Presenting Prout at the Economic Democracy Conference
by Dada Maheshvarananda
One year ago, a group of 15 Proutists scattered across the United States (and me in Venezuela) began organizing a conference on Economic Democracy. Believing that the demand for economic democracy that economically empowers people and communities has the potential to unite people around a common cause that replaces the tyranny of corporate power, our goal was to “unite the moralists”. We chose Madison, Wisconsin as our site and created a website with all the 12 talking points written by Proutists to convey our ideas.
After an inspiring weekend face-to-face meeting of the organizers in
Madison in January, Rashad Barber agreed to move there from New York and work fulltime for six months to do outreach to local progressive organizations and cooperatives.
Over 200 people attended, about half from the Madison area and half from other parts of the country, including 35 Proutists (about 15 percent). Well-known keynote speakers included The Nation correspondent John Nichols, Gar Alperovitz on cooperatives, Ellen Brown on public banking, David Cobb of Move to Amend, and David Schweikart, author of another book called After Capitalism.
In her welcome, Beth Wortzel, the hard-working conference chair, said, “I truly believe the time is at hand where, by joining our intentions, our talents and ideas, our practical strategies and resources, we can create a powerful force for liberating ourselves from the grip of corporate
capitalism’s dying empire. Thank you for being here and for being part of
that force for change.”
In her inspiring opening talk, Nada Khader said: “Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar, the founder of the Progressive Utilization Theory (Prout), said that we must elevate the status of agriculture, that agriculture and agricultural work should have the same status as industry. Think about the automotive industry and how, over time, auto workers accrued decent compensation packages, worker protections and benefits. Imagine how our food system would be transformed if we applied the same standards to agricultural work. We need federal and state policies to promote the welfare of family farms and agricultural cooperatives which will enhance food security for all.”
A total of 38 workshops took place on subjects ranging from cooperatives
to grassroots organizing, from indigenous rights to community gardens.
Seven Prout workshops were offered: Prout: A Holistic Approach for Social and Economic Empowerment by Nada Khader, Mirra Price, Ame Johnson and Tapan Mallik, Changing What We Measure from Wealth to Wellbeing by Tom Barefoot, SEED: Solidarity Economy and Ecological Design by Jason Schreiner, The Ethical Need for Revolutionary Change by Bill Ayers and myself, A Comprehensive Framework for Universal Economic Empowerment by Ron Logan, Close Your Eyes and Open Your Mind by Dada Nabhaniilananda and Health Care for All by Dr. Steven Landau, who wrote and circulated an excellent Prout Medical Manifesto.
In my workshop, I said, “There are three main ways that you can respond to injustice and exploitation. The first one is silence: I’m not going to speak out when I see racism, sexism, injustice or exploitation, either because I’m afraid, or because I’m afraid of losing my personal benefits. The second possible response is reform: I want to change things gradually. The problem with this one is that everyone on the planet who you want to help will probably be dead by the time we finally get the reforms. People also adopt this strategy out of fear of losing their privilege. A third possible way of seeing the world is as a revolutionary: to courageously end exploitation and save lives as fast as possible. That’s my position, as well as Sarkar’s, and I think that fits a lot of people in this room. ‘The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire.'”
The Saturday night cultural program was superb, with seven acts that each lasted 15 minutes, with perfect timing. Dada Vedaprajinananda, the excellent master of ceremonies, opened with jokes and his own songs about social justice and “trickle down economics”.
After a beautiful video of the indigenous circle dance, Art Shegonee in full native dance costume, came down the aisle–talking on his cellphone! He was trying to reassure Big Bird of Sesame Street, a symbol of Public Broadcasting System (PBS), two days after US presidential candidate Mitt Romney pledged to cut all funding for the only national non-commercial media information source in the United States. Then he went into a spectacular tribal dance set to modern rock song about the dance of the four directions.
Fourteen grandmothers (The Raging Grannies) sang funny, radical political songs. The hilarious Forward! Marching Band got everyone on their feet and dancing. Karen Libman was an incredible story-teller who told about “naked truth”. And Dada Nabhaniilananda gave the world premier of his new composition, A Revolution of Love.
Sunday was the Action Summit, with 70 enthusiastic participants trying to create and implement a cohesive master plan for economic democracy.
The conference organizing committee has transformed itself and opened its arms to interested individuals and organizations, becoming the Alliance for Economic Democracy that is now planning conferences in other cities.
Organic gardening provides experiential learning opportunities for over 1000 community members in Port-au-Prince. The Urban Ecology Program is based at Sant Felisite Sineyas, the Integrated Healing and Education Center at the IDP camp on Delmas 33. This IHEC consists of 11 pavilions and 22 classrooms, 10 composting toilets, 8 rainwater catchment systems, a reservoir, a composting site, a tree nursery, a permaculture demonstration site and organic garden. Two agronomists and three technicians give round the clock classes and demonstration of various principles of urban permaculture.
The goal of the program is to train teachers, women, youth leaders and community members in all five basic permaculture modules, and to supply them with the necessary seeds, compost, soil and learning materials for them to begin and maintain their own square foot gardens and permaculture experiments. The permaculture modules taught at Sineyas are experiential, process-oriented and hands-on, seeking to build trainers and to replicate these ecology principles in the community.
The urban ecology program focuses on the following principles and hands-on activities:
• Permaculture – principles and techniques
• Composting – generation, maintenance, and uses
• Horticulture – tree nursery management and maintenance, tree planting, knowledge, and nature cycles, including air-quality, soil conservation, etc.
• Integrated water management – rain catchment, grey water usage for the square foot gardening, etc.
In Haiti, AMURT set up and has been operating for some time now a series of Child-Friendly Spaces in refugee camps in and around Port-au-Prince.
UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, made a one-day trip to visit earthquake affected Haiti. As Ban toured through the refugee camps, he visited one of our Child-Friendly Spaces scheduled to open the following day. Sara Wolf (Sarita), the AMURT child-protection coordinator, explained the educational importance of providing safe opportunities for play and self-expression for young children. She described our program which offers story-telling, art, music, karate and yoga as well as meals and nutritional support to children 4-12 years old. Ban was very impressed to see how happy the children look.
Haiti: Two Years Later
January 12 marks the anniversary of the devastating 7.0 earthquake that shook Haiti, leaving over 300,000 people dead, more than half a million injured, and well over a million homeless. AMURT/EL responded immediately with medical care, food and water and supplies. Now a year later, we take stock of how things are for the survivors of that shattering day.
In many places in the Haitian capital, it’s hard to believe a year has passed since the earthquake caused such destruction and misery. What took a lifetime for many to build was destroyed in 35 terrifying seconds. Twelve months later, more than a million Haitians who lost their homes are struggling to survive in tent cities, once thought to be strictly temporary. Cholera broke out in the rural provinces this past fall, most likely carried by UN relief workers. In November it hit the capital, sweeping through the camps where hundreds of thousands are forced to live with no septic, no steady source of clean water, and little medical care. Raw sewage flows through the canals of the city, providing a breeding ground for all kinds of disease. Hunger, violence and despair are constant companions in the camps. More violence is expected when results of the most recent presidential election are announced. And for women and children, the situation is even more challenging.
Although AMURT/EL had been working in Haiti for the past 18 years, the earthquake required us to focus more of our resources in Port au Prince. We brought in some of our best disaster workers from around the world and, thanks to the generous support of the global community, were able to immediately start offering aid.
Currently AMURT/EL is working in 10 camps, operating numerous child-friendly spaces and kindergartens, and running mobile clinics six days a week. We have supplemental feeding programs in four of the camps, benefitting malnourished children and pregnant and nursing mothers. We have begun our own micro-finance program in four camps, and established a work for cash reforestation program in the northwest.
Child Friendly Spaces: These programs provide thousands of children with safe and healing places to go each day. Using art, play therapy, music and dance, our teachers work with those children most in need, helping them through the trauma they have experienced. It is incredibly rewarding to see how these children are beginning to put their lives back together, once again playing and interacting in a healthy way. As all the children attending a CFS are displaced and living in tents or under tarps, having the consistency and security of these programs has made a huge difference.
