The Way of the Peasant: A Discussion on Food Sovereignty with blain snipstal

(Note: The one page excerpt of this fantastic discussion with blain was featured in our newly finished Youth Food Justice Zine (click anywhere on those four purple words to read the zine online). We couldn’t fit the entire discussion in the zine, but we could here! Enjoy)

downloadblain is a small-scale peasant farmer in Preston, Maryland and part of the International Youth Articulation of La Via Campesina (LVC).  Blain became involved in La Via Campesina in 2010 through his work with the Rural Coalition. Additionally, Blain is a board member of the Southeast African American Farmers Organic Network (SAFFON) and an agroecological technician for the Farmworkers Association of Florida.  

You mentioned that you identified as a peasant farmer, which is something you don’t hear a lot of farmers in the US refer to themselves as. Can you talk a little bit about you choose to identify yourself as a peasant farmer?

It’s a couple of different things One, every time I say farmer I think of it in Spanish and what I always say in Spanish is campesino, which actually translates to ‘peasant’ in English, so that’s actually part of it too, to tell you the truth.  But politically I use ‘peasant farmer’ in a sense to draw a little bit of tension to this idea of ‘what is a peasant in the context of this country?’ in the US in particular.  And for me, when I think of myself as a peasant, I think of it as a way of life, in terms of communing with the planet and with other people through that, based upon my relationship with the planet, and with the land . . .

I want to ask you about Food Sovereignty as a framework and how it relates to Food Justice. I’ve gotten to be a bit ambivalent about the term ‘food justice’ because it seems ambiguous at times, where we’ve got tons of amazing people and organizations with strong analyses of systems of oppression and doing work aligned with that politics, but at the same time I see things like ‘foodie culture’ included under the umbrella of food justice, and in certain spaces perspectives that are openly critical of capitalism get marginalized.  What has really appealed to me about the framework of food sovereignty is that it’s very explicitly anti-capitalist, it is internationalist, and it’s about self-determination.  Can you talk a bit about your perspectives on Food Sovereignty? What do you see are some strengths of the food justice movement here in the US, why do you think it would be important for more food activists to adopt a food sovereignty framework?

. . .in 2012 I was part of the organizing committee of this conference in Philadelphia, and the organizing premise was to bring together faith groups and people’s organizations in the US and Canada to transition from Food Justice to Food Sovereignty and have that dialogue amongst the groups.  So it’s this really interesting idea, this notion. What had me interested to even be part of the organizing committee was the idea that folks were interested in going through some type of transition process from Food Justice to Food Sovereignty. And what really interested me it’s a transition process to be had, and that it is a transition process to be had, it’s not to lose food justice, but to see that food justice is a pedestal if you will, or a process leading towards food sovereignty, and that through that process there can be merging and influences of food justice into food sovereignty that we haven’t quite seen yet, and I think that’s some of the opportunity that the US actually provides to the food sovereignty movement.

And so with Food Justice we have this history in the US of social change movements or efforts—at least I should say contemporary US, the last 100 years—to really lodge things in two main frames; you have the justice frame and then you have civil rights.  And the civil rights frame, which is not the same as a human right: a civil right is something that is bestowed upon you by the state, and so it can also be at the same time taken from you by the state, whereas food justice within the history of our country or the process of justice is a restorative process, by which the marginalized or the peripheral peoples, which is us: people of color, queer folk, indigenous folk, rural people, urban people, working class people are interjected into the center or society, into the conversation, into the decision-making process, and into the power-structure, fundamentally. This has been the effort of justice, in terms that it’s been used in recent history.  But when we get to the meat of it with food justice, albeit it offers us a framework but there’s a couple considerations: it doesn’t, one, move beyond, necessarily, beyond an urban center. You see articulations of this with the Food Chain Workers Alliance, talking about broad sectors of the food chain—which is actually quite unique for a lot of people’s organizations around the world in a matter of fact—so we have some unique cases here.  But largely in part there’s still this urban narrative that’s sitting at the core of some of these food justice articulations. You know so that’s one thing.

