Climate movement, we have a problem.
We've been marching and speaking out demanding justice for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and countless other victims of white supremacy.
1. What Our Black Colleagues Want the Rest of Us to Know About Culture<p><strong>Black People Are Not a Monolith</strong></p><p>"Whether in terms of appearance, experience, personal interests or opinion, Black people are not a monolith. We come in many shades, shapes, and colors. Our hair comes in many textures and styles. We represent different opinions and interests. We represent a myriad of cultures and community experiences. These are not pop cultural trends, but are reflective of who we are as individuals. While there may be some common themes, just as with any culture, Black people are still individuals and should be recognized as such." </p><p><strong>We Have Experienced Racism </strong></p><p>"Most of us have experienced racism in some shape or form. Whether it's a derogatory name, gaslighting, second-guessing our success as the result of external charity rather than individual prowess, or a denial of history (statements like "slavery wasn't that bad"), it's there. It manifests in many different ways, and we learn to recognize it at an early age. Our reactions to this reality are as diverse as we are as individuals. Each of us are experts on our individual experience and, while there may be some overlap, our individual experience it is not necessarily fully representative of the Black experience. Also, we don't all necessarily agree on everything nor do we all know each other." </p><p><strong>It's Not Our Job to Educate You</strong></p><p>"As a Black person, it is not our job to educate you on the Black experience or race. Having conversations on race are fine (and necessary), but recognize it is not something you are owed. If we choose to engage, understand that it is often through mixed emotion of frustration, anger, and microaggressions. Also recognize that if we do choose to engage with you, it is often a good sign not that you've gotten it all right, but that we think there is hope for you before you're too far gone. Appreciate that."</p><p><strong>Black Comes in All Shades</strong></p><p>"People who are of a lighter skin aren't necessarily mixed. Black comes in all shades."</p><p><strong>Black Culture Is Not for Your Entertainment</strong></p><p>"My culture is not for your entertainment. I have spent a lifetime fighting stereotypes so I don't wear straight back cornrows or outfits that show my shape. I stay away from color and wear blue, black, and gray. We are taught that our natural way of being is ghetto. Then other races co-opt our style, music, and slang, and it is considered 'pop culture' and 'fashion forward.'"</p>
2. About Privilege<p><strong>White Privilege Is a Symptom of Racism</strong></p><p>"Recognize your privilege. Just a short time ago, most Americans thought that police killings of Black Americans were isolated events. Now, most agree that there is a systemic problem. White privilege is a symptom of racism. It is critical for white people to have uncomfortable conversations about race so that they can recognize their privilege and understand how they benefit from a society that is profoundly separate and unequal. Just as people of color did nothing to deserve unequal treatment, white people did not 'earn' disproportionate access to compassion and fairness."</p><p><strong>White Privilege Means We Carry a Burden That You Do Not</strong></p><p>"The fact that you just recently started thinking deeply about these issues is a sign of your white privilege. I've had to discuss racial injustice at my dinner table for my entire life, not just the last few weeks. When you grow tired of the news stories about racial injustice, you can unplug and go for a run or walk your dog in the park. Those same innocent activities can turn deadly for me, so I don't have the 'privilege' to unplug."</p>
3. About Ally-ship<p><strong>You Need to Do the Work Yourself</strong></p><p>"I am tired and trying to stay afloat, so I can't always be a source for your political education. Being an ally requires extensively educating yourself on colonialism, imperialism, white supremacy, racism, and anti-Blackness. Part of the work is finding these resources with your community."</p><p><strong>Ally-ship Means Asking Hard Questions</strong></p><p>"Solidarity is advocating for material change in our fight to end all state sanctioned violence. Questions to ask yourself: Are you willing to relinquish your comfort and power? What are you willing to risk? Are you prepared to be on the frontline? Why now? Has your guilt brought you here? How will you keep the momentum? What does ally-ship mean? Are you ready to interrogate your own internalized anti-Blackness?"</p><p><strong>We Are Not Here for Your Photo Op</strong></p><p>You will not exploit or destroy my relationships in my community. I will NEVER let my people be a photo opportunity for your grant project, board of directors meetings, or anything else. I can make an introduction but you need to put in the work because we believe in transformational relationships, not transactional ones."</p><p><strong>Words Matter</strong></p><p>"When listening to our liberal and progressive white allies speak and the mainstream media, they have a way of using verbiage and unwittingly pushing dog whistles that sound like bullhorns to the Black community. Words matter and how things are framed matter. If there is a group of Black people with guns, they are 'thugs' and 'gangs.' When they are white they are a 'militia.' When white people are suspected of committing a crime the word 'allegedly' is used 99.9 percent of the time. George Floyd was murdered by the police because someone called them because he passed a fake $20 in a store. He has never been convicted of that. He 'allegedly' passed a fake $20 in a store. And by not using this word, you are assigning guilt that is not appropriate and it criminalizes him to justify his death."</p>
4. About Racism and White Supremacy<p><strong>Racism Is Traumatic</strong></p><p>"The shock that many of you experienced after watching George Floyd's murder on camera is reflective of the shock that many in our communities live with every day. The fatigue some of you have expressed from a few weeks of racial upheaval — we've lived with that and then some for generations. We've lived with the frustration of communities for decades screaming that this was happening to us, only to have society turn a blind eye. We live with this trauma. And we still show up to work. We still achieve. We still smile, despite the pain. Recognize this — and not for sympathy, but for solidarity."</p><p><strong>Our Lives Always Matter</strong></p><p>"Black lives don't only matter when we are already dead. Our lives always matter. Solidarity is redistributing your wealth and resources. Organize for the liberation of all Black people globally. Believe Black people. Protect all Black lives."</p><p><strong>Use Your Privilege to Fix Racism</strong></p><p>"We don't directly blame you for racism; we know this has been around long before you were born. But please realize you have privilege due to racism and though you didn't start it, you have the power to fix it."</p>
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By Julian Agyeman and Kofi Boone
Underlying the recent unrest sweeping U.S. cities over police brutality is a fundamental inequity in wealth, land and power that has circumscribed black lives since the end of slavery in the U.S.
Land Grab<p>The proportion of the United States under black ownership has actually shrunk over <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2019/06/19/why-racial-wealth-gap-persists-more-than-years-after-emancipation/" target="_blank">the last 100 years or so</a>.</p><p>At their peak in 1910, <a href="https://psmag.com/news/african-american-farmers-make-up-less-than-2-percent-of-all-us-farmers" target="_blank">African American farmers</a> made up around 14% of all U.S. farmers, owning <a href="https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/46984/19353_ra174h_1_.pdf?v=41056#:%7E:text=Land%20ownership%20by%20Black%20farmers,acres%20owned%20by%20White%20farmers." target="_blank">16 to 19 million acres of land</a>. By 2012, black Americans represented just 1.6% of the farming community, owning 3.6 million acres of land. Another study shows a <a href="https://thecounter.org/usda-black-farmers-discrimination-tom-vilsack-reparations-civil-rights/" target="_blank">98% decline</a> in black farmers between 1920 and 1997. This contrasts sharply with an <a href="https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/46984/19353_ra174h_1_.pdf?v=41056#:%7E:text=Land%20ownership%20by%20Black%20farmers,acres%20owned%20by%20White%20farmers." target="_blank">increase in acres owned by white farmers</a> over the same period.</p><p>In <a href="https://archive.org/details/timetoact1545usda" target="_blank">a 1998 report</a>, the U.S. Department of Agriculture ascribed this decline to a long and "well-documented" history of discrimination against black farmers, ranging from New Deal and USDA <a href="https://eji.org/news/one-million-black-families-have-lost-their-farms/" target="_blank">discriminatory practices</a> dating from the 1930s to 1950s-era exclusion from legal, title and loan resources.</p><p>Discriminatory practices have also affected who owns property as well as land. In 2017, the racial homeownership gap was <a href="https://www.urban.org/urban-wire/breaking-down-black-white-homeownership-gap" target="_blank">at its highest level for 50 years</a>, with 79.1% of white Americans owning a home compared to 41.8% of black Americans. This gap is even larger than it was when <a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/redlining-what-is-history-mike-bloomberg-comments/" target="_blank">racist housing practices such as redlining</a>, which denied black residents mortgages to buy, or loans to renovate, property were legal.</p><p>The lack of ownership is crucial to understanding the crippling economic disparity that has <a href="https://prosperitynow.org/blog/black-and-latino-households-are-short-road-zero-wealth-hollowing-out-americas-historic-middle" target="_blank">hollowed out the black middle class</a> and continues to plague black America – making it harder to accrue wealth and pass it on to future generations.</p><p>A 2017 <a href="https://www.bostonfed.org/publications/one-time-pubs/color-of-wealth.aspx" target="_blank">report</a> found that the median net worth for non-immigrant black American households in the greater Boston region was just US $8, but for whites it was $247,500. This was due to "general housing and lending discrimination through restrictive covenants, redlining and other lending practices."</p><p>Nationally, between 1983 and 2013, median <a href="https://prosperitynow.org/resources/road-zero-wealth" target="_blank">black household wealth decreased</a> by 75% to $1,700 while median white household wealth increased 14% to $116,800.</p>
Freedom Farms<p>Land ownership today could look very different. The idea of collective ownership has a long history in the United States. Even during slavery, a piece of ground was granted by slave masters for enslaved African subsistence farming. The <a href="https://www.dukeupress.edu/sylvia-wynter" target="_blank">Jamaican social theorist Sylvia Wynter</a> called this land "the plot."</p><p><a href="https://www.aaihs.org/towards-usable-histories-of-the-black-commons/" target="_blank">Wynter has explained</a> how that these parcels of land were transformed into communal areas where slaves could establish their own social order, sustain traditional African folklore and foodways – growing yams, cassava and sweet potatoes. Plots were often called "<a href="https://english.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/DeLoughrey-Yam-Roots-Rot-Small-Axe.pdf" target="_blank">yam grounds</a>," so important was this staple food.</p><p>The connection between food, land, power and cultural survival was subversive in its nature. By appropriating physical space to support collective growing practices within the brutal constraints of slavery, black people also demonstrated the need for common, shared mental space to enable their survival and resistance. Herbalism, medicine and midwifery, and other African American <a href="https://uncpress.org/book/9780807853788/working-cures-/" target="_blank">healing practices</a> were seen as acts of resistance that were "intimately tied to religion and community," according to historian Sharla M. Fett.</p><p>With the end of slavery, these plots disappeared.</p>
Credit Unions and Co-Ops<p>The accumulation of wealth was not the only desired consequence of a black commons.</p><p>In 1967, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/30/us/harold-cruse-social-critic-and-fervent-black-nationalist-dies-at-89.html" target="_blank">social critic Harold Cruse</a> argued for a "<a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/40034433?seq=1" target="_blank">new institutionalism</a>" that would create a "new dynamic synthesis of politics, economics, and culture." In his view, economic ventures needed to be grounded in the greater aspirations of black communities – politically, culturally and economically. This could be achieved through a black commons.</p><p>As the political economist <a href="https://www.jjay.cuny.edu/faculty/jessica-gordon-nembhard" target="_blank">Jessica Gordon Nembhard</a> <a href="http://www.psupress.org/books/titles/978-0-271-06216-7.html" target="_blank">has noted</a> in reference to black <a href="https://www.essence.com/news/bankblack-listing-black-owned-banks-credit-unions-united-states/" target="_blank">credit unions and mutual aid funds</a>, "African Americans, as well as other people of color and low-income people, have benefited greatly from cooperative ownership and democratic economic participation throughout the nation's history."</p><p>The nonprofit <a href="https://centerforneweconomics.org/" target="_blank">Schumacher Center for a New Economics</a> is working to rejuvenate the idea of black commons. In a 2018 statement, the <a href="https://centerforneweconomics.org/publications/proposal-for-a-black-commons/" target="_blank">center proposed to adopt a community land trust structure</a> "to serve as a national vehicle to amass purchased and gifted lands in a black commons with the specific purpose of facilitating low-cost access for black Americans hitherto without such access."</p><p>Meanwhile, shared equity housing schemes and <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-04-29/alternative-homeownership-land-trusts-and-co-ops" target="_blank">community land trusts</a> <a href="https://www.lincolninst.edu/publications/working-papers/tracking-growth-evaluating-performance-shared-equity-homeownership" target="_blank">continue to grow</a>, helping black families own property, <a href="https://housingmatters.urban.org/articles/how-community-land-trusts-can-advance-racial-and-economic-justice" target="_blank">advance racial and economic justice</a> and mitigate displacement resulting from gentrification.</p>
Digital Commons<p>The disproportionate effects of the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/racial-ethnic-minorities.html" target="_blank">coronavirus pandemic</a> and unrest over <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/police-violence-pandemic/2020/06/05/e1a2a1b0-a669-11ea-b619-3f9133bbb482_story.html" target="_blank">police brutality</a> have highlighted deeply embedded structural racism. Organizations such as Black Lives Matter and the <a href="https://m4bl.org/" target="_blank">Movement for Black Lives</a> are demonstrating a renewed vigor around collective action and a blueprint for how this can be achieved in a digital age. At the same time, black Americans are also forging a cultural commons through events such as DJ D-Nice's <a href="https://www.oprahmag.com/entertainment/a31860967/dj-dnice-instagram-dance-party-coronavirus-quarantine/" target="_blank">Club Quarantine</a> – a <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/adriennegibbs/2020/03/28/dj-d-nice-just-had-the-best-quarantine-week-ever/#2c57f81c47dc" target="_blank">hugely popular</a> online dance party. Club Quarantine's success indicates the potential for using online platforms to facilitate community building, pointing toward future economic cooperation.</p><p>That's what organizations like <a href="http://urbanpatch.org/" target="_blank">Urban Patch</a> are trying to do. The nonprofit group uses crowdsourced funding to build community spaces in inner city areas of Indianapolis and encourage collective economic development that echoes the black commons of years past.</p><p>The long history of racism in the United States has held back black Americans for generations. But the current soul searching over this legacy is also an unrivaled opportunity to look again at the idea of collective black action and ownership, using it to create a community and economy that goes beyond just ownership of land for wealth's sake.</p>
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By Danielle Nierenberg
Following the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, people around the United States are protesting racism, police brutality, inequality, and violence in their own communities. No matter your political affiliation, the violence by multiple police departments in this country is unacceptable.
By Ilana Cohen, Evelyn Nieves, Judy Fahys, Marianne Lavelle, James Bruggers
When New York Communities for Change helped lead a demonstration of 500 on Monday in Brooklyn to protest George Floyd's killing in Minneapolis, the grassroots group's activism spoke to a long-standing link between police violence against African Americans and environmental justice.
'I Worry About My Kids and Their Kids'<p>Watching the events of recent days unfold have been very painful for Arnita Gadson, a veteran environmental justice advocate who has played a pivotal role helping to keep a large chemical industry in Louisville accountable through a local task force, and also serves as Kentucky's Environmental Climate Justice Chair for the NAACP.</p><p>She is contributing to a local climate adaptation plan, and that work has continued through the recent strife, Gadson said, adding, "but I've been scared.</p><p>"I am a black woman living in a white world," she said. "If I go out, I might get shot and I may get killed. I worry about my kids and their kids."</p><p>In Salt Lake City, Utah, Grace Olscamp has been reaching out on social media, calling on environmentalists to do more than pledge support for people of color on behalf of the environmental group HEAL Utah, which has focused for two decades on hazardous and nuclear waste, as well as air pollution and climate change.</p><p>"It shouldn't have taken us this long to really step up and take action," said Olscamp, HEAL's communications director, noting that she, the group's staff and many of its members are white and "definitely in a place of privilege."</p><p>It's a problem among environmental organizations, generally, that they have failed to include more people of color and to hold themselves accountable for working toward real change.</p>
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As protests are taking place across our nation in response to the killing of George Floyd, we want to acknowledge the importance of this protest and the Black Lives Matter movement. Over the years, we've aimed to be sensitive and prioritize stories that highlight the intersection between racial and environmental injustice. From our years of covering the environment, we know that too often marginalized communities around the world are disproportionately affected by environmental crises.
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By Salvador Edgardo Zuniga Cáceres
It has been four months since the murder of environmental and Indigenous rights activist Berta Cáceres and her killers have still not been brought to justice. Instead, the violence continues—on July 7, another activist from Berta Cáceres' organization was abducted and killed.
