I have walked for two days. Thousands of indigenous have been walking since Octboer 11th 2008. They are in ‘Minga’ and over the past 6 weeks more social organisations have joined in. The indigenous started from their ancestoral territories. I started from Soacha, a poor neighbourhood on the outskirts of Bogota where I glimpse the realities built by thousands of refugees who have struggled to arrive here with nothing but their lives.
The first day we walk for 30km across the city, arriving at the National Public University five hours later. Welcomed by hundreds of students, the surge of energy was immense. Underneath the bridge, the acoustics exploded and the noise made me tremble, a lump to my throat. Here was thousands of indigenous refusing to accept how a racist, hierarchical, authoritarian world treats them, refusing to accept the destruction of their lands and our earth.
“Minga is an ancient practice of the indigenous peoples of the Andes. It is a collective effort organised with the aim of achieving a common goal”.
“The essence of the Minga of Peoples is to go beyond the demands of each sector and to focus on a common political agenda; to have goals that go beyond the claims and demands of every sector. This is reflected in the five point proposal of this Minga”
The Vice-Chancellor first refused to let the Minga use the public university. Collective pressure changed that, reminding him that a public university if for everyone and is a place for debate. However when we entered the campus we found the doors to the buildings locked to us. For two nights now thousands of indigenous that have set up camp in the campus have had to sleep outside, despite lacking the clothes and blankets necessary to do this in chilly Bogota. Disgusting racism towards indigenous people is still the norm. I’m certain that if academics visting for conferences would not be forced to sleep on the grass.
“the Minga seeks to link and unite all people who are committed to a more far-reaching common agenda, than their own immediate objectives. In other words, it is not that all the people are mobilized so that indigenous achieve lands rights to which they are entitled. If this were the only result of this mobilization, the structural conditions that perpetuate the subjugation, oppression, impoverishment of peoples and of all life, would remain untouched. And in addition, the sectors supporting us could feel used.”
The concept of Minga makes me think of the ignorant English phrase rent-a-mob, people who turn up for many protests. It is used to devalue the actions of people who recognise their own problems in the problems of others. It has been used to devalue my actions of solidarity with those who are more affected by injustices than me.
It is Friday morning and Plaza de Che, the main square in the university, is buzzing with hundreds of different diverse groups painting last minute banners. I look for friends and with just two months in the country familiar faces warmly greet me.
The capacity of Colombian organisations to mobilise and go out to the streets despite years of violent oppression is utterly inspiring. We walk slowly together, through shopping streets, cheered on by suited people in their lunch break. A group of students from one of the many private universities stands clapping and then break into a run to join with us.
Arriving at the Plaza de Bolivar (Colombian Parliament Square) we find out that President Uribe has gone to Peru, unable to give any answers, unwilling to even want to. Rather he was in Lima to seal a Free Trade Agreement with Canada – totally contrary to the vision and needs of the popular movement.
"The Minga does not end here, it continues with its call to people, waking consciousnesses and unifying forces, sharing pain, walking the word forward without seeing borders and limits, with the hope of life that transcends all spaces, and we are each responsible to care for and create this creature that was born today..."
"Onward with the joining of efforts among Indigenous people, farmers, students, teachers, women, men, youth, African descendents, workers...!"
These were some of the words shared in the Plaza de Bolivar.
I wonder how we will make the idea and importance of Minga relevant to a farmer who had her husband killed by paramilitaries and is attempting to cope on the farm alone… to an afro/black man who is refused job after job cause he is black….to a teacher who is struggling to show the students that they have opportunities beyond joining the paras/army/guerillia while class sizes increases and no books arrive….to Liliana who wants to study to be a nurse but doesn’t have the money to do so….to an indigenous who has been forcibly removed from their land to make way for a huge coal port. How will we do the work of bringing these diverese people together, to build connections across these problems; war, violence, privatisation of education, ‘loot’ of natural resources, racism, sexism and more?
The Minga is an inspiring political process for change yet I don’t romanticise it. It will be incredibly tough, working together across issues and political difference but if we don’t – are we really building something that will bring about social justice and liberty in Colombia, in the UK?