NOT Stuff White People Like (or a Forum on Indigenous People We’ve Barely Heard About)

April 21, 2008

Evo MoralesIn the past month of writing on WordPress, I’ve noticed that a blog called “Stuff White People Like” always seems to top the list of popular blogs. I thought I’d break ranks and look at some stuff white people do not seem to like very much. As the Clinton-Obama media spectacle roars on and the papal smoke leaves our post-9/11 air, the 7th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues opened today with barely a whimper. Evo Morales (Bolivia’s first indigenous President) led the opening ceremony at UN Headquarters this morning, launching a two-week long discussion on the session’s special theme:

“Climate change, bio-cultural diversity and livelihoods: the stewardship role of indigenous peoples and new challenges.”

Climate Change. Sustainability. Hunger. These are timely issues, HOT topics. Stuff white people seem to like very much lately. But, from the perspective and for the benefit of Indigenous Peoples. Now this makes a huge difference. Would it still count as stuff white people like or care about? Looking at coverage on the major English-speaking news publications, apparently NOT. As I’m writing this entry, there have been only two (2) news mentions. One in BBC News (< clicking on this link is a waste of your time) titled “Capitalism Harms Planet – Morales” where Morales’ speech is basically reduced to a single quote: “If we want to save our planet earth, to save life, to save mankind, we have a duty to put an end to the capitalist system.” This seems so uninteresting to the reporter that she barely manages to write a halfway decent summary of Morales’ other points: “In a side swipe at Brazil, major manufacturers of the biofuel ethanol, he said some presidents were putting cars ahead of people.” Okay.

The second news mention appears in Reuters UK. Titled “Bolivia’s Morales says biofuels serious problem to poor”, it’s at least a better snapshot of the complex issues now facing Bolivia and indigenous peoples. The multinational push for biofuels is driving up food prices, climate change, and social unrest. The poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer, as policies and programs of the IMF and the World Bank widen the gaps. In standing for the poor and the indigenous, Morales now faces intensifying opposition from provinces that are seeking autonomy from his central government.

We read about wars, food riots, worker strikes, and government lockdowns and wonder what the world is coming to. We are seduced by talk of change from any stage, university or pulpit. We like to think we can teach “other people” better solutions. The pathetic news coverage of this forum is a clear indication of how much we really care. Maybe all we really care about is Stuff White People Like. I want to disagree. We need to listen, particularly to indigenous peoples who are losing everything. And give greater coverage to leaders who do not arrive in white robes on Shepherd One, but in everyday clothes of working people.

Links to background on Bolivia’s President Evo Morales: commondreams.org, democracynow.org, and a 9-minute video of Jon Stewart interviewing Morales on “The Daily Show” back in September 2007.

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Cargill’s Brave New World

April 3, 2008

This Cargill ad on msnbc.com yesterday read: “Cargill is helping new ideas emerge from nature. Find out how at cargillcreates.com. So I clicked.

The site’s predominant color is green, a direct allusion to nature and sustainability (envy and inexperience, too, but that’s another story). The tagline reads “collaborate > create > succeed”, followed by “TM” for trademark, a symbolic claim to private property that has served Cargill extremely well. Case studies based on this so-special-let’s-trademark-it formula abound. In “collaboration” with its customers, Cargill has “created”: a new bread, a better burger, more flavorful pork, cholesterol-reducing milk, a new line of whole-grain cereal, a new crop of corn, a better foam, better feeds for dairy cows, better tasting sugar-free chocolate, better processed eggs, better quality beef for supermarkets, better frozen foods, better baby formulas. Even a better delivery system for refrigerated products in Central America. Success!

But what is “new”? Who defines what is “better”, for whom, and at what cost? These case studies are success stories for the customers Cargill serves: corporations and neoliberal economic policies. A “new” crop of corn or a “better” egg means genetically-modified substances that can be produced more consistently at increasingly lower prices, with more controlled shelf lives. These invariably benefit first world producers, NOT consumers (and third world consumers far far less). Even supply systems that appear to benefit difficult-to-reach communities are, in fact, channels intended to create more markets and thus, ring in more sales.

As America’s second largest privately-held corporation (where descendants of its founders still own about 90% of the company; the rest is owned by employees), Cargill holds unimaginable political and economic power over the world’s population and answers to a very exclusive and very privileged few. “Cargill creates” also means Cargill destroys. Its direct involvement in the deforestation of the Amazon, enclosure of the worldwide commons, active support of free trade and neoliberalism, and lobbies for opening up markets in China, Brazil, and Cuba, MUST be watched, tracked, discussed—and challenged. Another world is possible.