10 a.m. I arrived at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine campus, to collect my registration pass and program and join several hundred others for the 4th People’s Summit of the Americas.  The official title, “Cultural & Ideological Renewal for Social Justice & People’s Development in a Time of Global Crisis.”

The 4th People’s Summit coincides with the Fifth Summit of the Americas, with the premise that the outcome of the later engagement critically depends on the agenda set and actions taken by the region’s social movements.  Facing the most severe crisis since the Great Depression, we are presented with a real opportunity to advance the vision of another world–one not grounded merely in capital gains, but in human rights, communal prosperity and environmental sustainability.  The People’s Summit provides a space for working people, trade unions, non-governmental organizations, agricultural groups, human rights activists, cultural activists, students and their allies to analyze the nature of the crisis and identify the way forward.

Members of the Hemispheric Social Alliance, Assembly of Caribbean People, Federation of Independent Trade Unions and NGOs, Via Campesina, Grassroots Global Justice, Marcha Mundial de Mujeres, Center for the Study of World Economy, Food First and others kicked off the discussion, contextualizing the crisis within the struggles of their communities.

12 p.m. Standing on the steps during a quick break, 17 year old Safiya Reid approached me, “hablas español?”

She found out about the Peoples’ Summit through the Alliance Française, where she takes French, and decided to volunteer, thinking it might be a good opportunity to practice her French…or Spanish.  We soon transitioned into English as she told me more about her impressions of the day’s discussion.

While Caribbean Studies and Development is part of  public school curriculum in Trinidad, Safiya thinks her school should definitely increase practical opportunities like this one for young people to learn more about issue affecting the region and the perspectives of different communities involved.  She talked to me about the internet research she did, after finding out about the People’s Summit, and how it really opened her eyes to the place of the Caribbean and Caribbean struggles within the region.  She wonders why a her Prime Minister decided to host the OAS Summit in their tiny country and what concrete benefits will come of the talks among head’s of state.  She worries about implementation of their resolutions.

2 p.m. I suddenly found myself designated official interpreter for a session on Governance, Citizenship and Human Rights.  Rupert Roopnarine of the Working People’s Alliance in Guyana discussed the entrenchment of colonial forms of exclusion in governments of the English speaking Caribbean.  In his eyes, with a diminishing division of power between the 3 branches of national government, the only sure-fire way to enforce accountability is through a strengthening of village councils and other local powers.  Furthermore, these changes are necessary to the improved incorporation of grassroots principles and demands into our institutional bodies.

Adreiev Pinzon of the Inter-American Platform for Human Rights in Colombia provided a review of the historical proccess by which social movements in Spanish-speaking Latin America have pushed their governments for more inclusive models of democracy an the diverse and interesting ways in which countries like Boliva, Venezuela and Ecuador are responding.  While Adreiev’s expertise may have been in South America, questions flowed for over an hour about the English-speaking Caribbean context and how they could learn from the successes of the indigenous movement in Bolivia, for example, to elect a leader who lives by the phrase, “mandar obedeciendo.”

6 p.m. I headed out with Ravi Lutchman, executive member of the Trinidad Youth Council, for “doubles,” a caribbean twist on chana masala.  He confirmed much of what Rupert had proposed with regards to the entrenchement of colonial thought in Trinidad, but tried to put it in the context of his work with young people.  The most critical key to progress, Ravi said, is helping young people achieve a sense of self-worth (as opposed to identifying as “Third world”), the ability to express their ideas and the skills to recognize and address issues in their communities.  I think that bringing young Trinidadians from 10 districts and 5 Caribbean countries to the OAS Youth Forum, the People’s Summit and an assembly of their own–all in one week–is definitely a concrete step towards that goal.

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