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1000 Cancuns: Growing the Roots of Systems Change

By Jen Soriano, Grassroots Global Justice Alliance 12/10/2010


The carbon trading conference known as COP 16 is coming to an end today. For those of us fighting for rights-based systems change, one of the many questions coming out of Cancun will be, how did we use this moment to grow as a movement? What new power have we built to change the story on climate disruption and to influence local, national, and international policies on the climate crisis?

These are big and exciting questions to answer. It will require lots of discussion about the intricate social movement work led by the Indigenous Environmental Network and woven into collaboration with other U.S.-based forces and international allies like La Via Campesina and the Hemispheric Social Alliance. And also some longer-term reflection on how this all got brought back and translated into next steps for consciousness-raising and collective action toward COP 17, before, during and beyond.

The 1000 Cancuns call to action put out by La Via Campesina (LVC) was a main ingredient in the Cancun movement-building pibil. LVC put out the call on September 1st and from there plans for action and coordination started bubbling all over the world. From jump this was not only a call for people to stand in solidarity with small farmers, nor a simple call for people to take action to support protests going on in Cancun. Instead this was a call to lift up all of our unique struggles onto a common platform to show that poor people, indigenous people, and people of color across the globe – farmers, factory workers, children, mothers, families – are all impacted by the extractive economy and exploitative political structure that are the root causes of climate change.

And it was a call to show that by necessity our communities are developing sustainable, just and working solutions to climate disruption. At our coordinating committee meeting in September, the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance (GGJ) decided to make December 7 an alliance-wide day of action to lift up and connect the grassroots struggles and solutions here in the US with similar local struggles and solutions worldwide.

There were more than 30 actions and events across the US and Canada on 12/7, part of more than 150 actions that took place around the globe. All of the US events were driven by the common goals of finding rights-based solutions to respect Mother Earth and to stop pollution and greenhouse gas emissions at their source.

  • In the Bay Area, the Mobilization for Climate Justice West held a 12/1 teach-in that engaged at least 50 new people in a dialogue about climate disruption, the Cancun negotiations, and sustainable solutions. On 12/7 more than a dozen local community organizations converted a publicly-owned parking lot in the Mission district in San Francisco into a community garden for the day. PODER and other groups have a campaign to permanently convert the lot into a garden. This was both a symbol of and an addition to the Bay Area's significant network of local food production and distribution projects that contribute to environmental justice work and people's development plans. Teresa Almaguer of People Organizing to Demand Environmental & Economic Rights (PODER) told Joshua Kahn Russell: "This action demonstrates a tangible solution to the climate crisis by promoting local food production, challenging our dependence on automobiles and strengthening bonds within the community.” Read Joshua Kahn Russell's full blog and KQED/NPR coverage here.
  • In Los Angeles close to 100 people took to the streets to rally and march against the proposed expansion of the 710 freeway, a major freeway that runs through LA from Long Beach. Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), the Labor Community Strategy Center/Bus Riders Union (BRU), Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, and East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice joined forces to organize the action. The action lifted up CBE's campaign to stop highway expansion that would displace poor and working-class communities, increase automobile dependence, increase greenhouse gas emissions, and increase rates of asthma and bronchitis among poor and working-class communities of color, while taking public funds away from developing cleaner and healthier alternatives. The action also highlighted the BRU's Clean Air, Clean Lungs, Clean Buses campaign for mass transit solutions, which has so far won almost $3 billion for funding bus-centered transit, 2500 compressed natural gas buses, and an increased bus ridership of 10%.
  • In San Antonio the Southwest Workers Union rallied outside of City Hall to demand a new clean energy future for the people of San Antonio. This signified an escalation of previous work SWU had done to get officials to develop Mission Verde, which set out a vision for clean energy development and pollution reduction in the city. SWU members took the opportunity of the 1000 Cancuns day of action to demand that this vision be translated into participatory policies to be adopted by the City Council and CPS Energy. Sandra Garcia of the Youth Leadership Organization, explains: “Community-based groups and networks are leading a global climate justice movement in confronting the root causes of climate change at home, while defining community priorities and self-determination pathways for a new energy economy. In San Antonio, this looks like green jobs [and] cleaning up and weatherizing homes, while increasing the funds for social services and community gardens to increase local food self-sufficiency.” Read the full SWU blog and demands here.
  • In Providence, nearly a dozen cooks contributed to a community dinner with 70 people, who participated in workshops on “Food as Medicine”, “Soil Remediation” and “Genetically Modified Organisms”, and heard keynote speaker Pedro Faro from the Centro de Derechos Humanos, in Chiapas, Mexico discuss their local organizing for community resilience in the face of neo-liberalist-driven climate change. "We are beginning to form a nucleus of people around Providence who are truly active around global environmental issues.” said Bruce Reilly of DARE. The event was organized by Direct Action for Rights and Equality, Olneyville Neighborhood Association, Farmacy, and Environmental Justice League of RI.
  • In Chicago, the Little Village Environmental Organization conducted a creative mural unveiling ceremony to debut a mural connecting local struggles for environmental justice to global movements to cool the planet. Located in Chicago's West Side, LVEJO has been working to clean up the local coal-fired plant – the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the area. The mural unveiling included more than 30 community members and a press conference attended by almost a dozen media outlets.
  • In New York, Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, Youth for Climate Justice and May First/People Link had 40 people come out in the 20-degree cold to participate in a gathering at Ralph Bunch Park, directly across the street from UN headquarters. Speakers included college sophomore Shanay Sneed who spoke about the importance of involving and creating space for youth to lead in the climate justice movement, Ana Maria Quispe who spoke about the connection between food and climate change, and Mychal Johnson who spoke about how the Rights of Mother Earth discussion is relevant to folks in NYC's EJ communities. They projected videos and pictures from Cancun on a wall behind the action as well in a local bookstore, and did a presentation for a group of 30 faith leaders the next morning about the connection between climate justice, faith and the role of youth in addressing the crisis.
  • In Albuquerque, the SouthWest Organizing Project held a public education event with a special presentation by Leona Morgan of the Multicultural Alliance for Safe Environments. MASE works with indigenous and other communities in the northwest part of the state to combat the negative effects of uranium mining. Detailing the devastating impacts of uranium mining on human health and the environment, Morgan laid to rest once and for all the notion that nuclear energy can ever be considered green energy. Participants identified a number of real solutions to the global climate crisis, including locally-based energy generation, reduced consumption, and new economies based in human rights and respect for nature.

