy and so there is no outlet for their pain and grief.  There is no outlet for them to express their experience of the violence perpetrated, their low self-esteem, or that they can’t get an education or a job.

‘If I were creating this center for women in Sierra Leone, I would create it in the image of a butterfly. Before it becomes a butterfly, it is a caterpillar which is prickly and hairy and wiggly. Then the caterpillar is left alone in a cocoon to think about what it wants to become, as a kind of incubation period, and then before you know it, out comes a butterfly with beautiful colors — rising, flying, transformed.”

Lenore_DembskiWhen we stay close to women connected to their communities, the best ideas and journeys happen. I’ve been receiving updates from my friend, Lenore Dembski, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Fund she’s heading in Australia and the amazing textile artists this fund is supporting. This is a fund built on relationships between artisans and donors. I imagine what it would be like to create a Global Women Artisans’ Fund – from artisan oil producers providing a human scale alternative to big oil and fossil fuels to artisan tea makers and textile producers.

There’s no dedicated fund to connect a global network of women artisans and to support them to adapt and collaborate in ways that support human scale enterprise and self-employed worker rights. If there were such a fund it would help with exchanges between artisans and provide more ways to direct resources to support artisan collaboratives and artisan maps where people could click to create their own artisan study tours and by so doing help women to sustain livelihoods and create opportunities for others.

IMG_20140921_123420503After the Women Deliver conference I headed to Norway to discuss funding for women’s groups in the Middle East, and a partnership for a women’s climate justice initiative aimed at lifting up women’s leadership on issues of food, water and land security. This includes leadership on small scale organic farming. As George Monbiot says in his latest book, How Did We Get Into This Mess,

“There is an inverse relationship between the size of farms and the amount of crops they produce per hectare. The smaller they are, the greater the yield. If governments are serious about feeding the world, they should be breaking up large landholdings, redistributing them to the poor and concentrating their research and funding on supporting small farms….The structure of the global food movement is changing so rapidly that fair trade is now becoming one of the few means by which small farmers in poor nations might survive.”

In the village of Arendal where I had meetings regarding women’s leadership in relation to climate change impact, I was captivated by the work of Professor Elaine Barker, a UNESCO Chair in Ocean Governance who is strategizing to address the global race to gain mining rights to mine the deep sea floor.  She is also part of a team that has produced the first new global seafloor map in forty years.  Professor Barker’s framing and response is vital policy work that will influence ocean ecosystems for decades to come and hers is an important voice in influencing the outcomes.

That night, after my meetings finished, an almost full moon rose over the water as small ferries chugged across the bay. At 3.00am I bumped down cobblestone streets with my bag and with Elaine as my moonlit guide to get me to the bus stop to catch a bus for an early morning flight. My hour long bus ride to the airport was revelatory. A white-blue wonderland unfurling, like a space capsule delivering me into a hushed new world.

On my flight home I read Thomas Frank’s book, Listen Liberal, and joined the dots between his take on  what happens when the US Democratic party loses its interest in working people and what I see playing out in the field of women’s human rights. That’s a story for my next blog.

In less than a day, and now full circle, I’m back in Sausalito again.

Home to artists, activists and sustained creativity. And also, mercifully, a sacred sanctuary. I put down my bag and tip my head to sky and stars. The view across the bay has a gauzy, dreamy quality to it, and my boat feels lit from behind in a translucent wash of light … and me, I’m lit from within.

I step out on the hull and turn, turn, turn to the tiny bud lights of Sausalito. Here at night it’s velvety…mysterious…inky blue…and with the promise of a magic carpet ride if I can let myself fly … the bluest blue…I tip closer to the light and the magic is right there winking back at me.

Jane Sloane
San Francisco

Letter from San Francisco #21

Jane Sloane - Sausalito Boat Garden

JaneSloane-SausalitoBoatGarden04150831Potus46I left the joyful energy of my houseboat in Sausalito to catch a flight to Mexico City.

This was around the time President Obama was preparing to head to Alaska and to hike the peaks to provide a dramatic visual backdrop to his message about the need for urgent international action on climate change.

I was headed to the International Meeting on Campesinos Economy and Agroecology in America  as a gathering designed to strengthen the movement of campesinos (peasants) fighting for food, water and land sovereignty through agro-ecology, the science behind sustainable agriculture. This gathering would also be discussing the devastating impact the Trans Pacific Partnership promoted by President Obama would have on small scale farmers and galvanizing a stronger resistance movement to GMO.

And so I entered a space where hundreds of peasants were deeply engaged in intellectual, spiritual and practical conversations about seed sovereignty, land and indigenous wisdom. This was a space to discuss how to radically shift from the corporate led Green Revolution and agri-business to a human centered grass roots approach that places reverence for life and relationships and nutritious food at its core.

The International Meeting on Campesinos Economy and Agroecology in America
The International Meeting on Campesinos Economy and Agroecology in America held a three-day meeting in Mexico City. | Photo: Prensa Rural

These peasants were seeking to be valued rather than seen as poor and needing charity. They wanted to be recognized for their intrinsic value as small producers and as the best defense against climate impact.

Speakers talked about governments channeling millions of dollars to a small number of large producers, yet peasant farmers produce two thirds more food at almost a third of the cost. As Dr. Sergio Barrales Dominiguez (Rector of the Universidad Autónoma Chapingo in Mexico) said,

“We are facing a food problem… if we do not change the course of agriculture in this country and the world then we will reach a point of no return. It is not the same to eat as to be nourished. Agro-ecology is key to climate change response and to the continuation of the human race.”

When the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development conducted a study involving 400 scientists in 80 countries who were asked to determine the best technology for the world facing an increasing population, they concluded that agriculture needed an about face and that agro-ecology provided some of the most robust set of solutions to the environmental pressures and crises currently facing agriculture and the world.

President Obama was also sounding a clear warning about climate change impact from the Arctic, and his voice and message was so welcome.  However, both his green light to Shell drilling in the Arctic Ocean and his commitment to the Trans Pacific Partnership will exacerbate climate impact. It will mean the production of more food for export rather than consumption in Latin America, and an increase in the production of exotic products rather than staple food for a good diet. In support of export-focused economies, more land is being given to multinationals and denied to peasants, while corporations continued to drive unsustainable and undesirable development.

Even worse, many areas are becoming the subject of land grabs and ghost areas. Miguel Altieri, Professor of Agro-ecology at UC Berkeley says there are currently 460 land grabbing projects being undertaken by countries including China and Saudi Arabia and they are using these areas of land to produce export crops for their own countries. In countries like Colombia economic brokenness resulted in peasants disappearing from the land and joining armed groups.  Men were leaving the land in search of the American dream because the dreams of their own countries were not there to hold them.

Dra. Gisela Espinosa Damián Academic Dr. Gisela Espinolsa Damian says women are staying behind and there is now a massive imbalance between women and men in rural areas and a feminization of countryside. As a result, women are assuming triple roles without sufficient resources to survive in many areas. Few women have access to land and property and they struggle with the expectations of family, household chores and land to care for their families, generate income and have time to eat, sleep and recover strength.

Furthermore, women’s work largely goes unnoticed in the national accounts. Official statistics in Mexico show that only 12 per cent of the Economically Active Population in the agricultural sector is female, while unofficial surveys Mexican peasant and indigenous movements indicate that 85 per cent of rural women engage in agricultural work, most of it non-remunerated.

And yet these women are rising up and organizing. Countering this decline of small-scale peasant production and the unstoppable wave of mostly male migration is the ‘explosion of women’s political participation…and demand for gender equality and rights’, stories of which were shared at this conference.

Between conference sessions I indulged myself in large bowls of fresh watermelon. I’d not tasted such red and luscious watermelon for a long time. Especially watermelon with black seeds!! How ironic that the watermelon I grew up with as a girl was now the one I was eyeing as an exotic specimen due to seeds being bred out of watermelons in the US to give people a seedless (and much more bland tasting) watermelon.

Two Women FarmingSeeds were the center of many conversations at the conference in terms of how to regain seed sovereignty and retain seed wisdom and seed banks. This was especially urgent in places like Venezuela which was experiencing a deep food crisis as a result of its total dependency on industrial agriculture and exported products and with sustainable organic practices and local products such as cacao and lime being lost.

According to Miguel Altieri, Professor of Agro-ecology at UC Berkeley, 80% of 1.5 billion hectares of land is under monocultures. Industrial agriculture occupies 80% of agricultural land, uses 70% of water and only produces 30% for food due to bioplastics and biofuel use. This approach has spurred on new species of weeds, new pesticides and increased use of chemical fertilizers. It has also resulted in ‘dead’ areas of ocean, such as the Gulf of Mexico – caused by industrial agriculture and bio-toxins. In contrast, says Dr Clara Nicholls, President of the Latin American Scientific Society of Agro-ecology in Colombia, peasants produce 50% of the world’s food using 30% soil, 30% water and 30% fossil fuels.

To change the direction of resources and power we need to get organized and mobilize as consumers in order to more urgently influence food policies and practices. This includes recognizing that eating is a political act. And so is buying.

Osprey Orielle Lake, Executive Director of WECANOsprey Orielle Lake, says that 80% of purchasing power in North America is decided by women. So we need to better connect rural and urban movements for change and a movement that galvanizes the power of urban purchasing, given that 80% of people live in urban areas. Of course this is starting to happen, for instance a 2009 class action filed by 53 citizens (farmers, consumers, environmentalists in Mexico in relation to genetically modified maize contaminating native maize was successful in 2014.

Listening to the farmers speak, it struck me as deeply ironic how little they are recognized as educators and wisdom teachers who are given voice, visibility and translation of this knowledge into academic curriculums and broader learning at local, national and international levels when they have the ability to feed and heal the world.

