Reclaiming Our Democracy: Resistance and Renewal

2017 WECAN Education & Advocacy Training Recap Blog

Compiled By Emily Arasim, WECAN Communications Coordinator

With remarkable diversity and great strength, women are standing to lead movements to protect people and planet, calling for systemic change and justice on the issues that we know are inseparable – from gender justice to Indigenous rights, from racial justice to immigrant rights, from climate change to economic inequality.

This moment in history demands that we unite across borders and experiences, and take our collective efforts to another level as we work towards a healthy and just planet in the face of oppressive and dangerous political landscapes. Strategic planning, action and solidarity is needed at every turn.

In this context, the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network convened a May 2017 online Education and Advocacy training, ‘Reclaiming Our Democracy: Resistance and Renewal’, featuring powerful women leaders who shared pointed analysis and thoughts on how best to organize and pursue grassroots-driven systemic change; make a difference in local and national politics; and much, much more. The training focused on context, processes and examples in the United States, but welcomed the participation of global community members.

Osprey Orielle Lake, Executive Director of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network, opened the training with a brief contextualization of the first months of the presidency of the Trump Administration, during which we have seen brazen pushes for pipelines; the resurrection of previously defeated and outdated extraction projects and methods; the attempted dismantling of the US Environmental Protection Agency; the appointment of and collaboration with climate deniers and fossil fuel executives; and the violation of international norms and efforts to address the climate crisis. At the same time, the administration has attacked immigrant rights, workers rights, LGBTQ rights and women’s rights – amongst others.

However as Osprey explained, we are also witnessing the unfolding of a very exciting new chapter of resistance, action and global calls for justice.

“What is really apparent in this insanity is that across the country we are seeing people come together, and this is why we are having this call together today… there is a collective driving force and understanding that we need to stand together for the very future of life on Earth.”

Critically, many of these movements for justice are not just rising to say ‘no’ to violent systems of oppression – but are also offering a bold ‘YES’, as they build solutions and re-vision a healthy world.

Within this upsurge of action, the “power in women rising” has been central, including through the recent Women’s March on Washington, now considered the largest ever march in US history. And indeed, Osprey emphasized, women can and must be at the forefront of the movements to reclaim our power, re-build just economic and political systems, and protect and heal our communities and the Earth – as they are threatened on many levels by the policies and ideology of the Trump Administration. In the realm of climate change, it is women who experience disproportionate impact, be it through the spread infectious disease, food and water insecurity, or structural violence in the aftermath of climate disasters.

In this context, Osprey welcomed training speakers to share their thoughts on how and why women must take back our power; take action for new models of leadership, political participation, collective ownership, and local solutions; and address patriarchy, racism, capitalism as we fight to reclaim democracy and create a viable future for people and planet.

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Training speakers (left to right) – Cindy Wiesner, A’shanti Gholar & Liz Van Cleave

Cindy Wiesner, National Coordinator of Grassroots Global Justice Alliance (GGJA) and Co-Chair of the Climate Justice Alliance (CJA) and the Our Power Campaign, spoke first.

Cindy has been active in the grassroots social justice movement for over 20 years, working previously with groups such as Men Overcoming Violence Everywhere, Mujeres Unidas y Activas, Miami Workers Center and the US Social Forum National Planning Committee. She currently represents GGJA on the International Council of the World Social Forum, amongst other roles. Cindy is originally from Los Angeles and is of Salvadoran, Colombian and German descent and is Queer.

Grounding her presentation in her experiences as a Latina, lesbian, daughter of a domestic worker, and member of a family and community that has confronted a long history of impacts, oppression and resistance, Cindy reflected how in some ways, we are indeed living in unordinary times – however in many other ways, we are simply experiencing the latest and most intense manifestation of deep, systemic injustices that have been playing out globally for far too long.

Providing an inspirational example of how we can reclaim community power and protect people and planet – Cindy shared the work of the Global Grassroots Justice Alliance (GGJA), Climate Justice Alliance and #ItTakesRoots campaign, which focus on “movement convergence” and long term capacity and relationship building between frontline communities to support each other around sites of local struggle, and during key national and international mobilizations, which has most recently included direct actions, rallies and education in 25 cities around Trump’s inauguration, the People’s Climate March and May Day.

Drawing their strength from their intersectional focus – the movements that Cindy works within all see and act upon the vital connection between the struggles to address climate change, neoliberal capitalism, war and militarization, patriarchy, racism and fascism.

“Together, we can face the dangers ahead of us and really build the conditions for our collective liberation,” Cindy explained.

To do it, however, we have to ask and answer some serious questions, which Cindy put forth to the audience including – “What it really means to dare to have hope in this political moment?” and “How do we shift fear into power building, combatting that sense of isolation, mobilizing members, supporting and strengthening each other and our collective power?”.

