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Opening day of Global Forum for Life and Environmental and Social Justice

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Brent, Leticia and I attended the opening ceremony for 'Foro Global Por La Vida La Justicia Ambiental Y Social' (Global Forum for Life and Environmental and Social Justice) today. The forum, one of three alternative spaces to the UN climate change conference, is organized by La Via Campesina. The ceremony was held in a open-air sports stadium. The atmoshere was one of excitement, activity and solidarity.

In front of the stage, there was an ornate circle of fruit, candles, flowers and other offerings made to Mother Earth in part as a way to ask permission to be here. The ceremony was lead by Guatemalan and Mexican Mayans. They asked Mother Earth to ensure that our leaders do not make decisions that cause more damage. They acknowledged that sometimes we forget to thank Mother Earth for all the things she gives us and said that we are here to be reminded of the beauty of Mother Earth. There will be another ceremony on Monday at 5 a.m. that all can participate in.

La Via Campesina went on to welcome participants from countries from all over the world including Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Canada, Haiti, El Salvador, Honduras, India, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Dominican Republic, the United States, Japan, France, Mexico, Guatemala and Venezuela. Mexico and Guatemala had by far the most people present.

The first speaker talked about the serious challenges that Mexico faces because of environmental damage. He spoke of the challenges that social movements face but highlighted the need to look beyond these challenges in order to unify our efforts. He denounced the governments of the world for their secret deals and false solutions but reminded the audience that we the people have the power to challenge and change that.

We heard about how La Via Campesina originally booked a space near the airport. However, the police told them they could not use that space because it was too close to the climate negotiations which are taking place at the Moon Palace conference centre.

Next we heard very moving and passionate stories from people who had been on caravans for the last 3-7 days. The bus caravans have been traveling through communities in Mexico to hear stories of the impacts of environmental degradation.

Richard Girard from Polaris Institute (Canada) spoke of the community of San Pedro in San Luis Potosi. Mining company New Gold has taken the top off of a nearby mountain in an illegal mining operation. They have also put 16,000 tons of cyanide into the water. Richard spoke about how in community after community there was the core problems of environmental degradation, transnational corporations acting with impunity and government complicity.

Interveners spoke about their experiences and shared stories including on how mass avocado groves impacts water and the land and how a teachers' initiative has succeeded in banning junk food in 60-70 schools.

It was clear that speakers were deeply affected by their experiences and extremely passionate about their work. It was also clear that they were even more motivated and inspired to make change happen.

More to come.

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