Interview with Francisca Rodriguez
Part 2 / English | Español
Recovering Awareness /
A Space for Exchange
This interview was conducted (and later translated and edited) by Nic Paget-Clarke for In Motion Magazine on October 18, 2014 in Santiago, Chile. Francisca Rodriguez is “… from here, from Lampa, which is a very large commune in the metropolitan region of Santiago. I belong to the National Association of Rural and Indigenous Women (ANAMURI). And I am one of the constituent members of La Vía Campesina, at the international level, and of CLOC (Coordinadora Latinoamericana de Organizaciones del Campo), which is the Latin American identity of Via Campesina.”
In Motion Magazine: Does ANAMURI have a horizontal structure, and is the organization autonomous?
Francisca Rodríguez: MLook, we wanted to have a horizontal structure, we wanted to. That was our first proposal, ours organizational chart, is circular, not a pyramid, but in its structure it is, we function under a presidential system. Clearly, we are not on an island., and the law establishes it as such. So, this is a very structured country and this does not escape us, especially for the women that for the first time are taking such a protagonist role. And so, the political hierarchy, the union hierarchy, the hierarchy of the system catches up with us. Initially, we were going to have a president, a secretary, a treasurer, because the law demands it of you, but within the organization we were going to all be equals. That was our good desire.
But, when we had the first elections to set up our own governing body, as time passed the traditional structure began to be imposed because the leaders would talk with the authorities, and for the authorities, for them, they prefer to deal with the president, or the general secretary, because they believe they have the greater representation.
We are trying to recover the horizontality of the organization but it isn’t easy, it is a problem of culture and domination. This happened because we legalized ourselves. We could have been a de facto organization, but as a de facto organization we would have been excluded from participating in the formation of political proposals and in the interrelation, the interaction, or the paperwork that has to be done with one’s own government. We have had to adapt to the demands of the law and what was put in place in this case through negotiation with the bosses and in accordance with the law.
And so I wouldn’t be able to tell you that we are an organization in such a way level or more democratic from the horizontality. We are trying to be. But we are an organization that makes a great effort towards collective construction.
One of our current congress discussion themes is that it is necessary to see in our structure that we really are a collective and that in our horizontality we not lose responsibility, not fall into assembly-ism, or to suddenly fall into false democracy -- democratism also kills, it already has happened to us, including in CLOC which once functioned as an assembly in which (all) compañeros/as who were present participated, with the predicate that we were all equal and what resulted was that at the end (of the meeting) everyone went away and nobody was left clear on their responsibility.
Here the responsibility needs to be marked. Within an organization there are those who have more responsibilities and others who have less responsibilities. But we must search for checks and balances and construct collective works so that we can distribute the tasks that the organization has accordingly.
We intend to be a horizontal organization. That is our intention. But, in practice, horizontality is going to be imposed according to the country’s rules of operation.
AAutonomous, we are autonomous and that was one of the first statutes in our declaration of principles. We are autonomous in regards to the political parties, but we are not apolitical. We are not against the political parties. We promote the participation of women in political parties. In which party? -- That is a personal decision. What we don’t permit is that any party comes to direct our organization. Yes, there are party activists in the organization and we believe that that is the capital that the party has in the organization and from the initial proposal they will support our political construct in a personal manner from its ideological conception, but this organization does not belong to any party. This organization belongs to the women of the countryside, the women peasants, the Indigenous women, and not any party. And I am an activist and I tell you emphatically that we guard against this, we guard against it zealously that no party can come and take control of our organization.
We are autonomous as far as the state goes because we do not live by the resources of the state. This is a subsidizing state, all the country’s development is being subjected to projects. And everyone is running after these projects. We have said that we are going to petition for a project that meets our plans, for where we want to go, but we are not going to run after the state so that they give us a specific project or for whatever thing because we are not the decision makers for state programs, the projects, in a certain sense oblige everyone to execute what they, the state, wants to execute. We resisted that.
We are autonomous in regards to the Church. The women of the countryside are very diverse. They are from different religions, and so, as a consequence, we declared ourselves autonomous from the churches, and there is no questioning as to any religious position but we are careful of fundamentalism and the ideological contraband that several of them might bring. I believe that is one of the essential aspects of ANAMURI.
In our structure, we are present in almost the whole country -- except Punta Arenas and Easter Island because of the high cost of transferring to those regions -- even though recently we are getting closer to the Punta Arenas region, the furthest region of the country. We are present all the way from Arica (near the northern border) to Coihaique (in southern Chile), with active organizations, with local organizations, with organizations structured at the commune level. What has been most difficult, perhaps, is the regional structure because it always tends to become centralized.
In Motion Magazine: The name ANAMURI refers to rural women and also Indigenous women. Are there connections between the two, or specific differences?
Francisca Rodriguez: Our organization is a broad organization and it brings together the diversity of the rural world. There are women who are peasants because they work and produce on the land. There are women who are peasants but they are also gatherers in the woods. Also there are gatherers on the edge of the sea. There are women who are livestock breeders and textile creators at the same time. And within this composition, from about 10,000 women that make up ANAMURI, there are women of different Indigenous peoples who have formed women’s organizations within their communities. They don’t represent peoples, they represent women from those peoples and we have a lot of respect for the structure that those Indigenous people have.
The important thing is that ANAMURI, in its construct, unites women of different Indigenous peoples and we have a national commission of Indigenous women: Aymara and Quechua women of the north; the Licarantai also from the north of San Pedro de Atacama; from the Atacama region are the Coya and the Diaguitas; from the 8th region, towards the south, are the Mapuche women. And more to the south are the Kaweskar which is one of the smaller ethnicities, almost in extinction.
In Motion Magazine: Can you please talk about the influence of Indigenous cosmology within ANAMURI?
Francisca Rodriguez: The majority of the Indigenous population today lives in urban areas just as do the campesinos in our organization -- more or less 35% of the organization are Indigenous women.
The organization of Indigenous women is also a manifestation of recent times and this most of the time generates conflict with their community in regards to their culture and cosmovision and affirms that there does not exist a difference between the genders among the Indigenous peoples. They affirm that here they must not have women organizations because they do not have the problems that we the “huincas” (as they call us) of the city have, because they have a dual cosmovision where both are equal and this dual cosmovision is based on the complementarity between man and woman.
We think that that conception of their cosmovision is wonderful, fantastic, but we don’t know where in all the twists and turns in the road this was lost, and the women are discriminated against and they suffer not only from racial violence but also strong domestic violence. We believe that today there is no dual cosmovision. There is no developed complementarity.
Also, within the Indigenous communities, the Indigenous women suffer violence, there is discrimination, there is inequality. So for us, it is super important, how we can recover, starting with that dual cosmovision and the complementarity between men and women, one of our proposals is on the way to being developed, a feminist proposal from the women of the countryside. And this has put us in controversy with our Indigenous sisters in the sense that they are very afraid of it. They do not accept the word “feminist”, and we say that it is not that we accept it, but we are acknowledging the important contribution that feminism has made towards the development of a fuller and more integrated view of women. “Or perhaps it isn’t going to be defined as feminism.” We are able to begin now (from the base of CLOC/Via Campesina) that we are in a construct of a popular and peasant feminism. The Indigenous woman identifies with what they call “peasant” and “common” because we it is better if it isn’t going to be called feminism. But it is a proposition that gathers our role from history in what we are today and that does cause us to reclaim our fair rights. And that the equality has to be expressed having as its basis who we were yesterday. We women, the discoverers of seeds, the first farmers upon the earth who have fed humanity, we need to have egalitarian policies, egalitarian treatment, egalitarian consciousness, versus what we are experiencing.
That is to say, we women, we are left destitute of land. We are robbed of education. We are overloaded from the point of view of domestic work, including work on the land, in the vegetable garden, or in the farmhouse. And so we take on too much work from the point of view of economic demands, today, inside the home, responding to the consumerist, individualistic society, which imposes on us models by which we must advance. These are the new paradigms.
I believe that this discussion with the Indigenous sisters has been rich. It has not been easy. We are the only organization of women peasants and Indigenous women. The coexistence has not been easy because we must learn to recognize ourselves within our diversity, to respect ourselves above our differences, and to construct proposals that make us seek this better world that we want -- not only for us women, we want it for all of society. But, we aspire in this other vision, in that other construct, that we women will be in conditions where we are treated equally. It is the only thing that we seek: recognition, equal conditions, equal pay. Fair treatment, dignified treatment, for men and women.
