“It is it worth it. we can not stop the struggle, we can not stop looking for a dignified life for all”
Gustav Castro Soto from Mexico spoke of watching his comrade Berta Caceres being gunned down and dying in his arms. She had a $50 000 price on her head.
The room was in tears hearing of the loss of a beloved colleague. This was one of the stories of resilience we were privileged to hear as part of the Friends of the Earth International Bi-Annual General meeting in Bandar Lampung last week.
We got a phone call ten days ago whilst presenting at a conference interstate – Can we go to Sumatra, Indonesia to facilitate the school of sustainability?
Facilitate a meaningful campaign skills and social media program for people from 11 different countries with effectively one day preparation time…on the plane on the way there?
It was incredibly challenging but an immense pleasure and privilege to facilitate people from South Korea, Japan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Russia, Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Nepal, Papa New Guinea, and Palestine.
They shared stories from their regions of successful campaigns, and their own struggles – from land grabbing by big corporations, fighting inappropriate port developments, challenging the financing of coal projects, working to save forests, marine life, fighting for gender justice and human rights among many other issues.
The concept of the sustainability school was born in Cuba and Latin America – where radical politics and political expression are deeply held traditions.
Far from the western commodified and co-opted vision that comes to mind with the word ‘sustainability’, it is instead about deeply sustaining a just society – with environmental and social justice being intertwined. Popular education and a radical grassroots perspective around sharing knowledge, as well as practical application are important foundations of the school’s which have occurred across Europe and Latin America. They speak of learning through the hand, heart and head – hands on experiential learning, heart felt sharing and stories and strategy and brain work.
As an affiliate member of Friends of the Earth we have been less connected to the international federation so it was really exciting to understand a little more about the worlds biggest grassroots environmental network. FoE International consists of 75 member groups. There was a huge joyous response to Slovenia becoming an associate member and Russia having full membership confirmed.
The Biannual general meeting is not your average international meeting. Every morning there is a ritual known as ‘Mistica’, explained to us as “a way for people to connect and work together, it can be symbolic or creative… it can bring nature in, and also share religious or cultural messages”
From honouring murdered human rights defenders, to hearing the stark and challenging stories from Africa, and their lived climate impacts, to FoE Europe and their highlighting of inter-sectional issues of climate refugees, and anti racist work, to our Asian pacific presentation, which was a joyous celebration of the massive popular resistance in South Korea, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
We were hosted by the amazing Walhi (Friends of the Earth Indonesia) – a huge, and influential organisation – they seem to somehow be able to marry deeply radical politics, with significant high level influence – we were hosted among much pomp and ceremony (and karaoke) by the local mayors (equivalent) … in fact we nearly had the President of Indonesia open the event… and yet two days later the local punks came to share their incredible screen printing skills and famous band… they are a great example of inter-generational and diverse organisation.
There were deep and interesting conversations about food sovereignty, the growing understanding of the commons and how we can protect both our natural and social systems, an interesting session on patriarchy and creative responses – we heard about solutions – from cooperative solar projects in South Korea, to seed saving and the importance of soil as carbon banks in Uruguay.
Resolutions included support for Japan to pressure their national bank to withdraw coal finance, support for the Columbian peace process, commitment to global cooperation to hold BHP to account for the mining disaster in Brazil, resolutions against land grabbing in Indonesia and elsewhere, protection of indigenous peoples worldwide and universal condemnation of the policy and platform of Donald Trump. A new head of FoE International was elected, the thoroughly impressive Karin Nansen from Uruguay – a passionate and deeply experienced life long activist… again “walking the talk” by electing a woman from the global south.
On the last day we visited a community managed forest in the hills – where 384 traditional custodians maintain and care for 700 hectares of land – including a 300 ha conservation area, and mixed species production forest, with cacao, coffee and more, variant on the altitude.
It was a thoroughly surreal and fun experience that involved much local food and two more formal greeting ceremonies, and banners festooning the streets to greet us… then 40 locals pulled up their motorbikes – and a multicultural Friends of the Earth bike gang all hopped on the back to much amusement from locals… to weave our way up a tiny and treacherous mountain path to visit the community forest. We planted trees to represent all the regions across the world working together and heard the stories and songs of the local community and children.
We were very grateful for the opportunity to be hosted and learn from people across the globe at the BGM, as well as having the honour of facilitating the first Asia Pacific Sustainability School…we hope there is more to come.
And whilst sometimes our global challenges seem insurmountable, we take heart from knowing we are on the right side, and there are good people here – even though some of them have lost their lives in this struggle. More than ever we need to work together, build and broaden our alliances, and take urgent action, as in the words of Berta Caceres, “Humanity awaken, there is no time”
Article and photos: Nicola Paris