Name, age, location?
Nick Robinson, 30, Oakland, CA and Reykjavík/Grímsnes, Iceland.
An activist or thinker from the past which gives you inspiration?
While I’m influenced by many past charismatic activists and genius thinkers/artists who have gained notoriety for their struggles or works (Emma Goldman, Noam Chomsky, Angela Davis, Ursula K. Le Guin, George Orwell, Margaret Atwood come to mind) it’s of course the many individuals and movements who put their bodies and lives on the line for social and environmental justice under extremely oppressive circumstances that really drive history and in whom I’ve always found motivation. I’m especially inspired by slave rebellions and the abolitionist movement in America, the Warsaw ghetto uprising, the American and European anti-nuclear movement in the 80s, immigrant and farmworker rights movements in the U.S. and current environmental and climate justice movements around the world.
Is there anything from recent news or popular discourse that has made you think especially strongly about the need for radical social change?
Well, everything really. I guess that’s the conclusion that so many people in my generation have come to is that seemingly everything needs to change. In that context only a few options come up: turn to nihilism and relish irony? Or, demand everything. What’s on my mind lately? White people in the United States need to stop killing people of color and stop getting away with it. Police need to be demilitarized and held accountable for constant instances of violence and torture of their fellow citizens. Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant and the many more nameless deserve justice for their slayings. Free Bradley Manning. Free all whistleblowers and shut down the surveillance state. Let the corporate banks collapse and erase odious debt. People need access to clean air and water, healthy food and care, dignity and living wages, and the right to free movement across borders and in their own cities. End apartheid and occupation in Palestine. Disarm the state, disarm the police, disarm ourselves. Destroy misogyny and stop men’s violence against women because it is destroying the lives of women and girls (and everyone). It goes on of course … kind of a big question.
Question from Jamie McQuilkin: “In the UK, I’m friends with several small-scale organic farmers and with people from farming co-operatives, and they are all finding life extremely difficult, partially because of recent terrible harvests and partially because of unrealistically expectations from customers in terms of price, regularity and uniformity, that being a result of industrial food production. How is it possible to create stronger demand for sustainable agriculture without overthrowing the current system?”
Well, I think the current system of corporate agribusiness dominated agriculture does need to be overthrown and I think we should, all of us, be organizing for that. But really the answer to this sort of proposed dichotomy is always that it isn’t one necessarily. If you build it they will come? Alongside active and targeted anti-GMO and anti-industrial agriculture activism, I think the answer here does lie in building a new food production and distribution infrastructure. Food has been largely divorced from community by the dominant agricultural products production and distribution regime.
Linkages between consumers and producers obviously need to be strengthened in creative ways, starting probably first with deconstructing the producer/consumer distinction itself. Certainly some people will be farmers and some people will be health workers or teachers or carpenters or whatever and everyone needs to eat, but a good starting place here is that if corporate agribusiness is to be disrupted and replaced by smaller, denser, more diverse, and higher quality food production methods (and I think it has to be if everyone on Earth is to feed themselves as well as be healthy and free from chronic disease in the next century and beyond), a lot more people need to become farmers and gardeners. Somewhere along the way, capitalist development schemes convinced most people that they didn’t have to think about the most basic requirements of life, the nutrients and calories they need to continue living, clean air, water, and soil because they were too busy and had more interesting and important things to think about. The practice of growing food became so specialized and technologized that so many of us have forgotten what food even is supposed to look, smell, and taste like. Or how it is supposed to make us feel. Bringing the practice of food production back into the sphere of life for most families and all communities is necessary for people to feel connected to food and to care about kale more than cocoa puffs. Everyone should know how to plant and harvest vegetables in their climate. Growing food, nutrition, and cooking should be basic and required education starting in primary school. When everyone has a sister, brother, parent, friend, or partner that cares about good food and health and is involved somewhere in the food chain, then they will care more too.
Distribution is the other side of the coin. Where and how one acquires healthy food can often be more limiting than the limitations on production in making good food more pervasive. Especially in cities, where over half of the world’s population lives, there are way too many neighborhoods in which there is only one grocery store for every 25 liquor stores with shelves lined with Doritos and Coca-Cola, much less the existence of a hub of community engagement and activism like food cooperatives can and should be. And many people can only afford cheap petroleum industry and agribusiness substitutes for food. Small scale food producers and their supporters have to be as involved in increasing the purchasing power of consumers as they are in producing the food in the first place. That’s a really tall order for a busy farmer of course, but focus on elites’ access to healthy food and hoping for trickle down local, organic economics will only go so far, and not fast enough, and there are a lot of ways for people to be involved in supporting localized, organic food movements besides shoveling manure. Generalized purchasing power trickles up. Solidarity between farmers and fast-food workers fighting to double their wages, for example, would be highly mutually beneficial as would fighting for land redistribution generally and human rights and living wages for undocumented agricultural workers in solidarity.
Nick Robinson has spent the last several years working to integrate ecological infrastructure into the post-industrial urban landscape of Oakland, California focusing on toxics and pollution mitigation, climate change adaptation, and public health. He has been part of cooperative urban organic farming and land reclamation projects in California and he has organized against nuclearism and militarism in the United States.