It isn’t every day that you get go on speaking tour in Minneapolis/St. Paul with a delegate from Papua New Guinea. Or to meet activists and students in a city full of bicycles and inspired, socially and environmentally active people and delightful local food co-ops. Or to witness the connection between the global and the local becoming as clear as what’s possible when we all work together…
The residents of Minneapolis/St. Paul are living near the fancy headquarters of Cargill, the very corporation that is leveling rainforests in Papua New Guinea to expand their palm oil plantations.
What a realization.
It was a deeply significant experience to hear Matilda Pilacapio’s powerful and poignant personal narrative of Cargill’s rainforest destruction in her community. It was heartbreaking to hear the devastation of traditional ways of life, of matrilineal land ownership, of communities held together by forest subsistence being ripped into unsustainable cycles of brutal plantation work, dismantled family structures, polluted rivers, lost ecosystems, undrinkable water, and deceptive contracts that trick people into giving up their ancestral land. It was sobering to hear that the corporation responsible for these atrocities is in the Twin Cities area, and that the people of Papua New Guinea and everywhere are counting on us to take action in our own communities to literally change the world. It was inspiring to realize that we can.
The positive aspect of globalization is that it has united people and information. We live in a time where it is possible to make ripples that reach literally around the world by affecting the corporations and institutions that are in our communities. What an incredible amount of agency we have as Americans.
It has never been clearer to me that as Americans, we have an opportunity (and a responsibility) to use that agency.
After Matilda’s lectures and slides of the effect of oil palm in Papua New Guinea, people would ask, “What can we do?” “I am hoping that you all will set up a strategy with RAN” Matilda said. Now, students and community members are stepping up to start a RAN- Twin Cities chapter. People have already started to raise awareness about oil palm and participate in Global Days of Action with 350.org to highlight the connections between Big Agriculture, deforestation, and climate change. In spite of being busy students, activists, and parents, people are making time to work on this important issue, largely because of the power of Matilda’s words! We are meeting tonight to figure out specifics of how community members want to make a difference here, and I am so excited and honored to see the brilliance of people here stepping it up in their own backyards to protect the land of people like Matilda and the climate we all share.
Hillary V Lehr is the Grassroots Action Manager for the Rainforest Action Network’s Forests Program.