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  • Jeremy Lynch

Observe and Interact: IPC 2017-Day 2

Observe and Interact.

India presents an iteration of spatial awareness unfamiliar to the Western world. Collision and contact increase—physically, socially, emotively—in disrupting and enlivening ways. Moving around—and travel more generally—opens a range of sensory experience. Packed like sardines in crushed tin cans, we shuffle about as though the will of some greater force demands that we know our neighbor. But more essential than collision is proximity. We move like fish before the net, propelled as in a jet stream, not colliding but contouring, affording a closeness encouraging interaction. In India, privacy is often a tertiary matter—a burden better exchanged for the opportunity to witness in full or hazy light the fullness of things. However, what may first appear as randomness, takes shape in natural patterns. So it is at the day's meals: we form in clustered circles like grapes on the flat carpet of the makeshift dining hall. The loops open and close like molecules exchanging elements to form new compounds in the transfer. What seems at first the absence of structure is a clean palette upon which our innate ability to organize is expressed.

On our second day, these forms coalesce as we move through the rhythms of presentation, conversation, meals, and performance. We brush up against one another in full sweeps. There is an excitement in listening, and the pleasure in exchange is amplified by diversity and differentiation. An openness to this opportunity is a lesson so essential to present-day America. We must be able to express and implement our designs upon the world while remaining receptive to feedback. Phrased otherwise: having one's opinions and ways of being, but remaining open to dialogue, critique, and doubt—having the resilience to be flexible and reject the dogmas of certainty. Accepting that irreconcilable viewpoints need not prohibit our ability to communicate—respectfully. It sounds simple, but we in the States must be vigilant to preserve the approach of love and nonviolence—nonviolence of act, speech, and impact—to ensure that the present uprising of violence around us subsides like a careless, broken wave on a stable jetty. And that when, inevitably, it rises again, we have the presence and patience to calm the waters once more. Such things we can ensure in dialogue and in action, in how and what we communicate. This is choice. Especially where privilege predominates, we cannot forget our responsibility of choice.

Bearing this in mind, we begin Day 2 with Robyn Francis' words emphasizing "the need for men to listen and enable our women." With the many complex and interrelated systems at the root of this need, we focus today on the women and ideas which reveal resilience, or as Rosemary Rowe says, "permaculture's unfolding ability to adapt."

In the morning, Starhawk took the stage in reflection upon the confluence of permaculture and activism. Hearkening to our country's recent just risings—from Standing Rock to Black Lives Matter—she emphasized that "climate change comes down, ultimately, to a tremendous social justice problem." "The real problem today," she spoke, "is that we don't have an ethic of fair share. We cannot address climate change without addressing the fair distribution of resources on every level." Acknowledging that "we have a government in office who has decided that reality is not that important," she emphasized a focus on civic engagement—be that running for elected office, serving on boards, or otherwise organizing within one's own community to stabilize the foundation of a progressive movement. Regarding permaculture, it is "an alliance with a lot of other systems. Sometimes it is just a name." No panacea, it yet expresses the poise and approach we must share if we are to overcome the challenges of our present society. With this fresh in our minds, we moved into an impromptu roundtable session inspired by the mornings' speakers and encouraged by the Conference emcee, Maria Marasigan, program manager with the Philippine Permaculture Association. This open discussion held amongst a small global community of a dozen individuals seated in a circle on the auditorium stage focused on Deschooling and Decolonization of Permaculture. This opportunity to share represents the opening dialogue on a conversation about how and by what means to transform various aspects of present permaculture strategy to be more inclusive. This conversation will continue though the convergence. A thought was left in the air: what do we not see and what are we not seeing here? And when will we know we have made the needed changes to increase inclusion? Propelled into the final session, Robin McCurdry facilitated a panel including: Robin Frances, Vandana Shiva, Rosemary Morrow, Starhawk, Beatrice Ramirez, Padma Koppula, and two local woman farmers from Telegana. The topic: "Are women leading the change?" The conversation circled around succession and the notion of bringing up the next generation through the successes and achievements of the old—so to raise the foundation for the work yet to be done. "Who can I bring up," McCurdry said, "to serve continually the whole?" "Women are really leading the way on social permaculture," spoke Frances. "People care involves working [on] empowerment... women have great facility there." "Qualities are cultivated," Shiva inserted, "they're not intrinsic to any of us." Going on to quote Gandhi ("make me more womanly," he once said, implying compassion), she encouraged, "We can all be more womanly—we all can cultivate compassion." Speaking then of resilience, she said, "I have not seen women not find a way out... not only are we still here, we are joyful. Next century will be a women's century." "Women practice the three ethics simultaneously, and often unconsciously," added Morrow. Therefore "they [women] must be leading because that [the three ethics integrated] IS the future." Starhawk continued her reflections on the way things have been up until now noting, "the understanding that the way we treat women and the way we treat the earth are the same—and neither has been terribly good." She went on: "Understanding that our human relations are often the constraining factor of what we can do to heal the earth... women bring that persistence—we don't have the luxury to give up and quit." Ramirez, translated from her native Mexican Spanish, recalled a Latin American saying that "women have the power to unify and men have the power to separate—[and] that neither is bad, but we have to balance them." Padma added: "Emotion sharing is the first important thing." In English, she spoke of the need to draw out this quality and priority of expression in an effort to know the "other"—be that your neighbor or a stranger. The session then turned to the Telangana farmers who stood to relate to great effect the history of their tangible work in earth care—and the community relationships that have buoyed them. Shiva would return shortly thereafter (speaking during a collective pledge to resist and reject an Indian government proposal to welcome multinational corporation contract farming) concluding, "Our work will become more relevant the deeper the greed becomes. Our work will become more relevant the deeper the ecological crisis becomes."

As the evening moved through ceremony and toward performance, attendees were "invite(d) to take a moment to acknowledge the diversity in the room." And, though spoken in a context taken differently here, a few words shared toward the end of the night, during the ceremonial gesture of passing the torch to the next IPC host country, sums up a particular and essential need of men to be active partners in the rehabilitation of gender equality: "part of fair share is sharing the responsibility." The shared burden we have now—and continually—to work through on the road toward an equanimous society requires first the acknowledgement, and then the action which multiple perspectives and a united approach demands. And it requires a willingness in at least half of us to acknowledge we may very well be wrong—or have been wrong—and then to change.

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