#FearlessCities Notes: Between Neoliberalism and the Far Right: WTF?!

Notes from a panel discussion at the Fearless Cities conference, June 11th. See introduction post here.

Vandana Shiva, Philosopher and Activist
Laura Pérez, Councilor for Feminisms and LGBTI, Barcelona City Council
Valery Alzaga, Labour organizer and migrant rights activist
Rachel Heaton, Co-founder, Seattle NoDAPL Coalition
Fatima Taleb, Councilor for Participation, Badalona City Council
Ivan Lam Long-Yin, Standing Committee of Demosisto, Founding Convener of Scholarism, Hong Kong
Yayo Herrero, Anthropologist and Ecofeminist

Vandana Shiva

Fearless greetings. The earth creates abundance, yet society is based on the fear of scarcity. Scarcity created by privatisation. I saw a stream disappear in 1972 due to deforestation in Himalaya. Women hugging trees: kill us before you kill the trees. After 11 years, the government finally agrees that forests are not lumber mines, they are a source of pure air, water, soil. We learned this in school, but all our basic lessons have to be re-taught to our economists, they have run so far down the road of illusion. All they know is how to dominate, exterminate, kill. An economy of greed creates insecurity everywhere, which fuels a politics of fear and hate. Remove the sewing of fear and they cannot govern any more.

I come from India, East India Company was the first big corporation created to colonise us. Neoliberalism is just another name for the old colonialism. The first free trade agreement was made through a bribe in our courts. They don’t want to trade with us, they want to steal our resources. India was 25% of the world economy, dropped to 2% when England stole it.

The old chemical corporations are saying the new tools of recombinant DNA, we can pretend to invent life, and take patents on seeds around the world. For them GMO means God Move Over, we are now creator-inventors of life.

Three agreements in the WTO:

  • Intellectual property: we must defend that there is no invention in seeds, they can’t be patented.
  • Agricultural agreement, redefining the world as a dumping ground for lethal commodities, paying farmers less than the cost of production. In India 300k farmers committed suicide because of systematic debt. 6 farmers were shot dead recently at a protest. It is a system based on a crime against nature, ecocide, which should be defined in law.
  • Sanitary agreement. Makes all good Indian food illegal. We’re looking at a world with no farmers and toxic food.

In 20 years of neoliberal globalisation, 75% of the planet’s life has been destroyed by industrial farming. 90% of the biodiversity.

Food is not just a display on a shelf, it is what we are made of us. Toxic food is the cause of so much disease.

The illusion of separation, fake science, pretends all the farming poisons don’t come into our bodies. Monsanto knew glyphosphate was a carcinogen in 1994!

We’re creating seed banks in India. Looking at the impact, $2T damage annually. GDP is counted, but the shadow side hasn’t. Eco-apathide, nature separation. If you separate from nature, you are dead. Disconnection is not the basis of life.

Ayurveda is the science of life, criminalised and squashed by British colonists. It sees no separation between Earth and bodies. Everything Ayurveda says is being recognised by western science. That health stems from the guts. Neurological activity starts in the gut. Damage is done when the gut is deprived of diversity or corrupted with toxins.

Nature shows we are violating every natural law. Big money decides who is elected. The billionaires decided to elect Trump, lead by the Koch brothers. Dark Money by Jane Meyer shows how they work out who would be the secretary of agriculture, and education. Monsanto is not satisfied, every new crisis is an opportunity for them. They’re systematically committed to limitless growth. They’ve bought the biggest climate science and soil science corporations. Spyware in tractors. Surveillance drones. Bought 16 agro science companies in one sentence.

An economy based on the exclusion of 99% of people. In 2017, there are only 8 billionaires who own half the world’s wealth.

Obama killed the UN Climate Change agreement at Copenhagen. Now Trump pulls out of the weak Paris agreement. We have to prevent them from creating new problems.

One plant in good soil has more neurological activity than the human brain. The weeds and bacteria becoming resistant are expressing their intelligence. Fearlessness is intelligence.

Everyday for me is waking up to the miracle of the Earth. We can create twice the food we need, without desertifying Africa or killing the Amazon. We can remove CO2 and N2O by growing healthy food. Farmers incomes go up 10–100x when they step out of extractive system. Hunger and poverty are the results of industrial farming.

