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Tribulations and Inspirations
Report: 3rd Peoples Global Action (PGA) Conference Cochabamba,
Bolivia, September 19th-22nd 2001.
By Hazel (with Alex)
Peoples Global Action is a network which links
and creates a space for direct and unmediated contact between people's
struggles and grassroots movements from around the world.
Growing out of the two international Zapatista
encuentros against neo-liberalism, the PGA had its first conference
at Geneva, Switzerland in February 1998 (see SchNEWS 156), where
representatives and members of movements from every continent launched
a worldwide co-ordination of resistance against the common enemies
of globalised capital. This led to the international actions held
during the WTO ministerial conference in Geneva in May 1998 where
many different demonstrations, actions and street parties took place
across the globe. The second international PGA conference took place
in Bangalore, India in 1999 (see report in SchQUALL), and now this
third September 2001 get-together in Cochabamba, Bolivia. In addition
to these, there have been two PGA caravans (Europe 1999 and South
America 2001), and a number of regional conferences. As well as
these events the PGA has played its part in the wave of global days
of action we have seen since 1998 (J18, N30 et al), aiming to establish
networks of horizontal solidarity between disparate and geographically
distant movements in common struggle. The PGA initially focused
on free trade agreements, but have since developed to encompass
a much broader critique, and aims to spread information and coordinate
actions between autonomous groups with a commitment to direct action
and civil disobedience. PGA is often associated with the phrases
"We are everywhere" and "our resistance is as transnational
PGA is not an organisation and has no members.
Different groups volunteer to act as contact points in each region
and are responsible for disseminating information and convening
regional and international conferences.
(see PGA website www.agp.org
for history and manifesto in full)
Cochabamba, Bolivia was an apt location for an
international gathering of grassroots movements. The streets are
filled with poems and murals depicting peoples uprising and social
justice, symbols of indigenous resistance like the coca leaf ("long
live the coca leaf, death to the yanquis"), indigenous heroes
and the inspiring graffiti of the anarcho-feminist group "Mujeres
Creando". This city is famed for the "Water Wars"
which took place in 2000 when a triumphant people's uprising reversed
the privatization of their water by Canadian multinational Bechtel.
Since the Government de-privatised the water supply the multi- sectored
coalition which coordinated the protests cooperatively administer
their local water resources.
"We have been the object of a great robbery,
we are owners of nothing... We occupied the streets and highways
because we are their true owners. We did it counting only on ourselves.
For us, this is the true meaning of democracy: we decide and do,
we discuss and carry out. We risked our lives to do what we consider
just. Democracy is sovereignty of the people and that is what we
achieved" - 6th February 2000. Declaration of the Water Coordination.
The conference was hosted by the Six Federations
of the Tropics (the coca-growers peasant federation) and the Domestic
Workers Union. Other Bolivian movements present included Mujeres
Creando, peasant unions, coca growers, anarcho-punks zinesters,
cultural art collectives - responsible for much of the fantastic
street art - and youth groups. About 230 delegates from 170 countries
were in attendance. This included UK's Reclaim the Streets, South
African Soweto Electricty Crisis Commision, an anti-Apartheid group,
Italy's Ya Basta!, womens groups from Mexico, Nepalese and Indian
peasant federations, landless peasant movements, indigenous peoples,
radical trade unionists, Indymedia activists, ecological direct
activists, members of autonomous networks and more ...!! Full list
of delegates on the PGA website, suffice to say that it was an amazingly
diverse and inspiring range of groups and movements!
These are some of the points discussed at the roundtable
discussion.[For a minutes of these discussions plus analysis of
the whole event and the new hallmarks and manifesto visit the website]
* Free trade agreements in Latin America - FTAA,
Plan Dignity, Plan Colombia, Plan Puebla Panama and the Andean Initiative
* Water - with the Bolivian experience as a case
study. The same issue is arising globally and emphasis was placed
on coordinated resistance through the PGA.
* Land - The take over of land continues to threaten
traditional communal lands of the indigenous and of the black communities
of Africa. This is increasingly linked to World Bank/IMF policies.
* Indigenous - representatives from a variety of
indigenous groups present met to discuss parallels between their
struggles and ideas for coordinating campaigns
* Gender - Gender was a major focus of the conference
with the first round table discussions focusing on gender equity
and sexism within social movements. It was conceded that gender
issues need to be part of all PGA work.
