During his stay in Columbus, Eric Holt-Gimenez said the alliances are needed to counter economic ‘neo-liberalism,’ which he said is a key cause of the problems faced by societies around the world, including but not limited to food crises.
“By ‘radical’, I mean getting to the root of our problems, not breaking windows,” said Gimenez who heads Food First, an organization which, according to its website, aims to “eliminate the injustices which cause hunger.”
Introducing reforms such as the New Deal requires massive public support, said Gimenez.
“Roosevelt didn’t do it just because he had a good idea. It was because it looked like his government was going to fall because of all the social protest.”
Gimenez, who edited the new book, Food Movements Unite! Strategies to Transform Our Food Systems, said activists built social justice movements in the 1930s thru alliances between progressives and radicals, not between progressives and reformists. He said the latter only strengthens the status quo.
“To change the system, you got to have a counter movement coming from the outside which forces the reforms.”
Gimenez agreed alliances with ‘radicals’ could help social movements address the fragmentation that involves advocacy groups competing with each other for funding and other support from the very system they aim to reform. Some activists, such as the authors of The Revolution Will Not Be Funded, have called this trap the ‘non-profit-industrial-complex.’
Non-profits, per se, obviously are not the problem, said Gimenez.
“Many non-profits have been formed for very specific and practical reasons to address what are usually very pressing issues around, for example, food security. This is good, but it’s not enough. That funding has not brought about the political convergence of all these different groups, and that’s what we need today.”
Gimenez said progressives in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries were more ‘radical’ than those around today.
“Now, the folks in the food movement that are the most ‘radical’ --- that is, they go to the root of the problem--- are those who ally themselves with food sovereignty, whereas (modern) progressives seem to be more about food justice and equitable food access.”
Gimenez said activists focused on food sovereignty aim to put power into the hands of ordinary people. He said food activism is part of wide range of social movements that are part of the “Second Wave.”
“The first wave of social change came about with the great labor struggles and the struggles for national liberation and the struggle for the capture of state power to introduce reforms.”
During about the past 20 years, First Wave forms of social change have become less effective, said Gimenez. He said the Second Wave is more diverse.
“It’s not just about labor and capitalism. It’s about gender and race and the environment and all these other things.”
He said fixing the fragmentation that can come with this diversity in social movements requires pluralistic and non-hierarchical forms of organization, which is a contrast to the more top-down and ideologically-driven First Wave. This is already happening, said Gimenez.
“The activism on the ground is ahead of the theory. This idea of convergence and diversity comes from observation. Theorists are struggling to understand this new phenomenon,” Gimenez said.
He said people in ‘developed’ nations can learn from peasant farmers in the Global South.
“The strong agrarian movements of the Global South that farmers there belong to are very clear about the structural issues. They might not be as clear about some other things such as, for example, setting up a CSA. They may not necessarily know about agro-ecology. But they’re very clear that their land has been taken away, that they’ve been forced into migration, that their livelihood has been destroyed by a system they can name and describe.”
Peasant farmers in the Global South also are clear about the changes they want.
“For example, they want land reform. They want agriculture out of the WTO. This is the political and structural clarity which I think we can learn a lot from here in the United States.”