Guiding Principles in Challenging Times
The original article appeared first from Groundswell International’s Executive Director, Steve Brescia, on LinkedIn.
This has been an exhausting and disorienting year. In the United States, we face deep divisions, even while we are challenged to join forces to confront huge crises. Currents of hope, fear, determination and anxiety run deep. Where do we find inspiration in these rough seas to steer towards real solutions? We at Groundswell draw on what we have learned from rural families around the world, and from our heroic front-line partner organizations that are strengthening communities and social movements in Africa, the Americas and South Asia to create better lives.
In Haiti some years ago, a farmer told me of a deep grudge he had with a neighbor. The animosity had been passed down from their grandfathers. Decades ago, one grandfather had let his goats loose to graze, and they ate the other man’s crops. An argument ensued, a machete was drawn, and one of the men lost his arm below the elbow. The anger between the families festered over decades. The specific incident was no doubt surrounded by other feelings that I cannot know – suspicion, mistrust, anxiety about scarce resources.
Now the two men are in the same solidarity group (gwoupman in Haitian Creole), working together to overcome existential crises that threaten their families and their community. This stretches my imagination. How can this be possible? This is not a naïve story about papering over profound conflict. It is about people recognizing that to survive and thrive they need each other to create their common good.
My colleague Cantave Jean-Baptiste, Director of our partner organization Partenariat pour le Développement Local (PDL) in Haiti, has taught over the years that restoring the soil on eroded mountainside farms, overcoming hunger, or surmounting any other great obstacle, starts with creating solidarity between people, not adopting new technology. Like the two Haitian farmers, I need to understand that my existence and wellbeing are dependent on the community. As a community, we need to develop together some shared understanding of the challenges we face and the common good we seek.
But how do you we promote solidarity in place of conflict? PDL staff start by bringing groups of 10-15 women and men together for reflection. Reflection usually leads to action. Over several weeks, peasant farmers analyze the facts of their history, the dynamics of their culture, and their dreams for the future. They discuss the brutalities of slavery; Haitians’ courageous slave rebellion; the exploitation and repression at the hands of dictators; the intentional promotion of distrust between people; their resilient culture of love for family, community, place and spirituality; and, the destruction of the Haiti’s environment. Participants reflect on how their personal stories of pain and hope are connected to this history. Tears are often shed. Eventually, the men and women ask themselves: Do we want to commit to ‘put our heads together,’ as they say and sing, to overcome the crises we face now? ‘Alone,’ they say, ‘we can’t create soil and water conservation barriers to regenerate our land and grow enough food to eat. Alone we can’t do that across whole mountainsides, so that landslides from above don’t wipe out family farmers below. Alone, we can’t overcome the growing indebtedness to money lenders, or the exploitation of middlemen who control markets for seeds and grain. Together, we can.’ The women and men decide whether they want to form a solidarity group together – pooling resources, decision making, and work. It is possible to begin. They start to take action.
I have had the great privilege over decades of learning with colleagues like Cantave across many countries and cultures and seeing these kinds of dynamics repeated. I am comforted by the fact that certain ‘first principles’ seem common to how communities succeed:
- Solidarity based on shared values and common needs.
- Working for the common good by developing a shared analysis of the problem and the desired future.
- Regeneration of the natural resources that people depend on, instead of short-sighted, extractive methods that characterize conventional agriculture.
- Local, democratic control to create local economies that are of, by and for the people.
Even though we are struggling with painful divisions in the US and around the world, we must act to overcome the tremendous challenges before us: the COVID-19 pandemic; climate change; systematic racism and the legacy of colonialism; the marginalization of women; economic rules that generate inequality and insecurity.
In the last week, Hurricane Eta lashed Nicaragua, Guatemala and Honduras, where 1.6 million people were affected. Climate change is accelerating extreme events like hurricanes and droughts. In Eta’s aftermath, Edwin Escoto, Groundswell’s Regional Coordinator based in Honduras, wrote: Global Warming. Climate Crisis. Revenge of Gaia. The horrific consequences of continuing to mistreat our planet are the same, regardless of the terminology. However, that doesn’t mean that the outcome is inevitable. We, together as global neighbors, can – and must – do better. Agroecology is one of the most proven, sustainable solutions available to us in our quest to mitigate the effects of climate change.
In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, our colleague Peter Gubbels in West Africa recently wrote: This tension between COVID-19 optimism and pessimism is currently playing out in dialogues regarding the farming and food system of sub-Saharan Africa … Even before the COVID-19 crisis, the African food system was in crisis … In the context of Africa, one of the best ways to bolster a person’s health and resistance to diseases such as COVID-19 is through nutritious diets. Recognizing this, Groundswell International and the Global Resilience Partnership are sounding a clarion call for governments to support actions to improve food and nutrition security through the promotion of “agroecology”.
During these disorienting times, Groundswell International, the partner organizations and communities we work with in 10 countries will continue to ‘put our heads together’ and work for real and bold solutions, guided by principles we continue to learn together from the ground up.
You can join us in our work to cultivate real and bold solutions by clicking here.