Friday, February 11, 2011
ANOTHER WORLD IS POSSIBLE-Further reflections on the PASA Conference and its Community of Activists
“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” Arundhati Roy
As is typical, I returned home from the PASA conference with a renewed sense of activism. I seem to be channeling this energy into my farm blog, so please bare with me and my rambling essays about the state of the world. These postings are my version of the now infamous social network movement. On this extraordinary day in world history-where peaceful protests seemed to have overcome a corrupt dictatorship-it is hard not to draw connections to our own political, economic, and activist communities.
At the Farming for the Future Conference there was much mention of the work we still need to accomplish in regard to the relentless “attack” on a sustainable future by corporate interests. Hot topics included the approval of two new GMO crops, natural gas drilling, and Chesapeake Bay watershed legislation. It makes it very hard for a farmer to stay out of politics (and luckily we have PASA’s effective advocacy in both Harrisburg and Washington).
As the PASA membership listened to the call to action from our Executive Director Brian Snyder and keynote speaker Wes Jackson, the situation in Egypt did not go unmentioned. Despite this awe inspiring model of nonviolent protest and call for democracy, it felt as if we (the attending PASA members) were a little more subdued than normal. It could have been the large percentage of PASA conference newbies who were not yet comfortable with the often boisterous tone of PASA events. It could have been the mere weight of the issues before us. Or, it could have been that the audience was missing two key young activists—Nic Esposito and Holly Tyson.
As anyone who has met Holly knows, she is quite skilled at getting both the volume and energy up at any event she attends—I definitely missed her cheers, hoots and good energy. As it turns out, Holly was actually in Egypt. Holly's friends at the PASA conference were all a little nervous—knowing that she would like nothing better than to be part of a historic democratic revolution. Leading up to the PASA conference, I was convince I was going to turn on the news one night and see Holly front and center with the protesters calling for Mubarak’s resignation. Holly, however, was traveling with her mother and brother who I am not sure share her revolutionary travelling sensibilities, and all three safely returned to the U.S. The consummate traveller, Holly has left the country again, departing for Sri Lanka and India, to continue the 3 month trip she had been planning before the unexpected evacuation from Egypt. As much as I love and miss Holly (Kennett Square loses a little sparkle when she is out of town), the activist I want to talk about in the posting however, is not Holly (you can read more about Holly in a blog posting from a while back and she is, by the way, the person holding the “do you love local food sign” in the previous posting). The activist I want to feature is urban gardener and story teller Nic Esposito.
I met Nic last year at the PASA conference through our mutual friends Hoots and Hellmouth. Nic writes the band’s blog Notes from the Urban Homestead and shares a house with band member Rob Berliner. Nic was unable to attend this year’s PASA conference because he has been traveling around India. In fact, Nic is currently visiting the farm and study center of Dr. Vandana Shiva, a former PASA conference keynote speaker. This past summer we (Nic, Holly and I) were lucky enough to attend Dr. Shiva’s amazing lecture at the Academy of Natural Sciences, in Philadelphia. During her lecture, Dr. Shiva echoed much of what had been asked of us at this year’s PASA conference—the rejection of corporate models and the embracing of ecological truths. I encourage you to watch her archived speech—it is very inspiring.
Nic wrote is his last update from India:
So Rajistan (or the land of Kings, as it translates) was mighty good to us. We were sad to go, and the twenty four hours we spent traveling by bus, train, bus, bus, bus was well worth the trip to get here in the state of Uttarhand at Navdanya Farm. For those of you who don't know, Navdanya is an organic farming institute founded by Dr. Vandana Shiva. She was an Indian nuclear physicist who in the 80's had the foresight to see the looming crisis of industrial ag. So she started simple, just by saving seeds and storing them in an office in the nearby capital of Derha Dun. Now, it's an international organization that has saved over 2,000 varieties of seeds, saving them from being patented by industrial seed companies, and it also teaches courses to Indian farmers to show them how to convert their operations to organic.
I just sat for two hours, cleaning off turmeric and listening to an older woman who was Dr. Shiva's first employee. When Dr. Shiva first started she had the passion but not the know how. This woman retold the story of on her first visit, she threw out a bunch of seeds that Dr. Shiva brought to her. Dr. Shiva became upset and asked her why she'd do such a thing, to which the woman replied that the seeds were barren and wouldn't grow anything. Then she went into her house and got the seeds Dr. Shiva was looking for. They've been working together ever since. This is an uneducated village woman who now holds three slow food awards and is part of an international farming movement. It was very inspiring to see and hear her stories.
As for the farm, I'm sure after the week here I'll have plenty of stories. But for my first impression, it really is bringing back the essence of why I got into this movement. Just sitting in the field last evening as the sun went down over the foothills of the himalayas as we transplanted chamomile, I remembered the beauty that first captured my passion for this work. Although I love my work in Philly, sometimes the busy city streets and the limited space have made me forget this feeling. It's nice to have it back. Plus, it's great to be surrounded by people from all over the world who are here studying this movement, from France, to Canada to Japan. That's inspiring too. And the way that they all react to my stories of Philly and the work that is going on there makes me eager to get on home and keep it going.
But we still have two weeks and two emails. So you all stay well, and I'm looking forward to seeing you all soon.
Last fall Nic participated in the TEDxPhilly talks and this week his speech was posted on YouTube. I encourage you to watch for yourself so you can witness Nic's amazing skill for storytelling and community activism.
Finally I wanted to share some pictures of the home that Nic share’s with Rob and a handful of other housemates. You will notice their rain barrels and raised beds, a testament to the fact that this group is walking the walk as well as talking the talk. The sign was designed by a friend (Carpe Diem design) for his Urban Garden project.
As the images of the young Egyptian protesters flash across the computer or TV screen they immediately make me think of Nic and Holly—their shared passion and joy, their articulate goals, their effective community organizing, their love of humanity, their calls for peace and their belief that they are entitled to a more just and sustainable world. Which brings me back to the quote I started with from Arundhati Roy. Arundhati Roy, the author of the God of Small Things, is originally from Kerela, India (an area that Nic recently visited) and speaks often on issues relating to social and environmental justice. That beginning quote comes from a speech she made at the World Social Forum in 2003. I want to leave you with the expanded version because it again reminds me of the strength and gratitude I have for the amazing young activists that are a part of my life. It is people like Holly and Nic, like Wael Ghonim and the thousands of other young Egyptian protestors that are making another world possible and perhaps have given “Her” a stronger voice.
Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness: and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we're being brainwashed to believe.
The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling: their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability.
Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them.
Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.
World Social Forum
Porto Alegre, Brazil
January 27, 2003