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LibreOrganize 0.6.0 - Documentation

Alternatives for Justice Begin at Home

from the Feb. 23, 2022 Bulletin

international solidarity

We focus this week of the work of two stalwarts of the Center for Global Justice in central México’s San Miguel de Allende. Cliff DuRand co-founded the Center in 2004. His most recent book, Moving Beyond Capitalism, speaks to the widespread quest for concrete alternatives to our prevailing corporatocracy.

Liz Mestres, a graphic designer and longtime Latin American solidarity activist, works on Center for Global Justice projects oriented toward a solidarity economy. She also serves on the editorial board of the journal Socialism and Democracy.

Cliff, you grew up in North Dakota. How did your early experience shape your interest in México and global politics?


Cliff DuRand: I grew up in the Third World of North Dakota! Its people are agrarian. It exports agricultural goods and imports finished consumer goods. We were dependent on external forces like milling, the railroads, and banking interests. As a young adult, I learned that socialist organizers had succeeded in re-writing the state constitution, establishing some socialist institutions like a state bank, state mill, and state grain elevator and gaining North Dakota some control over its own economy. This helped me relate to anti-imperialist revolutions such as Cuba’s — and to México’s current efforts to control its own energy sector.


In the 1960s, I was teaching mostly Black students in Baltimore, as the Civil Rights movement was heating up. Growing up in North Dakota, I couldn’t see the importance of Blacks “sitting-in” at white-only restaurants. But when I saw segregation in Baltimore, I joined the protests, and my outrage became visceral and personal when police threw all of us protesters out. I learned the power of activism, respect for those who struggle against what harms them, and how standing — or sitting! — with those oppressed makes their struggle your own.


Liz, you’re from Arlington, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C.?


Liz Mestres: Yes, I was surrounded by monuments to the United States. But many of my classmates had lived in other parts of the world, and so we were generally more open than our parents to other cultures.


I once had a grade-school classmate refuse to say the pledge of allegiance, and I thought, “Oh, so you don’t have to do what they say!” But it was the anti-Vietnam War movement that radicalized me by showing that it was actually possible to challenge U.S. imperialism.


Cliff, you and Bob Stone, co-founders of the Center for Global Justice, both taught as philosophy professors, and you call CGJ a “thinking organization.” What’s philosophy got to do with achieving justice?


CD: C. Wright Mills, back in the mid-20th century, theorized that private troubles will always be more than just personal problems. People become change agents when they take these private troubles public through collective direct action. In the 19th century, Marx exposed the structural reasons for exclusion and poverty, rooting these both in a class society based on who owns versus who works. And the 21st-century participatory socialism of Hugo Chavez grew on ideas like these. It’s one thing to rebel, he understood, but revolution won’t succeed unless the revolutionaries have an analysis that guides them to a new way of organizing society. Thought and action make up two poles of the same continuum.


LM: Expats who moved to México from the US or Canada account for roughly a tenth of the 100,000 people of San Miguel. They founded the Center, and so it made sense for the Center to organize English-language programs for expats and tourists. We expose them to a radical critique of US and Mexican society and alternative social visions.


CD: We also have organized educational travel to rural areas like Chiapas and to Cuba. People-to-people direct contact — the sort of contact I first experienced myself at the Baltimore lunch counters — effectively opens eyes to common concerns. Our trips showcase alternative ways of organizing society to address those concerns.      


Besides the English language educational programs, Liz, you work on support for a solidarity economy, right?


LM: Mexicans make up about half of our multinational Center for Global Justice activists. Our Center staffers Yolanda Millan and Roberto Robles head up the Center's work in this area. We’re working toward building up a resilient, self-reliant, and sustainable solidarity economy” right here in San Miguel. We believe that people themselves can achieve much of this solidarity by establishing, for example, cooperatives, credit unions, and community gardens.

Before the pandemic Yolanda conducted workshops with groups here in San Miguel interested in forming cooperatives. Since the pandemic, most of our efforts in this area have been though work with Educación Colaborativa, a group that works with the many educational and organizing projects here in San Miguel to organize webinars for university students on environment issues and the climate crisis.


CD: Our work starts from below.

LM: If we multiply local initiatives, informed by an analysis of global capitalism, inspired by a vision of 21st century socialism and supported by the state, we can achieve global justice. We see the spirit of the local initiative as the spirit of our time.