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Different Realities in the Age of Disillusionment

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“Truth, Justice and the American Way.” That was how each episode of “Superman” was introduced in the early days of television that followed World War II.  Now, we have finally arrived in the Age of Disillusionment, questioning whether the American Way is still firmly rooted in truth and justice, or if it ever was. Was this catchphrase merely a wishful ideal, an unrealistic sentiment requiring a fictional “Superman” to make it true?  If that was indeed the case, as the TV show obliquely implies, even then there was an innate awareness that the truth lay somewhere else.  In 1950’s America, justice and truth were a matter of perspective.  If the Constitution was true and justice lies in equality then why was segregation still enforced in the South and women had not attained equal rights under the law. We regard it as a positive sign that for decades we have witnessed major changes in our system of laws and consequently the culture. As we look at this passing timeline of change, we believe America has made real progress, so why in the age of Trump are we being asked to look backwards to “Make America Great Again?”

 

 To be sure the value system we have today is not one created by Trump.  Rather Trump was created by a shift in our values. Is Trump merely a sign, a mile marker on the road to disillusionment? It has taken many decades to affect this shift in values, from a false belief in the righteousness of our patterns of conformity, to the realization that we have been living in a world of self-delusion.  Whether the glass is half empty or half full, we have divided ourselves into two basic camps, that of lemmings and cynics, those who believe anything and those who question everything. These divisions do not follow political lines.  They are neither progressive or conservative, Democrat nor Republican.  They are simply recognized by the politically astute as believers and non-believers, both vulnerable to manipulation by skilled hands.

 

Turn on the radio if you seek evidence of this massive culture shift. In my day, the Beatles were content with “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” That and songs like “She Loves You” proclaiming the simple joys of young love, moved thousands of teens to flock to their concerts and millions to buy their records. Decades before, Bing and Frank crooned love songs and throughout the fifties and sixties, no matter what the genre, love songs dominated the airwaves. Today, songs need not have a melody, but are created around “beats.” Lyrics are a far cry from hand-holding. Take these lyrics from Lil’ Kim… “I wet cha like hurricanes and typhoons, got buffoons eatin’ my pussy, while I watch cartoons.” The balance of the song is liberally spiced with all manner of profanities, heavy use of the word, “Fuck,” and the forbidden “N’ word permitted only in rap music and Tarantino movies. Now I’m an avowed liberal and none of these words bother me in the slightest, but even I will admit that something very tender has been lost here. Is this what Trump means when he seeks to go back into the future with MAGA? No, not really. It’s a talking point just to push your emotional buttons, nothing he can do anything about.

 

Today, the overwhelming success of movies based on Marvel and DC comics’ super-heroes gives testament to a return to the mentality of that former decade.  We have emotionally retreated to a time when mere mortals could not solve our problems and we again fantasize of super-powered heroes.  But no longer is just one hero enough.  Our problem is so large that heroes must team up, combining their many, varied superpowers to defeat the evil villains, such is the magnitude of evil.  Trump, a TV personality at best,  was the first politician to recognize this and took full advantage, forming his team of like-minded “heroes,” a cabinet of backward thinkers and ner-do-wells, to subvert the timeline of progress and undermine our entire political system by seeding mistrust with promises of the return to a “Greatness’ only he can deliver.

 

In those early days of television and on into the sixties, the American family was identified simplistically and with moral clarity through shows like “Father Knows Best” and “Make Room for Daddy.” Now, the American Family is represented in television and movies as a dysfunctional unit of misfits through shows like “Shameless,” “Breaking Bad” and “Animal Kingdom.”  A lot has changed as to how we are willing to see ourselves. 

 

Back when the news was determined by investigative journalists and filtered through media giants controlled by millionaires and rich corporations who benefited from keeping the masses pacified and moving along the lines that best suited their own agendas, the nation was unified   because the media was united in its messaging and the electorate shared common beliefs born of their messaging.

 

Today we are divided between those of us who get their news via traditional over-the-air, terrestrial broadcasting and those who rely on cable to learn what is happening in the world. You might say it’s the haves and the have-nots.  The largest terrestrial News broadcast is Fox News.  The largest cable News channel is CNN.  These two news giants control the flow of news that divides this nation between fact-driven and emotion-driven responses.  When Roger Ailes defined Fox News’ mission, he formulated it to conform to his own belief system, unabashedly subjective, and unapologetically emotional.  This is well documented.  CNN with all its shortcomings nevertheless reports data, not alternative facts as does Fox, false narratives designed to support the singular opinion and political mission of its founder.

 

With the advent of the internet, the power of any individual to move public opinion has shot gaping holes in the old model, and bad actors such as foreign interests, hackers, pranksters, the greedy, and corrupt politicians have hidden among them in plain sight through the use of trolls and bots that perpetuate fake news as if they were just everyday people using social media to express themselves.  In previous decades, this type of misinformation was called psyops and was the exclusive domain of military and intelligence organizations looking to control public opinion.  In foreign countries we referred to it as propaganda.  Now, it hides among the masses, the wolf in sheep’s clothing, pretending to be just like you and me, but with many more powerful resources at their disposal. They prey on our disillusionment as any predator singles out the weak for a kill.

 

American disillusionment began with the Warren Commission report on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  Never has this public murder, one orchestrated in prodigious detail been fully explained by our government.  Rather today, even the most uninformed citizens do not believe in the “lone gunman” nor the “magic bullet.” In the face of the very few standardized facts, it defies logic and common sense.  Followed by the assassinations of his brother Robert and the Reverend Martin Luther King, we descended into a lasting despair in search of our next hero, who emerged as the TV cowboy president, the guy who disassembled our economy and reassembled it into one favoring his rich supporters and political cronies. Along the way we elected a couple crooks who installed a war criminal as Secretary of State and an Attorney General who through a political slush fund managed to destroy American faith in its institutions. Nixon’s Vice President, Spiro Agnew, pleaded no-contest to criminal conspiracy, bribery, extortion and tax fraud, but after Nixon resigned, Ford pardoned the disgraced Nixon and “saved the country” from the turmoil that would have ensued in a prosecution of this fallen-from-grace imperial angel and demonstrated that indeed, there are those who are above the law.  John Mitchell was ratted out by his wife, Martha, nice guy that he was,  and sentenced to 19 months in jail, and to this day Henry Kissinger is a wanted war criminal in France.

 

By now, given the various reasons and means which determine our leaders demise, it should have been clear that who we elect and how they acquired office needed more examination than was given by a timid and compliant press of the period.

 

Then in 1988 a firm hand took the rudder and an ex-CIA director, otherwise unelectable save for his ascendancy as a Vice President to a TV cowboy, marched us through an easy win in “Desert Storm” and the America that carried its tail between its legs ever since its defeat in Viet Nam, was now a proud, flag-waving country once again.  That is, until a Southern charmer handed the stiff commander his electoral ass and led us into a morass of legal definitions of words like “sex” and “is,” as he desperately tried to evade the inevitable consequences of a lifetime of indiscretion and marital infidelity, Clinton was undone by a young Whitehouse intern who smoked Clinton’s bent penis like a cigar, which according to Clinton, did not constitute a “sexual relationship” since it lacked a vaginal component. Unfortunately for Bill, the cum stains on Monica’s blue dress said otherwise, and the moral shift that followed could be felt like shifting tectonic plates, as we rallied behind the man who brought our economy into balance for the first time. America had its priorities and marital infidelity was not on the list. 

 

As we turned the corner on the century, new and expanded horrors awaited. The same individualism given expression on the internet wound its way to validate a variety of crazies empowering them to act as lone terrorists on behalf of a belief system founded on radical religion or territorial affiliation. Bullied students killed their classmates and teachers en-masse.  Violated workers killed their fellow employees–but our institutions remained strong.  That is until September 11, 2001 when a small band of radicals acting together flew four jumbo jets into the very symbols of American power—two into the Twin Towers, one into the Pentagon and a fourth failed attempt diverted from the Whitehouse to an alleged crash in a Pennsylvania farm field.  Well anyway, that’s the official story.  While the Bin Laden family, personal friends of GW, was whisked away and safely flown back to Saudi Arabia all other flights were grounded. Later, as all evidence of the crashes was carted away and disposed of, America watched and waited for the truth, only to get a white-washed version with too many holes in it to be entirely plausible.  Following that, led by W and Cheney, America plummeted into a moral abyss forgoing constitutional rights under the “Patriot Act” and willingly supported torture depriving prisoners of the basic humanities that are protected by the Geneva Convention.  We were no longer the shining example we claimed to be.  On May 3, 2003, aboard the deck of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln , Bush declared “Mission Accomplished.”  Yes it was. The rights of American citizens had been redefined by a single act, but whose?

 

And so, perhaps as a result of this changing moral climate, the following decades saw a rise in Police brutality inflicted on peoples of color. Shoot first and ask questions later became the rule of law.  Drivers were shot in their vehicles after minor traffic violations.  A man was choked to death for selling single cigarettes without a license. So much for the moral understanding of Roy Rogers, Gene Autrey and cowboys of lore. Truth is, it was never like that and while it may have gotten worse, it was just more apparent.  Thanks to the proliferation of smartphones that shoot video, police were caught in the act and yet almost to a man were never prosecuted and avoided punishment, yet we wonder, “What got into these uppity Blacks that they don’t respect our institutions?”

 

But it only gets worse.  Little was left to believe in until we learned that we were not even safe in our homes and schools. After we learned that our largest financial institutions were “too big to fail” we plunged into a long-lasting recession, ultimately resulting in the foreclosure of approximately seven million homes and the loss of 9 million jobs.

 

While it took 58,318 deaths of American sons in Viet Nam before public opinion became forceful enough to move it to its inevitable end, we, America’s parents sit helplessly depressed as our schoolchildren are slaughtered without conscience by other disturbed children with access to high-power weapons. Yet, the only organized voices strong enough to be heard against the din of the NRA have been the children who were friends of the slain. We should be ashamed, but it’s hard to feel anything else, yet alone take action,  when you are deep into a depression and live in different realities.

 

Perhaps we have forgotten that the first school shooting was way back in 1970 when the National Guard shot and killed four innocent students walking to class at Kent State at distances over 100 yards, such was the threat they posed.  One might have expected community outrage over these murders, but the Nixon administration had whipped up national fervor to support the actions of the Guard and the dead students were villainized for years to follow.

 

Alternate lifestyles and beliefs have never been easily tolerated by the “moral majority,” despite legal protections guaranteeing freedom of religion and the right of assembly. When David Koresh, an eccentric religious leader established a cult community in Waco, Texas, then Attorney General Janet Reno called in the military to root them from their community home under the pretense of protecting their children from sexual abuse.  After a 51 day siege, while the news media was kept over a mile away, she supervised the mass destruction of their compound by sending in flame-throwing tanks to penetrate their structure and burn it to the ground killing 76 inhabitants including 23 children. Oh well, those degenerates got what was coming to them and on we moved. Later the FBI found that no abuses had occurred, but a righteous nation had long forgotten.  Thank God for the NRA who protected the Branch Davidian’s 2ndamendment rights. Unfortunately, no one explained to Koresh that AR15s and AK47s are an inadequate defense against tanks, gunship helicopters and flamethrowers.  They died clinging to their rights. Looking at long term patterns, it would seem that the rule of law in the United States has too long been that equal justice is not applicable to those who self-identify as different and may be interpreted and twisted at will by those who administer it.

 

So what are we left to believe in?  Some might say science, others might say religion, but the difference between facts and fairy tales will remain an unresolved  controversy if this is the ground on which we choose to do battle. With virtually every scientist in the world affirming man’s influence on climate change and with the means to reverse it at hand, virtualy a single climate denier at the pinnacle of our government has stopped and actually reversed progress to attain this critical goal.  Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of Christian fundamentalists flock to a little town in Northern Kentucky to view a “replica” of Noah’s Arc and the Creation Museum that purports that millions of years ago, Homo Sapiens and dinosaurs inhabited the planet together while denying the evidence of evolution presented by science. Which scenario is harder to believe? 

