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ORFC 2025 9 – 10 Jan

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11 January 2021

ORFC Global in review: language justice is power

Language Justice: There Is No Revolution Without Translation
Broadcast Sunday 10 January
Available for delegates to watch again

Session review by: Bethany Savannah

The transformation of the food system is a global endeavour, one which ORFC Global has done well to represent.

What often slips through the debate however, is the importance of language justice: the right for everyone to express themselves in the language that most fully conveys their hopes, ideas, frustrations and questions.

In this session Kate Wilson, Lucía Martínez and Isabelle Delforge talked about how important the translator is within global movements. They met through La Via Campesina (LVC) while working on issues surrounding language, so they are all more than familiar with the challenges.

Communication was particularly difficult in the early days of LVC. Isabelle recalls a moment in 2005 when farmers from all parts of the world gathered in Hong Kong for a mass protest against the World Trade Organisation.

The mass media portrayed the protestors as terrorists; communicating the real reason they were there became vital. The strategy LVC took was to invite the help of remote voluntary translators who, each evening, translated press releases and transcripts.

A dynamic team formed on a mailing list chain, broadcasting the farmers’ message globally, showing what could be achieved with a strong network of translators.

LVC kept the group and the mailing list going, and the movement became more inclusive as a result.

From there, they started to improve interpretation at biennial conferences. A set of agreed standards now gives interpreters enough breaks to prevent brain frazzle, and supports interpreters joining minority language delegates, to avoid feelings of exclusion due to differences in dynamics, or a lack of technology.

As a result of these standards, all voices are now clearly heard in discussion.

There is a balance of activists and professionals in their interpretation team. Lucía, who studied translation at university, believes her background allows her to offer tips and tricks to the activists, like Kate, who provide contextual knowledge. Kate, meanwhile, noted that activist impartiality is important. The movement is for and by peasant farmers: the interpreter’s role is to empower the people LVC represents, not to voice their own opinions.

Probably not the last challenge to be faced, but the last to be covered in this session, was technology. How can technology make movements more inclusive?

In 2009, Kate co-founded COATI, a collective committed to designing, building and operating technological alternatives for a social movement on a limited budget.

One of these commitments was to provide equipment that would simultaneously translate into languages that weren’t just English, Spanish and French.

At LVC’s 2017 conference, the equipment was used to translate 14 languages throughout the event. It was a momentous occasion.

It’s clear that, without translators, a movement like La Via Campesina simply would not work – that there is no revolution, without translation.

See what’s on at ORFC Global today.

As allies in the movement for food sovereignty, agroecology, and justice, ORFC Global is extremely glad to work in solidarity with COATI, who has coordinated the interpretation team for the virtual conference.


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