The other piece is that it has a narrative from some more of the radical groups with like an anti-oppression framework, but I haven’t yet seen it shift into talking about fundamental transformations of society. It talks about changing the food system, but a reform is a change and a reform’s different than a transformation.  That’s the second piece. The third piece, again, is in the narrative around food justice, somehow we’ve managed to not even talk about agriculture, or agriculture is just a minute dimension of food justice and so somehow food and agriculture are two separate things, when food is a segment of agriculture, in theory but also in practice. So we begin to talk about food policies, which are fundamental, but they are being proposed separate from agriculture policies, when in essence they need to be quite aligned. And then the last thing is class; we’re very good in this country talking about race, and I for one would raise my hand on that. But when it comes to talking about class, and class being one of the centerpieces to our analysis, we actually don’t do very much of it when that comes down to it, and I think those are some major points of departure, you know in terms of food justice moving towards food sovereignty.

In regards to food sovereignty, you need to have a conversation about ‘well what was the process that got to food sovereignty in the first place and it’s relationship to other models?’, if you will, because food sovereignty—now, probably more so than when it first was being articulated—is largely being seen as a model of development, fundamentally, as well as a political vision and a political project, but also a model of development, that has been birthed from within a social movement projects, that’s taken different forms of recognition around the world. But what is unique to know about food sovereignty, unlike food justice, is that it’s had a widespread adoption across the planet, I mean all-over, where food justice has not been able to become internationalized . . .

Food sovereignty comes from a rural perspective, comes from a rural reality, fundamentally. It came from the process of LVC, which means “the way of the peasant” broken down into literal Spanish . . . so it came from this iteration within this rural/indigenous/afro-indigenous/peasant/pastoralist/fisher dialogue at a time when internationally the food conversation, in it’s progressive iterations, went so far as ‘food security,’ which basically says and ends at a place of ‘well, we need to ensure that you have food in your stomach, and once we’re assured that people have access to food, and are able to access that food, then you’re food secure.’ But it doesn’t begin talk about the power dynamics or the power structures, the institutions and systems and models that create hunger and poverty in the first place, nor does it begin to talk about the model of agriculture that can still exist and thrive even though someone can be food secure, and nor does it begin to represent the interests of the people who produce the food let alone those that consume the food along the food chain . . .

. . . The first point of departure in regards to food sovereignty is that the basis to food sovereignty as a political vision and a model of development is the popular control of land, is agrarian reform—fundamentally . . . Food sovereignty cannot be a construction without comprehensive or integral agrarian reform, and the ways in which that will manifest is obviously state-dependent or respective of each state. But fundamentally it’s talking about the transformation of the internal dynamics of an agrarian system in a society.  And that’s confronting agribusiness, which is the second point of departure for food sovereignty: is that it fundamentally confronts industrial agriculture and capital and its historic alliance with our governments, with the state.  Historically for us in the US for centuries, and for some other countries centuries as well but for others decades, and it confronts that in its political articulation, but also in the way that it is pragmatically manifesting on the ground through different organizations.

And this brings me to the third point: as of recently, over the last probably ten years or so, we’ve started to see from within Via the connection of food sovereignty and agroecology, as agroecology as a key pillar in the construction of food sovereignty. That agroecology within the process or methodology of food sovereignty is, if you will, the proposal for a different methodology by which to construct a model of agriculture: one that is fundamentally built upon local, indigenous, and traditional knowledge historically and contemporarily.  But also locates the power of that system, in the way that knowledge is generated, which is central to any type of agricultural model or system, on local peoples on traditional peoples, on peoples on the land whom have been marginalized from the industrial system. That’s fundamental to agroecology, but also it’s a methodology, a process by which to construct an agriculture that can exist in perpetuity, and so that requires ecological principles and tenets, that by which the industrial food system is—and has proven that it is—not capable of abiding by or following any types of ecological principles . . .