Peasants represent a natural teaching and learning community in their relationship with land, food and nature and in their ability to create products such as bio-fertilizers and bio-compost. And while technology has a powerful role to play in supporting peasants in their communities, it needs to be on their own terms in determining how they want to use technology. As Sebastian Pinheiro, head of the Juquira Candiru Foundation in Brazil said, “We will give shoes to technology so it can walk side by side with us.”

The conversations around addressing climate change impact are intensifying in the lead up to the Paris Climate Conference November 30th – December 11th , and of course the approach by governments is now influenced by the language and focus of the new sustainable development goals.  Governments have new targets to honor and they will be seeking mechanisms and approaches to realize these commitments, including women’s role in relation to climate change action.

awomanfromxoIt’s clear that the most powerful way to address the impact of climate change is to invest in agro-economy, since peasants can reduce greenhouse gases by more than half as a result of community soils being returned to the earth. To do this, we need to change the way current food systems are structured so that populations can be nourished and not just fed. As Dr. Francois Houtart, Institute for Higher Studies in Ecuador has said “we are facing a problem not of food scarcity but food distribution and the way we’re organizing food, so that even those producing food are malnourished.”

This lack of access to food is a consequence of agribusiness and the industrial production of food, which results in disease and obesity. Industrial agriculture is shutting down the production of oatmeal, amaranth and other grains to allow children to have nutritious breakfasts rather than sugary breakfasts. The increase in ADT and diabetes is linked to sugary food and drinks.

Dr. Pierre Vuarin, Foundation for the Progress of Humanity shared with us that problems related to food represent 7% of total cost of health systems. What we need to do is shorten and strengthen the food chains and bring them as close as possible to people. We need to encourage a movement of urban activists as much as peasant farmers including urban farming, kitchen gardens and rooftop gardens … even boat gardens!  We need to address the high level of waste in restaurants and hospitals and create new forms of waste management that give new value to waste as energy source such as fertilized organic trash for organic soil.

We also need to mobilize to end deforestation if we don’t want to see the Amazon Rainforest disappear within 40 years leaving nothing but a desert savannah. The Amazon and other sacred territories are under threat due to logging and hydro-schemes and general plundering from many countries. In Indonesia we are seeing the decimation of forests as palm oil and eucalyptus are produced on an industrial scale. Peasants can no longer produce their own food such as rice or beans as they have no land left. Meanwhile ships sail the seas following the logic of liberalization and markets based on comparative advantages and selling at a lower price.

Back in San Francisco I caught part of the international Soil Not Oil gathering, inspired by Vanda Shiva’s book of the same title. Here one of my favorite writers, Fritjof Capra, spoke about the critical role agro-ecology can play in greatly reducing energy dependence, have a huge positive effect on public health and fight climate change by locking up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in organic matter. Capra is renowned for his systems thinking, and now he says we must re-envision our world as a network, not as a machine. This network approach means embracing circular economics, localized knowledge, connection to nature, social capital and emotional and spiritual intelligence. This of course is the essence of agro-ecology.  We heard at the conference that in China, where there is a robust movement for healthy food and sustainable agriculture, peasants are releasing fish into their rice fields as a natural means to recycle nutrients and control pests. In the same way they are including ducks in their fields so that their manure can help fertilize the soil.

http://www.yesmagazine.org/planet/four-ways-mexico-indigenous-farmers-agriculture-of-the-future-20150810
Local maize varieties harvested from the farm of Josefino Martinez. Photo by Jonah Vitale-Wolff.

As writer Margaret Wheatley has reflected, in the older, more mature cultures where people still live within the kinship circles of animals and human beings there is a connection with animals…as ‘powers’, as gifts or capabilities.  For many peasants corn is seen in the same light.
At one point during the conference, the poet Mardonia Carballo said that speaking about corn is speaking about a human bridge between earth and the divine. What was first – corn or man? The plant needs the hand of man to spread seeds and corn helps man to survive. It’s time to plant … in times of arrogance like this we need to speak about the corn.

Unfortunately the global story on corn is bleak. Corn today has become a commodity with 85% of corn being GMO and used to fuel our cars, produce, industrial chemicals, food and livestock. And because the price of biofuels is directly linked to oil prices, the price of corn is also linked to oil prices.   This displaces the connection peasants have had with corn founded on the basis of mutual respect, reciprocity and generosity.

The first maize or corn plants in the world were grown in Mexico thousands of years ago (Images by Adriana Chow)
The first maize or corn plants in the world were grown in Mexico thousands of years ago (Images by Adriana Chow)

Peasants regard corn as sacred, believing that if we tend the corn, the corn will tend us. Women in Latin American countries are also involving their children in learning about corn and helping to collect and market the corn.  As one woman said ‘children can glorify their mother’s work because they’ve been taken on the journey with their mothers and understand the journey of corn’.  This also reinforces to children the central role their mothers play in the life of their family and community.

