Reflections, Part 3: The definition of “people power” | Pesticide Action Network
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Reflections, Part 3: The definition of “people power”

Kristin Schafer's picture
PAN International Rome

This is the final blog in a three-part series highlighting some of what I’ve seen and learned during 25 years of advocacy at PAN.  Part 1 is available here and Part 2 is available here. Enjoy! - Kristin

As I wind up my 25-year tenure at PAN, I’ve been reflecting on what’s kept me in this work for so many years. Because, honestly, the work we do is hard. The changes we’re working toward don’t happen overnight, and some may not occur within our lifetimes.

It takes persistence to make progress toward the deep, systemic changes we seek. It takes courage to stand up to corporate lobbyists with deep pockets and even deeper connections to those in power.

And most importantly, it takes authentic, human connections with others who are working for change to stay grounded, and in this work for the long haul.

It’s the people

There are so many PAN people I’ve been inspired by over the years. 

Being part of a global network means meeting people like Dr. Romy Quijano, the physician/activist who founded PAN Philippines and documented the devastating human health harms of the pesticides sprayed in plantation agriculture across the islands. He endured years of persecution — including lawsuits and threats of jail time — for daring to publicly challenge pesticide corporations with on-the-ground evidence of the damage their products were wreaking on farmers and farmworkers.

He also happens to be an expert at crafting poems that capture the essence of your personality, with the start of each line using the letters that spell your first name. Romy’s daughter Ilang Ilang is now a powerful organizer in her own right, co-coordinating the global Stop the #ToxicAlliance campaign with our Organizing Co-Director Simone Adler. 

Then there’s PAN Asia Pacific’s director Sarojeni Rengam, who fights tirelessly for justice; PAN UK’s eloquent and strategic leader Keith Tyrell; and the always amiable and wise Dr. Javier Souza of RAPAL (PAN Latin America — check out one of Javier’s online agroecology workshop videos here). PAN Germany’s Susan Haffmans leads the “Double Standards” campaign with skillful persistence, and PAN Africa’s founding director Abou Thiam gracefully passed the torch of organizing to Maimouna Diene, the next generation of PAN leadership in francophone Africa. 

Saro

So many towering figures across the globe — it’s impossible to name them all. But I do have to squeeze in just one more! At an international strategy meeting in Uruguay a few years back, I learned that PAN AP’s brilliant Dr. Meriel Watts — a New Zealand-based scientist, global advocate and organic farmer — was carried off a rugby field with serious injuries in 1981, after protesting apartheid at a New Zealand vs South Africa match (that's Meriel in the middle below). 

PAN is an amazing network made up of absolutely incredible people.

Mag cover

Other partners too

PAN’s strategy of building and working in coalitions enables us to “punch above our weight,” making incredible progress on tough issues (like the recent chlorpyfos ban!), despite our small size and the powerful corporate opposition we face. 

It also means we have a chance to work alongside, and be inspired by, an even broader community of advocates and activists. This is true for our work at every level, from global advocacy in UN spaces, to national collaboratives and alliances, to state-based coalitions with deep roots in affected communities. 

This movement PAN is part of is chock full of visionary, talented, dedicated people — who are often also very fun. 

One random memory from many years ago comes to mind. After a long day of strategizing around pesticide policy issues at an annual meeting of the national Coming Clean collaborative, the founder of the then-active Farm Worker Pesticide Project, Carol Dansereau, led us in a rousing rendition of “How do you solve a problem like guthion?” — to the tune of that famous song from The Sound of Music.

I literally laughed until I cried; you’ll find the full lyrics here. We celebrated a few years later when guthion — an extremely toxic organophosphate pesticide, also known as azinphos-methyl — was finally banned in the U.S.   

Celebrating history & community 

Our 35th anniversary in 2019 offered an opportunity to honor the visionary founders of PAN here in North America — including our founding director Monica Moore and the amazing David Chatfield, one of the first PAN board members, who had re-upped to serve in 2018 and sadly, recently passed away.

We also had a chance to celebrate with investigative reporter Mark Schapiro, who co-authored the book that helped launch the PAN network back in the early 1980s. Circle of Poison documented the export of pesticides that had been banned in northern countries that circled back as residues on imported food — after destroying the health and livelihoods of farmers and workers in the global south. 

Founding board member and longtime supporter Gretta Goldenman played a key role in getting the book translated and into the hands of activists across the globe way back then. She also hosted one of many 35th anniversary house parties and events across the country in 2019, helping us mark three and a half decades of activism and progress. 

house party

PAN's dedicated community of supporters make what we do possible — and some have been contributing to our work for decades. Thank you!

..and the PAN people here at home

Of course it’s the people you work with day in and day out that make or break any job, and honestly it’s these incredible PAN people who have kept me in the work so long.

Every staff member brings a combination of passion, determination and integrity to the work — and their full selves. Which may mean a dry wit (looking at you, Andrew, Tiffany and Rob), a scientist’s beautiful hula talents (go Em!), or musical mastery in various forms (big shoutout to Inanna, Marg and Simone).

Hula hoop

The PAN Board is also a fabulous group of people, all of them volunteering their time and talent to guide the organization through good and challenging times alike. 

Again it’s impossible to mention everyone by name, but I want to end with a note of special appreciation for one of the #oldtimers who has been at PAN even longer than I have. Fellow Michigander Brenda Willoughby started as an intern through the Brethren Volunteer Service all those many years ago, and is now our staff accountant and desktop publisher — though these titles hardly capture all she holds.

Thank you, Brenda, for your brilliance and dedication, and your always steadying presence throughout all my years at PAN. Thanks also for being my commute buddy on BART, and for helping me understand and appreciate the finer points of hockey! 

So what’s kept me in this work all these years? Yes, a deep passion for PAN's important mission — but mostly, it’s the people. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for PAN, and will always be cheering (and supporting!) from afar. 

Staff at farm

Kristin Schafer
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Kristin Schafer's picture

Kristin Schafer was PAN's Executive Director until early 2022. With training in international policy and social change strategies, Kristin was at PAN for over 25 years. Before taking on the Executive Director role in 2017, she was PAN's program and policy director. She was lead author on several PAN reports, with a particular emphasis on children's health. She continues to serve on the Policy Committee of the Children's Environmental Health Network. Follow @KristinAtPAN