 

Turn on the radio if you seek evidence of this massive culture shift. In my day, the Beatles were content with “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” That and songs like “She Loves You” proclaiming the simple joys of young love, moved thousands of teens to flock to their concerts and millions to buy their records. Decades before, Bing and Frank crooned love songs and throughout the fifties and sixties, no matter what the genre, love songs dominated the airwaves. Today, songs need not have a melody, but are created around “beats.” Lyrics are a far cry from hand-holding. Take these lyrics from Lil’ Kim… “I wet cha like hurricanes and typhoons, got buffoons eatin’ my pussy, while I watch cartoons.” The balance of the song is liberally spiced with all manner of profanities, heavy use of the word, “Fuck,” and the forbidden “N’ word permitted only in rap music and Tarantino movies. Now I’m an avowed liberal and none of these words bother me in intrinsically.  It’s how they are used that becomes offensive. But even I will have to  admit that something very tender has been lost here. Is this what Trump means when he seeks to go back into the future with MAGA? No, not really. It’s just a talking point to push your emotional buttons, nothing he can do anything about.

 

But we still had our elections, the last bastion of freedom-loving citizens who want to believe that America was still the world leader in humanitarianism and equality and as such, ignoring the influence of big money, they, as voting citizens, have the power to determine its course, as they elect one corporatist after another, after another, after another. It’s not much of a choice when both candidates are corporatists.  Consequently, the choices we are presented with are defined along other guidelines. No wonder a plurality of eligible voters decline to participate year after year. 

 

Recognizing this simple statistic has become key to winning elections. It is a vast untapped resource. To identify these people and move them to participate requires pushing some pretty well established but less than obvious emotional buttons. Once these buttons are identified then the new winning politic is to suppress certain eligible voters on the one hand, while creating new emotionally-charged voters from the disillusioned cynics on the other.  

 

With the help of Florida Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, Bush defeated Gore by the slimmest of margins by suppressing voter rolls and tallying irregularities created by the design of the non-uniform voting forms used in various Florida precincts.

 

This is but one tool in a devious politicians arsenal.  By far the biggest tool commonly used is gerrymandering, which allows state legislatures to group bodies of voters along serpentine jigsaw-puzzled maps to create an advantage in the count, where none previously existed.

 

In 2004, Ken Blackwell worked tirelessly in a quasi-legal manner to assist George Bush in winning swing state Ohio by suppressing voter turnout of Democrats. Additionally, dirty tricks occurred across the state, including phony letters from Boards of Elections telling voters that their registration through certain Democratic activist groups were invalid and that Kerry voters were to report on Wednesday not Tuesday because of massive voter turnout. Phone calls to voters giving them other erroneous polling information were also employed., thus handing Bush re-election.   Perhaps this is legal, lying to take advantage of the misinformed, but is this the democracy we can build our future on?  Is this the American way?

 

In the years that followed several companies emerged to gather data and apply that knowledge to manage elections for their paying clients.  Prominently among these was a British Firm started by Steve Bannon, Cambridge Analytica.  Cambridge used data gathered digitally from social media sites and smartphones to target “persuadables,” in order to increase or suppress voting. After applying their techniques to elections in countries such as the Czech Republic, Argentina, Malaysia, Nigeria, Malta, Kenya, India and others, some 200 countries in all, it moved on to manage Brexit in the UK, Ted Cruz and Ben Carson in the United States and finally Donald Trump, defying laws against foreign interference in our elections.  Knowledge is power, but how you use it is ethics.  As the hammer was coming down on Cambridge, they declared bankruptcy, closed their operations and removed and destroyed all evidence of their illegal activities thus avoiding prosecution for the time being.  Too late, Cambridge has already reformed the world by identifying our different realities and pandering to our disillusionment.

 

We are a polarized nation split between those who seek knowledge and those who follow their beliefs, those who watch CNN and those who watch Fox News, those who seek facts grounded in hard data and those who follow alternative facts founded in opinion, those who investigate and those who intuit.  We were easy prey once identified.

 

The result was that we elected a sexually-active, philandering “billionaire” fascist racist whose financial acumen consisted of stiffing contractors and bankrupting a casino (how do you lose money with a casino?) over a woman who mismanaged her emails. That was some choice, but we went for it.  Thank you, Cambridge Analytica.

