Social movements for system change

[Cochabamba, April 19, 2010] On April 19, an Assembly of the Social Movements was one of the first activities on the agenda at the People’s World Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba, Bolivia. The Assembly highlighted the popular focus of the conference, which was organized by the Bolivian government after the failure of governments and industries to negotiate a plan to stop climate change in Copenhagen last December.

The conference is being held from April 19 through 22 and is meant to amplify the voices of those who were not heard in Copenhagen. The Assembly of Social Movements was founded about 10 years ago within the World Social Forum process to strengthen the voice and the political agenda of social movements from all over the world.

The Assembly is important “in order to have common policies to construct an agenda of struggle, resistance and proposals,” says Fausto Torres, a member of the Association of Rural Workers in Nicaragua and the international food sovereignty movement La Via Campesina.

According to Nalu Faria, a Brazilian organizer with the Global March of Women, “The assembly has been very important since its beginning in order to construct a common agenda, for example, against the World Trade Organization, the war in Iraq, and now climate change. For us this process with allies is very important to generate general and ample policies for the changes that must be made.”

The Assembly “is a convergence of many social movements from different countries and from different sectors, not only peasants and migrants, but also labor unions, women and indigenous people. What is important is that most of these movements have identified with certain common policies, basically that the system has to change,” says Carlos Marentes of Agricultural Workers Project in Texas, USA, also member of Via Campesina.

The overwhelming consensus at today’s Assembly was the need for systemic change. Real solutions to climate change require a global shift in how ‘development’ is envisioned, says François Houtart, a Belgian intellectual. “Because we are facing a very fundamental crisis which is not only financial and economic, but really a systemic crisis and the answer to that is complex and global. And at the origin of the crisis is the logic of the capitalist system. And it is important for all the movements to understand that, and to see what is their place in this global struggle to change this system, as they are the ones trying to express popular needs and struggles. If political changes are not backed by social movements they are very weak.”

Several speakers at today’s Assembly emphasized climate justice. “Climate change does not affect people in the same way,” says Faria. “There are elements of gender, class and race, and relations between peoples of the North and South.”

Another common theme among the speakers at the Assembly was that the solutions to tackle climate change being proposed by governments and industry from the Global North are inadequate and will worsen the climate crisis. According to Henry Saragih, General Coordinator of La Via Campesina, “Right now the transnational corporations and governments from industrialized countries are proposing false solutions.” One solution being proposed by industry is to sequester carbon in plantations of palm oil cultivated for agrofuels and call them ‘forests.’

“We of La Via Campesina say this is not a true solution, because the transnational corporations are using the climate crisis to expand and make new business. It is time for the people and movements to come together to search for real solutions to climate change,” says Saragih, who, along with 300 delegates from La Via Campesina is at the conference in Bolivia to send the message to the world that diversified, sustainable peasant agriculture can cool down the planet.

La Via Campesina has had a presence at the official UN climate talks since December 2007 in Bali. Alberto Gomez, coordinator of the North American region of La Via Campesina, spoke of the organization’s plan to mobilize thousands of people for the upcoming climate talks in Cancun, Mexico in December. La Via Campesina in Mexico is organizing to have a large mobilization at the talks in Cancun, as well as mobilizations in each state, and also in other countries. “There will be massive moments in Cancun,” says Gomez.

Isabella Kenfield, Via Campesina

Media contacts (interviews with representatives of La Via Campesina in Cochabamba)
Boaventura Monjane – Phone: (00591) 74815401; [email protected]
Isabelle Delforge – Phone: (00591) 74306257; [email protected]

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