Sowing Seeds, Saving the Farm

Yes!  Another Peace Justice and You(th) Conference, bigger and better than ever before!

Sowing seeds, saving the farm: 4th Peace Justice and You(th) conference – AID

Nestled in the hills of Hillsboro, Oregon is the Edible Stories market garden, run by Ganesh and Lakshmi with some help from their daughter Anandhi, who volunteer with AID in Portland. A living example of small-scale sustainable agriculture rooted in natural farming principles and local economy, the garden was a dream venue for the 4th annual Peace, Justice and You(th) conference.

Don’t miss the collaborative story that the kids concocted along with senior social activist and Magsaysay Laureate Aruna Roy of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan.


Did you ever wonder? Day 1 of AID conference continued

Moving along, in the late afternoon there was the follow-up session on 10xAID, after which the Executive Board and Board of Directors presented the Annual Report and then Kamayani and Ashish talked about their work in Bihar.  They talked about MNREGA and other issues of workers’ rights, village level discussions with women as well as with men on gender equality, and about the nirman work they were starting with children’s education.

And then there was dinner.  Not just any dinner but the Reunion Banquet.  Some of the folks from the early years of AID came along with their families to share stories from the times when they were all roommates dreaming up schemes for the future of India, or how to dumpster-dive a Xerox machine and make it produce the first copies of Dishaa, the AID newsletter.

So the interesting thing about having everyone stay in the hotel together is that after coming back from the conference we conferenced some more.  In the hotel lobby, a small group gathered round to ponder questions of caste, class and gender in a discussion format similar to what Ashish and Kamayani use in their village workshops.  Rashim had circulated a short list of questions earlier, with the title “Did you ever wonder?”  It seemed like people really need to talk about these questions and rarely take the time to do so.  I used the opportunity to share something I had no other place to share, regarding the trials of the police officers charged in the Freddie Gray case, and what our feelings about the verdict say about our own place in society.  What would we do if we were in the place of the police?  And why is it that none of us is?


NAPM Convention Notes from Day 2: Lighting the fire of social change

As usual the day began with songs of justice and resistance.  Activists from the Narmada Valley took to the stage and sang three songs which I was lucky enough to record, (with a little help from Nikhil when they started a song that I couldn’t resist joining in.)

For the rest of the morning,we heard reports from the 16 parallel sessions that had taken place on day 1.   Our team, on gender and patriarchy, had submitted typed notes in English, while Gabriele and Mukta presented the report in Tamil and Hindi respectively.  I hope that NAPM shares these as well as the notes from the other groups.   So without going into details, I will just say that the quality of the sessions was surprisingly good in spite of the short time.  Each came out with several concrete and several broad recommendations for NAPM to take up collectively on these fronts.

After lunch I attended a parallel session on Youth in Movements.  Nandlal from Varanasi moderated the session.  Meera from Badwani said that since no one had any doubt that the movements needs youth, all of us should share our thoughts and suggestions on how to involve youth in movements, to bring in fresh ideas, energy and also, obviously, for the survival of the movements in the next generation.

Nandlal Master of Varanasi moderates session on Youth in Movements.

Nandlal Master of Varanasi moderates session on Youth in Movements.

Of the 50 people attending the session, probably half were under 30.  While they had generously thrown out numbers like “under 35” and “under 40” when referring to youth in movements, there were some like me who had slipped in anyway.   One person brought up the format of the meeting and said that to involve more youth, this would have to change as we cannot sit through 4-5 hour sessions.  “Neither can the non-youth,” I piped up.  The difference is that those of us who are already involved look forward to the meetings to meet one another.  To make the organization welcoming for new people, regardless of age, it is good to have more opportunities to interact.   Of course this will happen more effectively at the local level, and several people from various struggles spoke about events and camps they had organized locally to acquaint local youth with the issues and strategies and seek their participation.

At one point Ojas from Pune offered a different characterization and said that by youth what we mean is cheer, we want our meetings to be cheerful and energetic.   To this I would add, “hopefulness.”  When I hear the agenda articulated from the stage, I don’t want to be overcome with a sense that we are never going to be able to do this.  I want to feel the confidence that with so many people united in this vision, we must carry it forth and show the world that it is possible.

When my turn came, I said that there is no doubt that the movements need youth, we need to ask whether the youth need the movements.  The vision of the movements is peace and justice for all but if one has no faith that this is possible, and that peace and justice will be available only for the 10%, then will one want to join the movement or race for that 10%?   What can we do to make our vision believable?

Among the youngest attending the session were twenty students of Sal Sabeel Green school, who had come two days early from Kerala to help prepare for the convention, doing every kind of work from cleaning the grounds to practicing songs for the inauguration.  I asked them what attending the convention meant to them.  One young girl answered, “This work is part of our studies, through this work we learn about life, we understand the work that our mothers do, and various kinds of work that people do in the world.”

You could have heard a pin drop.

The session continued but that last remark gave me pause.  It was not what she said but the innocence and faith in her voice.  Because honestly, I don’t know how well I have been doing at the job of keeping hope alive.   I can keep on keeping on, I can write the letters, I can march the marches and boycott the goods and practice the alternatives.  But can I really make it stop, this endless onslaught from the machine?


Conference, Quotes

#AIDCONF2014 Notes from Day2

Quotable Quotes

“The government is not implementing the laws.”
“You are saying Bihar is the most backward but let me tell you West Bengal has taken the place of Bihar.”
“For two days in the AID Conference we have a space where we can talk about the struggles we go through personally to stand against caste, sexism, lifestyle expectations.  If I have to ask, where do I get the strength to face these issues and not give into family pressures, it is from AID and discussions like the ones we have in the gender session.”

