This report covers the period of April 29 – May 5 as I traveled to Sao Paulo, Brazil to speak at the Global Greens Congress.
This was the second such Global Greens (GG) event and was attended by hundreds of people from 88 countries. There were 21 African countries represented at the conference.
My speaking invitation came from U.S. Green Party member Julia Willebrand whom I met while speaking in New York City last August. She arranged, with some difficulty I learned, to have me speak on a plenary panel and specifically asked me to address the impacts of militarism on climate change.
I took the bus to Boston, the train to New York, and then flew to Sao Paulo from there. Fellow Mainer, and long-time Green Party stalwart John Rensenbrink was on the same plane and we roomed together in a downtown Sao Paulo hotel. The plane trip was about 10 hours long and only 1/3 of the seats were full so we each got to stretch out across three empty seats during the flight.
The conference was largely focused on climate change and the stories from around the world were heart breaking. A Peruvian Green talked about the “extinction by human intervention” in the Amazon where 20% of the reptiles, 20% of the birds, and 34% of the fish are now gone.
A Mongolian Green told a tragic story about how gold mining is poisoning the water, killing nature, creating sickness for the people and causing 50% of the forests to be lost. He urged us to boycott gold. Easy one for me.
Several Africans told similar stories about desertification on the continent, lakes drying up, fisherman having no livelihood and moving to the big cities where poverty and disease await them. Wild animals are disappearing. (And now the U.S. has created the new military command called AfriCom to be used to help take their oil.)
Brazilian cars run on alcohol made from sugar cane – another story about agricultural land feeding cars rather than people. (Just like in the U.S. where corn production is now more profitable for ethanol than for food.)
As I made this trip, food was big in the news. Rising gasoline prices have dramatically impacted the price of the global food supply. Climate change has had enormous impact on food production as we see the cost of food rising by 40% in 2007 and 80% in 2008. Protests around the world, just in recent days, are a foretelling of the future.
Brazilian Green Fabio Feldmann, a member of the parliament, told the audience that needed changes must come from political action. “We need new governance models,” he said. Feldmann also reminded us that the U.S. had not signed the Biodiversity Convention in 1992 because the pharmaceutical industry opposed it. I wrote “death culture” in my notes as he spoke.
I was the only one to speak about militarism and the connection to the environment and climate change. I was very surprised by this. The fact is that all the speakers made dramatic appeals for immediate and massive structural change and investment in green technologies and conservation if we are to save the Mother Earth. How, I asked in my plenary presentation, can we effectively deal with climate change if we allow a new expensive and destabilizing arms race in space to happen? We must convert the global war machine immediately and use those resources, now wasted on endless war, for the needed investments to deal with climate change. I suggested that the proposed 21-point Declaration that would be approved on the last day of the Congress needed to include calls for the prevention of an arms race in outer space and conversion of the military industrial complex. As I finished my talk I was given a rousing applause by the several hundred people in the audience.
One U.S. Green delegate approached me and asked me to write down the specific language I thought should go into the final Declaration, which I immediately did. He made sure it was formally introduced into the process. Sadly, the final document made no reference to either point.
It is quite clear that the German Greens, European Greens, and Australian Greens run the Global Greens movement because they are the regions that had the most electoral success over the years. I heard from several U.S. delegates that they have been told by the German Greens that the U.S. Green Party is too “radical.”
One telling panel was called “Between Government Responsibilities and Fundamental Opposition.” This session addressed the question “What changes occur if Greens engage in parliaments and governments? Does this affect the relationship between Green parties and social movements and how do we deal with conflicts between ‘ethics of conviction’ and an ‘ethics of responsibility’?” In other words, once in power should Greens go along to get along? Or should they stick their neck out on “controversial” issues?
A Green member of parliament from the Czech Republic, that is now in power as part of a coalition with their right-wing government, talked about how taking cautious steps was important if one hoped to remain in power to do the “good works” required to deal with climate change. Surprisingly she never mentioned the current controversy and enormous challenges facing the Czech Green Party as they now hold the deciding votes which will determine whether or not their parliament supports the planned U.S. deployment of a Star Wars radar base in their country. I later learned from another Czech Green member that out of their six Green members of parliament, two of them are likely to support the radar, which will likely be the winning margin for Bush in an evenly divided government.
A member of the European Greens told me that they had recently met and wanted to pass a strong region-wide resolution against the proposed deployment of the U.S. radar in the Czech Republic. He said one of the Czech Greens, who will likely support the radar, insisted that the resolution be weakened to say that if NATO supports it then it would be acceptable. Apparently this amended resolution was passed.
Reinhard Buetikofer, Co-President of the German Greens, while addressing this issue of cooperation with more conservative power blocs, argued that military intervention to support “human rights” was necessary and thus should not be ruled out. “What would we do if another Adolf Hitler was to come along?” he asked. We have one today I thought to myself – his name is George W. Bush. Are we all doing enough to stop his program of empire building and endless war, I wondered?
The German Greens, once in power but now out of the ruling coalition, have experienced this “dilemma” first-hand. Their party supported the U.S. attack and invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. A year or so later I was speaking at a conference in Southern Germany and was on a panel with a German Green Party leader. In the Q & A many peace activists in the audience were furious with the Greens for having supported the U.S. invasion. The German Greens fell out of power in 2005.
One truly inspiring moment at the Congress was watching a video of the speech by Ingrid Betancourt from Columbia at the last Global Greens Congress that was held in 2001 in Australia. Ingrid is a politician, former senator and anti-corruption activist. She was kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 2002 while campaigning for the Colombian presidency as a Green, after she decided to campaign in an area of high guerrilla presence in spite of warnings not to do so. She is still being held hostage by the FARC.
In her 2001 speech Ingrid called the global economic machine a “system of self destruction.” “The first thing we must defeat is our own skepticism,” she said. Her call to relentlessly organize and remain passionate moved the audience of Greens once again.
In a crowd this large, from so many nations, one can imagine that many different views existed about how best to proceed. Several people really hit the mark for me. Rebecca Harms, a German member of parliament, said “The movement has to be a participatory democracy if we hope to show the people of the world how things can change.”
A Green from Greece said, “We are a global movement but be careful because power corrupts.”
Haidar El Ali from Senegal touched me deeply when he said, “Love and faith will save us, not politicians. We need to reach the hearts of the people. Do we love the Earth enough to save it?”
One evening while eating dinner one of the Greens from Mongolia, a businessman, was sitting at a nearby table. He congratulated me on my talk and told me that at first he was “shocked” that I was being publicly critical of my government. He said that he believed it best to work with existing governments and not to be publicly critical of them. But he then went on to tell me that he learned a lot from my speech and appreciated it by the end. I told him that I thought democracy meant that citizens, and political leaders, should challenge their governments when they know they have gone wrong.
Many other Greens from places like Sweden, Canada, Japan, Dominican Republic, Holland, Hungary, New Zealand, Belgium, Norway, Portugal, Africa, and the U.S. gave me strong positive feedback after my plenary speech. Several asked me to send them the text of my talk so they could pass it around in their country.
I was extremely grateful to have been invited to speak before such an important conference and such wonderful people who are doing the good work to help protect all life on this beautiful planet. The question of political parties and power, how they should work and compromise with existing power structures, is an important topic to debate. But in the end it is equally important to create new alternative political formations that give voice to the important issues of our time. The tensions over power and compromise will always be with us.
In the end, I come away reminding myself that I am an activist first and I am certain that my job is to stand strong for what I know must be done if we are to survive on this spinning satellite we call Earth. I need not worry about negotiating this point or that. My job is to speak for all life, to represent those who cannot speak. My task is to remain steady during those moments when those in power seem most intractable. My role is to tell it like I see it and let the chips fall where they may.
That I shall continue to do as long as I draw breath on my mother planet.