Medical Outreach: Initially our medical teams were seeing injuries that were directly earthquake related: crushing injuries from falling houses and walls, infections and tetanus from untreated wounds. Then as we moved into the second month, we began traveling to the camps, providing treatment for health issues that were a direct result of post traumatic stress, incredible poverty, and lack of any previous medical care. Our teams had a routine of rotating between the camps on a weekly basis, until cholera appeared. Cholera has hit especially hard in the province, where few villages have access to transportation, clean water or medical care. Our teams spend a few days a week treating cholera, malaria and other diseases in the camps near our offices in Port au Prince, and then drive out to the villages in the provinces. Dr. Mark will arrive with his team in the early afternoon and often work through the night and into the next day, as villagers bring family members extremely sick with cholera. The doctor told me that in some areas, they have seen people die just 8 hours after the first symptoms appeared. In the camps around Port au Prince, the spread has slowed due to a very effective education campaign by many NGOs on preventing the spread of cholera and other water born diseases. Our Amurtel workers use theater and music to teach prevention and treatment, and the rate of cholera now in these camps has been significantly reduced.
Micro-Credit Finance (breaking dependence on aid): The women in the camps we work with are all eager to establish a way to support their families. After fruitlessly waiting for funding to begin a micro-finance program, AMURTEL finally started its own, pulling from our limited funds. Our community organizers held trainings for those women selected, and then working in teams of five, the women were given their first loan and started their businesses. Each team offers support for its members and so far the program has been a resounding success. We will expand the project as more funding becomes available.
Urban Ecology: When nutritionists did an evaluation of the health of pregnant and nursing mothers in some of the camps, it became apparent that lack of healthy food was a major contributor to poor health. But as the woman pointed out, they do not have the resources to buy food, nor was any readily available to them. So the idea of permaculture took hold, working with women to design and maintain gardens in each of their camps. Currently we have a permaculture training program, based at our Integrated Healing and Education Center (IHEC). With help from a grant, the IHEC now has classrooms, composting toilets, rainwater catchment systems, a reservoir, a composting site, a tree nursery, a permaculture demonstration site and organic garden. Two agronomists and three technicians give round-the-clock classes and demonstration of various principles of urban permaculture, with a particular focus on the 820 children attending the AMURT/EL preschool and after-school programs, their familes, and the women’s and youth groups. The goal of the outreach program is to train 120 women and 160 youth leaders in all five basic permaculture modules, and to supply them with the necessary seeds, compost and soil, and learning materials, in order for them to begin and maintain their own square foot gardens and permaculture experiments. The permaculture modules taught are experimental, process-oriented, and hands-on, seeking to build trainers and to replicate these ecology principles in all the communities.
Appropriate Technology: Rocket stoves, small and highly efficient portable cooking stoves, are built in Haiti and use less than 1/5 the amount of charcoal of other stoves. This project, overseen by our own Elizabeth Sipple from Faytson, is partnering with AMURT/EL in a pilot program to provide stoves to 300 families in our camps.
Children: Before the earthquake, we had four children under three living with us at the AMURTEL center. Since January 12, another three have joined us. Malika, first rescued from a living hell in a so-called orphanage, was brought to us in February. She was emaciated, unable to even roll over, let along sit up or walk, and did not speak. Her age was thought to be around 3. With lots of TLC, good food and play therapy, she is now racing around the compound, talking and laughing and has grown about 6 inches. Malika is a true testament to how much healing can come from proper food and loving care. Jyo Jyo was a tiny little 2 year old who also did not speak, was unable to walk or even sit upright by herself. She was a very solemn and sad child. She too is now cruising around on her own little legs, talking and joking. KK, the newest baby at 13 months, was recently brought by his great aunt, after his teenage mother contracted cholera. No one in the family could take care of him and the standard response to his crying at night was to give him sleeping pills. Although with 6 little kids we felt we were at our max, one look at KK’s condition melted everyone’s heart and he became a member of our family. The other children have all taken KK on as a brother, taking turns holding him, feeding him and squabbling over who gets to sleep next to him. KK for his part is now a contented child, curious about everything and eating up a storm. Although our center is filled with the expected noise and controlled chaos that comes from having seven pre-schoolers, three teenagers, various volunteers, barking dogs, and a constant stream of people in need of some kind of help, it is a place filled with magic and a warm family feeling. When volunteers return to Haiti, it is always here that they want to stay.
As grim as things are, perhaps what stands out the most through this last year of hurricanes, disease, and unfathomable hardship, is the endurance and sense of hope the Haitian people have. We have rarely seen a people so determined to succeed, to overcome unimaginable challenges and create a better life for themselves and their families. Schools rise from rubble; babies are born, and loved under the worst conditions. And the little food that is available is shared, keeping both the body and spirit alive. We are filled with awe and a deep respect for the survivors and for our volunteers, working side by side with the Haitian people.
Thousands of demonstrators protested social injustice at Wall Street and other locations in New York City as part of the Occupy movement. The now late Dada Pranakrsnananda meditated on the Brooklyn Bridge and was carried away when police came to arrest the protestors. Photos of Dada were shown in news media including The Guardian of London and CNN. This video covers Dada Pranakrsnananda’s arrest:
Rurapuk means “people who help each other” in Quechua, the language of the ancient Incas. The Rurapuk Project is run by AMURTEL in Lima, Peru. It is located in an area of Lima called Paraiso Alto, which is in a zone of extreme poverty. In Paraiso Alto there is no running water or sewerage system and most of the people live in one-room shacks with dirt floors. The center of the Rurapuk Project houses the Rurapuk Hot Lunch Program which serves a free hot lunch to 30 children and 2 elderly ladies five days a week. It is also the meeting place for Rurapuk Mothers, a women’s handicrafts collective. The local community learn reflexology and face-painting brightens up the day.
The newest program of the Rurapuk Center is the formation of a group of therapists who will treat and cure the local people of common conditions such as colds, digestive disorders, joint pain, and stress related issues. The primary form of treatment will be reflexology, accompanied by treatment with local medicinal plants, and diet therapy.
Doctor Mirtha Acosta, Peru’s best reflexologist, and Doctor Martin Corbacho, a local homeopathic physician, have just finished teaching the first series of classes. Eight participants have finished the series. In the last class, Doctor Mirtha asked the students if they had been practicing, and what results they had seen. Señora Julia described how she had cured her son’s cold. The youngest participant, 12 year old Karla, explained how she had cured her mother’s headaches.
Alicia Semanario, project participant, summed up the project: “We chose reflexology because it is low cost, low tech, and cures. We want to use medicinal plants because Peru has an abundance of them and they are accepted as part of our culture and history. Good healthy food is important for everyone. What you eat is what you become. Our purpose is to make a team of therapists who can cure simple fevers and pains because the people in Paraiso don’t have money to buy medicine or see a doctor.”
Today, Rurapuk Stars employs six hearing-disabled women and one non-disabled woman who is our designer and the creator of the first dolls. These women are working full-time at a fair wage to make hand-made ethnic Peruvian dolls. The hearing-disabled women are talented, sincere, hard-working, and have a refined sense of art and aesthetics. It has been our experience that, with patience and proper guidance, they do higher quality work than non-disabled people.
The Machu Picchu Stars doll-making project began in the year 2000 with the idea of generating work for the poorest of the poor in Lima. We started with very little: about US$6, two borrowed sewing machines, and volunteer help. Our first commercial products were Peruvian ethnic dolls. We worked very hard designing, producing, and marketing them and by 2003 the project had grown enough that we were able to incorporate a working team of five hearing-disabled women. We named the project Machu Picchu Stars.
Since that time, we created a company called “Machu Picchu Stars Peru” which sells and markets the dolls and other products. To date we have sold more than 10,000 dolls. Our biggest client is a gift store in the Lima airport, and we have also exported dolls to Sweden, Italy, England, Germany, Brazil, Venezuela, Columbia, Taiwan, Japan and the United States. We now have a trained workforce of ten deaf women who earn a fair wage. Since 2006 we have also produced children’s clothes, including recently for the American company Flit and Flitter, and have built up a capital of industrial sewing machines, materials, and finished dolls.
In Peru, when a person becomes deaf it usually terminates their chances for an education and to have a job. Because of the lack of special education in, most adult deaf people have not learned to speak, to read and write, or to use sign language fluently. So the challenge of the deaf is to communicate and most employers will not make the time nor have the patience to do this. These communication challenges make the deaf person almost unemployable. S/he often becomes depressed, loses self-confidence, and feels that s/he is a burden to the family. The mission of Machu Picchu Stars is to remove the barriers that Peruvian society has put in the way of deaf people and to give them the opportunity to work with dignity. It has been my greatest joy to see how the deaf members of our team have grown in self-confidence and self-esteem when given these opportunities. I have also seen again and again that our deaf women work harder and better than so-called “normal” people. They are able to share and work as a team in a way that puts hearing people to shame.