The fourth point of departure for me in this relationship between food justice and food sovereignty is class and internationalism.  Food sovereignty, from its earliest incarnation to where it is now has fundamentally articulated internationalist vision and process, whereas food justice; some ways it has and in many regards it just has not been able to do that. And you can see how food sovereignty has just spread across the US for as much as it has, but around the world like wildfire over the last ten years, well, since ’96, almost 20 years now. But then also class, because the concept of sovereignty is a part of the class struggle. It’s to put the conversation in the hands of the working class people, which is the majority of the people on the planet in any given society, fundamentally.  And so it is getting at a restructuring of the class structures of our society, and the place from which it came from was very much a class analysis, and even using the language ‘peasants’ or even using the language ‘small farmers’ still puts forth, if one’s so willing, the class struggle into our analysis, which is something that is very lacking in our language around food justice and actually I think modern agrarian politics in the US.

. . . I think again going back to the point around food justice engaging in sort of this transition towards food sovereignty, you know there’s a lot of positive and I think really dynamic contributions that the experiences of those using food justice can aid and bring to the food sovereignty conversation as it develops here in the US, and one of those fundamentally is the centralization of race into the conversation; it’s a huge success of the food justice process over the years I think, and I think something that can be used positively going forward in the US as people take on food sovereignty, as it relates to the international movement for food sovereignty there’s actually been a litany of conferences and gatherings and forums that produce principles and so on and so forth, so a lot of the process here in the US is not to a surprise sort of very unique and isolated here within the US. We’re very good at like seeing ourselves, but we’re not so good at seeing ourselves in relation to the rest of the world [laughter].

. . .From my experience it seems as though the center is land, and why land is so fundamental, it’s essential, because it is the basis to power and self-determination and autonomy, like pragmatically, practically, in reality, it has nothing to do with theory it is a matter of fact; if you do not control or have control collectively or access to the productive resources of the planet, then you, by default, will be left to some other person’s whims or designs. It’s quite basic. And so for food activists what’s important is to see that connection to the land as fundamental to the struggle, as bare bones essential. It’s not to make a rapid exodus to the countryside, that’s not what I’m suggesting, although that would be quite interesting.  But it’s to take the land into your fundamental analysis around social transformation or social change.

Last time we talked a bit about the complications of what agrarian reform means in a settler colonial state like the United States, being that the land that would need to be a part of agrarian reform has been stolen from indigenous people, it obviously complicates these discussions and needs to be central to ongoing conversations not only within the food movement but within all justice movements.  With that in mind, I was wondering if you could talk more about what is the kind of fundamental shift in our relationship to land that you see as necessary, if we’re talking about food sovereignty.

That’s a really tricky question because it’s also a very personal question, you know it’s a question for one’s person to reflect and intimately study, you know, ‘what is my relationship to the land?’ It’s like this relationship between like theory and praxis, or social conditions and material conditions, like…’does the chicken come first or did planet earth come before the chicken?’ You know it’s like, figuring out where to understand these different relationships, which is seemingly fundamental to the other.  And with that, the reason I say all that is that, when we think about our relationship to the land it’s important to think about ‘well what’s our relationship as people in society?’ and bourgeoisie society, which, that is which we live in, our relationship to society is to consume. Everything else is a methodology, a capitalist methodology, to allow us to consume more. We don’t actually have to be on planet Earth to consume, matter fact in this scenario planet Earth is just a mechanism to allow us to consume. So when we think about our relationship to the land, well, fundamentally, how do we remove ourselves as consumers to be on the land, period. To be on this planet, period.

And particularly for us in the US, I mean we can’t consume any more we’re just getting fatter, I mean that’s what’s happening right now, we’re getting fatter, we’re having outrageous health effects, the level of disparity between the rich and the poor only widens, and so literally the majority of us don’t have the means or the capability to consume more even though we might have the psychological impulse to do so if we had the means. And so that presents to some of us an opportunity to take a step back and say well hold on a second, what is our relationship here? And how can we see this as an opportunity to redefine it.