Women’s role in agro-ecology is central, from creating and sustaining seed exchanges, knowledge exchanges, clean water creation, waste management approaches, greenhouses, land management. Finding ways to support women playing more visible leadership roles in agro-ecology and climate change conferences and policy discussions is critical to better outcomes as well as women’s increased self-esteem, authority, independence and economic participation as growers, producers and sellers. In this respect, we need a Women and Climate Change initiative that will get more money into the hands of grass roots women’s groups toward supporting women leading sustainable agriculture and climate change work and supporting women to be at the leadership table for policy decisions around climate change mitigation and adaptation, given that women are at the frontline of climate change impact and are best placed to suggest strategies and solutions for their communities and countries.

 

 

(I had a family of trees,
and another of plants,
and I talked and talked
with the animals I found.)

Gabriela Mistral

Current climate financing mechanisms are largely gender blind and are not focused on getting more money to grass roots groups and movements even though this is one of the most powerful ways to address climate change impact.

We need to do everything we can to influence the flow of policies, power, resources and funds to the hands of women’s groups and movements and peasant and Indigenous groups working to promote small scale farming. Small scale farming is also a natural defense against the massive increase in migration and the best opportunity for asylum seekers and migrants to start a new life and have access to food security when they have to leave their country and start anew in another. The image of Aylan Kurdi lying face down on a beach, being lapped by waves, is symbolic of the growing divide between rich and poor, between governments creating walls to protect citizens and those radically dislocated by conflict and fundamentalism, and between corporate led industrial agriculture and small scale farmer led agriculture. We need to recover our humanity and our reverence for life.

We’ve got to step up our mobilizing and actions for a new economic system, a human centered focus, a multi-sectoral movement approach that unites peasant, youth, women and environmental movements and one that bring together rural and urban communities.  We must start right now in what we choose to eat, who we choose to vote for, where we give our money and time, what we speak about and how we speak about it and in the way we give voice and space to small scale farmers, especially women.

We know the power of influencing politics and political will. In the City of Richmond in the Bay Area where the Soil Not Oil conference was held, the Mayor shared that the City has in place a 100% ban on pesticides as well as a seed lending library and crop swaps program to grow more local seed and even a sister seed library scheme. In California we are now seeing the fierce political battle play out in response to proposed legislation requiring a 50% reduction in petroleum use by 2030. We can influence political will at every level.

20150908-JaneSloane-SausalitoBoatGarden02Back here in Sausalito, there’s an affirmation of people power, paddle power and pedal power as friends and families guide kayaks, water cycles and stand up paddles back toward the bay. On the shore I watch a dog, a bounding bundle of energy skidding in all directions, waiting frantically for its owner to paddle in.

Energy in all its electric forms seems to ribbon me in love. I step outside my boat to check my organic garden, and that of my neighbors. Lettuce, basil, tomatoes, coriander, radishes, chilies, rosemary, lavender, an avocado plant…and, of course, mystical corn.

 

Jane Sloane
San Francisco

 

Letter from Tanzania

1024px-Mt._Kilimanjaro_12.2006

Listen Up. This is a women’s story. Plural.

I’m here in Tanzania to visit women’s groups working on sustainable agriculture and livelihood initiatives. As you may know, Tanzania is a country in East Africa within the Great Lakes region. Bordered by Kenya and Uganda to the north, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo to the West; Zambia, Malawai and Mozambique to the South and the Indian Ocean to the east. And, always, the view of Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, providing poetic inspiration to Tanzania’s population of some 47 million people.

Loyce-LemaWhile here I spent time with Loyce Lema, the Founder of Tanzania Envirocare and whom I had previously met at a Women and Climate Change Convening in Bali. At Green Camp, where we were staying, we’d gone walking together along the track and saw the river. Loyce had grabbed my arm and said, “I haven’t seen a river flowing for a long, long time.”

As we walked onto the bridge with the river below us, Loyce stopped again and said, “Close your eyes, Jane. This is the sound that I have missed in my heart.  The sound of a river running free.” In Tanzania, permanent rivers have become seasonal rivers and many have ceased to flow.

Loyce and her colleague, Freddie, collected me from Arusha and drove me to Kilimanjaro and, on the way there, Loyce shared stories of what was happening to women and girls in parts of Tanzania. Girls as young as nine being married off and getting pregnant as young as age 12, especially in Maasai culture and in remote communities. Lack of birth control meant that women often get sick and frequently died in childbirth. Certain traditional practices result in situations wherein women in some areas are still being accused of being witches and burnt to death.

Other girls were forced to undergo the barbaric practice of female genital mutilation, while others might contract HIV and face diminished opportunities due to sickness and stigma. Pesticide usage on crops was further increasing sickness and disease in a population where over 60% of girls and women live in absolute poverty. These were some of the issues Envirocare was working to address.