Continue reading

Conference, Notes

#AIDconf2014 Notes from Day1

AIDCONF2014# Day1

In spite of our late arrival last night we got up in good time thanks to jet lag.  We were in Ramesh’s “second home,” which meant that even though we had seen on the guest-host spreadsheet that Kamayani and we were both hosted by Ramesh, we did not meet because Ramesh has two houses and she was in one and we in the other.  Also in our house were William Fontenot, an environmental advocate from Louisiana, and Sridhar Vedachalam, formerly of Cincinnati and now of Ithaca.  All of us were up by East Coast morning.  William and I enjoyed a scenic walk to the campus seeing along the way some rushing waters, melted off the nearby mountaintops.

Wow, AID Colorado’s got it made in the shade, you may think.  Especially if you heard Ramesh talking to volunteers at the conference in Charlotte last year, “Come to Boulder, we’ll find you jobs!” Continue reading


AID Connections

Dallas, 20 July

Entrance to Milan, AID fundraising dinner in Dallas

Entrance to Milan, AID fundraising dinner in Dallas

We were sitting in Nandhini restaurant as volunteers buzzed about adjusting the audio visual system and getting ready to start the program.  Another chapter, another Milan.  I said hello to a woman at my table and she returned the greeting brightly.  We introduced ourselves.  She had known about AID for some time, but this was her first event.  We talked a bit about various projects.  After a pause she looked at me and said, “I got the cup!”  I smiled.  I love it when people get the cup (which by the way is now in India).

Wheatsville Co-op owners, Sucheta and Parvathy

Wheatsville Co-op owners, Sucheta and Parvathy

I also love it when people read my articles and tell me that they made a difference.   Earlier, Lakshmi told me that String of Jasmine had made a difference to her mother.  I was awestruck.   In Dallas,  Kitchen Shelves in Sunita and Srinadh’s home reminded me of my own days steeped in the co-op scene in Madison, which was already on my mind, as I had just come from what in Wisconsin we called the Madison of the south, known in Texas simply as Austin.  There I visited the local co-op along with two of the owners, Sucheta and Parvathy.  Walking through the co-op, all the talking points of the Agri session came before us – locally grown food to eat, seeds to plant  – and we could take it home.  AID Cares indeed!

Kishen speaks about his visit to Mavallipura, where  Environmental Support Group is helping villagers save the village from being used as a landfill.  Kishen also iplayed violin for the Milan fundraising dinner.

Kishen speaks about his visit to Mavallipura. 

Kishen, a young boy in Dallas spoke about his visit to Mavallipura, where Environmental Support Group is helping villagers save the village from being used as a landfill. Kishen also played violin for the Milan fundraising dinner.  Throughout the evening, people from the community shared personal experiences and talked about issues they cared about as well as actions they had taken.   Not often in the routine course of life do we get an opportunity share these often emotional stories, and Milan provides the space for all of us to express this side of ourselves.
In Dallas, Sunita talked about how a visit from Michael M had reassured her about growing food at home.  Earlier she was afraid that she was killing the plants since so few of hers survived.  But he reminded her that in the field many seeds fall without sprouting and not all of the plants survive even in farmers’ fields.  Eric Carle illustrates the point beautifully in The Tiny Seed.
While I am in the children’s section let me also recommend Blueberries for Sal, one of my all time favourites.  That is a truly deep book.  And one delightful book about growing crops – The Friendly Spider.
Sonika wrote about the connections that children make through AID circles in a post elaborately and dramatically titled “Instant Death, Acknowledgements and …
These days I talk a lot about food issues.  Everything is connected to food issues – health, land, livelihood, learning, debt, corruption, finance and inequality.  
So deep do the waters of AID — these days known as KoolAID — run that one does not know who influences whom – it was a mutually supportive environment inspiring us to be the change.
Bringing the food issue home … starts with the food we bring home.   Packaged food companies are looking for every possible way to grab customers early and often and then some more often.  Every single movement for healthy, homegrown, home-made food gets picked up by the food industry in its single minded goal of passing off edible food lie substances for food.  No, to pass them off as better than food.  The first entry packaged food makes is as a snack, and in order to cut off this entry point, I am starting a series on Simple Snacks.
Eating, Wendell Berry has said, is an agricultural act.  What we eat the farmers grow.  Land, energy, water and welfare policies direct what is available and affordable but whatever effort we can make to direct those policies in a direction that is healthier and more sustainable, for our people and our planet.
Who can really say who inspires whom?   Milan helps us make all of these connections.
In Maryland, Hope for Humanity, whose members have individually been very strong supporters of AID, now see Milan as an annual way to stay connected as an organization.  Every year at least one member of the organization attends, makes a donation on behalf of Hope for Humanity and speaks about our continued association.  In Austin we saw people from the community who have been involved at the local level with Saheli and also with South Asian Women’s Network.

And the networks of mutuality go on. 


“Gandhi does not appeal to our generation”

said the students, freshly landed from Hyderabad, after spending the day with AID courtesy of their newfound Indian community at the local AID chapter.
“We have issues with Gandhi”

“Without his insistence on nonviolence we would have gotten our freedom faster.”

“His opposition to partition was a blunder.”

“There are other leaders who should have gotten more credit.”

“He failed to save Bhagat Singh.”