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V andana Shiva is an Indian activist, writer, and thinker. Her books include Water Wars: Pollution, Profits, and Privatization , Biopiracy: The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge and Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply . I spoke with her in March 2006 about her latest book Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace .
TIRMIZEY: What is your book Earth Democracy about?
SHIVA: Earth Democracy is really about life beyond corporate globalization. It’s about other paradigms, it’s about other practices, it’s not just about something in the future, but it’s about another world being shaped in the here and now.
You write that we need to go from a dying democracy to a living democracy. Can you explain what you mean by that?
The first thing I mean is that the democracy we have is actually dead in terms of not responding anymore to the will of people. Whether it is governments going to war against the will of the people or it is governments imposing genetically engineered foods against the will of the people. That is the death of democracy, when people have no freedom. It is also a dead democracy because it is using corporate “freedoms” to annihilate people. For me, the most dramatic example of this was when 40,000 farmers took their own lives within a decade because of the rules of corporate globalization. When these rules are pushed as if they are about freedom, then that is a killing democracy.
What would a living democracy look like?
A living democracy is people being able to make decisions about their lives and being able to influence the conditions in which they live—how they grow their food, what terms their clothing is produced under, the freedom to choose the conditions in which their children are educated, the conditions in which they get health care. That is living democracy. For people, living democracy is democracy where they are. Living democracy is democracy in which all of life is embraced, not just human life, because we are at that evolutionary moment where any freedom of the human species has to include other species, otherwise we will never have human freedom.
A recent UN World Water Development Report says that 20 percent of the world’s population doesn’t have access to safe drinking water. How would an earth democracy manage water resources differently?
I have watched this magnificent country, India, turn from a country where every community had water—whether it was in a well or from a clean flowing spring or a river—to being part of that 20 percent that doesn’t have access to water. Water scarcity has been caused by commercial logging of forests. The first movement I participated in as a young ecologist and physicist was the Chipko movement to stop logging in order to defend our rivers and our streams. Water is destroyed when Coca-Cola mines 1.5 to 2 million liters per day per plant. That is the scarcity that has inspired the women of Plachimada to shut a Coca-Cola plant in their village. That is the scarcity that people are fighting in the 50 other Coca-Cola plants that have destroyed water. Water was destroyed when the World Bank and the United States imposed the so-called Green Revolution on us in 1965-1966. It was not a very green revolution because it was based on intensive irrigation—growing crops using ten times more water. That meant deep aquifer mining and the damming of our rivers. Every community downstream of a dammed river has no water. Every community in a region where the “green revolution” has subsidized the pumping of deep ground water has dry wells, dry tanks, and a deep water scarcity.
How would living democracy manage water resources?
Villages provide water. Dead rivers have come alive when communities got together, insuring that they move from chemical farming to organic farming. Our living democracy villages pledge never to allow chemicals, genetically engineered organisms, or the privatization of water into their villages. In a living democracy village people can use 10 times less water just by using water ecologically and conserving every drop. In living democracy water is a commons, it is conserved collectively because—unlike exploitation which can be done privately—conservation must mobilize the community. You cannot conserve as individuals, you have to conserve water as a commons.
You often refer to and quote Gandhi in your book, particularly
when you talk about seed democracy. Can you talk about Gandhi as
a source of inspiration for
My deepest inspiration from Gandhi comes from the recognition of swaraj — self rule. Self-rule not just at a national level, but self-rule at a local level and at a personal level. You cannot have self-rule unless you are self-organized. Therefore the concept of democracy in Gandhian thought is the ultimate capacity of people to collectively organize their lives and their community.
The second very powerful concept of Gandhi that has inspired me is swadeshi—which means the creative ability of every human being and every community to produce what they need. In globalization and in this killing democracy we have the idea that everyone should be a consumer, but no one should be a producer of things and a creator of ideas and goods. That is at the root of poverty. We need to reclaim our capacity to create and produce.
Finally, I believe his deepest gift to us is the celebration of non-cooperation against unjust and immoral rule. He called it satyagraha . Recently our government has signed what I would call a Monsanto agreement with President Bush to push more genetically engineered organisms and crops on India. When our laws make farmers’ seed saving illegal, but make it legal for Monsanto to sell seed, like BT cotton, and kill our farmers, then we have to start saying we will not cooperate with these laws. We will live by higher laws: laws of the planet, ecological laws, and laws of humanity, our ethical laws.
What do you see as the reasons for and the origins of fundamentalism and terrorism?
The recent upsurge of religious fundamentalism is for me the shadow of corporate globalization. It has its roots in insecurity that globalization creates. Last week when there was a terrorist attack at a temple at Varanasi, one of our most ancient cities, 5,000 years old, instead of turning it into a conflict, Hindus and Muslims joined their diversity and pluralism and celebrated the welcoming of spring, the colors of Holi, as the colors of our diversity. When does that celebration of diversity fail? First, when people are made insecure and, secondly, when politicians do not want economic democracy, do not want people to make decisions about what they produce and what they consume, they shift the entire debate about democracy to hate and to fear of the other. In a context of insecurity and in the context of death of economic democracy, the rise of religious fundamentalism ends up becoming the best captive vote bank. It is not a surprise that you have the rise of religious fundamentalism in the United States. It is also not a surprise that the rise of religious fundamentalism started in India after the new economic policies of trade liberalization were institutionalized in 1991.
Terrorism has similar roots. Terrorism is the reaction of those whose voice has been taken away. Terrorism is the scream of the voiceless. Terrorism does not grow if democracy is thriving because democracy then makes sure that your voice is heard and that dissent is looked after. Even though everywhere in the world it is clear that the issue of terrorism is the issue of lack of possibility to influence your fate, the terrorist is not perceived in the mainstream as the disenfranchised who is angry, but as having some internal genetic defect.
