In Support of the Movement for Black Lives

May 30, 2020

ARC stands in solidarity with communities from Minneapolis to Athens, from New York City to Oakland, who have taken to the streets to protest the killing of George Floyd, who died at the hands of Minneapolis police on May 25, 2020.

We have signed the Movement for Black Lives petition and are taking this opportunity to open deeper conversations into how racism affects every aspect of our lives and work as scholar-activists committed to transforming the food system.

Here are a few things we know.

Colonialism brought white settlers to the shores of this continent, legitimating the dispossession and genocide of millions of Native Americans as “land hunger” propelled whites westward through the 19th century.

African American’s tenant’s home beside the Mississippi River levee. Near Lake Providence, Louisiana, June 1940.

Land was cleared, watered, seeded, and made productive for intensive agriculture by the labor and knowledge of enslaved Africans. After Emancipation, some freed persons would come to own a portion of it. However, through a variety of means — often combining force, law, and manipulation from authorities — farmland owned by Blacks once again became property of white people. It’s estimated that 1 million Black families have been ripped from their farms since World War I, a loss denying generations of families a stable source of sustenance and wealth.

Many small-scale white farmers would themselves succumb to the relentless tug of industrial capitalism, with larger and larger landholdings becoming the new normal. With land concentration, agribusiness has come to dominate the literal and figurative landscape of US agriculture. From Wall Street investments in land to agrochemical firms’ monopoly on inputs to the Wal-Mart effect that ripples through supply chains, we now have a food system in which people of color are neither growing, eating, nor making decisions about food that gives health — let alone freedom.

So, here we are in May 2020, a month that saw two white men charged with the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed 25-year old African American man in Athens, Georgia. A month in which long-delayed attention pivoted back to the March killing of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman slain by police in her own Louisville apartment. A month in which a white woman in Central Park called the cops to “tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life” — using her own white privilege to harm a Black man, rather than put her own dog on a leash.

On May 30, 2020 thousands of people gathered online to hear from resisters on the ground and receive direction for how we can join the fight. Here is a recap of the powerful conversation. Courtesy: BLM4.

Then, this month saw the death of Floyd George. In video footage that has since prompted protests around the country and the world, Mr. Floyd was pinned to the ground for 8 minutes and 46 seconds by Minneapolis police. Officer Derek Chauvin can be seen pressing his knee into Mr. Floyd’s neck in silence, while Floyd repeatedly says, “I cannot breathe.”

In Black Skin White Masks, Frantz Fanon wrote “I must free myself from my strangler because I cannot breathe.” Fanon’s study of effects of racism on the psyche and body became a cultural touchstone in 2014, when Eric Garner suffocated at hands of police, uttering repeatedly that he could not breathe. It again comes flooding back in 2020, when black folks are not only fighting COVID-19 —  a respiratory illness hitting POC populations much harder than their white counterparts —  but also the militarization of our cities, campuses, and communities.

There is so much work to be done. There is also so much we can learn from Black, Indigenous, and other POC who are in countless ways leading the revolution to healthy, just, and food sovereign systems. Who are, in the words of The Rising Majority, developing “a collective strategy and shared practice” to connect and involve labor, youth, immigrant rights, abolition, feminist, anti-imperialist, and economic justice movements to amplify our voices and build power.

Please consider signing the M4BL petition and sharing your own experiences, efforts, and struggles to end systemic racism.

The Agroecology Research-Action Collective

3 thoughts on “In Support of the Movement for Black Lives”

  1. La Via Campesina’s official account posted the antifascist emblem: “Campesinado Antifascista”.

    La Via is the international group of peasants, formed out of 182 organizations in 81 countries. It represents “millions of peasants, small and medium size farmers, landless people, rural women and youth, indigenous people, migrants and agricultural workers from around the world” and backs food sovereignty, agroecology, and land reform.

    In a piece agrarian sociologist Max Ajl and I have just completed, we call it “as close to a fifth international as exists in our world today.”

    With Bolsonaro destroying the Amazon and accelerating assassinations of peasant activists, Modi spearheading a land grab rush, and Trump ordering meatpackers back to work during a pandemic, no global North leftist should call themselves “ecosocialist” or even “antifascist” without backing farmer autonomy and rural community liberation.

    1. The police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor go hand-in-hand with the campaign of assassinations of peasant activists in Brazil and elsewhere in Latin America and across the world. All such murders back hideous political economies of racist terror and expropriation that, along with the pain and punishment they embody on their own, also drive so much of the world’s ecological damage.

      No agroecology or regenerative agriculture that fails to assimilate this underlying oppression is worth its weight in healthy soils. As already long pursued outside the North American context, efforts must be made to explicitly integrate these fundamental clashes into agroecological research. Our team at the Agroecology and Rural Economics Research Corps made one such humble effort here:

      We encourage researchers to pursue their work this way, taking on agribusiness, real estate, and other modes of oft-race-based exploitation at the heart of their business models as a first (and explicitly articulated) premise.

      1. Thank you, Rob for this comment and for the article, which I look forward to reading. ARC indeed has several members whose scholar-activism centers on the land struggles of the MST, whose professional and personal lives are linked to places now besieged by the authoritarian terrors of Bolsonaro, Modi, Duterte and the like, and who are active in organized anti-landgrabbing campaign. Our analysis of agroecology sees US racism inextricably entangled with imperialism and colonialism. Any limitations in the above post reflect my own efforts to get this very short, very incomplete post up quickly. They do not stem from a lack of insight or acknowledgement by our group of agroecology’s connection to global struggles for self-determination, non-extractive regimes, and egalitarian social orders.

        We too, as you note, encourage researchers (i.e. ourselves and our colleagues) to pursue agroecology, taking on agribusiness, real estate, and other modes of oft-race-based exploitation at the heart of their business models as a first (and explicitly articulated) premise. In this way, agroecology can encompass what John Jordan calls two strands of DNA — smashing existing orders while building new ones. Since you can’t tear down the current order without fascism rearing its ugly head, we must construct and nurture something beautiful in its place.

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