In Motion Magazine: You have a new agroecology institute?
Francisca Rodriguez: We are building it. That is our dream, our biggest dream at this time. It is to have an Institute of Agroecology for the women of the countryside. La Vía Campesina-CLOC specifically, 10 years ago, set out to be able to remain in the countryside and to be able to develop our peasant and Indigenous agriculture, we needed to also train our own field professionals.
Unfortunately, the professionals who are being trained today in all the universities are professionals for the system, including the agronomy engineers. They have already lost what they use to have -- in the past an agronomist was more complete, his practice was together with the peasantry. Today, their practices revolve around large corporations and they are all thinking about how are they going to make money without having any consideration or recognition of the value of the Earth, the knowledge of the men and women peasants, the peasant practices for doing agriculture that are amenable to the earth and the environment, we say no to the technological practices of today that are destructive and devastating towards the earth and the ecosystems.
So, we resolved to create the IALA, the Agroecology Institutes of Latin America. At first we did it with the support, the generosity and with the belief in us of President Hugo Chávez. Chávez was the first one who welcomed our requests and in Venezuela the first Paulo Freire Institute of Agroecology was opened, from where there have already been 74 or 76 graduates from Latin American, men and women professionals from our organizations.
We women, we said we are going to create an institute for women because of the number of students that there are in the coeducational IALAS, the women are the least to participate. I believe the reason is because when the mothers see who is able to go and study and get a degree, because for the parents it is very important that their sons have a degree, they never think of the women. First, they think of the man, because it is the man who is going to get married and must have a profession in order to be able to support his family. That is the current view. They are not realizing that today as many women as men support families. The man must support the family -- that is the patriarchal, established machista view in this very strong capitalist and patriarchal system.
So, we said, fine, we are going to require that the women think about their daughters and that the young women come to study. We have bought a small parcel of land, with a country house that was damaged by the earthquake -- a house that we have to restore; an institute that we have to build. It is our great dream. We hope that it will come to pass. It will shelter women from the Southern Cone, from Chile, not only from ANAMURI but also from the other institutions that are part of CLOC and La Vía Campesina. There are four in Chile: the Peasant-Indigenous Confederation (Confederación Campesina Indígena) in Ranquil; The Mapuche Assembly of the Left (Asamblea Mapuche de Izquierda); and the National Confederation of Small Producers of Chile, CONAPROF (Confederación Nacional de los Pequeños Productores de Chile), and us, ANAMURI.
In Motion Magazine: You have spoken in the past of the importance of understanding the methods of consumers. Why do you raise that?
Francisca Rodriguez: Look, before we were ANAMURI we were part of the women’s department, at that time as part of a coordination of peasant organizations. When La Vía Campesina was established, one of the important things that I saw in that opportunity, in Mons, 21 years ago, was that the formation of La Vía Campesina was surrounded by peasant alliances. And the peasant alliances were made up of peasants, environmentalists, and consumers. They set up a peasant market around where we were meeting in Mons, and it appeared to me to be extraordinary. It appeared that this alliance was so powerful, amongst those who were defending the land, the natural resources, our natural wealth, those who consume our products and we who produce them. So, I thought that that was going to live on and guarantee a great alliance in struggle.
We have very good allies and we have important political alliances -- with Friends of the Earth-International, with the World March of Women, with some institutions like ETC (editor’s note: ETC Group/ Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration was originally RAFI -- Rural Advancement Foundation International), and GRAIN. We also work with FIAN-International (FoodFirst Information and Action Network).
Nevertheless, I believe that still we are not attaining a joint effort with the consumers at present there are differences. No, we are not in contradiction, but we have not developed common views. For example, when consumers organize themselves and demand rights and organize, it seems it is in order to defend themselves, primarily, from abuse by the big stores. They don’t organize themselves in terms of discussing consumption, consumption as a political action to counter the capitalist debauchery in this world. They organize themselves as action for protection, to protect the consumer, “let us protect ourselves”.
We have tried to get close to consumers and we have achieved points in common. (But) That is a vacuum that the movement has, in not achieving that important alliance. Well, perhaps it isn’t the movement’s fault, but the fault of the consumers for not having understood that when we speak of consumption, we are not talking about what we purchase, what we wear, the car that we have, or the excessive cost of electricity, of water -- we are not only talking about the problem of what it costs us to consume. When we talk about this we are putting the accent on the consumption of what protects us -- life, health, and the pocket book.
