The moment we know, we are responsible (Máxima Acuña de Chaupe)
My mind's telling me I'm not quite the activist. My mind's telling me I need to do some proper research before I start writing anything about this.
But here I am writing about Máxima Acuña de Chaupe.
A couple of days back, a dear Peruvian friend sent me an article about this woman and her fight for justice. Bullied, beaten, scared for her life and the life of her family, seeing her refuge being burnt, watching her farm animals being robbed and killed, brought to trial, accused of illegally occupying her land, facing expulsion and imprisonment, Máxima stands her ground. All four-and-a-half feet of her.
Máxima peacefully protests as the American-Peruvian mining conglomerate Yanaconcha does whatever it can to dig a hole for gold. Three years into her struggle the Peruvian appeals court strikes down the lawsuit that almost gets Máxima and her family imprisoned and fined.
Her victory seems short-lived. A couple of weeks after the court's decisions, she is again attacked by workers and security personnel of the Yanaconcha mine. The house she is rebuilding is again destroyed.
But Máxima is not alone. With help, she collects 150.000 signatures, protesting against the Yanaconcha intimidations. She becomes a symbol of hope and courage for women, indigenous people and rural communities.
And Máxima's struggle continues. The latest update I can find tells of another break-in on the 16th of November of 2015, leaving Máxima's recently rebuilt kitchen destroyed.
I'm not writing because I'm shocked. Máxima's story hurts, but I'm not shocked. I'm not writing to show that the world is full of horrible places with horrible people. I don't believe it is. I know that Yanaconcha's actions come from an inability to recognize that when we subject ourselves to illusory fears, we become slaves to an urge to control and dominate. I see the slave in me sometimes, often after I have unconsciously followed an urge to defend myself from something completely unreal. We are more alike than "those people" than we think or like to admit. So I'm not writing to point a finger to "those" multinational conglomerates and their workers.
I'm writing because Máxima's story reminds me that we are responsible the moment that we know. News like this comes not from a world separated from ours. Our decisions, actions and purchases directly speak to other parts of the one planet we inhabit together. Our hunger for cheap energy for instance, drives companies in Europe to ship coal from Colombian mines where people work in appalling, demeaning and dangerous conditions.
It takes peace organizations and politicians to bring discussions like this to agenda's confused by many different "stakes".
It takes peace organizations and politicians because we fail to see - or choose to close our eyes to - the power of our wallets. It's becoming so easy to switch between energy suppliers or banks or food sources or health care insurances, and things are becoming so transparent, it's almost ridiculous that we still sponsor companies pursuing profit-maximization through whatever it takes.
But I'm not writing to guilt-trip you or myself into better buying behaviour. Máxima's story again makes it painfully clear that I too still endorse practices that I'd rather not endorse. I just got off an airplane yesterday, and the day before, and the week before. I don't want to contribute to further pollution of the skies. Yet there I am, 10,000 km up in the air, actually enjoying the flight.
For many of the things that "enrich" our daily lives, we can very easily make a conscious decision. In 2014 it took me ten minutes to switch bank and energy supplier. Ten minutes that had been on my to-do list for God-knows-how-long. With "all of the other things going on in my life" I had let my mind make those ten minutes into a real hassle. But my mind's having a more difficult time as I go along. The more I see, the harder it becomes to skip doing the right thing for something that is more "convenient".
But I am not a saint (thank goodness). And I don't think we can live by principles without somewhere making choices we don't really want to, or changing our principles somewhere so we can live by them. I can guilt-trip myself into hitch-hiking a couple of thousand kilometers at the end of an intense year, instead of boarding a plane, or I can try to create a really nice story about why it was "good" for me to board that plane. In both cases, what "good" am I going to be to the people I meet on the way, what kind of energy will I be transmitting, what am I doing to myself when I do what doesn't feel right? Am I freeing myself or imprisoning myself?
I have been very good at imprisoning myself. Sometimes I still am. But I'm becoming better at putting my energy into things I love. Giving a card to the genuinely welcoming airplane crew for instance, not knowing if and when I will meet them again. Connecting with two really nice Scottish people as we wait for our flight, not knowing that one of them will write me today to say that my website reminds her of what's important in her life. Filming the clouds as we fly, not knowing if I or my friend René will use the footage to make something beautiful. Writing this piece, not knowing if and what it will spark in whom, knowing only that it sparks something in me and that it feels good to write it.
So except for that spark, I don't really know why I'm writing.
By the way, did I write that Yanaconcha is digging for gold? The stuff that we fight wars over just because we've agreed - for now - that it is really, really valuable? The stuff we can do practically nothing practical with, except for taking it out of holes in the ground and sticking it in our eards, or in other holes that we call "vaults"? I'm just, like, saying. Even if you put your money where your gold is, you may want to think again. You may do yourself and many other people a lot of good.
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