I celebrated Earth Day along with hundreds of other earth-conscious individuals at San Francisco’s Civic Center/UN Plaza. Everyone came out that day under a common idea: we live in a wondrous community of life that is planet Earth and that community deserves our awe, respect, and attention. There was an array of speakers and musical performances as well as booths and vendors featuring local non-profit organizations, green businesses, and organic food.
I participated in a panel discussion at the celebration on Sunday around the question of “co-creating our sustainable future – what are the successful tools for coalition building and collaboration both within and beyond your organization’s work?” I was joined by leaders of the non-profit environmental movement including Rolf Skar from Greenpeace, Sarah Hodgdon of the Sierra Club, and Kevin Connelly from the Earth Island Institute.
It was insightful to hear about the different work that each of us is doing to make the future of the planet and us humans that inhabit it more sustainable and less destructive. There was one common thread throughout the discussion and that was: in order to ensure a positive future for people and the planet we must figure out how to live in balance – or in ‘harmony’ – with nature. And, in doing so, we must also learn how to work in harmony with one another towards the common goal of protecting and conserving Mother Earth and the resources that our human societies depend on for survival.
I spoke about how the emerging global movement for community and nature’s rights works to build coalitions and develop collaborations with a wide variety of groups. Our present-day global economic system and indeed our structures of law have been built upon a mindset that places humans not just apart from, but actually above nature. We codify our values in our laws and so in order to change the system, we must transform the laws that govern it.
We are building a movement and there is a role to play for everyone.
The idea of organizing to actually challenge our current structures of law to recognize that nature itself has inherent rights to exist, thrive, and flourish is a big one. We must ask ourselves the following question: If Rights of Nature is to succeed as an alternative framework to our current property-based system of law, how are we going to implement it?
The movement for nature’s rights is unique in its ability to be all-inclusive because the dire need to better protect the environment and the concept of ‘rights’ is something that everyone can understand and agree upon, despite different political beliefs or affiliations. . Most people know that allowing decision-making based on money, greed or narrow self-interest to sacrifice the well being of the planet is foolish, they just can’t see how to move to a better way of doing things.
This is because our current structures of law actually facilitate the on-going exploitation of nature. Climate change, water withdrawal, and deforestation are all symptoms of the same problem; that communities do not have the right to make decisions about how to protect the environment under the current system. Instead, this right is reserved for corporations and the state.
In addition to our coalition building with communities, policy makers, indigenous allies, and climate justice allies, I also spoke about the role of small farmers in creating viable alternative systems to corporate-dominated agriculture. If large, corporate factory farms are not what we want our food system to look like then what is the alternative? The answer lies in small, community-based farmers selling, growing, and sharing their own food. Food sovereignty is a growing issue for communities across CA (and the rest of the world) and we have been getting an increasing number of calls from places like Nevada City, and Mendocino, CA, where citizens are looking to pass a law that asserts their right to local food sovereignty without interference from government regulations and raids on small farms.
Occupy the Farm
Meanwhile on Earth Day, across the Bay in Albany, California, the Occupy Movement was taking a stand for local food sovereignty by taking over a portion of property known as the ‘Gill Tract’. It is the last remaining 10 acres of Class I agricultural soil in the urbanized East Bay. The owner of the land, UC Berkeley, plans to sell the property to Whole Foods to open a new retail store. For decades the UC has thwarted attempts by community members to transform the site for urban sustainable agriculture and hands-on education. In solidarity with Via Campesina, “Occupy the Farm” is a coalition of local residents, farmers, students, researchers, and activists that have begun planting over 15,000 seedlings at the Gill Tract. Over 300 people turned out on Sunday to help plant seeds and till the land.
The goals of “Occupy the Farm” echo the calls of communities across California and the US that there is a dire need for people to have access to uncontaminated land for farming if we are to reclaim control over how food is grown and where it comes from. That sustainable, community-based farming is the best alternative to corporate control (and poisoning) of our food systems.
The time for a new system is now and the well being of the planet, our health, and that of future generations absolutely depends on it. We are up against an enormous task to remove the power of decision-making from profit-driven corporations (and the state) and put it back in the hands of people and communities, thereby enabling us to co-create our sustainable future.