My words at launch of Alana Mann’s Power Shift

It’s a massive honour to participate in launching such a great book, every sentence of which is either an indictment or an inspiration.


In recognition of this honour and the significance of this occasion, I am not wearing black.

I am wearing the colors of the Infernal Noise Brigade, the marching band of the alterglobalization movement.

As you know, multinational corporations are destroying domestic manufacturing, small enterprises, jobs, seed supply, health, indigenous people, food culture, and the planet itself.

They are doing this with a powerful mix of capital mobility, regulatory usurpation through FTAS and SAPs, forced privatization, marketization of new technologies before their social and environmental impacts can be assessed, and, not least, through ideological strategies invoking efficiency, competitiveness, and austerity.

They steal concepts they way they steal culture, markets, and resources. They have stolen fairness, anti-discrimination, openness, and freedom of choice to camouflage their projects.

The only things they have in fact delivered to us are environmental degradation, denigration of dignity at work, increasing inequality, and a stream of obsolescent devices.

Most producers and consumers are giving in. It’s too hard to keep paying fair wages, to defend public education and healthcare. It’s too hard to find markets for non-GMOs and fatty pigs. It’s too much work to avoid the convenient integration offered by Google.

Global South activists described neoliberalism from the beginning as “recolonization”.

Like colonialism, multi-national corporations do not rely on one strategy alone. They advertise, but where they cannot win consumers, they influence the law to destroy competition. They innovate new products, but they augment the fruits of R&D by also forcing governments to privatize whole areas of public and private life, so that entitlements become marketized. They promise to provide efficiency and investment in industries but use horizontal and vertical integration to seize power so they can dictate prices and qualities to both producers and consumers.

Initially chartered to serve public desires of a society of freeholders, corporations have inverted the social relations. They now define the terms on which our societies function. Indeed our very lives are redefined as a series of needs which can only be met by purchasing. Farmers purchase seed, intellectuals purchase communication devices. We all eat what they sell us.

Biotech seeds are designed with built-in dependencies. Gene traits are turned off so that they require application of a proprietary chemical to complete the growth cycle. The food we are provided with undermines our bodies so that we have to buy pharmaceuticals to be healthy.

Nations are forced to abandon public goods such as wage and environmental standards, to sell off assets from transportation to mines to water in order to be “internationally competitive”. Workers are forced to purchase augments, from cellphones to performance enhancing drugs, to remain professionally competitive.

In short, Google and Cargill are doing their best to make it impossible for anyone to do business or live outside their circuits. This gives them incredible power.

I was politicized in an unusual manner. It would be several years before I learned left from right.

I was taught to listen to, respect, and raise up the voices of oppressed peoples, the voices of indigenous, women, people of color, and workers. I became committed to this perspective through an extraordinary educational moment called “indigenous planning”. I learned that people who are in the situation understand the system and their needs better than most educated “experts”. A typical case study which influenced me was the work of Mexican engineer Miguel Szekely, who explained his collaboration with a shrimping community whose understanding of the ecology of their lagoon and its needs outstripped his own analytic capacities and scientific concepts.

Farmers are scientists, engineers, ecologists, and land stewards.

They also understand economics better than most google users. And, along with indigenous people, they are the point of impact of multi-national corporations’ designs.

The North American Free Trade Agreement allowed US corn to be sold below the price of production in México. Two million farmers were displaced, many into the brutal migration stream, tearing families and communities apart. This plunged nearly half the population into poverty, and the increased price of corn let ¼ of the population of this verdant country go hungry.

This story is repeated country after country, sector by sector, as corporations are allowed more rights in our economies. Everyone is losing, except them.

Alana Mann Power ShiftAlana has studied one of the many vibrant alternatives to this juggernaut, the movement for food sovereignty, conceived and led by La Vía Campesina, a social movement representing 1.2 billion small holding farmers, landless peasants, fisherfolk, and agricultural workers. Vía Campesina is typical of contemporary social movements in its recognition of the common interests of first and third world farmers, smallholders and laborers, producers and consumers and in its recognition of the centrality of women, indigenous people and culture to forming truly liberatory alternatives.

In 20 years, Vía Campesina has developed global ideological and political power, as well as building local, regional, and national systems to support farmer-centered agriculture, ranging from policies to distribution warehouses. The book takes you to all of these levels, and shows their relationships.

The book also explains Vîa Campesina organizations’ social movement strategies for framing issues and avoiding cooptation in the burgeoning political marketplace of “food security” and agrofuels.

And the book is already bigger than itself, before it even appears. Alana’s work to raise up the voices of the world’s farmers has already taken root here in Australia.

Returning from her fieldwork a couple of years ago, she went from the airport to a café in Newtown where she met with several food activists – a farmer, a permaculturalist, and a young lawyer who had turned his back on corporate law to see what he could do for the world. After meeting with Alana, the boys crossed the road for a pint. On the table was the day’s newspaper announcing a federal government plan for the future of Australian agriculture. Inspired by Alana’s stories of the farmers of Vía Campesina, the boys determined that another plan was needed and set about creating a consultative process which resulted in the Peoples Food Plan and the creation of the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance. The elected farmer president of the Alliance now attends international conferences of La Vía Campesina and brings the uncompromising and liberatory vision and strategy of global south farmers home to Australia.

The Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance is now preparing to introduce legislation to support local food systems based on innovative strategies developed by food sovereignty movements around the world. In fact tonight is the launch of the Victoria campaign which is aiming to put new legislation on the November ballot. Recognizing the import of culture, the Alliance is also sponsoring Fair Food Week in October, which will be a diverse and participatory national event.

Alana’s work was the muse for this organization

We have a lot of work to do to recover our economies, ecosystems, and lives from the dictates of multi-national corporations. Vía Campesina is one of the most important models for doing this work and Alana has laboured to provide a thorough guide to their work and liberatory political concepts.

I’ll summon her now with Via Campesina’s own declarations:

cancunkunghaelee“WTO Kills Farmers”

“Food is our right, not a commodity.”

“We declare war on transnational corporations.”

“The purpose of food production is to secure food sovereignty.”

Alana Mann Power Shift