A lively crowd of around 250 piled into the Steelworkers hall in downtown Toronto on May 7, in an event that brought together Latin American solidarity, first nations, and environmental activists.
Toronto Bolivia Solidarity had helped sponsor a group travel to Cochabamba, Bolivia, for the April People’s Summit called by Bolivian president Evo Morales, as a response to the failed Climate Change talks in Copenhagen in Dec. 2009. What was clear to all in Cochabamba — and in the Steelworkers hall on May 7 — was that we are witnessing the birth of a new movement, a movement led by the Global South, calling for climate justice.
More than 30,000 people from 100 countries participated in the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, to give the summit its formal name. Kimia Ghomeshi, Campaign Director for the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, reported how the event was infused with an anti-capitalist spirit. What was clear to participants, she argued, was that the devastation of the environment was deeply rooted in a world driven by the priorities of corporate profits.
The evening had been opened by a powerful set by the Red Slam Collective and a video put together by Raul Burbano. Ben Powless, a member of the Indigenous Environmental Network, accompanied his presentation with a slide show of images from the conference. The combination of the video and the slide show gave the audience a sense of what it meant to be at there.
Danny Beaton, 2010 recipient of the National Aboriginal Achievement Award (NAAA) for Environment and Natural Resources, reminded us of the roots to past struggles. He told the audience that he had not been in the Steelworkers Hall for 20 years — but recognized some faces, because those 20 years ago he and they had been in the same hall to help organize solidarity with the Lubicon Lake Indian Nation, in their battle against energy corporation exploitation of their land. His words were important — indicating to people that our movement is a marathon, not a sprint.
The closing speaker was Robert Lovelace, a leader of Ardoch Algonquin First Nation. His moving speech culminated with an observation, that we will not win climate justice until we recognize that we are all indigenous to the earth. All of us, he argued, have been separated from the land by forces we don’t control. Recognizing our connection to the land is an indispensable first step in creating a movement to build a society based on climate justice.
Ten years ago, the town of Cochabamba made world headlines for the first time. It was the centre of a desperate battle to prevent Bechtel corporation — under the watchful eye of the IMF and the World Bank — from privatizing water in that city. After bitter protests, and the tragic deaths of six protesters, suddenly, in April 2000, the movement had won. Privatization was defeated, and the control of water in Cochabamba was handed over to a grassroots coalition. Cochabamba in 2000 was a spark that helped ignite the anti-corporate globalization movement of the early 21st century.
Now in 2010, Cochabamba is again a spark. The three strands of the movement at the conference and in the Steelworkers Hall were beginning a conversation. For those whose focus has been Latin American solidarity, the focus has been on the damage done by Global North imperialism to the countries in the Global South emerging from the shadow of colonialism. For those whose focus has been first nations’ struggles in Canada, the focus has been on Canada’s own colonial legacy. For activists in the environmental movement, the focus has been on the threat posed to the environment by unconstrained corporate development.
A remarkable feature of both the Cochabamba event, and the report back on May 7, was the extent to which all three streams are flowing together into a common river. The result is a Climate Justice/Global Justice movement, called into being by Latin America’s second poorest country, with its first indigenous head of state — Evo Morales.
The challenge thrown down by Cochabamba is enormous. A people’s agreement was drafted — now being nicknamed the “Cochabamba Protocol.” It points the finger at capitalism and the Global North, and puts forward a plan to effectively deal with the threat to the environment posed by unregulated capitalism. Given the failure of the Global North leadership at Copenhagen, an important part of this protocol is the call for a Global Referendum so that the people of the world can have their say.
To become involved in this new Climate Justice movement, contact Toronto Bolivia Solidarity.
The documents from the conference have been made available on the site Climate and Capitalism.com.
Paul Kellogg is an activist in Toronto Bolivia Solidarity.