No one is born a terrorist, they are made a terrorist. The fact that there is growing terrorism should force us to look into what creates fertile soil for this growth. That fertile soil is the greed of corporations wanting to control every drop of water, every drop of oil, every inch of land, every bit of germ plasm on this planet. That kind of greed creates deep exclusions. Deep exclusions will create violent responses if democracy is not rebuilt non-violently fast. Most people don’t realize that in India large parts are already controlled by those subscribing to ideologies of exclusion using violent means. It’s a phenomenon that is inevitable if you disenfranchise and exclude millions of their very basis of life, livelihood, and freedom.
How are women promoters of life-centered cultures?
Women are promoters of life-centered cultures because of this very ancient division of labor. It was left to women to look after life, whereas men broke off to get the glory, to get the conquest, in less privileged situations to get the wage labor. The division of labor left sustenance to women and the market to men. That expertise of sustenance is now being called on to create living economies and life centered economies and women are doing it whether it is through seed saving, water saving, or water sharing. Whether it is through creating ecological systems of food production and decentralized control over agriculture, women are very much in the lead in reshaping the economy that is not under the patriarchal control of global corporations. Patriarchy is usually defined as something limited to the household, yet increasingly patriarchal forces are defining this beautiful planet as their household in which they would like to take every bit of power, capacity, creativity, and productivity away from women. Women are determined to not let go. We just had a celebration on our farm two weeks ago of our women members from Navanya, the movement I started, 150 of them, and all are committed to keeping food security in women’s hands, keeping seeds in women’s hands, not as empty rhetoric, not just as a slogan, but as everyday life making a difference.
How do we go from the world we have today to an earth democracy?
I think the first thing to do is center our lives in the earth and not in dependency on corporations or a ten-year-old institution called the World Trade Organization. Of course, each of us is in a different location: someone is a teacher, someone is a scientist, someone is an unemployed youth, someone is working in slave conditions. Every one of us is in a different location and each of us has to begin this recovery where we are. We have to then join hands with others who might be doing the same thing as we are or something different. It doesn’t really matter. Take something like food: every one of us can make a decision—every meal that we eat we are either shaping an earth democracy or we are reinforcing corporate globalization. Every drop of water we drink is the same kind of choice. Every bit of energy we use is making a choice towards earth democracy or for a dictatorship in our times. The choices are limitless, we just have to start recognizing that there is never a situation where any human being doesn’t have a choice. If you have no other choice then at least you have the choice to say no.
Can you talk about how this book came about?
The book was inspired by two issues: one was that for too long the movement of people defending their freedoms was labeled as the anti-globalization movement. Repeatedly it was said that, “Oh, these people know what they don’t want, but they have no idea what they want.” I thought it was time to tell those who think that we don’t know what we want that we know it well, and through what we know we will be there when corporate globalization has collapsed because of its social and ecological non-sustainability.
The second reason I wrote the book was because I felt the movements of people were strong and yet they could be stronger if they recognized that no matter how different they were—whether it was someone working on human rights, someone else working to defend a wild species, someone else working for the food sovereignty of small farmers and family farmers the world over—that every one of these was part of a mosaic, part of a fabric combining care for the earth and defending the conditions of human life on earth while also striving for social justice. These strivings were not separate strivings, they were the same and these were actually the strivings for peace. They created the condition for peace in a period where we are repeatedly being told that the way towards peace is more war and more violence.
Can you talk about how your own political and ecological consciousness came about?
My own political and ecological consciousness has grown in a number of steps. I was a very enthusiastic nuclear physicist training to join our nuclear energy establishment. My sister, who was a medical doctor made me aware of what a physicist is never taught: that nuclear radiation has health hazards. That is the first time that I woke up to a world beyond harmless equations.
My next step was becoming active in the Chipko movement when I saw the forests of the Himalayas disappearing rapidly. I had grown up in the Himalayan forests. I’d trekked and walked those forests. My father used to be a forest conservator and in my childhood and youth I could see a dramatic change. That led me to become a volunteer in the movement. The next step was in 1982 when the ministry of environment started to call on me to do studies. That led to the creation of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology. Through it I did participatory studies with communities and successful action research. We won legal victories, stopped mines, monocultures, and shrimp farming.
The next watershed was in 1984, the year that we had the rise of terrorism in Punjab. I studied the Punjab to figure out why the land of the green revolution, which was given a Nobel Peace Prize, had become a land of war. I started making connections between violence, fundamentalism, terrorism, ecological degradation, undemocratic economic systems, and anti-people development. It was the same year as the Bhopal disaster, which killed 3,000 people in one night and has killed 30,000 people since. I was forced to look at industrial agriculture as a system of war. I committed myself to ecological agriculture as a system of peace.
In 1987 I happened to get invited to a meeting where corporations laid out their plan for how they would patent seed, genetically engineer seeds, and have free trade treaties to prevent anyone else from being free to do their own thing and grow their own food. I decided that I had to start saving seeds and protecting biodiversity. Since then I have worked with millions of farmers to say no to the WTO and GATT and with thousands of farmers—200,000 farmers—to build an alternative.
I mentioned the farmer suicides. For me 2006 is the year I will dedicate a lot of my energies to creating hope among our farming communities, that the dead end, the genocidal economies, the suicidal economies of globalization is not the only way. We can build our own economies and we don’t have to wait till our governments tell us how to do it. We don’t have to wait till the WTO gives us permission to do it. We need to turn to ourselves for that permission.
Kasim Tirmizey is an independent journalist who has reported for community radio CKUT in Montreal and Free Speech Radio News.
Z Magazine Archive
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; email@example.com; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; email@example.com; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: email@example.com; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.