By Gustavo Esteva and Brian Jay Snyder
Technological ingenuity, a traditional asset in the good-ol’-American-tradition, is no longer at the exclusive service of the conquering John Wayne and Clint Eastwood styles of gun slinging individualism. Technological ingenuity and science of and for the people now generates life saving alternatives rooted in knowledge of the natural world.
The Urban Homestead is located in Pasadena, California, on a typical urban lot with only 1/10 of an acre of land to grow food. “It produces annually 6,000 pounds of produce, over 2,000 eggs, 25-50 pounds of honey, and over $75,000 in savings.” Not a bad harvest, right? Jules Dervaes, a co-founder of the Urban Homestead, states, “I knew early on that we needed to settle the food problem, because if you can grow food, it’s empowering. In fact, I believe that growing food is one of the most dangerous occupations on the face of this Earth, because you’re in danger of becoming free.”
The Soul Fire Farm in Petersburg, New York is a family farm that is actively strengthening the movements for food sovereignty by growing organic food for its community with a profound respect for the Earth and indigenous traditions, while working tirelessly to “end racism and injustice within the food system.”
Nabita Goud is a smallholder and a “seed guardian” at the Maa Lankeshwari seedbank of Bhimdanga village in Odisha, eastern India. “Nabita is one of 18 seed guardians who are part of Chetna Organic’s seed conservation project. Over the last two years, six seedbanks have been established in five villages in Odisha with 72 men and women conserving 50 varieties of fibre and food crops seeds. This is a much needed shot in the arm for these districts which are plagued with hunger, poverty and insecurity.”
The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) is working with small family farms founded upon “agro-ecological and indigenous” practices to ensure farmers’ livelihoods, engender autonomous food production, preserve biodiversity within ecosystems, and resist industrialized food production.
Sixto Alado and Victorino Gimenes Roa are Paraguayan farmers who are fighting against soy monocultures created by big agribusiness which has taken over 3.5 million hectares of land in Paraguay destroying and polluting the biodiversity and ecosystems within the region. Alado and Roa have created an “agroforestry paradise with plantings of nuts, multi-cropped with fruit and cassava.” “Our farms and our families work together – we want to work and to thrive and be healthy – and that means protecting the trees and the soil and the water. Without that we have nothing. Soy gives nothing and loses everything.”
From La Via Campesina to the Urban Homestead, there is a common philosophy, which drives their lives and daily activities. That philosophy is rooted in respect, love, and ancient knowledge of the land and the life that resides within that land.
Jeannette Armstrong, an artist, author and anti-Tar Sands activist of the Okanagan Tribe in British Columbia, pleads with us to become indigenous again. She believes that it is an inadequate effort to simply support the right of indigenous people to be who they are at a rally and then go home to continue consuming and burning fossil fuels as usual. “You don’t have to be the colonizer… Indigenousness is not just about culture, race, or ethnicity, but about how we respond to living things in the places where we live.” Yes, she says, we should be standing with the Indigenous people, supporting them as many people are doing today (ie: the Sioux in North Dakota), but there is something more: we need to think about what is to live like them.
One of her mentors, John Mohawk, said, “It’s not about indigenous peoples as ethnicity or race, it’s about re-indigenizing the planet.” In a very real sense, that is what is already happening: we are finally recognizing that there is a depth of experience from being indigenous, and that we all may find it deep in our hearts if we search for indigenous truths, while casting aside consumer psychological conditioning.
We are at a revolutionary crossroad, a revolutionary moment. We need many small revolutionary acts, but we need to be aware of the real nature of the ongoing revolution. Cutting the head of the king, in France, was an unnecessary cruelty: he was already dead; people were no longer believing in him, seeing him as a demi-god… People were already free of that specific burden. Today, thousands, millions, perhaps billions of people are aware of the many heads of the capitalist Hydra and are courageously drying the soil in which it can grow – rather that cutting one of its heads, only to see how it grows another.
“I call an act ‘revolutionary,” wrote Ivan Illich, “only when its appearance within a culture establishes irrevocably a (significantly) new possibility: a trespass of cultural boundaries which beats a new path. A revolutionary act is the unexpected proof of a new social fact, which might be foretold, expected, or even called for but never before irrevocably shown as possible.”
The Zapatistas, in the South of Mexico, brought an unfelt wind of hope in one of our darkest hours. Since their uprising on January 1st, 1994, they have collectively and autonomously marked the path to construct “a world in which many worlds may be embraced,” giving us a magnificent example of a new kind of society being born before our eyes. They have organized their own ways of learning, healing, and living well. With no funds from the government, they became self-sufficient in food, water, health, education, almost everything, through autonomy and self-governance, while living in harmony among themselves and with Mother Earth. Levi Gahman, in The Solutions Journal wrote, “…despite an ongoing counter-insurgency being spearheaded by the Mexican government…(the Zapatistas are) emancipating themselves from dependency upon multinational industrial agribusiness, and peacefully living in open defiance of global capitalism.”
It is easy to see the Zapatista epic as revolutionary. But their most radical statement is that they are “ordinary men and women and therefore…non-conformists, rebels, dreamers.” Overweight people buying all their shit at Walmart, those are non-conformists, rebels, dreamers? “Yes!,” say the Zapatistas. The revolution can be latent, it can be dormant, but it is there. Small acts of resistance by ordinary men and women, like the courageous demonstration that a family can live well without Walmart and the resilience of the Urban Homestead, are revolutionary acts, the acts we desperately need now, the acts that will stop the horrors and create thriving communities where we can rediscover our indigenous humanity once again.
“I’ve been talking for a long time about leadership from the bottom and I’m convinced perfectly that it is happening”, stated agrarian poet, Wendell Berry. “That leadership consists of people who simply see something that needs to be done and they start doing it… The world is full of people now who are doing what I just said; seeing something that needs to be done and starting to do it, without the government’s permission, or official advice, or expert advice, or applying for grants, or anything else. They just start doing it.” And he adds: “We don’t have the right to ask whether we are going to succeed or not. The only question that we have a right to ask is: ‘what is the right thing to do? What does the Earth require of us, if we want to continue to live on it?’”
Gustavo Esteva is a grassroots activist and public intellectual that resides in a small Zapotec village in Oaxaca, in the South of Mexico.
Brian Jay Snyder is a de-professionalized poet, humorist, and organic gardener that lives within the Sierra Nevada of Central California. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianJaySnyder