Sustainability and social justice as “two sides of the same coin,” Vandana Shiva told the audience of the 2015 Omega Center for Sustainable Living conference: Seeds of Change. It’s not “about bringing people of color in from the margins,” Shiva said, but rather “recognizing that color is the nature of the world.”
1. You Can’t Separate Social Justice & Sustainability
The interplay and interconnection between social justice and ecological sustainability was a major theme during the weekend gathering.
Asked how white allies can support farmers of color, The Color of Food author Natasha Bowens said you support them like you do any other farmer, by buying their food. The Freedom Food Alliance’s Jalal Sabur quoted Malcolm X on the importance of building a new relationship between our cities and rural areas, saying, “Land is the basis for all freedom, justice, and equality.”
Winona LaDuke observed, “It’s okay to have a worldview not based on empire.” And Ralph Nader pointed out a significant benefit of that kind of change in worldview, "A society with more justice needs less charity."
2. Change Perspective on Civic Engagement, Water & Shared Humanity
What sort of outlook do we need to help foster social justice and sustainability? We can start, Vandana Shiva said, by acknowledging that our first responsibility is recognizing our shared humanity. Ralph Nader emphasized the need for greater political engagement, urging the audience, "Forget asking about people’s social lives. Instead ask them, 'How’s your civic life?'”
Maude Barlow outlined the need for a better, deeper, more considered relationship with water with this stark statistic: “Every 3.5 seconds in the Global South a child dies of waterborne disease.” She said since 1990, more than “half of the major rivers in China have disappeared; they have gone to making commodities.”
How do we create a new water ethic? Barlow told the audience, 1) Establish water as a human right. 2) Establish water as a public trust, that can’t be owned, bought, or sold. 3) Establish inherent rights for nature, and water specifically. 4) Recognize that water has the power to teach us how to live together in a more harmonious way.
What would our agriculture, diets, day-to-day lives, trade agreements, and international relations look like if we began putting water at the center of our decision making? Profoundly different, Barlow concluded.
3. Local Action Makes a Difference
The Seeds of Change conference presented several examples of the importance of local action in making change. The 2015 Leadership in Sustainable Education Award winner, Poughkeepsie Farm Project, illustrated what can be done: 20,000 pounds of food donated to those in need, and thousands of urban youth learning the importance of farm-fresh food and the social issues that make access to this food difficult for too many people.
Founder of Growing Power Will Allen, said one way to remedy limited urban access to farm-fresh food is through growing more food locally. But to do this, Allen pointed out, we need to start teaching more people how to be farmers, and create more quality soil through composting so that cities can more easily feed themselves.
During the conference, we also heard from several regional organizations about the important work they are doing around issues of water, seed saving, food justice, and more.
4. To Create Change Remain Centered, Joyful & Determined
How do we maintain our longevity, drive, and focus while engaging in issues of social justice and sustainability?
Omega CEO Robert “Skip” Backus pointed out that everyone who is engaged in this work on some level is engaged in resistance and we all need a practice to ground ourselves.
Winona LaDuke shared her practice of offering gratitude and thanks every day, incorporating an element of joy and reverence in all activities.
Vandana Shiva agreed saying, “We will not overcome through misery.” Instead, we need a combination of creativity, solidarity, courage, and celebration to be effective change makers.
Maude Barlow observed that acts of civil resistance do work, even if it seems like an uphill battle at times. And, Ralph Nader offered a hopeful outlook on making change. He pointed out that on many issues it takes just one percent of people mobilizing to make an impact. “It’s a lot easier to turn the country around in fundamental ways than we think. It’s in history, but not in our minds," he said.
© 2015 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies