This month I had the great honor of being present at the Video 4 Change gathering in South Africa. This meeting brought together indigenous activists from different parts of the continent, as well as allies and friends from the rest of the world. The topic: the struggle for indigenous rights in a globalized world where in the name of profit and development, people who have long lived in harmony with their environment are being forced to discard their identity and physically pulled from their ancestral land. How is this happening in an era of sustainable development goals and human rights? What can be done to help communities defend themselves and be heard on a national and international scale?
The Dubai to Shanghai Emirates flight is jam packed with people eager to get to the people’s republic. I’m in the aisle seat with two jovial middle aged men to my right. They’re joking about the food or the flight attendant who always ignores their requests for food or drink, they speak with different accents yet they seem to know each other fairly well. The jokes are funny and kind hearted- it is going to be a nice flight.
Along the way more jokes mixed with pearls of wisdom about travel, airplanes, doing business in China as well as life in Zambia. These two gentlemen live in Zambia. One is a native son of Zambia with a fantastic sense of humor and a kindness you rarely see on a long haul flight. The other, to my surprise, is Portuguese, working the last decade or so for a Portuguese construction company based in Zambia. Their destination, a construction vehicle exposition in Shanghai. Because as you should already know and these two gentlemen remind me, down in Africa, it is the Chinese that go for every contract and manufacture some of the most budget friendly vehicles for those big infrastructure projects.Read More
This podcast began as a small conversation on the last day of OHM 2013 among individuals doing projects in South America, the Middle East, Asia and West Africa. As we recorded, the number of participants increased as friends, acquaintances, and curious strangers joined our circle to listen or speak about their project and their impressions of this camp in relation to what is happening in the rest of the world.
My goal with this recording, to make the connections from this temporary microworld that we built, to the rest of the world and the challenges people face everyday. If you enjoy hearing from dedicated, kind hearted, and fum people, listen to this podcast.
Projects and People Included in this recording:
- Everyone talks about OHM 2013
- Anna Waldman-Brown on Ghana
- Vinay Gupta and Hexayurt
- Grace works at Saathipads
- Smári McCarthy wears hats
- MailPile Launched
- Bilal is working on Gemsi, Middle East and Beyond
- Xavi is busy with RhizoMatica Oaxaca
- Raja and Sara are proud of Lamba Labs Beirut
- Everyone else who was there, feel free to comment!
The lower Normandy that I’ve come to know is an amazing world of deep green fields, breathtaking skies, and a silence I have never heard before. The few houses you pass are modest and functional. They can be found between the long stretches of corn and the grazing land where content cows and sheep seem to have all the time in the world to eat and relax. One of the busiest metropoles in the world is 3 to 4 hours away, but out here it may as well be on another continent. Still, people here are busy, building things, cleaning things, working the land in one form or another. Some grew up here and continue a family tradition of agricultural work. Others come from different parts of the country, even foreign countries, to live the healthy, calm, and satisfyingly simple life they always wished for.
Looking out over the mystifying landscape one night, a friend shows me with great disappointment, massive new structures on the otherwise beautiful horizon. With their feet planted firmly in concrete, towering high above the corn and fruit orchards, are massive high tension power lines. “They just put them in, stretching from the power plant that isn’t online yet several hundred kilometers away,” my friend describes with an alarmed tone like someone talking about an oil slick or a forest fire swallowing up his neighbors. “The power company is planning to use these lines to sell electricity to Spain, all the nearby farmers protested, but the company built it anyway.” He went on to describe the extensive campaign to fight the power company and how they are able to seize land for installing power cables and towers regardless of what the nearby community thinks.
I stepped back from the situation and thought about how often scenario’s like this take place. The massive dam projects in India that displaced thousands of people with little to no consultation. The coal power plant right next door to the city of Ulan Bataar in Mongolia, bringing electricity and horrific air pollution to hundreds of thousands nearby. Throughout history and including today, projects are pursued for different reasons, some to improve lives, some just for the sake of profit or prestige. And regardless of their purpose, sometimes those same projects wind up harming the very people they set out to benefit.
These same questions will still be asked about major decisions and risky initiatives long after all of us have left the planet, when is worth it and when is it not worth it? Innovation and development that improves quality of life for more people on this planet – who could argue with that? But innovation and development for the sake of profit for a tiny few while harming a larger part of the population – why should that be acceptable?
A different issue but yet somehow related, I’m reminded of Mario Savio’s speech in 1964: “There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels…upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!”