A reflection on participation in the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance first national Political Education Course
By Megan Browning
In a recent teach-in hosted by The Rising Majority on Movement Building in the Time of the Coronavirus, Canadian activist and author Naomi Klein was asked, “What is required of us in this moment?” “Our job,” she shared, quoting colleagues at The Leap, “is to kick open the door of radical possibility as wide and as long as possible.”
The coronavirus pandemic is revealing the weakest parts of our social systems. Dominant structures and the resulting inequitable distribution of resources based on race and class are fully exposed in this moment. In this moment of vulnerability, we must shine light on what is possible and carry this forward into building a different future. “Once you recognize that you are in an emergency,” Klein continued, “a great deal is possible… The status quo is an emergency… Crisis blows open the sense of what is possible.”
In our work to build the Agrarian Commons, Agrarian Trust participates in this work: to confront systems and structures that have resulted in inequitable access to land, and thus impeded the most vulnerable and historically disadvantaged among us from having true control over their food supply. We see land access as integral to food sovereignty, and land access is in crisis. The Agrarian Commons model responds to this crisis. It is a tool to blow open the sense of what is possible.
We are not doing this work alone. We can only do it in solidarity with those who are at the forefront of this struggle. This truth drives our membership and participation in the US Food Sovereignty Alliance.
Food sovereignty, defined at the first global food forum in Mali in 2007, is “the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.” At a time when a global pandemic is revealing so much about the structural systems that are broken in this country and internationally, the importance of advancing food sovereignty is rising to the top.
Building on an international movement, the US Food Sovereignty Alliance (USFSA) is part of the collective struggle to advance food sovereignty, a critical part of disrupting the status quo and creating more equitable systems. It is all of our work to recognize the structures of domination and oppression that are at work and confront the history of stolen land and stolen labor that led us to this point. We must heal together so that we can build resiliency and take back control of our food supply.
In service to this work, I was privileged to attend the first national Political Education Course hosted by the US Food Sovereignty Alliance and the Farmworker Association of Florida in early March. Only days after returning from this course in Florida to my home in Vermont did the US begin to wake up to the severity of the COVID-19 crisis which was sweeping the nation and the globe. In the face of a crisis and response that is rapidly changing, the lessons from this course hold strong and true, and Agrarian Trust remains committed to showing up for this work.
This course offered the opportunity to learn, share our struggles, build relationships and strategize collectively with a group of approximately forty people from the US, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico. “Globalize the struggle! Globalize hope!” (Globalizar la lucha! Globalizar la esperanza!) chanted daily, was a call-and-response reminder of the interconnectedness between the pain and the fight, and the hope and belief in working in solidarity to build a better future.
We put the collective process into practice, gathering daily in base groups who reported back to a coordinating team to make collective decisions for the group. This process is both beautiful and flawed, requiring practice and deep relationships. The struggles of this process remind us of the work that is needed to move toward authentic solidarity with one another in the work to build a future centered on equity that benefits all.
For a week we lived, ate, laughed, cried, shared and learned together:
We delved deep into political content, with workshops ranging from “Resisting Patriarchy in the U.S. Food System” facilitated by Shakara Tyler of Black Dirt Farm Collective and Larisa Jacobson of Soul Fire Farm to “Climate, the Environment, Just Transition and Relationality” facilitated by Tom Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network and Alivia Moore of Eastern Woodlands Rematriation.
We were asked questions that included “What social relationships do we need for ecological transition?” and “How do we make alliances that both bring people in and create a framework for ecological change?” We also heard “What does it mean to center nurturing in all of our decisions?” and “What does it mean for others as we recognize Indigenous peoples as rights holders?” In the context of an agricultural history of oppression we were asked to consider, “How will you apply your approach to strategy to resist and change this history?” These big questions, posed by a diversity of perspectives, guide the work that we each pursue on our farms and in our organizations.
We gathered daily for morning Mística, a ceremony borrowed from the Agroecology Process to share cultural traditions, connect at the spiritual level, and open our hearts together. Místicas included song, poetry, fire, and other forms of connection and shared inspiration.