Berta Cáceres in 2015.Goldman Environmental Prize / Tim Russo
In March, my mother Berta Cáceres was murdered in her own home. Her death pains me in a way I cannot describe with words.
She was killed for defending life, for safeguarding our common goods and those of nature, which are sacred. She was killed for defending the rivers that are sources of our people's life, ancestral strength and spirituality.
My mother became a woman of resistance, of struggle, so that our deep connection with nature is not destroyed; so that the life of our peoples—the Lenca Indigenous People of Honduras—is respected. Her killers tried to silence her with bullets, but she is a seed, a seed that is reborn in all men and women. She is a seed that will be reborn in the people that follow her path of resistance.
To achieve justice for her death, I need your help.
Please join me in asking the Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández to launch an independent investigation into my mother's murder.
Berta with her four children.
Honduras is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for environmental activists—more than 100 were murdered between 2010 and 2014.
These figures make me shiver. These activists lost their lives defending what belongs to us all and my mother was no exception. She had been threatened and persecuted many times for safeguarding our people's territory.
Even before my mother's murder, two of my sisters had to leave the country. But our mother did not stop fighting against the Agua Zarca mega-dam project. If built, the Agua Zarca would lead to the displacement of our people and the privatization and destruction of our territories. It has already led to the murder of those who have the determination and the clarity to understand that life is not a commodity.
But the dam builders could not stop my mother. With her people beside her, she became invincible. So murderers broke into her house and opened fire against her chest. We are outraged not only because of the bullets that murdered her, but because her killers have walked away with impunity.
Berta Cáceres in the Rio Blanco region of Honduras.Tim Russo / Goldman Environmental Prize.
Berta used to say: "Defending human rights is a crime in Honduras."
She knew that what she put her and her loved ones at risk, but she didn't care. Along with the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras—an organization my mother co-founded—she defended Indigenous communities and gave her life. Today, our family, the Lenca people and thousands of Hondurans are demanding justice.
We will only succeed if we press my country's president into accepting that the Inter American Commission on Human Rights investigates the murder. We cannot trust the Honduran justice system.
"You have the bullet … I have the word. The bullet dies when detonated, the word lives when spread." —Berta Cáceres
Today, we must be that word. My mother gave her life defending humanity and the planet. Now it's up to us to seek justice on her behalf.
Salvador Edgardo Zuniga Cáceres is the son of award-winning Honduran activist Berta Cáceres, who was murdered in her home in March 2016.
Following hundreds of years of oppression under colonial rule and decades as a pawn in a bipolar world, Africa has been left a damaged continent. Here Kumi Naidoo explains this historical context in which a new pan-African civil society initiative is developing, of which he is the start-up director.
Over the past few years the global media has repeatedly referred to the phenomenon of "Africa Rising" to describe the ongoing looting of natural resources and illicit financial outflows from the continent. This confirms that the earlier models of colonization have not ended, but have merely been adjusted and refined and are now conducted and presented behind the veneer of liberation and democracy of African people.
I set out some key historical facts about colonization and what the current effects of colonization are and why, in this context, a discussion arose to establish a new initiative—a broad based African civil society platform. During the many discussions in relation to this new initiative, some consensus points have emerged which are presented here. These are not meant to be understood as fait accompli of the new platform. Instead they are key starting points to show how we are going about establishing such an initiative, what makes the process and outcomes different from previous attempts at civil society unity and how we are going to build consensus around such an initiative that will seek justice, peace and sustainable development on and for the African continent.
Tree of Life.Earth Touch
The African continent draws its modern history from the Berlin Conference held between 1884 and 1885, which sought to legitimize control over the continent, its people and specifically its natural resources. No African was ever consulted in this process. By 1900, European states claimed almost 90 percent of the land mass, ignoring and abolishing local autonomy and self-governance of the African people. The decolonization period post World War II and then the Cold War, saw Africans being used as political and economic pawns by both sides of the ideological conflict.
The effects of having excluded Africans from decision making about their own countries and their continent are starkly manifested in an artificially divided continent, weak and often at war with itself. This was the prime impulse behind the idea of building a movement for a more united continent, starting with civil society as the vanguard of such a process.