 

Since then in just two year’s time, we have witnessed the erosion of all that we hold dear. The swamp that Trump had  identified was now, under his rule, in the words of Anthony Scaramucci, “a gold plated hot tub with no drain.”

 

“Time it was and what a time it was. It was a time of innocence, a time of confidences,  Long ago I had a photograph.  Preserve your memories.  They’re all that’s left you.”

Paul Simon

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Screen addiction, there’s still hope

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Screen consumption by girls, boys and young people is rising in the scale of concern among mothers, fathers and education professionals about the risks that it entails in the mental health of this age group. Attention is the starting point and therefore there is still hope.

By Marco Trivelli, Seed Foundation, Santiago, Chile

The business objective of the applications is to generate addiction in such a way that people are interacting with the platforms for as long as possible. With more hours in front of the screen, the greater the audience to whom to expose to the publicity.

Like the gambling, tobacco, sugar, alcohol or trans fat industries, social networks have no incentive to limit consumption and face the dilemma of privileging the common good and protecting their consumers or being carried away by greed by appealing to the freedom to develop economic activities whose only limitation is not to transgress morals or good customs.

In an investigation of the prestigious Wall Street Journal newspaper carried out on the basis of studies carried out within Facebook, the largest and most powerful social network in the world, they found that there was a list of powerful characters to whom the rules of conduct were not applied and therefore the posts were not lowered or their accounts were suspended. Facebook thus avoided the bad publicity of censoring a powerful and generated traffic or views.

Famous is the case of soccer player Neymar who responded to an accusation of rape by publishing intimate images and texts on his WhatsApp without consent and which were later replicated on Facebook and Instagram. They had 56 million views before being downloaded from the web.

Internal Facebook documents also revealed the damage Instagram is doing to the mental health of millions of young people around the world. Instagram is toxic for one in three young people with an effect on eating disorders, anxiety, depression and suicides. Even when these results were generated by the company itself, Instagram defended itself by pointing out that the network did more good than bad.

The United States Congress has requested to know the internal studies carried out by Facebook as have academics and independent study centers, but the company has refused to do so, noting that the results are not conclusive. The answer turns out to be the same as other industries gave in the past.

Becoming aware that the risks of screen addiction in children and young people is decisive for their future is an excellent opportunity for the problem to be addressed in the political processes that we are experiencing in Chile. The screen requires regulation.

At Fundación Semilla we believe that self-regulation or regulation by the State is essential, but not enough. Formal and family education needs to be redesigned by offering constructive and entertaining alternatives. As a personal testimony, I can point out that the spring wind that blew on the national holiday weekend allowed us to fly a large kite together with my grandchildren. We all enjoyed ourselves and were away from the screen for an entire afternoon. Regulation and creativity gives us hope in the task of preventing screen addiction.

Marcelo Trivelli, Seed Foundation, Santiago, Chile

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Saying Yes to Food Sovereignty, No to Corporate Food Systems

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No to corporate food systems! Yes to Food Sovereignty!

Read or download the Political Declaration of the People’s Autonomous Response to the UN Food Systems Summit

Confronting the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, climate chaos, increasing hunger and all forms of malnutrition, ecological destruction and multiple humanitarian crises, we, social movements, indigenous peoples’ articulations, non-governmental organizations, and academics assert our commitment to food sovereignty, and reject the ongoing corporate colonization of food systems and food governance under the façade of the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS).

Industrial food systems, global supply chains and increasing corporate control of food governance are responsible for the inextricably interconnected and existential threats faced by our populations and planet, including the climate crisis, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, land and ocean degradation, air and water pollution, hunger, marginalization, and countless human rights violations. An extractivist development model centered on corporate control of resources, policy debates, and regulatory processes has produced a global food system that has most recently left over two billion people under-nourished and economically destitute. Furthermore, ultra-processed industrial products cause malnutrition, excess weight, and obesity. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to unveil both the structural frailties and global inequities of this corporate market-based approach – a failed model that continues due to deep power asymmetries and a lack of political accountability to ensure that public institutions and policies serve the public good and demands and needs of the most vulnerable. Urgent political actions, from local to international levels based on democratic negotiation and political consensus-building, are needed to address growing inequality across and within countries, structural injustice, gender-based violence, and displacement. The status quo is simply untenable for the majority of the world’s population, and unviable for our youth and future generations. We cannot continue to divert the majority of public resources and institutional authority towards propping up false solutions that serve corporate interests and will fail to tackle these systemic global challenges.

