Our food systems are not just the work of humans. They are the work of the mountains, of Pachamama [Mother Earth], of the sacred, the whole community which is centered on reciprocity, solidarity, and respect for elements of life. This is buen vivir (‘living well’) for us.
That’s according to Quechua residents of Potato Park in the Peruvian Andes, where the community has for the last three decades been involved in an inspiring process of conserving and sustaining their own livelihoods over the vast landscape where the potato originated. They were speaking to us through the dialogue series initiated by the Global Tapestry of Alternatives (GTA) to highlight stories of community resilience and wellbeing in the face of Covid.
The pandemic has shown the deep fractures and baseless promises of wellbeing that the capitalist model made to the whole world. Of course, several other crises pre-exist Covid, from the climate, biodiversity loss, and pollution, to inequality, conflicts, authoritarianism, and right-wing fascism across the globe. Occurring alongside all this is a long process of colonization or post-colonial hegemony, and the domination of certain cultures and knowledge systems. Combinations of these interconnected challenges have significantly impacted our individual lives, whether it’s alienation from nature and from each other, or a heightened sense of meaninglessness or hopelessness.
It’s in the context of these multiple crises that GTA attempts to foster a dialogical space to show that there are alternative ways of being, knowing, working, dreaming, and of doing things — that the modern capitalist or nation-state dominated system is not the only system around. Along with processes of resistance, across the world there are tens of thousands of attempts to construct alternative realities, either through sustaining things from the past which are still relevant, equitable, and just, or creating new ones — especially from within industrial systems or the so-called ‘developed’ systems of the world.
The Global Tapestry of Alternatives is a network that was seeded through experiences of networks of alternatives in India, Mexico, and Colombia. After several conversations and endorsements of movements across the world, GTA was officially launched in 2019 as a horizontal process of weaving with non-hierarchical ways of functioning. With a strong commitment to highlighting the emergence and visibility of an immense variety of radical alternatives to this dominant regime rooted in capitalist, patriarchal, racist, statist, and anthropocentric forces, GTA seeks to create solidarity networks and strategic alliances amongst all networks of alternatives on local, regional, and global levels.
Over the last two years, GTA has organized over 22 sessions ranging from the responses to Covid by indigenous communities in Peru, Mexico, India, and Bolivia, to the responses of women in Rojava to Black Lives Matter and eco-socialist organizing for radical transformations. Sessions have also included dialogues on techology and alternatives, economies of wellbeing, a commons future, the degrowth movement, alternative models by women farmers, feminist realities and alternatives, artistic resistance in Palestine, the Karen community’s alternatives to state authoritarianism in Myanmar, mining and alternatives by women in Africa, among many others.
Through these dialogues and conversations, the attempt has been to show how communities across the world have responded to contemporary crises with resilience, care, innovation, and adaptability — however desperate the last two years have been. The resurgence of life that we see in innumerable actions of solidarity, cooperation, love, and care in these times are rooted in the aeons-old articulations of indigenous peoples and local communities, both rural and urban. This spirit circulates among many grassroots expressions of collectives and networks, as dignified rage against systems of oppression as well as the affirmation of their resolve to defend their dignity by articulating a pluriverse of alternatives.
In furtherance to this effort, GTA has also recently launched its first volume of various narratives from around the world weaving solidarity and hope in the times of crises. Together, they provide multifaceted expressions of resistance to dominant forms of oppression — to defend local ways of life, strengthen local autonomy, and reconstruct societies. The first volume has contributions from Africa, Latin America, South and South-east Asia and Central America. Our two inspiring contributions from Latin America speak to the need of keeping care of Mother Earth at the center of building resilience. The Nasa people of the north of Cauca, Colombia are working towards recovering their territories to grow toxic-free food and in the process heal the earth and themselves.
Another example is from Cauca valley, Colombia, where communities are building water and food sovereignty to supply those in need during the pandemic. From Costa Rica, we learn how the local fishing communities re-launched small-scale fisheries to ensure dignified livelihoods for themselves in times of crises. From Tharakans in Kenya, we learn how the revival of rituals, ceremonies, and traditional governance helped cope with the crises that the pandemic posed — in turn revealing how traditional knowledge systems act as a counterweight to the hegemonic paradigm of modernity.
From another corner of the world, in Indonesia, the Confederation of Indonesia Peoples Movement (consisting of federations of women, workers, peasants, fisherfolk, indigenous people, and the urban poor) have been building a solidarity economy through various alternative community projects and practises. Their processes helped them respond to the crises by readily organizing community kitchens, engaging with fundraising, and distributing essential amenities within the community.
Not too far from Indonesia, in Bangladesh, the farmers have been leading a New Agriculture Movement that is building innovative farming practises based around ‘seed’, providing an inspiring example of resistance to a globalized food chain by using minimal external inputs, building on local knowledge, facilitating local markets, and practising biodiverse agricultural techniques. From central India, we learn how communities who were in control of their local means of production could not only counter market forces but also guard themselves against the insecurities of the mainstream economic system. While cities, with their heavily- guarded top-down governance, have been at the epicentre of the pandemic and the economic fallout, empowered grassroots communities fared much better.
These examples show that communities, initiatives, and civil society already have approaches that effectively counter the systemic problems highlighted by the pandemic. They give important insights and pathways for just, equitable, and ecologically resilient futures, and provide hope at a moment when it’s easy to feel hopeless, by showing concrete pathways towards a better future where “many worlds fit,” as the Zapatistas of Mexico put it. It is crucial to tell these stories, to hear them and re-hear them, as they have important lessons for all of us. The question is: are we truly ready to hear them? Are we ready to constructively challenge each other, offer active solidarity to each other whenever needed, interweave the initiatives in common actions, and support the conditions for the radical systemic changes we need? More than ever, we need to work together and stand in solidarity with each other’s resistances and re-constructions.
As we walk this path, it’s always useful to revisit the famous words of Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano:
“Utopia is on the horizon. I move two steps closer; it moves two steps further away. I walk another ten steps, and utopia runs ten steps further away. As much as I may walk, I never reach it. So what’s the point of utopia? The point is this: it makes us continually advance.”
Three things you can do right now
- Take a look at GTA’s webinar series, resilience documents, and recent periodical on Climate Change and Alternatives, and share them among your friends, family, and colleagues.
- Help promote this article by sharing these posts on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Sign up here for email alerts when articles like this are shared on social media.
- Are you involved with a community resilience project or interested in starting or joining one? Get in touch with the GTA to collaborate.
Teaser photo credit: Art from GTA website.