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5 things you can do to show solidarity with environmental and human rights activists at risk

Posted by Martin Vainstein - 25th July 2016

People who campaign for the environment are being killed on a day to day basis, from Colombia to South Africa, Brazil to the Philippines. If being a campaigner in the South is so dangerous then we must ask ourselves: what can we do from the Global North to show solidarity with our fellow activists?

More than three people were killed a week in 2015 defending their land, forests and rivers against destructive industries, according to Global Witness. An astonishing 4 out of every 10 murdered are Indigenous People. These incredibly brave humans have been showing us in the North how to speak truth to power on a daily basis. Sometimes their battles for our planet, like protecting the  ‘lungs of the planet’, feel like David vs Goliath struggles, which is why we all need to stand in solidarity with our fellow activists.

The murder of high profile activist Berta Caceres back in March brought into the spotlight the situation and circumstances under which environmental activists in the Global South have to live, and die, when defending the environment for all of us. She was a strong and brave Indigenous woman who led her community in the fight against the world’s biggest dam builder, the Chinese giant Synohidro, to pull out of the Agua Zarca dam on the sacred Gualcarque River. This accomplishment upset some people in the Global North: with recently revealed information showing that her name appeared on a hitlist hand out to US-trained special forces units of the Honduran military.

Unfortunately Berta’s murder wasn’t the first and hasn’t been the last. Reports show  185 activists across 16 countries were killed in 2015, that’s 69 more than in 2014, and these are just the official, recorded numbers. Accessing and gathering the data on these killings isn’t an easy task. Sadly, so far 2016 looks like it will overtake previous years’ numbers. ‘Bazooka’ Rhadebe, Nilce de Souza Magalhães, Lesbia Yaneth Urquia are just some of those killed this year. Our first act of solidarity must be to remember their names.

But we can do more than remember their names. Many of these land defenders are fighting foreign companies coming from countries such as Canada, Australia, United Statesand France. The United Kingdom has a clear responsibility as it is at the top of the league when it comes to exploiting the Global South. A recent report by War on Want outlines the problem:  “101 companies listed on the London Stock Exchange (LSE) — most of them British — have mining operations in 37 sub-Saharan African countries. They collectively control over $1 trillion worth of Africa’s most valuable resources.” This is systematic abuse in which powerful Western countries use various means to ensure they can access key minerals from the communities they belong to.  This is a new form of colonialism, reminding us that colonialism never came to an end but rather found new ways of exploiting people and the environment in the Global South, leaving in its wake devastated communities.

At a time when more and more people are becoming aware of what’s going on down South, more people have been asking the same question: what can we do to stand in solidarity? So here’s a list to get you started:

  1. Get versed in the issues: there is so much out there on the deaths of land defenders and how this is often linked to Western companies’ exploitation of the Global South. Learning about and understanding these issues can help us all to better understand the need to fight for climate and environmental justice. We must see the climate and environment we live in, not as compartmentalized,  but instead as part of something bigger, something interconnected. Migration, racism, and climate, are all linked, and as Northern environmental activists we must care and support land fights in the South.

  2. Spread the word: in the era of Pokemon Go and viral videos about cats, spreading the word about things that matter is as easy as it will ever be. Chose the individual or campaign you want to support, learn about it and spread the word! Share! Tweet! Email!  Tell your friends!

  3. Message of solidarity: never underestimate the power of a simple message or a picture. They can be incredibly important, showing support and empowering communities to continue fighting in difficult times. So go and send a message. Take a picture holding words of solidarity and send it. Just weeks ago The Wretched of the Earth organised two actions in solidarity with Berta’s family, friends and COPINH and made videos of them that not only had a wide reach but were also profoundly meaningful for their  recipients. In some cases you may be able to directly contact the individual or campaign.

  4. Pressuring companies and governments: usually behind big environmental problems there’s a company doing awful things and/or a corrupt government letting them get away with it. Find a campaign targeting big businesses and governments and join it. Don’t buy their products, email them, annoy them. This does work! Take for example the case of Gustavo Castro, the only witness to Berta Caceres’ murder, who was illegally detained by the Honduran government while trying to travel to Mexico. Thanks to the overwhelming international pressure, the Honduran government was forced to release Gustavo rather than, as some sources say, frame him for Berta’s murder.

  5. Direct action: from doing ‘brandalism’ in a supermarket against Sainsbury’s, to taking to the streets and marching for a cause, every single action counts, no matter its scale. An embassy, a corporation headquarters are good places to start. So go! Organise something and change the world!

We will win

Learn more about frontline defenders:

Frontline Defenders
Global Witness
London Mining Network
Mining Watch Canada
Peace Brigades International
Witness for Peace 

Article Tagged as: Featured, Peace

About Martin Vainstein

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'History is ours, and it's made by the people' - Salvador Allende, 1973