by Debbie Bookchin
Like any activist working for deep structural social change, there are times when the ravages of capitalism seem insurmountable, when the long hours are overwhelming and when the tragedy of climate change seems almost too much to bear.
Sometimes, it’s hearing that after a long battle against mono-culture, a giant multinational corporation has succeeded in acquiring massive tracts of agricultural land in a lush Italian valley and will destroy its diversity by planting it full of hazelnut trees – so the world can have more Nutella. Sometimes, it can be as simple as seeing the despondent look on the face of a young Starbucks employee, all but paralysed by the numbing tedium of her work running a cash register for 8 hours a day. At those times and others, I know there is one sure-fire way to get a morale boost. I make my way to the website of the Internationalist Commune of Rojava, where cogent articles and beautiful photos of gentle hands patting little plants into the earth restore my calm and remind me that there are people working with care and determination right now, literally on the ground, successfully making the environment a richer, more diverse place.
The Internationalist Commune of Rojava is the outgrowth of the dozens of volunteers from all over the world who have moved to Rojava to help build a new civil society that embodies the ideals of the Rojava revolution: feminism, grassroots democracy and ecology. Foreign volunteers who have joined the Kurdish-led People’s Protection Units (the YPG and all-female YPJ military forces that have successfully routed ISIS from much of Syria), have been reported on widely. But much less attention has been paid to the civil volunteers who are working diligently in society to make Rojava a place that can provide the food, comfort, and ecological stability her people need to thrive.
In Rojava, more formally known as the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, Kurds have established a bottom-up political system of popular assemblies that enshrine the values of non-hierarchy, women’s liberation, ethnic plurality, religious tolerance, direct democracy, and ecological stewardship. The 96 articles of the Rojava social contract guarantee all ethnic communities the right to teach and be taught in their own language; they abolish the death penalty; and mandate public institutions to work towards the elimination of gender discrimination. They require that women make up at least 40 percent of every electoral body and serve as co-chairs at all levels of government administration. They guarantee youth the right to actively participate in public and political life and promote a philosophy of ecological stewardship that guides all decisions about town planning, economics, and agriculture.
Importantly, the Rojava region is governed by a decentralised political system in which every member of the community has equal say in the popular assemblies that address the issues of their neighbourhood and towns. So, power flows upwards, from the neighbourhood commune where Kurds, Yazidis, Turkmen, Syriacs, Arabs and every member of the community meet together, to the district councils, to the city-wide and region-wide councils. It’s an example of direct democracy in the truest sense of the word, and its profound human resonance is demonstrated by the fierce commitment we’ve see in the men and women fighters of Rojava to defend it.
But the defence of Rojava must also include finding ways to feed people, to give them respite from a seven-year-old war that has yet to end, to heal those who have suffered tragic loss, and to maintain communities at an ecologically-sensitive scale. This is the goal of the Internationalist Commune, which has set its sights on finding ways to harness alternative energy, address wastewater issues, and make Rojava green again by planting 50,000 saplings to reforest the lands that were deliberately hacked down acre by acre by the Syrian regime. The use of deforestation – Kurds were forced to plant a wheat mono-crop for export to the rest of the country – was only one way that Kurds were made into second class citizens in Syria. The Syrian regime subjected Kurds to systematic torture, disappearance, the outlawing of their language, music and customary dress, and the deliberate enflaming of tensions with their ethnic neighbours. While those humiliations are now legislated away by the Social Contract and a new fully-democratic system of governance, the ecological devastation lingers.
To this great challenge, the Internationalist Commune brings the kind of creativity and passion that is borne of living communally and working together to build a better world. Whether problem-solving technical issues like how to irrigate land with grey water, or addressing complex eco-system issues like what kinds of natural habitats are most supportive of native wildlife and equally inviting to people needing a respite from city life, the International Commune’s commitment and dedication – and its documentation for all the world to see – is one of the truly inspiring and moving aspects of the Rojava Revolution.
That work is now being presented in a beautiful book called Make Rojava Green Again, that explains their goals and reaches out to ecologically-minded people everywhere. Make Rojava Green Again, is a natural wonder, much like the landscape of Rojava. As I noted in my brief forward to the book:
In language that bridges the utopian and the concrete, the poetic and the everyday, the Internationalist Commune of Rojava has produced both a vision and a manual for what a free, ecological society can look like. In these pages you will find a philosophical introduction to the idea of social ecology, a theory that argues that only when we end the hierarchical relations between human beings (men over women, young over old, one ethnicity or religion over another, etc.) will we be able to heal our relationship with the natural world.
I have been buoyed by the fact that the crowd-sourcing fundraising effort has raised the funds for Make Rojava Green Again to be translated into several languages. Equally exciting is the fact that the Internationalist Commune is looking for volunteers, seeking technical expertise, inviting collaboration and ever-expanding its vision. I urge everyone who can to go to the Internationalist Commune website and be moved by the verdant beauty of the landscape and the dedication of the people living there. Help support their project by buying and reading this deeply thoughtful book. Above all, I urge everyone to support Rojava in every way possible: by lobbying leaders, writing letters to news organisations, and educating people on campuses, in community centres and workplaces, and in our neighbourhoods. The biggest threat to Rojava right now is coming from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and his allied militias, who’ve invaded Afrin, one of the three Rojava cantons, displacing hundreds of thousands of people, looting, raping women and burning down Afrin’s olive groves. It is imperative that we lobby our representatives demanding they support the Kurds, boycott arms sales and deliveries to Turkey, and insist upon the representation of Rojava Kurds in any Syrian peace negotiations. Ultimately, Turkey must release the imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan, and resume its peace talks with the Kurds in Turkey.
Rojava’s health and future is the obligation of all of us who dream of an egalitarian, ecological society. In Rojava that world is becoming a reality as a result of the hard work of hundreds of thousands of people, including the members of the Internationalist Commune. We must defend and nurture it every way we can.
Debbie Bookchin is the co-editor of The Next Revolution: Popular Assemblies and the Promise of Direct Democracy, a book of essays by her father, the social ecologist Murray Bookchin. She is a founding member of the U.S. group: Emergency Committee for Rojava, whose website is: defendrojava.org. She is on Twitter: @debbiebookchin
The Internationalist Commune can be found online at: internationalistcommune.com