And so in that sense it’s actually quite interpersonal, but at the same time it’s also structural and institutional because we have our—and it represents itself even in our framework when we think about solutions because a couple of years ago when I was organizing in Kentucky we really had to challenge ourselves within our group because we were organizing a co-op and we were organizing with famers in the rural area and urban folks in the urban area and people said ‘oh yeah in a couple years, you know, I want a grocery store’ and we really had to sit on that reflection and ask ourselves ‘is that part of the liberatory process that—for us—we  wanted to be on?’ And so even when we think about the way we pose solutions to these problems and issues I think we need to be quite careful to understand well structurally how those enforce, reinforce or unenforce certain types of relationships to the land.

…there are moments in the development of society when there’s political opportunity or openings for certain types of advances for different struggles.  And right now we’re in a very unique one in terms of a shift of agrarian dynamics, because there’s one thing a recognition of, which is the ills of our food system, which basically is the internal contradictions of our system are now apparent for everyone to see and are in dialogue. And so in this process they’re making an effort to figure out how to sustain the instability of this food system. But fundamental to that sustainability of the instability of the food system is how land is used, by whom it’s being used, and the mechanisms to maintain that form of land tenure.  And in the US, people say “Oh, the age of the farmer is getting much older” and its like well, the age of the farmer is, you know; the average is 59, 57, 60 years old.  For black people what we’ve been finding is that age is actually about 65 to 67 years old, and my point being is that age, the average age, is actually very much respective to the industrial model of agriculture, to large scale monocropped farming.  They’re finding that the average age of the smaller scale organic farmer is actually 35.  And so it gives you this really interesting situation to think about, but as it relates to agrarian reform and land reform, it is for us at this moment, a matter of youth, a matter of young people returning to agriculture, returning to rural areas, populating the rural areas, doing so radicalized and in collective forms.  I think we’ll miss a moment if we wake up from this stupor in 20 years and see that we have a bunch more farmers in the countryside, but still no collective or political organizations in which those farmers are organized, you know, or cooperatives and so on and so forth. And so, for young people, for young people of color it is fundamental that we think about our relationship in this historic moment and how we want to proceed in it.  Not just politically in terms of political organization and visions for the transformation of society, but fundamentally for our own selves and our communities.  So I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that point because we’re a very small, we’re one percent of 3% of society’s farming population, and we are 3% of the land owning class of this society, and we’re on the verge of becoming the majority in this society in terms of people of color.  So, we have a lot of work on our hands, but a tremendous amount of opportunity to be had.

In the past you’ve mentioned the need for social movement organizations and defined them as something distinct from non-profits.  I think there’s a growing number of food activists and many other activists in the US who have a strong critique of non-profits in general and the non-profit industrial complex, and have an understanding of the challenges and contradictions that the non-profit industrial complex poses to developing successful social movements.  But I feel like even if one has that understanding it’s often a challenge to break free from that model in the US, and so I was wondering if you could explain a little bit about what you mean by social movement organizations, how they’re distinct from non-profits, and what are some really great examples in the US or maybe internationally that food activists could draw lessons from as far as how to organize successfully.

So there’s a couple of distinctions, again to distinguish different contexts.  Nonprofits exist all over the world, but what has been the historical development of the nonprofit, a non-profit corporation, if you will, and what is its purpose or social function in society? At least in our society. And all of our friends will have critiques about the non-profit industrial complex, but it actually serves a very unique and important role, and if we see our struggle as peoples as a historic process that’s completely delinked from non-profits, we can see how non-profits have a very interesting role in relation to our struggle as people, or as a people’s struggle. And in that sense, you know there’s a lot of books that tell the history but to truncate a bit; during the great depression but really after the great depression, in the early 20th century when, basically the division between the rich and the poor, which has always been great in society, was actually at one of its highest points in the history of this society . . .