So, because it is so important and fundamental, I believe that when we succeed in recuperating the people’s awareness, they in turn will ask themselves “What are we eating today?” “Why are we sacrificing ourselves enormously to have all that the market is showing us?”, “And why in today’s industrial market is everything so disposable?”, “Why do they have us in this consumption madness?” So, I say to you, at that moment the consumers will be together with us questioning the economic model that is imposed on us. That is, for us it is not only a defense of personal interest, for us, it is the struggle to change the system, for food sovereignty as a right of all people.
In Motion Magazine: How does this relate to the understanding of what sustainability is? I’m concerned that sometimes people speak about sustainability but they don’t have a clear idea of what sustainability is.
Francisca Rodriguez: Look, for us it is clear that the concept of sustainability is a concept put forward by the corporations.
In Motion Magazine: Exactly.
Francisca Rodriguez: So, we are talking about a sustainable agriculture, that we are able to maintain in time, and to sustain it under what conditions? The problem isn’t “sustainability”. The problem is a great war against concepts because it is not only the domination by the market; it is also due to the concepts, because of the conceptualization, because of the language.
We are faced with a language -- I am going to tell you this because I was recently thinking about it -- we are faced with a dominant language, all encompassing, and faced with another language that is disappearing. We are in a country that in a while we are not going to understand each other. That is why for us it is so important to recover the oral tradition.
We are full of empty concepts because often it is said that something is sustainable, but sustainable as to what? Sustainable for the great profits of monopoly capital, why? It is not said, what the corporations propose, which is that for them everything has to be sustainable or profitable. Their sustainability is based on having dominion over the world, over the governments, over international bodies, and over peoples. This makes capital sustainable.
And to us, that makes us unsustainable. We are an unsustainable sector. And so we struggle for a sustainable agriculture that can be sustained through time as it has been sustained historically. Consequently, this means recovering our ways of doing agriculture, or validating our knowledge, recovering our agricultural production systems. And this means the right to food is one of the first human rights to preserve because it goes in pursuit of life, the development of a person, towards her/his knowledge. A badly fed people is a beaten-down people. A person, a badly fed child is a person who is not going to evolve and is always going to be a worker with his head bowed down. And so for us, I say to you, our struggle must be sustainable through time until we achieve what is essential, a just society, with solidarity, democratic, and based on the people living well.
Now, what about these concepts? Look, on the one hand, the system fills us with these concepts. Every day they throw out new words. Now, there is one that the international agencies have: resilience. “Everything must be resilient” and one wonders, “What is resilience?” Well, now in the FAO, in the United Nations, “resilience” is proposed. That everything must be resilient -- and they don’t give you an explanation of fundamental problems. And so we come back to the same thing. One has to continue looking for the meaning of the word and when you find the meaning, it doesn’t fit in your common language, simple, something with which you communicate with people. It is full of “concepts.” It creates a very great barrier to knowledge, science, and wisdom.
We have a simple language that must be understandable for everyone and for that reason when we put forward food sovereignty, just imagine, we proposed it as a concept in which we determined our sovereign rights in maintaining our agriculture, but this is full of content. When we proposed food sovereignty, it was more than that, it was a right of the people of the countryside to produce food to guarantee a greater right “The right of people to food.” Imagine that, in a beginning when we put this forward we were all alone.
CWhen the declaration was signed nobody signed it with us -- the Declaration of Food Sovereignty. But after five years, when we were getting ready to go to Rome -- (it was more like six years, because just when we finished the first conference on food sovereignty in Havana the assault on the Twin Towers happened in the United States, and so it was necessary to postpone the conference at the food summit in order to evaluate the situation and it was necessary to postpone it for a year).
At that moment, we, La Via Campesina, were not alone any more. There were more than 600 delegates from different movements discussing food sovereignty. And the food sovereignty groups were full of ideas: ideas for us the men and women of the countryside; ideas for the Indigenous peoples; ideas for the common citizens; because when we are talking about food sovereignty we speak of that opportunity, when we speak of food sovereignty, we speak of rights,” because in order to produce I must have land, rights to water. I also have that right to that work that I do, to have fair compensation, and that means fair prices. Food is not a business, it is a human right that the governments must guarantee. No farmworker can make themselves rich with this work that fulfills a fundamental human right. It (food) must not have a high price. It must be within the reach of every one, and as a consequence governments must invest in the organization, in the feeding process, to sustain the people.
