European Social Forum under way...
The European Social Forum opened Wednesday – the cobble-stoned central square in the small Swedish city of Malmo had a steady stream of people pulling roller suitcases from the train station. Charter buses arrived, one after another, to the nearby registration center. Some arrived by bicycle, with gear loaded on the back. These events generally draw about 20,000 people, but I haven’t yet heard how many have registered for this event, which is being held for the first time in Scandinavia.
Latin America and Asia are strong presences here, and we spent this afternoon, prior to the official opening, at two film showings, both from India. One, entitled “Bullshit,” featured the work of Vandana Shiva, sustainability activist and author. Her opponents gave her the “Bullshit” Award saying she is worsening poverty, not improving it. But the film turns this “award” on its head, showing how cow manure is used by village people in sustainable, and even beautiful, ways.
Beyond that, the film shows a woman deeply engaged in protecting and developing the indigenous know-how of the people of India. How do you assure you can feed people in a time of climate change? A wide diversity of seed stocks, adapted for a wide variety of local micro-climates could be key, especially when farmers have an opportunity to trade seed stocks as the climate shifts. In particular, local strains of millet and other grains that require very little water to thrive, and are loaded with nutrients, could be life savers. Monsanto prefers to promote seed stock it genetically modifies and thus “owns,” along with the quantities of chemicals needed to keep the plants alive. There is clearly more money to be made by this practice, but the film shows not only gleaming headquarters of the company but also the widows in Indian villages grieving from losing their husbands to suicide. The debt that comes purchasing all these high-priced farm inputs has lead to a rash of suicides among the small farmers who just don’t have the means to repay the loans.
Development means building on the indigenous know-how, and protecting farmers’ rights to their seeds, not promoting the expensive chemicals and genetically modified seed stock that may enrich Monsanto, but devastates Indian farmers.
The “tribal” people of Orissa, India, are at the center of the second film and workshop we attended. These are people being pushed off their land to make way for Bauxite mining and dams, to feed the aluminum production that makes possible all those shiny juice and soda pop cans we use so readily in rich countries. The film, “Earth Worms, Company Man,” was produced by two brothers who live in that region, whose grandfather was a follower of Gandhi. One quit his job at BBC to work on this project.
The film is intended to build understanding about the devastation caused by aluminum production – the huge use of electricity, which leads to dam construction that floods vast areas, the mining, and the toxic legacy left behind by both mining and processing. But it is also a movement-building tool, said Samarendra Das, one of the two brothers, after the film showing. The filmmakers took the film to villages who were in the pathway of these bulldozers, projecting the film against whitewashed mud walls, with a battery to power the projector. Villagers had a chance to witness the resistance of other villagers, some of whom lost their lives in battles with police. And the film centered on the voices of the tribal people themselves, who are more often treated as objects (of aid, pity, police violence) if they are seen at all, and who seldom are seen as principle actors or spokespeople. The power imbalance that makes possible the rape and pillage of the land these tribal people have been protecting and using for generations, is also the power imbalance that shows up often in well-meaning attempts to better their lives through charity or “development.” Samarendra Das made it clear that only when people have the power to determine their own future can you have sustainability.