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Nikhil Aziz's blog
By Nikhil Aziz
July 10th, 2014
Grassroots International was, and continues to be my dream organization and job! Back in 2005, I chose – much to the consternation of family and friends – to come to Grassroots instead of a much bigger international organization because of what Grassroots stands for and the work it does for social justice, human rights, and systemic change with progressive social movements, organizations, and people around the world. I’ve had the great honor and privilege of leading Grassroots International for nine and a half years through two strategic plans and unprecedented growth in our 30 plus year history. And I know that this is a good time for me personally to move on, and enable Grassroots to move to the next level.
The words from the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore came to my mind when I first saw Israel’s illegal wall in the West Bank in 2006. They signify a vision of what a just peace can (and should) be, for Palestinians, and, as well, for Israelis.
Thirty plus years after Grassroots International was founded, one of the twin crises that led to its founding -- the civil war and refugee crisis in the Horn of Africa -- is back. The context is, of course, different. Eritrea today is an independent state. And what was then an inspiring liberation movement is now a repressive regime. But one significant element now and then is still the same. A massive human-made disaster in the shape of nearly a million refugees (out of a total national population of 4-5 million)!
Agroecology is not just a way of doing agriculture but, equally importantly, a way of thinking about agriculture holistically, systemically, and ecologically. Along with respect for nature -- the soil, water, seeds, etc. -- there is equally respect for the people (especially women) engaged in agriculture, including their knowledge, experience, leadership and rights. It is a way of thinking about and doing agriculture that is fundamental to addressing pressing global problems like hunger and climate change.
Whether it’s life imitating art or the other way around, the assault so dramatically captured in the Hollywood blockbuster film Avatar (2009) is not pure fiction. The reality is that countries and corporations that are hell-bent on extracting every last resource from the earth continue their relentless assaults on indigenous people, their land and waters, their cultures and ways of life, Whether it’s Afro-Brazilians on the Sao Francisco river in Brazil, Dongria Kondhs on Niyamgiri mountain in India, or Lencas in Honduras’ Rio Blanco territory, they all are facing not only the threat of displacement and devastation but violence, intimidation and even, in some instances, assassination.
Ingredients: 183 member organizations. 88 countries. 5 continents. 500 representatives of 200-plus million women and men. Numerous allies from movements of women, indigenous peoples, fishers, pastoralists, environmental/climate justice activists and more. One global peasant movement. All with fearless commitment to social, economic and gender justice.
Our Palestinian partners frequently tell us: “To stay – and, frankly, to exist – is to resist.” I heard this same message during the 3rd International Youth Assembly of La Via Campesina (LVC). In a world where the ability to live a dignified life as a small farmer is increasingly challenging whether in Iowa or Indonesia the act of staying, and in some cases “going back” to the land is an act of resistance and courage.
This June, I traveled to Jakarta, Indonesia for the Via Campesina’s – a Grassroots partner – 6th International Congress. The Via’s International Women’s Commission kicked off the Congress by organizing the 4th International Women’s Assembly for two days from June 6-7.
On this International Day of Peasants’ Struggle, we recognize the courage, tenacity and absolute necessity of grassroots struggles across the world for rights to land, life and dignity.
And we recognize that all-too-often peasants continue to face threats, repression and even death. In fact, that is why this day was first commemorated, following the murder of 19 peasant land rights activists in Brazil in 1996.
“The contractor even determines who our daughters will get married to!” said Zainab bibi. “That is how much we are in bondage to these contractors. Are we not human? Do our children not have dreams of education? Don’t we have hopes for them?