On a cool morning in December, Johnella LaRose stands in a 2-acre field in east Oakland, overseeing a group of volunteers preparing a section of this land that the Sogorea Te Land Trust stewards for the arrival of a shipping container. LaRose is dressed to work, wearing jeans and boots that look broken in.
The container will serve as storage for farming equipment, she says, and in case of a natural disaster, as a safe shelter for people to gather, sleep, and access resources.
LaRose is co-founder of the Sogorea Te Land Trust, an intertribal women-led organization that is in the final stages of securing nonprofit status. It’s working to acquire access—and ownership—to land in the Bay Area, where Ohlone people have lived for centuries.
The goal, says LaRose, is to establish a land base for the Chochenyo and Karkin Ohlone people, whose ancestral territory includes cities in the East Bay. “The land gives us everything that we need in order to survive,” says Corrina Gould, a Lisjan Ohlone leader and the other co-founder of the land trust. “That’s how people lived for thousands of years on our land and other Indigenous people’s land. … You work with the land so that it can continue to provide, but that you honor that relationship by not taking too much.”
Gould says Sogorea Te plans to steward the lands it has in a way that honors it.
Sogorea Te got access to the land in east Oakland in 2017 through a partnership with Planting Justice, a local grassroots organization that owns the property and uses it to house a nursery of edible tree crops for purchase by community members and others online. The land is also a place where Planting Justice’s reentry work takes place, because the nursery is staffed mostly by people who were formerly incarcerated.
Planting Justice plans to give the deed on the parcel to Sogorea Te—at no cost—in the future. And the two organizations plan to continue to work on the land together. In the future, Sogorea Te intends to purchase land by partnering with organizations who own land and are willing to transfer ownership.
LaRose hopes the lands Sogorea Te stewards will facilitate healing and build resiliency for Ohlone people. When she imagines the purpose the shipping container could serve, for example, LaRose thinks about Hurricane Katrina and its disproportionate impacts on poor and Black communities in New Orleans.
The Trust’s vision for this particular plot of land is to create an Indigenous cultural site.
As LaRose talks about her hopes, the volunteers build the foundation for the 5,000-pound shipping container. So far, volunteers have dug down 4 inches, removed the dirt, leveled it out, and started hauling gravel to fill in the hole. Once the container arrives, they’ll build it out with a kitchen, deck, and solar panels.
The 2-acre parcel where LaRose and volunteers are working is in the Sobrante Park neighborhood of east Oakland, which has little access to public transportation and grocery stores. It is surrounded by dense rows of apartments and houses. Train whistles and freeway noise can be heard from where LaRose and the volunteers are working.
Near the back fence of the plot runs San Leandro Creek—renamed with its Ohlone name, Lisjan Creek, by the trust. Previous work parties have installed a hugel (short for “Hügelkultur”) raised bed where plants native to the region are growing. A no-till mound of soil and wood chips, Sogorea Te’s hugel has sage, wild onion, and milk weed, each labeled with their Ohlone name—miriyan, ‘uuner, and šiska. The plants are used for ceremony and medicine.
The trust’s vision for this particular plot of land is to create an Indigenous cultural site with a traditional arbor 9- to 15-feet tall, built out of redwoods. The arbor will be a place for ceremony that Ohlone people can pass on to future generations.
Gould says that the Ohlone never lost their connection to the land.
“We’ve been here since the beginning of time, so there continues to be a deep connection to land and how we relate on a daily basis has changed because of colonization,” she says. “It’s really been my generation that’s been able to come out and begin to speak about these horrific issues and to talk truth to history.”
Sogorea Te comes from a history of Ohlone people working to gain recognition and access to land in the Bay Area. The name Sogorea Te is the Ohlone name of a site in Vallejo, California, where a cultural easement fight took place in 2011. LaRose and Gould’s first organization, Indian People Organizing for Change, was involved in reoccupying the territorial site for 109 days. During that time, together with the Yocha Dehe and Cortina tribes, they recreated a village site with a sacred fire and stopped development of a sacred site along the Carquinez Strait.
The occupation led to the first cultural easement agreement among a city, a park district, and a federally recognized tribe. Gould says the easement allowed the tribe to have the same rights to that land as the other entities.
LaRose and Gould say they began Indian People Organizing for Change in 1999 to address issues relevant to their community, including homelessness and protection of sacred Indigenous sites. All of these issues, they say, are rooted in the same problem: dispossession from their people’s ancestral lands.
The issue of land return is particularly important for the Ohlone people who for centuries have had no land base and have been politically and economically marginalized. Today, the Ohlone are not on the list of 573 federally recognized tribes in the United States.
The idea behind establishing a land trust was for these Indigenous women to create a land base for their community.
Ohlone life changed dramatically when Spanish military and civilians began to encroach on the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 1700s.
Colonizers raped and forced Ohlone people into labor, brought diseases such as small pox and measles, and dispossessed Ohlone people of their lands.
Ohlone people survived and continued to live in that region, which today is one of the densest and most expensive metro areas in the U.S.
In 2015, LaRose and Gould established Sogorea Te Land Trust. It was another step in the work they’d already been doing to restore cultural access to ancestral lands.
Gould says they hope the land trust will allow Ohlone people for generations to come to reengage the land in the way that it was and has been done traditionally. That looks like bringing back traditional songs, dances, and ceremonies back to the land “and to try to create a balance.”
The idea behind establishing a land trust, which was sparked after Gould attended a meeting with existing Native-led land trusts in 2012, was for these Indigenous women to create a land base for their community.
“When you follow the rules, man, you’re not going to get anywhere,” LaRose said. “You really just have to really be brave and just put yourself out there and say, ‘This is what’s going to happen. This is what we’re going to do.’”
So far, the largest lot of land that Sogorea Te has access to is the quarter-acre in east Oakland.
The organization Planting Justice purchased that plot in the fall of 2015 as an additional location for its food justice work, with a low-interest loan from the Northern California Community Loan Fund and individual donations from community members. The nonprofit already owned land elsewhere in the East Bay.
In November 2016, its founders Gavin Raders and Haleh Zandi drove North Dakota to join the #NODAPL protests in Standing Rock. On their way back to the Bay Area, they started thinking about their relationship to the land and their role in the Indigenous people in their own community.
Raders said both he and Zandi were aware of the history of colonization and genocide that happened to Indigenous people in California. But during their conversations with Indigenous elders, they began to ask themselves what it meant for Ohlone people to not be federally recognized and have no land base.
“I’m not really sure how this is going to look, but we want to be able to figure out how to give the land back to Indigenous people,” Raders remembers thinking.
Diane Williams, a friend of Sogorea Te’s founders who worked at Planting Justice, connected the two organizations in hopes that they’d work together in some capacity.
After numerous months, members of the groups, including LaRose, Gould, and Raders, finally met in August 2017 and officially started their partnership in fall 2017.
At that meeting, Sogorea Te learned that Planting Justice still owed hundreds of thousands of dollars on the mortgage but that when it was paid off, the organization wanted to sign the title over to the land trust, “which was a real surprise to us,” LaRose says.
“We want to be able to figure out how to give the land back to Indigenous people.”
That’s the first piece of land that the land trust was given to steward, with a verbal agreement between the organizations that they’d share it and work in cooperation with one another.
“It’s clearly understood by the Planting Justice board and the Sogorea Te Land Trust that this is a partnership that’s going to continue,” says Raders, a Planting Justice co-founder, who notes that his organization is committed to transfer the land to Sogorea Te ownership no matter how long it takes to pay off the mortgage. From there, the trust will establish a lease agreement with the organization so it can still have operations on the 2-acre parcel.
Planting Justice considered putting a cultural (or conservation) easement on the site, one that the Land Trust would manage, but it couldn’t because it is still paying off the mortgage of the land. Raders said the mortgage holders did not allow Planting Justice to move forward with an easement in case the mortgage did not get paid in full.
“Conservation easements last forever, no matter who owns the property in the future so those restrictions still run with the land,” said Sylvia Bates, director of Standards & Educational Services at the Land Trust Alliance, a national land conservation organization.
In a scenario where an entity owns or is stewarding land with a conservation easement, the organization is obligated to make sure those restrictions stay in place. The mortgage holders did not want to deal with that possibility.
LaRose and Gould say that they’re figuring it out as they go along and are open to all the possibilities of acquiring land. “I don’t think that there’s one way that we’re looking at it,” Gould says. “We’re just trying to figure out, ‘how do we do that?’ and we’re bringing people along with us.”
In addition to the land in east Oakland, the trust stewards five plots of land throughout the Bay Area where they grow native plants and gather for ceremony.
Sogorea Te is also now in talks with an organization about land in Sonoma County. And in March, LaRose and Gould caught wind of a couple of vacant lots in Oakland that they might want to take into their care.
The organization doesn’t yet own any of these parcels, but they hope to soon.
In partnership, Planting Justice and Sogorea Te continue to work on the land together, as Planting Justice pays off the mortgage on the 2 acres in east Oakland and Sogorea Te raises funds to buy other parcels in the east Bay. Planting Justice plans to give the land to Sogorea Te once the mortgage is paid off. From there, Planting Justice will continue to operate on the land with a lease from the land trust.
LaRose said she’d really like someone with the resources to come in and give them the money to pay off the mortgage in full.
“Weirder things have happened,” she said.
One way Sogorea Te is raising funds is through the Shuumi Land Tax, a tax that the land trust has been implementing since 2016. It’s a voluntary tax for people who live on Chochenyo and Karkin Ohlone land, encompassing two dozen cities that make up most of the East Bay.
It was modeled after the Honor Tax that the Wiyot people started in Humboldt County, California. And there are other groups running similar taxes, like Real Rent, which encourages Seattleites to make rent payment to the Duwamish Tribe.
The Shuumi Tax is based on how many rooms people have in their home and whether they rent or own. As the value of a person’s home—or of rental costs—increase, so does the tax.
“But a lot of people give a lot more money. A lot more money but it’s this idea that you’re really paying for the privilege of living on Ohlone land, occupied land,” LaRose said. “It’s like reparations of some sort.”
In 2018, KALW reported that the land trust received $80,000 from 800 contributions in the previous year.
The tax funds have been used for staff, office costs, and supplies. And in the future, they will be used to buy and maintain lands that are under the land trust’s stewardship.
Back at the Planting Justice site, two hours have gone by and the volunteers’ work is almost done for the day. Their last big task begins when the contractor brings another truckful of gravel. Volunteers spread out this new load until it’s level.
LaRose says volunteers and other community members are always thanking her and the Sogorea Te team for doing this work.
“But I’m like, ‘we have to do it.’ It’s not like we want to do it,” she said. “We have to do it.”
DEONNA ANDERSONis a freelance digital and radio reporter and a former Surdna reporting fellow for YES!
Coopcerrado, a farmer’s cooperative of 5,000 families, won the United Nations’ Equator Prize under the category of “New Nature Economies” due to its more than two decades of work in developing a farmer-to-farmer model of mutual support for training, commercializing and setting up organic and regenerative businesses in the Brazilian Cerrado.
The Cerrado savanna, a biodiversity hotspot holding 5% of the world’s biodiversity is also among one of the most threatened, with almost half of the biome destroyed for agriculture and a process of desertification already underway, scientists say.
To save the Cerrado, farmers and traditional extractivist communities have developed an expandable model of collective support in knowledge and resource-sharing while restoring the biome and providing an income for thousands of vulnerable families.
Bureaucratic and logistic hurdles in Brazil traditionally leave small farmers and traditional communities out of mainstream markets and industries, but bridging this gap has been one of the keys to the cooperative’s success.
When farmer Mônica de Souza Ribeiro moved into her landless settlement in the state of Goiás in central Brazil in the late 1990s, she was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of agrotoxins and chemicals deployed in the cattle- and soy-dominated region. At first, she followed suit, using chemical fertilizers to grow the vegetables that she sold for her family business. But she became increasingly concerned as she watched the destruction around her.
Brazil’s Cerrado, a Mexico-sized tropical savanna, holds 5% of the world’s biodiversity, but almost half of the natural vegetation has now been replaced by agribusiness — mostly soy and corn monocultures as well as cattle pastures. The vast destruction is now fueling desertification, threatening regional climate stability, biodiversity, and Brazil’s energy and food supplies.
“When we moved here, I wouldn’t see a single bird. The poison would kill everything,” Ribeiro told Mongabay in a telephone interview from the settlement in rural Guapó municipality. “I wanted to take care of nature and the Cerrado, but I didn’t know how.”
That changed when she joined Coopcerrado, now a 5,000-family-strong organic farmers’ cooperative and the 2021 winner of the United Nations’ Equator Prize under the category “New Nature Economies” for its two-decade-long fight to make regenerative and organic production possible for smallholders. Coopcerrado is today made up of 238 smallholder and traditional communities across five states in Brazil’s agribusiness stronghold.
Life has gotten harder for the region’s vulnerable communities under Brazil’s anti-environment president, Jair Bolsonaro. As economic and political pressures continue to favor the nation’s powerful agribusiness lobby, traditional communities find themselves under increasing threat of violent eviction, with land conflicts breaking records last year. Even as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to take its toll on the sector, burying a number of small businesses, the cooperative offers a glimmer of hope.
“The cooperative stood out as an effective model for the sustainable use of a vulnerable biome by successfully commercializing over 170 non-timber forest products,” Anna Medri, a senior analyst at the United Nations Development Programme, told Mongabay. “It provides a blueprint for sustainable supply chains that leave ecosystems intact.”
Less exploitation, more conservation when Cerrado communities are supported
Twenty years ago, the overharvesting of a bean pod called faveira was damaging the Cerrado and exploiting its pickers. With pharmaceutical companies creating high demand for the plant, which is rich in several flavonoids used to make medication for high-blood pressure, middlemen would source it from the region’s most vulnerable, often women and children without land.
At the time faveira cost the equivalent of only 0.22 reais, or 4 U.S. cents, adjusted for inflation. People harvesting the pods could barely make ends meet, according to Alessandra da Silva, a coordinator at Coopcerrado and one of its longest-standing members. Faveira was so cheap in its raw form that it could be exchanged for an equal weight of salt.
“The lowest price was paid to the people collecting this plant. It was devalued by the exploitative supply chain, and the environment suffered too,” Silva said. “No one had an incentive to protect nature.”
The cooperative’s first project, in 2000, saw faveira collectors organizing with the help of consultants and agronomists. With organic certification and improved techniques, and without the middlemen, the cooperative was able to collectively negotiate with local pharmaceutical companies. The result was that people at the bottom of the supply chain saw a price jump of more than 1,000%, now selling their faveira for 2.60 reais (50 cents). This agreement also put a stop to the predatory extraction that was harming the environment.
For the plant to have time to regenerate, farmers need to skip a harvest every two years. The collective planning and increased income for the families gave it the time required to thrive.
Working under one unified contract also made life easier for everyone. Pharmaceutical companies no longer needed to negotiate hundreds of separate contracts and had a reliable source for the ingredient. And faveira farmers could avoid having to deal with red tape.
“It’s a win-win situation,” Silva said.
Today, Coopcerrado has applied similar strategies for 170 native Cerrado species harvested by the cooperative, sold to local markets, nationwide supermarket chains, multinational companies, and for export. The cooperative negotiates billing, packaging and sale of the products collectively as well. The cooperative also takes responsibility for transportation, providing access for hard-to-reach families and communities in rural areas.
Sharing resources and skills key to success
Members of the cooperative subdivide into hundreds of smaller units. Every 10 families make up a local nucleus that meets monthly to receive support and training from the cooperative’s agronomists and share skills. “Recently, I shared my natural remedy for fending off an aggressive ant attacking the plants,” Ribeiro said. “We share the knowledge we carry between us and also learn from the technical, professional assistance from agronomists.”
Thousands of families and communities now make a better living restoring the environment and protecting the region’s biodiversity. But the challenges are still huge.
“Banks won’t dole out credit for this kind of project. They still don’t think it’s a worthwhile investment,” Silva told Mongabay, adding that government support has also fallen under both the Terner and Bolsonaro administrations.
Resource sharing among members helps bridge that gap. A pay-it-forward cyclical credit scheme, which is not always available to due funding limitations, and a free seed bank help support new and existing members.
In 2010, the project granted Ribeiro access to a cyclical project-based credit subsidy to plant her first chili pepper harvest, making it possible for her to get started. Once she earned the money back, the funds reverted to the next farmer.
A path away from greed and exploitation
In coming years, Coopcerrado plans to reach 10,000 families. For this, it needs access to resources such as credit, grants and donations, as well as changes in public policy.
“We want to revert this path of exploitation and greed and show that there is another possible path for the Cerrado,” Silva said.
Government action could make a huge difference in expanding the horizons of sustainable land use in the region, she said, but the prospects under Brazil’s current administration are dim. For years, the cooperative’s farmers sold flour made from the nutritious baru nut to the government for public school meals. But the program was slashed in recent years, and the government terminated the contract.
Improved land rights and government measures to support traditional communities are also in dire need, Silva said. “Many communities face high levels of precarity, but the cooperative can’t replace public policy,” she said.
Ten years after joining the cooperative, Ribeiro says she sees a massive change on her own land, now an organic vegetable farm.
“People aren’t waking up to the fact that we’re killing the life on Earth. If we allow large-scale farmers to destroy everything here in the Cerrado and plant crops right up to the riverbanks, where are the animals going to live?” she said. “Today, my farm is a happier place. Nature feels more alive. Life around me has transformed, there are lots of birds in the sky. Even people around us who aren’t part of the cooperative have started reducing agrotoxins.”
There are four things you should know,” says David Fuertes to the youths he mentors. “You should know your origins, because your ancestors have paved the way. You should know your values and connect in those values, because that’s going to drive you to make decisions. You should know your purpose, because that will show the ‘why’ of what you’re doing. And you should envision the ultimate for yourself and your lāhui [or ‘people’].”
Fuertes is the executive director of Kahua Pa’a Mua, an education-focused agriculture nonprofit in North Kohala, on the bucolic northern tip of Hawai‘i Island (also known as the Big Island). It’s one of many organizations that have popped up in the past decade in pursuit of food security and resilience in the Aloha State.
Some of these organizations were founded in the wake of legislation introduced in 2012 that acknowledged that Hawai‘i had become “dangerously dependent” on imported food. At the time, 92% of Hawai‘i’s food was being imported, which meant that in the event of a natural disaster or global catastrophe, the islands would have only seven days to survive.
On the heels of the Food, Energy, and Conservation Act, a $288 billion five-year agriculture policy bill passed by Congress amid the Great Recession, Hawai‘i’s bill called for the expansion of agriculture in order to cut down on expenditures, create more jobs, and keep money within local economies.
However, before the state legislation was even introduced, North Kohala—an area zoned mainly for agriculture—already had a plan to reach 50% food self-sufficiency by 2020. The community has yet to chart their progress, but Kahua Pa’a Mua is one of the smaller nonprofits to help make big steps toward that goal.
Caring for the Community
Founded in 2010 by Fuertes and his wife, Carol, Kahua Pa’a Mua operates on the premise that true, lasting sustainability comes not only from partnering with the land, but from empowering community members to take care of one another.
With several years of business management experience, Carol Fuertes serves as the nonprofit’s secretary and treasurer. David Fuertes brought the vision, along with 30-plus years of teaching agriculture in the Hawai‘i Department of Education, and experience in youth mentorship after he retired. Both wanted to focus their work on area youth when they created the organization—initially an expansion of a family-oriented taro cooperative.
“If you want food for a year, plant taro. [If] you want food for more than a year, plant a tree. But if you want to feed the community for a lifetime, invest in our children,” says David Fuertes, who comes from a long line of homesteaders and community builders. He moved to Kohala in 1975, but grew up in Kauai, where his father, who emigrated from the Philippines, worked on a sugar cane plantation and helped organize fellow laborers to strike for better work conditions and pay.
Kahua Pa’a Mua now hosts a mentorship program that teaches students from ages 13 to 18 about animal husbandry and crop production to grow and distribute food throughout the community. The program gets its name from Ho’okahua Ai, which means, “to build a foundation of nutrition, sustenance, communication, and sharing.”
While other youth initiatives throughout the islands use organic farming, at Kahua Pa’a Mua, the students employ Korean Natural Farming methods that fertilize soil with indigenous micro-organisms (IMOs)—bacteria, fungi, nematodes, protozoa—from one’s surroundings rather than inorganic fertilizers. Invented in Korea in the mid-1960s by Cho Han-kyu (also known as “Master Cho”), these methods have become widely used in Hawai‘i, but have yet to gain traction on the U.S. mainland. Besides producing high yield crops, these techniques help produce healthy soil and sequester carbon, which lessens greenhouse gas emissions.
“It’s pretty much growing nature by using nature,” says Jamiel Ventura, 21, who started off in Kahua Pa’a Mua’s youth mentorship program and has since returned as a farm assistant through the Honolulu-based nonprofit KUPU, which facilitates youth-focused environmental programs. Ventura first became interested in agriculture in middle school through a video game called Viva Piñata, where players plant crops in garden plots. It was Fuertes’ teaching of Korean Natural Farming that fully ignited Ventura’s passion.
But even Fuertes only began using these techniques in 2008, after being invited to the University of Hawai‘i to see Master Cho give a clinic. His motivation to teach this cleaner method of farming came when his son died of cancer.
Before the Fuertes’ son died, at age 36, doctors found trace amounts of 2,4,5-T (Trichlorophenoxyacetic acid) in his body, one ingredient in an herbicide once used on their family farm. The acid was also a component of Agent Orange, an herbicide and defoliant used as part of chemical warfare in the Vietnam War. Banned by the EPA in 1979, 2,4,5-T was used during the plantation era, and still lingered in the community for some time after. According to David Fuertes, if you knew who to ask, you could still get it.
“Being born and raised on a sugar plantation, chemical usage was a way of life,” he says, adding, “We irresponsibly used it to get the job done without thinking of consequences.”
Now David Fuertes works to make sure the health of crops extends to the health of the people as well as the conservation and preservation of the environment.
“The idea is if you take care of the land, the land takes care of you,” he says.
Feeding One Another
In the mid-18th century, North Kohala was home to 40,000 people who used systems of subsistence they developed to protect and restore both the land and the ocean. During that time, the concept of private property ownership didn’t exist. After Capt. James Cook’s arrival on the island in 1778, however, foreign investors’ interest in sugar mounted, eventually upending Hawaiians’ way of life. In the 19th century, Kohala was home to six of the state’s dozens of sugar cane plantations, but by the 1990s, these exploitative businesses had dried up as sugar production moved to other countries.
Today Kohala has roughly 6,500 residents, most of whom work in the ailing tourism industry. The land that is zoned for agriculture has been bought up mostly by the wealthy, many of whom don’t use their property as farmland, making it largely inaccessible to the community to grow crops. This blocks Kohala from being the food basket it once was and could be again.
After working as a land custodian for a mainland developer, David Fuertes got lucky and was given 5 acres. That land, which is part of the nonprofit’s learning lab, contains their brand new certified imu, a traditional underground oven. They hope eventually, with enough funding, the lab will have a processing plant that can be used to cook food for schools and the community.
The other 5 acres Fuertes acquired came through a landowner Fuertes knew through Future Farmers of America. It had been sitting idle for 20 years before the owner asked whether Fuertes could use it. In addition to the youth mentorship program, this land houses the nonprofit’s Ohana Agriculture Resilience initiative. Launched in 2019 with the hope of creating a revolution in backyard food sustainability, it provides 10 families with two 100-foot crop rows on their farm for free. Over the course of a year, families learn various aspects of farming and animal husbandry, and can grow whatever they please.
Once they graduate from the program, the families have a choice of equipment to continue their own operations at home. Options include a mobile pen called a chicken tractor to raise chickens, an odorless pigpen that composts manure and processes toxins under the pig’s feet, or an aquaponics tank to grow fish and soil-less produce.
“I got so much out of the program, and we established a network with all the other families,” says David Gibbs, who, along with his wife, Leah, and two children, were part of the initiative’s first Ohana Agriculture Resilience cohort. The Gibbs had recently moved from Utah so their children could grow up in a place knowing where their food came from. Now, the Gibbs’ yard has a garden filled with a variety of fruits and vegetables as well as chickens, whose eggs they share with the community.
One reason the programs are so successful is because of David Fuertes’ warmth. “He always makes us feel welcome,” says Joël Tan, who is part of the current cohort with his husband. Tan is the social impact director for a local organization called 1HeartHub. He found Kahua Pa’a Mua while conducting a needs assessment in the area. Tan and his husband are now growing napa cabbage, uala, and utong, and after the program, they hope to start a garden in their half-acre backyard. “At the end of the day, it’s grace in this time of quarantine,” Tan says.
Brandon McCarthy, who is also part of the initiative with his wife and children, says their wish is to grow some produce for local food drives. “I think the spirit of aloha is a real and tangible thing,” he says, “and it’s programs like these that make me feel it the most.”
David Fuertes says in Hawaiian culture that alo means many things, like “love,” “aina” [or “land”], “the universe,” and that ha means “breath.” So when you say aloha to someone, you’re actually giving your breath. “It’s more than just a greeting,” he says. “It’s giving part of your life.”
In this post I’ll explain why people say they support capitalism and then the actual reasons why people support capitalism. To end capitalism we need to understand why people support it. I’m listing the positives in the post that I don’t agree with. In future posts I’ll describe the myths of capitalism and the reasons why we need an alternative.
There isn’t a viable alternative economic system. Capitalism’s supporters agree that capitalism isn’t perfect but it’s all we’ve got. 
The moral argument for capitalism is based on individual freedom being a natural right that pre-exists society. Society is valued and justified because it benefits humans and enhances economic freedom, instead of limiting it.
The practical argument for capitalism is that many forms of centrally controlled governments have been tried and failed. Therefore privately owned and controlled means of production is the only viable way to run economies. 
Everything is better under capitalism. Capitalism has resulted in improved basic standards of living, reduction in poverty and increased life expectancy. There is also the argument that Western capitalist countries have the happiest populations because they can consume whatever products and services they like. 
Economics arguments. Capitalism results in exponential growth, which allows companies and individuals to benefit. This relates to the idea of, ‘A rising tide lifts all boats’, where if the rich get richer, then this will benefit everyone. Capitalism produces a wide range of goods and services based on what is wanted or can solve a problem. It is argued that capitalism is economically efficient because it creates incentives to provide goods and services in an efficient way. The competitive market forces companies to improve how they are organised and use resources efficiently. 
In 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, Ha-Joon Chang describes the free market ideology:
“We have been told that, if left alone, markets will produce the most efficient and just outcome. Efficient, because individuals know best how to utilize the resources they command, and just, because the competitive market process ensures that individuals are rewarded according to their productivity. We have been told that business should be given maximum freedom. Firms, being closest to the market, know what is best for their businesses. If we let them do what they want, wealth creation will be maximized, benefiting the rest of society as well. We were told that government intervention in the markets would only reduce their efficiency. Government intervention is often designed to limit the very scope of wealth creation for misguided egalitarian reasons. Even when it is not, governments cannot improve on market outcomes, as they have neither the necessary information nor the incentives to make good business decisions. In sum, we were told to put all our trust in the market and get out of its way.
Following this advice, most countries have introduced free-market policies over the last three decades – privatization of state-owned industrial and financial firms, deregulation of finance and industry, liberalization of international trade and investment, and reduction in income taxes and welfare payments. These policies, their advocates admitted, may temporarily create some problems, such as rising inequality, but ultimately they will make everyone better off by creating a more dynamic and wealthier society. The rising tide lifts all boats together, was the metaphor.” 
Capitalism has brought significant technology innovations. These included smartphones; the internet with rapid home delivery; streaming movies; social media; and automation has dramatically increased labour productivity.  Business invests in research and development to create better products and remain competitive. Employees work to improve their best practice to increase their productivity.  Supporters of capitalism argue that capitalism is very flexible and adaptable at dealing with society’s problems as they develop. An example would be climate change, with technologies such as renewables, carbon capture, nuclear power and geoengineering.
Capitalism is a social good and provides services to others. Selfishly working to make money means producing goods and services that others need. Even overpaid professions such as playing sport, or unpopular professions such as banking. This means that people can earn money and solve a problem for someone else. 
Capitalism promotes equality. This is the ‘American Dream’ idea that you may start out poor but if you work hard, you can be successful and rich. This is also known as meritocracy. 
Capitalism fits well with human nature. Humans are naturally selfish, greedy and competitive. People that work hard are successful and outcompete their competitors, and are therefore rewarded financially. Capitalism also allows for other aspects of human nature such as altruism, patience and kindness. This is done through the creation of welfare systems and charities. 
Capitalism and democracy work well together. Capitalism is built on democracy. Everyone gets one vote so they have equal political power, which is not affected by their race, gender or views.  Capitalism also encourages people to get involved in all aspects of society to get what they want. This includes getting involved with both governance and the government, from voting in elections, to standing in local or national elections. 
Capitalism gradually balances differences across countries through free markets and free trade. Countries can use their competitive advantage to benefit themselves and also access goods and services from the rest of the world. 
Capitalism maintains low taxes, which is good for workers and businesses. Low business taxes encourages companies to stay and provide more jobs by reinvesting the money they would pay in tax into the company. Some also argue that low business tax generates more tax for the government. 
Allan H. Meltzer, who wrote ‘Why Capitalism’, argues that capitalism has three strengths: economic growth, individual freedom, and it is adaptable to the many diverse cultures in the world.  He makes the case for capitalism in more detail:
“Capitalist systems are not rigid, nor are they all the same. Capitalism is unique in permitting change and adaptation, and so different societies tend to develop different forms of it. What all share is ownership of the means of production by individuals who remain relatively free to choose their activities, where they work, what they buy and sell, and at what prices. As an institution for producing goods and services, capitalism’s success rests on a foundation of a rule of law, which protects individual rights to property, and, in the first instance, aligns rewards to values produced. Working hand in hand with the rule of law, capitalism gives its participants incentives to act as society desires, typically rewarding hard work, intelligence, persistence and innovation. If too many laws work against this, capitalism may suffer disruptions. Capitalism embraces competition. Competition rewards those who build value, and buyers with choices and competitive prices. Like any system, capitalism has successes and failures—but it is the only system known to humanity that increases both growth and freedom. Instead of ending, as some critics suppose, capitalism continues to spread—and has spread to cultures as different as Brazil, Chile, China, Japan, and Korea. It is the only system humans have found in which personal freedom, progress and opportunities coexist. Most of the faults and flaws on which critics dwell are human faults. Capitalism is the only system that adapts to all manner of cultural and institutional differences. It continues to spread and adapt, and will for the foreseeable future.” 
Reasons why people actually support capitalism
So why do ordinary people continue to support capitalism or not actively seek an alternative economic system? This is a huge, complex question so I don’t plan to answer this in detail now. I do want to outline some broad reasons.
There is no alternative (tina). When Margaret Thatcher used this phrase, she meant that capitalism was the only viable economic and political system. In the 21st century it has become near impossible for most to imagine a coherent alternative to capitalism, this is known as ‘Capitalist Realism’.  The dominant narrative is that any attempts to organise societies in a non-capitalist way have been complete failures, and this has been accepted by many. Movements, leaders and parties which have attempted to reform capitalism by creating measures to bring about a fairer, more equal and less harsh society, have been attacked, distorted, misrepresented and finally crushed, examples being Corbynism in the UK, Bernie Sanders in the USA, and Syriza in Greece. This results in ‘disaffected consent,’ which I wrote about in this post. 
Need a job to pay bills. People are understandingly cautious about supporting an alternative to capitalism that might disrupt their lives and make things more difficult or worse. However unpopular and unstable capitalism is, it does allow a large number of people to live.
Want a fairer capitalism. Many that are struggling just want capitalism reformed to make their lives a bit better, rather than grand plans to change everything. These are seen as achievable, reasonable, small changes. Many are too busy trying to survive and provide for their families to engage with politics themselves – meetings, groups, campaigns are all too time consuming. They want this done for them by political parties.
Have not experienced collective struggle and don’t understand things could better under a different economic system. The left is historically weak, so many that want things to be better have no experience, knowledge, access and interest in left organisations and institutions, eg the trade unions. Many are anti-left and identify with the Tories.
Way out of poverty. For many born poor, capitalist society offers some that work hard and are lucky the chance to get rich, or if not rich then to have a comfortable lifestyle.
Personally benefit from capitalism. For those that enjoy the benefits of capitalism, this is a powerful motivator to keep things as they are. They have worked hard for their money and private property, and are looking forward to retirement with a pension plan. The Tories are the political party of capitalism. Many may not really like the Tories but they are perceived to be good at running the economy and maintaining the status quo. For many this is the deciding factor.
Bought off by consumption. The decline in real wages since the 1970s, and the lack of opportunities to make meaningful democratic inputs into political decision making, has been compensated by the expansion of consumption – homes, cars, electrical equipment, furniture, holidays etc. This has been made possible by the explosion of household debt and cheap goods from Asia. 
Economics as a subject is based only on the the theories of those who support it. University courses in economics are only taught by those that support capitalism. They do not teach the significant problems with capitalism or the viable alternatives. 
A delegation of representatives from six countries of America, representing Black and Indigenous communities and organizations belonging to the Black and Indigenous Liberation Movement (BILM) joined the Anishinaabe Nation and other Indigenous Peoples under the United States to demand that Enbridge Corporation stop the construction of the Line 3 oil pipeline, as well as all extractivist, racists, and colonial projects that violate their rights, territories and culture.
August 19, Minneapolis, USA. Between August 18 to 21, a delegation composed of representatives from social movements and Indigenous and Black communities from Canada, United States, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Chile and Ecuador; members of BILM; joined the communities of the Anishinaabe Nation and other Peoples of the United States to demand the suspension of Canadian oil company, Enbridge’s project, which plans to build Line 3, one of the largest crude oil transportation pipelines in the United States.
The BILM delegation of representatives demands the end of the colonial-extractivist model endangering the life of Indigenous Peoples and Black communities. Line 3 and other extractivist projects that are being implemented throughout the American continents negatively affect Indigenous Peoples violating their rights, territories, and culture; endangering especially biodiversity, water sources, and other vital resources for humanity; and also contributing to the environmental problems that affect the planet.
“The Anishinaabe People’s struggle against climate change is critical not only for them but for the entire planet. This struggle is particularly important for Black and Indigenous Peoples across the Americas for how it can unite us…and our communities must unite to stop the destruction of our planet, our territories and our own bodies.” Mike Bento, representative from New York City Shut It Down.
Line 3 is a project aiming to expand the pipeline that begins in Alberta, Canada and ends in Wisconsin, US, to transport almost a million barrels of oil per day. This project was proposed in 2014 by Enbridge, a Canadian oil company, responsible for the largest oil spill inside the US. Enbridge seeks to build a new oil pipeline corridor that will cross pristine wetlands and the territory of the Anishinaabe Peoples’ treaty lands through the headwaters of the Mississippi river up to the river banks of Lake Superior.
This is a time for mutual solidarity against racial capitalism, the carceral state, extractivism, patriarchy, and mass displacement. We are here to stand in solidarity with our relatives because there is no Climate Justice without Racial Justice.
“This is a time for mutual solidarity against racial capitalism, the carceral state, extractivism, patriarchy, and mass displacement. We are here to stand in solidarity with our relatives because there is no Climate Justice without Racial Justice.
Our fight to end centuries of colonization requires us to work together, to organize across borders and across languages in order to achieve liberation and self determination for our peoples across the hemisphere“, expressed Leo Cerda, founding member of the BILM Movement, and a member of the Kichwa indigenous people.
The State of Minnesota’s Environmental Impact Statement for Line 3 recognizes that the project will have “disproportionate and adverse impacts” on Native Peoples (Section 11.5), meaning this project does not comply with the basic environmental standard or the approved safeguards for recognized Indigenous territories. The construction of this pipeline is an act of environmental racism.
Amin Matias, member of the Dominican Afrodescendant Network, said that “Indigenous peoples, local communities and Black Peoples must resist against a development model that threatens our lives and the planet. We are here to condemn extractivism and fight against the structural racism that Black and Indigenous Peoples experience.”
The implementation plan for the Line 3 project will go through not only Anishinaabe territory, but also the territory of others, such as Dakota and Lakota Peoples. The establishment of this project would violate the Anishinaabe people and nation in its pathway, endangering the flora and fauna, pristine wetlands as well as the culture and the sovereignty of these indigenous Peoples.
“Solidarity among Indigenous and Black Peoples strengthens our struggle against extractivism and the abuse of the great economic powers promoting Line 3 in Minnesota, as well as in many other territories. Indigenous Peoples protect nature to preserve the planet for all humanity”.
As for Rosa Marina Flores Cruz, an Black-Indigenous Binnizá woman from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, Mexico, and member of the Indigenous Peoples’ Assembly of the Isthmus in Defense of Land and Territory, declared:
“We are here to make a common front. In the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Oaxaca, Mexico, we are facing mega wind energy projects, which is renewable energy, but also projects to establish gas pipelines, and paradoxically, both types of projects follow the same logic of dispossession and appropriation of our territories”.
The consequences of the extractivist activities in both North America and Latin America are reflected in the impact on the territories, biodiversity, forests, soil, water, and the air quality which above all affect the population living there, for example, the case of Texaco in the Ecuadorian Amazon, a company that during its extraction period (between 1960 and 1992) produced 68 million cubic meters of wastewater filled with heavy metals and carcinogens, affecting the Siona, Secoya and Cofán Indigenous Peoples for several generations.
“Indigenous Peoples have to stop the expansion of extractive industries. Line 3 is intended to transport crude oil, but in my territory, in the Kichwa community of Serena, in the Amazon jungles of Ecuador, they want to set up mining concessions not authorized by us, the Indigenous Peoples,” said Majo Andrade Cerda, an Indigenous person from the Kichwa community of Serena, in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
The Black and Indigenous Liberation Movement (BILM) is a coalition of collectives, peoples, grassroots organizations and social movements from across the Americas. It was born in 2020 to support struggles against racism, discrimination, violence, colonialism and the ravages of racial capitalism. The movement seeks to unite all the voices of the continent and establish a solidarity action network that allows us to raise awareness of the demands of each community and territory so that together we can fight the inequality and injustice experienced by Indigenous Peoples and Black communities. More info
Established in 1990, The Indigenous Environmental Network is an international environmental justice nonprofit that works with tribal grassroots organizations to build the capacity of Indigenous communities. IEN’s activities include empowering Indigenous communities and tribal governments to develop mechanisms to protect our sacred sites, land, water, air, natural resources, the health of both our people and all living things, and to build economically sustainable communities.
