This month marks the anniversary of the Katrina disaster. Grassroots International commemorated the event in Boston, MA by hosting Juslene Tyresias, a visiting climate awareness and peasant rights activist leader from the Haitian peasant’s rights organization MPP. I was privileged to attend.
Speaking through an interpreter, before a packed house, Ms. Tyresias was a potent and charismatic figure. She gave a stirring and heartfelt speech, outlining the disturbing effects of climate change in Haiti. A predominantly rural country whose peasant population is dependent on subsistence agriculture, Haiti is on the forefront of the climate crisis. The island nation has been hit hard and to the core by rapidly escalating heat and declining rainfall. Damage to farming economies has grown worse as crops whither and cattle die.
In her talk, Ms. Tyresias stressed the importance of education and adaptation to the changing climate through organic farming of heat-resistant crops, development of water-conveying village infrastructures and the planting of trees as a means of counter-acting global warming. (MPP has planted approximately 30 million trees over the past 30 years.) She also stressed MPP’s continued pressure on Haiti’s government to develop alternative energy sources, including production of solar panels. One obstacle to this effort she noted was that poverty forced the rural population into clear-cutting for charcoal production, illustrating a direct link between economic inequality and the climate crisis.
Ms. Tyresias outlined her personal growth within the peasants’ rights movement in Haiti since the MPP’s beginnings in the 70’s and the evolution of the women’s movement within the MPP, now a woman-led organization, the number of women growing from a handful in past decades to over twenty thousand today, half the MPP membership. An inspirational example of the capacity of human societies to rapidly progress in response to difficult circumstances.
Above all, she stressed the importance of recognizing the climate crisis through a global movement which crosses economic, national, racial and gender boundaries. She starkly illustrated the need for global solidarity and the common problems of rich and poor countries alike in describing her visit to New Orleans. She expressed her dismay at the stark misery of income inequality in New Orleans, primarily along racial lines, in a country so much richer and more developed than her own, homelessness continuing in the city even a decade after Katrina. Here, Ms. Tyresias illustrated the point at which the progressive movements of climate awareness and Black Lives Matter dovetailed by emphasizing the disproportionately devastating effects of climate change on low-income communities of color, both in the industrialized and developing regions of the world. She raised the subject of land trusts in communities of color to grow food locally and limit development. Most striking, though, was her reaction to the growing militarization of the police in America and the growing income inequality and alienation from communities of color.
Ms. Tyresias was followed by Trina Jackson, Executive Director of Grassroots International, and leaders of the Black Lives matter movement, who spoke of recent events in Cleveland, OH, stressing that the Black Lives Matter movement drew its strength not from “black militancy,” but from “black love.” The importance of grassroots leadership, excluding black “celebrity worship” was mentioned. The speakers also echoed Juslene Tyresias’ emphasis on inclusivity, including the LGBT community.
I found it inspiring. And, a reminder that all progressive struggles, especially today, are part of a larger common struggle, not just for justice and positive change, but for something as basic as the long-term survival of the human race.