. . . but you begin to see in the 1920s the creation of, or the concept of philanthropy and philanthropic institutions, the irony of the rich, the morality of the rich to help out, such as Rockefeller or the different oil tycoons, even at this time you start to see the wealth of Ford amass . . . out of this process is created the legality of nonprofits which initially, historically, were places for the philanthropic to set their money and in many regards actually avoid taxes, because if you actually look at the structure of non-profits, they’re actually incredible business models, and to be taxed in a really radically different way then for-profit corporations are. But that’s actually besides my point, my point being the nature of the non-profits as it sits today is, we limit ourselves to think that these are like the beacons of social organization for us, when they can be tools but not stomping grounds for us.

In reflecting on your question, I put down 10 distinctions, or characteristics of social movement organizations and how they operate and form and are formed, distinct from non-profits.

  1. The first point is internal organization: In social movements, contemporary, I should say, social movements because they’re historical processes, right? Some of the strongest social movements in the world today: La Via Campesina, the MST [Movimento Sem Terra], the ATC [Associación de Trabajadores del Campo], the organizations in Africa and Northern India and so forth, I mean even in the history of the US, we see that they’re internal organization is organized into collectives, into very highly decentralized and hierarchical, but also horizontal collective organizations in which power is something that is created and shared horizontally and collectives are in consensual processes.

. . .I should back up before I move on real quick is that the reason I say contemporary social movements is because we have historic social movements who operate in very particular forms and ways, and some of those ways involved leadership models that were quite hierarchical, that were heroic leadership models that were oftentimes based upon some type of charismatic leader or a series of leaders who were the faces or the heads of the movement. And what we learned is that well, when you have that you have very easily identified targets that, if they’re taken out—which, in many times they were taken out—the movement is in some place completely dismantled or really hurt by that. And so what we see in what the contemporary or as we say in Via the new social movements is that fundamentally their internal organization is of collectives and that’s not just because they enable democracy, but strategically it actually is much safer than contrary.

