United by Frustration

By Nimisha Bastedo

Throughout the entire Rio process, it seemed as though divisions within and between the different sectors of civil society were too wide to bridge. Attempts to create a major group common statement continued to fail. The most radical youth clashed with those who pushed for smaller ‘victories’ within the same old framework. Sofia Garcia, organizing partner (OP) for the NGO major group, complained that a similar tension reigned in her domain.

Everyone seemed to be insisting so admittedly on upholding their own agenda, that reaching any form of consensus amongst civil society on how to move forward seemed a laughable dream. Deciding on a few overarching principles to put on our ‘Red Line’ banner took hours of debate even though we were only trying to juggle the opinions of a handful of youth. You can imagine how hard it would be to try and do the same with the 18,000 other members of civil society that roamed the halls of Rio Centro.

And yet, as this train-wreck of a conference came to a close, there was a growing platform for unity: frustration. In all of the Major Groups, there is disappointment in the outcome document. There is general disgust in the empty language and watered down commitments, and a sinking feeling that we have only moved backwards since 1992.

Youth are outraged because there is no mention of future generations. Indigenous groups fear the green economy promotes programs like REDD+, that lead to corporate capture of their traditional lands. The science and technology folks complain that their role isn’t embraced strongly enough in the text. Women are outraged that it doesn’t acknowledge reproductive rights. Yesterday, I overheard overheard someone saying that even the business and industry people are not happy (although I can’t imaging what they can complain about when they have governments basically eating out of the palm of their hands).

Discontent brought the people together. It united us to the extent that there was actually consensus on a speech that was meant to be given on behalf of all of the Major Groups at the closing session of Rio+20. Unfortunately, the governments had a more pressing agenda to follow. Two minutes was far too much time to waste listening to the voice of civil society, so the speech was not allowed.

Although the speech went unspoken, it still represented unprecedented cohesion amongst civil society. According to Kiara Worth, OP for the Major Group of Children and Youth, “never before have all the Major Groups rallied behind a statement with such vigour.”

The speech’s basic message was this: Rio+20 has failed to include the voice of the people. It has failed to place our children’s future above national and corporate self-interest. We reject the outcome, and in the face of government’s lack of ambition, we vow instead to move forward as People. (See full statement 2 posts down)

It is a shame that it takes a looming failure to find any sort of common ground on which civil society can stand. But when governments fail to listen to the 7 billion voices they supposedly represent, perhaps this unity in the People is the only place we can find hope.

©2019 by Earth in Brackets.