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.”

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