In closing, Cindy discussed “visionary opposition” – and the need to take action on all fronts, including immediate response mobilization and community defense; policy and advocacy to open political space; and hopeful positive visioning and active daily work for a just transition. She also re-asserted her faith in grassroots, ground-up work as the key to reclaiming democracy and protecting the Earth – explaining that litigation and policy have limits and need major resources – which ultimately means that they cannot be successful without people’s movements. The movements must lead, so that the politicians and lawyers can follow or be left behind.

A’shanti F. Gholar, Political Director for Emerge America, spoke next. For 15 years, A’shanti has been a grassroots organizer and activist for women, communities of color, and progressive causes. Prior to her work with Emerge America, A’shanti served as the National Deputy Director of Community Engagement and Director of African American Engagement for the Democratic National Committee, and has also served as the Manager of National Partnerships for United Way Worldwide, as a political appointee in the Obama Administration at the U.S. Department of Labor, and as the Director of Public Engagement for the 2012 Democratic National Convention Committee in Charlotte, NC.

During her presentation, A’shanti shared vital background on the current status of women in electoral politics, and why and how women across the US must stand up and step up to fill the gap.

According to her data, women are 51% of the US population but hold only 1/3 of 500,000 elected official positions across the country. For women of color, the discrepancy is even more vast and troubling. Critically, she explained then when they do run, women are just as likely to get elected as men – the trouble however, is that women are less likely to seek office to begin with.

On average, women have to be asked 7+ times (even more for women of color) to run for office before she will consider it, due to worries over qualifications, appearance and responsibilities that most men do not entertain. What all this really means, A’shanti explained, is that we all need to be challenging, encouraging and supporting our female friends and colleagues.

“I am asking you today to run for office – so now you can never again say that no one has ever asked you to run to office….Take the lead – please. You are never going to feel truly prepared, and that is fine.”

A’shanti shared key resources and pieces of advice for women interested in stepping into office, including taking in-depth time to map out and build relationships with the key activists, educators, funders and community leaders with whom you can ally; and “owning” your strengths and our flaws to become the most powerful, authentic and capable candidate for your community.

Liz Van Cleve, an environmental media and outreach communications professional and volunteer with the Indivisible Project, took the floor as the final presenter of the training, sharing the story of the Indivisible Project, which began in December 2016 as a grassroots, volunteer driven, public Google Document of strategies to effectively challenge the Trump Administration through engagement with members of Congress.

The guide, compiled by Liz and other former Congressional staffers as they reflected on lessons learned during their stints working in Washington D.C., has been downloaded over 2 million times since December 2016, and used by 6,000+ community driven Indivisible groups to hold actions and engage in powerful advocacy to effect local and national political outcomes.

One Indivisible guide tactic that has garnered attention and traction is the use of town halls, as a part of which local groups organize community meetings and invite their congressional representatives, who most often fail to show up for their community obligations, providing local advocacy groups with a powerful opening to exert pressure and call out the injustices being perpetrated by elected officials who are following the Trump Administration agenda to the detriment of the health and wellbeing of their constituents. [Click here for an excellent read about women mobilizing Indivisible groups in the Southern US].

“Be methodological, be vulnerable, be prepared,” Liz implored, sharing tactics from the guide including best practices for holding face-to-face meetings with representatives; getting the attention of the media; and harnessing tools to tell your own story as you speak out to disrupt business as usual and demand action by political representatives.

Bringing the training to a close, Osprey Orielle Lake of WECAN thanked participants and speakers, and emphasized once again that the best and only way to take back our power is to work intersectionally across communities and across strategies as we engage in politics through strong citizen advocacy or pursuing elected office; build and join grassroots direct action; and support visionary leadership and positive solutions building.

Click here for more information about other past and future Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN International) Education and Advocacy Trainings.

WECAN MENA Leading the Way at the First General Assembly of the Mediterranean Youth Climate Network

Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) Middle East/North Africa regional program coordinators are hard at work in the collaborative creation and coordination of a Mediterranean Youth Climate Network. 

Regional Co-Coordinator of WECAN Middle East/North Africa, Soumeya Lerari, shares important updates and reflections in the blog below.

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The regional Co-coordinator of WECAN MENA Soumeya Lerari, signs the charter of the MYCN with Yann Lesestre (Climates) and Francesca Mingrone (Italian Climate Network)

The Mediterranean Youth Climate Network (MYCN) is the first regional network of its kind. It comes as a bridge-builder between the sides of the Mediterranean sea, aiming at enhancing the cooperation between climate-related youth-led initiatives in the Mediterranean region, in order to constitute a common front in the fight against climate change.

Indeed, the Mediterranean region is threatened more than ever with the disastrous consequences of climate change, and is also experiencing critical and highly sensitive impacts in regards to migration and refugees, and security threats and conflict. The diplomatic issues existent in the region and the delicate political situations in a number of countries often hinder the hopes of following a holistic and integrated approach to face the challenges of the region, and unfortunately climate change is not always included on the list of priorities.

The MYCN, however, intends to overcome these obstacles and focus on the power of Mediterranean  youth in all of their diversity, capitalizing on the available competences of young women and men of the region. Numerous organizations are carrying out impressive initiatives, and the MYCN aims to support and scale up their impact both locally and through the region.

