The other night I flew into San Francisco to celebrate and party with the trade justice group Global Exchange and some 400 other activists. We came together to honour one remarkable group, Via Campesina, and two remarkable people - Diane Wilson of Code Pink, and Harry Belafonte. It was electrifying to be in the room with so many people buzzing with such passion and hope.
Via Campesina is an incredible alliance of peasants and farmers worldwide who have managed to win previously unthinkable concessions from industrial agriculture and the powers behind so-called "free trade." Its most famous members are French farmer Jose Bove - who legendarily smashed up a MacDonalds to make a statement about the impact of US imports on small local farmers - and Canadian farmer Percy Schmieser, who was sued by Monsanto for patent infrigement when pollen from genetically modified crops on an adjacent farm accidentally cross-pollinated the organic canola crop on his farm.
Also honored was Diane Wilson of Code Pink and UnReasonable Women. Wilson is a shrimper from a tiny gulf town in Texas. When industrial factories near her shrimping grounds polluted the bay, she saw her livelihood disappear. She fought back with hunger strikes, and organized other women to rise up against polluters whop were endangering the health of everyone in their hometown of Seadrift. Then she found out about the Bhopal disaster. She learned that Dow Chemical, one of the major pollutants in her community, had bought-out Union Carbide, the company responsible for the 1984 explosion in India that has taken the lives of tens of thousands.
Realizing Bhopals struggle for justice was the same as her own, she planned a 30-day hunger strike at the Dow company plant at Seadrift. By the time Diane completed her fast and climbed the tower at the plant, the press was waiting. She has since infiltrated Congress to unfurl a banner saying "Let the Inspections Work!" behind Donald Rumsfeld as he testified about the "necessity" of invading Iraq and fearlessly participated in countless Code Pink actions against the war.
And finally, Global Exchange honored Harry Belafonte. First famous as a calypso musician, Harry met Martin Luther King Jr. in the early 1950s and became both a student and an adviser. He learned the tenets of non-violent action. In the 1980s he initiated the all-star We Are the World video, calling global attention to war and famine crises in Africa. As UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, he was largely responsible for the successful campaign for the eradication of curable diseases among African children and also focused global attention to development in Southern Africa, particularly those victimized by the apartheid war.
He has been an outspoken critic of unjust U.S. policies, calling for an end to the embargo against Cuba, and boldly speaking against the policies of war and global oppression. (We had him autograph a flier for the Angola Three, which we will give to Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace next time were in Louisiana to visit them!)
The Global Exchange Human Rights Awards are profound, and profoundly needed. The Nobel Peace Prize became a global joke when it was awarded to warmonger and war criminal Henry Kissinger some decades ago.
Just look below the radar screen into the grass roots movements and the direct action movements to see the real heroes and heroines fighting and challenging economic obscenities.