Several other actions and events took place including events in DC, Wisconsin, Washington state, and a direct action in Toronto that shut down the intersection of King and Bay in the financial district, home to many corporations that are responsible responsible for climate crisis.

Meanwhile in Cancun, our folks were going from bubble to boil through an excellent GJEP-organized press conference on 1000 Cancuns, followed by chanting that got 3 of our delegates kicked out of the negotiations. They went on to join the fierce and festive LVC march that was taking place in the streets. Check out the statements from Tom Goldtooth of IEN, Sunyoung Yang of LCSC-BRU, Mari Rose Taruc of APEN, and Joaquin Quetzal Sanchez of Youth for Climate Justice, and the coverage on checktheweather.net and Democracy now.

Put this all together with actions around the world like thousands of farmers marching in Korea, and hundreds of fisherfolk and landless people marching in Bangladesh, and we've got a pretty thrilling convergence of people's resistance across the globe.

So what does this all add up to? Many mainstream journalists and political officials call these actions nothing more than “theatrics”. They somehow believe that the myopic UN negotiations contain more substance than the visionary work of our social movements. This betrays their life experience – no one who has experienced displacement and forced migration, loss of livelihood and health and life from toxics, flooding, mining, damming, industrial land grabs and drought would ever call these events “theatrics”.

Instead, those of us who experience these injustices know from deep within our souls that these actions are beautiful and powerful expressions of resilience, and beautiful and powerful methods to build the visibility and unity we will need to implement our local solutions at a regional and global scale.

These are our solutions as I see them, a combination of the demands of the Grassroots Solutions for Climate Justice – North America alignment delegations, and a consolidation of demands that have developed from our groups and allies like Friends of the Earth over the course of the past two weeks:

  1. Affirm the framework and renew key provisions of the Kyoto Protocol which holds industrialized countries accountable to binding emissions reductions and to paying compensation to countries in the Global South for climate disruption
  2. Develop a new climate agreement based on this and on the guidelines of the Cochabamba People's Agreement and the Draft Agreement on the Rights of Mother Earth, which set a path for rapid emissions reduction and provide a rights-based framework for economic and ecological policies that center the rights of indigenous people, other impacted communities and the rights of Mother Earth.
  3. Drop the ineffective Copenhagen “Accord” which is undemocratic and dangerous in its non-binding inadequate reductions projections and reliance on the neo-liberal market mechanisms that keep our communities and countries of the Global South poor.
  4. Reconsider REDD in light of the above. REDD is fundamentally incompatible with rights-based solutions for climate justice. Instead of REDD and REDD+, we must commit to policies that require reducing greenhouse gas emissions and pollution at the source, supporting the indigenous people and forest dwellers who have effectively protected our remaining forests and commit to no-strings-attached UN-governed funding for communities and nations to address the impacts of climate disruption.
  5. Invest in local solutions like local agriculture, public transportation, clean energy development, and healthy jobs creation that will build systems change to address climate change from the ground up.

COP 16 made it even clearer that the U.S. Administration and other industrialized and industrializing nations are bent on copping us out of a future in exchange for short term carbon profiteering. It's up to us to hold them accountable and to change the agenda, change the debate, and change the course of climate disruption. With youth and indigenous people leading the charge, our roots are growing deeper and we are reaching forward to cleaner skies.


Read international coverage of 1000 Cancuns including the 30 actions in North America: Univision coverage, AFP coverage

Read Global Justice Ecology Project's blog on Rights versus Markets

Read La Via Campesina's Statement on 1000 Cancuns

See IEN Photos from the Cancun march

For additional coverage and resources click here.