The necessity of rights-based approaches to combating crisis
The only just and sustainable way forward is to immediately halt and transform corporate, globalized food systems. The first step on this path is fully recognizing, implementing, and enforcing the human right to adequate food, which is a human rights obligation of States and UN agencies. While foundational, the right to adequate food is indivisible from other basic human rights, such as the right to health, housing, safe working conditions, living wages, social protection, women and LGBTQIA+ rights, clean environments, and civil-political rights including collective bargaining and political participation, which collectively should be central to any transformational process. With this critical rights-based orientation, public food policy and governance must put peasants, indigenous peoples, fishers, pastoralists, workers, landless, forest-dwellers, consumers, urban and rural poor, and among these women and youth, at the center of governance and policy-making tables. Governments, and regional and international institutions, must support these constituencies’ pathways for transforming corporate food systems through agroecology and food sovereignty. We reject any empty dialogue process which ignores human rights and fails to explicitly and meaningfully elevate the agency of these food systems actors.

UNFSS: illegitimate multistakeholderism enabling corporate power

The UNFSS 2021, initiated by the UN Secretary General shortly after signing a comprehensive agreement with the World Economic Forum (WEF), fails to meet these fundamental requirements. Established by 1000 of the largest corporations in the world, the WEF and its affiliates have been controlling the Summit’s design, structure, processes, governance and content. Large multinational corporations are increasingly infiltrating the multilateral spaces of the United Nations to co-opt the narrative of sustainability, and divert it back into the channels of further industrialization with digital and biotechnologies, extraction of wealth and labor from rural communities, and concentration of corporate power in national-global governance. The capital and technology focused agenda proposed by the UNFSS reflects these corporate interests and is politically, socially, economically and ecologically destabilizing. We denounce the UNFSS 2021 for disregarding the urgent need to address the gross power imbalances that corporations hold over food systems and this UN event, and we reject false solutions which will continue to oppress and exploit people, communities and territories.

Instead of being grounded in human rights, the UNFSS is a multistakeholder forum in which all actors, whether governments, individuals, regional/international agencies, or business/corporation representatives are portrayed as equal participants. But stakeholders are not necessarily rights-holders: people’s and communities’ rights and sovereignty should not be confused with private-sector business interests. While majority of the world’s food is produced by small-scale producers and workers, this individuated multistakeholder process gives outsized power to a few powerful corporations that control food, agricultural and capital markets. The so-called Scientific Group of the UNFSS impoverishes the scientific basis for responsible policy making: it advances narrow, corporate backed narratives and excludes diverse forms of knowledge and areas of expertise such as agroecology, indigenous knowledge and human rights. The lack of adequate Conflict of Interest safeguards in the Summit processes has allowed corporate-driven coalitions to position themselves as agents for implementing public policies with public resources, but without the accountability mechanisms, mandates and transparency standards of public institutions.

We will not accept this top-down, non-transparent and unequal process of deliberations that has resulted in corporate friendly “Coalitions of Action.” The capital-intensive, proprietary technologies and products proposed as “game changing solutions” will be ecologically destructive, deepen extractivism, colonialism, patriarchy and inequality, and open up more areas for corporate expansion and control.

The failure of the UNFSS governance structure has been laid bare, as many ‘stakeholders’ are walking away from the process and no political consensus has been reached among UN member states for truly transformative pathways forward to achieve the goals of the 2030 Agenda. In this context we find it unacceptable that the UNFSS, as a non-normative process with an illegitimate governance structure, is attempting to infringe on and undermine the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS), which is an intergovernmental system, and the foremost and most inclusive UN multilateral body for food governance, with the authority and legitimacy to lead food system dialogues and policy-making. The UNFSS does not have this authority and violates the CFS’s mandate and reform statutes. We demand that the inclusive vision and processes of the CFS be recognized and strengthened. We also remind UN leadership that the UNFSS has no mandate or legitimacy beyond September 23rd, 2021, and we urge our governments to defend multilateralism, and rights-based and participatory policy-making, as established by CFS member states regarding the rules of participation of civil society organizations and social movements.