Africans remain constrained by these major incidents of political and economic domination of the peoples (and resources) of Africa. Starkly summed up by the pan-Africanist Tajudeen Raheem (1961-2009), when he observed that "Africa is the richest continent underneath the ground and that is precisely why we are one of the poorest continents above the ground," this resource curse and its abhorrent effects remain the daily reality for the majority of Africans. Within this context (and unlike some of their South American and Asian counterparts) individual African countries are unable to stand firm on the global stage in terms of climate change or trade negotiations, despite having proxy representation through South Africa in platforms such as the G20. There is little evidence to show that South Africa has used this proxy role for any substantial continental benefit. Instead, its political leadership has mostly just accepted the negative compromises of these platforms, including the G20, leaving the continent inadequately represented amongst the global economic and political forces.
The imperative to work more urgently and diligently towards a united civil society across the continent is ever greater now that civil protests are more widespread and a frequent feature of life in most parts of the world. The people of the African continent have an opportunity to integrate their struggles into the larger global movements against rising inequality and climate change impacts, standing shoulder to shoulder with their governments on these global stages, while simultaneously pressurizing African governments to perform substantially better than they are doing currently.
Attempts at civil society unity on the continent are not new. Several initiatives have been spawned over the years, including the first Pan African Conference (ironically held outside the continent) as early as 1900, several civil society backed resolutions and the Organization of African Unity (OAU) process to establish more widespread cooperation between non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society organizations (CSOs) in 2003.
Within these broader attempts of unity there have also been several attempts to build civil society networks across the continent. Some were thematically focused, such as the African Association for Literacy and Adult Education (AALAE) and others where more generic such as the Harare Caucus, that sought to bring together regional civil society networks across the continent. A cursory assessment of these initiatives highlights some of the reasons for their limited success:
- The impetus for setting them up was external to the continent and they were usually geared towards meeting short-term interests of particular (global civil society) organizations.
- There was a lack of adequate resourcing for the initiatives, from human and financial capital to ideological robustness—a long-term strategy is critical to movement building.
- Governance failings—the competing interests of individuals heading established and resourced NGOs sometimes goes against the needs of a continent wide movement. Those entrusted with leadership responsibilities of continental networks did not have the dedicated time to exercise proper governance of the management and secretariat.
Civil Society Under Attack
Africa's historical resistance to slavery, economic imperialism and political colonization finds focus in the current struggles by African people for democratic governance, justice, equality and a voice in the international policy arena.
Today we are told that Africa is rising. Yet, when we look closer, it seems that this is based solely on aggregated assessments of national Gross Domestic Product. In these rising African countries the few are becoming fantastically wealthy while the majority remain socially marginalized and economically excluded. In truth, the majority of Africans are not rising and continue to struggle with poverty and the denial of their most basic rights.
Underlying this state-of-affairs is the phenomenon of shrinking political and civic space. We have seen a drastic curtailment of the freedom of association, assembly and expression in far too many countries across the continent. This has been accompanied by heightened levels of corruption and growing levels of inequality. These rights violations have been met by new forms of social organization and leadership leading to partial victories and new forms of popular actions and movements. Civil society in Africa is under assault on many fronts. We are experiencing many restrictions on political space, the erosion of women's rights, increasing inequality and climate change that is already having significant negative human impacts across the continent.
The current initiative to establish a continent wide social justice platform for civil society actions, solidarity, protection and advancement came about as a confluence of factors at a similar time and operating within the context set out above.
For some years now, Action Aid Denmark has been running the well-regarded Training Centre for Development Cooperation (TCDC) in Arusha, Tanzania. In 2015 Action Aid Denmark handed over the TCDC facility to an African institution in order to further establish the facility as a base of operations for a new Africa wide center for civil society.
In February 2016, I agreed to serve as the start-up director of the new initiative. Upon accepting the role I immediately set about engaging in dialogue with civil society across the continent to gain further insight into perspectives on a move to build greater unity within civil society on the continent. The process included numerous formal and informal consultations with civil society activists, regional and local networks, NGOs, international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), trade unions and faith-based groups across the continent.
This process of bottom-up consultations (which is ongoing) has shown that almost everyone who has participated agreed that African unity—reflected by greater social, political and economic integration—is critical for Africa and its peoples. Individual nation states are far too weak to fight for what they need; be it in negotiations about trade, climate or a host of other pertinent issues.