“Sustainable agriculture for rural people is essential because over 70% of the population live in rural areas,” Loyce said. “Whereas the government is focused on big crops and enterprises like rice and maize managed mainly by men, the real opportunity for sustainable livelihoods lies with families having access to small plots where they can grow staples and vegetables and fruit for consumption as well as for sale at markets.

LetterFromTanzania-3123An hour later we arrived at a small schoolhouse-style building to be greeted by women, men and students who were keen to share stories of their work. My ability to speak Swahili was limited to a few words and so we talked in English. Several of the women shared the stories of their enterprise, Marukeni Women’s Dairy Cooperative Society, which we would be visiting that day. “Cows belong to the women and so it was easy for us to create this business as milk belongs to the women,“ they said.

In this way, women can earn between $25-$125 per month from the milk alone, and this income sustains their basic needs.
“We would like to create other businesses that would bring income to our families and community.” What about coffee?,” I asked.
“Coffee is men’s business,” the women responded. “Coffee is big business and so it is men’s business,” Loyce added. “You need access to land in order to grow coffee and women don’t have access to land because inheritance laws preclude it unless you’re a widow in which case you can sometimes stay on the land after your husband’s death, provided you don’t remarry.” “We are widows,” offered two of the women.
“Well then, you could create a widow’s coffee cooperative,” I suggested. They smiled and seemed to tuck the idea somewhere in their minds.

LetterFromTanzania-3130The children present were encouraged to join the discussion and some shared their own stories of being chicken owners and egg sellers to pay for school supplies and shoes with their average of $4 per month in income from egg sales. These children were given the opportunity to learn about agriculture at school and to spend time at Envirocare’s organic farm so they could create their own small vegetable gardens. Envirocare also provided seeds to local schools so they could grow vegetables and ensure children could eat nutritiously while at school each day.

Most African women are taught to endure abusive marriages. They say endurance means a good wife but most women endure abusive relationship because they are not empowered economically; they depend on their husbands.

Joyce Banda

 

I told the group that I had spent time in Sri Lanka where I’d witnessed women who had been victims of domestic violence being invited into a women’s circle, often the first time they had ventured out of the house for anything social. Here they were encouraged to tell a story, sing a song or share a poem that would help them become comfortable with their own voice and views being held. From this safe space they could eventually imagine an enterprise or artisan endeavor that might give them an income and economic independence. Usually their children would accompany them and in some cases the children would create their own circle and imitate the same process of sharing stories, music, theater and mime.

LetterFromTanzania-3039We headed out to Envirocare’s rural office, which was also the site of organic farming and a hub for beekeeping and, most special of all, stingless bees!!! I couldn’t believe it when Loyce told me this as she pointed to what looked like hanging logs – a bit like the hanging gardens my Dad used to make when I was a girl although these logs were closed yet allowing an occasional burst of bees to spill out.

“You’re sitting on gold here,“ I said, excitedly. “There are so many people who would be attracted to buying stingless honey, and of course stingless bees! How much honey could you produce?” Loyce laughed. “We can produce lots and lots of honey because there is more land here for us to expand our work. And we could also create hive making workshops to ensure we have the right environment for the bee colonies.”

We went on a walking tour of the organic farm planted out with avocados, passionfruit, leeks, sugarcane, eggplant, onion, cabbage, pumpkins, lemongrass, mint, beets and sunflowers for the bees to pollinate. Bees, honey, sunflowers, organic produce – this place was happiness central.

LetterFromTanzania-3053And then we returned to the honey. The men broke open one of the hives and the bees poured out, small and black, like flies – except they were unmistakably bees! Loyce scooped up honey for me with a large spoon and I tipped it into my mouth. Nectar of the Gods! I couldn’t get enough of it. Loyce went one step further and began eating the bee pollen and propolis, rich in vitamins and medicinal qualities. It was miraculous to me as the bees flew around us, stingless! In that moment I felt like I was living in some kind of honey dream, a slow drip discovery of paradise.

LetterFromTanzania-3051We all trooped into the cottage to eat lunch and then engaged in a spontaneous brainstorm on names and ideas. I was having fun suggesting names and the women’s eyes sparkled as they imagined the potential. We arrived at three separate and related enterprises: Kilimanjaro Stingless Honey Cooperative, Kilimanjaro Sisters’ Coffee Cooperative and a Kilimanjaro Sisters’ Chocolate Cooperative. “If we have the funds for processing and packaging we can do so much – we can process ghee, yoghurt, cheese – and yes, make chocolate since we can also access organic cacao!” said one of the women. “ It not only gives us an income, it means we are not paying expensive prices for milk exported from Kenya and South Africa which we can’t afford.” So, I realized my job would be to find the funds and the technical support to help get these women the business plan support, infrastructure and investment funds to make this a reality.