Thus, food sovereignty has something for everyone -- for all the men and all the women. And we arrived at the conclusion (of the conference) that for us it ceased to be a concept. It is no longer a concept it is a principle of life. It is a principle of struggle. It is a principle for existing and consequently we say, the principles first of all must sustain themselves, defend themselves, and are not to be negotiated. It was we the women who made this proposal and not the men, in the third Vía Campesina conference. To get to the point of being able to say, we can no longer speak of the concept of food sovereignty. For us it is not a concept, it is a principle, and it is a principle of struggle and life.
Now, this principle has to be sustainable over time. And in order to sustain that principle we must in actual fact be able to successfully reestablish this link, this bridge between the country and the city to give value to our life and to what our life requires. And in order to exist we require healthy food, nutritious food, appropriate for our culture, appropriate for our climate. In order to exist we need to have clean air to breath. We need to have minimal basic conditions that allow us to be persons because we are human beings, we are not animals. Even animals require adequate space to live in. We require a little more than animals.
And so, that is what makes our approach sustainable, and sustainable not only for campesinos. It must be sustainable in every way because here we are talking of a principle of life.
In Motion Magazine: On that point, you have spoken about the values of agroecology and also of the necessity of feeding everyone. What are your thoughts on how this process involves solidarity?
Francisca Rodriguez: Look. Just imagine that when we speak of how we recover values, I believe that the hour has arrived when we must identify what values we want to recover because values is a word with many meanings. I believe that we must begin to talk of our values, of the inherent values of being human. And that has to do with solidarity, fraternity, trust, with reciprocity. We cannot just leave it like that, like recovering values, values, values. It’s like what you’re saying, “sustainable.” What is sustainable? And so we must speak of what values. And so, from that point of view, how we are to link food to the values and principles which give us identity and inserts us into community life.
I was saying to you that the work of agriculture has always been a collective work. It is not only a monotonous work, or rather there is also an individual work but generally it has been a work in which the family participates. And the consumption of foods is also a collective act. Everything in life is around the table -- that is, moments of affinity, of encounter, of celebration: they are in the warmth of the food. It is an act of unity, a symbol of unity, -- but also of reciprocity. In the countryside it is part of the culture, the exchange, the sharing, and that continues up until today.
For example, here in Latin America, when it’s time for harvest, all the neighborhood, everyone in the community goes to help you do the work. So, for that reason la minga (farm work done in exchange for food), la minga, which is social-community work, is everywhere. But la minga is not only “because you come and help that you will receive,” and the food was prepared there and you would receive the food, you would receive wine, you would receive juice, care, a song. But, when it was time to stop, you were sharing, and when you were sharing you were sharing culture, you were sharing knowledge; you were talking amongst yourselves about plans/ projections even about what should continue happening during the cycles (seasons).
That is what has been lost and it has been getting lost not only in the countryside -- it was lost in the city much sooner. We have dwellers today that are distrusting, hostile. He is not friendly, rather individualistic, a consumer. These are the new characteristics that have been incorporated into the new human -- that is not by culture nor by tradition, because, as I was telling you before, the characteristics used to come by culture and by tradition. They were passed from family to family. Today, they come through these little gadgets (smartphones) which are telling you how to dress, how to be, what to eat, where to go. They are telling you where to go. You aren’t going out discovering the world -- they discover it for you, sell it to you.
So, in that aspect, what we are doing, principally, is recreating a space that permits us to reanimate these practices that are lost, these traditions: for example, to revive the fair. The fairs were spaces of fiesta (of festivity). The people used to go to show their skill, to dance, to laugh, to share. But they were going also to do a demonstration. It was a display of what had been their harvest, of what had been grown that year. All those spaces were being lost and the people were shutting themselves off at the same time.
We are for recovering the fair, but for recuperating it as that space, as a space of exchange, as a festive space to return to the world of positive human attributes, to return to be able to look at each other in the eyes. It is to return to telling each other about good things, sharing among ourselves, laughing together, hugging each other for the good of it. It is to be able to talk about sad things and to share your sorrow also. To give encourgament at the moment that it is needed.