Food sovereignty for food system transformation

The struggle for sustainable, just and healthy food systems cannot be unhooked from the realities of the peoples whose rights, knowledge and livelihoods have gone unrecognized and disrespected. We have the viable solutions to address the systemic problems in our food systems. As we have demanded in our People’s Autonomous Response to the UN Food Systems Summit, the transformation of food systems must be ecological and socially transformative, putting forward a feminist vision of equality and justice. Since 1996, social movements and civil society have been building a global movement and community-based processes of governance around the vision of food sovereignty, based on agroecology, and the rights and aspirations of small-scale food producers, workers, indigenous peoples, women, youth and rural-urban communities.

In this 25th year anniversary of food sovereignty, we reaffirm our unity and commitment to push for radically transformative strategies which recognize peoples’ needs, accord dignity, respect nature, put people above profits, resist corporate capture, and work collectively towards a fair and decent food system for all.

Source: CSM: Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples Mechanism

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La Via Campesina: The UN Food Systems Summit is hogwash. It is a threat to peoples’ food sovereignty

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La Via Campesina’s Press Statement | September 22nd 2021, Harare:

La Via Campesina is among scores of other social movements of organized small-scale food producers, workers and indigenous people boycotting the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS), slated to take place in New York – September 23rd, 2021. Peoples’ movements are united in condemning the illegitimacy of this ‘summit’ and in denouncing the attempt by transnational corporations to usurp the institutional spaces within the United Nations.

Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples’ Mechanism (CSM) that comprise social movements including La Via Campesina has pointed out that the pre-summit events held in July are now erecting parallel governance structures. UNFSS is undermining the existing institutions and multilateral bodies responsible for developing global policy frameworks for food and agriculture. Several member states are left wondering what this Summit intends to achieve and whether its outcomes would be binding upon developing national policy frameworks. It will override the existing institutions such as the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) and forebodes a corporate takeover of the global food governance.

For sure, the global food systems must undergo a radical overhaul. Rising hunger, ecological harm from food production, including deforestation, soil degradation, loss of biodiversity, decimated fisheries, polluted waters, growing rural poverty, the continued repression of peasant and indigenous movements worldwide, displacement and climate crises – all point to the need for urgent transformation. The demand to transform the global food system and skew it in favour of small-scale food producers has been a long-standing one, stated first during the Civil Society Forum in Rome in 1996.

Yet when the Secretary-General of the United Nations announced two years ago that a Food Systems Summit (FSS) would be held in late 2021, the news was puzzling. Why did the Secretary-General initiate this food summit in partnership with the World Economic Forum – a private sector body – when the FAO hosted all the previous editions after specific mandates from the Members States? To leave no further doubt about the corporate interests driving the Food System Summit, the Special Envoy appointed for the Summit, Agnes Kalibata, is the president of Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). This Gates/Rockefeller funded agency is pushing high input, high tech agriculture and GMO seeds. Founded in 2006, this Alliance has worked in 13 African countries to increase productivity for 30 million smallholder farming households by encouraging industrial farming adoption. Despite AGRA’s promises of doubling crop productivity and incomes while halving food insecurity by 2020, backed by billions of donor dollars, it has been unable to provide documentation of delivering on these goals. AGRA’s failures on the continent and Ms Kalibata’s apparent conflicts of interest in her role as UNFSS Special Envoy resulted in broad resistance from social movements and civil society.

The farce of ‘inclusiveness.’

The Summit organizers follow a multi-stakeholder approach as against a multilateral arrangement. Multilateral Summits, based on human rights, with transparent decision-making processes and accountability mechanisms, are meant to prioritize the voices of rights-holders and hold governments responsible for upholding those rights. But this “UN Food Systems Summit” is based on the idea of “multi-stakeholder” – treating all stakeholders as equal, without considering power imbalances or their position in the system. This fiction of equality leaves the powerful both unchallenged and unaccountable, hiding or ignoring any conflicts of interest. By conflating private corporate interests with the public interest, it overrides and erases the latter. To advertise “inclusiveness”, it has proliferated a dizzying array of platforms, dialogues, consultations, committees, documents and forums for participation. Private citizens and governments are being drawn into these processes. Some of these are open, but many are for invited participants, bypassing and undermining autonomous, democratic organizations while favouring hand-picked individuals. The entire process lacks transparency and legitimacy. Who is making decisions? On what grounds? Who is accountable? To whom?