LetterFromTanzania-3047Of course I spun off into dream land for a while, remembering Sue Monk Kidd’s book and movie, The Secret Life of Bees, and thinking about this Movement of bee women and their Hive, their organizing cell. It seemed crazy to me that all this potential was right here up close, and all it needed was the connection of funds and technical support to change the course of their lives. And of others too – for this success would spin out to other communities and the confidence and respect it would inspire would have a leapfrog effect for other women’s groups and their own enterprises. Since women are more inclined to work relationally and seasonally compared to men, their own enterprises can often catalyze others that are seeded in support and then flourish on their own.

Finally after lunch, and with golden honey literally dripping from us, we headed off to see the women’s dairy enterprise. After a long drive down bumpy tracks we arrived at a small village and walked into two large rooms that comprised the women’s dairy with its large milk storage vats that were transported to town for milk sales on a regular basis.

LetterFromTanzania-3125Loyce told the story of how the dairy cooperative came to be. “This place used to be a beer barn and the women were frustrated as they were dependent on their husbands and the men were drinking a lot of the day and didn’t prioritize their families or their children’s needs. So the women banded together and raised the money to buy the barn and convert it to a dairy cooperative.” Today, the dairy is a constant flurry of activity and while I was there at least a dozen local village people came with their buckets to have their milk tested and weighed and their payment recorded in their milk book. Each month the milk suppliers receive a payment with the profits being reinvested in the dairy.

“See those men over there sitting down, smoking, drinking? They are the big men who run the coffee cooperative. They don’t work like we work and so they don’t earn as much.”
When I asked them to calculate the difference in income the women asked the men and determined that the women running the dairy are making up to four times the amount the men are making by running the coffee cooperative. Of course, they said, that coffee prices fluctuated and dipped for a long time when coffee berry disease spread through rural areas.
“Could you earn more if you ran your own coffee cooperative,” I wondered.
“For sure,” replied the women. “We would run it the way we do our dairy, like a business that needs constant attention.”

If I were not African, I wonder whether it would be clear to me that Africa is a place where the people do not need limp gifts of fish but sturdy fishing rods and fair access to the pond. I wonder whether I would realize that while African nations have a failure of leadership, they also have dynamic people with agency and voices.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

 

The dairy was the brainchild of retired teacher Mrs. Elinduma Ngunda, who observed that every household had at least one cow and so people could milk their cows each day and bring the excess milk to the dairy to get paid. We visited Elinduma and her husband, and their grandson Clement William, and while there we paid our respects to one of Elinduma’s two cows called Flower, creamy brown with a white spot and adorable in every way. Elinduma was a natural matriarch and connector. She was also a force for good. In describing the success of the dairy she was keen to share that that the cooperative was not only successful in its own right, it was available to the community for small loans, including for medical emergencies and for women who want to be farmers. And, she added, it also supports orphans, elders and widows where possible with resources and support they need.

LetterFromTanzania-3135

The Chairperson of the women’s dairy cooperative, Mrs Urassa, was a woman who was widowed 17 years ago and she’d found new purpose, respect and authority in her village. The health, education and economic benefits were also impressive. HIV had been reduced in this community because people were healthier as a result of the food they could eat from the sale of milk, eggs, vegetables and coffee. Children stayed in schools here rather than being forced to marry early as their parents had access to money to sustain their needs and so they had better prospects in the long term.

We left those laughing, spirited women and rumbled into the night toward our own sleeping quarters. Just the three of us in the car again — Loyce, Freddie and I, and the immense land and sky before us. “Look up there,” said Loyce. “The starry sky, it’s so close here. We are connected.”

I nodded. And we are kin.

Jane Sloane
Tanzania

Letter From San Francisco #18

Looking for Letter From San Francisco #19? click here

20141116_SausalitoSky3x1000 ‘Put down your bucket where you are’ was Howard Zinn’s prescription for social change.

My small red bucket is here on my boat.  And my boat life fulfils the distilled advice given by a friend, “choose happiness.”  Sausalito must be one of the most joyful places I’ve ever lived.

Floaty boat living is also a great place for contemplation. Especially when working for an organization like Global Fund for Women, with its commitment to women’s human rights globally.

Recently I was in Lima, Peru for a gathering of our grantee partners – women’s human rights defenders and activists working in Latin American countries. Here, women’s rights activists shared their struggles for rights in every inter-connected form – land, education, work, sexual and reproductive health and rights, freedom from violence, and the need to address increasing militarization, and to fight for hard won gains in the face of sustained conservative backlash.  This gathering was an opportunity to chart a course for collective action and to build strong political agendas to impact and achieve transformational change in the region.

As one participant said “We exist because we resist…injustice, violence, violations of human rights.”

While I was in Peru I also fell into a ditch and fractured my ankle.

Returning home, and to my little boat in Sausalito, I was told to rest. And then rest some more.  This at a time of pre-holiday rush where so many people around me seemed to be infused with the spirit of white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland… I’m late, I’m late…

On my boat I had no such dates, just  the here and now.

seals sausalitoX700Each day, 6 or 7 seals, including bull seals (arf, arf, arf) pop up out of the sea with their bright black eyes and whiskered faces and then chase herring to get their fill.  Meanwhile, when the dawn is at hand, pelicans (those ancient birds) join hundreds of other birds in dive-bombing the water for their fill of fish.