We are the Earth. We are the soil, the seed. Everything that makes us live is a continuity of the life of the Earth. Our first identity is Earth citizens. Muslims, Hindus, our first identity is Earth caretakers. They might go to a mosque or a temple each week. East India Company was thrown out by Hindus and Muslims together.

India has 300m deities because all life is divine. British invented “Hindu” to unify a great diversity. Daily life is guided by the deity that you have chosen based on your passions.

White supremacists insist they created the USA, they must exclude everyone who doesn’t belong. It is a deeply constructed regime of division.

Our movement has to be based on solidarities of diversity.

Nature = intelligence, diversity, and self organisation. Municipalism is self-organisation at the level of cities.

Valery Algaza

I’m a trade unionist. Understand that the financial far right has advanced engineering, violent and efficient machinery. How to answer them?

First for public and precarious workers to understand they are not the problem. The rich are not paying tax. Corporations leave to avoid taxes but they use our bodies. They tell us the problem is immigrants. Workers believe they are part of the problem, they have to pay for austerity. We need education and workable strategies. Not just a narrative, but a way of organising in the working sector.

Trade union laws have changed so workers can’t organise.

In England we’re organising care workers. Aged population is exploding. Care labour is in huge demand, but still poorly paid. We see constant repression. Workers feel no hope. We need a new trade union model. A bio-social trade union, not just to organise as workers, but as people who care for others, and families of these people, and the people who are cared for, and their families. We’re trying to figure out how to build this movement, with the ability to join forces with others. We’re bringing workers together. E.g. we’re working with Momentum in Liverpool and Manchester.

Rachel Heaton

From the Suquamish Tribe, from the Nation of Chief Seattle people. Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) went through treaty lands. Treaties are supposed to give us sovereignty, so we can relate government-to-government, though the US government has never upheld Native rights. DAPL goes from North Dakota to the Gulf. Standing Rock Sioux Tribe stands by their own right to govern, and to engage with government as equals. Of course this doesn’t happen.

Indigenous people are the first affected by climate change. We take the brunt of violence and poverty, the highest rates of suicide. Indigenous people make up about 1% of the US population: we are fighting against a genocide.

Water protectors have moved to different front lines since the Standing Rock closed down in Feb 22. As the Trump Admin continues to kill environmental protections, we are forced to take front line action.

For us, divestment is a way for indigenous people to continue resistance. Successfully got city of Seattle to divest $3B from shady corporations. Started a ripple effect across other US cities.

Divestment has a history of success, money out of oil and into ethical places. We target the 35 banks that finance DAPL and other pipelines. Indigenous people are changing where the money goes. Stop investing in fossil fuel dependancy.

4 of us water protectors have been touring Europe for the past month. Telling our stories and explaining how European banks are invested in our genocide. I was at Standing Rock August-December 2016. My people were shot with water cannons in subzero temperatures, shot with rubber bullets, tased, infiltrated. Planes flying overhead for 24 hours straight, spraying chemicals over us.

Don’t wait till you can’t drink the water or breathe the air. We’re building allyship, but also highlighting issues in Europe. There’s a pipeline going through these lands now, but the gas is not clean enough to stay. In Germany, they have the largest coal mine, they have the ability to extract coal for 200 years. Gas extraction in Holland triggering manmade earthquakes. We’re getting to the point of no return. The fight is already here in Spain.

Standing Rock gave us a voice, camp was started by women and youth. Youth travelled North Dakota to Washington DC to share the story.

You can help, you can divest from these banks.

Fatima Taleb

We have people of diverse origins in our district. We must stop identifying as descendants of migrants of decades ago. This distinction is the basis of much exclusion and conflict. We now have the citizen mandate to transform our city, after 4 years of governing by the extreme right. This is happening across Europe, far right parties leverage people’s discomfort and fuel conflict. Here in BCN, the politician says “Let’s clean Barcelona”, meaning, removing migrants. Coupled with major cuts to basic services such as health and education. Isolation, individualism, and framing such as “danger is coming from outside, we will protect you”, when it was precisely their neoliberal policies that created these crises. Take real estate for example. Leveraging homophobic, Islamophobic, xenophobic prejudices and blaming “others” for crises created by right-wing parties. This is the relationship between neoliberalism and the far right. Now it is common to hear open racist comments in the streets, with impunity. Especially on social networks, people are producing these messages with impunity. They are legitimised by Trump, Le Pen, etc.

Who is to blame? Your neighbour is, they are taking your housing, your subsidies… The sectors of the population who believe this migrant scapegoating.

We need to work in the streets, squares, neighbourhoods, creating a fraternal community based on equality. If we forget these republican principles, we are open to totalitarianism.

How? for instance, by re-opening places of prayer. Reverse anti-Roma legislation. Only by common work amongst municipalities can we build an alternative. It cannot be managed within the official boundaries of municipalities. We need a just inclusive model that doesn’t repress diversity, on the contrary, to be a source of richness.

Ivan Lam Long-Yin

Young member of new political parties. Originally asked Joshua Wong to come, but he is being sued by the government so can’t come. China is most successful communist country in economic modernisation. Hong Kong used to be a British colony. Put under Beijing rule to make it easy to govern. Beijing vets Council candidates, controls main TV channels, and makes many other interventions to satisfy its own economic needs at the expense of Hong Kong autonomy. HK builds resources for China to enjoy. We lose out e.g. in our retirement and healthcare programs. Services are privatised to finance infrastructure projects.

In March this year, the HK CEO was confronted with a large scale demonstration in Belarus. Triggering a huge crack down, including kidnapping the opposition leader. Chinese projects in Belarus hire Chinese labour over Belarusian. They force Chinese language in Belarus schools.

Point is: China exploits many national economies. Lefists in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan debate whether China will become capitalist. Hong Kong still have some means to resist Chinese influence.

We’re pursuing a bottom-up kind of democracy, e.g. mobilising the housing estates. Educating them to understand they have a right to affordable public services. Demanding reasonable rents. Small scale projects, building participative democracy in the working class. Market mechanisms shouldn’t override social justice.

HK has been pursuing universal suffrage for decades, and is still a long way off. But the bottom-up method is sure to change the conditions.

Yayo Herrero

We are radically eco-dependent. We are subject to nature. Life doesn’t persist on its own, we need other people. Bodies need to take care of each other. This work has majorly been done by women, for practically all history. Not because of a genetic preference, but because of patriarchy. It is only possibly by the attitude of disconnection.

Limitless fossil fuel. Techno science working at the service of capital, which doesn’t understand how life works. Capitalism is an economic system of permanent expansion. Patriarchal system, to sustain life you need oppressed subordinate invisible undervalued beings.

This capitalist economic model is grossly perverted. Reduced the concept of wealth to just money. Production is only what grows GDP. Two fundamental errors here:

  • important central questions of life are made invisible as they are immeasurable, and
  • to account for destruction as wealth, growth, or production.

Melting North Pole, deforestation, removing mountain tops. Ignoring that what we’re doing is destructive. This system is radically colonial from the start, built on pillage and subordination. Totally patriarchal. Suicide model. Unjust, profound inequalities.

Capitalism promised to create wealth for society. We’re reaching the physical limits of the planet since the 70s, so we changed to neoliberalism, so we invest in commodities, privatised air, seeds. Now growth only comes from exploitive bubbles. Also from the left wing parties. Far right is growing because left wing parties make promises they can’t keep. It’s a question of justice, we need a logical proposition.

What can we do?

  • Acknowledge the very clear reality: that material reduction is not catastrophe. It is a catastrophe to not address this with equity and justice. We can’t keep behaving as a baby playing hide and seek.
  • We are obliged to think about freedom and a framework of rights that is not just individual but has a relational sphere.
  • We need to imagine an ecologist feminist alternative that is anchored in the land, and in our bodies. Put life and sustainability as a political and economic priority. To expel markets as the centre of the political logic. Challenge the perverse logic that if we don’t keep on feeding this exploitive system we won’t grow wellbeing.
  • We need a different way of science and technology. We need to expel the part of science that is based on fantasy, promoting things that are not possible, or only possible for a few. Eco-fascism. Science in the service of life.
  • We need social organisation where men and women and institutions are co-responsible for care. Life must be cared for, it’s not just a job for women.
  • We need alliances that allow us to organise a sabotage to this historic plan. Feminists, entrepreneurs, ecologists, trade unions… build a complicated diverse alliance of majorities.

Destroying patriarchy is a long difficult path, but it is the only way to remove the dark horizon. We need to imagine a real alternative. It is the most beautiful lovely challenge!

 by the author.




I write about working together. Me: richdecibels.com My work: thehum.org

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Richard D. Bartlett

Richard D. Bartlett

I write about working together. Me: richdecibels.com My work: thehum.org

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