We participated in a flash mob as part of a National Action for International Women’s Day, coordinated by Grassroots Global Justice.
We honored the youth at the gathering by turning into our younger selves, laughing, running, playing and getting completely soaked during two youth-organized water fights. We were reminded of the importance of lifting up the energy and wisdom of our young ones, seeing how much they knew about what we needed during a time of heavy learning and convening. They taught us the importance of play.
We worked together in the incredible community gardens at the Farmworker Association of Florida offices, remembering that physical labor and food production is central to this work and this struggle.
We held each other during a beautiful affirmation exercise in our closing circle facilitated by Shakara Tyler. We opened our hearts to give and receive the encouragement that is needed to stay committed to this work and to each other.
We ate the delicious food prepared locally by El Korita Restaurant who fed us daily with pupusas, tacos, quesadillas and more. It was just the warm and nourishing food to keep us thriving during a week of deep, collective work.
We were called to think about the difference between our supporters and our base, in a presentation by Kali Akuno, from Cooperation Jackson. The base is those who are willing to take action towards furthering the work of the organization. When you frame a question with “Are you willing…?” and the answer is a resounding “Yes!” This is how you build your base. And we heard about strategies employed by our brothers and sisters around the country, in organizations and groups working to advance food sovereignty in their communities.
And we asked for more. More time and space for building relationships and having conversations, noting that the fully packed schedule did not allow for enough of this. This was one of many challenges that came up throughout our time together. Challenges that are a critical part of the work to build solidarity and work toward a shared vision of the future. In working to build multi-racial coalition, the USFSA was challenged to address anti-blackness and anti-indigeneity within the organization, and within the political education course itself. Those in the alliance were called on to examine the goals and intentions of the alliance and recommit to the work it will take to build trusting relationships that lift up the work of the most vulnerable and the most historically disadvantaged. How will we work collectively to imagine and breathe life into a future where farmers and food providers are at the center, and control of food is in the hands of the people?
In my work with Agrarian Trust, I see providing land access to the next generation of farmers as a central part of building and securing food sovereignty. Indigenous wisdom will tell us that land is not a commodity to be bought and sold but a relative with whom we are all related. In a time when the inequities of our dominant systems are so exposed, it is critical that we look to the land, and acknowledge that “land sustains life.” We must also acknowledge the importance of land reparations, and work in solidarity with the original inhabitants of the land, to broaden the relationships between land and food production beyond agriculture to include hunting, fishing, and wildcrafting. The land offers many gifts.
Alivia Moore, of Eastern Woodlands Rematriation, shared critical wisdom during their presentation on Indigenous rights and relationality: It is a responsibility to live your gifts. For a community to be truly whole, it is required that each being (human and more-than-human) live out each of our unique gifts. And as we make decisions, Alivia asked that we consider both of these questions: Does this nurture? Does this support regeneration?
As an organization, Agrarian Trust is continuing to ask these questions of our work, especially as we work to build relationships with organizations and communities across the country through alliances such as the USFSA. We are collaborators in this alliance because it allows us to connect and work in solidarity with a national and international network of organizations across the country, and because it offers a model of the collective process, one that is fully aligned with our work to establish the Agrarian Commons across the U.S.
With the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe, as we each do our part to “flatten the curve,” staying home if we are able, and working if we are called to, I’d ask each of you these questions, inspired by the teachings at this Political Education Course: Are you willing to join Agrarian Trust in our work to advance food sovereignty? In doing so, are you willing to support frontline organizations who are working in solidarity with us? Can you live into your gifts so that we can live into ours and in doing so build whole communities together?
We are working to break down systems of inequity that have, for far too long, ignored, endangered, and deprived those who hold the most wisdom and care for this land, and our food supply. Moving forward we must collectively step into the opportunity provided by this critical moment to bring about lasting change and build a better, more food sovereign future, together.
Are you willing to join us?
As you take this in, breathe and reflect. I invite you to read a poem by Efren Uriel Lopez from the Community Agroecology Network. A fellow participant in the Political Education Course, Efren shared this poem as his reflection on our experience together: