Event Alert: The Struggle for Human and Nonhuman Guardians

Event Alert: The Struggle for Human and Nonhuman Guardians

Editor’s Note: Deep Green Resistance promotes a biocentric worldview. We believe in the dignity of the lives of every creature of the world, and nature herself. Human and nonhuman alike are a part of nature, and should live in harmony with her, not against her.

That’s why we invite you to come to the We Are All In This Together Symposium, a series of live-events where friends of nature can learn more about how to get active in resistance and bring the natural world to the center of their lives in a practical and intertwined way.

This is not an event organized by DGR. Therefore, we may not agree with everything in the event. For example, we believe that climate change is only the symptom of a wider problem, which is the destruction of nature. We do not believe it is possible to tackle climate change without tackling ecocide or biodiversity loss in the first place.

We appreciate the organizers for talking about colonization and commodification of the natural world. Human civilization has de-personified the natural world and nonhumans, stripping them of their inherent dignity and rights. Historically, it have treated indigenous people in the same way. Therefore, we understand the need for decolonization of indigenous people, nonhumans and natural world.

Yet, decolonization is not a simple issue anymore, as is exemplified by an increasing number of indigenous peoples opting to lease their ancestral land for mining companies. This has created a blurring of lines between colonizers and colonized. It is not enough to just return the captured land back to its original custodians. It is also important for the formerly colonized to remove the colonizing mentality of civilization, to return to a lifestyle in harmony with the land, and to restore their status as custodians of the land, rather than to replace the settlers as the “owners” of the land. Only then can we claim to have finally decolonized.

We Are All In This Together Symposium

We Are all in this Together Symposium seeks to reposition environmental stewardship and humanities disciplines within an eco-centric framework. Through a series of three virtual events, we are planning to explore the concepts of land “ownership,” and the importance of honoring nature’s more-than-human guardians. The events will first address the settler colonial history, which has brought us to this point of crisis. Then, we will invite the speakers to explore alternatives that honor the needs and interests of all ecosystems. Together, the speakers will join with audiences to consider how to shift the exploitative paradigm that currently dominates and build a future that protects and respects the life of all ecosystems and communities.

The Symposium is guided under the mission and vision of:

Standing up for the Guardians of the Natural World


In a series of three virtual events, we will join to discuss how we can expand the conception of environmental stewardship beyond the human, and unravel the historical roots of the climate crisis. Here you get access to three free live-webinars.

Deconstructing ownership

February 28th @ 6.30 pm EST

This event will grapple with the history of colonization and commodification of the more-than-human world, drawing the connection between settler colonial conception of private property, and the current climate crisis. We will also delve into how we can all shift away from this destructive paradigm and acknowledge the “Rights,” spirit and agency of Land.

The spirits of nature

March 19th @ 6.30 EST

The event will address how communities have, since time immemorial, honored and protected the spirits of the natural world. From communities standing up to defend the guardians of mountains to water guardians that advocate for the spirits of rivers, humans have long acknowledged the existence of the beings who don’t fit into the western empirical conception of nature. These beliefs were and are the foundation of humans’ relationship with the ecosystems they inhabit. In these times of crisis, the event will delve into the historical roots of these relationships, and the importance of celebrating these ancestral worldviews.

Who looks after water

April 9th @ 6.30 EST

This event will focus on how more-than-human beings (such as Trees, Wolves and Eels) are fulfilling their roles and responsibilities towards the ecosystems they call home, while playing their part in maintaining an ecosystem balance that keeps all life flourishing. While the program will delve into the historical nature of these relationships, it will also address how we, humans, can act reciprocally and honor/protect these guardians of water and life.

To participate just click on the links above. For questions contact talkingrivers@riseup.net

Read more about eco-centrism here:

Visual art and storytelling to build resistance

Our roles towards ecosystems of rivers

Photo by kazuend on Unsplash

We Are Not Leaving: Indigenous Tribe Takes Back Their Land

We Are Not Leaving: Indigenous Tribe Takes Back Their Land

This is a press release by Process of Liberation of Mother Earth, originally published in Liberacion de la Madre Tierra. The Nasa people of Cauca had been pushed to the mountains by the invaders in the 16th century. For the past 17 years, they have shifted to direct action to get back their land. Although their pursuit had been disrupted in the past, they have now stayed in their original land despite state attempts to remove them. Both right leaning and left leaning governments have attempted to remove them from their rights to their land. DGR extends our solidarity to the Nasa people of Cauca valley in their struggle for land reclamation.

Now that the 48 hours have passed, we send this letter to the world to tell about our struggle and the danger that awaits us, and what we are going to do in face of the danger. The great chief sent word, that we are invaders and gives us 48 hours to abandon our struggle and the land where we fight, or the full weight of the law of the Colombian state will fall on us.

First we tell you about our struggle. This last September 2nd, 17 years have passed since we returned to direct action to fight for the land, a struggle that has roots in 1538, when our people decided to declare war to the invaders. The invaders took over our land and pushed us into the mountains, the invaders made of dispossession a way of life, the how of their civilization, and today they have in their possession the most fertile lands and they have documents that prove they own and they are an organized power that moves the strings of politics and economy and justice and the media in Colombia to keep the documents up to date and to exploit Mother Earth more and more until skinning her and sucking her blood and digging into her entrails and this is called progress, development.

For us, families of the Nasa people of northern Cauca, the land is Uma Kiwe, our mother. Everything that is in it has life, all of it is life, all beings are our brothers and sisters and all beings are worth the same. The invader indoctrinated us to teach us that we humans are outside our Mother and that we are superior to her, but deep in our hearts, nasa üus, we know that people are Uma Kiwe just like the condor and the butterfly and the corn and the stone are Uma Kiwe. The invader indoctrinated us to teach us that the moor is a resource that produces money, that by cutting down the jungle we can increase bank accounts, that by digging into Uma Kiwe’s entrails with large tubes we can access a life of well-being. That is the word of the invader and he calls it the goal, the life plan.

The lands of the Cauca river valley, where we now live, from where we fight, is the house and home of hundreds of animals, plants, rocks, waters, spirits, in a way of life that in Spanish they called tropical dry forest. The invader destroyed everything, that house and home no longer exist, he has damaged the face of Mother Earth. In their eagerness to impose their civilization, those who have the documents of these lands, planted the entire valley of the Cauca River with sugarcane and there are 400 thousand hectares where the cane is planted up to the riverbank. In other regions of Colombia, the invader displaced communities with war and planted oil palm on thousands and thousands of hectares, and in other regions they have displaced communities to build dams or to extract gold or petroleum.

And once, in a region called Antioquia, the Cauca River rebelled and damaged the machines and equipment of the dam and it overflowed and the people who had already been displaced by the hydroelectric project had to move again because once again their lands were flooded. For these facts there are no guilty parties, the invaders of the Cauca River, the displacers of those communities and those who committed the massacres to impose development, have not yet received the full weight of the law of the Colombian state. And so, every corner of this country they call Colombia, the oldest and most stable democracy in Latin America, is made up of patches of development projects installed where the war displaced entire communities, where the forests, moors, savannahs, mountains, jungles and plains were or are being razed so that a few people can enjoy the honeys of development.

We, the indigenous families of the Nasa people who walk the struggle platform of the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC -by its acronym in Spanish), our organization, we don’t believe in that development and we don’t believe in that civilization that imposes death through laws and legal actions to generate coins. They indoctrinated us to believe in their civilization and told us that humans are superior to other beings, but we see that among humans there are levels, some humans who are superior than others, the superiors take all the wealth and the inferiors have to live cornered in the corners that development leaves us available, but they tell us that if we try hard or sell ourselves we can rise to the level of the superiors. We don’t like that way of life, we don’t accept it.

That is why 17 years ago, on September 2, 2005, we came down from the mountains to make a struggle that we continue today and that we have called the liberation of Mother Earth. Because we say that people will not be free while Uma Kiwe is enslaved, that all animals and beings in life are slaves until we get our mother to recover her freedom. At that time, September 2005, we had a tactical error, as one liberator said, and we negotiated an agreement with the Uribe government, an error that cost us a nine-year delay. But then we came back to enter the sugarcane agribusiness farms in December 2014, which means that we are almost eight years old, and in these eight years the oldest and most stable democracy in Latin America has not managed to evict us from the farms despite more than 400 attempts, and we are not going to leave, and we have been advancing by entering in these lands, so much that we already have 24 farms in process of liberation, already eight thousand hectares.

When we enter the farms we cut the cane and instead of the cane the food we sow grows, the forest also grow because Uma Kiwe has to rest, chickens, ducks, cows and little pigs grow, wild animals return… We are returning the skin and the face to Mother Earth. That is our dream, or if you prefer, our life plan. And there is still a long way to go, sometimes the word of the invader arrives and confuses us, but as a community we are talking and clarifying things. And other times the media from agribusiness or power in Colombia arrive and brand us as terrorists, lazy, that we slow down development, and tell us that we are invaders, as the current government of Petro and Francia says, and now they have planted the lie that we are stealing the land from our neighbors of the Afro-descendant communities who live cornered on the banks of the cane fields: what we can tell you with complete certainty is that the documents of the 24 farms that are in process of liberation, they are listed in the name of Incauca, the largest owner, and other landowners, or their land is leased to Incauca or other mills that process cane for sugar or agrofuels.

And also the judicial apparatus of Colombian democracy says that because we are terrorists they are going to capture us at checkpoints or with arrest warrants and they are going to take us to jail. And the paramilitaries, organized by the sugar cane agribusiness say that since the Colombian state has not managed to kill us, they are going to do it and they have already arrived at the farms in process of liberation to shoot us with short and long range weapons, but our range is longer because we already know how they are organized and how they work. And the agro-industrialists -Incauca, Asocaña, Procaña- have been sending us negotiation or association proposals for seven years and we have answered NO because a struggle is not negotiated and NO because for them being partners means that we put the labor as cheap as possible and that they provide the capital, NO gentlemen, we are not here to change bosses, we fight so that there are no more bosses.

And now that a new government and a new congress have arrived to strengthen the oldest and most stable democracy in Latin America, the congress tells us that we can send proposals for the agrarian reform law “because the liberation of Mother Earth is a concrete agrarian reform”; we haven’t responded yet, but we know how to restore the balance of Uma Kiwe, our Mother Earth, and it goes far beyond an agrarian reform. And the latest thing that has happened is that the new government of President Petro and Vice President Francia tell us that we are invaders and that we have 48 hours to leave these lands where we fight, we sow, we graze, we watch the forest grow and the wild animals return, well, in this land where we live, and that’s how we started this letter.

At the end of 48 hours, this September 2, the state attacked with the army and esmad (Mobile Anti-riot Squadron (Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios or ESMAD), there was no half hour of dialogue, as the new government had promised, the tank came in shooting gas. Later the army fired its long-range weapons against us, the communities that are liberating Mother Earth, there was no dialogue either. 17 years ago, on September 2, 2005, it was Uribe who ordered the esmad and the army to fire their weapons at us. This new government is from the left, the Uribe government was from the right. After eight hours of trying to evict us from one of the farms in process of liberation, the esmad and the army of the oldest democracy… they failed to evict us, here we continue, from here we launch this letter to the world.

We, the process of liberation of Mother Earth in northern Cauca, send word to the great chief that we are NOT going to evict, that here in these lands we are staying because this is our home to live and fight II. We say II because before we have already written that this is our home to live and fight I. At that time, 2018, the paramilitaries gave us a deadline to leave this land, but the paramilitaries gave us a slightly longer, more rational deadline, because they gave us two months, and when the two months were up we told them NO, that we couldn’t leave because this is our house to live and fight. That’s why we say II, because despite everything we don’t lose our smile. And you have to know that neither Uribe, nor Santos, nor Duque ever told us “they have 48 hours.” And we also tell you that we are not leaving because here in these lands in process of liberation, 12 compañerxs have fallen since 2005, murdered by the private company of Incauca, Asocaña and Procaña, and by the Colombian state. Here we already take root. We continue here until the government completes the process of delivering the documents to our indigenous authorities, either through agrarian reform or by the fastest way, and if it doesn´t happen, for the years of the years, we will continue here.

We also sent word to the great chief that we are going to enter in other farms because our struggle doesn’t stop. Yesterday we were in a great action to accompany a community that is liberating a farm because the esmad has been bothering them with gas every day for several days, despite the fact that they promised us that the esmad was going to end, then to transform and then that it was going to change it’s clothes, and it’s true because they wear a sports uniform for a soccer game while here they continue to shoot gas at us. We will continue our actions to root ourselves more with this land , so that our word has sustenance, because otherwise it would be like a decree or a campaign promise, which is written and signed but not fulfilled.

To the communities that in other regions of Colombia are fighting directly for the land, we invite to not leave the farms. We invite more families, more communities in the northern Cauca and in Colombia and in the world to enter in more farms and take possession and build life and community as we are already doing in these lands, the same way as many struggles that have been branded as invaders by the great chiefs of the country, because no fight has been won with little kisses on the cheek.

We also send word to our compañerxs who are now in the power of the Colombian state not to get tangled up along the way. Because they have walked alongside our struggles but now we see that they are forgetting where they come from, something that can happen to anyone who reaches a peak, who doesn´t see that after the top comes the descent. That is why we also sent word that we will enter to another farm where we will carry out rituals and plant food to share with them and we will pray for them so that when they finish their time in the state they continue to be the same people who one day arrived there with the votes of millions of people who saw in them some kind of hope.

So far this letter ends, but our word goes on. We write our word on the farms where we are liberating, that is our first word. The documents, the letters, the videos, the radio…, the second word, that helps us to tell the world what we do, the danger that awaits us and how we will continue walking in the face of danger. Thanks to the struggles and peoples of the world who listen to us and stand in solidarity with us. As we have already said in “this is our house to live and fight I”, the best way to support us is to strengthen your fight: it will be very difficult for capitalism to evict or bring down with the full weight of the law thousands and thousands of battles throughout the world.

Process of liberation of Mother Earth

Nasa people, Northern Cauca,

Colombia September 3, 2022.

Featured image: Cauca valley by Alliance for Biodiversity International and CIAT via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

After Industrial Civilization with Michel Jacobi

After Industrial Civilization with Michel Jacobi

This is part 1 of an episode of the Green Flame. This episode tries to answer the challenging question: What comes after Industrial Civilization? In this part, Max Wilbert talks with Michel Jacobi. Michel Jacoboi is a German, but he’s living in the Western part of Ukraine trying to reverse breed some of the extinct large animals of the European countryside back into existence and work with these creatures as assistants and as allies, in the process of restoring the land. Part 2 of the episode is with Lierre Keith, author of ‘The Vegetarian Myth’ and someone who has studied food systems, sustainability, agriculture and soils for many years, will be featured shortly.

Max: I’m here today with Michel Jacobi. Michel is somebody who’s becoming an expert in local food; in relocalisation; in rewilding of lanscapes using animals as allies, friends and community members in that process. Michel, could you tell us a little bit about you, who are you and what your work is and where you’re located?

Michel: Yes, I’m a German forestry engineer and I came 11 years ago from Germany and started to build up a farm for rare domestic breeds, and have been rescuing the water buffaloes that exist here in the mountains of Western Ukraine. It’s the Carpathian mountains, where we still have huge diversity. And some part of the landscape has once been all over Central Europe, because here we have the biggest virgin forest of Fagus Sylvatica, the European red beach.

So I was first interested to rescue these trees and the forest systems. I realized that the communities here – the locals are called Ruthianians – they are still quite powerful. The national parks that are located here they cannot save anything if they are not working with the locals together. So I started with the shepherds here, I learned the local dialect and collected some money in Switzerland with my NGO and could buy a few animals that had been in the slaughterhouse. They were male buffaloes, and after a while, I was the only one in the whole state that was breeding or keeping male water buffaloes.

So then I became quite famous among those people that still have water buffaloes and I helped them to keep them by exchanging the males from village to village so that the people can afford to keep females. The males are quite cost intensive and our NGO was managing this and through that I got quite famous. The circumstances here are quite hard and nearly no foreigners are living here. Most people from Zakarpattia go abroad to work and just live here in their free time. So, our NGO is still now, more or less, the only nature/environmental NGO that is working in the whole state and we are not only saving water buffaloes but we keep very rare Hucul horses, that is the local mountain pony with Zebra stripes. It is very close to the extinct Tarpan that once lived here in the mountains.

We also started to rescue a rare cow breed. I realised that the cow is a very central part of a self-sufficient community and people really loved what I’m doing. The local people felt they remembered former times because I learned from the shepherds how things used to be. They are quite old school. So even the richer locals started supporting me and I made cheese products from the buffaloes, from the buffalo milk, which is also quite unique because the water buffaloes are quite special in their behaviour. They are highly intelligent animals so it was weird for the locals that a German engineer is able to milk those buffaloes.

I learned from the buffaloes that you cannot force them, you have to act with them like a child. When you use force of violence they will refuse to give you anything. The local people here seem to be very traumatised by this collapsed regime that was here till the 90s So they forget how to keep those buffaloes and they told me like 60 or 70 years ago there had been thousands of them. When I arrived in 2008 I could just find 38 animals. Now we have more than 100 to 180 and they are in several projects such as rewilding Ukraine.

They keep the buffaloes in national parks and I started several farms just supporting people. We (me and my girlfriend) just have seven animals now but we’re managing five bull lines to keep up the diversity and live self-sufficiently. Having a garden, planting trees and exchanging products is called barter. I have a very nice family in Germany. Each time, when I had huge trouble I could go home and work there and make some money and bring it here to buy the hay because it was not always easy. When you rely on tourism or on external money, then there’s always something that can happen. I learned to just be on my own and to have very high diversification in my pro and my income.

Max: So you’re in what part of Ukraine exactly? It is the Western portion?

Michel: Yeah it’s the most Southwest part. Some geologists or geographers measured the center of Europe here. So we have a tourist station which says it’s the centre of Europe. It’s around 300 kilometers East of Budapest and close to Prague. In fact, there is no real industry or big cities around. It’s a very privileged micro-climate that we have here. It’s at the beginning of the large Pannonian basin which is like a steppe area and we are at the foothills of the Carpathian mountains which is the largest connected ecosystem of Europe.

Max: So I’m curious to hear you talk a little bit more about the aspect of this that I’ve been thinking about a lot. With the coronavirus crisis having swept around the world, it kind of remains to be seen exactly how intense it’s going to get and how many people are going to be killed. There were some estimates in the beginning that now are looking like they were a little too high, right? It’s looking like the virus is less lethal than a lot of the early estimates put it.

But one repercussion of what we have seen with coronavirus is this semi-collapse in globalisation. We’ve seen plane flights grounded we’ve seen the collapse of air travel, we have seen borders closed and because of that, we’ve seen food shortages in various areas. And I think a lot of people are maybe recognising in a way that they wouldn’t have recognised a month or two ago that globalisation and having this globalised supply chain for our food systems is maybe not such a good idea.

So I know here in my area – I live in the Western United States – and here in this area for example chickens, garden stores, seeds, nurseries, all of those type of businesses have been flourishing and exploding because thousands and thousands and thousands of people are recognising all of a sudden that local food and self-sufficiency is an incredibly important thing.

I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about the relocalisation of food and it seems like you’re sort of trying to revive this pastoral way of life. So can you talk about why this is important and why you know how you contrast that to the dominant culture today?

Michel: This culture here, the Ruthenian people, have been into serious trouble over the last 150 years. Different empires were always coming here, like the Austro-Hungarian empire and then Czechoslovakia. The Czech Republic and several Hungarians have been very cruel here. In the Soviet Union, mass people were killed because they were just farming.

When I talk to the people and say “we have a crisis,” they just start laughing because they say they are in a permanent state of crisis. In fact, they are not really touched by any world economic crisis because they have learned over the years to be self-sufficient. What that means is that everybody has two hectares of land for himself and his family and they share common land. So, common land is probably the key issue because for any self-sufficient gardening, you need the nutrition. The traditional way is that you keep a cow, or you keep a horse and a goat or whatever like this, like large herbivores that bring the nutrition from the field to your house to the garden. And with this manure you’re able to grow the vegetables and even feed the orchards. So those two hectares people have around is one important part. Potatoes, beans, onions, carrots and beetroots are the basic foundations of their survival.

At the beginning I did not have any garden. People were quite confused because growing potatoes is such an easy thing. I wasn’t used to it because in Germany it is not normal that you have any land where you can grow potatoes. In fact it’s really small land that you need for it and those highly productive plants like sweetcorn or beans you can grow on small areas.

These people have been teaching me how to do the gardening. The funny thing is that they are combining a very old calendar with their orthodox church. It’s a calendar that is oriented on the stars and moon and so on, it tells you when you can see which plants. Sometimes you have a freezing time that is heading in and when you plant something too early it will just die or when you plant it too late you will not have any results. So, it’s a little bit tricky and you should be connected to them, and to somebody that has some experience.

But with like a small greenhouse, anybody can start and have beautiful results and the interesting thing is when you have your own vegetable it’s like a synergy effect, it’s not only fun, it’s very healthy. You have something you can share in your community. It brings some type of pride when you produce something with your hands. You’re digging with the dirt and it’s like a healing ritual. So I recommend to anybody, even if it’s not necessary just do it as a hobby. If you are like really into it, you can start to grow your own seeds which can be a very high science, especially when we look at the different flowers that you can produce with corn.

I was once renting a small house in the mountains and I had always about two or three volunteers at the same time because of WWOOFing and things like that. An old lady, who was more than 83 years at the time, was able to feed me and two volunteers every day with at least one nice completely self-made meal. It means that you can, with your own garden, achieve a very high production and it’s not so work intensive. Now in the spring, when you believe in the digging, then you have to do quite a lot. But there is a very high result from very little work. When you invest like two or three hours a day, you have a really really big garden that can feed your whole family.

I think this is the main thing for building up anything. Because out of this home ground, you can be relaxed and you can start thinking about any problem in the world in a completely new way and a new perspective. It’s your ground and the common fields are defended by your community. Nobody can go there, no investor can go and say “I will take away your common ground and plant some genetically modified crops there and spray glucosate” or whatever. The community is depending on it so they will just burn down their machines and that’s what those people here are about. That’s the reason why there is no foreign investor, no big companies.

People don’t want anybody to use their common land because they are depending on it. And this new food that you have in your cellar the whole winter gives you the opportunity to do anything. Even if you get fired from your additional job, you always know you can come home and your granny is living at home and taking care of the children or the neighbor’s children or whatever.

With this gardening, a family structure is like this. There is the inner circle: the house. In the house, there is the oven you heat with firewood. Outside the house there is the well and the garden. The children are playing around and the granny is taking care of the children. Mostly here it’s a traditional way such that the wife is closer to the house and doing some gardening. The man is in the forest. They even have a community forest here so you can go and chop your own wood. I have to be honest, it’s a really great feeling. For example, when you start to cut hay, it’s a big activity in the summer. It brings everybody together. When you are out there with around twenty men cutting the hay of the grass with very sharp sickles from very early in the morning, you are singing and drinking together and it has such a strong energy.

It fees like people here have their secret language. When you don’t have you own potatoes and you don’t have your cow at home and you don’t speak the local dialect–which is pretty weird and survived over the last few hundred years–then people say “yeah they are the strangers and the tourists or whatever or the occupants.” When you have those things, you’re one of them. It was such an incredible feeling when they started to call me one of them. It makes feel like I’m not afraid of anything anymore because I’m now part of a bigger thing, a community which you cannot easily dismantle. There were many situations where it was helping me and giving me such a deeper inner freedom. Out of this I can now go out and do my research anyway.

I’m still different because I am not drinking with the locals (no alcohol). But I read. So people come here and want to know information and so on. And so it’s like this synergy that comes up with the community. That is such a great feeling.  I just can’t recommend it enough to anybody to build up such a structure. This is how it was in old Europe. And I feel at home here because my family or my roots are in this central European culture like the Celtics. They have also been living here. The people are of Slavic culture here, but they realize that the Celts have been living here. Everybody has to find his own place where he can resonate with the location. I tried to live in Bolivia but it was not possible, although I liked the political system but I feel like this European oak forest is the one that resonates with me the most.

Today, all day long, I was pestering my animals in the oak forest and it’s just wow because even the oak forest is feeding you with a lot. With mushrooms, they call it the meat of the forest. You can harvest all those non-timber forest products beside the wood and this gives you an even deeper connection. You know why you should keep this forest alive. You start to love it. Nobody can just come and buy it from you. Not even the state government is able to do illegal logging. Everybody who is picking mushrooms in the forest knows how much is allowed to take out and how much healthier it is for the forest. There is a very healthy and very strong community that takes care for the nature here.

The only problem here is the plastic garbage. People are not able to deal with plastic garbage because it’s quite new to this community. They don’t even know what it means. They don’t know what dioxin or what can oil do to the water. That’s a problem but that’s the reason why they contact me so much because I read, I’m an ecologist, and try to tell them how to handle plastic garbage

Max: It’s interesting I was just in the Philippines about a month ago doing some organising work down there and spent time in a rural agrarian community that sounds like it has some similarities to the community that you’re working in. It’s mostly people living in a small village. The houses are clustered together in small areas with some communal fields and some individually owned fields around. And then there’s also a jungle nearby that the community protects from deforestation and development. Even though at times in the past they themselves, or their ancestors, have cut trees in that area.

They’ve begun to develop stronger ecological ethics. There are a few similarities with the community that you’re talking about. First is living in this small community that’s rooted in a place where you know everyone in your village and they all know you. And the second similarity that I’m thinking about is the sense of the protection of the land and how powerful that can be when it’s shared in a community. And in the place that I was in, the Southwest part of the Northern island of Luzon, there is this village that when they would hear a chainsaw running in the forest everyone would just drop what they were doing and run to find the chainsaw. Because that often meant there was some illegal logging going on. I didn’t hear that happening while I was there. But they had developed a shared ethic that logging in this forest was unacceptable. And they’re doing restoration work and planting native trees and working to restore the forest starting with pioneer species and so to help restore their water cycle.

The third similarity actually would be the plastic garbage because similarly this community didn’t really have plastic coming into their community until relatively recently, perhaps maybe in the past, maybe a couple decades. So the idea of having a trash service or having a landfill or something like that is just a foreign concept.

We live in the United States and in Germany and the ubiquity of trash and garbage is so intense that there’s so much of it, it’s everywhere. People have figured that we got to make a giant pile of it somewhere and basically sacrifice this land to put all this poisonous substance in it. And then bulldoze over with soil and pretend that it will be fine there.

It’s pretty fascinating to be in a place where that reality just goes so unquestioned. In so many places around the world is new.

Michel: Yeah definitely. I think it’s a phenomenon that was for many thousands of years all over the world. When we look even in the amazon, we are talking now about jungle gardens there, which is something that modern people call an agroforestry system. But it’s not a virgin forest at all. For example, the Brazil knot is a plantation and underneath you can have chocolate trees. And here it’s more or less the same system with the oaks and then the orchards. You have pears and apples and plums and then around this the chickens and so on.

Additionally, this community is working on it. In fact, those orchards here and pastoral forests have the highest diversity in Europe. That means that the nature had the longest period to adapt to it. I think that’s a sign that it has been here for a very long time. All those insects and flowers had a long time to adapt to those systems. They are established here. This is also what they took away, like, in Germany. When they conquered Germany, or when the ruling class got more powerful in the 16th century, we had those uprisings of farmers that fought for the common land. Once the common land was given to the ruling class, the farmers became slaves because they had to pay to use the land and pay the tax and so on. It’s such a weird thing that you can just buy land with money.

Here in Ukraine now, they started to introduce this system too. Summer next year 2021 will be a large moratorium on the land going because of the credits the World Bank was giving them. Others like the IMF (International Monetary Fund) forced farmers to give away their land to be privatized so it means that now is the last time we have seen this common land in central Europe. This area is mostly primitive. But I would say that it’s not really advanced when you make people dependent on the money system which is not sustainable.

Max: Right. Yeah it’s fascinating and that’s sort of the pattern that we’ve seen again and again around the world with the IMF or the World Bank, or the US or China or whatever sort of foreign development oriented financial power. Now colonization has evolved from sort of the direct invasion and violence and direct occupation that we’ve seen in the past, although that of course still happens, but this sort of financial form of colonization is so powerful. The amount of damage that has been done by these capitalist ideal ideologues at places like the IMF and the World Bank is pretty stunning. And it’s continuing so I’m not surprised. It’s horrible that what you’re talking about and that’s coming to Ukraine.

And that’s what they always do right. They offer loans and they hold some sort of collateral over your head that you have to change these policies or basically move towards more of a “free market system” if you want access to these international “development loans” right.

Michel: Yeah and that’s the reason we should show the people how important the commons are. Here it’s still not too late and I’m using my popularity to talk with the people about commons. It was taken away step by step. Maybe it was by accident, but it looks like first Europe opening the border for the workers. They all went abroad and worked in the Czech republic. That means that in order to make some money they left the old lady, or the babushka as they call them, with the cow and the children. In most cases, it’s too much work just for one person to run the self-sufficient farm. So they sold the cow. That means they don’t need the common land anymore. Now, they come in and say, “You don’t need the common land, so let’s give it to privatization.” Nobody will really complain about it. So hopefully this corona virus or this coming crisis that’s intensifying the system will teach the people that it is important to use the commons to be independent of this economical fluctuation or convince them to not give up their traditions.

I have some hope that the communities are still strong enough to fight back this development that’s coming in the next years. But in other countries, we have seen how it worked and it’s good that we are talking about it now on an international level and using the English language to tell each other like how it has been like in the Philippines, or in Africa, in Ethiopia, in South America Then we can use that to teach the people here.

Do you want this to happen in your country? Look at Chile and look at those guys. Look where they are now.

Ukraine is just like five or ten years behind this development. We can show them by pointing out those examples where the IMF, like in Argentina, was privatizing everything. I know that those people don’t want to live like in Argentina. We just have to make it visible for them and show them what it means and they have the facilities. They have the strength to fight back.

One major thing here in Ukraine is that they completely exchanged the police 10 years ago or 5 years ago. We called it militia. Now it’s completely new cars, completely well equipped people. It’s not the local sheriff anymore that everybody knows.When the local sheriff does something weird, the next morning his window is broken or something. Now there are faceless weird guys from the other cities or from somewhere else. Nobody knows them. They’re called police and they are driving around on the worst road you can imagine with the highest advanced electric cars. Everybody is a little bit suspicious about this new development. Now I understand why: the IMF is asking back for not money because officially they are bankrupt here but for their resources.

And we are talking about the biggest country of Europe with incredible resources. A lot of people in Europe didn’t know that Ukraine is so rich. People have heard maybe of this black soil somewhere in central Ukraine but when you look here in the hills it’s completely covered in old growth forest. We are living directly at the Romanian border, which has been a part of European Union since 2007. There, it’s naked. They cut down everything. Just open google maps and look at the border region of Romania. Ukraine is completely covered in forest. Once Ukraine and Romania were the same region. It was called the Maramureș region here. So it’s the same culture, the same ecosystem, and so on, and in Romania. Everything was chopped down. And it started a little bit before 2007 but it’s European countries.

Max: Absolutely. And I think so many people take a sort of fatalistic attitude towards that. That everything is getting worse no matter what we do and we’re headed for doom. But it seems to me that the opposite is true in a lot of ways. I mean the seed of a future world, of a just world, of a sustainable world is contained in the present. And it seems like the destruction that goes on, the control, the colonization, the clear cutting; all of these issues–it shows how the dominant culture and ruling class has to work extremely hard to contain the natural world. To contain human beings who just want to live in good ways on their local land with their communities and their families.

And just to go back to a couple of the points you were making earlier we’re seeing some of the same trends play out here in the United States. Obviously this country has been controlled by a powerful ruling class and exploited for a long time. All the land here is stolen from indigenous people but we’re still seeing this ongoing privatization process. This ongoing process of economic colonization and exploitation, that now one of the frontiers of it is, there’s quite a lot of federally owned public land in this country and the far right and the ruling class are really pushing to privatize that land and to put it into private hands. So right now near where I live for example, there are national forests where you can go out and wander in the woods and harvest mushrooms and harvest wild edible plants and you can legally camp there for up to two weeks at a time in almost any location. And that’s not to say it’s a paradise because a lot of that land is logged periodically, there is a little bit of old growth forest remaining here and there but about 98% of the old growth forest in the US has been cut down.

But the point is that there is still this public land that is open to the people. That is held in common in some way and it’s not an as ideal of situation as sort of land that’s held in common at a village or a community or regional level but we do have that in this country. It’s under threat right now. And the other point that I just wanted to make real quick to go back, you were talking about how bio-diverse these oak forests are in your region and that’s something that we actually see in this area too.

I live in the Willamette Valley in Oregon and this area has two species of oaks the Gary oak or white oak and the California black oak. Both of those species really benefit from fire and so historically the indigenous people of this area, the Calipuya and other nations, would burn, they would set intentional fires which would keep the landscape open and in more of a woodland or Savannah type regime where you had widely spaced trees.This created a hyper abundance of acorns from the oak trees, a hyper abundance of wildlife who would come to eat the acorns, and this lush grass that would grow up in the burned meadows. And then a big abundance of some of these root crops that would naturally grow in the open meadow areas. And so when the first European colonizers arrived in this particular valley here they said it would be full of smoke the entire summer because of all the fires that would be set by the indigenous people.

And it’s interesting to note that, so many people used to think that humans are inherently destructive and no matter where we go humans are like a cancer. But the reality is that the humans in this area did impact the land pretty heavily. They changed the natural ecology around them quite intensively but they actually did it in a way that increased biodiversity and increased the resilience of the natural system. And so it’s very interesting to me that some people seem to think humans are inherently destructive when there are so many examples of people living in ways where people are provided with an abundant life and abundant food from the land and their life actually enhances the biodiversity and health of the land around them.

Michel: Yeah exactly, this is my experience too. It’s such a great example. It completely shifts my point of view on humans too. This major question: is a man a wolf or a sheep? Are they good to each other, or bad? Here in this case, every spring, we have been so angry about this burning of the grassland and of these blackberries and so on. But now when you go out where people are putting their time and their power into the land, digging with, not with heavy machines but working with their hands and with their animals, you have an absolute increase of diversity.

And when I go here with tourists, I go with them to show them the beach forest which is like a car zone of the bios ferry reservation and it’s completely boring. You just have like those 300 year old trees which are covering the sunlight from the ground and you have some dead wood and some bugs and beetles of course. But it is really, really, boring in comparison with the oak forest where you have like heavy grazing and the acorn you’re mentioning is like feeding the sheep and the shepherds are going through there and singing. You have different types of flowers all over the year because the sunlight goes to the ground It’s absolutely true that the humans are such a great thing for nature.

It comes back to this idea: when I was in University, I was told about this overkill theory. It says that after the last ice age, humans advanced in building weapons to kill those mega-heavy wars. But the latest theory by Graham Hancock is that there was an asteroid or something twelve thousand or eleven thousand six hundred years ago and this changed the civilization and the amount of mega heavy force existing. And with this major change, there came other tree species and other ways of living together.

But what it shows me, is that humans are not really so bad that they kill everything up to the last one. It seems to be that it’s not such a bad history for the last 20,000 years. It’s just the last probably 200 or 300 years where we decided to use fire weapons and the chainsaw and this oil based petroleum industry which is really seriously changing the environment. Here people say a man should be able to do everything so you need to be able to make your own clothes. You need to be able to chop your own boat in the forest, you need to be. You need to know how to milk a cow, how to make cheese, how to do gardening, and how to repair a car. And when we start to get specialized like sitting on in the office and at a computer, they lose these abilities to really do something satisfying.

For example, I can work a few hours on the computer. But then I go out and pester my animals or cut some hay, do some gardening and then meet with friends. It’s so much more fulfilling and I have no need for any distraction like when I was living in the city. I was drinking beer and I was trying to distract myself and now it is like I’m waking up with a smile and going to sleep and having good dreams. So all of this civilization, like the diseases of civilization, starts to disappear when you start to manage your own piece of land with all the community that is involved in this way.

I have met so many people in Germany that have depression. But when people from the city come here and help me for a while they start smiling. They come out and those animals have a very, very, positive effect on your soul. Because as soon as you realize this is not a stupid hybrid cow, this is a very, very, ancient animal that is voluntarily working with you together.

Even when you look at the shit, it’s not a piece of shit. You turn it around and it’s full with life. You cannot even count two seconds when the shit is falling out of the animal, flies are on it in seconds using all those nutrition. And then the birds are coming sitting on the animals and singing in the morning and waking you up like this. The whole rhythm in yourself becomes more natural and it feels good and it gives you power. i don’t have to go to the gym or need any special nutrition because from those old breeds, the milk and the cheese is so healthy.

My girlfriend and I were both vegetarians when we came here. But it’s so like of course, in the city you’re a vegetarian because you cannot eat this mass-produced stuff. But here, it’s just, it’s just you cannot be vegetarian because of course we have to kill from time to time a male animal. You have to because they are fighting heavily. You have to take it out, if not, then they kill each other. What do you do with the meat and the fur? We’re just using everything and making a soup with the vegetables that we have in the garden. And all this bouillon we call it, is the foundation for most of the food we are preparing here, like even pasta. So it means the nutrition and this lifestyle that the animals give you, feels really, really, powerful.

Max: So Michel, we like to finish off every interview with a similar question and the question is around skills. So you know we’re living in these pretty dire times right. Things seem to be getting worse around the world and we have to figure out how to turn that around. So there are a lot of people who want to contribute to movements for justice, for sustainability, but don’t know where to start or what exactly to do.

So the final question for you is given this, what skill, or what skills, do you think are most important for people who are listening to this interview, to cultivate?

Michel: Yeah there’s an interesting movement, like the tiny house movement. So when you start with your tiny house that is out dark, you can move it somewhere. You have the chance to occupy a piece of land and when nobody is working on the land it means they don’t take responsibility, you have the right to use it.

I don’t know where you are in the world but here when I don’t use my land then other people can come and use it. That’s an unwritten law. So I’m trying this, I’m doing it here and I just go where I see nobody have been cutting grass and I put there my tiny house. I put electric fences around, and keep the animals that feed me. And this is attracting other people because they are interested in what I’m doing, why I’m doing it. And with them I can communicate and it resonates with them so for this I’m a good example for those people.

And you can build up a community structure which is essential for any further action. Because in this direct democracy, in this decision making process where you include those people that are interested in working with the land, you can discuss the problems that you’re facing and how to solve them in your little community. In our case, and in cases I have seen all around the world from Portugal or here in Romania, you can teach the people with good examples because everyone needs those examples.

So you have to be the shining example, first for yourself. My teachers are those large primitive herbivores. You can learn a lot from them. Just take a horse like the Mustang in North America and try to work with him and he will teach you. And out of this knowledge, you are shining example for those people surrounding you and trying to get away from fossil fuels. Bring yourself into a situation where you have to think “how can I do this?” And it’s not that you handicap yourself. You will see you have to think much more and become creative and out of this energy you get new energy. It’s like this synergistic effect that comes. You will realize that with this creativity you can move more than most people think. You just have to start very small with your minimalist tiny house and start occupying land and living with animals.

Max: Well thank you so much for joining us today. That was a great conversation Michel.

Michel: Yeah very nice to hear from you Max.

Photo by Phil Hearing on Unsplash

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The Enclosure Movement

The Enclosure Movement

Editor’s note: This piece details the history of the enclosure movement, focusing on western civilization. Enclosure is an ongoing process by which land that was previously seen as collective, belonging to everyone or purely to nature, is privatized. Enclosure has long been a tenet of capitalism, and more broadly of civilization. Exploitation and destruction of land follows.

by Ian Angus

In 1542, Henry VIII gave his friend and privy councilor Sir William Herbert a gift: the buildings and lands of a dissolved monastery, Wilton Abbey near Salisbury. Herbert didn’t need farmland, so he had the buildings torn down, expelled the monastery’s tenants, and physically destroyed an entire village. In their place he built a large mansion, and fenced off the surrounding lands as a private park for hunting.

In May 1549, officials reported that people who had long used that land as common pasture were tearing down Herbert’s fences.

“There is a great number of the commons up about Salisbury in Wiltshire, and they have plucked down Sir William Herbert’s park that is about his new house, and diverse other parks and commons that be enclosed in that county, but harm they do to [nobody]. They say they will obey the King’s master and my lord Protector with all the counsel, but they say they will not have their commons and their grounds to be enclosed and so taken from them.”

Herbert responded by organizing an armed gang of 200 men, “who by his order attacked the commons and slaughtered them like wolves among sheep.”[1]

The attack on Wilton Abbey was one of many enclosure riots in the late 1540s that culminated in the mass uprising known as Kett’s Rebellion, discussed in Part Two. There had been peasant rebellions in England in the Middle Ages, most notably in 1381, but they were rare. As Engels wrote of the German peasantry, their conditions of life militated against rebellion. “They were scattered over large areas, and this made every agreement between them extremely difficult; the old habit of submission inherited by generation from generation, lack of practice In the use of arms in many regions, and the varying degree of exploitation depending on the personality of the lord, all combined to keep the peasant quiet.”[2]

Enclosure, a direct assault on the peasants’ centuries-old way of life, upset the old habit of submission. Protests against enclosure were reported as early as 1480, and became frequent after 1530. “Hundreds of riots protesting enclosures of commons and wastes, drainage of fens and disafforestation … reverberated across the century or so between 1530 and 1640.”[3]

Elizabethan authorities used the word “riot” for any public protest, and the label is often misleading. Most were actually disciplined community actions to prevent or reverse enclosure, often by pulling down fences or uprooting the hawthorn hedges that landlords planted to separate enclosed land.

“The point in breaking hedges was to allow cattle to graze on the land, but by filling in the ditches and digging up roots those involved in enclosure protest made it difficult and costly for enclosers to re-enclose quickly. That hedges were not only dug up but also burnt and buried draws attention to both the considerable time and effort which was invested in hedge-breaking and to the symbolic or ritualistic aspects of enclosure opposition. … Other forms of direct action against enclosure included impounding or rescuing livestock, the continued gathering of previously common resources such as firewood, trespassing in parks and warrens, and even ploughing up land which had been converted to pasture or warrens.”[4]

The forms of anti-enclosure action varied, from midnight raids to public confrontations “with the participants, often including a high proportion of women, marching to drums, singing, parading or burning effigies of their enemies, and celebrating with cakes and ale.”[5] (I’m reminded of Lenin’s description of revolutions as festivals of the oppressed and exploited.) Villagers were very aware of their rights — it was joked that some farmers read Thomas de Lyttleton’s Treatise on Tenures while ploughing — so physical assaults on fences and hedges were often accompanied by petitions and legal action.

Many accounts of what’s called the enclosure movement focus on the consolidation of dispersed strips of leased land into compact farms, but most enclosure riots actually targeted the privatization of the unallocated land that provided pasture, wood, peat, game and more. For cottagers who had no more than a small house and an acre or two of poor quality land, access to those resources was a matter of life and death. “Commons and common rights, so far from being merely a luxury or a convenience, were really an integral and indispensable part of the system of agriculture, a lynch pin, the removal of which brought the whole structure of village society tumbling down.”[6]

Coal wars

In the last decades of the 1500s, farmers in northern England faced a new threat to their livelihoods, the rapid expansion of coal mining, which many landlords found was more profitable than renting farmland. Thousands who were made landless by enclosure ultimately found work in the new mines, but the very creation of those mines required the dispossession of farmers and farmworkers. The search for coal seams left pits and waste that endangered livestock; actual mines destroyed pasture and arable land and polluted streams, making farming impossible.

The prospect of mining profits produced a new kind of enclosure — expropriation of mineral rights under common land. “Wherever coal-mining became important, it stimulated the movement towards curtailing the rights of customary tenants and even of small freeholders, and towards the enclosure of portions of the wastes.” In the landlords’ view, it wasn’t enough just to fence off the mining area, “not only must the tenants be prevented from digging themselves, they must be stripped of their power to refuse access to minerals under their holdings, or to demand excessive compensation.”[7]

As a result, historian John Nef writes, tenant farmers “lived in constant fear of the discovery of coal under their land,” and attempts to establish new mines were often met by sabotage and violence. “Many were the obscure battles fought with pitchfork against pick and shovel to prevent what all tenants united in branding as a mighty abuse.” Fences were torn down, pits filled in, buildings burned, and coal was carried off. In Lancashire, the enclosures surrounding one large mine were torn down sixteen times by freeholders who claimed “freedom of pasture.” In Derbyshire in 1606, a landlord complained that twenty-three men “armed with pitchforks, bows and arrows, guns and other weapons,” had threatened to kill everyone involved if mining continued on the manor.[8]

In these and many other battles, commoners heroically fought to preserve their land and rights, but they were unable to stop the growth of a highly-profitable industry that was supported physically by the state and legally by the courts. As elsewhere, capital defeated the commons.

Turning point

In the early 1500s, capitalist agriculture was new, and the landowning classes were generally critical of the minority who enclosed common land and evicted tenants. The commonwealth men whose sermons defended traditional village society and condemned enclosure were expressing, in somewhat exaggerated form, views that were widely held in the aristocracy and gentry. While anti-enclosure laws were drafted and introduced by the royal government, they were invariably approved by the House of Commons, which “almost by definition, represented the prospering section of the gentry.”[9]

As the century progressed, however, growing numbers of landowners sought to break free from customary and state restrictions in order to “improve” their holdings. In 1601, when Sir Walter Raleigh argued that the government should “let every man use his ground to that which it is most fit for, and therein use his own discretion,”[10] a large minority in the House of Commons agreed.

As Christopher Hill writes, “we can trace the triumph of capitalism in agriculture by following the Commons’ attitude towards enclosure.”

“The famine year 1597 saw the last acts against depopulation; 1608 the first (limited) pro-enclosure act. … In 1621, in the depths of the depression, came the first general enclosure bill — opposed by some M.P.s who feared agrarian disturbances. In 1624 the statutes against enclosure were repealed. … the Long Parliament was a turning point. No government after 1640 seriously tried either to prevent enclosures, or even to make money by fining enclosers.”[11]

The early Stuart kings — James I (1603-1625) and Charles I (1625-1649) — played a contradictory role, reflecting their position as feudal monarchs in an increasingly capitalist country. They revived feudal taxes and prosecuted enclosing landlords in the name of preventing depopulation, but at the same time they raised their tenants’ rents and initiated large enclosure projects that dispossessed thousands of commoners.

Enclosure accelerated in the first half of the 1600s — to cite just three examples, 40% of Leicestershire manors, 18% of Durham’s land area, and 90% of the Welsh lowlands were enclosed in those decades.[12] Even without formal enclosure, many small farmers lost their farms because they couldn’t pay fast rising rents. “Rent rolls on estate after estate doubled, trebled, and quadrupled in a matter of decades,” contributing to “a massive redistribution of income in favour of the landed class.”

It was a golden age for landowners, but for small farmers and cottagers, “the third, fourth, and fifth decades of the seventeenth century witnessed extreme hardship in England, and were probably among the most terrible years through which the country has ever passed.[13]

Fighting back

Increased enclosure was met by increased resistance. Seventeenth century enclosure riots were generally larger, more frequent, and more organized than in previous years. Most were local and lasted only a few days, but several were large enough to be considered regional uprisings — “the result of social and economic grievances of such intensity that they took expression in violent outbreaks of what can only be called class hatred for the wealthy.”[14]

The Midland Revolt broke out in April 1607 and continued into June. The rebels described themselves as “diggers” and “levelers,” labels later used by radicals during the civil war, and they claimed to be led by “Captain Pouch,” a probably mythical figure whose magical powers would protect them.[15] Martin Empson describes the revolt in his history of rural class struggle, Kill all the Gentlemen:

“Events in 1607 involved thousands of peasants beginning in Northamptonshire at the very start of May and spreading to Warwickshire and Leicestershire. Mass protests took place, involving 3,000 at Hilmorton in Warwickshire and 5,000 at Cotesback in Leicestershire. In a declaration produced during the revolt, The Diggers of Warwickshire to all other Diggers, the authors write that they would prefer to ‘manfully die, then hereafter to be pined to death for want of that which those devouring, encroachers do serve their fat hogs and sheep withal.’”[16]

These were well-planned actions, not spontaneous riots. Cottagers from multiple villages met in advance to discuss where and when to assemble, arranged transportation, and provided tools, meals and places to sleep for the rebels who would spend days tearing down fences, uprooting hedges and filling in ditches. Local militias could not stop them — indeed, “many members of the militia themselves became involved in the rising, either actively or by voting with their feet and failing to attend the muster.”[17]

The movement was only stopped when mounted vigilantes, hired by local landlords, attacked protestors near the town of Newton, massacring more than 50 and injuring many more. The supposed leaders of the rising were publicly hanged and quartered, and their bodies were displayed in towns throughout the region.

The Western Rising was less organized, but it lasted much longer, from 1626 to 1632. Here the focus was “disafforestation” — Charles I’s privatization of the extensive royal forests in which thousands of farmers and cottagers had long exercised common rights. The government appointed commissions to survey the land, propose how to divide it up, and negotiate compensation for tenants. The largest portions were leased to investors, mainly the king’s friends and supporters, who in turn rented enclosed parcels to large farmers.”[18]

Generally speaking, the forest enclosures seem to have been fair to freeholders and copyholders who could prove that they had common rights, but not to those who had never had formal leases, or couldn’t prove that they had. The formally landless were excluded from the negotiations and from the land they had worked on all their lives.

For at least six years, landless workers and cottagers fought to prevent or reverse enclosures in Dorset, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, and other areas where the crown was selling off public forests.

“The response of the inhabitants of each forest was to riot almost as soon as the post-disafforestation enclosure had begun. These riots were broadly similar in aim and character, directed toward the restoration of the open forest and involving destruction of the enclosing hedges, ditches, and fences and, in a few cases, pulling down houses inhabited by the agents of the enclosers, and assaults on their workmen.”[19]

Declaring “here were we born and here we will die,” as many as 3,000 men and women took part in each action against forest enclosures. Buchanan Sharp’s study of court records shows that the majority of those arrested for anti-enclosure rioting identified themselves not as husbandmen (farmers) but as artisans, particularly weavers and other clothworkers, who depended on the commons to supplement their wages. “It could be argued that there were two types of forest inhabitants, those with land who went to law to protect their rights, and those with little or no land who rioted to protect their interests.”[20]

The longest continuing fight against enclosure took place in eastern England, in the fens. From the 1620s to the end to the century, thousands of farmers and cottagers resisted large-scale projects to drain and enclose the vast wetlands that covered over 1400 square miles in Lincolnshire and adjacent counties. Aiming to create “new land” that could be sold to investors and rented to large tenant farmers, the drainage projects would dispossess thousands of peasants whose lives depended on the region’s rich natural resources.

The result was almost constant conflict. Historian James Boyce describes what happened in 1632, when constables tried to arrest opponents of draining a 10,000 acre common marsh, in the Cambridgeshire village of Soham:

“The constables charged with arresting the four Soham resistance leaders so delayed entering the village that they were later charged for not putting the warrant into effect. When they finally sought to do so, an estimated 200 people poured onto the streets armed with forks, staves and stones. The next day a justice ordered 60 men to support the constables in executing the warrant but over 100 townspeople still stood defiant, warning ‘that if any laid hands of any of them, they would kill or be killed’. When one of the four was finally arrested, the constables were attacked and several people were injured. A justice arrived in Soham on 11 June with about 120 men and made a further arrest before the justice’s men were again ‘beaten off, the rest never offering to aid them’. Another of the four leaders, Anne Dobbs, was eventually caught and imprisoned in Cambridge Castle but on 14 June 1633, the fight was resumed when about 70 people filled in six division ditches meant to form part of an enclosure. Twenty offenders were identified, of whom fourteen were women.”[21]

Militant and often violent protests challenged every drainage project. As elsewhere in England, fenland rioters uprooted hedges, filled ditches and destroyed fences, but here they also destroyed pumping equipment, broke open dykes, and attacked drainage workers, many of whom had been brought from the Netherlands. “By the time of the civil war the whole fenland was in a state of open rebellion.”[22]

Revolution in the revolution

For eleven years, from 1629 to 1640, Charles I tried to rule as an absolute monarch, refusing to call Parliament and unilaterally imposing taxes that were widely viewed as oppressive and illegal. When his need for more money finally forced him to call Parliament, the House of Commons refused to approve new taxes unless he agreed to restrictions on his powers. The king refused and civil war broke out in 1642, leading to Charles’s defeat and execution in 1649. From then until 1660, England was a republic.

Many histories of the civil was treat it as purely a conflict within the ruling elite: it often seems, Brian Manning writes, “as if the other 97 per cent of the population did not exist or did not matter.”[23] In fact, as Manning shows in The English People and the English Revolution, poor peasants, wage laborers and small producers were not just followers and foot soldiers — they were conscious participants whose actions influenced and often determined the course of events. The fight for the commons was an important part of the English Revolution.

“Between the assembling of the Long Parliament in·1640 and the outbreak of the civil war in 1642 there was a rising tide of protest and riot in the countryside. This was directed chiefly against the enclosures of commons, wastes and fens, and the invasions of common rights by the king, members of the royal family, courtiers, bishops and great aristocrats.”[24]

Between 1640 and 1644 there were anti-enclosure riots in more than half of England’s counties, especially in the midlands and north: “in some cases not only the fences but the houses of the gentry were attacked.”[25]

The wealthiest landowners were outraged. In July 1641, the House of Lords complained that “violent breaking into Possessions and Inclosures, in riotous and tumultuous Manner, in several Parts of this Kingdom,” was happening “more frequently … since this Parliament began than formerly.” They ordered local authorities to ensure “that no Inclosure or Possession shall be violently, and in a tumultuous Manner, disturbed or taken away from any Man,”[26] but their orders had little effect. “Constables not only repeatedly failed to perform their duties against neighbours engaged in the forcible recovery of their commons, but were also sometimes to be found in the ranks of the rioters themselves.”[27]

The rioters hated the landowners’ government and weren’t reluctant to say so. When an order against anti-enclosure riots was read in a church in Wiltshire in April 1643, for example, one parishioner stood and “most contemptuously and in dishonor of the Parliament and their authority said that he cared not for their orders and the Parliament might have kept them and wiped their arses with them.”[28]

In 1645, anti-enclosure protestors in Epworth, Lincolnshire, replied to a similar order that ‘”They did not care a Fart for the Order which was made by the Lords in Parliament and published in the Churches, and, that notwithstanding that Order, they would pull down all the rest of the Houses in the Level that were built upon those Improvements which were drained, and destroy all the Enclosures.”[29]

The most intense conflicts took place in the fens. To cite just one case, in February 1643, in Axholme, Lincolnshire, commoners armed with muskets opened floodgates at high tide, drowning over six thousand acres of recently drained and enclosed land, and then closed the gates to prevent the water from flowing out at low tide. Armed guards then held the position for ten weeks, threatening to shoot anyone who attempted to let the water out.[30]

Many more examples could be cited. The years 1640 to 1660 weren’t just a time of revolutionary civil war, they were decades of anti-enclosure rebellion.


Two centuries later, in The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels wrote that “all previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interests of minorities.” That was certainly true of the English Revolution — Parliament could not have overthrown the monarchy without the support of small producers, peasants and wage-workers, but the plebeians got little from the victory. As Digger leader Gerard Winstanley wrote to the “powers of England” in 1649: “though thou hast promised to make this people a free people, yet thou hast so handled the matter, through thy self-seeking humour, that thou has wrapped us up more in bondage, and oppression lies heavier upon us.”[31]

Since the king was one of the largest and most hated enclosers, many anti-enclosure protesters expected Parliament to support their cause, but their hopes were disappointed — no surprise, since almost all MPs were substantial landowners. Both houses of Parliament repeatedly condemned anti-enclosure riots, and no anti-enclosure measures were adopted during the civil war or by the republican regime in the 1650s. The last attempt to regulate (not prevent) enclosure occurred in 1656, when a Bill to do that was rejected on first reading: the Speaker said “he never liked any Bill that touched upon property,” and another MP called it “the most mischievous Bill that ever was offered to this House.”[32]

Like the royal government it replaced, the republican government in the 1650s raised revenue by selling off royal forests and supported the drainage and enclosure of the fens. It passed laws that eliminated all remaining feudal restrictions and charges on landowners, but made no changes to the tenures of farmers and cottagers. “Thus landlords secured their own estates in absolute ownership, and ensured that copyholders remained evictable.”[33]

In Christopher Hill’s words, in the seventeenth century struggle for land, “the common people were defeated no less decisively than the crown.”[34]

The last wave

There were sporadic anti-enclosure protests in the last years of the seventeenth century, especially in the fens, but for all practical purposes, the uprisings of 1640 to 1660 were the last of their kind. In the early 1700s, peasant resistance mostly involved illegally hunting deer or gathering wood on enclosed land, not tearing down fences. Long memories of brutal defeats, reinforced by fear of ruling class forces that were now even stronger, discouraged any return to mass action.

Until the mid-1700s, the large landlords who owned most of English farmland seem to have been more interested in reaping the rewards of previous victories than in enclosing the remaining open fields and commons. About a quarter of the country’s farmland was still worked in open fields in 1700, but so long as rents covered costs, with a substantial surplus, few landlords chose to make changes.

When a new wave of enclosures began about 1755, spurred first by falling grain prices and then by rising prices during Napoleonic wars, the social and economic context was very different. English capitalist society, we might say, had become more “civilized.” In place of the rough methods of earlier years, enclosure became a structured bureaucratic process, subject to political oversight and regulation. Enclosure required detailed surveys and plans prepared by lawyers and professional enclosure commissioners, all accepted by the owners and tenants of three-quarters of the land involved (which was often a small minority of the people affected), then written into a Bill which had to be approved by a Parliamentary committee and both houses of Parliament.

Marx referred to the resulting Enclosure Acts as “decrees by which the landowners grant themselves the peoples’ land as private property, decrees of expropriation of the people.”[35]

Most Parliamentary enclosures seem to have carefully followed the law, including fairly allocating land or compensation to leaseholders large and small, but the law did not recognize customary common rights. Just as with the cruder methods of previous centuries, Parliamentary enclosure didn’t just consolidate land: it eliminated common rights and dispossessed the landless commoners who depended on them. When a 20th century historian called this “perfectly proper,” because the law was obeyed and property rights protected, Edward Thompson replied:

“Enclosure (when all the sophistications are allowed for) was a plain enough case of class robbery, played according to fair rules of property and law laid down by a parliament of property-owners and lawyers. …

“What was ‘perfectly proper’ in terms of capitalist property-relations involved, none the less, a rupture of the traditional integument of village custom and of right: and the social violence of enclosure consisted precisely in the drastic, total imposition upon the village of capitalist property-definitions.”[36]

There were some local riots after enclosure was approved, often in the form of stealing or burning fence posts and rails, but as J.M. Neeson has shown, most resistance took the form of “stubborn non-compliance, foot-dragging and mischief,” before an enclosure Bill went to London. Villagers refused to speak to surveyors or gave them inaccurate information, sent threatening letters, stole record books and field plans, and in general tried to force delays or drive up the landlords’ costs. In some cases, villagers petitioned Parliament to reject the proposed bill, but that was expensive and rarely successful.[37]

Ultimately, however, the game was rigged. Sabotage might slow things down or win better terms, but landlords and large tenants who wanted to impose enclosure could always do so, and there was no right of appeal. Between 1750 and 1820 nearly 4,000 Enclosure Acts were passed, affecting roughly 6.8 million acres. Only a handful of open-field villages remained. Despite centuries of resistance, the power of capital prevailed: “the commons in England were gradually driven out of existence, the small farms engrossed, the land enclosed, and the commoners forcibly removed.”[38]

Continuing enclosure

As Marx wrote, “the expropriation of the mass of the people from the soil forms the basis of the capitalist mode of production.” People who can produce all or most of their own subsistence are independent in ways that are alien to capitalism — they are under no economic compulsion to work for wages. As an advocate of enclosure wrote in 1800, “when a labourer becomes possessed of more land than he and his family can cultivate in the evenings … the farmer can no longer depend on him for constant work.”[39]

This series of articles has focused on England, where the expropriation involved a centuries-long war against the commons. It was the classic case of primitive accumulation, the “two transformations” by which “the social means of subsistence and production are turned into capital, and the immediate producers are turned into wage-laborers,”[40] but of course this is not the whole story. In other places, capitalism’s growth by dispossession occurred at different speeds and in different ways.

In Scotland, for example, enclosure didn’t begin until the mid-1700s, but then the drive to catch up with England ensured that it was much faster and particularly brutal. As Neil Davidson writes, the horrendous 19th century Highland Clearances that Marx so eloquently condemned in Capital involved not primitive accumulation by new capitalists, but the consolidation of “an existing, and thoroughly rapacious, capitalist landowning class … whose disregard for human life (and, indeed, ‘development’) marked it as having long passed the stage of contributing to social progress.”[41]

And, of course, the growth of the British Empire, from Ireland to the Americas to India and Africa, was predicated on enclosure of colonized land and dispossession of indigenous peoples. As Rosa Luxemburg wrote, extending the “blight of capitalist civilization” required

“the systematic destruction and annihilation of all the non-capitalist social units which obstruct its development .… Each new colonial expansion is accompanied, as a matter of course, by a relentless battle of capital against the social and economic ties of the natives, who are also forcibly robbed of their means of production and labour power.”[42]

That remains true today, when one percent of the world’s population has 45% of all personal wealth and nearly three billion people own nothing at all. Every year, the rich enclose ever more of the world’s riches, and their corporations destroy more of the life support systems that should be our common heritage. Enclosures continue, strengthening an ever-richer ruling class and an ever-larger global working class.

In the seventeenth century, an unknown poet summarized the hypocrisy and brutality of enclosure in four brief lines:

The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from the goose.

We should also recall the fourth verse of that poem, which urges us to move from indignation to action.

The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
And geese will still a common lack
Till they go and steal it back.

Editor’s note: The Commoner’s Catalog for Changemaking

This article originally appeared in Climate & Capitalism.

Articles in this series:

Commons and classes before capitalism
‘Systematic theft of communal property’
Against Enclosure: The Commonwealth Men
Dispossessed: Origins of the Working Class
Against Enclosure: The Commoners Fight Back


[1] Quotations in Andy Wood, The 1549 Rebellions and the Making of Early Modern England (Cambridge University Press, 2007), 49.

[2] Frederick Engels, “The Peasant War in Germany” (1850) in Marx-Engels Collected Works, vol. 10 (International Publishers, 1978), 410.

[3] Roger B. Manning, Village Revolts: Social Protest and Popular Disturbances in England, 1509-1640 (Clarendon Press, 1988), 3.

[4] Briony Mcdonagh and Stephen Daniels, “Enclosure Stories: Narratives from Northamptonshire,” Cultural Geographies 19, no. 1 (January 2012), 113.

[5] Norah Carlin, The Causes of the English Civil War (Blackwell, 1999), 129.

[6] R. H. Tawney, The Agrarian Problem in the Sixteenth Century (Lector House, 2021 [1912]), 76.

[7] John U. Nef, The Rise of the British Coal Industry, vol. 1 (Frank Cass, 1966), 342-3, 310.

[8] John U. Nef, The Rise of the British Coal Industry, vol. 1 (Frank Cass, 1966), 312, 316-7, 291-2. See also Andreas Malm, Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming (London: Verso, 2016), 320-24.

[9] Christopher Hill, Reformation to Industrial Revolution (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1968), 51.

[10] Proceedings in the Commons, 1601: November 2–5.

[11] Hill, Reformation to Industrial Revolution, 51.

[12] Keith Wrightson, Earthly Necessities: Economic Lives in Early Modern Britain (Yale University Press, 2000), 162.

[13] Peter Bowden, “Agricultural Prices, Farm Profits, and Rents,” in The Agrarian History of England and Wales, ed. Joan Thirsk, vol. IV (Cambridge University Press, 1967), 695, 690, 621.

[14] Buchanan Sharp, In Contempt of All Authority: Rural Artisans and Riot in the West of England, 1586-1660 (University of California, 1980), 264.

[15] Such figures appeared frequently in rural uprisings in England: later examples included Lady Skimmington, Ned Ludd and Captain Swing.

[16] Martin Empson, ‘Kill All the Gentlemen’: Class Struggle and Change in the English Countryside (Bookmarks, 2018), 165.

[17] John E. Martin, Feudalism to Capitalism: Peasant and Landlord in English Agrarian Development (Macmillan, 1986), 173.

[18] Sharp, In Contempt of All Authority, 84-5.

[19] Sharp, In Contempt of All Authority, 86.

[20] Sharp, In Contempt of All Authority, 144.

[21] James Boyce, Imperial Mud: The Fight for the Fens (Icon Books, 2021), Kindle edition, loc. 840.

[22] Brian Manning, The English People and the English Revolution (Bookmarks, 1991), 194.

[23] Brian Manning, Aristocrats, Plebeians and Revolution in England 1640-1660 (Pluto Press, 1996), 1.

[24] Manning, English People, 195.

[25] John S. Morrill, The Revolt of the Provinces: Conservatives And Radicals In The English Civil War, 1630 1650 (Longman, 1987) 34.

[26] “General Order for Possessions, to secure them from Riots and Tumults,” House of Lords Journal vol. 4, July 13, 1641.

[27] Lindley, Fenland Riots, 68.

[28] Sharp, In Contempt of All Authority, 228.

[29] Quoted in Lindley, Fenland Riots, 149.

[30] Lindley, Fenland Riots, 147.

[31] Gerard Winstanley, The Law of Freedom, and Other Writings, ed. Christopher Hill (Penguin Books, 1973), 82.

[32] Christopher Hill and Edmund Dell, eds., The Good Old Cause, 2nd ed. (Routledge, 2012), 424.

[33] Christopher Hill, Puritanism and Revolution: Studies in Interpretation of the English Revolution of the 17th Century (Schocken Books, 1964), 191.

[34] Christopher Hill, God’s Englishman: Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution (Harper, 1972), 260.

[35] Marx, Capital Volume, 1, 885.

[36] E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (Penguin Books, 1991), 237-8.

[37] The best account of resistance to enclosure in the 18th century is chapter 9 of J. M. Neeson, Commoners: Common Right, Enclosure and Social Change in England, 1700-1820 (Cambridge University Press, 1993).

[38] John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark, and Hannah Holleman, “Marx and the Commons,” Social Research (Spring 2021), 5.

[39] Commercial and Agricultural Magazine, October 1800, quoted in E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (Penguin Books, 1991), 243.

[40] Karl Marx, Capital Volume, 1, 874.

[41] Neil Davidson, “The Scottish Path to Capitalist Agriculture 1,” Journal of Agrarian Change (July 2004), 229.

[42] Rosa Luxemburg, The Accumulation of Capital, (Routledge, 2003), 352, 350.

Indigenous cultural revival and re-enchantment with nature: the journey of the Colombian Muysca people

Indigenous cultural revival and re-enchantment with nature: the journey of the Colombian Muysca people

This story first appeared at Rapid Transition Alliance.

By Matt Rendell
This story weaves the indigenous cultural revival of the Muysca people of Suba in Colombia, together with the transition to more sustainable living. It is contributed by award-winning author Matt Rendell who spoke with Muysca social activists and grew to know the community through his work as a cycling journalist in the riding obsessed country, and the elite cyclist, Nairo Quintana, who is probably the best known international Muysca advocate.

As the climate emergency bites, sustainable new social and cultural practices are urgently needed. Lasting change may require not just temporary good intentions, but permanently reconfigured identities. Around the world, groups are already working hard on such a project. On a steep hillside in an area called Suba above Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, a new group of Colombians are claiming ancestry from the ancient Muysca people – indigenous people whose land this was when the Spanish invaded in the 1530s – and proposing a complete regeneration of their culture. They intend to restore the language and return the landscape to its previous mystical role, bringing what remains from history alive with new myths and rituals. The group believes it has much to teach the rest of the world about understanding how we are all indigenous people with a need to connect to shared places, traditions, and rituals.

The Cabildo Indígena Muysca de Suba – the local organisation spearheading the Muysca revival – has its centre in the town square, where traditional crafts such as weaving are taught, and the beautiful fabrics produced are used to raise money for the project. This small but ambitious organisation is trying to reverse the identity loss caused by urbanisation through restoring the Muysca collective memory. Its leader, anthropologist Jorge Yopasa, explains how much of the knowledge is still available:

“We read what the anthropologists say, and the historians and archaeologists, but we also talk to our grandparents. Oral history yields surprising results. What the anthropologists say they were doing in 1680, our grandparents remember doing in 1960 or 1970.”

Numerous small vegetable plots form urban gardens across the slopes, alongside traditional round houses with conical roofs, traditionally made with wood, clay and reed, but now often made from recycled materials. These houses face East in memory of how, in pre-Columbian times, such dwellings might be arranged in large enclosures in the form of a vast cosmological clock. The East and West-facing doors turned the buildings themselves into a three-dimensional calendar detecting equinoxes and solstices. The people who live here are researching their own indigenous history, re-planting their traditional foods – such as quinoa – and reclaiming and cleaning up what they see as their land. This is an environmental, social, and spiritual effort. They wish to reverse what they see as the erosion of the spiritual dimension that came with urbanisation. They hope to undo the negative, impoverishing impact of science and Enlightenment thinking that the sociologist Max Weber described in his famous expression, “the disenchantment of the world.”

The Muysca have already been under attack for hundreds of years. But Muysca quinoa and the Muysca language are on their way back, and linguists are using old, colonial dictionaries, and surviving, closely-related languages, to revive the old tongue. Nearly five centuries after the Spanish conquest, the Muysca revival is real.

Credit: “Quinoa” by RahelSharon (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Wider relevance

Protecting the world’s indigenous inhabitants has been shown to be an effective way of safeguarding the natural world – particularly if knowledge held by the older generations can be saved in time to be passed on. Awareness of this is growing slowly and there are currently active campaigns by indigenous peoples to support elders whose intimate knowledge of the Amazon is threatened by Covid-19. But there is another indigenous group that are often forgotten: the original dwellers in the spaces now occupied by the world’s cities, dispossessed by modern development of their land and culture, and only now rediscovering and reviving their cultural specificity as a spiritual, environmental, anti-consumerist cultural force for good.

Modern urban sprawl has taken over indigenous territories all over the Americas, Africa, and Asia. Only now are they beginning to reconstruct their identities, and build, as they do so, a new way of working-class urban existence that encompasses and absorbs youth culture, environmentalism, the rejection of consumerism, and the re-spiritualisation of the cosmos. The modern Muysca call this “el proceso” – the process.

Of course, the Muysca are a small group who are unlikely to be able to shift national policy. But openness to their culture could bring with it an understanding of other ways of being in the world. For example, the pre-Columbian system worked on gift-exchange rather than currency. And before the arrival of the European invaders, gold was not used as currency of exchange, but as a means of communicating with the gods. It was mixed with copper, moulded into shining religious figurines called tunjos and, within hours of production by the Muysca metalworkers, buried in the earth or dropped into lakes in a passion play of the visible and the invisible. The urban Muysca today are not rich in gold as their ancestors were. In fact, they lie right at the base of Colombia’s social pyramid. But their decision to take an active role in retelling their own history is interesting. Today, the Muysca elaborate new stories of their ancestral past, integrating, revising, and occasionally forgetting ‘official’ versions imposed by representatives of the State.

Context and background

After years of urban expansion, during which Bogotá engulfed the remaining of the Muysca people, it finally annexed Suba in 1954. By then, much of their identity had been forgotten. But, according to the academic Pablo Felipe Gómez, who has spent twenty years studying the urban Muysca movement, “Most of these elders never recognised that they were Muysca. Their identity lay dormant in the memory because of the historical processes that had overwhelmed them. No one ever told them that they were indigenous!”

When Carlos Caita, the first governor of the Suba cabildo or indigenous council, began studying land titles in the 1980s, he realised that they went back as far as the abolition of indigenous reserves and collective indigenous property in 1875, when the land had been distributed among five resident Muysca families. After its annexation by Bogotá, the families who had not sold their lands were dispossessed by unscrupulous surveyors and lawyers, and the Muysca, bereft of both language and traditions, disappeared into a historical dead-end as manual labourers or caretakers of other people’s property.

Credit: “Bogota, Colombia” by szeke (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

In 1990 descendants of the five families resident on the nineteenth-century Muysca reservation began legal proceedings to recover their lost estates. In 1991 Colombia adopted a new Constitution that undertook to recognise and protect its ethnic and cultural diversity. Under the framework established by this new Constitution, the Ministry of the Interior gave the group of five families its blessing, thereby transforming it into the first urban Muysca community. Before long, the descendants of peoples expunged from history centuries before began to assert their indigenous identity.  Between 1991 and 2006, four Muysca councils were given state recognition and Muysca was one of 101 ethnic identities listed in the 2005 national census. However, since 2006, the State has refused to certify further groups, perhaps seeing that the community in Suba had tripled its membership in a decade, and that new organisations were emerging. The rebuilding of their cultures proposed by these groups, reviving ancient myths, rituals and elaborating new ones, also meant bringing back their language, which was forbidden in 1770 by royal decree, when Spanish became the dominant language for social, religious, economic, and political reasons.

Enabling factors

Leaders who are inquisitive about the past and about culture – in this case anthropologists – undoubtedly helped the transition, along with some favourable legislation in the form of a Constitution that was trying to renew itself in order to include formerly excluded people. This interest in the past includes the chronicles of the Conquest, which contain accounts of Muysca legends taken down by the priests who accompanied the Conquistadors. These have been scoured to identify possible sources from which to shape a modern Muysca culture. However, to renew a culture and reconnect it with the land, detailed knowledge from the past plus a generous dose of imagination to fill in the missing gaps has enabled the Muysca people to rebuild – and to regenerate when rebuilding is no longer possible.

The local food illustrates this process. The area’s name Suba means “quinoa seed.” The Conquistadors long ago replaced quinoa, a Muysca staple, with wheat. But the old ways, once outmoded, have a way of coming back, and local people are beginning to grow vegetables and medicinal plants of spiritual significance to the Muysca. These include sweetcorn, potatoes, coriander, uchuva – known in the UK as physalis and in North America as golden berry – and, of course, quinoa, which has taken the better part of five hundred years to become the latest superfood. There are other examples of how modern life rejects the past, stigmatises it, then rediscovers it with a premium price tag attached. For example, the crop hemp, once enormously important in Europe for making rope, clothing and a huge range of materials, has returned after decades in the wastebin as an alternative, more sustainable crop for making designer clothing and as an insulator in eco-builds.

Perhaps the extreme poverty of Colombian urban life for many has turned people elsewhere to look for a better kind of life – particularly with the knowledge that it was not always this way. Young Muysca talk about how their grandparents used to eat trout from the Bogotá River. To do so today would be unthinkable: millions of gallons of industrial chemicals, farm run-off, household detergents and human waste drain unfiltered into it, while it has become a sewer to Bogotá’s 8 million inhabitants, and for hundreds of thousands more along its basin. The river has become so toxic that inspectors require oxygen masks and special clothing. The Muyscas are part of the environmental movement pressing for a clean-up. Many are active in public and development policy, fighting to save the environment. These people recognise how urban life separates economic life from nature and separates people from their spiritual selves; they want to create a new way of urban living that will not destroy the planet. This is something we have seen in other places, from London’s National Park City movement to efforts to pedestrianise cities and grow food in cities.


Banner image by Aris Gionis at Flickr

Licence: CC BY-NC 2.0



Editor’s note: Premise One: Civilization is not and can never be sustainable. This is especially true for industrial civilization.
Premise Two: Traditional communities do not often voluntarily give up or sell the resources on which their communities are based until their communities have been destroyed. They also do not willingly allow their landbases to be damaged so that other resources—gold, oil, and so on—can be extracted. It follows that those who want the resources will do what they can to destroy traditional communities.
Premise Three: Our way of living—industrial civilization—is based on, requires, and would collapse very quickly without persistent and widespread violence.
Derrick Jensen (2006): Endgame vol. 1, p. IX

SMITHERS, BC: On the morning of September 25, 2021, the access road to Coastal GasLink’s (CGL’s) drill site at the Wedzin Kwa river was destroyed. Blockades have been set up and sites have been occupied, to stop the drilling under the sacred headwaters that nourish the Wet’suwet’en Yintah and all those within its catchment area. Cas Yikh and supporters have gained control of the area and refuse to allow this destruction to continue.

Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs were denied access to their own lands, and there has been one arrest confirmed. The Hereditary Chiefs were read the injunction and threatened with arrest, but they held their ground. Despite heavy machinery and heavy RCMP presence, our relatives and supporters are standing strong holding the line, and so far no more arrests have been confirmed. As of Sunday, September 26, the individual arrested has been released and the chiefs and supporters continue to hold the line and successfully hold off any work by CGL.

Days ago, CGL destroyed our ancient village site, Ts’elkay Kwe. When Gidimt’en Checkpoint spokesperson Sleydo’ attempted to monitor the CGL archaeological team and contest the destruction of Wet’suwet’en cultural heritage, she was aggressively intimidated by CGL security guards. Tensions have continued to rise on the Yintah as CGL pushes a reckless and destructive construction schedule with the support of private security and the RCMP.

Now, CGL is ready to begin drilling beneath our sacred headwaters, Wedzin Kwa. We know that this would be disastrous, not only for Wet’suwet’en people, but for all living beings supported by the Wedzin Kwa, and for the communities living downstream. Wedzin Kwa is a spawning ground for salmon and a critical source of pristine drinking water. States Sleydo’, Gidimt’en Checkpoint Spokesperson:

“Our way of life is at risk. […] Wedzin Kwa [is the] the river that feeds all of Wet’suwet’en territory and gives life to our nation.”

Coastal Gaslink has been evicted from our territories by the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs who have full jurisdiction over Wet’suwet’en lands. Coastal GasLink is pushing through a 670-kilometer fracked gas pipeline, but under ‘Anuc niwh’it’en (Wet’suwet’en law) all five clans of the Wet’suwet’en have unanimously opposed all pipeline proposals and have not provided free, prior, and informed consent to Coastal Gaslink to do work on Wet’suwet’en lands.

As Coastal GasLink continues to trespass, we will do everything in our power to protect our waters and to uphold our laws. Gidimt’en Checkpoint has issued a call for support, asking people to travel to Cas Yikh territory to stand with them.

For further information please go to: yintahaccess.com
Media backgrounder here
Photo Credit: Michael Toledano

Media contact:
Jennifer Wickham, Gidimt’en Checkpoint Media Coordinator
Email: Yintahaccess@gmail.com
Phone number: 778-210-0067