The guise of progressive language

In July this year, La Via Campesina was among the members of the CSM that co-organized counter mobilizations – to call out the unacceptability that has come to define this year’s food systems summit. A wide variety of attendees came together and catalyzed and amplified a counter-narrative to the official proceedings. With critical articles and pieces published in major media outlets, and several thousands of #FoodSystems4People posts on social media seen by potentially 10 million users, the counter-mobilization succeeded in reaching a broad public with its vision for genuine transformation of unsustainable food systems.

This organized resistance rattled the organizers of the official Summit. In response, they have now ramped up the use of progressive language (“sustainability”, “nature-positive-solutions”, “planetary boundaries”, “women’s empowerment”, etc.) and references to human rights in their documents. But the primary orientation of the FSS remains firmly rooted in the corporate interests that initiated it rather than the demands and rights of people producing food and those most impacted by current food systems. It continues to confirm a narrow range of scientific partisans data while ignoring the traditional and experiential knowledge of small-scale farmers, indigenous, peasant, and rural peoples. Digitalization, genetic modification, precision agriculture, and other chemical-, capital-, and fossil fuel-heavy approaches are taking centre stage because these so-called solutions are the most profitable to corporations (at the expense of the environment and farmers’ livelihoods).

As the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food notes, “Intensive industrial agriculture relies on high-input, high-output agricultural systems, dominated by large-scale specialized farms. Ever since Governments started adopting the Green Revolution in the 1950s, the world’s food systems have been increasingly designed along industrial models, the idea being that if people can purchase industrial inputs – synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and carbon-reliant machines – then they can produce a large amount of food. Productivity was not measured in terms of human and environmental health, but exclusively in terms of commodity output and economic growth.”

Unfortunately, the UN Food Systems Summit ignores all these warnings and continues to bat for an intensive corporate-led agricultural model that masquerades as “solutions”.

Forebodings of a new global governance structure?

This Summit attacks from the front and will undermine existing global policymaking spaces and institutions like FAO and the CFS. Instead, it erects a parallel architecture to suit agribusiness interests. The Summit organizers are now encouraging stakeholders to form “coalitions of action” to implement “solutions”. Governments are encouraged to develop “national pathways” with stakeholder coalitions, many of which will inevitably be dominated by those who can afford to fund them. Middle and Low-income countries are vulnerable to entering “coalitions” with investors and philanthrocapitalists, such as the Gates Foundation, to carve out “national pathways” profitable for their coalition partners.

The resistance to this parallel structure is coming from within the official Summit too. In her resignation letter (dated August 25/21), Dr Kristy Buckley, Chair of the UNFSS Governance Action Area, derided the attempts to view the global food governance “through the lens of innovation, finance, technology and data, with no regard to human rights, gender, and Indigenous Peoples”. Her statement is a vindication of what social movements have been warning for a long time.

The real solution to climate crises, hunger, distress migration and extreme poverty lies with the people. It must emerge from the principles of food sovereignty and social justice. It must recognize food as a fundamental human right and not as a commodity for speculative trade. It must respect the diverse agroecological small-scale food systems that exist in our territories.

The “UN Food Systems Summit” of 2021 is an anti-thesis to these principles and threatens peoples’ food sovereignty. La Via Campesina will not remain silent. The UNFSS has no mandate, legitimacy, or authority to extend beyond September 23rd, 2021. We must prevent the Summit’s corporate affiliates from further embedding the multi-stakeholder structure into the UN food and agriculture agencies. Throughout this week, La Via Campesina’s member organization will hold counter mobilizations in Asia, Africa and Europe. Our North American members and allies will be holding a virtual counter-summit on September 23rd to expose the real agenda behind this Summit while also presenting the elements of the radical transformation we seek in the global food systems.

Source: La Via Campesina

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