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People’s Movements Give “Earth Day” a New Name and Transformative Potential

April 22nd, 2013 is the 4th International Mother Earth Day

Jackie Smith

Few Americans are aware that in 2009, the United Nations declared April 22nd “International Mother Earth Day.” In doing so, it made what had been a U.S. event an international one, drawing attention to the need for people to unite across national borders to confront global environmental challenges.

The UN Resolution establishing International Mother Earth Day, which was endorsed by over 50 member states, was an initiative of the Plurinational state of Bolivia and Indigenous president, Evo Morales. Morales emerged from the ranks of labor and indigenous human rights activists, making recognition of International Mother Earth day a victory for long-term popular struggle. But as with most movement accomplishments, we must continue to struggle to tell this story and realize its transformative potential.

Bolivia was the second country (following Ecuador) to recognize the rights of Mother Earth in its constitution. But clearly, national laws aren’t enough, and transnational social movement networks—most notably those shaped by Indigenous people’s movements such as the World Social Forum—have begun coalescing around the demand for a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth.

Bolivia further advanced global movement building by hosting the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in 2010, responding to the persistent failures of inter-governmental climate talks. The Conference drew more than 30,000 activists and government representatives and called for a Global People’s Movement for Mother Earth, “which should be based on the principles of complementarity and respect for the diversity of origin and visions among its members, constituting a broad and democratic space for coordination and joint worldwide actions.”

The People’s Agreement of the PWCCC calls for a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth. Social movements have continued to advocate for this at the World Social Forums and at International Climate Negotiations. In doing so, they are building an increasingly potent challenge to governments’ monopolies in international climate negotiations, and they are questioning dominant discourses that have inhibited any serious discussion of the links between global capitalism and the climate.

Recognition of rights of Mother Earth makes explicit the idea that humans are inextricably connected to all living species and the planet we inhabit. It would protect Mother Earth’s ability to “regenerate its bio-capacity and to continue its vital cycles and processes free from human disruptions.”

Recognition of rights of Mother Earth makes explicit the idea that humans are inextricably connected to all living species and the planet we inhabit.

When I tell friends and colleagues about the correct name for April 22nd, they ask, ‘Why haven’t I heard of this?’ Yet, one doesn’t have to look far to find the answer. The proposed text for the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth points out that “the capitalist system and all forms of depredation, exploitation, abuse and contamination have caused great destruction, degradation and disruption of Mother Earth, putting life as we know it today at risk through phenomena such as climate change.”

By renaming Earth Day, Bolivia and its movement allies have challenged the core ideology that sustains the global capitalist order: namely, the idea that we can organize our economies around the goal of perpetual growth and profit accumulation. It is now up to us to use this opening our brothers and sisters from the global South have made and help tell this story of how people’s movements are leading us towards real solutions to our increasingly urgent global ecological crisis.

So tell all your friends, colleagues, neighbors and others you encounter that we’re reclaiming April 22nd for Pachamama. And help them learn about the global campaigns to transform the structures that perpetuate the abuse and destruction of our Mother.

For more information:

Rights of Mother Earth

Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Jackie Smith

Jackie Smith

Jackie Smith is professor of sociology at the University of Pittsburgh and editor of the Journal of World-Systems Research. She is author or editor of numerous books and articles on global organizing and social change, including "Social Movements and World-System Transformation," "Social Movements in the World-System: the Politics of Crisis and Transformation," and "Social Movements for Global Democracy." She helps coordinate Pittsburgh’s Human Rights City Alliance and is a member of the steering committee of the US Human Rights Network’s Human Rights Cities Alliance.

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