From left to right, Janelle de Rocquigny, Erynne Gilpin, Katrina Laquian, Shelley Burgoyne and Mélodie Grenier. After their meeting with the lead negotiator for the Canadian government delegation, members of the Development and Peace group stopped by a Rio+20 sandcastle at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro. Photo courtesy of Shelley Burgoyne

Gaining a global perspective at the People’s Summit in Rio

  • June 28, 2012

The People’s Summit in Rio de Janeiro provided a space for people from all over the world to exchange ideas, tell their stories, form alliances and share their hopes for the future, including nine women representing the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace.

From June 15-23, the young women — all under 30 — from the D&P delegation brought the Canadian voice to the ecologically themed workshops and presentations.

“It brought the international community of active agents of social change together in solidarity for the better future we need,” said Katrina Laquian, the D&P delegate from British Columbia, of the more than 800 events attended by more than 200 non-governmental groups. The alternative event to the United Nations-organized Rio+20 Summit drew about 15,000 people a day, according to organizers.

Some of the workshops Laquian attended included an international forum on mining and the green economy, another on rural development and green economy and reclaiming food democracy.

But the most memorable experience for her was a lecture called Tricontinental People’s Solidarity for Social and Environmental Justice (and the Failure of Sustainable Development). The message that spoke most to her was delivered by a Mexican from a network of migrant workers across Central America and the United States, who said, “With no work or money one can live, but without food, we cannot live. Solidarity may not be food for our bodies, but it is food for our fighting spirit.”

Inspired by the commitment of these delegates despite their daily struggles, Laquian called them “the true contemporary heroes we should all look to.”

Anna Weber, the delegate from Saskatchewan, was struck by the 50,000 people who participated in the Global March in downtown Rio.

“We walked for many reasons, including indigenous rights, ecological justice, in support of small-scale farmers and against corporate greed,” she said.

“The event was far from an angry and violent protest, but was more of an expression of hope and a celebration of solidarity in struggle.”

For Weber, the experience reaffirmed the importance of Catholic social teaching in the way it informs her faith.

“The principle of a preferential option for the poor is crucial and becomes very evident when you hear stories of how the global food system favours corporations and can destroy the livelihoods of small-scale farmers” whether through the building of a dam, deforestation or seed patenting, she said.

“The Gospel provides us with so many powerful examples of social justice in action and that inspires me to work towards justice and peace in my own life and in our world.” 

But all in all, the Summit gave Weber a sense of the position of privilege she has as a Canadian citizen.

“At times, it is overwhelming to hear of the terrible injustices that are happening all over the world, but we were able to form networks and alliances and participate in the collective sense of hope in the face of adversity,” said Weber. “I feel really encouraged to strive to be an active participant rather than a passive observer.”

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