This immersion experience of sea, stars, sky and all creatures kin has a sustained calming effect on me.

I re-watch my favorite movies on non-violence peace movements and social justice, Gandhi, Romero, The Mission, A Long Walk to Freedom, Cry the Beloved Country, and think about courage in the face of fire. Or with the gift of fire, if you listen to  Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, who, quoting from St Bonaventure said, “Ask not for the understanding; ask for the fire.”

“I have often been threatened with death,” Archbishop Oscar Romero told a Guatemalan reporter two weeks before his assassination on March 24, 1980. “If they kill me, I shall arise in the Salvadoran people. … Let my blood be a seed of freedom and the sign that hope will soon be reality.”

As the  peace advocate, John Dear wrote, Oscar Romero gave his life for that struggle in the hope that the outcome was inevitable, that justice would be done, that war would be abolished, that truth will overcome, and that love and life are stronger than hate and death.

Romero’s conviction only increased with the threat of death. “Like a voice crying in the desert,” he said, “we must continually say No to violence and Yes to peace.”   Romero’s last appeal before his death was to the members of the armed forces on March 23rd 1980. This was after Romero heard that President Jimmy Carter was considering sending millions of dollars a day in military aid to El Salvador. Deeply distressed, he wrote a long public letter to Carter, asking the United States to cancel all military aid. Carter never responded to Romero, and sent the aid.

And so Romero wrote to the armed forces saying

“I would like to make an appeal in a special way to the men of the army, to the police, to those in the barracks. Brothers, you are part of our own people. You kill your own campesino brothers and sisters. And before an order to kill that a man may give, the law of God must prevail that says: Thou shalt not kill! No soldier is obliged to obey an order against the law of God. No one has to fulfill an immoral law. It is time to recover your consciences and to obey your consciences… In the name of God, and in the name of this suffering people whose laments rise to heaven each day more tumultuously, I beg you, I ask you, I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression!”

Romero’s appeal to individuals to recover their moral conscience is not just an historic act, it’s a reminder to us all to pay attention here. Gandhi was clear that ‘we must be the change we wish in the world.  This includes kinetically rewiring our own potential for violence and channeling it into an active peace.

As Helen Prejean has written, the ‘active’ part of non-violent resistance, as employed by Gandhi in India and by Martin Luther King in the American South, proved to be the most powerful force imaginable on the powers King and Gandhi were trying to overturn.

The writings of both men are filled with references to love as a powerful force against oppression, and while the two leaders were not using the term” force” in the military sense, they certainly regarded nonviolence as a tactical force as well as an expression of high moral principle.

Social movements for democracy, peace, civil rights, LGBTI rights,  women’s rights, land rights, labor rights, climate justice, girls’ rights, black men’s  “hands up don’t shoot” rights, dreamers’ immigration rights have been shown to be one of the most effective mechanisms for including excluded populations in the political process.

These movements are themselves a sustained political act to change policies, laws, behavior, beliefs and systems in the service of justice, equality, peace and love. They are not undertaken on behalf of ‘the other’ but rather in recognition of our connectedness.

As Robert Moses in recruiting Northern Whites for Freedom Summer in the Deep South said “Don’t come to Mississippi this summer to save the negro. Only come if you understand, really understand, that his freedom and yours are one.”

fanniePeople’s courage and tenacity to stand and hold their ground in the face of terror and injustice is phenomenal, as evidenced by that extraordinary book and film A Force More Powerful. In Dennis McNally’s book, On Highway 61: Music, Race, and the Evolution of Cultural Freedom, he reminds us of Fannie Lou Hamer who’d found out in 1961 at the age of 45 that she was entitled to vote. ‘A woman of profound faith, she’d gone to the courthouse singing ‘This Little Light of Mine’ and, when she was subsequently evicted from the plantation for this action, she felt set free to join the movement. Savagely beaten after an arrest, she said, “Sometimes it seems like to tell the truth today is to run the risk of being killed. But if I fall, I’ll fall five feet four inches forward in the fight for freedom.”

Naomi Klein, in her book, This Changes Everything, has written powerfully about the potential of movement building to not just be a circuit breaker for climate change impact, but to rewire the world.

‘Only mass movements can save us now…any attempt to rise to the climate challenge will be fruitless unless it is understood as part of a much broader battle of worldviews, a process of rebuilding and reinventing the very idea of the collective, the communal, the commons, the civil and the civic after so many decades of attack and neglect.

‘..when major shifts in the economic balance of power take place, they are invariably the result of extraordinary levels of social mobilization. At those junctures, activism becomes something that is not performed by a small tribe within a culture…an entirely normal activity throughout society…During extraordinary moments – both world wars, the aftermath of the great Depression, or the peak of the civil rights era – the usual categories dividing “activist” and “regular people: became meaningless because the project of changing society was so deeply woven into the project of life. Activists were, quite simply everywhere….(and) when fundamental change does come, it…comes in spasms of rapid-fire lawmaking, with one breakthrough after the other.

