Themes - 15 October 2012

en - The People’s Summit

Franca Sessa (International JPIC Secretariat) and Marcia Ferreira (JPIC commission of the nucleo of Brazil) participated in the People’s Summit that was held in Aterro do Flamengo from the 15 to 23 June 2012, at the same time as the Rio+20 Conference; it was the occasion for an alternative debate on the same theme: “Sustainable Development”.

  The Fathers of the Assumption welcomed us very fraternally. The fact that their house is near the place where the People’s Summit was held facilitated our participation. Aterro do Flamengo is a magnificent park close to Guanabara Bay, at the foot of Pão de Açucar and Corcovado. Quite simply, an explosion of tropical vegetation: the perfumes of the flowers and of the fruits of the earth, the brilliant green of the forest, the blue of the sky and sea merging together created a harmony with the features and languages of different ethnic groups who were encountering one another, rhythms and dances intertwining. We experienced a captivating symphony. In tune with this marvellous natural setting and the cultural palette formed by the peoples present, there were places organised for debates, workshops, assemblies, the presentations of cultures and festive occasions. The organisation was such that we enjoyed an atmosphere of welcome and communication that united the languages of nature and of the subjects to be dealt with; this incited us to have a proactive awareness with the aim of the summit in view.
1.  – What is "The People’s Summit" and why choose Aterro do Flamengo?

It is a platform of organisations: environmentalists, social networks, indigenous groups, farmers, movements for women, for youth, for coloured people, groups of thinkers, scientists, and economists. It came into being and gained strength at the Global Forum – held in Aterro do Flamengo – during Rio 92. This Forum gave rise to the series of global movements for a society founded on equity between the generations and from one generation to another, between all human beings and nature. This new society seeks to promote a different model for the economy, a new approach to learning and education, a new understanding of ethics and spirituality.
The activities of the People’s Summit were managed by the participants themselves, making visible the sustainable development practices that our continents are already carrying out. It was an arena for debates and assemblies that converged to draw up concrete proposals and gave rise to the final document. The debates followed three main guidelines:
•  Denounce the causes of the environmental crisis, present practical solutions and strengthen the social movements.
•  Give visibility to what is already being done and give value to the local experiences.
•  Strengthen the networks, stimulate social organisations and movements.

Here are highlights of the richness we experienced:
From the first day, the arrival of the indigenous communities constituted a variety of colours with the beautiful costumes showing the art of the handcrafts, the panels with the symbols of each community, the rhythmic chants and the joy that could be seen on all faces. They explained the situation of each region with declarations by men and women testifying to the struggle for survival in the face of the violence of the big mining companies, the hydro-electric projects and of agribusiness, describing the disastrous ecological wounds that are affecting the life of people, individually and collectively. We could see in that immense diversity of the indigenous cultures the great resilient energy against a system that is imposing a single way of thinking, a single way of life. We seek to learn to have relations that are open to the uniqueness of each culture, capable of integrating respect for Life and bringing about "Living Well".

This message by the indigenous communities gained in strength and substance during the debate on the Earth Charter. Persons directly involved in the drawing of the Earth Charter took part in the debate: Leonardo Boff, Miriam Vilela, co-ordinator of the consultation process and the writing of the Charter, the Canadian environmentalist Severn Suzuki, Maria Alice Setubal, president of the Centre for Research in Education and Culture (Brazil), and others.

We were reminded that the Earth Charter was drawn up through a consultation process that was open and participatory, something unique with regard to an international document. At a time when great changes in our way of thinking and living are necessary, the Earth Charter is a tool that challenges us to examine values and options. For example:
• increase understanding concerning the critical decisions that humanity has to take and the urgent need for commitment to sustainable forms of life that might inspire commitment to co-operation and change;
• have a multi-sector dialogue between different cultures and beliefs relating to the global ethic and the direction that globalisation is taking;
• create sustainable developmental policies and plans at all levels;
• outline professional codes of conduct that would promote responsibility and evaluate the progress towards sustainability within the business sectors of the communities and nations;
• have a reference tool of guiding principles with an ethical basis for drawing up a scale of juridical norms concerning the environment that would be directed towards development.

At the conclusion of the debate two proposals were presented: 1) “The International Initiative of the Earth Charter”, a global network of persons, organisations and institutions with the mission of promoting the values and principles of the Earth Charter and 2) the creation of an “International Tribunal to judge the Crimes against the Future of Humanity”, such as the crimes that damage nature and menace future generations, that encourage inequality and menace the unity of the human species, that manipulate information and show no respect for cultural diversity.

In the dialogue on the sustainable model of society there was great insistence on the inclusion of the spiritual dimension. All the changes, big and small, in the world and at an individual level, occur as a consequence of changes of awareness. The interdependence between our way of thinking and our way of living is at the origin of the connection between awareness, vision, attitudes and action. Taking time for meditation and for silence increases in us the ability to find creative and durable solutions.
We participated in a big interactive celebration prepared by groups of different denominations and cultures. Words, songs, symbols and times of prolonged silence spoke to us of the desire for happiness and "Living Well" that is common to the Human Family.

Art was also present. We were able to appreciate exhibitions such as "Humanity 2012" by Gia Lessa which presented in a suggestive way the thousand-year history of the interaction of the life of the Cosmos; the "Countryside Project" in which the plastic artist Vik Muniz created a big panel representing Aterro do Flamengo using plastic bottles that were brought and put in place by the participants themselves, thus showing that used products are part of the creative process and not something to be simply thrown away.

2.  –Rio+20 as seen from the People’s Summit
The Rio+20 document has the positive aspect of recognising that the present crisis is a structural one, transcending the economic and financial aspects and that it is the result of the wasteful nature and the weaknesses of the present capitalist model of development. This diagnosis is correct. Unfortunately, what is proposed by the document – the "green economy" – instead of improving matters, makes things worse.
The green economy does not break with the neo-liberal paradigm of commercialising natural resources, or the role of private capital in doing this. It places all its belief in the capacity of technology to save the world. The new technologies, in that they are led by the interests of the big companies, increase inequalities in the world; they do not respect the rights of nature and do not guarantee human rights. The present savage destruction of the environment is going to continue, veiled and camouflaged by the words protection of the environment.

The Final Document of the Summit,
through critical attacks and through demands for new practices, confirms the fact that there is still a long way to go. The "green" desired by the system is not the "green" of "Living Well" because it allows the destructive machine to continue operating. What will save the planet is the "green" that takes the dimensions of human existence into account, that avoids the destruction practised by the mining and food companies, that replaces long-distance transport of food by local produce, that gives incentives to the small owner, that controls pesticides.

3.- What did participation in the Rio+20 and People’s Summit mean for us?
It was an immersion in the suffering and the energies of the big cosmic Human Family; it strengthened our awareness of belonging to this family and of having responsibility for the Common Home. We lived out the experience in a spirit of gratitude to the God of Life, for our vocation as a member of the Human Family, and for the charism or the Little Sisters of the Assumption. The debates, the discussions, the times of listening and of reflection were a call to us to persevere in the effort to strengthen our concern for the continuity and sustainability of LIFE in the places where we are, in our daily life, where life and the Human Family are most threatened.

“We dream of a trans-formation that still cannot be described
but which can already be glimpsed."
Final text of the 2011 General Chapter, pg. 8

Faced with the integrity of creation and of the Human Family may we be able to nourish our continuous gratitude to Our Creator, and thus co-operate more and more in promoting the growth of Life in all its fullness.

With affection from Sisters Marcia Ferreira and Franca Sessa

June 2012