The adventure started more than a year ago, when the Middle East/North Africa regional coordinators of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network, Fadoua Brour and Hajar Imene Bouchair, represented WECAN in the organization of the Mediterranean Youth Climate Forum, which took place in Tangiers, Morocco on the 15th of July, 2016.

After a successful event, the representatives of the 7 organizations (WECAN, CliMates, Arab Youth Climate Movement, Italian Climate Network, Leaders Club, the Moroccan Youth Climate Movement and Eco-Peace Middle east) officially started the creation of the MYCN.

During  COP22 In Marrakech, Morocco last November, the representatives of the 7 organizations met to sign the MYCN charter, which was a milestone in the creation of the Network.

After months of cooperation and hard work, the 7 organizations finally met for their Constitutive General Assembly, on the 25th of February, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain; with representation by 10 of their members from Algeria, Morocco, Lebanon, Egypt, Palestine, Italy and France.

The MYCN is fully supported by the Union of the Mediterranean, which offered its logistical support and granted the Network the possibility of holding its General Assembly in its Barcelona offices.

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The 10 representatives met with the Union for the Mediterranean Secretary General Amb. Fathallah Sijilmassi and the Deputy Secretary General on Energy & Climate Action Mr. Jorge Borrego, who expressed their high hopes for the success of the MYCN, and once again showed the support of Union for the Mediterranean for the development and the future activities of the Network. This strategic partnership is a source of motivation and a sign of credibility for our intended activities.

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The 10 representatives in a meeting with the UpM SG Amb. Fathallah Sijilmassi & the DSG on Energy & Climate Action Mr. Jorge Borrego

We are also proud to announce that the General Assembly successfully held its elections and our regional WECAN Co-Coordinators, Imene Bouchair and Soumeya Lerari have been respectively appointed Secretary General and Vice-Secretary General of the Network.

We believe they will have an important value added to the Mediterranean Youth Climate Network by bringing the experience of WECAN regarding climate justice, and empower young women from the Mediterranean region in the fight against climate change and the protection of Mother Earth.

Women for Forests Democratic Republic of Congo – Winter 2017 Update

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In the Itombwe region of the Democratic Republic Congo, the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network, in partnership with SAFECO, ongoingly supports local women leaders in the development of tree nurseries and reforestation efforts in the area of Marunde, Rushasha and Malanda, serving 12 surrounding village areas and impact approximately 1,500 people.

The primary goals of this project are the protection of the remaining Itombwe natural forest from deforestation, the regeneration of new forest, and collaboration with and support of the Indigenous Pygmy peoples of the region in the protection of their traditional lifeways and knowledge.

The project also seeks to act as an avenue for climate mitigation through carbon sequestration. The 20,000 trees planted on 35 hectares this last rainy season will be sequestering 350 tons of carbon per year.

In planting tree seedlings, communities are also reducing reliance on the old growth forest for daily needs. Currently, twenty five percent of the trees planted are for human use, and seventy five percent are for regeneration of the land.

By restoring deforested, damaged lands and simultaneously providing an alternative source for sustainable forest harvesting and substenance – the collaborative program seeks to support the needs of the local Indigenous communities concerning forest use, while acting directly to stop deforestation and associated environmental degradation.

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Between the end of December 2016 and into January 2017, women engaged in this project planted over 20,000 trees by hand.

Tree species being planted at this time include: Eucalyptus,Cyprus, Grevillea, Mimosa Scabrella, Croton megalocarpus, African redwood, Cedrela serrata, Acacia mearnsii, Calliandra calothyrsus and Maracuja.

Mixed plantings of Eucalyptus with other species such as Acacia or Grevillea is being employed as a way to improve soil fertility. Tree species have also been chosen due to characteristics including being fast-growing, desiccation-tolerant, drought-tolerant and adaptable.

The deforestation situation in Itombwe is an alarming condition which needs urgent solutions, and these species and this project are key solutions. For further background and political analysis please see our previous blogs on this project.

Women are the principal stakeholders in this project, and have been working to learn, plan, envision and carry forth construction of the nurseries over the past four years. The women are able to earn money, learn about trees, care for a nursery, and gain support to be able to send their children to school.

Another important benefit from this project concerns the DR Congo forest law, which says that when a community or community member plants a tree or grows a crop, that land becomes their land. By involving women in planting trees, progress is being made to support women in gaining precious land titles to the traditional lands that have previously been unjustly taken from the women and their communities.

 In Itombwe, the planting season is from December to February, and tree nursery development takes place from May to October. With the December to February planting season coming to a close, WECAN and women leaders of DR Congo are looking forward to a new season of tree nursery development from May to October. Many women have expressed interest in joining the program and we are thrilled to see the strength of this program grow as we celebrate the growth of the new trees and the protection of the Itombwe’s natural forests.

Additional photos by Stany Nzabas

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