Two Hands, Two Legs, One Heart

Eric Holt-Giménez | 08.14.2013

Over twenty years ago, over a cup of very strong, sweet and freshly roasted coffee, a wizened campesino farmer from Nicaragua tried to explain his theory of social change to me.

“Our movement is the change,” he said.

I countered that the movement was a means to change, and pushed him to give me his vision of the change the movement was fighting for. He shook his head impatiently, “No, no!” he insisted, “You don’t get it!”

I thought I did, and that he just did not understand my question. After some frustrating discussion, he grabbed a machete and began drawing on the dirt floor of his wife’s kitchen as she did the dishes from our midday meal. She looked on silently as she washed, amused.

Campesino farmer leading a farmer to farmer training session in Mexico by Eric Holt-Gimenez“Look,” he said as a stick-figure emerged on the hard-packed dirt, “Each one of us in the Campesino a Campesino movement works with two hands; one for production and the other for protection. These two must work together for a successful harvest. If we don’t protect our soils, our forests, our water and our diversity, then we are only working with one hand. We will tire, the harvest will be small… it’s not sustainable.”

Then he pointed to the legs.

“We all walk together on two legs: one leg is innovation, the other is solidarity. It has always been this way. We invent, adapt, we find new ways to do things. People think that we are backwards and never change, but it is not true!” he said, banging the ground with his stick, “Things are always changing in the countryside; seasons, products, seeds, pests, the family members available to work… and the campesino has to change too. In Campesino a Campesino we do experiments together to test new seeds, new forms of fertilizing or growing different plants together. Then we share our results with each other. If we find something that works, we teach it to others. That is the leg of solidarity.”

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It still seemed to me like he was describing a means to change, but I kept quiet. He smiled, satisfied that my silence indicated he’d finally gotten through to me. But his wife knew better.

“Look, compañero,” she said, grabbing a big wooden spoon she had just washed to continue drawing where her husband had left off, “Do you see this heart? We all share this heart. One must love farming, love family, love nature, love el pueblo (the people). Otherwise, this is too hard. One can’t do it. One can’t be alone. That is why we have a movement, to make this heart grow big!”

I was beginning to get it. At the next Campesino a Campesino village workshop, I shared the figure of the “movement” with campesino and campesina participants. People identified readily with the little stick figure and immediately began adding to it, fleshing out the qualities of the movement they were building.

“And we have eyes to see a world in which we are better off.”

“And walk in harmony with nature and all other people.”

“And we have a mouth because we need to speak our mind.”

“Yes, our mind! We are an intelligent people!”

“Ears to hear about new things. To hear danger coming. To hear when someone needs help!”

Many years later I learned Gandhi’s phrase, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” It described the way these farmers saw their movement, as something that was alive and changing on the road of transformation. I wondered if he had also learned that from the peasantry.

The farmers of Campesino a Campesino still use the simple stick figure to describe their movement, and I have seen the farmers in RICDA use it to explain why conserving pollinators is important, how they will spread the restoration practices, and why they need to reach out to others not only in solidarity, but to ask for solidarity.

It seems to me that the Campesino a Campesino movement has much to teach us about how to build a movement for food justice or food sovereignty, worldwide. We could use a lot more solidarity to go with our celebration of innovation and individual entrepreneurialism. We need to raise up the voice of those who are most negatively impacted by the global food system and we need to hear danger and the calls for help. We need to work with the hands of protection and production. Most of all, perhaps, we need to grow our hearts.

The farmers of RICDA, our partner organization, understand how vitally important it is to bring back pollinators including bees, bats, birds and butterflies. That’s why they have a goal of restoring 300 acres on small farrms in four Mexican states this year. When these pollinators are thriving, the farmers who depend upon their services can grow enough food to feed their families. Please share the link to this ambitious fundraising campaign on facebook and forward this e-mail to friends and family.

Thanks for walking with two legs and using two hands, and opening your heart to repairing the degraded Mexican hillside farms so that campesinos may eat.