Think here about Gandhi’s salt march being a march that secured an independent India, the social movements for peace and freedom ending the violence in Northern Island, the sustained people’s movement securing the fall of the Berlin Wall, the women activists in Liberia helping to end the civil war there and mobilize to see the first democratically elected female President assume power.

‘Fundamentally, the task is to articulate…an alternative worldview to rival the one at the heart of the ecological crisis – embedded in interdependence rather than hyper-individualism, reciprocity rather than dominance, and cooperation rather than hierarchy.  This is required not only to create a political context to dramatically lower emissions but also to help us cope with the disasters we can no longer avoid.  Because in the hot and stormy future we have already made inevitable through our past emissions, an unshakable belief in the equal rights of all people and a capacity for deep compassion will be the only thing standing between civilization and barbarism.’

In her book Klein speaks of the forces of resistance coming from the elite minority that wield phenomenal power and influence and have the most to lose from action on climate change that challenges unregulated capitalism.  The power of elites was also captured in an important editorial in The New York Times on December 25th.  The editorial shared the results of a study undertaken by The Echo Chamber of the petitions submitted to the Supreme Court  from 2004 – 2012 and reported by Reuters.

Reviewing the findings, Reuters reported that, of the some 10,000 petitions filed by private attorneys each year, about 75 cases are accepted.  Reuters found that the lawyer’s name on the brief was one of the strongest indicators of whether the case would get heard.  While the 66 lawyers whose cases were heard represented less than half of 1% of all lawyers who petitioned the Supreme Court from 2004-2012, they were involved in 43% of the cases the justices heard.  Of these lawyers, 63 of the 66 lawyers were white, 58 were men, and 51 worked with firms with primarily corporate clients.

Klein was compelling as a speaker at the Bioneers conference a few months ago when she spoke of industrial capitalism being at war with life on earth and that climate change can be the glue that binds together all social movements.

She was joined by other speakers, equally compelling in their advocacy and analysis. Clayton Thomas-Muller, leader of the Idle No More movement, spoke of climate change being the civil rights movement of our time and of violence against women and violence against the earth being the greatest issues of our time.

As Naomi Klein said at the conference, ‘a new movement is rising. Rooted in localism with fierce connection to place and yet highly connected and dynamic.

And that is why I’m leading a meeting to discuss the potential for a People’s Climate Fund on January 20th  (sign up here http://www.meetup.com/Peoples-Climate-Fund-Meetup-Sausalito/events/218845180/) Joining the hundreds of thousands of other  people at the People’s Climate March in New York gave me a sense of the power of people led change to achieve the level of change, and the type of changes we need to see.

140921_peoples_climate_march_msm6_3281
“Today we are faced with a challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking, so that humanity stops threatening its life-support system. We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds and in the process heal our own – indeed to embrace the whole of creation in all its diversity, beauty and wonder. Recognizing that sustainable development, democracy and peace are indivisible is an idea whose time has come” ― Wangari Maathai

20141218-Neighbours2X1000Which brings me back to the wilding force of nature and to what writer Wendell Berry calls ‘love for local things, rising out of local knowledge and local allegiance.’

Last weekend we had the Lighting of the Boats as dozens of boats glided across Sausalito moonlit waters with gorgeous Christmas carols playing and people gathered on boats and on the shoreline.  My neighbor, Joe, created his own light display with a 20 foot lighted heart installed on the top of his boat, “beaming love out to the world”.

20141218-NeighboursX1000I wake early each morning to the sweetest scenes of seals and birds at play, and an occasional otter, together with people on small rowboats, often with their dogs for company and many decked with red hats and tinselly bits as a nod to the holiday season.

Most recently, I assisted with a fur seal pup release as we returned these gorgeous creatures to the sea. (see the vid below)

There‘s a crackling energy and magic in these encounters.  It reminds me of an observation by Peter Matthiessen, one of the great environmental, spiritual, humanist writers of this age, who died recently.  In one my favorite books of his, The Snow Leopard, Matthiessen captures the sense I often feel flowing through me, on this boat, in this life:

“In his first summers, forsaking all his toys, my son would stand rapt for nearly an hour in his sandbox in the orchard, as doves and redwings came and went on the warm wind, the leaves dancing, the clouds flying…the child was not observing; he was at rest in the very center of the universe, a part of things, unaware of endings and beginning, still in unison with the primordial nature of creation, letting all light and phenomena pour through.”

Peter Matthiessen

Update

Huge thanks to Sean Bogle of wildlensinc.org for sharing his “Northern fur seal release” video

Helping the Marine Mammal Center here in Sausalito, to return these gorgeous Northern fur seals to the sea.

Jane Sloane
San Francisco