Skip to content
By Tami Alvarez, a youth activist and land defender from the Philippines

As a Lumad youth activist and part of the organization Sabokahan Unity of Lumad Women that promotes the rights of womxn and LGBTQI communities, it is important to be involved and interested in learning about different issues in other countries and their struggles. The exploitation experienced by Indigenous communities in the Philippines against big extractivist companies and the state is not separate from the exploitation experienced by people around the world, especially people from the Global South. They also experience the seizure of ancestral land and forced eviction of Indigenous peoples from their own homes, and the killing and imprisonment of those who insist on self-determination. 

Womxn and LBTQI grassroots frontline defenders are the most impacted by state repression, grave human rights violations, socio-economic and political inequality, patriarchy,  and the compounding impacts of climate change, all of which are rooted in an exploitative capitalist system. Over the past decades, we have seen how big foreign monopolies and local capitalists in the Global South have poured billions of dollars into military and counterinsurgency programs targeting activists and grassroots movements that are waging campaigns against foreign interventions and development projects such as mining, logging, and land use conversions,.

In the Philippines, an Anti-Terror Law was recently passed that weaponizes the law to criminalize anyone deemed a ‘terrorist’ by the government. In truth, it targets anyone who is a part of, affiliated with, related to, or even supportive of progressive organizations or prominent organizers.

Solidarity as a strategy 

Given this context, the first thing that came to mind when our organization was invited to attend the South-to-South Exchange of JASS was the question: How can womxn and LBTQI grassroots frontline defenders build a strong network and solidarity amidst unrelenting attacks on our communities? This led me to ask other questions: How can a strong international solidarity movement translate into a formidable force that uplifts each grassroots movement’s campaign and struggle? These are questions that need to be reflected amidst the ethnic cleansing and genocidal wars being waged upon Indigenous communities and other groups such as the Congolese, Sudanese, Rohingya, Lumad tribes, and Palestinians. 

While international institutions and spaces are important in accessing resources and holding respective governments and corporations accountable, we also must acknowledge their inherent limitations. Over-reliance on policy and advocacy work and obtaining representation through these platforms has never been enough to create pressure on governments to heed our demands. There has to be strong pressure from the ground, marching and roaring from collective voices in the millions demanding concrete steps and accountability from these institutions. It all boils down to one question: How? Progressive and grassroots movements in the Global South are diligently learning new strategies and tactics based on certain material conditions. In my opinion, one of the approaches that can provide us with an answer is the South-to-South Exchange organized by JASS last October 2023.

Affirmations amidst challenges

The South-to-South Exchange gave us an opportunity to meet fellow womxn and  LBTQI activists and defenders in Southern Africa, Mesoamerica, and Southeast Asia. On the first day, each of us had the chance to share a bit about ourselves. I gave a two-minute speech mostly honoring my cousin who was murdered by the military last August 2023. He was a fellow community organizer and former Lumad school teacher. After my speech, two womxn defenders from Mesoamerica gave me a warm hug, along with smiles of affirmation from fellow participants. They were some of the sweetest and warmest hugs I have ever had in my life. Later on, I learned that some of them were incarcerated for three years, nine years, or more. They also lost dear loved ones from state-sponsored killings. Many of them were facing fabricated criminal charges or experiencing mental health crises from trauma and grief. Yet, their commitment, perseverance, and determination never wavered for the defense of land, territories, dignity, and human rights. 

Through the lens of fellow organizers from grassroots movements, we discussed the human rights situation across the three regions (Southern Africa, Mesoamerica, and Southeast Asia) and how capitalist countries have amassed wealth from our communities. I have seen similar strategies of colonial deception, manipulation, and divide and conquer tactics by populist government regimes and corporations to coerce our communities to consent to their destructive projects in the name of so-called “development indispensable to national interest.” This can be in the form of undermining  Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) to legitimize land grabbing, sowing disunity, and intensifying human rights violations through organized crime, the creation of paramilitary groups, and increased militarization. Even development aid projects play some role in sowing disunity and fragmenting social movements. This so-called development is only for the big landlords, corporations, corrupt politicians, and foreign economic interests. A recurring question was brought up: “Who should define development, and for whom?”

The exchange also became an opportunity to experience the spirituality and diversity of the cultures of indigenous womxn and LBTQI peoples across the regions. Each group was invited to lead a prayer ritual before the start of each session. It was a beautiful, progressive, and empowering cultural exchange that strongly connected our faith and struggles into one. It affirmed how our cultural practices and beliefs were intertwined with nature and meant to maintain harmony and ecological balance. I also observed the shared similarities of our cultural practices, traditions, and beliefs that bound us together in our fight against an inherently exploitative, economic capitalist system that seeks to displace and dispossess us of our land. 

Grounding ourselves in different political contexts

We also had the chance to learn and understand the history of apartheid rule by visiting significant historical places such as the residence of prominent South African leader Nelson Mandela. While observing the beautiful landscape, scenic view, and daily grind of South Africans by the bus window, I had the chance to ask questions about the history, politics, and culture of South Africa: Who controls their resources? Were the properties of the British colonizers seized by the new government and redistributed for the people? What’s the status of foreign policy and the overall quality of life of South Africans? I was fortunate enough to sit with a fellow participant, Sivu, who answered all my questions about the socio-economic and political context of South Africa throughout our trip. 

We had known about the leadership of Nelson Mandela in the liberation movement against the apartheid state. However, one thing I learned, as pointed out by womxn’s activists and organizers in South Africa, was  that not much has been written about womxn’s participation and Winnie Mandela’s leadership in the historical victory of the South Africans against British apartheid rule. The African womxn participants expressed their dismay over how Winnie Mandela’s role has been overshadowed and diminished in their history. It was clear to me how she became such an important figure and leader for the Black liberation movement, most especially for fellow Black feminists, activists, and organizers. On the third day, a press conference was held at Constitution Hill, where representatives from each region were asked specific questions about the issues they were facing, impacts of climate change on their communities, ways of addressing these impacts through mitigation and adaptation projects, and their opinions on the just energy transition. 

The last day was the most special to me. It consisted of a series of activities where participants were grouped into small teams with members from different countries. It was challenging at first, because the majority of participants didn’t speak English as their first language. We were advised to use an application to communicate. It was an opportunity to learn from each other on a personal level. We were able to share meals while getting the chance to ask each other as many questions as we wanted. 

Way forward

Overall, I feel humbled to have been given the chance to represent Sabokahan at the South-to-South Exchange. I have not  been able to go home for the last six years, because it’s unsafe for me to go back. For the longest time, I have missed the warm hugs of the mothers in my family and the movement. Within a span of five days, I felt like I was home again, even for a little while. In that short period of time, I felt a strong sense of solidarity that we are waging one struggle against imperialism. 

Occupations similar to Zionist Israel’s occupation of Palestine are happening across many developing countries to varying degrees. Our fight for genuine liberation and the right to self-determination as Indigenous peoples is one of our contributions to the global fight against imperialism!

All the participants were grounded in the issues of their grassroots women and LGBTQI communities. The whole activity was productive, because it allowed everyone to tell their stories of struggle. As someone from Mindanao in the southern part of the Philippines, I was able to shed light on the issues faced by the Lumad community.

It was a great help to be more aware of other types of exploitation by capitalists, the ruling class, and the state in Indigenous communities all over the world. This helped to continue to mobilize, raise awareness, and organize for the liberation of society based on justice and equality. Socializing with other participants helped me strengthen my morale and principles in the struggle.

Related Posts

Back To Top