And so we have made and we have been initiating fairs which we are calling fairs of exchange. There we exchange knowledge. We talk about what we know. We share knowledge and tastes because we prepare foods, our traditional foods so that the people can once again experience their sense of taste, return to knowing their taste, return to sensing their smells. Return to enjoying their colors. So, it is a fair of tasting, where many foods are prepared, many dishes with our products, and we end with a party, and in that party seeds are shared.
And I tell you, the seed, actually, we used to do that as a separate thing, because the Indigenous communities do what is called Trafkintu (editor: a traditional Mapuche seed exchange ceremony) which means in the Mapudungun language, the language of the Mapuche, which is about sisterhood, because when you give a seed, you remain forever linked with that person and you are concerned about how things have gone for him. If she has harvested it, or didn’t harvest it. The person who has the seed is forever thinking about the other, because I am going to ask him if the same thing is happening to him, if it is growing.
So, that is what we want to revive. That makes life more communicative. It is to revive communication among us, but also to revitalize our feelings, because our feelings are held back. When they come out, they come out with rage, feelings are expressed in anger, in rage. But they don’t express our values. They were not expressed as a matter of fact. And so that is what we want, in some measure, in this work that we do regarding seeds. That is what we are doing.
The urgency to defend the seed
In Motion Magazine: Can you talk some more about the seed exchange campaign??
Francisca Rodriguez: When we launched the seed campaign -- we women started it at that food summit in Rome -- just imagine, we didn’t know yet the impact it was going to have. We did not realize how strong the urgency to defend the seed was. We defend it with all our hearts. We defended it as something very important for peasant men and women, as something very important for us. As we began to see this, we were defending it in the face of the threat of transgenics. We said in our Declaration, our seed is a prisoner in evil laboratories where they are being altered. And so, because it is transgenic, they are transgressing the laws of nature. That was our declaration and we declared the seed the heritage of humanity.
The following year, in a conference in Johannesburg, the Monsanto representative said he agreed that seeds were the heritage of humanity, because if it was humanity’s, it was everyone’s, and consequently the corporations could use them.
For me, personally, it was terrible. I sensed that we had committed the worst error of our lives. We couldn’t understand how we had done that -- declaring the seed the heritage of humanity. It held us back a year, discussing, seeking a formula for how we might retreat (from that); because we had launched the campaign, and now it was necessary to pull back on the campaign -- until we met again in Paraguay and someone made the point, “Look, seeds are not the heritage of humanity, they are our heritage” and we said, “No, they are not humanity’s. They are the heritage of Indigenous peoples, of peasants, of the women who were their creators, their discoverers. And our peoples are those who bequeath the seeds to the service of humanity, but only so that they fulfill their mission -- and what is their mission? It is to feed the peoples.”
In the World Social Forum, we made the new campaign launch, now in a bigger way, with the people, with a lot of people. There were more than 18,000 people who were saying that the seed was not the heritage of humanity. They were the heritage of the Indigenous peoples, of our Indigenous peoples and peasants, and our peoples generously put them in service to humanity, to feed the peoples. And there were slogans, “Seeds in Resistance”, “The Seeds of Life”, “Seeds to feed the peoples”, “Land to feed the people”. Many signs were created around this proposal.
I believe that from then on, the actions, the activities, the defense of the seed has been enormous and is everywhere. And just look at how we were made to be aware of it. For example, the seed exchanges which emerge from the Mapuche culture, and which are the ones that we practice, we realized when we met in the (World Social) Forum in India and did an exchange, we realized that the Asian peoples have the same concepts of exchange. They see it in the same way that Mapuche peoples see it. And so we said, “Ah!” the Spaniards weren’t the first to arrive in Chile because the culture is interwoven among the peoples. That is, the seeds traveled freely among the people. They were taken to different (geographical) areas and they didn’t seek service from anyone. Today, you have to pay great sums of money and there are mountains of bureaucratic obstacles in order to be able to, let’s say, pass your seeds to other brothers and sisters and we, in resistance, endeavor that our seeds continue along the road of solidarity and the sisterhood of the earth and we will continue trading if it is so required.
If you have any thoughts on this or would like to contribute to an ongoing discussion in the
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