Family Farm Defenders (Kansas Chapter)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Disorganized Caravans and lack of concern for Organization?

Disorganized Caravans

The caravans as well were extremely disorganized—with no regular food or regular sleeping hours; there was no lunch at all on one day and the other day lunch was not available until dusk. We never knew when or where food would appear. Just all of sudden we would see people gathering and sandwiches or tamales being handed out or some other food being shared. While this food, apparently from the community was delicious, the presentation and conditions of eating were poor.

I had been ill all summer with digestive problems and experienced the importance of eating regular and timely meals in a calm and quiet manner and not eating junk food, standing up with chaos and confusion, but this is exactly what I found on the caravans. I realize there is lack of awareness of what healthy food is—especially or even among—food sovereignty activists, but I found there seemed to be no value of taking care of the health and welfare of the caravan participants.

Before I got ill, I thought a Snickers bar was an adequate meal. But having suffered the consequences of poor eating habits, I am no longer ignorant enough to indulge in such abusive behaviors to my health. I was horrified that we made apparent “food stops” at gas stations during the caravan. What could be furthest from the values of food sovereignty than “food” if one might call it that, found at a gas station. When I lived outside of Detroit as a graduate student recently, one of our biggest concerns was that so many people and children only had gas stations as sources of food!!!

I think the difficulty of feeding us along the caravan route and subsequently, illustrates in fact how very difficult food sovereignty is in a world dominated by transnational food corporations and “food products’ instead of “food.” At all these gas stations we stopped, it was difficult to find even a piece of fruit that had been actually grown in the ground rather that some “food stuff” which was so processed it was difficult to discern from what actual crop it came, much less to estimate its impact on one’s health—full of saturated fat, sugar, salt and I am sure carcinogenic and other unhealthy chemicals, not to mention totally lacking in any healthy nutrition.

Nor did the caravan keep to its purported schedule. The first night, we had dinner only at 11 pm at which point only then were we able to go to sleep which left me exhausted the next day. Furthermore, so many of the indigenous people who participated in caravan 1 with us had nothing to sleep on or even cover themselves with on the night we camped out—which meant sleeping on a hard floor in a community center--like place. I shared with them what extra I had—a rain coat or towel to cover themselves and an extra matt, but I felt terrible for them. They did not even have a change of clothes. When I shared my concern with one Mexican companera, she responded, “They are used to it.”

On the second part of the caravan from Mexico City to Cancun, according to reports from my fellow delegates, even more meals were missed, and while my international colleagues bought food, my indigenous compas did not have the money to do so and some were reduced to asking some of these same international colleagues for money to buy food. I was extremely saddened by this.

I had also planned to camp in Cancun, but as I was seeing how disorganized things were, missing meals, not getting enough sleep, and after having learned that the organizers did recommend a malaria prophylactic for participants (only once I arrived in Mexico) which I had not taken, in order to take care of my own health and well being, I also opted to stay in a hotel in Cancun—another huge unexpected expense which I could have avoided or planned for if I had been able to get this information before leaving home.

Although sad to leave the group, I am glad I did fly to Cancun and stay in a hotel, despite that I did not have the funds to do this, because my colleagues who braved the caravans described missing meals and not being able to sleep on the rough ride of the bus as well as the indignities experienced by their fellow Mexican travelers which I described earlier---not having money to purchase their own food when there was none. As well, I arrived in the camp in Cancun earlier, having flown, and there were yet no toilets or showers at the camp as planned. While I could not afford to pay for a hotel or plane ticket—I used one eighth of all the money I have in the world to do so—I felt I had no choice for my mental and physical health and for my dignity and overall welfare. I noticed that the leaders of LVC did not join n the caravans or in the camp, and one of them was very surprised when I asked them how was their health—since that had not suffered sleep or food deprivation or the harassment of police stops on the way from Mexico city to Cancun.

Lack of Concern for Organization

What really concerns me yet more than the disorganization of these events is with what ease people seemed to make excuses for this disorganization, rather than take responsibility or be accountable. In any massive undertaking, the ability to organize, manage people, money, funds, organizations, food, transportation, information etc. is critical. If an organization and its members do not even aspire to be good at this, it makes me wonder what their goals are and how they plan on achieving them. While we all know that the best laid plans can fall apart, we also know the weaknesses of failing to have well -laid plans in the first place, nonetheless

Today, December 6th, Paul Nicholson, one of the founders of LVC from the Basque region of Spain, was kind enough to spend some time talking to myself and a couple other fellow delegates. Among other things, he described how a previous international organization that purported to represent farmers around the world, IPAC I think, fell apart due to financial mismanagement as well as a loss of its legitimacy by having its message co-opted by the transnational corporations.

While I do not yet, fortunately see, the message of La Via Campesina, food sovereignty, being co-opted by the corporations, certainly the issue of financial mismanagement or problems appears to be present in the management of this Mexico event. By the time the caravans reached Cancun, my fellow international travelers told me LVC was broke, and that they were asking for money from the participants. As well, I was receiving constant and somewhat desperate-sounding requests for money for LVC for the events by email through my internet contacts.

While I am empathetic to the difficulties of putting on an event like this and to the unexpected, I am not empathetic to the lack of concern for planning and organization. I only hope that the organization will do a complete audit of its financial and organizational abilities so that it can better survive and perform in the future and be a good harbinger of our hopes for food sovereignty and environmental and social justice around the world.

How well are the organizations serving the interests of the people they purport to represent?

The question that this experience leaves me with is: how well are LVC and its member organizations serving the interests of the people they purport to serve. How well are these organizations respecting, cherishing and treating the people they purport to serve? Are they respecting the welfare, health and security of the people they purport to serve? Are we, the people, being used by LVC and its member organizations, to further their own position, power and wealth and the position, power and wealth of the leaders of these organizations without the primary concern being the commitment to the goals for which the organization stands? Are these organizations serving the people or are the people serving the organization.

While I begrudge no one—no one--success, financial security, comfort and a successful career; and in fact I am fighting for that for everyone—including myself and want everyone to have that opportunity—when do things and priorities get so turned around that the people are serving the organization rather than vice versa?

Other colleagues in the caravan brought up these concerns and feelings to me as well.


  1. I'm really sorry to hear that things are so disorganized. I look forward to hearing more when you get back.

  2. Hi Maria --

    I hope we get a chance to talk about this further in person some time, and that you get a chance to attend a better-managed LVC event.

    All I can say is that my participation in the COP15 event in Copenhagen was exquisitely managed and organized for the most part (with a few exceptions, most of which had to do with the behavior of the Danish police and their treatment of protesters). We had a deal with a local vegan restaurant cooperative that was outside of the event (some of the farmers were unhappy about the lack of meat, but it was for the most part hearty, seemingly-well-balanced vegan food at least), we all had a place to sleep, and we had a number of very well-organized meetings.

    I'm not sure what happened in Cancun, except that probably everything was made more difficult by a) having a caravan (rather than staying in one central area for the entire time), and b) being in Mexico, with less infrastructure and less food alternatives available than a wealthy first-world country like Denmark.

    If you haven't read Annette Desmarais's book on Via, I highly recommend it -- LVC is an organization full of contradictions, strengths, weaknesses, and tensions, but it seems to me to be an organization very dedicated to self-reflection and improvement. I think for whatever reason they did not have the funds they needed this year for Cancun, and so were not as able to support an organizing effort that probably, in reality, needed to be even greater than that for Copenhagen by far.

    Rosset and others have written reports and critiques for Via, and my talks with Nico and Via members always reflects a humility and desire to do better, they never have reflected the idea that they have reached any kind of "resting point"--they have a hunger for change and improvement, at least that was what I saw.

    Have you been able to contact people in the LVC organization, such as coordinator Nico Verhagen or Boaventura Monjane? Perhaps my experience was the exception, but I hope rather that the unfortunate and ill-planned travails in Cancun were. My impression from many others is that they were--for example, protests that sparked reprisal in (Hong Kong, I think?) supposedly were extremely well-handled in maintaining everyone's safety while still striking at the hypocritial and repressive forces standing against the campesinos and average citizens of the world. From Annette's book, it seems to me that the decentralized nature of LVC means as well that the experiences and quality of events are correspondingly uneven, for better or (in this case it seems) for worse... :(

  3. Hi Maria
    Sorry to hear this is what you had to live through.
    In contrasts, my experience of Caravan #1 (which lasted only 2 days) was different. I felt very well and energized.
    The frequent use of Styrofoam bothered me, but apart from that, the experience enriched me, the food was fine and I enjoyed the company of others the whole way...
    Just to show how different one experiences a similar situation.
    Note that Via Campesina has no base in mexico anymore. The real leaders were the Asocicion de los Afectado Ambientales.

  4. Hi Lucastro --

    I thought UNORCA played a big role in organizing for LVC in Mexico -- are or were they not able to keep playing that role, or did I get the wrong impression of the situation?

    (Their webpage also lists 5 other orgs. in Mexico, but perhaps they don't have the capacity or support to constitute a popular base?)

  5. hola lucastro y john,

    Thanks for your comments. A large part of my difficulties in Mexico had to do with problems with USA lvc member organizatins and most specifically the lvc representative organization in the USA. They appear to have very reactionary practices and policies and to behave unprofessionally, to say the least.