I am honored to call Pisaq my second home here in the Sacred Valley, and here the PARO was centered by the bridge, which lies at the entrance to the village. All access roads were closed with rocks and barricades and hundreds of representatives from each community from around the Valley were present.
Without the steady pulse of engines and the regular bustle of commerce, the landscape was vibrant, rocks were strewn across the roads to inhibit traffic, the kids took over the streets to skate and play, and everyone went about on foot. I saw many families using the pause in the daily hustle to take an afternoon stroll or play as a family. It was beautifully peaceful, the birdsong and the sound of the river evermore present.
I went multiple times to the epicenter of the protest to converse with and offer my support in solidarity with the movement. There I found a tender cluster of Abuelita (grandmother) warriors sitting on rocks and tires blocking traffic, with many other citizens and Campesinos (villagers) milling about, giving speeches, and surrounding any vehicle that attempted to cross their barrier.
I talked with them about the global struggle to protect the water, and told them how brave and beautiful they were for sitting there on the front line. Most people had not heard of Standing Rock, or other water protector uprisings overseas, so we shared some stories, and they were so sweet, curious, open and courageous in their responses. They invited me to sleep there with them at the roadblock, but instead, I returned with gifts of fruit and offerings of blankets a few hours later and then rose at dawn to bring hot coca tea and more fruit to share.
Despite having passed the night without sleep (and some rain), the mamitas and hundreds (thousands?) of supporters walked their petition up, up, up and over the mountain ridge (a 6-hour journey) to the central government in Cusco on Tuesday. The procession of walkers stretched as far as I could see up the steep mountain road. It was so uplifting to witness their strength and community commitment to keeping the government in check.
The protesters are expecting an answer this Monday, February 18th. If they don’t like what they hear, the paro will continue. They are quite confident in attaining their desired outcome, as they control the gateway to Machu Picchu, which is the Federal Government’s primary source of funds. The people of this region have a reputation for being determined, and therefore successful protesters, so the government is more likely to respect their demands.
One of the things that enables them to be so successful is that they insist that ALL commerce cease, and few exceptions are allowed. I feel that cultures of protest and resistance in my homeland have something to learn here from this paradigm of insistent, expected collective solidarity. Here the intentions of the protest are not seen as separate from the interests of the general population.
In the United States I view our protests as more of a therapy parade in which we beautifully display our opinions, and people wave as they pass by and continue about their individual daily plans. Or we come together, are invaded by cops and slowly worn down and dispersed by violence and then the corrupt corporations and greedy government continue with their life as usual. The people here in Cusco still have a grip on a collective power that we have lost in our society.
I shouldn’t have been surprised that I was the only gringo I saw at the paro. And most of the messages I saw posted by foreigners regarding the situation were complaining of their hunger, or trying to find a way around the blockade, or wondering how to get money out of the bank…
And honestly, this is disgusting to me. It reveals how disconnected many of us are. We are not growing our own food (or even buying enough in the market to cook at home a few days in a row). We are not conversing with the locals, asking them about THEIR lives, goals, or finding ways to meet their needs and uplift their dreams.
Well, I am INVITING YOU NOW. Many of the speakers at the PARO addressed all of us as compañeros, brothers, sisters, one people united to defend, honor and nourish Mother Earth. And I respectfully choose to join them. If you are alive here, drinking the precious water of this most magical and revered place, then I invite you to step up and show your support. I believe we each have something to offer to this cause and that Pachamama needs EVERY one of her children to support a shift in human behavior.
Ask the local people what they need. Ask what is currently unfolding in their communities. Look into your heart and ask yourself what you have to offer in AYNI (sacred reciprocity) for the beautiful land that these people are maintaining. Bring tea, bread, kind words, a brave heart. Go beyond the surface gesture of “liking” and “sharing” their message on social media, take action in the real world.
And DO NOT subvert their collective action by trying to sneak purchases at local stores and restaurants. It is selfish and disrespectful to their intentions. If you are so ill prepared to feed yourself than maybe you can offer up a day of fasting or find a friend who has some food to share. Really feel the purpose of the paro, rather than seeing it as an inconvenience in your path. If you live here, live WITH the community, not on top of it. Because doing so destroys the very magic which we come here seeking.
Align your life in a locally-connected and more sustainable way. As humanity and the environment spin closer to an energetic tipping point, the reality is that at any moment, any place on Earth could experience a natural or social disaster that leaves us all humble scrambling for survival. So basic self-care should include having a few days worth of food (if not a few years worth of seeds to sow) on hand in case this unstable, self-serving, modern society comes to a stop. A paro. And hopefully, it will.
I also want to honor that not ALL Peruvians were in favor of the paro. And at times it was enforced in a threatening way. A fellow expat resident pointed out that is is difficult for local impoverished people to stock up on extra food and go two days without work/income. In this case, I encourage both Peruvians and foreign residents to step up and help to feed those who are in need. To engage in open-hearted dialogue rather than resort to threatening coercion. Violence and oppression need to be confronted on all levels…Enforced sólidarity is not the goal, ideally, everyone can learn to use words and examples to help our communities understand that a few days without income is worth a world with clean free water.
This could be a key to human survival and success in the face of extreme climate change. From what I witnessed, most people knew about the Paro so they stocked up on supplies beforehand and caught up on errands afterward. Once the paro stopped, the next couple days were bustling with business that made up for a lot of the time dedicated to protecting Yaku Mama, mother water. We have to learn to focus our attention beyond a day’s net sales and communicate the bigger picture to those who are stuck due to poverty miseducation or greed.
And to me a BIG piece of this puzzle is foreigners having real conversations with the locals and taking responsibility to empower them politically, emotionally and financially; which means the Ayni of giving more than we receive, paying living wages, and having heart to heart conversations about the environment and where humanity is headed if we don’t get serious about healing our relationship with the Earth. Let’s keep the dialogue flowing and our actions in alignment with our values.
I pray that this Monday, February 18th, the people’s demands are met unconditionally by the government and that they continue to be empowered to prosper in and protect their divine relationship with Yakumama (mother water) and Pachamama. Please join me in supporting this plea for environmental and social justice.
And on Sunday, perhaps I’ll see you in the vibrant, abundant market of Pisaq, buying some extra fruits and veggies just in case…
Because if the government falls short on meeting the needs of a Healthy Earth, Honor and Freedom for Water, and Respecting the Rights of those who tend the plants and provide food for all people, then I pray the power of the paro to grow until the paradigm shifts and right relationships are restored.
Ayu Makisunapa (We are all family)
Unuqa Kawsay (Aguas es Vida)
PS: What would happen if WE (as in all of humanity) agreed to have a regular PARO? For instance: 2 days a week in which we all just paused in our petroleum-based transportation and consumer transactions… just to feel the difference, to hear Mama Earth sigh with relief…and the birds sing, and the river flow, and the people speak…
PPS: It doesn’t feel right to publish this article without sending some credit back to the Klamath River Tribes (Karuk, Yurok and Hoopa) and my circles of Community on Turtle Island. I’m so proud to be rooted in the strength and momentum of water protectors in our River community of Northern California. Because of my time and education there I was able to take conscious action down here, moving from a powerful sense of solidarity and global justice.
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