  1. The second piece in terms of external orientation versus non-profits is much more politically radical and often times in the posturing of these social movements or social organizations you’ll often see or hear framing of autonomy.  First of all you hear the concept of autonomy, for one, but you’ll hear a framing or a narrative around their political vision or process around building autonomy within the organization or for the organization or for people.  And obviously we have some radical non-profits here in the US, but it’s hard to obtain true autonomy when your funding source comes from a place you’re actually fighting against, so fundamentally, it makes the contradiction quite large to achieve some form of political autonomy if your financial base is coming from the very places you’re aiming to dismantle.
  2. The third piece is reflection of the base, leadership from the base, the places of conflict.  Here in the US we’ll use this concept, we’ll say that frontline organizations, or those who are most affected by the struggle need to be leading the struggle.  Well, that concept only exists when that is not reality, and in a social movement organization that’s reality so there’s no need for that concept, because why would you have anyone create an organization for you? You know, you see what I’m saying here? So social movement organizations, that’s one of the major characteristics is the reflection of the base, the leadership is from the base, the leadership is of, as we would say here, “the most affected communities”.  It’s like organic, it only needs to be a concept if there’s something contrary to it, you know, so if that’s just what it is that’s what it is.
  3. The fourth point, kind of going back to the second point, is organizing independent of funding or of grants, is that in these social movement organizations the political context, or the social dynamics which create the struggle, which that in turn creates the motive to organize, that’s what guides the organizing process, not getting this funding from this organization or this foundation that says you have to do these three or four projects and those projects can guide the organizing work that you do, you know so its organizing independent of funding or grants.  It’s not to say that these organizations don’t amass huge amounts of funding support, because they do; La Via has thousands of dollars in funding support, to support the organizing that’s happening at the base.
  4. The fifth point goes back to the first point and is a lot of these social movement organizations that I’m speaking from, in terms of my reflection . . . they exhibit very high forms of radical democracy, and its very important to note that in social movement processes, they are experiments of radical democracy in action, fundamentally. And all the work that that entails to uphold those types of processes. And so you’ll see a lot of emphasis of framing things in terms of process or in terms of methodology, so as to maintain these democratic decision-making and idea-forming ways and ways of knowing, and to value the different dialogues of knowledge that take place when people form collectively.
  5. The sixth point, which actually needs to be like six through ten, but a very high focus on political training and study . . .basically the notion that through political training and study, you deepen your understanding of reality, and then you are further equipped to be able to transform that reality. And within an organization that means you’re able to maintain the viability or the internal dynamics of the organization as different struggles take place, you’re able to resist as new forms of resistance are needed, you’re able to know that there needs to be new forms of resistance needed to shift any types of changes, and so that’s another distinction, right?
  6. The seventh point is values and principles that are respective of the society in which we wish to build or we wish to live in.  It’s that those principles and those values, whether they’re political or social or cultural or ecological or what have you, they’re respective of making the mark of saying ‘this is where we wanna arrive, and so these are the values that are gonna guide us.’ And so it’s in this sort of iterative and dynamic, or circular process that’s saying ‘well, we don’t know where we’re gonna go or what it’s gonna be like when we get there, but we know what we want, and so we’re gonna have those wants embodied in our process, in terms of values.’  And so those things can be on collective direction, study, cooperation, socialism, internationalism, equal relations between genders, you know these different things that structure the way that people will interact with each other within the organization, right? To disseminate this process within the organization.
  7. The eighth point is a vision to fundamentally transform society, like fundamentally, like food sovereignty is a methodology, a process, a model to transform society.  It transforms an agrarian sector and very clearly states that is part of the process of transforming society. And so, another distinction there is the vision, fundamentally to transform society. And part of the responsibility of a social movement is to do that through advancing their struggle, right? But to see their struggle as part of the transformation process, not just like an end to itself.
  8. The ninth point is to produce concrete examples and experiences of political struggle.  And so, it’s the difference between having a program and a project versus having a concrete institution or concrete school or a concrete training process. Something like in Spanish, la lucha concreta, the concrete struggle, where people can come and physically manifest all these different learnings or the resistance in physical form, you know, so whether it’s building a school, or developing educational or training processes or developing an agroecological farm or setting up irrigation systems, it’s across the board, housing, you know? Developing concrete examples and experiences of what the movement is dictating.  And so that these can be material places where people can come a train but also, it’s a symbol to the movement, to see through collective effort what you can produce.  And it can be a place of study, like internal political reflection within the movement.
  9. Then the tenth piece, and the final piece is autonomous educational spaces, which is fundamental.  Autonomous educational spaces that are for the interests of those in the movement. So within LVC the emphasis amongst the organizations is to develop peasant agroecology schools, or agroecological experiences or processes within the organizations of LVC. So from the interests of farmworkers amongst farmworkers, for the interest of the landless amongst the landless, for those whom our interests, our values, our principles, our visions have been completely excluded from society, which are the majority of us, to create these autonomous educational spaces to systematize our experience of reality.  So to take our values of how we chose to relate to each other and turn that into a pedagogy, to turn that into an educational framework, to turn that into models of economic development. To take the things that are already within us, that we practice: our political visions or the way we choose to relate to each other, and systematize them to a methodology by which to reproduce those values and leaders of the movement. So as they engage society or engage in the struggle they’re equipped fundamentally with the values and the proposals of the movement, and that way they’re able to reinforce the organization, but also engage society and spread the vision and the values of that organization.

One things that’s really important and unique about LVC is their connection between food sovereignty and the struggle to end violence against women, and I’m just curious how that manifests itself in the organizational culture of Via Campesina and what have you learned about the role and responsibilities of men or male-identified people with regards to the struggle against patriarchy and violence against women?