* Communications - The small round table on communications
discussed the importance of enacting strong communications structures
between movements, emphasising the need for adequate translation
etc. There was strong feeling to support existing structures such
as IndyMedia rather than re-invent the wheel, but some discussion
around internet access raises more questions to be discussed!!
Conference outcomes include.
* A call for a Global Day of Action was issued
for November 9th 2001 coinciding with the WTO ministerial summit
in Qatar. (see SchNEWS 332)
* A call to mobilise the Americas against the March
2002 meeting of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) in Quito,
Conflicts / Challenges
Given the diversity of groups represented, differing
political positions, lack of resources (meetings were run on butchers
paper), linguistic barriers, huge meeting size and limited time
there were obviously many tensions and challenges stopping the conference
running smoothly. Cultural misunderstandings, varying ideas of meeting
facilitation, lack of clarity over themes for discussion - and the
role of the PGA itself! - generated further frustrations and obstacles
for the delegates.
At previous PGA conferences some people have contended
that delegates from the North, with greater mobility and access
to resources, had tended to turn up as individuals, not linked to
organisations. To offset this a ratio of 70% Southern and 30% Northern
was established for the conference - but given the location it was
naturally dominated by South Americans anyway. While many Southern
delegates represented groups such as the All Nepalese Peasants Association
(ANPA) - a movement of millions - those from Northern autonomous
networks such as AWOL, Australia or CLAC, Canada were coming from
groups who are non-hierarchical and have no membership as such,
making it difficult to be 'spokesperson' for 'the group'. This distinction
between speaking only for oneself or for millions raises the issue
of the weight that each delegate may have in making decisions and
the need for some to confer with their networks/members before taking
a position in a discussion.
The functions of the PGA network and notions of
solidarity were also contested terrain, with different understandings
and expectations from each group present: some saw solidarity as
being largely related to resource sharing, others were hostile to
this, seeing it as perpetuating a paternalistic role between North
and South. Other groups sought out research assistance from outside
groups, international peacekeeping roles or actions of political
pressure. Still others advocated horizontal skill sharing and information
exchange. Some Northern delegates were defensive when confronted
with the role of solidarity - feeling that this ignored the importance
of their own local struggles and expecting them to focus on Southern
These tensions and many more questions remained
unresolved, an impossible task in one week. What is important to
remember, however, is that a network is simply that: a network -
and groups are autonomous to organise and act as they see fit. What
does need to be decided upon however, is how the groups involved
in such a network should communicate, make decisions and coordinate
actions! And in spite of these big obstacles energy was generally
high and patience quite remarkable. and consensus was reached on
Responses to September 11th
Delegates faced a lot of hassle at borders: some
were stranded at Geneva airport for a number of days, others were
held up at the La Paz airport, and an entire bus load were stranded
on the Peru/Bolivia border for the duration of the conference. The
Bolivian government denounced the PGA as a 'terrorist summit' and
Interpol paid a friendly visit. The Executive Intelligence Review
published the article 'Terrorism Central: People's Global Action'
which is typical of efforts to depict activists as terrorists. During
a press conferences held by the PGA, journalists questioned the
relationship between the PGA and the terrorist attacks. This line
of questioning was met with a calm answer of "We are against
human genocide and state terrorism". The fact that the conference
occurred just over a week after September 11th did not interfere
with the agenda, and the predicted repressive response only serving
to reinforce the need for a global campaigns against militarism.
Despite the aforementioned tensions and challenges
the conference was an invaluable space for inspiration, the exchange
of information and ideas, and expansion of networks and campaigns.
The bewilderment and frustration were outweighed by the value of
meeting people face to face, of sharing meals and chicha (fermented
corn alcohol) and spontaneous dancing and bursts of revolutionary
songs. The sheer diversity and energy of so many movements and hearing
the tales of such incredible actions world wide was awe inspiring,
and a good reminder that we truly are "everywhere".
The PGA is young and developing, and although there
are tensions we should not be disheartened. It is a unique network
for the unmediated contact it provides grassroots activists. Its
existence fosters international resistance to economic globalisation
and environmental destruction and gives us the chance to not only
deepen our analysis, by learning about a variety of perspectives,
but also to coordinate actions to create the kind of world we want
to live in - right across the planet.
GET INVOLVED: There will be a European PGA
conference on the 31st of August - 4th of September 2002 in Leiden,
OUT SOON A book featuring interviews from
Cochabamba with women activists covering the topics of. ways of
organising, children and political choices, gender issues in social
movements, culture jamming, an inside tale of the women who helped
orchestrate the water wars and more! Contact: email@example.com