Secondly, most activists feel we are fighting on two fronts. On the one hand, we are fighting a global system that is unjust, inequitable and is leading us to climate catastrophe that fundamentally threatens our very ability to survive as a species. A system that serves the top 1 percent has to be vigorously opposed. On the other hand, we are facing national governments that have witnessed "state capture" by local and global elites and are often acting against the interests of their own citizens. This leads us to a situation where we need to both defend human rights and democracy at home and also ensure our governments are taking on the obscene injustices that prevail at the global level.
Thirdly, many on the continent feel that we need to have a fundamental rethink as to what constitutes civil society. There is a growing recognition that there is too much dependency on and too much influence of INGOs but also greater acceptance that even local and national NGOs are disconnected from the poorest and most marginalized. While there are, of course, inspirational exceptions to this, there is increasing agreement that the engine of resistance to injustice is not coming from formal and bureaucratized NGOs but is coming from looser, informal and social media driven activism. Some of the most inspiring challenges to power in Africa and globally, in the last decade have not seen the more formal NGOs playing any decisive role.
Lastly, the consultations were unanimous in their focus on a wider initiative as opposed to a specific center. Thus, while the Arusha TCDC facility is likely to be a key convening point for civil society (it already enjoys credibility and success as an NGO management training facility), for the purposes of building the vision of the potential future initiative we want it to be driven by a bottom-up process of consultation that is not focused on a single center but on a range of such convening spaces.
These key discussions were affirmed at a recent strategy workshop organized by the African Civil Society Initiative. Thirty activists, NGOs and networks aligned themselves with the inspirational Rustlers Valley Declaration (2014), thus taking up the challenge for civil society generally and NGOs specifically "to be the change we want to see in the world."
The key consensus points developed in the African Civil Society Initiative process to date represent some significant departures from previous attempts at civil society unity in Africa. Firstly, there is an acceptance that NGOs and INGOs cannot be the sole drivers of the process. The initiative must be much broader than any previous attempts and will make a special effort to be inclusive of social movements, NGOs, peoples and popular social justice movements, intellectuals, artists, sports people, cultural activists and others, across the continent and the African Diaspora. Secondly, a phased approach must continue to be employed, ensuring consensus at each step—no one must be left behind. Thirdly, the eventual organizational structure of the initiative must reflect the lean and agile nature of the initiative itself.
Based on the current feedback from the consultation process, it is likely that the initiative will focus on six key cross-cutting areas that have substantial significance and have gained general consensus, specifically:
- Exposing corruption and opposing impunity;
- Fighting for full gender equality;
- Defending and deepening democratic space generally and civic space specifically;
- Working for poverty eradication;
- Opposing inequality; and
- Assertively addressing the challenge of climate change.
These consensus points will most likely be implemented by the nascent initiative in the following ways:
- Sparking a major conversation across the continent about the establishment of the initiative—what such an intervention would look like, who would participate, what participants' expectations are and what the objectives of such a platform would be?
- Establishing internal and external communications functionality, making as much use of social media platforms to ensure widespread engagement of all who are interested in civil society;
- Inviting people to express interest in the initiative—we can only succeed if we have broad based membership across civil society;
- Organizing a Validation Conference in Arusha, Tanzania—the final steps to establish the initiative must have broad public endorsement with people and organizations ready to stand up and be counted in the fight for justice. The conference will deliberate on how the initiative should be established and operate. Should the conference demonstrate the requisite level of support the initiative's operations will commence promptly thereafter.
- And lastly, all of this work requires that most basic of needs, the resources to succeed and the current team is busy preparing for the Validation Conference, staff and other related costs.
It is time we speak together and decide what change we wish to see in our countries, across Africa and what we want Africa to be when we celebrate Africa Day in the future. For a long time now, others have been writing our story. Now is the time for us to take a brave step, a giant step for us and start writing (and telling) our own story—a story of a united Africa, at peace with prosperous and healthy people.
We need your voice, ideas, thoughts and action to keep working together to build this initiative. It is not complicated to do your part, tweet to us @helloacsi, write on our Facebook wall or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Together for Africa, for justice, peace and sustainable development.