Yeah, it wasn’t always this way; the first ICC (International Coordinating Committee) of LVC, which is the centralized body within the movement, I think had like one woman on it, of like 18 people. But within Via now, which came from really South America, the MST I think in particular, was a gender-balanced policy: essentially that in every space, in every delegation, there must be a balance amongst men and women, and if there’s an unequal distribution it’s to be towards women. And so that was a structural policy put in place into the movement as part of this internal analysis of gender and violence against women and patriarchy as it manifests within the movement, right? We still have movements but we’re creatures of society, and so you come to these spaces not as like this pure being, you come as this being being formed, on the way to becoming more human, and you know I think along with that structural policy there’s still a long ways to go, and I’ve learned a tremendous, tremendous amount: what happens when you are in spaces or processes where women don’t have the fear of violence being enacted on them, and to witness women who come from those types of organizations who have this internal process of study and reflection on patriarchy, and just the leadership, creating the dynamic for the leadership of women, and to see those women in particular, and to listen has been really transformative for myself personally and how I operate in mixed-gendered spaces.

But also to feel the difference when women are in the leadership of an organization and are literally driving the organization, it’s a very different organization [laughter], a very, very different organization . . . so you know, I think that when…and it’s not to let women, it’s not to let youth lead, it’s just to get the hell out the way and when you get out of the way, you allow for really magical things to happen. And particularly, when people are then empowered to take those leadership roles or those spaces, and creative to implement different practices or policies, that’s something that I’ve really learned a lot from this process within LVC, you know? And there’s always a youth and a women’s assembly, and youth and women’s articulation within the movement, but it’s always like ‘well what do the guys do?’ They just go and just like F off or something, you know? [laughter] Like go off to the corner? So I think there’s still a lot of space there to figure out like once young men grow up from the youth category, you’re just left into sort of this middle space so what do you do then? So I think there’s still a lot of need for guys, or those who identify as male, to form self-organized spaces to discuss their relationship in perpetuating patriarchy and how this particular system built for males influenced us as males, even though we may not necessarily agree with it, but how it influences us, and how we perpetuate it interpersonally in our own relationships with women and with other people.

One thing I’ve learned is that Via is a mixture of many, many different cultures and so there’s many, many different concepts of what masculinity and what malehood or manhood is, and femininity and feminism is; like feminism doesn’t translate into every language like I think we think it would in the Latin language group, it does not translate, you know? There’s concepts in each language and sometimes there’s concepts that just aren’t there.  So that’s another interesting anecdotal note, you know? How do you have this conversation amongst many different cultures? That’s been a really interesting observation within Via.

You’ve had an awesome opportunity to connect with other young people, young farmers, young food activists from around the world.  So what has that experience taught you about the roles and responsibilities of young people in movements for food sovereignty.

Truthfully it’s whatever we want it to be. I think part of it is for many of us young people we are living in an era where we don’t have political organizations that we can actively draw from. When I say actively I mean like are actively still organizing in ways that we necessarily agree with.  And part of it comes down to, you know, Reaganomics came into this country with an iron fist, and dismantled many, many social processes that were happening, and many went underground, and took different trajectories than I think they once were going to.  And that’s another thing to keep in mind is that, you know, there was a social mobilization process—I mean it happens every now and again I mean I think we’re seeing now some mobilization processes but one thing I’ve learned is that there’s a difference between protesting and organization, and they aren’t necessarily the same thing.  They can be mutually inclusive of each other, but they aren’t necessarily the same thing and I think for young people, a lot of us we love to protest, but the notion of organizing or being in organization is something we actually struggle with quite well.

And one thing that’s inspired me about the food justice process is to see a lot of young people get politicized through some form of organization, for better or for worse. But now, that’s one thing I’ve learned there’s a difference between politicization and being radicalized, those again aren’t essentially the same thing. They can be mutually inclusive, but they are not the same thing. Whereas, when you are politicized, you can be politicized within a certain understanding of a political system and you can see the injustices of that political system, and know that it needs to be changed, but your toolkit or framework by which you see the science of social change—which, it is literally a science—you see it within this framework of, you know within the political structures as they are, you know, that’s your toolkit, or you see a traditional modality of political change.  And I can only say this because this has been my experience, too, I mean shit I came from the US, I grew up in certain situations, in poverty in South Central LA and so on and so forth, but it wasn’t until I was—first of all I got out of the country, but second of all, before leaving the country, I was influenced by literature from outside of the country, and then I began to become radicalized, to think about transformation beyond and outside of (a) our traditional political system, and the means that we’re taught to believe that change is supposed to happen, but also secondarily when one becomes radicalized there’s the connection between you and the struggle.  When you’re politicized it can just be something that happens outside of the office, or like, your job, it’s like this intellectual process, but when one becomes radicalized, it involves your heart, it has to involve your heart, because it involves your life, it involves your people’s lives, it involves your ancestry, it involves the future.

