In Bolivia, words of wisdom, will they be heard?

Recently, Bolivia’s newly appointed vice president, David Choquehuanca, delivered a speech in the National Assembly of another type. He talked of the culture of life, interrelations between all beings, the Pachamama, and the cosmos. He spoke of harmony with Mother Earth. He also reminded the audience that the way of life and the understanding of indigenous peoples’ world vilified by the colonial power to allow their extermination. Still, as David Choquehuanca asserted, they have never strayed. 

He mixed in his speech indigenous words such as Ayllu that is an organizational system of all beings, all that exists and all should flow in harmony on our planet. The savvy and intelligent blend of genres unwraps a different perspective on our limited, violent world. 

His speech was premised on indigenous baselines, which also implied a particular vision of the sacred role. Moreover, his words reminded the struggle against “all form of subjugation against colonial thoughts, against patriarchal thoughts…” 

He insisted on the nature of this power that distorts the minds of politicians. How did it come to be? 

Far too many westerners like to believe that they control all things; in fact, the encumbered pattern that accompanies this belief tends to force upon other people what will work to their own interest. They have been worshiping their civilization, foisting this power relationship on others to worship it, to the point of absence of sight for its disharmony. The shock of civilization has another side! 

The “heartless” people in charge of state affairs in the United States during the past four years with all the extravagances of their commander in chief trampled all humane ethics, rights, and intelligence of life. But they were the pure product of this disharmonious civilization. American Indians have mobilized in significant number in Arizona to reverse the usual conservative claim of the state. But their votes were not even labeled as Native American votes as Jodi Archambault, a citizen of Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, remarked, they were called “something else” on the CNN infographic. Native Americans are rendered invisible as the history of the bloodshed that built the United States, remarked Archambault. 

Invisible again, the fight for respect of the Shinnecock of New York state, as their land and way of life, including their fisheries, are always compromised by the State. They created Sovereignty Camp 2020 to remind the State and its inhabitants that they were a real nation.  

American Indian women of the United States have led the fight against the whites’ nefarious plans to exploit them and their land, consequently, Mother Earth, and to eliminate their way of life from the picture of life itself. Native Americans, women, and men have been at the forefront of climate and environmental fights. Water is life, they shouted. They formed squads of water protectors, for protection of life. They organized ceremonies and fought and won legally.

We see now the resurgence of the smallpox contamination strategy. As a reminder, white settlers gave smallpox contaminated blankets to American Indians in the 18th century. Only this time, it has taken a different form. Covid 19 didn’t affect the reservations during the first wave as much as it is doing now. Tribal power has tried to isolate the reservations to protect their populations with the highest rate of underlying conditions. The Navajo nation is also talking about their elders’ weakening conditions due to the wanton uranium mining, leaving contaminated waters for Native American communities. They observe in many reservations the highest rate of contamination and deaths, killing the elders who are the teachers for the young generation. They are afraid of losing the heart of their language in the process. The land is to be seized. The strategy is always the same, isolate and create a series of rationales to put hassles for these communities. The colonial power is still looming over the indigenous populations.

The neoliberal profit-making political climate has not admitted the nature of this equilibrium that David Choquehuanca described in his speech. The harmony is disharmony; life is a series of crises. The feminine is removed from the public sphere and left to exploitation and violence in the process, and in whole so is the Earth. There is a part of politics only concerned with masculinized images of technology, financial power, and progress as soul saviors, to let the ugly happening. It is this ugliness that Bolivia’s Vice President identified and provoked with the people heritage and cultural power to call for deep transformation of power with the Bolivian State which should be a lesson for all of us.

(Photo Credit: Sandro Cenni / Medium) (Image Credit: Jordan Singh / Twitter)

Women do not haunt the State. They occupy it.

 


Around the world, women are taking to the streets in great numbers, to protest, to take charge, to transform. In the past couple weeks, women have led and populated mass protests and marches in Malawi, Uganda, Lebanon, Argentina, Romania, Chile, Haiti. Women have occupied Wall Street, Nigeria, and beyond.

Women have been the bearers, in every sense, of Spring … in Syria, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain. Today, January 25, women are returning to Tahrir Square … and to every square in Egypt. This is nothing new for northern Africa. Women, such as Aminatou Haidar, have born `spring’ in Western Sahara now for decades.

For women, the street does not end at the sidewalk. It runs, often directly, into the State offices.

Women are everywhere on the move, changing the face and form of State.

In Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner returned to her office today, after a 21-day health related absence, to resume her activities as President. On Thursday, January 5, Portia Simpson Miller was inaugurated, for the second time, as Prime Minister of Jamaica. On Monday, January 16, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was inaugurated to her second term, of six years, as President of Liberia.

These are precisely not historic stories or events, and that’s the point. Women in positions of State power are women in positions of State power. Not novelties nor exotic nor, most importantly, exceptions. That is the hope.