George Lawson writes in Anatomies of Revolution about two common but unhelpful ways that revolutions are viewed. Either as everywhere – on the streets in the Middle East, to describe new technology, in films and also to describe political leaders. The second is that they are minor disturbances and “irrelevant to a world in which the big issues of governance and economic development have been settled.” 
In Revolutions: A Very Short Introduction, Jack Goldstone describes two perspectives of revolutions. One is heroic, where the downtrodden masses follow their leaders to rise up and overthrow unjust rulers resulting in gaining freedom and dignity. The second is that they are “eruptions of popular anger that produce chaos” and result in the mob using violence with destructive results. He describes how varied the history of revolutions is: “some are nonviolent, whereas others produce bloody civil wars; some have produced democracies and greater liberty whereas others have produced brutal dictatorships.” 
I see revolutions as a radical system change or transformation of society to improve the lives of the majority of people. I think Goldstone’s definition of revolutions is useful “both observed mass mobilization and institutional change, and a driving ideology carrying a vision of social justice. Revolution is the forcible overthrow of a government through mass mobilization (whether military or civilian or both) in the name of social justice, to create new political institutions.” 
Revolutions also need to be understood in relation to other forms of social change such as rebellions, coups, and civil war. Rebellions are not strong enough to overthrow the state, coups are but replace one elite figurehead with another. Civil war is a situation where the central authority that is managing two or more competing factions demands fails resulting in the factions fighting it out.  Hannah Arendt describes in On Revolution the close relationship in history between war and revolution. 
Types of revolution
There are three broad categories of revolutions: political revolutions, social revolutions, a broad category including any instance of relatively rapid and significant change. Political revolutions can be described as “any and all instances in which a state or political regime is overthrown and thereby transformed by a popular movement in an irregular, extraconstitutional, and/or violent fashion.” Social or ‘great’ revolutions can be defined as including “not only mass mobilization and regime change, but also more or less rapid and fundamental social, economic, and/or cultural change during or soon after the struggle for state power.” The third broad definition including any instance of relatively rapid and significant change including the industrial revolution, agricultural revolution, academic revolution, cultural revolution, feminist revolution, technology revolution, etc. 
The social or great revolutions include the English, French, Mexican, Russian, Chinese and maybe the Cuban. The rest are political revolutions of one form or another. Marxist or working-class revolution will be covered in a future post.
Socialist revolutions – starting with the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and all the revolutions this inspired
‘Third World’ revolutions – starting with the Cuban Revolution of 1959, resulting in several revolutions ‘against the odds’ which were led by a rural peasantry rather than an urban proletariat. Cuban provided assistance for revolution in Angola, Bolivia, etc
The ‘last great revolution’ – Iran Revolution in 1978/9
‘Colour’ revolutions – between 1989 and 1991, several revolutions removed Soviet control of Eastern and East-Central Europe, culminating in the end of the Cold War itself.
Arab Spring – uprisings and revolutions in 2011 in North Africa and the Middle East
Jack Goldstone in Revolutions: a very short introduction offers another framework:
Revolutions in the ancient world
Revolutions of the Renaissance and Reformation – including revolutions in renaissance Italy in the 13th and 14th centuries, and the English Revolution.
Constitutional revolutions: America, France, Europe (1830 and 1848), and Meiji Japan
Communist revolutions: Russia, China, Cuba
Revolutions against dictators: Mexico, Nicaragua, and Iran
Color revolutions: The Philippines, Eastern Europe and USSR, and Ukraine
The Arab Revolutions of 2011: Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Syria
Revolutionary waves are important historical events. There are a series of revolutions that occur in various locations within a similar period. A revolution or large scale rebellion in one country inspires uprisings and revolutions with similar aims in other counties. See here for a list.
There have been four generations of academic revolutionary theory. The first generation was in the first half of the 20th century and is based on Crane Brinton, who compared the stages of a social or great revolution to the symptoms of a fever. The second generation followed the Second World War and attempted to explain the relationship between modernization and uprisings in the Third World. Modernization led to rising expectations but economic downturns would result in frustration and potentially aggression leading to revolution. In the second half of the 20th century, the third generation developed in critical response to the second generation. This ‘structuralist’ approach argued that revolutions were caused by specific structural developments such as the commercialisation of agriculture, state crisis from international conflict and elite conflict, demographic changes destabilising social order by putting pressure on state finance’s, weakening government legitimacy, resulting in intra-elite competition. The fourth generation developed in the early 21st century and focuses on the factors that challenges state stability including: “how international factors such as dependent trade relations, the transmission of ideas across borders, and the withdrawal of support by a patron, along with elite disunity, insecure standards of living, and ‘unjust’ leadership”. 
Revolutionary theory can be broadly divided up into three phases related to how revolutions unfold: the study of the origins or causes of revolution, the process of the revolutionary event, and the outcomes . For now, thinking about what causes revolutions is of most interest to me. Goldstone describes five conditions that can lead to instability in a society: “economic or fiscal strain, alienation and opposition among elites, widespread popular anger at injustice, a persuasive shared narrative of resistance, and favorable international relations.” 
Anatomies of Revolution, George Lawson, 2019, page 1
Revolution: A Very Short Introduction, Jack Goldstone, 2014, page 1/2
Revolution: A Very Short Introduction page 4
The Road Not Taken: How Britain Narrowly Missed a Revolution 1381-1926, Frank McLynn, 2013, page 516
On Revolution, Hannah Arendt, 1963, introduction
No Way Out: States and Revolutionary Movements 1945-1991, Jeff Goodwin, 2001, page 9
Within and Beyond the ‘Fourth Generation’ of Revolutionary Theory, George Lawson, 2015, page 2-6, download here