And so, for young people I think that’s fundamental that we experience reality as part of the struggle, and not think of it as a struggle but experience it as part of the struggle, which can be a tremendous challenge for you. But getting back to La Via about like roles and responsibilities of young people in movements, again it requires the patience and the commitment of young people first of all to be in those movements and to find merit in it, but also at the same time, for those organizations to have space for young people to do that. You know that’s actually one major thing, like, organizations have to be equipped to be able to have space for young people to move into them and then to be able to take over the organization.

And for La Via, and for several of the organizations in Via, you know, they have very strong—I mean, it’s not without challenge—but they have strong youth collectives where they’re spaces—and by youth, actually youth is like 35 and younger for actually many places in Latin America. Here in the Food Justice framework when we say youth we’re very quick to talk about high school and young college students, but actually youth within Via and many of their organizations it actually comes down to your political experience and your ability to do political work, so just to clarify that piece, but in some of the organizations you have youth collectives or youth articulations, and within them there will be specific trainings just for youth, on a variety of different topics . . . That’s one thing, you know, In terms of roles, per say, it varies, you know it’s whatever we wanna do, and I think as young people we, it’s like well how long are we young? Do we like turn, like once we get a mortgage we’re not young anymore? [laughter] we have a child we’re not young? You know there’s all these different cultural things, about roles for young people, you know so within an organization though it’s important to have an understanding of how the organization culturally will view youth to be.

A lot of the responsibilities I’ve seen are around different places I mean here in the US it’s like young people are coordinators for facilitating that process, it’s important to facilitate social gatherings like parties or events, youth have a very unique place in the movement; in one sense we’re students of our elders and those who have paved the way, for better or for worse it’s all learning for us, and at the same time, because of our short-sightedness it gives us the opportunity to be hard-headed instigators, to challenge everything, you know, to challenge the nature of the organization, to challenge it and see the challenge as a good thing, because then you might challenge it and through the contention the organization might shift and it will be better for the organization, or for the collective or for the process. But also to bring music, to keep the music to keep the energy lively in the organization, to keep the culture young, it’s important to keep the culture young. I mean people age, but youth is not a stagnant process, but it is a static moment in time in many regards, that we all move through, right? It’s like this subway system that we have through, some of us go through it sitting down some of us go through running with our pants on fire, you know? [laughter] But you know I guess I’ll just end it there. I think that again, we have to continue to take risks, take risks together, young people doing things together is actually much more dynamic than I think we allow ourselves to see, but do things together, in collective, in alternative forms of organization than the organizations we see here today for many of us in the US.

Is there anything else you want to share with those who will be reading this transcript?

. . . young people need to create different songs, like how long have we been chanting the same chants from the ‘60s? We need new songs, we need to shift the form of organization, you know? Young people need to see themselves in the world, not see the world in them, we need to see ourselves in the world.  That there are other ways of doing things and that we have a responsibility, I think, to push that forward, and to make these shifts internally.  And I, you know, speaking from my own experience, not get lost in idealism.  Ideals are good a well and they’re important, you know, on a psychological level and on your morals, you know, to reduce the vices that are brought upon us by our consumerist and bourgeois society, however at the same time, our ideals can become our weaknesses, because they can reduce our ability to relate to people, you know we can’t lose that, we can’t lose our relations to people, because we are people, you know what I’m saying?

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