But for now, that struggle continues.

In Colombia, women, such as Esmeralda Arboleda, helped organize the Union of Colombian Women, fought for women’s rights and power, and was the first woman elected as a Senator to the national Congress. That was July, 1958. Fifty or so years later, in January 2012, women in Chile launched “Mas mujeres al poder”, “More women in power”.  In tactics, strategies and cultural actions, Mas mujeres al poder builds on the work of student activists in the streets. Women are saying enough, women are saying the time is now, and women are pushing their way through the electoral process, with or without the political parties, into the provincial and national legislatures.

Meanwhile, in Bolivia, Gabriela Montaño was named President of the Senate and Rebeca Delgado was named President of the House of Representatives. Women are everywhere … and on the move.

On Tuesday, January 10, voters in Minnesota, in the United States, elected Susan Allen to the state legislature. Allen is the first American Indian woman to serve in that body. She is a single mother, and she is lesbian. Many firsts accrue to her election.

Across Europe, Black women are struggling and entering into legislative bodies with greater and greater success: Manuela Ramin-Osmundsen, originally from Martinique,  in Norway; Nyamko Sabuni, originally from the DRC, in Sweden; Mercedes Lourdes Frias, originally from the Dominican Republic, in Italy. The struggle continues … into the national and regional legislatures, into the political structures, into the cultures of power as well as recognition.

Across the African continent, women are on the move. In Kenya, women, such as Charity Ngilu, are set to make their marks in the upcoming elections … and beyond. Meanwhile, South Africa’s Minister of Home Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is running, hard, for the Chairpersonship of the African Union Commission. She would be the first woman in that post, and some say she would be the most powerful woman in Africa.

And in South Korea, four women, Park Geun-hye, Han Myeong-sook, Lee Jung-hee and Sim Sang-jung lead the three major political parties. Together, their three parties control 262 seats of the National Assembly’s 299.

This barely covers the news from the past three weeks. Everywhere, women are cracking patriarchy’s hold on and of power, in the streets, in the State legislatures, in the political structures. Today, and tomorrow, women do not haunt the State. They occupy it.

 

(Photo Credit: BeBlogerra)

Women pay for rising food prices

Jenga Mwendo

Youth in Algeria are `rioting’ to protest, and change the conditions of, high unemployment and high and quickly rising food prices. In Egypt, where food inflation is running at a staggering 17 percent, the women are talking once again of the food lines, and the food riots and uprisings, of 2008.

In Bolivia, shopkeepers, such as Pilar Calisaya, are battling with police because of quickly rising bread prices. As she explains, “I am not at fault”.

In China, as Xu Shengru shops for food to feed her family, she notes that cabbage, a staple, has doubled in price since last year. That’s actually the good news. Recently, rice prices rose 30 percent in just 10 days.  Pepper prices rocketed an astonishing 1,000 percent.  In Indonesia, where pepper prices are also scaling new heights at new speeds, the government is imploring citizens to plant chilies in their backyards.

In India, food inflation has `zoomed’ to 18.32 percent this week alone, spurred by onion, vegetable and milk price rises. Last year alone, the price of onions rose 40 percent.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, world food prices in 2010 hit a new high, especially cereals and sugar. Wheat prices soared, corn as well. The price of meat and of milk also rose precipitously. These are the highest prices in thirty years. Put differently, well over half the world’s population has never lived with such high prices. It’s no surprise the youth of Algeria are protesting.

The brunt is back, and yet again the analysts inform us that it’s the world’s poorest who will bear the brunt.  And yet again there will be stories of individual women, such as Pilar Calisaya, or the unnamed woman in Egypt, or the unnamed woman in Algeria facing down a row of police, or Xu Shengru, and their struggles with food political economies, but there will be no analysis or reporting on the place of women in the `danger territory’ of food provision and consumption.

As the discussions of food prices, food riots, food protests, food markets, and food counter-markets spiral, keep an eye out for structural analyses of women’s positions.

One woman who knows something about women, food, crisis, is Jenga Mwendo.   Mwendo is the founder of the Backyard Gardens Network in New Orleans. After Katrina, she began rebuilding her own home, in the devastated Lower Ninth Ward, and began building a new food political economy in the middle of food desert and in the midst of a food desertification.  She organized the rebuilding of two community gardens, the planting of fruit trees, and more. Mwendo understands that the only buffer against the predations of market control of food is community production. For some, this would be community gardens, for others, coops. In all of these, and other alternative community food experiments and projects, women historically have been the principal agents and constituency. Women still are.

Jenga Mwendo is precisely not exceptional. Women do not only bear the brunt of the devastating food market economies. Women are neither the victims nor the survivors of food catastrophes and crises. Instead, women are the change agents, from food uprisings to community gardens, and beyond.

Meanwhile, “fresh rioting broke out in Algiers today.”

(Photo Credit: Diane Huhn)