Just Joan - Joan Huguenard

Vandana Shiva consistently speaks truth to power

It was a brilliantly bright shining night for Sonoma when Dr. Vandana Shiva spoke to us in the Veteran’s Building as a keynote feature of the conference put on by Georgia Kelly and Praxis called The Economics of Peace. While I took copious notes, I wish to acknowledge the gift from Sonoma’s Dr. Ned Hoke of a full recording of Dr. Shiva’s talk contributed greatly to the integrity of the piece just joan published in “The Sun” on November 6, 2009. The brilliant teacher’s powerful words hold true even to this day:

Violence comes from thinking you need a bigger share

This headline is but one quote from a stunning speech offered here in Sonoma on Oct. 20, 2009. Vandana Shiva, gracefully robed in her traditional Indian sari, held the large audience in the Veterans Memorial Building spellbound with her vast wisdom and occasional capricious humor.

“I think more violence is done on this planet today in the name of the economy than in any other name,” said Dr. Shiva. “In fact, we notice specific wars like in Afghanistan and Iraq, but there’s a permanent war on the planetary level that has been unleashed by a system of economics that has lost its roots; its roots both in economic sustainability and nature and its roots in human justice, equality and the achievement of peace.”

Dr. Shiva made it very clear that her education came from divergent streams. Defining herself as once “a very innocent physicist,” she spoke of being awakened again and again to the panic of intrusion and oppression when women of her region came out of their homes to stop the logging in the forests of Himalaya.

“I went to the University of Lincoln, Ontario for the foundations of quantum theory,” the educator reported, “but I went to the Chipko ‘University’ for lessons on the economy.” She contends her best teachers for the economics of peace were the elder women of Chipko, who “have faced the resilience of a lifetime and have, in fact, not been trained into thinking through war, acting through war and assuming the world is constantly at war.”

Chipko means “embrace” and the successful Chipko Movement began with tree-huggers placing their bodies between the stately forest trees and the heavy-duty saws poised to take them down.

Dr. Shiva believes violence begins in the mind and that in the name of efficiency, of productivity and of progress, the planet has been impoverished. There seems, she says, to be no capacity to see the resulting violence.

Dr. Shiva herself began to take the problem seriously in 1984 when violence broke out in the region of Punjab where the green revolution had first been applied. In the same year in the city of Bophal a leak at a Union Carbide – a division of Dow Chemical – pesticide plant caused the death overnight of 3,000 people. Violence exploded and soon 30,000 people had been killed. In addition, millions are disabled and millions of children are being born maimed and crippled.

Because Dow left the plant without cleaning and still refuses to offer one dime for cleanup, people are still being ravaged by those chemicals. Last year victims – primarily women who are still fighting for justice, walked from Bophal to Delhi just to be heard. When the prime minister had no time for them, they wrote him a letter in blood from the violence asking, “When will we wake up to the violence that is caused?”

After the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, a woman said to Dr. Shiva, “One woman was killed and her two murderers were sentenced to death. Thousands have died in Bophal and no one notices.”

“And that’s what really shook me up,” says Dr. Shiva. “The levels of violence that were unleashed in the name of doing something that should be a very peaceful activity, growing our food. Food is about peace. We don’t need war to produce food. And yet, food production has begun the practice of warfare at every level, every day, everywhere.”

In 1965, something called the Green Revolution came on the scene, introduced by agribusiness. The agricultural giants proclaimed agricultural systems using miracle chemical fertilizers would create international prosperity and peace. “So as they spread the toxics, they also spread rumors that this was about feeding the world when it actually was all about selling us poisons,” Dr. Shiva stated, then reminded us that Rachel Carson wrote at the time, “An industry involved in chemical warfare could not give up the habit of making profits.”

“And so the industry retooled,” Dr. Shiva continued, “learning to make toxics for war into toxics for agriculture. Pesticides came directly out of the war industry because the explosive factories were already involved with such chemicals. Remember the Oklahoma bombing; that was a fertilizer bomb.”

The more chemical fertilizers were sold, the more indebted farmers became. The more commodities are produced, the more commodities are traded, the hungrier are the people. Dr. Shiva has seen mothers of literally starving children carrying sacks of grain to their creditors because they have no choice about whether to pay.

Dr. Shiva told us of some of Monsanto’s activities, including patenting seeds so that for every seed they sell, they now earn royalties and the creation of RoundUp which has devastated indigenous agriculture. When RoundUp is widely sprayed, says Dr. Shiva, no small farmer can possibly survive the fallout. People lose their livelihood. In 1997, Indian farmers started committing suicide in great numbers.

The activist told the Veterans Hall audience, “When 200,000 farmers commit suicide, for me this is a war.”

In subsequent years, Vandana Shiva has continued to choose creative nonviolent strategies designed to disempower giant corporations who invade India’s food and water systems and undermine food sovereignty and food security. She is a tireless mover and shaker, teacher and role model to be much admired, sought after and supported in every possible way. One of those ways is to buy and read one of her many books and then figure out how to do something with your newfound information that will make a difference for our groaning mother earth.

In addition, please visit http://www.transitionsonomavalley.org/ to read about the beautiful Transition movement rapidly developing in Sonoma as it is in many, many communities around the world. I hope you’ll be inspired to become a part of this thrilling movement as there is definitely a unique spot there waiting to be filled by only you.

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